Friday, November 11, 2022

Angband: Summary and Rating

Time for a ragequit!
      
Angband [2.4]
United States
Independently developed and offered as freeware
First public release 1993 for Unix and DOS
Date Started: 3 November 2021  
Date Ended: 10 November 2022
Total Hours: 62 (unfinished)
Difficulty: Hard (4.0/5), but see text for explanation
Final Rating: (to come later)
Ranking at Time of Posting: (to come later)
    
Summary:
Angband is a roguelike based on Moria (1983), with the sub-genre's usual sparse graphics, lack of sound, permadeath, and complex interface not only using all keys on the keyboard but many SHIFT and CTRL variants of those keys. Angband has excellent mechanics and is enormously fun for about 20 levels, but unfortunately there are 80 more after that. All of them are enormous, and all of them regenerate when you leave and return to the level. Just as in Moria, good gameplay design is ruined by length.
    
****
   
I just crossed a one year anniversary with Angband, and I give up. It exhausted me. There's no reason for a roguelike this long and few reasons for any game this long. Plus, it got to the point where I was reloading more than I was comfortable for a game that isn't supposed to allow reloading in the first place.
    
My interest had already been flagging after my last entry in August, and I went from one session a week to about one every two weeks. There are aspects of the game that remained fun, including character development, item acquisition, and saving up for the next major purchase in the store. With the help of Potions of Self-Knowledge, I watched my number of defenses grow as I acquired more artifacts.
    
At least four of these are true in real life.
       
I got up to character Level 36 and down to dungeon Level 60. I finally found the spellbook that gave me "Perception" so I could identify items immediately instead of relying on a never-large-enough stock of "Identify" scrolls. I continued to acquire equipment upgrades; my most recent was the Longsword "Anduril." 
      
My equipped items when I gave up.
        
Somewhere around Level 55, I learned that "resistance" does not equal "immunity." In particular, I started encountering creatures capable of turning me to ash with breath attacks even though I was supposed to be immune to what they were breathing. The worst of these were "drolems," but there were plenty of others, many of them unique. Again, I couldn't help but put myself in the place of a permadeath player. You've just reached Level 52 after spending 60 hours in the game. You've done what you're supposed to do in a roguelike: you've played cautiously, you've carefully managed your inventory; you've learned to escape encounters that are too difficult. You encounter a creature you've never seen before. You start fighting him. Things seem to go well. After a few rounds, you've scored several hits and he's only damaged a couple dozen of your 500+ hit points. Then the screen says "the drolem breathes gas," and within seconds you're staring at an image of your gravestone. How is this fair? How could players possibly anticipate it?
     
Speaking of unfair things, I've gotten used (from both Angband and other RPGs) to creatures that can drain you. I've even gotten used to acid-based creatures who can damage your inventory. But creatures that can disenchant? Creatures that can turn your Holy Longsword of Flame into a regular longsword? Screw that nonsense.
 
So I'm going to take the liberty of assuming that the rest of the game is just like this. Whenever I think my character is powerful, some demon will come along to show me that I'm not. Two out of three creatures will continue to be capable of draining something. Some enemy on Level 75 will suddenly be capable of destroying equipment. Eventually, with a lot of reloading, I'll make it to the bottom of the dungeon and meet Voldemort or the White Witch or whoever the villain is in Tolkien's works. Like every other unique enemy in the dungeon, he'll wipe the floor with me on the first ten encounters and I'll have to spend 18 hours finding some new item for my ascension kit. It will still take me another 20 tries to kill him. Angband fans will flock to my message board to tell me they found the final battle "too easy," but they'll clearly be talking about a later version. I'll wonder aloud how anyone could have possibly won the game under the constraints of permadeath, and someone--probably Petrus Octavianus--will publish a video in which he does it in 23 minutes. I will resolve to quit this entire project, take a week off, and then feel an insurmountable urge to return when I open up Netflix and see an ad for The Witcher: Blood Origin.
   
Let's spare ourselves all that.
   
  • 0 points for the game world. Like most roguelikes I've played, there is none to speak of.
  • 5 points for character creation and development. It's a solid system. You get a standard set of race, sex, class, and attribute options, but there's a large list of derived skills, and whether to focus on combat, stealth, arcane magic, or divine magic makes a big difference in gameplay. Leveling is rewarding and frequent enough.
  • 0 points for no NPCs. I'm certainly not going to give it credit for the drunks and lepers who harass you in town.
  • 6 points for encounters and foes. The Tolkien theme did nothing for me, but I certainly can't complain about the sheer number of enemies and the large variety of surprises they held--just the nature of some of those surprises. I loved the enemy descriptions.
    
This is so cool.
    
