So those familiar with my work outside rambling columns and sweary videos will know I'm a hobbyist solo game developer, and last week I released a beta for a Roguelike survival horror concept I've been working on for a while, called The Consuming Shadow. A product of a series of torrid love affairs with procedurally-generated indie games, like FTL: Faster Than Light, Rogue Legacy, and The Binding of Isaac. Feel fee to download it from my personal site, and let me know what you think.
I'm not entirely sure why procedural generation started appealing to me so much. It could be related to how I found appeal in extremely hard, fast-paced games like Super Meat Boy. I seem to like games in which you throw yourself at a problem over and over again in multiple short playthroughs and quickly move to the next with each death (see also Hotline Miami). And when procedural generation is thrown into that mix, I can enjoy that kind of challenge while always experiencing new things, whether it be different story events or different random gameplay elements that change the nature of the challenges.
But what I specifically want to address in this column is something that a couple of correspondents have called me out on, and that's that Consuming Shadow has a couple of features that, in past installments of this very column, I have railed against. Namely, random dungeons and randomness in general, and sanity meters in horror games.
Well. I reserve the right to change my opinion, I'm not an Easter Island head. Looking forward to changing my opinion on next-gen consoles just as soon as you stop proving me right all the time, lads. Above all else, you must be open to being persuaded, otherwise you turn into one half of a shouty Fox News debate that goes absolutely nowhere.
And the simple answer is, I've changed my mind about randomness. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn't. It works in games you're intended to play over and over again. It means having to learn how to be skilled at the game, rather than simply memorize each level and the best approach. A computer program can easily get through a fixed level if you simply hard-code the exact sequence of movements required. When it changes each time, you have to adapt and use the more creative parts of your brain.
I think it was when I was talking about Diablo 3 that I argued against randomly-generated dungeons, stating that a lack of design makes such things insipid. I'd still argue that to be true, because the point is, randomness works in games designed for multiple short, repeated attempts. In Diablo 3 they are part of a single, very very long campaign. Any equipment, experience or bonus you acquire from a random dungeon is something that has to go towards the remainder of that campaign, and it can be frustrating to get unlucky rolls of the dice that you then have to live with. Whereas, in games like FTL, playthroughs are shorter, so bad runthroughs (a) are over a lot faster and (b) provide important worst-case-scenario training.