Sunday, August 14, 2022

Angband: From the Halfway Mark

 
Playing Angband makes me feel my life draining away.
     
It's been about four months since I last wrote about Angband, but I still have been playing it intermittently. I don't consider it a good use of time, so I generally save it for when I have something else to do on the side, like a TV show or a boring Zoom meeting. Irene and I listen to a radio show called "Rhythm Sweet and Hot" from WESA in Pittsburgh some Saturday nights, for instance, and that's a good couple of hours for some Angband.

I decided I wouldn't blog again until I'd reached Level 50, a milestone I just crossed this week. It looks like I was at Level 31 in my last screenshot from March. That makes sense. I've gone down about 20 levels in as many weeks. During this period, my cycle has looked like this:
   
  • Load the game. I always save in town.
  • Shops rotate their stocks over time, even while the game is shut down, so I first run around to the shops and make sure there's nothing I want to buy, particularly Scrolls of Identification.
  • Use a Scroll of Word of Recall to zoom down to the lowest dungeon level I've explored so far.
  • Start exploring, picking up items that sound useful. I prioritize items that involve speed, healing, mana regeneration, or restoration of experience or attributes. Weapons and armor get picked up in case they're artifacts. Potions that increase attributes are quaffed right away.
  • Try myself against most enemies. Flee from anything on a long, rapidly-growing list; e.g., archpriests, hydras with more than 5 heads, ghosts, undead beholders, regular beholders, greater titans, dreads, phantoms, chaos drakes, death drakes, vampire lords. Flee from anything else when health gets to less than half of maximum. "Flee" means that I cast "Teleport." If that doesn't work, I use a backup rod or staff that I periodically recharge.
      
Enemies that cause your items to lose their enchantment are particularly vile.
    
  • When my inventory gets full, use a Scroll of Word of Recall to zap back to the town level, buy more Scrolls of Identify if available, identify my stuff, sell what I don't want, stash items useful for the future in my house, and start the process over.
  • On every third or so trip, move downstairs a level before warping back to town.
   
Using this method, I have not only made slow progress but have mostly avoided having to circumvent the game's intended permadeath. I've restored backups a few times, usually when I get frustrated by some enemy and fail to teleport away before he kills me.
        
I almost always have something waiting to be restored, such as experience, intelligence, and wisdom in this screenshot.
     
Every half a dozen trips or so, I find an item that improves upon what I'm already equipped with. The best items, I've found, don't do more damage or increase your accuracy but rather confer some kind of resistance. For instance, my Cloak of Thronogil makes me immune to anything that would paralyze or stun me, and it makes me resistant to acid. My Ring of Flames makes me immune to fire damage, although that immunity doesn't extend to my inventory. Still, there are a lot of negative conditions in the game, and I'm nowhere close to being immune to all of them. I'm rather sick of getting blinded, afraid, and most importantly, drained. Ever since about Level 20, every other damned enemy seems capable of draining something, either an attribute or overall experience and levels. I'm almost never fully restored, although Mushrooms of Restoring started showing up a few levels ago and at least take care of the attributes.
        
My current list of equipped inventory. I still need artifact items for boots and gauntlets, and I could do better with my rings, amulet, and weapon.
     
Beyond that, just a lot of miscellaneous things:
   
  • Inventory space is precious and always diminishing. You get 22 slots, but if I want to travel with all the spells my character is capable of casting, seven of them are immediately taken up by holy books. I need a slot for food, another for Scrolls of Word of Recall, and at least one more for my teleportation gear. That's half of them gone before I pick up a single item.
  • The game is fond of large packs of things that never seem to end, particularly trolls and hounds. There's never just one fire hound or stone troll; if you see one, there's at least twenty shortly behind it. You have to retreat to a hallway and kill them one after the other until they stop.
  • Most levels also feature at least one unique creature like Rogrog the Black Troll or Adunaphel the Quiet. (Their names are almost all drawn from Tolkien.) I almost never beat them. They have hit points in the hundreds or thousands and are almost always immune to anything a wand or rod might be able to do. On earlier levels, I killed them by engaging for as long as I could take it, then teleporting away, healing, and re-engaging. But ever since about Level 25, they almost all seem to be capable of regenerating health, because multiple sorties no longer work.
       
