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Old September 26, 2012, 19:43   #1
Therem Harth
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Making V play more like Sil

I have opined before that the low levels of V are rather boring. Sil on the other hand keeps things interesting from the start. While Sil and V are very different games, I think it would be nice to capture just a little of the intensity of Sil in V gameplay.

Crude Hacks

On the Terribly Crude Hacks side of things, I've tried quadrupling the monster spawn rate and the "normal" number of monsters per level (to 1/40 and 56 respectively) in V 3.4.0.

- This does make gameplay faster, and to some extent more dangerous, since you're more likely to get mobbed. Also, the higher default monster number doesn't seem to matter as much as you start diving, because lower dungeon levels have more monsters anyway.

- OTOH, you gain levels much faster, which is not necessarily good. Character level seems to plateau around 50% higher than dungeon level for a while, and that is when taking every down staircase I find.

- Gameplay's a bit unbalanced. Warriors progress rapidly, half-casters somewhat less so. Mages tend to die quickly, as opportunities to run away are reduced. Priests I haven't tried yet... Anyway it seems to amplify the initial difficulties of casters, which I would say is not good.

- Death usually comes from difficult combat situations, rather than overconfidence and stupid mistakes. IMO this is good! The point of the game is to be entertaining, not to bore the player and lull them into fat-fingering their character to death.

- OTOH, breeders seem to get a much higher chance of swamping a level. This can sometimes be entertaining, and sometimes really annoying.

Actual Code Changes

I have a few ideas for code changes that might make the situation better, or might not...

- Make monster spawning occur around stairs.

- Have monsters follow the character up and down stairs, maybe even into town.

- Make spawn rates and OoD monster chance dynamic, and start increasing them if the player spends too long on a given level.

That's it for now, I'll post more as (or if) I think of them. I'm interested in feedback on this though!
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Old September 26, 2012, 20:16   #2
fizzix
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There are a couple major changes that I think are important to get a Sil style gameplay.

Sil paces the danger by Removing the ability to endlessly scum. If you can just infinitely replay level 1 then there's no point in going deeper if you're unready. It doesn't matter how much harder level 2 is. If you ramp up difficulty then it just means more scumming to be able to handle the next level. Do you find the early game is too easy if you take the first downstairs you see in v3.4.0? I don't think it is, but feedback would be nice. Angband on the other hand allows the player to set the pace. This gives a more free experience for the player, but almost always leads to players grinding whether for levels in the early game or for stat-potions in the mid game.

Sil accomplishes game pacing with a game timer, which is a nice concept. Most other games accomplish this with permanent levels, that limit the amount of monsters you get to fight. You could imagine an ironman option with town version where you only get 100 levels to play, each recall or use of stairs in town brings you one level deeper than your previous max depth. I think Halls of Mist does something like this, and really V is just waiting for someone to get around to coding it. I think it makes for a much more interesting option than the rarely unused, "restrict use of stores and home."

An alternative option, which you mention, is to have a timer that causes more and more dangerous monsters to spawn OoD if you are dawdling too much on the early levels. The monsters get more dangerous even though the gear isn't useful. I'm not sure any variant has tried this, but it might be worth looking at. This really needs to be somewhat opaque to the player and needs to come with some messages indicating that things are getting more and more dangerous.

The second major difference is the length of a game. If Angband is a marathon, Sil is a 10k. I think either half or Scatha has mentioned some ideas for extending the Sil concept to a longer game, so their input would be useful here. I'll let this aside for now.

There is also a fundamental playstyle difference between Angband and Sil. Angband is about managing the dungeon. As you get more and more advanced in the game your tools to manage the dungeon around you get stronger and stronger. You start out with being able to teleport short distances, and then you get to go long distances, and later you can remove monsters instead of removing yourself, and finally you can eliminate entire groups of monsters by either banishment or destruction. To complement the players abilities monsters get much more powerful. In the beginning you usually can't get surrounded by monsters, they will kill you. At the end of the game you can't have two powerful monsters that can see you, because you could die by multiple breaths. Monsters can summon other powerful monsters as well. Also Angband is filled with always awake monsters like hounds.

On the other hand Sil is very much different. Very few monsters have ranged attacks, and monsters can be avoided even when awake, but the player has very few tools to manipulate the dungeon around them. There is no teleporting of the player or the monsters. While there is also no destruction or banishment, the monster counter-manoeuvre, summoning, is absent as well. Porting this style over to Angband would require a massive redesign of all monsters below DL 40 or so. This certainly can be done, but I'm thinking it might be less work at extending Sil to 50 levels and designing new monsters than remaking Angband.

