Soldak Asks: Dungeon Crawl Gameplay

By Shamus Posted Monday Jun 29, 2009

Filed under: Game Design 70 comments

Steven Peeler (of Kivi’s Underworld* and Depths of Peril fame) has begun work on the next title from Soldak entertainment, and is looking for ideas, suggestions, and feedback from the community. The official forum thread is here, and from there you can branch off into a number of interesting sub-topics. I hope he’ll forgive me for poaching a bit of the discussion and posting my thoughts here.

* I’m still working on my review of Kivi. No, I haven’t forgotten about it.

As I said in my introduction to Kivi’s Underworld, I don’t think dungeon-crawl gameplay got a fair turn. Unlike (say) adventure games or shooters, the genre fell out of favor long before the possibilities had been exhausted.

It came out in 1990, but I didn’t play Eye of the Beholder until 1991.  I didn’t have one of the sexy VGA cards like the kind used in this screenshot.  I played this game in four color CGA mode.  Also: Uphill!  Both ways!
It came out in 1990, but I didn’t play Eye of the Beholder until 1991. I didn’t have one of the sexy VGA cards like the kind used in this screenshot. I played this game in four color CGA mode. Also: Uphill! Both ways!
I don’t have any earth-shattering suggestions on the genre myself, so I’m just going to list the gameplay elements which draw me to these games. I’m also going to point back to old-school turn-based dungeon crawlers like Eye of the Beholder and Nethack, which are part of the lineage of modern day Diablo clones and thus have some wisdom to impart.

This isn’t so much a list of suggestions as a list of observations from these games over the years.


These games are not generally about story, and they suffer when you try to shoehorn in too much exposition and intrigue. (Plus, that sort of business can get expensive if you try to do it with cutscenes.) On the other hand, the boilerplate, “Bad guy is thirty levels down and wants to kill us all. Go get him.” is hopelessly dull, cliche, and lazy. It front-loads the story with exposition and then doesn’t have anything interesting to say until the end.

I think the “mystery” foe is a nice compromise here. Send the player into the dungeon in search of the source of the evil / corruption / plague / rash of high golf scores, but don’t tell them what they’re dealing with. At regular intervals you can give them another spoonful of story which answers one question and introduces the next, leading up to the big reveal of the bad guy and his plans near the end. It entices players with a question or a mystery, it spaces the story out, and it keeps the story doses small so that they don’t break up the flow.


The presence of shops in the game actually dictates whether or not looting is part of your game. Without the ability to sell stuff to an NPC, found items become very binary. It’s either something you want to use, or it’s worthless. Looting adds a dimension to the gameplay, and the lack of a system for turning useless (to the player) loot into resources makes the game very combat focused. Personally, I think loot is probably a lot easier to implement than combat, from a game design perspective. (To be fair, I’ve never authored either.) So leaving out loot is leaving out a lot of gameplay for not a lot of work. (Relatively speaking.) I love the moment-to-moment choices posed by found items. If you’ve ever hit your encumbrance limit in an Elder Scrolls game and been paralyzed not with burden but with indecision, then you know what I’m talking about.

Leveling System

When it comes to leveling, I am a spreadsheet fan, but I’m not a fan of shoehorning paper-based systems into computer games. I love the complex SPECIAL system used by fallout. I want choices and variety. On the other hand, that sort of thing can really kill the flow of a dungeon crawler. Ideally, the system should be easy to grasp and not take the player too far out of the game.

At the heart of leveling is the fact that players are choosing some reward(s) when they ding. This choice should be meaningful and a little difficult. The player should be presented with several things that they want, and be allowed to choose one or two. Do you want more hitpoints / greater carrying capacity / more darkvision / more speed / more secret-finding ability / more lock opening ability / more damage dealing / more magic mojo.

A lot of games focus on the combat – centric skills and overlook the fun of resource management skills. The ability to carry more stuff, consume less stuff, and determine the value of found stuff should not be overlooked. These games are often called “third person looters”. Loot is an important part of the game, (to me, anyway) and the in-game skill set should reflect that.


I really like games where you work your way deeper and deeper into a single dungeon complex. I realize it’s absurd to have the city sewer system be a maze. With lights. And traps. Four levels deep. And it doesn’t make much sense for those “sewers” to happen to join (and be above) a prison, which leads to some caves, which lead to inexplicable underground ruins, which lead to different caves carved out from an entirely different tileset rock, which lead to boiling magma chambers and the lair of Satan’s bigger, meaner nephew. It makes no sense, but damn it, this is what dungeon crawling is all about. There is a purity to this approach that I find deeply compelling.

