05 Jul 13

Game reviews and betas

This week the South African printing of Popular Mechanics carried an interview with us about Desktop Dungeons. Magazine production cycles being what they are, the interview that led to the article actually took place nearly two months ago in an awesome burger joint in the city center. We ended up having a thoroughly enjoyable conversation for a couple of hours, meandering from the realities of game development here in SA, to what it’s like being on-stage at the IGF, to marketing your game and getting people to notice it.

One of the topics that came up was how the press interacts with a game that’s in active beta, mostly because of this PC Gamer UK review which, while it said some awesome things about Desktop Dungeons, doesn’t mention that the game they reviewed was the closed beta and has gone on record on Metacritic as giving us an 81. Unfortunately, that Metacritic score is locked in now – even if PC Gamer UK were to review the game a second time (say, when it’s actually released) and give us a better score (which they might, seeing as the problems mentioned in that review are all things that come with the beta being web-only, which the full version won’t be) Metacritic won’t update that score at all. This is a problem with Metacritic, one of the many known issues with it as a platform.

But the question of how to handle a game that’s still being developed is a good one: Should things only be covered by previews, no scores given? What if people are essentially charging money for a beta? At what point is a game a product that needs to be compared to others? Are scores even useful anyway? Our interviewer, Rogan, decided to preview Desktop Dungeons along with the interview. That’s why I was rather surprised when he contacted me a few days ago to apologise for what was in the magazine…

Apparently someone on the editorial staff on the magazine had decided that “preview” actually meant “review” and changed the title accordingly. That done, they realised that all reviews need a score, yet this one didn’t have one, so a score was summoned from thin air without the game being played. Desktop Dungeons magically earned an 80. Rogan was upset about this, rightly so. After we picked up the magazine to see for ourselves, we could see that Rogan had managed to distill hours of conversation into an interview that not only made us sound smart, but provided lots of useful encouragement and information to hopeful game developers. His preview was descriptive and critical, mentioning that the game was a beta and how you could get hold of it (you’d be amazed how many local publications don’t do that). Having a phantom score applied to his writing wasn’t cool.

Thankfully this ends well: I emailed the editor of the magazine, explaining why we felt reviewing a beta was disingenuous, not to mention someone other than the (p)reviewer giving it a score… I got a reply within minutes in which the editor not only apologised for the mistake, took full responsibility for the slip-up and pledged to be more aware of this issue in future, Popular Mechanics will also be printing a retraction/explanation of the review in their next issue to print (not the August one, that’s already been finalised). That’s good journalism.

I’ve always liked Popular Mechanics, I’m glad they’re principled and willing to learn about a medium they might not otherwise know too much about. Thanks for covering Desktop Dungeons! Here’s a picture that the photographer they sent to our house took, enjoy!


05 Jul 13

Raise Your Banners

2013-07-05blogImageGreetings, beloved Desktop Dungeons supporters! This week introduces some more aesthetic changes to several areas – Kingdom building panels now sport category ribbons, unusable items fade out in the inventory and the god service log actually offers something more than unclickable text and cryptic messages. We very nearly managed to get in a whole whack of new boon / piety graphics for the gods too, but decided that last-minute additions had the potential to cause much, much player suffering over the weekend.

Players who commented on the intensity of the new grid selection box last week will be happy to know that we’ve added an option to reduce its opacity as much as needed (hell yeah, subtlety!). We’ve also fixed up a bunch of rather uncomfortable bugs (yep, you can convert again – in both the god and item sense).

We’ll have more pretties ready for you next week. In the meantime, consult the following changelog to see if any of our fixes affected your game experience (HINT – they probably have): More…

28 Jun 13

Loose Arrows And Page-Turners



Some of you will be very pleased to hear that we’ve finally enabled keyboard arrow support for Desktop Dungeons. Combined with other interface improvements that have taken place in recent weeks, you may now use the four directional to explore an eight-directional, step-by-step dungeon experience to your heart’s content. This mode not only allows faster and more effective early-game movement (for players otherwise forced to use the trackpad), but also lets you select and engage enemies in the same way that the right-click targeting system does.

Sally forth and clackity clack to your heart’s content!

We’ve also started cleaning up the in-game menu in preparation for the impending Codex – golly, we haven’t spoken about that in a while, have we? We’ve also revised existing interface thingies a whole bunch too, including some inventory-based issues which have come to prominence in recent weeks. It’s an interesting and slightly uncomfortable balancing act, but we’re making good headway.

If this week doesn’t offer an overwhelming number of new bugs for players to bang their heads against, then we’ll consider our chunky list of fixes to be a great success. Want to know more? Well, the changelog follows: More…

26 Jun 13

Keyboards and Roguelikes


The original Rogue.

As work continues on interface and other polish elements, we’ve set aside a little time for extra keyboard controls to control things such as dungeon movement. To those who’ve been waiting for this addition since goodness knows when: now is your moment to rejoice! You’ll have it soon.

There’s always been a case for the addition of directional keyboard controls (countless bus trips spent coding and testing dungeon runs using a laptop and trackpad have demonstrated this admirably). It’s never been at the top of our priority list, though, since it just hasn’t been vital or practical enough to implement until recently – and I mean that in a broader context, oh beleaguered and anecdotal naysayers! And wow, there’s been a lot of debate in this area. More…

21 Jun 13

Such A Draaaaagggg


This week’s update comes with yet another interface tweak for in-dungeon combat: left-clicking on an opponent and dragging the mouse cursor off its grid tile will produce a quick menu similar to the recent pop-up system we’ve been testing out.

