Archive for the ‘gaslamp games’ Category

Gaslamp Games on the Immortal Machines podcast


[re-posted from the Gaslamp Games blog.]

Nicholas and I were interviewed on the Immortal Machines podcast (an affiliate of Colony of Gamers) last week by the good bunch of guys there who were far too patient with certain Gaslampy … excesses. Now you can listen in to learn dark secrets about the Dungeons of Dredmor — about the unnatural habits of Thrusties, why Nicholas should not drink a pot of coffee on an empty stomach, and how much Dredmor isn’t going to cost. Here’s the link:

Immortal Machines episode 47: Gaslamp Games and Dungeons of Dredmor

Much thanks to the Immortal Machines guys for letting us on and to Colony of Gamers and their wonderful community for all their support!

The real question now is if they will ever make the mistake of letting us back on.

Dredmor Skill Icons


I’ve just finished the latest round of revisions to the entire pile of spell icons. This is just one task which is part of the massive spell overhaul we’re doing for Dredmor’s beta 0.92 (when I’m not getting distracted drawing the disembodied heads of founding members of Gaslamp Games).

Man, there are a lot of these buggers, but they do get easier (and better) every time I redraw them. Telling you anything about them would ruin the fun*, so I’ve just thrown together a collection of some of my favorite spell and skill icons for your enjoyment:

dungeons of dredmor skill and spell icons

Still have to draw animated effects for most of these. Urrgh.

* whereas “the fun” refers to how much fun I have as people try to guess what the hell some of these skills do.

[Originally written for the Gaslamp Games blog]

Dungeons of Dredmor Trailer #4 & Release date announcement


[Incredibly, this sat in my draft pile for ten days before I noticed that I forgot to post it. Oh well. All the action is going on at the Gaslamp Games blog anyway.]

Alright, I’ve been slaving in the pixel mines on this one for years and now the end is truly in sight. The release date for Dungeons of Dredmor is set for April of 2011!

Here’s a lovely trailer that Nicholas put together:

Be sure to view it in high quality so that you can appreciate our awesome resolution jump. Yes, 800×600 just isn’t good enough for the year 2011.

Also: Gaslamp Games has also finally picked up on using that Twitter thing, so check out our twitter page here.

The last … long time, but the last week in particular, has been exhausting as we’ve just pushed out beta 0.90 which is our first beta build with completely revised game mechanics and increased resolution.
Yeah, this is happening for real.

Commitment Anxiety in Skill Selection


In the current revision pass on Dungeons of Dredmor we’ve finally had to make some hard choices about what skills mean to a player’s character. Thus far, all skills have been more or less freely available to select from any point for testing purposes. But if every skill is always available then by the time a player earns a few levels they shall have had the chance to buy a completely new set of skills which would render the importance of their initial choices mostly meaningless. We want every playthrough of Dredmor to be about an experience which is meaningfully different from a playthrough with different starting selections — so far as we are able to make it so.

Which will you choose?

To restate our assumptions: At the start of a game of Dredmor, you must select seven skills to create your character. Yep, just seven. True, some skills are probably more useful than others, for how can ‘mushroom farming’ compare to ‘fire magic’? – Ah, but appearances may be deceptive, and I hope to make mushroom farming a skill to be feared; The fungi from Yuggoth compel me. (But that madness shall come in the crafting skills iteration…)

Why seven skills? I don’t know. Maybe it felt like a good number. It could reflect influence from Dwarf Fortress (whose use of seven dwarves has an obvious folklore connection), except that the foundation of skill selection was implemented before DF was released, if I recall correctly. I’ll have to ask Nicholas about it … and he says: “Oh, I just picked it at random”.

Ah. Lovely.