Angband uniques are generally extremely powerful, 5-6 times more than co-leveled monsters. Sil uniques are generally moderately powerful 2-3 times more than co-leveled monsters. These would need to be changed too.

As a penultimate comment, I find increasing the spawn rate of monsters to be a bit counter intuitive. Spawned monsters are always awake in V, and a high spawn rate takes the advantage away from stealthy characters. This diverges from the Sil style where stealth is a skill tree of its own, and is considered a fundamental aspect of gameplay. If you're going to go this route, I'd also recommend first implementing wandering unaware monsters, and letting aware monsters become unaware. Finally you should allow monsters to disappear off the level by going up and down stairs just like in Sil. Having moving unaware monsters has been something talked about a lot in V, so any patches in this area would be nice.

Lastly, tweaking monster/item frequency on levels is always of interest. I still feel that more items would make for better gameplay, but I had to fight tooth and nail to get the 3 extra items per level which brought floor drops into alignment with 3.0.6 levels. Anyway, experience playing with more packed levels may be useful if we decide to tweak this in the future.
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Old September 26, 2012, 20:29   #3
Derakon
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I think a better title for this would be "Making V's early game more interesting". Sil is its own variant, and if you want to play it, you should play it; you shouldn't try to turn V into Sil. Of course, when Sil has good ideas that fit with V's flavor it's reasonable to consider adopting them into V.

The main thing to consider with Vanilla is that it is the entry point for players new to Angband and its derivatives. In other words, Vanilla gets all the newbies. That makes things tricky for the early game, because we have to satisfy a number of objectives:

1) It needs to be fun. If the player's not having fun then they won't see the point of continuing. Generally what this means is that the game needs to provide an appropriate level of challenge.

2) It needs to be forgiving. New players don't necessarily understand what's going on or what their capabilities are. Vanilla's actually rather terrible at this right now given many players' propensity to want to play mages.

3) Given the above (a forgiving game since we're targeting a lower skill level to still provide a fair challenge to new players), it needs to be more or less skippable. Experienced players want out of the newbie zone and into the "meat" as soon as possible.

Amping up the early game difficulty is a good way to keep experienced players interested, but it causes problems for newbies who just die over and over again without really getting a chance to learn from their mistakes. That's fun for some players but not most of them. Currently most experienced players instead "skip" the first few dungeon levels by just diving through them ASAP, while the newbies take the time to explore them, gaining extra experience in the process. By doing this, they end up "overleveled" which keeps the next part of the dungeon (roughly 200'-500') at a fair level of challenge (i.e. fun). Meanwhile the veterans are lower-leveled so that same region remains fun for them because they're fighting more difficult monsters with fewer capabilities. Past 500' we're well out of the early game and so can just normalize everyones' experiences together.

Sil has a number of advantages here, as I understand it (still not having played the game).

1) Different starting races are explicitly marked as easy/hard (?). More importantly, there is no class trapping players in builds that they don't understand.

2) It uses a skill-buy system. So while you're exploring those early levels, you're experimenting with what skills work for you. Even if you die early you're likely to have had a chance to try out a few skills, which retains interest for newbies without requiring the game to be excessively easy.

3) It's frankly more of a niche game. The developers know that their players are almost all going to be people with significant prior roguelike experience, which gives them a lot of freedom in setting a high learning curve.


Personally, my take on this is that Angband proper should have a tutorial mode. We'd roll up a ranger, walk the player through combat, item use, and spellcasting, and then pit them against some impossible challenge ("Here's a bunch of cave orcs! Have fun!") so they get to experience dying too. Then they'll have gotten through the early parts of the learning curve without needing to make the early dungeon too easy, and they'll have some idea of the balance between melee, ranged, and spellcasting-based combat.

Combine that with better class descriptions ("Mages have powerful spellcasting capabilities in the late game, but they pop like little balloons if you don't take care of them") and we should be able to avoid the worst of the early-game frustration caused by dying over and over again. Once that's done we can then consider what it takes to make the early game interesting for everyone so the veterans don't skip it. They're skipping the tutorial instead, after all.
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Old September 26, 2012, 20:56   #4
Therem Harth
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Re scumming, I'll admit that my tendency is to get bored quickly and dive fast, resulting in a woefully underprepared character by dungeon level 15 or so. Some of this is basically compensating for my youthful impatience. :P

I don't think scumming for items or experience is necessarily a bad thing; what's bad is being forced to do so, and getting bored as a result. I feel that V by default makes me spend too much time on boring, sterile, mostly empty levels, at least at the beginning, if I want to get a character anywhere.