Quaker, Master of Earth was my latest unique foe.
    
  • I earn about 10,000 gold pieces per expedition these days. For a while, I was spending it on potions that increased my attributes, which go for about 30,000. But those are all over 18 these days, and those potions now only increase them a few decimal places. Recently, a Ring of Speed showed up in one of the stores for almost 150,000. It was gone before I could save up nearly enough to afford it, but my new plan is to accumulate a lot more gold and start looking for useful long-term items like that. I want to find speed-related items in particular, because everything in this game seems capable of attacking six times to my one.
  • On Level 47, I fought Chester, the Vampire Lord. A lack of Google results suggests this was a deliberate mirroring of my name, probably because I died on this level previously.
       
I must have died on this level.
      
And this short entry is all I have to report after about 20 hours. I know I've said it before, but it bears repeating: this game is absurdly, indecently long. I don't just find it tiring; I find it actively offensive that someone felt it was advisable to create a game of such ridiculous length and limited plot. I can only imagine that later versions are somehow more respectful of the player's time; otherwise, I can't fathom how it shows up on lists of so many players' favorites. Thus, I am going to continue to approach it opportunistically, playing a level or two when I have a complementary thing to do, and I probably won't blog about it again until I've won.

Time so far: 53 hours


54 comments:

  1. This game's starting to sound like it's designed to test the sunken cost fallacy more than anything. Keep going because of the time already sunk into it, or stop because whatever the game throws at you for finishing isn't going to be worth the time sunk to get there, while giving just enough progress to still feel like you're doing something.

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  2. Ugh - I’ve only played modern versions and in those, by 50 hours you should really be closing in on the endgame. Here, your overall strategy seems right (you have correctly identified speed as the god-stat, and choosing which resistances to cover as a major strategy) though the fact that you can’t kill uniques makes me worry that you’ve fallen well behind the damage curve - you should be able to kill many of them without too much trouble as a paladin by spamming healing as needed. Have you experimented with slightly lighter weapons that give you a higher number of blows per round?

    It’s too bad your experience with Angband has been so negative - by the time I started playing in 2014 it was still a long game but with lots of engaging depth and it respected the player’s time and preferences in a way this version doesn’t seem to.

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    1. There's a version difference going on here. I believe this early version had not yet implemented weapon speeds.

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  3. Yeah, well you're not the only one who thought that. Angband is a great game that just goes on too long. It rewards the obsessive type of player who wants to play, play, play week after week. Don't feel you need to finish this one, sheer bloody-mindedness only goes so far.

    If it ended at level 30 it would be just about right. But Angband experts rave about how long it is and how great that is. The fun part of the game IMO is the beginning to midgame, when characters are different and upgrading your equipment confers real benefits. I remember the first time I played, I found a whip of fire that got multiple attacks because it was so lightweight. That was cool. But when pluses get into the teens, everything about your character just merges together and you become just another midgame-endgame PC. This is less cool, and I just gave up instead of dying. I think I quit just so I could get into the high score table.

    I really liked the Tolkien flavor added to Moria, but there just aren't enough characters in his books, and Angband goes really deep into the Silmarillion to harvest each and every name. The game would be cooler if you were really penetrating Angband, but the Moria roots are too strong and it's just featureless level after featureless level. Ooh, a vault, yay.

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    1. A lot of the names don't even come from Tolkien's own works. Rogrog and Adunaphel are villains created by Iron Crown Enterprises for their Middle Earth Role-playing game. There seems to be strong MERP influence on Angband.

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    2. The Tolkien-ness has also increased over time. Early versions had angels, which were later replaced by Maiar, for example.

      The variant Sil has very distinct gameplay, is much much shorter, and sticks much much closer to Tolkien magic isn’t spells from books, for example, but songs that you sing - so based on what you liked and dislikes about Angband it might be worth checking out.