  • 6 points for magic and combat. This is one area where proper roguelikes rarely disappoint. Between melee and missile attacks, spells, magic items, and clever uses of terrain, you have a lot of combat options. Magic is a more viable path in Angband than many roguelikes.
  • 6 points for equipment. Another traditionally strong roguelike category. Angband doesn't offer the same interactivity as NetHack (e.g., no dipping items into holy water to make blessed items), but it does have a lot of item slots, and every expedition seems to provide an upgrade. 
  • 6 points for the economy. A permanent village with stores at the top of the dungeon adds a lot to the game. You're always buying and selling, and the economy remains relevant because there's almost something worth saving for.
  • 2 points for a main quest and, from what I've read, no side quests or alternate endings.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface. It gets all of this for "interface," which intuitively uses almost every key on the keyboard.
  • 2 points for gameplay. Replayability is high, but almost everything else in this category runs into problems. Everything here is excessive: the levels are too large; the dungeon is too deep; the game takes too long, which makes adhering to permadeath too hard. The first 50 levels are too easy; the last 5 are too hard. Random level generation is fine, but random generation every time you leave and return is excessive.
    
(Overall difficulty is a tough call. In its opening stages, the game is easy enough for a roguelike, but starting in the mid-game, permadeath starts to feel rather unfair. Eventually, it feels too hard even without permadeath.)
   
That gives us a final score of 36, which I'm surprised to see is 2 points lower than I gave Moria (1983). In my opinion, Angband--at least this version--hardly does anything different from Moria except go all-in on the Tolkien. Looking at my rating for the earlier game, it seems I gave it 1 point for those "annoying beggars and rogues who accost you on the town level." Why I thought that was worth anything is beyond me. I also thought it had enough of a backstory to be worth 1 point, but I don't remember it. The variance isn't really enough to bother me.
     
As I noted in the first entry, this version of Angband is credited to University of Warwick students Geoff Hill and Sean Marsh, who had inherited it from earlier students Alex Cutler and Andy Astrand, who had in turn based their game on a version of Moria by Robert Alan Koeneke. Like Moria, Angband was originally created and played on Unix, but a student named Charles Teague created a PC port. From there, it passed through the hands of a number of developers. The most recent version is 4.2.4, released in February this year. Over the years, the source code was used to create a large number of variants and spinoffs, including BAngband (1995), Fangband (1993), Kangband (2001), Silly Angband (1999; I'll be sure to prioritize that one), Xangband (2003), and Zangband (1994). Any chance that any of those have less than 100 levels?
   
I'm not playing all of the versions and variants, but I'll make a note to check in on the game again in 1996. I'll also check out Zangband, which I understand completely changes the theme and adds multiple dungeons and an outdoor area. That's definitely significant enough to regard as a different game. I'll consider other variants after that.
   
Oh, I don't know. There's a small chance that I might poke at it even after writing this "summary and rating." As we get further into the 1990s, it's becoming rarer to find a game that I can play casually during boring Zoom calls or while watching television. I played a little Angband last week while going through some mandatory training videos at my office. But after a year, I'm sick of seeing it on my current list.

83 comments:

  1. I'm very curious what you'll think of ADOM, a 1994 roguelike that's also very long (albeit with more variation than a single up-down dungeon like Angband).

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    1. If he tries the first versions, he'll be sorely disappointed. I don't remember all the changes, but I wouldn't touch anything before gamma 11 or something like that, as there were severe bugs in the game. As the game had mostly bug fixes until it went forward from 1.0.0., I'd recommend that version as a starting point for ADOM.

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    2. The oldest version on the official site is 1.1.1, which appears to be a 2002 release based on the dates in the accompanying text and the file dates.

      0.4 is the first winnable version, while 0.9 added the overworld and other distinctive features.

      None of these older versions seem to be readily available anymore. Resolving that would be an interesting problem, but the Addict will probably err on the side of waiting until BY2002 to match the extant version.

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    3. I actually have a copy of something like 0.9 on an old shareware compilation somewhere. Funny you should say not readily available, because it doesn't seem like its available anywhere online, even the more obscure places that are usually good about that sort of thing. Guess I should find someplace to upload it.
      I'd actually say there's a pretty important difference between that and the 1.0+ version, which is that earlier versions of the game didn't have the trait/feat/whatever system later versions had, which does change the way you'd play the game considerably.

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    4. Isn't ADOM closed-source so you can't even data-mine it? Ack. I'm sure the developer is going "exactly!" but screw THAT noise for a 100-hour game with permadeath.

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    5. ADOM has been extensively data-mined despite being closed source. Every single mechanic is understood in detail in either the officially endorsed Guidebook (built entirely from player experience or the unofficial Guidebook (made from datamining).

      ADOM isn't closed source to prevent datamining, it is closed source because it belongs to Thomas Biskup and he does not want anybody else digging into it.

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    6. Is "data mining" not sub-set of "digging into it", though?

      I guess it is kinda understandable why Biskup, who created the game single-handedly for YEARS, made it his "opus magnum", investing better part of his life in it, does not want for someone to simply take his code and remake it into some "bimbo quest"-style trash or in something stupid, but considered to be hilarious by some troll hackers. As long as he was handing it out for free or for :postcard quest", he had total moral high ground.

      Although as long as ADOM went commercial - I dunno, kinda if you buy a toy car, you paid a money for it, you can now dismantle it to look how it works, which children often DO with toy cars... So it gets less black-and-white there.

