25 Jan 11

Easy dungeons for the veteran

It feels a bit odd writing a post about tutorial progression and the easier dungeons, mainly because most of this blog’s readership consists of dedicated fans who already know a thing or two about clicking around single-screen dungeons. Still, it’s a game aspect which we find absolutely vital — keeping both beginners AND veterans in mind.

The freeware version of DD didn’t sport much more than a rather basic tutorial, quickly introducing core concepts and murdering the player a few times with some goats before tossing them into the deep end of a “normal” dungeon. Even when they’re provided with a quiet 20% monster strength reduction (at least until the first victory), some beginners still feel rather overwhelmed by the whole experience. So obviously we have to make things a little easier in the commercial version.

But how do we do this without boring experienced players too much? It’s a tricky situation which we think we have a solution for.

Teaching people how to play the game properly is difficult in itself. DD is a little too complicated to explain simply and concisely. Most of the gameplay (and indeed, a jolly good portion of the fun) lies beyond simple how-tos and canned examples, dependent on a player’s patience and willingness to explore the system themselves.

While Unity DD will see a return of the standard murder-by-goat tutorials, we’re also trying to construct a few starting dungeons with slightly less explicit “training wheels”, giving players tailored situations with fewer monsters, easier bosses and one or two glyphs which are specifically designed to work in synergy with one another, creating a “soft puzzle” situation which has different goals and values depending on the sort of player you are:

BEGINNER: enjoy a moderately challenging dungeon using a reduced set of the typical monsters, spells and characters that will be encountered over the course of the game. You’ll still receive help in the form of occasional, un-intrusive hint signposts (an elegant tutoring device which is gaining popularity in randomly-generated games), but for the most part: it’s all you, baby! You should successfully complete this scenario after a couple of tries at most, and will be able to bask in your achievements and newfound game knowledge afterwards. As a bonus, you may just be clever enough to figure out how the provided glyphs work with each other and maybe exploit one or two monster weaknesses intelligently. Maybe you’ll even be tempted to buy and explore an unlock or two in the kingdom screen when you’re done — not absolutely necessary, but it can’t hurt to experiment with a different character or dungeon preparation! Either way, you’ll walk away knowing one important fact: DD certainly isn’t an easy game, but you’re already taking your first steps towards mastering it.

VETERAN: encounter revised versions of the old “dud” glyphs, discover the joys of brand new synergies and game tactics, and uncover bonus rooms that only a cunning and dedicated DD fan like yourself could ever hope to come across! Stroll out of the dungeon with more money and success than you can shake a gold-plated stick at and use this to quickly unlock vast and exciting sections of the new kingdom long before the average player would. The sheer variety of opportunities that you’ll get to explore early on will keep you entertained even during this relatively easy section of the game.

I want to compare this idea to the good old Super Mario Bros world warp rooms: affording newbies a gentler starting curve than that in DD’s freeware while still allowing veterans to progress at a fun and interesting rate through the game. We’ll see how well this works once the game moves into its playtesting phase …

11 Responses to “Easy dungeons for the veteran”

  1. Lee Says:

    I wouldn’t worry too much about TotalBiscuit being overwhelmed playing this, he sucks at all games. At least watch him playing shank in the before taking him struggling at face value

  2. Dinre Says:

    I feel a little conflicted about the ideas presented in this post. On one hand, I love the hardcore aspect of DD. I’m an old Rogue-like fan, and that has conditioned me to the large failure:win ratio. However, DD has been disappointing in a way, because while Nethack & Co were hard, they still allowed you to feel progress for a while before slapping down the chromatic D (unless you experimented a little too much with the polymorph).

    With DD, I often feel like I’m playing the same dungeon repeatedly, even though the layout/monsters are randomly generated. I don’t really want easier dungeons; I just feel like I need some other little ‘carrot’ to round out the fun. Perhaps some sort of side-quest or alternate-goal mechanic where I could complete a challenge that may or may not win me the dungeon but would help break up the monotony. I tend to get bored of DD rather quickly in its current form.

    Good luck turning this thing into a commercially viable venture. I’m more than willing to sprout a little cash your way if you guys will turn out a worthwhile game… where are the donate link and feature roadmap?

  3. Jax Says:

    Being a late-comer to the free DD, I still struggle with the pansy weakling of a priest, getting chopped to bits by every hoodlum goblin that shows up.

    For Unity, a training section would be good. Make it optional. That way the hardcore Berserkers can jump straight into their hardcore hard-headedness right off. And the meek pansy-elf with priesty hats can train a bit a-fore the killing spree.