Let me briefly consider some other games’ approaches:

An old favorite of mine, Ultima Online, had a dynamic advance-through-use system of skills rated from 0 to 100 with a total skill point cap of 700. Once your skills added up to 700, you just shuffled that set number of points around. The downside of UO was that the system promoted rampant macroing; Raph Koster explains this (and more!) in his writing on UO’s use-based system. The capped dynamic skill system fits the theme of an open world and I really like how it is a radical difference compared to the lineage of MUDs that revolve around grossly linear advancement, the influence of which we see today is most MMORPGs (read: WoW). In UO, player power relative to one another was kept within a reasonable range – a new player would start with 1/10th to 1/2th the hitpoints of a maxed out player. Five or six fresh noobs could conceivably fight a veteran character and win (though no Red worth their black pearl would be taken by a pack of noobs).

Dredmor, however, is not an open world sandbox game, nor does relative player power matter because it is a single player game. Roguelikes as a genre tend to be about making a few important choices at the start of a game and then exploring how those choices affect a playthrough which requires relatively little investment compared to an MMO character. What I’m getting at is that I think almost the entire point of starting a roguelike character lies in those choices at creation being a meaningful statement of how you intend to explore the rest of that playthrough – or at least a shot in the dark that will give you a unique experience. This suggests to me that we should be unforgiving about changing skills, as in: you can’t.

I know that modern games like Titan Quest and World of Warcraft are rather forgiving about letting you undo skill selection decisions — in TQ, you may change skill choices for increasing gold cost, in WoW, likewise for picks in the ‘talent’ tree. I see these design choices as a result of wanting to play nice with more casual gamers, alleviating the pain of character optimization mistakes in games that both take more time investment and revolve quite centrally around number crunching. Dredmor certainly has numbers and crunching, but I hope that the spirit of the game comes through: that it’s more about exploring interesting choices within given systems than linearly optimizing DPS numbers and threat/tank mechanics.

A rather poorly organized skill design spreadsheet. We try not to pay too much attention to it.

(Can you defeat Lord Dredmor with just crafting skills? A shiny goat figurine to whoever does it first!)

Funny thing, Diablo 2 was not so forgiving with skill re-allocation while I’m certain that Diablo 3 will have some mechanic for it.

To ramble on tangentially, an interesting point from Diablo 1 is that you read spellbooks to learn spells rather than gaining them via experience; And this is more properly Roguelike, if I recall correctly. Remnants of this book-advancement exist in having to purchase spells in something like WoW, though that’s entirely functioning as a money-sink rather than being loot-based. It’s an interesting thought, with books as spell advancement: This means that a mage’s spell power is attached to item acquisition rather than experience advancement. This gives a Wizard goodies to find in all the piles of loot which are generally armour and weapons and item-based character focused.

At that, learning from books was how spells were originally acquired in Dredmor. And there was this awful system where you had to roll to see if you succeeded learning the spell, otherwise the book crumbles – it seems to arbitrary and punitive, so I argued to have it cut. (Some people just like pain, of course, and maybe that’s why they play Roguelikes.)

… What to do with all these old spellbook graphics …

Right, so to bring this back on topic: We’re having player’s choose seven Uberskills at game start. An Uberskill is a skill category (eg. Swordplay, Fire Magic, Fungus Mastery, Veganism) which has between three and eight sub-skills (Unterskills, if you like) which you may advance linearly with skill points earned through leveling. Swordplay sub-skills, for instance, grant bonuses to combat — especially when using swords — then starts giving special attacks that have status effects and more damage or area effects to give some tactical depth to work with.

I’m not really sure what we’re going to do when someone maxes out the paths on all the skills they’ve chosen. We’ll think of something cool.

[Written for the Gaslamp Games blog]

Dredmor: What is a Warrior to do?


Combat RPGs don’t traditionally offer much active choice to a warrior character: Do you attack? Do you not attack?

Maybe you get to quaff (but never “drink”) a potion every so often. A player’s agency comes more from the set-up to combat through having a much more equipment-driven character than, say, a wizard. It is compelling to collect and use equipment, but a warrior really ought to have something to do in combat aside from clicking “attack”.