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    7. Being closed-source is different from being, say, cryptogaphically tamper-proofed. To use your toy car example, suing your customers for disassembling the toy car you sold them is quite bad (and happens a lot in certain industries), and using tamper-proof screws is mildly antisocial, but there's no onus on the seller to also give you the design schematics; one who does so is going beyond what is generally expected by the social contract for such things.

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  2. I never finished Angband or Moria either, despite spending a ton of time on them. I'm pretty sure I reacted exactly the way you did; instant death after 50 hours invested is just unreasonable, even if you're save scumming, as I certainly was. The modern Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup has a lot of that kind of BS going on, too. They have yearly tournaments, and if the very best players in the world can exceed a 1% win rate, they increase the difficulty. That's just bullshit game design, to me, and it's why I've almost entirely abandoned true roguelikes. To my mind, a game of this type on Normal difficulty with a strong player should be about 50/50. Ideally, there should be harder modes for real experts. 1% win rate for the very best players is just not acceptable.

    I've come to enjoy some of the newer roguelikes. The ones that save state and let you get stronger, over time, tend to be fun. If a game starts out with a low win rate, but then you can accumulate progress to make it possible, I find that pretty satisfying. That's probably not a true RPG by your standards, since you the player are getting buffs rather than individual characters, but it's still a good mechanic, and plays well.

    One design bit in Hades really impressed me: you can turn on 'God Mode', which doesn't make you invincible. Rather, it gives you some damage resistance, and that damage resistance increases by 1% every time you die. That pretty much guarantees you're eventually going to win, no matter how bad you are at the game. Even an old and slow gamer like me will eventually finish, given enough perserverance.

    If you want an action break from RPGs, and are in the mode for something vaguely roguelike, Hades is one of the best games in the last few years. It is incredibly polished, with oodles of in-game content. Despite how many runs I did, I didn't hear much repeated dialog. After thirty hours, I was still hearing new things every game.

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    1. > To my mind, a game of this type on Normal difficulty with a strong player should be about 50/50.

      I think this isn't far off from where modern Angband has ended up, funnily enough -- it's still a long game (though more like 20-40 hours to get to Morgoth if you know what you're doing, which doesn't feel too unreasonable) and there are definitely some places in the early going where you can get one-shotted even while playing reasonably cautiously, but once you hit the mid-game you're very very likely to win.

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    2. What's your source about DCSS and the 1% win rate? My understanding is that one of their design principles is that it should almost always be possible to win with optimal play, and I know there are people who play it for win streaks and get dozens of wins in a row. I used to follow the development quite closely and participated in a few tournaments and I never heard anything about devs targeting a particular win rate.

      DCSS is the only "classic" roguelike I've ever beat without any cheating, so I'm surprised to see it called out as a particularly difficult case.

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    3. The modern Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup has a lot of that kind of BS going on, too. They have yearly tournaments, and if the very best players in the world can exceed a 1% win rate, they increase the difficulty.

      Ah. I actually know the answer to this one. What they're doing isn't making a game, what they're doing is a social activity. They've established an ingroup of the players and developers, and both sides benefit from the warm fuzzy feelings generated from the back-and-forth. The only losers are the casual gamers, and we all know what people who take their hobbies seriously think about them.

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    4. I don't know what DCSS did to earn your wrath, but having played the game a lot, this description is so far from what I've experienced, that I can't even see how it is describing the game I played.

      I win about 5% of the time, being experienced but not really very good at this game. Most of the time when I die, I can very clearly tell, where I got cocky. Sure, you can die to bad luck, but usually you screw up yourself.

      Also the game constantly gets updated,. This doesn't happen with the intention to make it more difficult. Rather the dev team very consciously removes tedious aspects from the game and tries to increase game play variety across different races/backgrounds. They don't always succeed, but if you want a hard game that is fair, then you got a tremendous game here.

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    5. The DCSS devs have been going for years in a direction that many players don't like, ruthlessly cutting many things in pursuit of a particular aesthetic. In fairness, you can download and play any of the old versions. I've never beaten it, but it's a solid roguelike.

      I played a good bit of Zangband in the day (ZangbandTK). It's actually a nice game for beginners in the early stages. But then - as the Addict says - it turns too long and hard. I don't think the multiple dungeons and outdoor areas really add anything. Especially in a game where if you leave a floor it is randomly recreated when you come back.

      Rogue is the grandaddy of the genre for a reason. While it is at least as brutal as any of its successors, it is short enough to give you a chance, and also short enough that permadeath can work. I've always felt that permadeath is silly in any game that takes more than 2-3 hours.

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    6. I think what you say about DCSS is certainly fair, although I'd like to point out, that if you are changing things, there will always be people who are disappointed. Personally I'd much rather see people in charge who have a vision and pursue it instead of somebody just trying to do a bit of fan service here and there.

      I might not like the results personally, but chances that something comes of it, that is really great for somone, are much greater I think.

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    7. It's been years since I've won a DCSS game (lost interest as the game kept evolving and evolving), but I still think "win streaks" are a thing. I just checked the 0.28 tournament which concluded earlier this year and someone had a win streak of 18 in a row, and didn't even win the tournament That's not a 1% win rate game.

