Roguelikes aren’t done with ASCII art yet

ASCII and the roguelike genre are practically inseparable. ASCII was there at the birth of the genre, bringing Rogue (1980) itself to life—and it’s stayed, with today’s most ambitious roguelikes such as Dwarf Fortress (2006), Ultima Ratio Regum (2012), and Cataclysm: Dark Days Ahead (2013) crafting sprawling worlds and adventures from ASCII’s collection of characters. It’s understandable why ASCII persists even as the roguelike expands into myriad subgenres and aesthetics. The simple abstractions of your @ hero, potions, enemies, items, and so on, as letters and symbols allows for vast potential without having to visually display such complexities. Instead, flavor text,…


GoNNER wants you to cheer up a sad whale by dying over and over

GoNNER creator Mattias Dittrich—who goes by Ditto—describes his game as “tough as hell,” and he’s not wrong. It’s one of those games where I ask myself just why I keep clicking continue; death after death, I am thrown back to the beginning of the game. That is, unless I have enough currency to buy my way back to the level I died in—which I never do. GoNNER is a 2D platformer by creator Art in Heart with serious roguelike elements, not unlike The Binding of Isaac (2011) or Downwell (2015). It’s almost as punishing, too. But that’s not to say GoNNER is unfair or impossible.…

No Place for Bravery

Is there enough room for another pixel-art RPG?

There’s a close-knit cloud of terms frequently cropping up in the discussion of action role-playing games lately. “Atmospheric,” “minimalist,” “roguelike,” “pixel art,” et cetera. Hyper Light Drifter established its appeal almost entirely on the back of these signifiers. Titan Souls did the same last year, and the upcoming Children of Morta is looking to bring in the same traffic too. But for every new (or, in this case, old) aesthetic enjoying the apex of popularity, there comes the inevitable point of exhaustion. Such as might become the case with No Place for Bravery. It is pitched along the lines of being a 2D roguelike action-RPG…

ultima ratio regum

Thank you, Ultima Ratio Regum, for making RPG dialogue less boring

Ultima Ratio Regum, Mark Johnson’s epic 10-year roguelike project, aims to do a lot of things, but first and foremost it aims to reinvent how we approach procedural generation in lore-heavy games. The traditional view of algorithm-based writing is that it hits roadblocks between expansive possibilities and convincing humanity. Though you can program a game to offer hundreds of different choices, many will inevitably end up sounding similar. It leads to criticisms of procedural generation as “soulless,” and many doubt that computers will ever be able to create realistic humanity in such a significant manner. differ speech without ignoring the…

The Final Station

The Final Station finds the rare beauty of zombie fiction

If we understand the “zombie movie” as a particular set of plot beats and characters, George A. Romero’s films are what brought that to the mainstream. There’s a mysterious disease, followed by lots of killing and running from zombies, then—in Dawn of the Dead (1978) and Day of the Dead (1985), at least—some number of our heroes escape by helicopter. Valve’s Left 4 Dead series ends up making this into a bit of a joke—each campaign is advertised with a movie poster, and ends with the players making their way to a vehicular rescue before they’re dropped into the next…


Indirect combat is all you’ll have to tackle ENYO’s labyrinth monsters

In an industry that likes to stab stuff almost as much as it likes to shoot people, an “indirect combat” game might seem a little out of place. In fact, the concept has more in common with puzzles than fighting games, as the inability to directly attack your opponent means that the player is forced to use the terrain and any abilities they might have to their advantage. It’s the same idea as forcing a spider to fall off a cracked wall in Lara Croft GO (2015): if you can’t approach them directly, lure them to another doom.   drag…

The Only Shadow That The Desert Knows

Work this new roguelike out and you can be a time-travelling historian

After wandering around for a few years in the wilderness of The Only Shadow That The Desert Knows, I stumbled into a city. ASCII characters, caves, and poison toads led me to believe that the creator of the game, Jeremiah Reid, had made a fairly traditional roguelike for 7DRL 2016. But when I stepped into Hiast for the first time, I was handed a pile of books—biographies, histories, maps—and a list of lost works. My favorite part of Dwarf Fortress (2006) has always been generating a world to look through its histories, following heroes and their descendants through wars, or famines,…

signal decay

It’s you and your friends against mind-control tech in Signal Decay

The stealth strategy game Signal Decay, previously known as Squad of Saviors, has just made its way to Steam Greenlight. The premise is simple: you wake up one day and the rest of the world has come under the sway of some indomitable evil, so it’s up to you (and up to three of your friends!) to save humanity. Simple. But Signal Decay’s not content to just send you into the shadows and have that be that. Instead, Signal Decay takes relatively overdone tropes—cyberpunk world, mind control radio, lots of lurking around—and turns it into a strategic experience not unlike…


Undungeon’s pixel art makes the fantasy genre fresh again

A point of honesty: I still have yet to play more than the first hour of The Witcher 3 (2015). Not because the game is bad—in fact, I’ve enjoyed what I’ve seen so far—but because at this point, I’m just too exhausted with fantasy to have much interest in delving any further. How many hours have I spent playing as men in armor swinging their swords at lumbering dragons? Or, in the case of science-fiction, playing as a space ranger swinging his light sword at insectoid queens? Granted, there are fantasy stories that work to subvert these tropes, as we’ve…