BTW, when I compare to Sil, I'm not talking about the mechanisms of the gameplay so much as the pace. Things in Sil, in general, just seem to happen much faster than in V.

Quote:
Originally Posted by fizzix
Sil accomplishes game pacing with a game timer, which is a nice concept. Most other games accomplish this with permanent levels, that limit the amount of monsters you get to fight.
A timer might help things. Maybe have a general game timer, which causes spawn rates and OoD monster chance to increase based on the total number of turns you've taken? That way characters would be (sort of) rewarded for diving quickly.

Permanent levels might also work, though that would produce a different kind of atmosphere. My thinking is that Angband is a huge underground fortress, and while it should have room for some amount of lingering, fighting through it should be like fighting through... a huge fortress.

Quote:
An alternative option, which you mention, is to have a timer that causes more and more dangerous monsters to spawn OoD if you are dawdling too much on the early levels. The monsters get more dangerous even though the gear isn't useful. I'm not sure any variant has tried this, but it might be worth looking at. This really needs to be somewhat opaque to the player and needs to come with some messages indicating that things are getting more and more dangerous.
Yes, that sounds reasonable IMO. Maybe have a message about horns blaring in the distance every time the danger level is increased, or something like that.

Quote:
As a penultimate comment, I find increasing the spawn rate of monsters to be a bit counter intuitive. Spawned monsters are always awake in V, and a high spawn rate takes the advantage away from stealthy characters. This diverges from the Sil style where stealth is a skill tree of its own, and is considered a fundamental aspect of gameplay. If you're going to go this route, I'd also recommend first implementing wandering unaware monsters, and letting aware monsters become unaware. Finally you should allow monsters to disappear off the level by going up and down stairs just like in Sil. Having moving unaware monsters has been something talked about a lot in V, so any patches in this area would be nice.
Stuff like that would be great, but is beyond my coding skill level right now (I think).

Re removing the advantages of stealth, perhaps that could be another incentive to dive? The level filling up with wide-awake monsters would make things harder for stealth-based characters. But thanks for mentioning this - I didn't realize that spawned monsters were always awake, and reducing the usefulness of stealth was not my intent.

Quote:
Lastly, tweaking monster/item frequency on levels is always of interest. I still feel that more items would make for better gameplay, but I had to fight tooth and nail to get the 3 extra items per level which brought floor drops into alignment with 3.0.6 levels. Anyway, experience playing with more packed levels may be useful if we decide to tweak this in the future.
Thanks. More items might be interesting. I tend to prefer good items being dropped by monsters as opposed to found on the dungeon floor; that said it would be interesting to see what effect additional floor items have.
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Old September 26, 2012, 20:57   #5
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Speaking of pitting characters against a horrible challenge, I suggest an early monster that is easy to avoid but impossible to kill, in order to teach newbies to be crafty and not to kill everything. It would also provide a fun challenge for veterans. Many of my earlier deaths were from not having a fall-back plan and taking on wormtongue before I was ready.
With a tutorial it could be placed instead of the cave orcs, with a message telling you to try to kill it. After he dies, the player should be told that this time he should try to sneak or run past.
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Old September 26, 2012, 21:00   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Philip View Post
Speaking of pitting characters against a horrible challenge, I suggest an early monster that is easy to avoid but impossible to kill, in order to teach newbies to be crafty and not to kill everything. It would also provide a fun challenge for veterans. Many of my earlier deaths were from not having a fall-back plan and taking on wormtongue before I was ready.
With a tutorial it could be placed instead of the cave orcs, with a message telling you to try to kill it. After he dies, the player should be told that this time he should try to sneak or run past.
The cave orcs serve the same purpose as a single uber-powerful monster. Young characters usually can't fight a group of orcs head-on, even if they stand in a corridor, so they must learn to avoid the monster.
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Old September 26, 2012, 23:31   #7
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Sil does a lot of things differently, so it can be difficult to isolate which things create this feeling. However I've been thinking a little about this issue, and I suspect the following is one of the larger contributors.

Sil has high variance combat. Even dangerous enemies are not infrequently dispatched in a single blow, but if you are unlucky five turns may not suffice. In the other direction usually safe fights can turn nasty with some bad luck. This is more extreme for some enemies, such as giants, whose attacks you can normally dodge but when they connect often take half your health or more.

One of the effects of this is that it can manufacture exciting situations out of nowhere. This makes combat feel dangerous. A lot of the game is about managing risks -- do you take a chance swinging at the Balrog you have almost killed, or run, knowing that a miss could be your downfall.

Of course having variance too high can ruin the game, so there is a line to tread. It's also harder to get this to work properly throughout a longer game, since some of the excitement is coming from creating situations with a genuine chance of death. If there are 20 levels in the game, a 5% chance of death on each can be fine. If there are 100, it's probably rather too high. However, it can still be good to have this kind of gameplay at the start of the game (reducing to a little less dangerous later on). Indeed for many characters in Sil the very start of the game can be one of the more dangerous parts. It's okay to lose a character that you're not too invested in, and this has the effect of making the early game exciting and also giving more of a feeling of satisfaction for making it through it.

Edit: Briefly, some of the mechanical factors which help make the combat high variance are: only one attack per round, decent chances of dodging, protection (absorbing randomised amounts of damage), low health compared to potential melee damage.

Last edited by Scatha; September 26, 2012 at 23:53.
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Old September 26, 2012, 23:42   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Derakon View Post
Sil has a number of advantages here, as I understand it (still not having played the game).

1) Different starting races are explicitly marked as easy/hard (?). More importantly, there is no class trapping players in builds that they don't understand.
I'm not actually sure that the lack of class helps! It's a common trope in CRPGs that warrior builds are easiest to pick up, so I think that can be helpful. In Sil we might usefully have a signpost to suggest new players invest more in Evasion and Melee than they do, but I'm not sure where this could go (I also don't want to dictate, since exploration of builds is a lot of the fun).

Quote:
2) It uses a skill-buy system. So while you're exploring those early levels, you're experimenting with what skills work for you. Even if you die early you're likely to have had a chance to try out a few skills, which retains interest for newbies without requiring the game to be excessively easy.
Nice point. I hadn't thought of it like this, but I think this definitely helps.

Quote:
3) It's frankly more of a niche game. The developers know that their players are almost all going to be people with significant prior roguelike experience, which gives them a lot of freedom in setting a high learning curve.
I'm not quite sure about this. We've introduced Sil to people who have never played roguelikes, and it's generally gone fine.

By the way, I sometimes have difficulty getting into computer games, even if I'm not too familiar with the genre, if the learning curve is too shallow (though this isn't the only constraint). Until I've done something wrong and been punished for it I can't really get to grips with the game. It varies with the game, but I think it's often best if this can crop up pretty early.
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Old September 26, 2012, 23:48   #9
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Originally Posted by Therem Harth View Post
- Make spawn rates and OoD monster chance dynamic, and start increasing them if the player spends too long on a given level.
If I recall correctly, Sil actually used to use this mechanic, way back before there was a time limit!

Quote:
Originally Posted by fizzix
I think either half or Scatha has mentioned some ideas for extending the Sil concept to a longer game, so their input would be useful here.
Sorry, yes, I have a post to write about that but I haven't had the time; I will do it. Depending on the aims, though, I think you may well be right that it would be easier to build up from the short game rather directly convert the long one.
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Old September 26, 2012, 23:52   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Scatha View Post
I'm not actually sure that the lack of class helps! It's a common trope in CRPGs that warrior builds are easiest to pick up, so I think that can be helpful. In Sil we might usefully have a signpost to suggest new players invest more in Evasion and Melee than they do, but I'm not sure where this could go (I also don't want to dictate, since exploration of builds is a lot of the fun).
The specific problem I'm thinking of in Angband is of newbies showing up, looking at the classes, and thinking "Warriors are boring. I want to cast spells, so I'll take a mage." Then they wonder why they can't kill anything and keep dying over and over again. They've made an initial decision without much knowledge about the game, and that decision has come back to bite them.

In contrast, skill-buying systems have the player make their build decisions after having seen some of how the game works. So your classless character drops into the game, gets into a few fights, and gets hurt. How do they react? They look at the skills and try to pick ones that sound like they'd help avoid damage (by dodging or absorbing it, or just by killing the opponent before they can get a hit in).

Basically what I'm saying is that the class-based system requires new players to guess about how their build will play, while skill-buy-based systems let them figure things out as they go. That's not to say that skill-buy is universally better -- you can get into all kinds of problems when you're faced with the task of balancing every skill against every other skill -- but in terms of being newbie-friendly I think it probably is a better choice.

(Of course, you do also have to deal with choice paralysis. Class-based systems can work well there since you just pick your class and you're off to the races.)

Regarding nicheness, apologies. I'm basing all my opinions off of what I've read here. I'll play Sil! I swear! Just...let me finish Pyrel first.
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