Today’s journalism exercise is to write an article on roguelikes without mentioning Spelunky, FTL, Rogue Legacy, Dwarf Fortress, Diablo, The Binding of Isaac, NetHack, Angband, Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, Ancient Domains of Mystery, Tales of Maj’Eyal, Brogue, 868-Hack, DoomRL, Dungeons of Dredmor, Teleglitch or Rogue. Go…
This year I didn’t attend a certain conference in Berlin. We’ll call it the _like conference. I feel some shame in this but we’ve got games conferences coming out of our arses at the moment. Whilst I feel I’ve been lax, I’ve also been spoilt. I met Klout evangelist Patrick Ashe at Feral Vector last week and the tone of his greeting suggested the underlying sarcasm, “oh, you again. What a surprise.” However I did attend the _like conference two years ago when it was in London.
This particular brand of games conference attracted a certain type of person. I met some of them at the pub the night before. Let me mention that I have certain quantity of Irish blood and I do like to drink. These guys didn’t drink. Apart from one though. He introduced himself by drawing attention to his glass eye and the fact he was deaf in one ear, so that’s why he’ll be dealing out funny looks today. He immediately became my favourite person to talk to for the rest of the evening. More of a gamer than a developer he let on before telling me a lot of things about games of the genre that were very entertaining. I feel sorry that my poor memory has lost his name.
Darren Grey of games podcast fame was also there. Darren doesn’t drink. Darren is also far more Irish than I am, so this gives me pause. I do have a number of increasingly tea-total friends so I’m not against the thing at all, but the widespread nature of it in the _like scene at that conference I think says something about _likes in general. It’s something you can enjoy perfectly sober, perhaps the more so the better.
Darren has a series of @s tattooed up his arm, like he’s just paid to get into the same nightclub eight times. They represent the games he has made and will likely continue to make - the same genre but reinvented again and again. I played one of his titles around his house at a party following the yearly _like game jam. It had procedurally generated music reminiscent of Delia Derbyshire and, like all of his games, killed you outright on the first mistake. It’s sort of philosophy I’ve come to aspire to as well. That so long as you have some warning you’re about to make a fatal move then you can take responsibility for your own death. And you’re not allowed to revisit that death, you can’t perfect it, master it, and eventually overcome it like a puzzle. Death is like Roy Batty’s tears.
And then you start again. Albeit under the rules of Eastern religions to contend with a new body and fresh environment. With such a strong theme of being reborn into a different soul is there any wonder why the _like genre reinvents itself so much? To the point where it attracted language Nazi’s in the same way games as whole do now. Anyway, I digress…
There were a lot of people representing many corners of the _like genre at that conference. I particularly like the ideas in Tom Ford's stuff. The sort of mechanics in DDRL is something we should be seeing a lot of in the genre by now and yet the popular titles we all know rarely place movement as a key factor in the game. A man going by some title of Dark God was also there. He is possibly one of the most normal looking deities I’ve ever laid eyes on. He has invented a game engine for the genre. Darren has used it a lot to make his titles. It uses Lua, a language I’ve been learning recently with the iPad app Codea. Lua is very entertaining to work in, sort of like a language for kids (it was designed to be used by simple engineers apparently) but with some bizarrely powerful backdoors into changing how the text you feed it is read. It’s like it goes under your nose and over your head at the same time.
Many attending the conference were also programmers. The biggest fans of _likes are programmers and programmers of them. The genre started by using a great deal of the keyboard and still does. (A hold-over from its roleplaying game roots.) Even the work of Jeff Lait to bring the genre to the Game Boy has a depth to it where I can accidentally set fire to myself in a forest and the mortal conflagration that ensues is unexpected. I’m sad I’ve not played more of Jeff’s work, owing to being stuck on a Mac. And yes, this year’s party at Darren’s had Tom Ford showing off his Windows made game on his Mac. And no, I won’t be able to play it because I still can’t be arsed to install Bootcamp. A lot this year’s entries did this. Even I can’t cry foul at being asked to compile someone else’s code for them because this year I submitted a board game. It’s been played by three people so far. Once.
Board games have many parallels with the turn based _likes. So it was no surprise that one developer at the conference was creating a board game himself. Ido Yehieli is softly spoken but leans towards the more absolutist definition of _likes. Whilst his own work isn’t all ascii and weighed down with a breadth of inventory that confounds manageable scope, he’s not above turning his nose up at the outliers of the definition that have brought _likes into the mainstream. I’m personally a more the merrier guy, but my games reflect this as well. My first time on the games podcast that Darren hosts was something of a game design inquisition. Why did I do this? Why did I do that? Had I not considered the consequences? The answer to all of these was that my actions were guided by having fun. I simply wanted to make a big fiddly game and have fun making it. The notion that other people were supposed to enjoy it was very low on my list. Ido was present on that particular show. I found his questions fair, and not quite on the scale of the bullying I received from others, but he still found the need to apologise when I met him in person. I hadn’t yet played his game Cardinal Quest at the time, it would be a while before it was on iPad and I would diligently plow through it to completion. But given that any animosity had been cleared, I was now free to take Ido’s manifesto more seriously. I would go on to design a very pure and very thought out addition to the _like genre. Back at the conference however we sat through a number of talks and then people gathered around Ido’s prototype game, a grid of hexes with a plant / fire / water theme of tokens, and argued about what sort of mechanics should be in it.
As the discussion went on it became clearer and clearer that we weren’t going to go to the pub. This struck me as a sacrilege to everything conferences stood for - yet there these guys were. And apparently still were into the night, messing with the game whilst I retired grumpily, wondering if years of drink and drugs had narrowed my definition of fun too much.
Whilst there’s things about the _like scene I don’t get (especially when it makes me question my relationship with intoxication), it’s an interesting community. Membership has never been easier, we snark at those who lazily put the word _like in the lede of their product description. The yearly crop from the _like jam produces wonders like _’s Eye where you can play a _like in the style of Eye of the Beholder to The Conception where you play a sperm. Enemies include chlamydia and candida. I mean not to be rude but this girl needs to go to the clap clinic, not get up the duff. The next year the same guy makes a game where you play a fish performing quests for fishermen. It’s the sort of thing where I struggle to figure out whether it’s actually any good because I’m so weirded out by playing this ascii text computer game in such a strange setting. On top of this he’s provided the engine code to do similar online.
I don’t really know where I was going with this article when I started it. I just thought about the rules I laid out for it that I was going to snarkily write on twitter and then I realised what the missing _ in _like articles you see these days is. I can imagine Darren reading through this and thinking that yet again this is another _like article that told him nothing he already knew. Hopefully you haven’t already heard of the _like community and the wealth of games they’ve been making over the years. Some of them you may well have heard of, but I’m betting there’s still so many that you haven’t.