  4. Rourke Anderson Says:

    I have a quick question, which is assuming DD will cost money in the future, will you have a proper version for Mac released? If so I know a good number of people that would buy it in a second.

    Absolutely fabulous game, even if I’m stuck playing a ghetto and half broken Wine-Version.



  5. Aequitas Says:

    @Rourke We’re working in Unity so that we can release for both PC and Mac with no annoying emulators in the way 😉

  6. Nandrew Says:

    @Lee A valid point, although TotalBiscuit isn’t the only player to find DD a little too difficult. 😉 I think he probably hams it up for the hilarity value anyway.

    @Dinre We’re hoping to address your concerns in the final version of DD by making dungeons genuinely more varied. The side-quests and challenges you mention will be making it in, as well as radically different dungeon layouts (not just “skins”) and a host of new enemy types and sub-dungeons to give different playthroughs distinctly unique flavours.

    At least, that’s how it should work in theory! We hope that players end up liking the changes we’ve made: the test versions and concepts we have already seem to be kicking the freeware’s ass in many regards.

    @Jax: you’re precisely the sort of player we’re hoping to help out in the full DD. Hopefully we’ll be able to train you up to berserker status in no time. 😉

  7. Jax Says:


    Good to hear! In the meantime I’ll hang in there with the priest and see if the divine intervenes in a future free-DD boss-fight. 🙂

  8. Fadedc Says:

    To Dinre,

    I always thought the carrot in the free version of DD was the unlocks. I also stopped doing the regular dungeon once I reached the point where it was no longer unlocking anything by completing it. But I had a ton of fun playing through all the challenges to unlock the various other classes and races, and finally just trying to run as many classes as possible through the bonus dungeons to unlock more gold and shops to give me a better chance in the campaign. For me that was the true carrot and it was a great one.

    I would have liked to see more focus on the vanilla dungeon though. It felt like you spent the beginning of the game unlocking more and more new monsters there only to have you completely ignore it before long.

  9. Artemus Harper Says:

    One of the most difficult concepts to get across is the fact that exploration is a resource. An interactive tutorial that provides hints along the way can help with some of these concepts.

    If the player is at full health, and there is a visible monster that is the same or lower level, warn the player if they simply ignore the monster and explore instead.

    Monsters with special abilities could have popups that give the player more details on the ability.

    Alternatively, you can have an easy mode that provides tools to help players out of bad situations. E.g.

    The player is allowed a limited number of rest moves that act like exploration without actually exploring.

    Limited duration on poison and mana burn.

    Higher level monsters provide bonus XP, enough such that you can reach level 10 even if you never kill something above your level.

  10. Charles Says:

    When I first discovered DD, there was no tutorial. I don’t remember how exactly I stumbled across the game, but I do remember that I went in knowing next to nothing about it (other than it was billed as a rogue-like that could be played in ten or fifteen minutes–or at least that was how I interpreted it at the time).

    So I just opened up the game and started playing. My first surprise was: the monsters don’t move! And I thought, “Well, this is going to be a piece of cake.” Shortly thereafter I realized that you only regained health and mana when uncovering an unexplored square. Then I thought, “Oh, hey, this is something completely different than I what I was expecting!” It was not cake, but it was (and still is) a lot of fun.

    Anyway, my point is that it took me about five minutes to figure out how to play the game, if that. Obviously I didn’t know everything there was to know about the game (and probably still don’t), but I had enough knowledge to start figuring stuff out: how some of the glyphs worked in synergy with each other, the fact that you got experience boosts for defeating higher level monsters, the trick of leveling up in the middle of a boss fight, etc. Figuring all that stuff out was at least half the fun of playing.

    I guess what I’m saying is that the tutorial should be just enough to get a player going, but shouldn’t give them too much information. I know, you can always just not play the beginner dungeons, but if I start a game for the first time and there is a beginner setting, I’m probably going to use it.

    I’m glad I went into DD totally blind. The thrill of beating my first dungeon was great, and every time I figured something out it felt like I had achieved something. I don’t know what this means as a comment on the blog post above–maybe hide the beginner dungeons until the player has played a few normal dungeons (and failed to win)? Would that make sense, or would it just be frustrating?

  11. jrodman Says:

    exploration as resource is .. not intuitive. I feel like it runs counter to the whole spirit of roguelikes, and despite giving DD several tries, just feels like a very obscure and abstract juggling act with a bad UI.

    I think the game should find a way to allow exploration to happen independently of how full your health bars are, or rather go the other way and reduce the map even further.

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