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  3. I'm glad you retired this game. As much as I like Angband, this affection is for a version that has seen decades of improvements. I do think you should revisit this game occasionally, but I don't think it's worth giving another serious attempt until the 3.X series, where the item distribution algorithm changed. This change meant that vital items (most importantly stat potions) would continue to appear below their native depth, whereas previous versions would stop generating them.

    The most significant variants are Zangband and ToME, but it took many years for the latter to find its own identity. On the Nethack side there's SLASH in 1996, whose author Tom Proudfoot also contributed a few other RPGs to your list.

    If you want something to fill Angband's niche, Nethack 3.1.0 was released in 1993!

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    1. It is interesting, that there is two rogulike games which are named ToME: Tales of Middle Earth (2) and Tales of Maj'Eyal

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    2. Not particularly. The latter is a direct descendent of the former, with the Tolkien references removed since it went commercial and didn't want lawsuits.

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    3. To be clear, though, despite being directly descended from Troubles of Middle-Earth (and, IIRC, from PernAngband before that), and by the same author (DarkGod), Tales of Maj'Eyal is a completely different game. Troubles of Middle-Earth is still a very obvious Angband descendant, with the same windowing system, same basic class & race setup, and ASCII-first graphics, while Tales of Maj'Eyal uses a custom-built engine, a talent-track-based class system, and tile-first graphics with shader-based visual effects.

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    4. And it did an interesting thing with gameplay, moving away from consumables / mana and towards skills with cooldowns.

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    5. Angband for me is the only game where it felt like "winning" to quit playing. (Congrats on winning, Chet!)

      Tales of Maj'Eyal is one of my all-time favorite roguelikes. So it was certainly possible to evolve! The original Angband heritage is hard to spot, though.

      ADOM is my other favorite roguelike. I have beaten both of them with permadeath.

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  4. For what it's worth:
    - To the best of my recollection, Disenchantment can only reduce bonuses; it can't remove egos
    - There are no enemies further down that can destroy items
    - There are items (not sure if you found this or not) that can sustain both stats and life, preventing draining
    - At level 36, I think you were a bit underleveled to be facing drolems on a regular basis; with proper levels and poison resistance, they're dangerous but not flip-a-coin-to-lose-your-character
    - There *are*, in fact, immunities to the four basic elements, in addition to resistances; they're just extremely rare

    But I agree with others here that you would be vastly better off playing a more recent version of Angband. The basic gameplay loop remains the same—which I suspect will cause you to groan somewhat—but the balance has been massively improved in recent years, and I believe the dungeon has been given a fair bit more variety. (I admit that I haven't actually played a version more recent than about 2015ish...)

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    1. Yeah, as a fellow Angband-lover, this feels like the right decision. And I have to say, if you're going to ragequit, doing it because of "the drolem breathes. You die" is the perfect way to do it!

      There've been some solid improvements since 2015, BTW -- I haven't dug deep into the 4.x line either, but there's been a full revamp of item ID that makes the late game much less tedious, and there are three new classes (I've won with the druid, who's pretty fun; the blackguard and necromancer are interesting but I haven't devoted the time to really come to grips with them)

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    2. He'd have had to have won the game a few times before achieving that level of expertise in order to know all that. Also, spend dozens of hours reading FAQs and wikis.

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    3. That doesn't seem right to me - a single winning playthrough is more than long enough to see all the different attacks monsters can inflict on you, so while it's hard to prove a negative without going source-diving or looking at FAQs, after seeing an ego item get reduced to negative bonuses after a run-in with a disenchanter bat or whatever you'd probably figure out the mechanic. Similarly, I'd assume even in this early version you'd get at least some Sustain X items in a playthrough and deduce that they exist for all stats. Immunities are much rarer but because of that, and because they only apply to the basic elements that aren't much of a threat by the endgame I don't think they wind up being a big deal.

      There are definitely some things that require lots of playing and/or looking at the source or FAQs even in the modern game, but I think they're mostly on the monster side of things -- most particularly, knowing what elements a new monster can breathe and how much damage they'll inflict when they do (plus special F-yous like how stacked plasma breath can stun you). In the modern game you can just turn on full monster memory by default so you can immediately get that info, instead of going out of game or just learning over multiple deaths, which I think makes the game much more fun.

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    4. How would he know there aren't any enemies that can destroy items? It sounds like something a game like this would use.

      How's he supposed to know he's underleveled? How's he supposed to know immunities exist? So much for someone to know who hasn't won the game a few times.

      I played Angband back in the day - this version, actually. And some in the 3.x line. I really like the Tolkien theme and all the work that went into it. It's just too much work for what it is, sadly.

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    5. Maybe I’m being overly pedantic, since Angband definitely has a learning curve, albeit in its modern form a much gentler one than any other roguelike I’ve played - I’m just pointing out that some particular things aren’t really part of it.

      If you go through 100 levels and don’t find a monster that destroys wielded weapons, I think most players would be confident that isn’t in the game - and anyway even if you were worried about such a thing you’d just carry a swap weapon which most players do anyway (or be ready to scavenge a new one, which isn’t a big deal given the fire hose of loot the game speed at you).

