Skip to main content

The Games Of Christmas ’10: Day 17

RPS has a plan. This plan will lead us to ULTIMATE TRIUMPH. If we take even a single misstep, however, all is doomed. We must be pure. We must be vigilant. We must behave.

Prepare for descent. Open the seventeenth window, and to victory!

Gentlethings, this day we enter the Desktop Dungeons!

Alec: A game I finally got around to late in the year, and then immediately questioned why I hadn't played it much earlier in the year. Within minutes of playing it, I knew they'd made it for me. Just for me.

They hadn't. But it felt like it, and that's what matters. DD understands exactly why a certain type of gamer will always fall helplessly for dungeon crawlers, and on a far deeper level that most traditional roguelikes do. No mawkish "the journey is as important as the destination" time-wasting sentimentality here: DD knows that what we really want from an awful lot of roleplaying games is to reach our destination. Here, that end goal is immediately in sight, and attainable within minutes. The sense of triumph that comes from beating it has yet to diminish for me.

Key to all this is just how remarkably tidy its design its - RPG+logic puzzle, but not in the same abstracted fashion as, say, Puzzle Quest. This is about executing a strategy, working out how to use the various resources at your disposal (power-ups, essentially) at the right time and in the right order to complete the mission at hand.

Beautifully, that need for near-absolute order doesn't interfere with the roleplaying one bit. Every time, I'm deeply invested in my character's statistical development, in buffing him as much as possible, and mega-biffing baddies with maximum biffosity. I don't see it as a puzzle, even though it is: I see it as a ten minute adventure, a thrilling challenge against potentially impossible odds.

Its growth is key to it to; the procedural generation ensures a different dungeon each time, but that's blended smartly with an unlock system that, while superficially about getting more'n'bigger'n'more, is actually hooked into the expansion of challenge. More characters aren't just a bonus: they also mean the game throws in more deadly curveballs and necessity for patient thought. Do have a regular scour of devs QCF Design's blog, which goes into some pretty compelling detail on the thought that goes into player reward design, as well as a running commentary on where they're hoping to head next..

It's also a wonderful statement to the importance of publisher-free publishing. This is a game that hasn't stopped evolving: it's out there, it can be tinkered with as much as the devs like, and that in turn means a markedly different and improved experience every few months. And that's all for free as part of an ongoing experimental version. I can't wait to see what they do with the seemingly much more lavish, Unity-powered "full" edition.

You know, the one thing I don't understand about the standard rhetoric of console gaming is the whole "when I get home, I don't want to sit in front of a PC - I want to slob out on the sofa in the front room in front of the big-screen TV and relax". Now, I understand the big-TV-sofa-slobbage urge. That's very normal.

What I don't get is... well, who are these people who get to monopolise the front room for hours on end? Don't they have family? Partners who may want to do something in the living room which don't involve you sitting there? Are we basically just talking about single guys, guys sharing a house or people with a partner so desperate to please they'll sit there and stare? It doesn't sound like any life I vaguely recognise.

Because the one truth of gaming as you get older is that there's never enough time. If you put aside people who really can take over their front room, it's more like stealing a few hours where you can. Having a PC skews the odds a little - Delightful Fiance wouldn't touch my PC. Not from propriety, just because she's scared of the enormous scabby messes I leave all over its keyboard. But even then... well, today I'm not going to be playing Metro 2033, which I just bought after Jim and Alec talked so inspiringly about it. I'm not going to be going to finish the last few missions of Freespace 2. I'm not even going to be able to go into VVVVVV or Super Meat Boy, whose two-second death-repeat levels stretch into a pleasurable extended numbness.

But I'll probably have a shot at Desktop Dungeons.

I love smart, short-form strategy games. Stuff which fits in the same sort of space as minesweeper. A fag-break for those who shun nicotine and prefer to ticker the receptors another way. Weird Words fit into the space in previous years, and Desktop Dungeons does it for this. It fits it even better, sliding into the Minesweeper space perfectly by basically being Minesweeper with added high-level geekitude.

As Alec explains above, this is simply a delightful design, full of thought and charm. And while I don't the outright plagarism of the folk who brought it to the Iphone, I can certainly understand it. This is the sort of thing which fits in your tea-break, fits in a train journey, fits in the palm of your hand and the depths of your heart. I love it to death.

Even though I'm terrible at it.

Read this next