18 Jul 13
Nandrew

Scapegoats and Holy Divers

We’ve finally made significant headway with the Desktop Dungeons Special Edition content, and one of the most exciting things to work on has been the new bonus class.

The goal of the SE is not to make the game easier to win through extra stat boosts, powerful items and monstrous characters. Instead, we’re trying to extend and enhance the dungeon experience in dangerously experimental – yet interesting – ways.

The bonus character is hamstrung in several considerable ways, but all of them contribute towards radically different playstyles and interesting new decisions as opposed to simply tacking a “plus one difficulty” sign on the dungeon. This means that a purist run through Venture Cave becomes a lot more interesting and meaningful for even the most veteran of dungeoneers.

Here’s a breakdown of what’s being added to the new kid:

Regular god switching

On every character level, the player is enlisted in the service of a new deity and their altar is revealed on the main dungeon map. No manual conversion or desecration is allowed, but there’s no piety penalty when switching between the gods.

Realistically, we’ve had trouble getting the gods to feel “challenging” after they’ve been learned – as a whole, they tend to be remarkably flexible and permissive and there’s a lot of tricks across the board to excel with most deities in any situation (a quick read of the QCF forum, at any time ever, will probably show this).

With the sporadic worship switching, we’re forcing players to consider the more immediate ramifications of their resources and behaviour: if you’re worshipping Dracul, you have limited opportunities to earn piety off lifesteal and blood consumption, and even more restrictions if there happens to be a Glowing Guardian altar on the level.

The inability to plan ahead forces players to use gods very differently and explore boons that may otherwise fall by the wayside.

The food meter

The bonus character now has to deal with an additional resource in play: hunger. Players start the dungeon with a finite amount of food which gets consumed when revealing tiles. If the character runs out of food and continues exploring, they’ll begin to starve, losing health and mana until they die or find more food.

Stocks are replenished slightly whenever you kill a monster, forcing a much more consistent (and balanced) combat ethic. Popcorn bowls can still be built up, but your character will regularly pick at them to avoid starvation (adding appropriate new meaning to the phrase). Players can engage same-level opponents more frequently and with an easier conscience. The dungeon score screen reflects a moderated experience curve with more monster engagements per level and a genuine feeling of achievement when a superior opponent is found and killed.

Other resources will be affected too. Though not adequate for nourishment alone, quaffing a health or mana potion can save your life if you’re being hit particularly hard by starvation and need to uncover just a few more tiles for a god, a softer opponent or even a gold drop. Finding an early WONAFYT or LEMMISI greatly increases your food efficiency and gives you a legitimate edge.

Like the god switching, food forces players to live far more “in the moment” and have an interesting dungeon experience from beginning to end instead of just trying to save everything for the final boss spike.

No level-up restoration

Partially inspired by the joke character thread on our forums, this class trait is quietly the most devastating and challenging nerf that players will have to deal with. Aspects of the dungeoneering experience that were once taken for granted – especially by veterans – now become real and unavoidably terrifying.

With this small change, poison and mana burn become monstrous and immunities are godsends. If you get bitten by a snake, you’ll almost always have to chug a health potion – unless you’re lucky enough to own HALPMEH or the Viper Ward. Mana burn can be even more painful.

The lack of full top-up (which players are classically given as a freebie, often many times per session) combined with the scarcity of food means that wasting tiles without regenerating is especially costly. It means you have to plan your attack and recovering for the level-up monster as much as any other.

And the biggie that many veterans have come to rely on: the mid-fight level-up does nothing to help you spike against a boss or especially tough opponent. Good luck getting through the harder dungeons with that one hanging over your head.

Fortunately, this crippling problem is mitigated by the bonus class conversion perk, which provides the full health and mana restore of an average level-up (without the attached cure effects). In theory, you could save up for a powerful spike against the boss using this trait – on the condition that you’re willing to let those junkable items clog up your inventory in a session that demands frequent tactical switch-ups.

In summary

When Special Edition players get access to the new class, we hope that it’ll provide a game experience which forces them to consider the dungeon as a whole, rather than just a build-to-boss process. All of the traits described above enforce short term goals by putting immediate restrictions on resources and demanding a meaningful decision of the player, forcing them into sub-optimal (and radically different) behaviours while still being the best decision they could make at the time. Potions get consumed at inconvenient hours. Starvation forces regular monster targeting. Formerly niche items can save your life because you need them right there and then.

The accurate and persistent balancing of this class isn’t guaranteed, as the systems we’ve adjusted weren’t specifically in mind when the broader game was developed. Subdungeon design and several vicious arenas don’t play nicely with food. God switching has some scary pits of imbalance. And needless to say, non-restoration on levelling goes in literally the opposite direction of the game’s usual balance.

That’s why we’re confident about offering this class as a bonus and a challenge to players who want more meat from easier dungeons and a front row to some of the more “what if” scenarios we’ve had for the game. Besides, if Desktop Dungeons wasn’t constantly a process of deciding between hell and torment while occasionally managing to live through both, would it really be living up to its name?


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