      Likewise, knowing elemental immunities exist in the game isn’t a big deal - that knowledge only impacts you once you find an item that grants immunity, at which point you’ll have a clear sense of what that would do.

      So neither of those are things you need to know to develop expertise. Knowing you’re underleveled - or undergeared - is definitely part of getting better though, and does require some painful deaths or reading some playthroughs. The drolem is infamously there to mark the point at which poison resist becomes non-optional; there’s a similar earlier choke point for free action; if you’re unclear on the breath mechanics ancient multi-hued dragons will mess you up. In my experience modern Angband has radically less of this kind of stuff than most other roguelikes, but it’s still there and arguably the long game length makes the learning process more painful than in something like NetHack where you’ll die or screw yourself much more but at least the per-game time commitment is lower.

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    6. >if you’re unclear on the breath mechanics ancient multi-hued dragons will mess you up.

      btw, what are the breath mechanics? (I'm pretty sure they changed at some point between Chet's version and modern from what I read)

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    7. I’m not sure how they worked in early versions, but these are the current breath mechanics (rot13d just in case though this isn’t meant to be a secret):

      Oerngu jrncba qnzntr fpnyrf jvgu zbafgref’ pheerag (abgr, abg znk!) uvg cbvagf, fhowrpg gb n pnc gung’f qvssrerag sbe qvssrerag ryrzragf - gur onfvp sbhe pna tb hc gb 1600, cbvfba gb 800, naq gur erfg nebhaq 500 be fb. Erfvfgnapr phgf gur qnzntr gb 1/3, naq lbh pna fgnpx grzcbenel erfvfgnapr ba gbc sbe nabgure 1/3 erqhpgvba (guvf vf zhpu rnfvre gb qb sbe gur onfvp ryrzragf, juvpu vf jul gur pnc vf uvture).

      A big chunk of effective play in the mid-game is being able to tell whether you’re vulnerable to being one-hit-killed by anything - by that point you should have sufficient healing, escapes, and monster detection to know what’s coming and be able to deal with anything short of an instakill. Breath attacks are the most common burst damage in the game so that’s why it’s important to know this! Of course, the monster memory makes it pretty easy to figure out and track this stuff even if you don’t read up on the mechanics, and in modern versions you can just turn on full memory from the beginning which is very convenient.

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    8. "At level 36, I think you were a bit underleveled to be facing drolems on a regular basis." You can thank the early commenters who insisted I was playing "too conservatively."

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    9. I've never played the early versions of Angband at length (I dipped into frog-knows for like an hour just to see how it's different, and I've played a couple variants that branched off the pre-2010 codebase) but my understanding is that back in the day, the optimum way to play was to dive to a certain dungeon level -- I think like 25-30? -- and then park there, randomly generating the level over and over, until you leveled up a bit and had the appropriate bits of kit (I think largely stat-gain potions and poison resistance gear, which started showing up only just before powerful poison-breathers like the drolem). Among the many reasons things weren't especially player-friendly in this version!

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  5. "I'll wonder aloud how anyone could have possibly won the game under the constraints of permadeath, and someone--probably Petrus Octavianus--will publish a video in which he does it in 23 minutes."

    Ha ha! I find your faith in me disturbing.
    Actually I've never graduated from the Rogue-like kindergarden. I think I completed the shareware version of Castle of the Winds, and advanced a couple of dungeon levels in Nethack, but that's it.

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  6. This reminds me of the recent roguelike platformer Spelunky 2, which has a regular ending (which is rather hard already) after about 20 levels, a much harder ending after about 5 more, and an ultra ending after about NINETY more levels. Mind you, this is a game with instant-kill traps and permadeath.

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  7. "At least four of these are true in real life."

    Let me guess, you can see invisible creatures?

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  8. Yeah, I always thought that "breathes disenchantment" was a bullshit attack.

    It's like Angband was designed to be played with keeping an extra copy of your save file for restoring. I don't think anyone ever played it with permadeath. Nethack, sure. But Angband is punishingly long and the first part of the game is the fun part.

    Agree on monster memory. That's the best feature of Angband. I remember the time I fought off a worm outbreak and found that I knew every stat they had down to hit dice and special attacks. That was so cool. And when a monster lets loose with a new ability, that gets noted and added to monster memory.

    Of course, once you know the game backwards and forwards, you know it all anyway and don't use this feature.

    Angband's shops were cool, but they were too cool. The best treasures are there, just waiting to be generated. So you go into the dungeon, wait 1000 turns for them to restock, come back up, check inventory, repeat, repeat...until you don't feel like playing the game any more. It sucks, because it clicks the same mental reward centers as a slot machine or mobile game.

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    1. Sure people did. I've never savescummed any version of Angband that I recall. I've also never won. The two things may be related.

      But then, I never had any serious expectations of winning any traditional roguelike. I just enjoy the ride.

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  9. He, the paragraph prior to "Let's spare ourselves all that." made me chuckle.

    Totally understandable to quit at this stage. There'll be plenty of opportunities to dip back into roguelikes, hopefully with less unfair / frustrating mechanics and more acceptable length.

