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8:33 AM on 02.26.2013

Pixel Dungeon - Roguelike befrends Android

What is Pixel Dungeon ? From official site:
Pixel Dungeon is a traditional roguelike game with pixel-art graphics and simple interface for Android. Explore the depths of Pixel Dungeon, collect useful items, fight fierce monsters to find Amulet of Yendor (surprise!) - the ultimate artifact of this game world. This is a beta and it's going to stay beta long enough, but it's fully playable. For now there're 15 levels and I'm going to add 5-10 more levels with new monsters and items in future releases.

What is Beta? From Wikipedia:
Beta, named after the second letter of the Greek alphabet, is the software development phase following alpha. It generally begins when the software is feature complete. Software in the beta phase will generally have many more bugs in it than completed software, as well as speed/performance issues. The focus of beta testing is reducing impacts to users, often incorporating usability testing. The process of delivering a beta version to the users is called beta release and this is typically the first time that the software is available outside of the organization that developed it.

Platform - Android 2.2+
Manufacturer - Watabou
Gameplay - Single-player, Roguelike

A little bit of disclaimer: My first language is not English, so please excuse my grammar and/or stylistic mistakes. Please feel free to correct and/or comment on the next below. Thank you for understanding. Enjoy!

First, let me list key features of Pixel Dungeon (PD later on) and later on I will get through each one of them in detail.

Pixel-art graphics

Permanent death


Simple touch interface

Hostile encounters




The graphics.
The art style selected in Pixel Dungeon is really great. It is simple enough to please the eye, and yet detailed enough to deliver depth in storytelling. Pixels and colors blend together to show you a journey of an adventurer, venturing deep in the inside the dungeon to uncover the amulet or meet his doom trying. That vibrant picture is often interrupted by the appearance of monsters, traps, ladders and secret doors. While doors generally lead you to loot or more of the dungeon to explore, monsters and traps usually act more of the opposite, interrupting your journey in the spot.

The death.
Hunger should not be neglected, for it is a number one cause of death amongst young adventurers in Pixel Dungeon. Monsters and Traps are there to stop your search for amulet. To put it simple - kill you. And after you die, you start a new game. No saves and no loads.
While you can use tactics on monsters, you will have to pray that there is water nearby after setting off fire trap, or that the poison trap was there for so long, that venom lost it's full potency. Those are only two of many traps present in Pixel Dungeon. Monsters will try to chew through your armor at every encounter - be sure to gather up some gear before venturing deeper. When hit points are few, quaff a Healing Potion, but be careful, what was a Healing Potion in one game, might be Potion of Liquid Flame in the other.

The randomness.
Dungeon layouts in PD are randomly generated upon player entering a level. Rooms are scattered and are connected with doors, sometimes that are hidden, and sometimes requiring a key to open them. Locked doors tend to have rewards waiting for player who went through the trouble to get the matching key. Item names and content are also randomized at the start of new game. It might be a good idea to drink unknown potions standing knee deep in water or have a exit in a line of sight. Chests can be found in rooms, containing random items or just coins.

The interface.
If you ever tried a computer roguelike before, you must know the complexity of controls utilized in roguelike games. Most of them are using whole keyboard. Some use mouse and keyboard. So how can you make something as complex as that on a touchscreen device with a small screen and no external keyboard ? Ask Watabou - he managed to pull it off perfectly, not only functionality wise, but also aesthetically too. Screen is uncluttered, everything is intuitively comprehensible and responsive to a surprising degree. Pixel Dungeon even incorporates pinch-to-zoom in/out feature. Simply AMAZING!

The hostilities.
More often than not, players will have to kill creatures to make any headway. While monsters don't really have any tactics, they vary in strengths and weaknesses. Marsupial Rat is the easiest and probably most common monster encountered in Pixel Dungeon. While it is weak, it might still score a critical hit on the player. And even loss of one hit point sometimes result in death and starting over. Monsters vary with dungeon depth, as skeletons start to appear and more intelligent Gnoll Shamans will cast lightning bolt at player from safer distance. Vampire bats will leech life and spinners will poison - be sure to know when to retreat and don't forget to use EVERYTHING at your disposal to survive. YOU ONLY HAVE ONE LIFE.

The gear.
There is plenty of gear to choose from in the course of the game session. What player can wear is limited to armor, weapon, two rings and a quick-slot for ranged weapons or wands. Equipping armor and weapons requires certain amount of strength to be met, otherwise, wearing gear that you are too weak to wield properly will result in penalties. Scrolls, wands, food and potions can be used from inventory screen - with no need in equipping them before use. Equipment you are not fond of or just got obsolete in the course of exploring the dungeon can be sold to a shopkeeper.

The shop.
Every five levels of Pixel Dungeon player will encounter a boss. It is a single unique monster with special tactics and abilities to make previous levels and monsters a walk in the park. The entrance to the next level will be locked behind a metal door, and only defeating the boss will grant you the key to open it. After opening that door and going to the level below you will encounter your very first shopkeeper. That man will overcharge you for goods and buy yours (even if at discounted price), but sometimes you are too desperate, and beggars can't be choosers.

The progress.
For every monster you kill, you get a bit of experience. After set amount of experience you gain a level up. Level up grants you more hit points and more accurate your attacks are, plus you increase chances to move out of the way of enemy attacks. But there more experienced you become, the more experience is required for next level. So staying at lower levels and fighting monsters to buff up for the boss might sound like a good idea, but chances are - you will starve to death sooner than you achieve this goal.

The conclusion.
Pixel Dungeon is hard and unforgiving. Unless you like roguelike games, I would not recommend it. People seem to be endlessly complaining that it is too hard. I think Watabou is giving in to this, and he already made an item that will grant you second life - with it's limitations of course. I only got to level 14 on my best run. Still no idea who is the third boss, but to me, it does not matter. To me - the adventure is what counts. I intentionally neglected to mention few things about PD - let it be a surprise for you, if you decide to give it a shot.

Pixel Dungeon is FREE on Google.Play and is developed by one man in his spare time. He does accept donations through PayPal and if you feel like it - donate.
Thank you for reading - I hope you enjoyed it! Don't be shy and leave a comment!   read

4:50 PM on 02.25.2013

The Dead Linger alpha - A First-Person Zombie Roguelike

What is roguelike ? From Wikipedia:
The roguelike is a sub-genre of role-playing video games, characterized by level randomization, permanent death, and turn-based movement. Most roguelikes feature ASCII graphics, with newer games increasingly offering tile-based graphics. Games are typically dungeon crawls, with many monsters, items, and environmental features. Computer roguelikes usually employ the majority of the keyboard to facilitate interaction with items and the environment. The name of the genre comes from the 1980 game Rogue.

What is The Dead Linger ? From TDL Wiki:
The Dead Linger is a first-person zombie survival game by Sandswept Studios, featuring procedurally generated worlds of up to 64,000 square kilometers. The game went into Alpha on October 31st, 2012, and eventually it will allow you to drive cars, barricade windows, craft items, explore diverse areas, and kill zombies. Lots of zombies.

What is alpha ? From Wikipedia:
The alpha phase of the release life cycle is the first phase to begin software testing (alpha is the first letter of the Greek alphabet, used as the number 1). In this phase, developers generally test the software using white box techniques. White-box testing is a method of testing software that tests internal structures or workings of an application, as opposed to its functionality. Alpha software can be unstable and could cause crashes or data loss.

Two more things I would like to add before the article begins:

1. My first language is not English, so please excuse my grammar and/or stylistic mistakes. Please feel free to correct and/or comment on the next below. Thank you for understanding.

2. A lot of people tend to compare The Dead Linger with Minecraft. I do not own Minecraft, nor did I have played it at any time. Basing this article on youtube videos and/or reviews and not actually playing Minecraft first would be wrong. Hence, I am not doing this.

Here goes. Enjoy!

Platform - Windows (Mac/Linux unofficially with WINE or alternatives)
Manufacturer - Sandswept Studios
Gameplay - Singleplayer/Multiplayer (LAN, Online)

As we established, there are some of the core mechanics in roguelike games, that make them unique.

First one is - level randomization.

What is planned: In The Dead Linger (will refer to it as TDL later on), when you start up your game for the first time, a World is being built. A planet sized world, that is randomly generated. Forests, mountains, hills, fields, farmlands, towns, suburbs, cities - are just a few of biomes that will be featured in TDL. Everything you see - you can get there. Every structure - enterable. Every item - manipulated (at least to a common sense degree). Bodies of water are planned. Dynamic weather is also planned. Day/Night cycles are implemented.
What is in the game: In the latest build of The Dead Linger, players can enjoy the farmlands with corn and cabbage fields. Experience the echos of life that was before in suburbs. Venture deep in-to the forests in search of a prison. Discover the things they are capable of when pressed on to survive no matter what. Find an arsenal of melee weapons and firearms scattered randomly in the suburbs. And of course - have an apple on a roof of a barricaded house.

Second one is - survival.

