06/08/2010 @08:42:56 ^10:40:09

Well I had a bunch of Doom maps last month that I actually found really fun, and I thought for a while I had found temporary respite from some of the malaise and ennui I sometimes felt when playing new maps. Plus, maybe I'd manage more than one post in a month. However, then I got distracted by Crawl again since 0.7 came out and there's another tournament on. I even woke myself up in the middle of the night to watch the start of it, because it's always fun watching people attempt crazy speedruns to get the first win.

I gave up trying to actually play Crawl properly a long time ago. Fortunately, since it is an open source game, I can patch it to make it easier. You can argue that that's cheating, and it is, in fact the commit messages of my patches start with "CHEAT:" to make them obvious. But as I see it, I don't have to follow someone else's rules if I don't find them fun. I'm not playing competitively or going on forums and bragging about having won a hundred games, I'm just trying to have fun.

Fun is a subjective thing. If your game is too easy, it gets boring. The Crawl developers will tell you they want their game to be fun for players for years. However, they are mostly people who have played a lot in the past and have many wins to their name. As I see it, they make the game harder so it is still a challenge to themselves and the best players in the world. (And having said that, apparently, Crawl, in its current form, the Stone Soup variant as it is now, is a lot easier than it used to be, than the newest versions of the long-since-dead "official" version.)

On the other hand, if your game is too hard, it gets frustrating. This is especially the case when you know there's a load of cool stuff in the game that you never get to see because you die before you get that far. This feels especially the case for the type of character I like to play (spellcasters) since quite often I would not find any spellbooks other than the one I started with. Having to play the first half dozen dungeon floors over and over again, doing the tedious item identification dance repeatedly, only to die before the game gets interesting, dozens of times, over and over again, got old fast. The developers and top players don't have this problem because they've seen and done all the cool stuff already.

Another thing is that I don't care about winning. If you're a game designer you have to work under the assumption that your players are trying to win. You must balance the game that winning - whatever that means - is difficult, but not impossible.

In Crawl this means retrieving an artefact known as the Orb of Zot and taking it out of the dungeon. In order to do this you must find three items called Runes of Zot first. These are used to open the gates to the domain in which the Orb is found. Compare NetHack's invocation ritual - however in Crawl there are a total of fifteen runes available and you can use any three you like. Runes are located at the ends of variously themed dungeon branches which have different challenges to reach their ends. (E.g. if your primary way of doing damage is with fire, a branch full of fire-resistant monsters will be harder to retrieve a rune from.)

So, the game is balanced under the assumption that the player will try to get three runes, then enter Zot and fetch the Orb. This is a difficult, but not impossible, task: every possible character race+background combination has been won on the public servers at least once. Alternatively he can try to get all fifteen types of rune by doing all the branches. This is more difficult, obviously.

But as I said, I don't care about that. If I win, the game ends and I have to start all over again. It's no different from dying! What I want to do is make a powerful character that can knock the entire dungeon over. I enjoy working towards making such characters, working up their skills to get the powerful spells castable, and so on. I also like the feeling when you find a really nice bit of artefact equipment. I would prefer it if the dungeon was much larger and more or less went on forever. (There are infinitely large dungeon branches in Crawl, but they're mostly full of demons, and there's a lot more monster variety in the game than just demons...) Obviously this is playing the game nothing like the developers intend players to behave. So, I tweak the game so I can play more like how I want to play. I fully accept I'm not playing the same game as everyone else.

Finally, there is the simple fact that changing the rules of the universe is fun. Seeing the universe one way and then changing something and the universe is suddenly different is great. You could probably do some armchair psychology here and go on about how how this is some power/control issue stemming from my having so little control over the real universe, but I never intended to write such an introspective article.

So anyway, that's some thoughts about Crawl, and game design, fun, and why I don't like closed source games. If you got this far, thanks for reading.