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    3. Yeah, those clumsy names would never have been put to pen by J.R.R. Rogrog‽ Say what you will about the man, he was a master of names. One time I happened upon a map of Middle-Earth I had never seen before (from the Second Age I think). It was full of names, and not a single one of them was awkward or graceless. Every name rolled off the tongue, and could have been the name of a real place.

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    4. Thanks for the nice description of Sil, Tetrapod. I think Chester would indeed enjoy it. However, he is unlikely to make it that far in chronological order, and if breaking chronology, he'd probably be better off doing so to play an even better game.

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    5. Yeah, the recommendation was directed more at Harland than Chet -- 2012 is a long long way away!

      (This reminds me that while I admire the heck out of Sil, I've still never won it -- your Morgoth is much scarier than the one in vanilla! One of these days...)

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    6. "Rogrog", while not a name taken directly from Tolkien's legendarium, is not as out of place as Harlan paints it.

      Tolkien deliberately made the Black Speech of Mordor cacophonous to his own ear, and the names "Gorbag", "Lagduf", "Shagrat", and "Bolg" are all canonical.

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    7. Still, Rogrog just sounds dumb, while the other orcish names sound like bad guy names. I don't know how Tolkien did it, but there is not a single name in his entire world that seems made up or out of place. Well actually we do know how he did it; he was a cunning linguist.

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    8. I don't know, Tolkien did initially try to use the name Teleporno for Celeborn, and even without the unfortunate way it now sounds to us modern folks it still seems like a pretty goofy name.

      But I get Harland's point, and I think that all of Tolkien's names have a reason for being as effective as they are as they are rooted in a very realistic linguistic world,. And not one simply made up on the fly, like Klingon.

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    9. I wonder how much of this is Christopher Tolkien's editing at work. Harland, the only name that stick out to me is for a place: Tuna. https://tolkiengateway.net/wiki/T%C3%BAna

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    10. @Sloth wow, that's indeed funny. And I'm pretty sure both the parts "tele"(vision) and "porno" existed in Tolkien's time, too!

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    11. Dwalin, Balin, Kili, Fili, Dori, Nori, Ori, Oin, Gloin, Bifur, Bofur, Bombur,

      Sound like a troop of clowns.

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    12. @Tristan Gall Yeah, that's not unfair...but he lifted all of those names wholesale from Norse poetry.

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  4. Still like that you keep atiteben if it only gets short postings

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  5. Now imagine that you make some mistake during the grinding and die.

    You either ragequit the game forever or you savescum (And savescumming removes the whole point of a roguelike).

    Roguelikes that get todo long doesn't really work well.

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    1. I, for one, always savescum in my roguelikes :p

      Yeah, maybe I just don't "get" the genre. I'm also not a big fan of procedural generation because it always creates samey levels that can't hold a candle to proper hand made level design.

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    2. Yeah, agreed re procedural generation - the best parts of Angband are definitely the hand-crafted major vaults.

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    3. It feels to me like roguelikes are a kind of prototype for the modern "run-based" game - the kind where you are meant to replay a heavily randomized game over and over, restarting on death, BUT with the constraints that each run is fairly short, and there are certain resources - though not everything - that are preserved between runs. Roguelikes I think are reaching for the same thing, but like many of the primordial game genres (See also the reliance on cheap death in early platformers or unclued unwinnable states in early adventure), they haven't yet evolved the key elements that make their modern descendants enjoyable for most players.

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    4. They’re called Roguelites for a reason. And there are still many wonderful Roguelikes being produced where you save a minimum between each run, such as the Spelunky series.

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  6. "everything in this game seems capable of attacking six times to my one."

    That's because your current weapon is a halberd (a tiny ax-blade on top of a long pole) which is just about the slowest weapon in the game. Although it has decent bonuses, you could probably do more damage with a completely non-magical sword.

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    1. If this was the source of Chet's difficulties, it would be pretty brutal unless the game specified attack speed somewhere.

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    2. Pulling up the weapon description should at least list the number of blows (and of course if you try attacking with different weapons you’ll see how many attacks you’re getting). The game currently tells you exactly what your average damage per round will be with any weapon you look at, but I’d be surprised if that was in this version.