What is planned: First, let me just say that if you played any roguelike at all, you have probably noticed that they are HARD. One wrong decision can lead to your death. And, it will be permadeath (permanent death is a situation in which player characters (PCs) die permanently and are removed from the game) at that. TDL will feature difficulty levels, and only Hardcore difficulty will have permanent death.
Perils that will lead to your untimely death may include - hunger, infection, blunt-force trauma, gunshot wounds, lacerations and incineration. Future builds implement complex health system, with different layers of wounding.
What is in the game: The world you generate can be an unforgiving place. Zombies are the only enemy (except for hostile players) that can do any direct damage to your character right now. Zombies in turn, can only be killed by damaging the infected brain - a headshot or a trauma to the head. They are many in numbers and lurk in unusual places. Hunger is a factor also, but unless you spawn in the forest or neglect the housing estate visible just up ahead, is pretty hard to die from. Hostile players are rare right now (if only because we all are nice), but even friendly players sometime do friendly fire or accidental discharge. Health is regenerating over time, but only as a placeholder.

Third one is - the gear.

What is planned: Well, where should I begin? Planned is basically anything you can scavenge in a general store. Clothing, tools, electronics, toys, weapons, vehicles, food, cigarettes and many many more items. So far, item generation file in TDL got 403 entries. No all of them are implemented, but this is just a drop in the ocean, since there will be crafting. At this point the exact style and system of crafting is unknown, except that some of the concept art show peculiar combinations and there is a thread on forums with propositions. Vehicles are planned too, with maintenance and vehicular homicides.
What is in the game: Clothing can be found in suburban houses, so is food, weapons and ammo.
Weapons are divided in to melee and firearms. Melee weapons are silent and do not require ammo, but in turn they have short range and a slow rate of fire (swing rate). Amongst the others you can find a sledgehammer, metal pipe, frying pan, discipline paddle and a baseball bat. Firearms are faster in dispensing punishment, ranged and make a lot of noise - alerting nearby zombies and players. Right now there is no difference in damage on firearms, only aesthetics, number of rounds in a magazine and sights. Also in the game are gas masks, but for now they are decorations more than anything, until infection will be implemented.

Fourth one is - not for everyone!

Same as with roguelike games. Some people can't in to ASCII graphics, some people in to turn-based-combat, some people in to all the text, some people in the difficulty, some people in to randomness. Same thing with The Dead Linger - it will not appeal for everyone.

Let me write some of the turn offs you can get in TDL.

1. Bugs - some people, even after reading what "a game in alpha" means, still think that they are purchasing a finished and polished product. And I cannot blame them, "alpha" these days passes for "early access" in a lot of games. But this is not the case with The Dead Linger. No. It is true alpha, with all the ugliness that is attributed to an early stage of development. Guns don't make gunshot sounds sometime, trees grow inside of houses and zombies hit you through the wall.
2. Graphics - other people, can't stand anything that is not AAA and photo-realistic, 1920 high definition picture. Those people can just move along. TDL feature placeholder art/textures/models, which are subject to change at any time without warning. It was stated on TDL Kickstarter page that developers aiming for STALKER - Clear Sky graphics in final versions. Right now zombies all look the same, there is no foliage and shadows are noticeably sharp.
3. Content - someone else is impatient, and want all the PLANNED features NOW. I too want them now, but am patient and see no problem with development times. TDL in it's current state is playable, especially if you are in-to role-playing and find some friends to play along. Or if you like solitude, grab a gun and head out for, well, whatever you are seeking. SandSwept Studios (people behind making the game) are a small team and working really hard to deliver more content with each build. You can read changelog here (it is not recent, but close enough) and get a good idea on the progress vs. time developers are doing. Only two house layouts, weapons pretty much feel the same and no means of traveling other than walk/sprint in vastly large world.

Honorable mention - The Music.

Music is a part of atmosphere. Any way you look at it - music changes the mood, one way or the other. In The Dead Linger, music adds sorrow. Adds the realization that you are only a speck of sand in the desert. That your life means nothing to the world anymore. That human kind is no longer a young lead dancer, but a inept old man stepping on his partner shoes. That humans failed each other.
But there still is hope...
Music in TDL is done by Jonathan Churchill and Brandon Chapman.

From what I wrote above, might look like the game is incomplete - and it is.
Where are the skills ? Where are the monsters ? Where are the NPCs ? Well, since the game is in the early stage of development - some of the features are yet to be implemented.
We will have to wait and see - how The Dead Linger evolves with next build. If you are interested, you can read up about TDL here, meet the community here, and pre-purchase it here - it is 19.99USD during alpha. For your 20 bucks you not only get the game - now and when it is done - but also supporting the further development and can participate in fleshing out the game! With the amount of content in the final version of the game, 20USD is very small price.   read

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