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    1. I believe that the correct word for what Chet accomplished is "transcended" :D
      He transcended the (quasi-void-like anyway) obligation to finish Angband :D

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  11. Fangband should be a party-based vampire RPG.

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    1. I just want you to know, Kyle, that I appreciated this.

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  12. This early version of the game has the basic skeleton, but a very limited quantity of meat. Without more real content to add in, the extreme length of the game is a major drawback.


    "Oh, I don't know. There's a small chance that I might poke at it even after writing this "summary and rating." As we get further into the 1990s, it's becoming rarer to find a game that I can play casually during boring Zoom calls or while watching television. I played a little Angband last week while going through some mandatory training videos at my office. But after a year, I'm sick of seeing it on my current list."

    This might be a good justification for trialing some of the variants for a BRIEF. There's several (Oangband, the orignial TOME, Steamband, Unangband) that at least attempt to do something interesting with the basic system.

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    1. Seconding this. I think a lot of the Angband variants would be good fodder for a short article—whether it's officially a BRIEF or something else.

      If you're going to do that, though, I would recommend *not* trying to go in blind like on this run. Most of the Angband variants have enough different things going on, some of which are only accessible at fairly high character levels/deep dungeon levels, that in order to effectively analyze the variant without burning yourself out, you'd definitely want to use spoilers (whether that's a wiki, a guide, or the spoiler logs the game itself can generate).

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    2. Thirding this! Not just Angband variants, but honestly, most roguelikes would be a good fodder for a BRIEF based on their design.

      Considering that playing them 'as intended' would eat up enormous amounts of time, and even trying to play them with save scumming isn't exactly quick, doing a BRIEF might be a way to 'complete' a roguelike for this blog without holding it to the same metrics as so many other games.

      Giving a cap of somewhere around 20 hours might be enough to accurately report on it's gameplay and virtues. (And there's nothing preventing you from continuing!)

      Most other RPGs, even if they have some randomness, do still have an overall narrative or campaign that has been designed. Roguelikes are essentially built to be both infinite and un-designed in terms of a human guiding hand. (There is the design of implementing prodcedural generation, I'm aware.)

      As a fan of 'general' RPGs and roguelikes specifically, I think they are unique enough within the genre to generate their own approach. I know there's the resistance to leaving a game 'incomplete' but these are practically designed by Jorge Luis Borges; there is no 'end' to Angband, just time to start another game.

      Maybe for roguelikes, rather than finished or unfinished, perhaps a flag such as 'sufficiently explored.'

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  13. Eeeeey, screw Angband, pay some ADOM instead! I hope you will reach ADOM someday =D It is a beauty, if with savescumming =D

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  14. I am still of the opinion that if you played one classical roguelike, you played them all. They rarely feel any different to me.

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    1. Really? That may be true of the really old-school ones but to me the classic triptych is NetHack, ADOM, and Angband, and those all feel quite different. NetHack has adventure-game style inventory interactions and puzzle gameplay, ADOM has an overworld, quests, and deeply hidden mechanics, while Angband is a more traditional combat-and-loot focused dungeon run.

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    2. Might just be because of your low openness, Jarl.

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    3. Well... I mean, classical roguelikes are all ASCII-graphics, permadeath, random deaths. To learn difference between them, you have to invest a lot of time and have that masochistic streak, too, "losing is fun" and all of that. If you do not submerge as deep, they may surely look similar enough :D

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    4. That’s definitely fair, but I dunno, while I’ve played a lot of Angband I’ve only put like five or ten hours apiece into NetHack and ADOM. For the former, much of that time was spent alternately starving to death, getting poisoned, and/or getting powers depending on which corpses I chose to eat, which made me realize I was going to need to make a spreadsheet or look at spoilers; for the latter, I was immediately confronted with an overworld to explore, towns, quests, etc. The first couple hours of Angband are much like the last couple hours, a straightforward dungeon crawl. There are definitely lots of subtleties but IME they all feel pretty distinct from the jump.

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    5. It's mostly because procedural content has really worn out its welcome for me, and no matter how different a roguelike's mechanics are, I always get that sense of deja vu because procedurally generated dungeons always feel so similar.

      I am really, really not a fan of procedural generation.

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    6. Adom is a mixed of designed and generated levels, which is a big part of why it feels more like a world with an identity and which you can explore.

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    7. Hard disagree, Jarl. Rogue, NetHack, and Moria/Angband might look similar, but they play as differently as The Bard's Tale, Wizardry, and Might and Magic.

      I'm certainly not a fan of procedural generation at the level of Angband, but I think it works rather well in NetHack. It makes the game extremely replayable, among other things.

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    8. I'm with you on not enjoying procgen stuff overall, though also agree the implementation in these various games varies a lot, at least in their modern incarnations -- ADOM does have a relatively fixed world IIRC, NetHack has pre-designed levels like the Sokoban puzzle levels, and the best parts of Angband are the hand-designed vaults (though the randomization of the monsters and loot contained in each is what really makes them sing).

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    9. ADOM's partially hand designed world it why it has always been my favorite roguelike.

      I'm just more into exploring worlds than going through a randomized mechanical challenge, so it's never been a genre I got into majorly.

      Roguelikes are cool for 15 minute coffee break sessions but I never devoted more effort to them than that. Never finished one, probably never will.

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  15. How do you mean there's no game world? Points 1 and 3 in your gimlet definition of it seem to apply.

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    1. Point 1: "Game world has unique features that distinguish it from other CRPGs." There has to BE a game world for it to have distinct features. Even Rogue at least tells you that you're entering the Dungeon of Doom or whatever. Moria and Angband are pure simulation. But even if I accepted what they offer as "game worlds," it's hard to apply the "unique features" criteria when Angband is essentially the same game as Moria.

      3. "You understand how your character and quest fit within the overall game world." I don't. What are Morgoth and Sauron in this game world? Why am I on a quest to destroy them? What are my motivations for even being in this dungeon?

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    2. It's because they borrowed your lawnmower and haven't returned it for ages.

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  16. "Then the screen says "the drolem breathes gas," and within seconds you're staring at an image of your gravestone. How is this fair? How could players possibly anticipate it? "

    This quote and the whole preceding passage really sum up my feelings towards traditional roguelikes in general - namely that they're for masochists only. You can be as careful as you like, play by the game's rules, always be prepared like a boy scout, and then you go down a level and get instantly disintegrated by some unforeseen nasty because you didn't have the Orb of Reflection that you had no way to know you needed. And that's it, that's all your progress gone. Better luck next character!

    This is one reason why I think action roguelites have far surpassed the traditional genre in popularity. In an action game you always have at least a chance to survive on your own skill, no matter how overwhelming the odds. In a turn based game like this sometimes all you can do is die through no fault of your own. At least most roguelikes have the saving grace of not being dozens of hours long.

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    1. If the game has a length and variety that makes replaying worthwhile, then this is totally okay. Next time you know that you need to be very careful and look for a solution for this foe. However, when this happens 60 hours in, it's just abusing the player's trust in the game designer.

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    2. Personally, I think it's unhelpful to look at the "traditional roguelike" genre, as exemplified by Angband, Nethack, and their relatives, and the "modern roguelike" category that basically just means "procedural generation plus some version of permadeath", as being particularly closely related.

      As evidenced by things like TOME, ADOM, DCSS, and, yes, the current versions of Angband, interest in "traditional roguelikes" is alive and well; I would be very surprised if they had fewer players & fans, in absolute, than they did before the more modern category came about in the late 2000s.

      The core audiences for the two types are just very different—and I say this as someone who plays some of both. They scratch *extremely* different itches, and I don't think the rise in popularity of the modern category has come at the expense of traditional roguelikes at all

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    3. I mean, sure, it hasn't shrunk but it hasn't exactly been booming either. It's exactly as niche now as it was in the 80s, because most people just don't have an interest in playing an RPG that capriciously deletes your progress every so often with nothing to show for it. It is by design a player-hostile kind of game.

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    4. That seems to me to be more because most players like action games more than turn-based ones. There are tons of roguelikes that are as short as roguelites, so that can't be the reason. Oh, and most had ASCII graphics for a long time.
      Meanwhile, most roguelites are just as player hostile as roguelikes, often moreso, but I guess people find it easier to rationalize such things if they think the only fault was that they needed slightly quicker reaction time rather than a better strategy.

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    5. Well, maybe the old fans of roguelikes do not stop playing them, and in absolute term the number of them did not drop strongly yet, but... There is a question of, y'know... death? Kinda.... people get old, people die - the question is, does new generation of gamers tend to go into ASCII-graphics masochistic adventure of building a character for hundred of hours to then lose it without any compensation? Or do new gamers tend to play other games? People, sadly, die, gamers are no exception. One dear friend of mine, who loved Final Fantasy series very much, lived to see and play Final Fantasy X, but he died young and never got to see Final Fantasy XII.

      (This, later, made me wonder - how many gamers died between Mass Effect 2 and 3, for example? How many gamers died between different parts of a game series?)

      (Sorry if death may be a sensitive topic, I'm a bit of a socially awkward person.)

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    6. Speaking at least somewhat anecdotally, my sense is that the success of mainstream roguelites has driven visibility of the older ones, and led to increasing player bases. They’re still dwarfed by stuff like Spelunky of course, but Angband’s development has jump-started with big new features that’s lead to more playing and forum activity, there was an ADOM Steam release… and NetHack had a 12 year development hiatus that finally came to an end in 2015. So like IF, my general sense is this is a small but vibrant scene, and while there are definitely grognards new people jump in enthusiastically all the time.

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    7. "does new generation of gamers tend to go into ASCII-graphics masochistic adventure of building a character for hundred of hours to then lose it without any compensation?" - Yes. For example, witness the popularity of Dwarf Fortress.

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    8. As someone who's been following the RL community for ages, it is absolutely larger and more vital than ever due in part to the success of roguelites and also just an overall increase in interest in hobbyist gamedev. The number of entries and players in the 7 Day Roguelike Challenge has increased dramatically, the r/roguelikes and r/roguelikedev subreddits are very active, there are busy Discord communities, etc.