But this is a known problem, and it has been dealt before, and cleverly.

I must mention Blizzard’s evolving solutions to the problem: The Diablo 1 warrior had barely anything to do but hit ‘attack’, quaff potions, and collect loot. Diablo 2 gave the Barbarian class piles of both passive and spell-like skills which used mana as a limiting resource (though perhaps mana is thematically inconsistent for the class). Titan Quest did similarly, and with mana. Now take World of Warcraft as an example – it’s been quite some time since I’ve played, but from what I recall, Warriors build up and use “rage” to execute special attacks along with using skills that use timed cool-down periods per-skill as a limiting factor. Or maybe it was Rogues that build up skill to do neat attacks. Regardless, there were also talent trees which gave specialized skills, attacks, etc – The latest D&D even seems to have taken up MMO-influenced abilities for warrior-type classes with gusto.

The necessity of giving pure-combat classes more gameplay/agency has generally been recognized so, in all, games give warrior characters many more choices to make than they once did. One hopes that these are always interesting and meaningful choices, of course.

Dredmor takes up a few approaches to giving warriors the love they deserve: Naturally, we have piles upon piles of ridiculous items to wield, consume, quaff, and wear upon one’s head and/or other extremities. Said items shall have sundry absurd powers and unique odours. We are also giving the warrior a number of pre-combat passive specialization skills and silly special abilities along with in-combat spell-like combat powers.

Between the item collecting, booze drinking, weapon swinging, carrot hunting, area attacking, face mashing, health stealing, and hat wearing, if you really can’t find enough to do as a warrior, you can always effectively multiclass because Dredmor is an entirely skill based game (read: no classes) and is made to be friendly toward combinations of skills across class archetypes.

[written for the Gaslamp Games blog]

Dredmor Design Dialog


At Gaslamp Games, I’ve long since learned that it’s far better to present Nicholas with a fait accompli which he finds amusing to implement rather than a rational argument for a feature. Allow me to demonstrate.

NV: What am I supposed to do with ingots, herbs, and fruit?
DB: *shrug*
NV: You do this just to tempt me, don’t you.
NV: …Fine, I’ll play your little game.

NV: Fuck you for making me add smelting.
DB: You didn’t have to.

NV: What’s the coal for?
DB: The iron needs a carbon source to be turned into steel.

Just another day at Gaslamp Games.

Why do a job once when you can do it eight times in only eight times the time?


[Posted to the Gaslamp Games blog]

Quiet? Only outwardly. Our Dear Leader saw fit to allow ye players to select your own resolution rather than be limited to a proper and traditional 800×600 screen. Oh, we have such things in store. You will be able to descend far deeper into the Dungeons of Dredmor than ever imagined previously!

Now come with me and perform a cheap analogue of descending into the dungeon by scrolling down past this large image which is a crop of the title screen painting, showing how I’m expanding it to fit higher resolutions!

By deeper I’m referring only to the resolution of the game, of course. We’re not radically changing the actual number of levels, though one could say that the depth of the gameplay you will find in said levels will be much greater than before. I won’t get into it much, but the thought process is to focus gameplay more on what you see in the game (eg. the items, the skills, the tactics involved in using the grid of the dungeon layout, finding crazy stuff) than on what you don’t see in the game (eg. percentile bonuses to hidden stats).

Back to the art aspect, as the official Gaslamp art janitor, I get to clean up the messes that other people make as they change the fundamental requirements of the game. Bitter? Never! Well, only most of the time! — at Gaslamp I expect, nay, demand pain. Please sir, may I have another artistic beating? (Actually this turn of phrase reminds me of a certain performance art piece from back in art school, but I digress.) In short, redrawing the entire UI really does get easier when you’ve done it seven times before.