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    3. I don't believe this version has implemented weapon speeds. It also has not implemented the I)nspect command for weapons.

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    4. Geez, not having inspect is rough - later versions also have a handy additional character info page laying out your resistances and abilities which makes the gear game much more manageable and fun. Without those the additional guesswork makes it seem much more challenging.

      Player speed and number of blows are separate mechanics - the first governs how often your turn comes up (or, as you mostly experience it, how many additional turns fast enemies get before you get to go - this is important because as you’ve probably learned breath attacks and big-damage spells are the most dangerous things in the mid and late game, and if a monster gets off two of those in a row and you don’t resist the element, that can be enough to kill you from full health). This is based on items with “of speed” bonuses (which you mention finding) and spells, potions, and other items of speed (in the modern game, these are all additive but there are diminishing returns; not sure how it’s implemented in frog-knows.

      The second is how many times you can attack with your weapon per turn, which is based on your strength, dex, class, and weapon weight. I checked the frog-knows documentation and based on the descriptions of the attributes it seems like this mechanic is still present - if you try wielding a dagger or short sword and attack a baddie, do you see multiple attack messages showing up? You can try just buying a nonmagical one in town and attack the NPCs to test things.

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    5. (And just to add on the number of blows thing, I believe in early versions extra attacks only kicked in when your stats got fairly high, so if you tested this before and didn’t notice any difference, it’s still worth checking again now that you’ve got to the stat-gain phase and your attributes are getting closer to the max).

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    6. I bought a dagger and compared it to my halberd. I seemed to have the same number of attacks with either weapon; however, my statement that "everything in this game seems capable of attacking six times to my one" is badly out of date. The number of attacks that I get versus most enemies is more even than I thought, although I couldn't find a unique enemy in the short time I had.

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    7. Tetrapod is certainly correct, which you can verify by checking the Frog-knows source directly. Weapon speed is definitely present; it's a function of dex, str and weapon weight. You can get up to 6 blows per attack at maximum. Multiplying a high str damage bonus plus other flat damage bonuses by a high blows/attack is the key strategy for a melee character.

      Unlike e.g. Crawl, which implements blows by making your attacks take less game time, Angband applies all of your blows at once when you attack, and your attack takes a full game turn.

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  7. This isn’t a game, it’s a hobby. You’re not supposed to play other games, it replaces all of them just like all those dreadful “games as a service” products these days (Destiny, Diablo, etc).

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  8. Just want to parrot what many others have said over the years, thank you for playing these tedious games so we get to experience it vicariously without the pain, you're a true mensch.

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  9. I'm curious how many hours you've spent on this so far? Since you've been playing since december (!), looks like you're having a new contender for the Longest Played list (which I note has three roguelikes on it already).

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    1. He’s got it posted at the bottom of the post - 53 hours, so a very very long way from the longest played list yet (if this rate of progress holds up, 106 hours would just edge out Wizardry VII - the last half of Angband typically goes faster than the first, though).

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    2. Fair enough. I note that Chet also played Fate from april to february, so in that aspect Angband is less impressive than I thought.

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    3. Read that as playing the Fate gacha, rip wallet

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  10. Angband (and Moria) are a bit like Solitaire. You play them while the computer's doing other things in the background (for example. while the computer's scanning things). They're a lot of fun while you're coming across things you haven't seen or tried, when there are new spells to explore, or new unique foes to track down. But, when viewed as a roadbock to other games, they'll stick in the pipeline like a choking hazard.

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  11. I can't say why people are hardcore into Angband these days, but I used to play a lot of Angband variants some years ago because I was a kid with no money and the family had a Mac, so the two big outlets for doing CRPG stuff for free were roguelikes (of which Angband felt way more accessible to me because it *doesn't* have a bunch of arcane special-cased stuff to figure out like Nethack does) and MUDs.

    It taking absolutely forever to win wasn't really an issue for me because a) I had lots of time to kill and b) no hope whatsoever of ever getting close to winning. I confess I played a lot more of variants like Pernband, and especially Steamband than Angband proper, though. Steamband had a whole skill point system and such that made levelling much more satisfying to me and I can't say I've ever been that deeply into Tolkien.