      Worth noting that a big part of this trend has been a softening of purist attitudes. ASCII is more of an optional aesthetic now, unavoidable deaths are considered bad design, etc. There's plenty of crossover between roguelite and roguelike communities and the grognard bitterness is mostly a thing of the past.

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    9. In an action game you always have at least a chance to survive on your own skill, no matter how overwhelming the odds.

      This is sort of the converse of a conversation point that came up a month or two ago, that one of the distinguishing characteristics of an RPG is that you have the possibility of using mechanics like grinding to improve your character's skill as an alternative to improving your own.

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    10. @stepped pyramids Thanks for sharing this -- that was my impression but I've only been medium engaged in the RL community for the past couple years. It's funny, the dynamics you describe closely match how things have been going in the interactive fiction community, which is also a kinda-obsolete genre kept alive by dedicated amateurs and that's seen a recentish revival -- the arrival of Twine, and the more personal games it inspired like howling dogs and Depression Quest, and the success of choice-based narrative games more broadly (like 80 Days, Fallen London, that sort of thing), brought lots more folks into the community and led to more thoughtful, sometimes-hybridized designs.

      There were definitely some spats around the transition in the early teens (some correlating with GamerGate, of course) but it's been a really positive shift.

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  17. "That gives us a final score of 36, which I'm surprised to see is 2 points lower than I gave Moria (1983)."

    You gave Moria 1s for gameworld and NPCs--which, from your descriptions, has everything to do with a shift in your attitude (from "there are walls and a floor, that's a 1 in the world category" and "some creatures shout YARG when they attack, that's a 1 in the NPCs category" to "Like most roguelikes I've played, there is none to speak of" and "I'm certainly not going to give it credit for the drunks and lepers who harass you in town." That's the 2 points of difference.

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    1. Yeah, that's a variance I can't justify. I thought I remembered Moria having at least a basic description of the game world in the documentation, but it doesn't.

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  18. Question for the hardcore Moria/Angband/etc players: Have you ever spiked a door? I don’t think I’ve ever been in a situation where I didn’t have other, better, options.

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    1. No. Nobody has ever done that.

      I learned recently that the whole "door spikes on the standard D&D equipment list" was because when in the dungeon, Gary Gygax made all doors slam shut and be unopenable or stuck shut. That's where the "roll a 5-6 for strength to force a door open" mechanic came from.

      So that doors would not close behind them, someone got the idea to drive railroad spikes into the ground, thus preventing doors from closing. Naturally all doors opened effortlessly for monsters.

      So much of D&D was Gygax's experience trying to force a way of playing on a bunch of powergaming munchkins. None of it made sense to anyone who hadn't been a part of the Lake Geneva ingroup.

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    2. So THAT's what it's about! I knew about "door spikes" originating from DnD, and also knew about Gygax being... eh... a weird one, let's say. But the story of doors completely unrealistically "shutting locked" in every dungeon... Fascinating. How lucky, then, is it for DnD and for RPG and CRPG as a whole, that Gygax did not get things done his way all the way to the end! How much more bizzare (and unpopular) would it have been! Copper coins for every experience point, lots of break-your-tongue polearms, now that, too!

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    3. Angband hasn’t had door spikes since I believe 2013, and they were removed since no one was using them so I think that’s pretty much your answer…

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    4. Please correct me if I’m wrong, but haven’t all the roguelikes that have had iron spikes used them to keep doors shut rather than open? It’s as if the designers of Moria etc felt they had to copy iron spikes, but realised it would be too tedious to keep every door open, so they invented another use for them.

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  19. Chet please never remove your +5 Snarky Jacket - especially if it has patches on the elbows - I can't stop laughing over your last paragraph. Great write up

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  20. Check out
    https://angband.live/
    to play angband and multitudes of variants in browser; simple name/password registration required.

    As far as versions go: this, the 3.x.x and 4.x.x are the ones with major differences worth covering. For variants: quickband (12 levels instead of 100), zangband (started the variant craze), sil (tailored for "tolkienesque" rpg experience), tome 2.x (tolkienesque, but more in a classic rpg way) are the ones interesting enough that come into my mind at the moment.

    I recommend reading
    https://lparchive.org/Angband/
    for people wanting to learn how to play.

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  21. I'm probably the biggest Angband lover out of all of your Codex viewers. When you inevitably go back to this game I will give one tip, which is that mages have the most success in beating the game. A straight up bruiser does great in the beginning of the game, but rarely gets far. Hybrid classes are decent throughout, but a mage is weak at the strart and a powerhouse towards the end. That's because a lot of the utility spells help your mage out, but he or she can also cast Globe of Invulnerability which makes you invulnerable to many of the special attacks you were frustrated with.

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    1. GoI hasnt been in the game since version 3.x.x. I won my first Angband game in version 4.2.2 but I agree mage is the strongest class. Early game is tricky because you dont have any good damaging spell and utility spells are too expensive to use, but once you get the first dungeon spellbook with manabolt and the second with the banishment spells, youre invincible.

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