Worse yet, the clever new pixel scaling algorithm which Nicholas is employing works much better with low-color art than with the high-color art style which I used to draw everything. Pixel art formalism, which I’ve railed against before, has struck back at me, and I have surrendered to it. And I’m finding that I like it.

You’ll never find me drawing a dither gradient though, unless it’s very intentionally for texture. I may be a videogame artist, but I do have some pride left. Here, check out new items:

Feel free to speculate wildly about the significance of fruit, a top hat, and ingots of various metals.

Against Pixel Art Formalism


Pixel art is for the pixels!

I don’t care for being formalistic about pixel art, of adhering to a limited palette or carefully anti-aliasing my lines by hand, of using all-or-nothing transparency (actually, I do the latter two more often than I’d like to admit). What matters is what I wish to do with the aesthetic of pixels – and what specifications I must meet for the graphics to work at all in the given platform. It is ridiculous to throw away perfectly good tools like brush effects, gradient tools, and overall image adjustments. Tedium is not artistically uplifting.

If the art is about pixels, it’s pixel art. It doesn’t matter how I make it.

I actually followed all the “rules” of pixel art to draw these. Oops. Then I used the adjust levels tool in Photoshop. Ha! I have overthrown the tyranny of aesthetic canon!

There! It’s not a manifesto unless you try to sound controversial in the first paragraph.


Pop-up icons are awful!


This might seem negative, but I found that I have a visceral reaction against the subject of this post and upon being confronted to explain myself I believe that there are good justifications for my feelings. So let’s hear ’em!

(I’ll even apply this to UI design in Dungeons of Dredmor at the end.)

While redesigning the Gaslamp Games blog, our web dev’r found a plugin for WordPress to give a viewer the ability to share a post on social media sites (which is the cool thing that The Kids do these days, I hear). This plugin is SexyBookmarks. Here it is on the Gaslamp site; my mouse cursor was over the icon:

You get a row of social media icons that pop-up on mouseover. Yes, it’s cute. But I hate it.

The point of an icon is to be a sign for what it represents which is identifiable at a glance. It is the symbol of the thing condensed and simplified as much as possible. This plugin cuts the icon in half, hiding much of the visible space, making it less identifiable. This defeats the purpose of having a full icon.

Is it about saving space? It doesn’t: In the half-hidden mode, the icon is shifted down 10 pixels and upon mouseover the icon is shifted up 10 pixels. These 10 pixels for the icon to move into are left blank anyway, so no space is saved. Why not just use fully visible but slightly smaller icons so that they are more readily identified at a glance, so that they use the full visible area given to them as the designers of the icons intended?

If this is not about saving space then the purpose that remains is using a hidden/unhidden visual cue to designate the mouseover state. Though as said, this conflicts with the design of the icons in the first place because it obscures their quick identification.

In the end it is a gimmick because its outstanding feature interferes with its function. Yes, it’s a cute trick, but it does not make a useful plugin.

… also the web2.0-looking shadow effect doesn’t fit at all with the Gaslamp webpage’s aesthetic.

How does this apply to Dredmor?

A long, long time ago we tooled around with having the quick-slot item bar be hidden slightly behind the UI to give the main game area more viewable space. It would pop-up the item bar to show the full item icons when the mouse go closer to the bottom of the screen, where the items lived. We decided against this design in the end because you couldn’t really tell at a glance what items you had unless you went to mouseover them, which defeats the purpose of having an easily accessible row of icons on the main screen. And it didn’t even save very much space, maybe 16 pixels in all. And it was annoying.

Moral: If you use icons, show the icons. The only information which should be hidden should be information that is not needed at a glance.

Dungeon Creation and Beautification


With most of the foundational art assets completed I’m shifted my focus on Dredmor toward producing content for the game. In particular I’m polishing the dungeon tilesets and creating new dungeon objects (as the game items have actually been finished for a long, long time).


Let me take a moment to explain how Dredmor tilesets work (and used to work, and how they will work). Here’s a cut from the first dungeon’s tileset: