Electron Dance
31Jul/1814

Discussion: The Rogue and The Artiste

This month's newsletter is a bonus episode of The Ouroboros Sequence (sign up if you want to read it):

A gloom hangs over an unsolved dance puzzle, a dread we might be in Turn 1 Dick Move territory. You made a mistake several steps back... and now it’s unfolding right in your face.

Dear subscribers, if you feel like chatting about anything at all from the newsletter, please speak your mind in the comments here.

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  1. Ok, I think I am confused slightly. I got an email with the discussion post via Mail Chimp’s newsletter but not the actual post, even though it says I should subscribe if I want to read it.
    Unless the mail I got is the “new post” and the newsletter will come at a later time

  2. Sorry Maurycy! I have to get the discussion page ready just before I post the newsletter and usually I’m doing this late at night. However today I am doing it around lunchtime, which is when Mailchimp is sending mails based on the RSS feed. So you’ve got a mail about the discussion post before the newsletter.

    The newsletter will be with you in the next ten minutes, final proofreading…

  3. Hopefully quick rant about one of the links: Complaints about curated stories omit the broader context that shapes the form of the story. These complaints – limited in duration and subject to protocols – cannot say why these curated stories are any different from the persuasive narratives of the past.

    Really I don’t understand how the complaint is supposed to show anything distinctive about the digital age. How is this not just “modern life is rubbish”? If the article opens up with a similar complaint from 1936 about the media that were newish then, maybe this is a sign that we’re not getting at anything distinctive about any particular age or medium?

    And these two sentences are right next to each other: “As readers, we are helpless voyeurs without an avenue for effective action. [paragraph break] It has become increasingly common for stories to be harnessed for utilitarian goals – like a legislative victory or registering people to vote.”

    The author does seem to have a book about the subject, which I don’t have time to read, so I guess what I get is this easily digestible soundbite curated by the blog editors.

  4. Did you try the roguelike mode in Ending or Rust Bucket? They’re maybe not as deep as other roguelikes, but should be a good way of testing your hypothesis! Was surprised you didn’t mention them…

    I understand where you’re coming from – combat puzzles seem to be particularly suitable for trial-and-error puzzles with opaque solutions (no way of gauging whether any specific move is necessary, or will lead to failure 5 turns later, or somewhere in between). I’ve only dabbled with DROD but very much got this impression from it.

    That said, I think Rust Bucket balanced this pretty well – there were some bullshit too-many-enemies puzzles, but there was enough good system design and smaller more reasonable puzzles that I was happy to sit through them (until I hit a roadblock late in the game, anyway).

  5. God, I haven’t commented in ages but I love the comparison between roguelikes and the tile dance puzzler.

    Chogue was amusing.

    And all the Side by Side games indeed!

  6. Droqen

    Okay, I’ve given it some thought. But I’m still not sure why you dumped that word on my doorstep :) Do you mean that movement in one of these puzzles naturally encourages danger and I’d rather not move?

    Matt

    Maybe I’m seeing what I want to see. I’ll have another read of the article soon.

    Alan

    I found out about the roguelike mode in Ending while I was finishing up the writing and unfortunately it was too late to try it out :( I wasn’t aware of the roguelike mode in Rust Bucket. I worked through a number of Rust Bucket levels and nothing that I’d tried was really hard but I did not find it interesting. I stopped on a level where you’re flooded with enemies. I’m sure I could get through but not sure if I want to…

    Is that a formal term for these puzzles? “Combat puzzles”? I only ask as some of these puzzles are about evasion (a lot of Lara Croft GO was about evasion vs confrontation).

    Gregg

    HELLO. Chogue was interesting but it kept crashing on me. Plus, being unable to see into the darkness when you could suddenly be taken felt unfair. I couldn’t figure out a strategy to deal with that.

  7. I think about these roguelikes and dance games in relation to many of Michael Brough’s games (zaga, 86856527, imbroglio, cinco paus), which have become associated with the word ‘zugzwang’ to me not because it’s an accurate descriptor but because I first learned the word in relation to them and because it is a fun word to think about.

    “zugzwang puzzle” is definitely a gross misuse of the term but it’s how I think about DROD and Ending and Rust Bucket.

    I’ve started to dread zugzwang not because of the emotions it evokes (the “I’d rather not move” you’ve mentioned) but because my eye has become terribly trained to notice it and it’s now such a videogame artifact that it takes me out of every gameworld that it’s a part of!!! tho I liked DROD back when I first played it, a decade ago.

    (To be clear, I wasn’t expecting any of that to come through by simply leaving “zugzwang” on your doorstep. But “zugzwang” was all I felt like writing! I’m a troublemaker! Ha ha ha ha ha)

  8. You know, I’ll give you that droqen, it IS a fun word :) The issue you mention about recognizing the “zugzwang” is increasingly happening for all puzzle types. I groan a little when I see puzzles turn up in non-puzzle games because it’s either going to be (a) easy and/or (b) in a game not built for puzzle purpose thus be really horrible to drive.

    I reckon I should give DROD another roll of the dice, but whenever I see a bit of a DROD in a video it just doesn’t look interesting to me.

  9. For me, a unique element of the joy of DROD is getting into the right position to deal with a mass of roaches and then just mashing the ‘turn left’ and ‘turn right’ buttons. It’s plain satisfying, despite falling roughly under the umrella of the kind of ‘repetitive action’ which most good puzzle games shy away from. There are certainly some finnicky “combat puzzles” where silly choices early on screw you over later, but I recall the majority of the puzzles definitely *not* being that way.

  10. I’m glad you finally gave Rustbucket a go, even if it wasn’t for you. At least you got an article out of it!

  11. Necropost powers unlocked!

    The “I like puzzlers”/”I like roguelikes”/”I don’t like turn-based dances” combination seems pretty natural to me. Classic roguelikes have the reputation of being unforgiving but they’re tremendously forgiving compared to classic puzzlers (“classic” is there so I can no-true-Scotsman my way out of a lot of trouble). Part of it is that if there’s permadeath it’s rude to create a situation where you have to do everything right, whereas in puzzlers if you slip off the One True Path you can undo your way out of it–or at least restart and try to reconstruct the things you did right.

    But also, classic roguelikes need to have a fair amount of routine built in. If you want emergent interactions, you need something for them to emerge from. Buying an item by walking into a store, picking up what you want, and paying the shopkeeper is more laborious than just having the selection available from a menu, but if the store is a menu you won’t be able to do things like wangling your pet in to carry things away.

    So it seems like turn-based dances are kind of triggering two different instincts–the roguelike where it’s about getting to the next combat (and often, choosing the combat) and the sokoban where you have to tiptoe carefully around the obstacles. (Part of what I’m suggesting is that in most of their gameplay roguelikes don’t have the kind of claustrophobia you’re taking about.) In classic roguelikes you know it’s usually about optimizing and conserving resources, with some room for gaining an advantage by fancy maneuvering. In classic puzzlers you usually expect it to be about fancy maneuvering, or at least, you can never quite be sure that fancy maneuvering isn’t required rather than “Polish off this part in the obvious way and worry about the next.” Roguelikes can’t afford to make sure that you need to fight one battle in a fancy way to set yourself up for the next–at least, the fanciness required will always be the kind of fanciness that gets you generally applicable advantages (you save a hit point or don’t use a resource).

    Though there are interesting in-between cases. Zaga has a lot of turn-based combat aspects to it even though it’s a roguelike–you do have to do some complex calculations about how you can get from one place to the next, spend a tempo so you get the first hit on a monster, etc. The big thing maybe is that you have multiple hit points that regenerate slowly so it’s still not about finding a perfect solution but one where you lose the least.

    And I’ve been playing a lot of the first DROD online (partly because of a tragedy–my arrow keys are sticking which doesn’t interfere with me doing actual work but does interfere with a lot of games with arrow-based controls) which does have a lot of levels that aren’t about the One True Path but about getting yourself in a situation where you can beat back the oncoming tides, and the details of how you get into that situation aren’t always critical. There’s a heuristic that if you can get in certain positions like two-square wide passes you can hold them against all comers. As droqen said mashing the ‘turn left’ and ‘turn right’ buttons is satisfying though also grindy.

    In some places, where you have monster generators, you can get yourself into an equilibrium position and the goal is to optimize the speed at which you clear out a heap of stuff so you’re actually able to take a couple steps forward before the next heap arrives. Some of this leads to emergent solutions–at least I’m pretty sure at least some of my solutions can’t possibly have been intended–because there’s so many things going on that it’s a chaotic system. In puzzle structure these levels remind me of Crayon Physics, in that the levels are set and the designers solved them, but there are so many things you could do that it’s possible to come up with completely different ways around an obstacle.

    Also the experience of hacking through something trying to clear a way forward just enough to make progress before the next wave bursts through reminds me of trying to close browser tabs.

  12. Matt

    I feel like I haven’t been responding to some of your recent essay submissions ^D^D^D comments so rather than sit on it a few days and then run out of time to respond, I’m going to respond right today.

    I agree a lot of the difference between the dance puzzle and the roguelike is that the former feels like a narrow challenge requiring a specific and likely obscure solution while the latter is about wild creativity, a canvas in which to paint your own solution. I completely get the Crayon Physics reference. I was thinking about this while I was playing Zip Zap which is another physics puzzler, purposefully player-abusive.

    It’s clear a lot of the levels have just one defined solution, but even then there’s a zone of freedom around the perfect solution within which the puzzle gets solved. It isn’t about ahving perfect reactions but knowing *when* you’re supposed to react. So I understand the “chaotic system” of DROD line too. I actully wanted to have another go at DROD but my pile of unopened digital purchases is massive and DROD isn’t calling me in the same way as, say Dissembler.

    Love the browser tabs call out :) BROWSER TABS: ROGUELIKE. I can’t believe I didn’t cite Hoplite in the newsletter.


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