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    1. It's certainly the case that no Roguelike of this era was balanced with the thought that victory should be plausible for an average character. Unfortunately, due to the way Angband is designed, with a sufficiently cowardly/cautious approach, you can reduce your chance of death to near zero while your rate of progress grinds along minimally. This was the strategy employed by the Angband Borg, a bot program which I believe has a near-100% win rate.

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    2. I suppose that is why many roguelikes have "hunger clocks" that force a player to NOT play overly cautiously?

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    3. Yeah, that's the idea -- Angband has a hunger system, but I believe it's always been notably less harsh than those of the other classic roguelikes, between a more forgiving timer and the ability to buy food in town. Like my experience of Nethack is that just when I'm starting to get a handle on a character, the hunger mechanic forces me to eat a monster corpse, but it turns out that corpse was poisonous so I die. For all that Angband is long, to me it's always felt far more player-friendly and fair than Nethack or ADOM.

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    4. Er, but to finish the thought: between the hunger timer being a nonfactor and the ability to infinitely reroll levels by going up and down stairs, if you want to remove all risk from Angband at the cost of massively prolonging what's already a fairly long game, that's an easily available option, and given the specter of permadeath I can understand why people go that route even though it can suck most of the fun out of the game.

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    5. Well, I don't play a lot of roguelikes, but I can think of several games that are really improved by their "hurry up" timer, including Spelunky and Bubble Bobble.

      That is, gameplay becomes more interesting if the player has limited resources: limited time, limited spells until your next save point, limited money, you name it.

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    6. That's why Spelunky is not for me

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    7. It's fairly safe to say that we won't soon see a Bubble Bobble review on this site!

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    8. Even though Bubble Bobble totally has character development (based on the candy) as well as a lot of non-quest items!

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    9. @Radiant I couldn't disagree harder if I tried. The hurry up 'ghost' idea is an abomination. It's my time and I shall use it as I wish, and if people want to rush that's up to them. Plus games these days aren't designed to eat quarters. It's a wholly undefendable mechanic.

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    10. LOL, I just told you exactly what the time limit is for. Just because you don't like something doesn't make it an "abomination", and a game with 92% rating on Steam clearly isn't "undefendable" either :P

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    11. It's OK not to like time pressure as a difficulty mechanic, but I don't get this almost moralistic position that it's somehow wrong. One could just as easily argue that enemies that take more than one hit to defeat are also an abuse of the player's time. Or when you die and have to redo part of the game.

      Constraining players' options for solving problems (aka "difficulty") is a core part of game design. It's what makes a game a game.

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  12. Those ASCII Roguelikes made me realize graphics, sound, music and UI are a lot more important than i thought, even though they have some of the deepest emergent gameplay out there(some even have body temperature/weather simulation) and lots of replayability, they just bore me to death, i don't get any dopamine rush while playing those games, sucks :/

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    1. Several famed Roguelikes have made the jump to tiled graphics: Angband (Tales of Maj'Eyal), ADoM, and DoomRL (Jupiter Hell) all have full, professional releases.

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    2. At this point, mainline Nethack and mainline Angband have both had tiled graphics available for longer than they didn't have them available.

      Nethack acquired tiles with the release of 3.2.0 in 1996.

      Official mainline Angband acquired tiles no later than 1996's 2.8.0, though the official archived sources for that version do not contain the lib/xtra folder that housed the graphics.

      (Also, at this point, ToME has less in common with Angband than Angband has in common with VMS Moria.)

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  13. Pittsburgher here. Never expected to see a Rhythm Sweet and Hot reference on this blog! One of the hosts lives a couple houses up the street from me. (I can barely imagine a more niche brag than that.)

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  14. Chaos drake mating has to be pretty unfun - if one of them so much as breathes on the other, their partner ceases to exist! Or it at least becomes a regular drake.

    Also, drakes become 100x funnier to read about if you imagine them as ducks and not dragons. I guess that's where the Atari VCS Adventure game got its dragon designs from. Luckily, IRL drakes aren't very draconian. Unfortunately, geese and swans fill that ecological niche.

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