Instead of a separate control mode, this integrates itself with the rest of the combat control options (standard clicking and custom selection panel), providing users with another avenue of flexible control while being as smooth and unintrusive as possible.

The pop-up / normal combat toggle option via the in-game menu has been changed to a button layout option for this scheme, and for the time being the option will be changed randomly on new runs so that players can get a feel for both formats. Let us know what you think!

This week’s update has fixed several crash problems that appear to have cropped up with recent changes. Thank goodness for session logging! By now, we probably know more about you than the NSA does … changelog follows: More…

20 Jun 13


Drag Interactions

As I’m sure you’ve seen, in recent weeks we’ve been working on alternate interface strategies. A lot of time has been sunk into making them, just so that we could test to see if they actually felt good to play with (since you can only theorycraft so far). We’re pretty happy with what we’ve come up with so far, as it enables some different play styles, but there is another motivation for these additions: Touch screens.

We’ve known from the start that we wanted to bring DD to touch devices. The time it takes to play a dungeon, and its ‘wait for user input’ nature make DD perfect for devices where you may need to ‘look up’ every now and again. The only problem we foresee is the interface. Touch devices have no real answer to mousing over something, which in DD, has been central to how you gather information (and boy do  you need that information). So all of our new interface code has been to try and allow multiple ‘taps’ to do things, instead of ‘mouseover, then tap’. The current right-click selection will be the default tap-on-an-enemy action on touch devices, showing you combat prediction, and enemy stats, without fear of you killing yourself.

This week, we’re also adding the ‘pop-up’ interface to the normal way of playing. We think that it could be useful for mouse players, and touch devices, as it gives you the options of the thing your mouse is over, right where your cursor is.

I can’t wait to play DD on a tablet.

14 Jun 13


2013-06-14blogImageThis week, we continue messing about with art and interface and specific subsystems instead of adding new features or changing game balance (the latter being the sort of thing we want to a lot less now).

But that doesn’t mean we haven’t been hard at work! The right-click selection interface has been refined further in this week’s update. The underlying architecture has been adjusted a bit to accommodate some nasty edge cases though, so we’d appreciate any further reports of mishaps while using the system (we also saw a few reports today that we couldn’t quite get around to in time).

The Kingdom and save/load dynamics have also received some love (thanks, as always, for the reports in places where we almost certainly wouldn’t have thought to look) and we’ve got some miscellaneous changes in game areas that we can’t quite identify under any category more specific than “stuff”.

Sadly, despite what this week’s blog post may suggest, we have no immediate plans for in-game xylophones. OR DO WE? Changelog follows: More…

13 Jun 13

Drink from the Fire Hose

Fire Hose Games has been experimenting with streaming recently, doing things like discussing the intricacies of game development techniques and playing other indie games they enjoy for their audience. Back in 2010 they said some very nice things about Desktop Dungeons, so when the opportunity came up for us to put the newest version of the game in front of them, we jumped at it. That ended up with Marc and I joining Sean in playing Desktop Dungeons in front of complete strangers for a while as Sean asked us all sorts of smart questions. Here’s the recording of the stream!


Just as a programming-related aside: When you happen to be working on path-finding, make sure that it’s as self-contained as possible. I’m having a hard time right now trying to refactor some path-finding subsystems so that Marc can deal with a couple of tricky knockback-from-the-other-side-of-the-dungeon prediction problems. Some lazy coding I did months ago came back to bite me in the ass yesterday…

07 Jun 13

You Ain’t Nothin’ But A Pit Dog

2013-06-07blogImageSo, this week’s update has brought a visual update to a large chunk of the character class effects (that triad of perks which each hero comes loaded with), making the in-game portraits look a whole lot less grotty. Hooray for that! We had a great deal of fun making appropriate themes and visual styles for each set of icons, and we hope that they add a bit of extra visual “personality” to many of the classes.

The right-click enemy selection has been cleaned up drastically, so give it another chance this week if you were interested by the core idea but struggled with its glitchiness. We find it to be one massive goatload of help when it comes to regeneration-based combat, and should be a strong addition to the game’s default interface. Once that’s stable, we should be free to do more for the alternative control schemes.

The Kingdom has also been cleared up a bit to deal with some residual issues concern gold and quest updates. Additionally, we’ve implemented a mechanic that allows players to temporarily go over the gold limit when they bring in a single large haul from the dungeon, to reduce the depressing occurrence of bandit scalps and meat loafs being sold for next to nothing because gold was too close to cap after the previous run.

Thanks for the frequent and reliable bug reports: we think we’ve nailed most of the problems with the new enemy selection, and had a little time to work on some other issues as well. Check the changelog for full details! More…

06 Jun 13

Choking up

Back in the days of yore, the Desktop Dungeons alpha had a very simple generation system which more or less did its job – there was really only one kind of map, and enemies were distributed using a dumb-fire system of random placement.

This caused occasional frustration for players who ran into enemy layouts that veered wildly between extremely generous and literally impossible – most sorely felt when they arrived in a new dungeon only to be surrounded by level 9 creatures!

Fortunately, due to the low metagame investment and the earliness of the game build, this wasn’t a major problem and we smartened up the algorithm for DD’s beta. Lower-level enemies would generally spawn closer to the player’s starting position, and more challenging beasties would – on average – be created further away. Horrific map layouts were basically a thing of the past (with exceptions that we’d work on from time to time!).

As time passed, however, we realised that we needed to put some more fine-tuning into monster positions. New map generators emerged to switch up player expectations and provide variety: open terrain creators, mazes and swamplands all introduced their own sets of opportunities and challenges. More…

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