So… what suggestions do you have for the Soldak team? What gameplay elements are crucial to these types of games? What do you think would make them better? (Either the Soldak games specifically or the genre in general.) You can leave a comment here – I’m pretty sure Steven will stop by – or you can stop by the forums and join the existing discussion.


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70 thoughts on “Soldak Asks: Dungeon Crawl Gameplay

  1. Factoid says:

    If we’re resurrecting dead genres, can someone please bring back space flight sims?

    I’m optimistic now that Lucasarts is re-releasing/remastering Monkey Island that they’ll get around to re-releasing Xwing and Tie Fighter and everyone will remember how fun those games are.

    There are a ton of good ideas left in that genre that never got developed because they stopped being a good place to showcase graphics hardware. Those games need to come back with a vengeance. Mostly because I was awesome at them.

  2. Von Krieger says:

    As I’ve been on a Roguelike kick this year, and as you mentioned that such are the antecedents of the genre, I can give a few ideas to things that I’ve found myself enjoying that few of the games do and do well.

    Character Variety – Races and Classes

    With a lot of Roguelike games, less is more. Considering the vast stories people put together in their minds (and often share with others) in the primary game I play of this type, Dwarf Fortress, you can squeeze a great deal of stuff from imaginative players with a few lines of text.

    In my own mind, the best variety one can get from gameplay centers around the character itself. Classes are often done in Dungeon Crawls, but Races, not so much.

    With both classes and races there’s the opportunity to flesh out a character right from the start in two different ways. Abilities can overlap, leading to a specialization, complement one another, leading to more variety, or that may even be counterproductive, giving challenge and also player wackiness.

    Though 31 flavors of Elves are not needed, giving each race its own feel and flavor is a must. In one of the DCrawl games I play, I find myself always picking the Lizardman race, because they have a substantial built in armor bonus, which helps no matter what class I play, as my gaming style in almost all RPG’s tends toward “Magic is for healing, nothing more,” and my damage tends to come from a big ol bonk stick.

    And on the topic of Lizardmen, that’s another thing I don’t see in DCrawls or RPG’s very often: the ability to have a monster or monster-like PC. This translates into my tabletop gaming as well, as I tend to outright avoid any race that is essentially an FLH, Funny-looking human.

    Elves are tree-hugging, long haired, androgynous humans with pointy ears.

    Dwarves are short, bearded, scruffy, gruff humans.

    Halflings are kleptomaniacal five year olds proportioned like human adults.

    Orcs are big, ugly, green skined humans with an underbite.

    And so on and so forth.

    Some folks don’t like to stray too far from real life, but some folks like their fantasy to be fantastic and play something that’s about as far away from themselves as they can get.

  3. Posting here or on our forums is fine with me.

    I think we are going to make a dungeon crawl right up your alley Shamus. It looks like it is going to have a dynamic story (from the quests), it will definitely have shops because I also like loot, will have a leveling/skill system, and probably have 1 dungeon going down from town (each town and dungeon will be random though).

    As for races, I agree that races adds a lot because there ends up being more combinations of characters. Races are a bit hard in a graphical game since you end up with way more art work (obviously some games do them anyways). I’m thinking of doing some kind of a dual-class system though, so maybe we will have a same feel.

  4. froogger says:

    Oh noes, not loot! I, for one, can spend far too much time organizing my inventory and debating which item is worth keeping. Heck, I’ll fill my chest with worthless trinkets, only to toss them out when marginally less worthless trinkets fill my bags. Playing Ultima was torture I tell you! “Oooh, a plate and some towels, might come in handy later on…”

    Seriously, you will have my wholehearted interest if you succeed in giving the player multiple ways to reach a goal. Say for instance a locked door can be picked, if said skill is chosen, or bashed to pieces if the character has the strength/tool etc, or perhaps magically unlocked at a hefty cost of magic points and so on. I’m sure it’d be hellish to implement, but oh, so rewarding :)

  5. Matt K says:

    Not to get too off topic, but I was wondering if Shamus’ game for the DS has come out yet. I just recently got a DSI and figured I’d give it a look when it got released.

  6. Will says:

    Within the last 5 years or so, Redshift has been publishing Legacy and the Quest. These are Eye of the Beholder crawler-type games, but with lots of extra missions and more than a little plot. Quest is huge. They report it at ~50 hours of gameplay, but if you’re a completist-explorer-geek, like myself, it can provide much more than that.

    They were designed for Palm and Pocket PC, but have been ported to desktop PC and iPhone. If you like this genre, they’re well worth checking out.

  7. Tarev says:

    I think co-op would be nice addition to any dungeon crawler, if done properly. I found the co-op in Champions of Norrath incredibly fun, if a bit frustrating, as (if I recall correctly) experiance was not divied up evenly, which usually resulted in my barbarian being some odd levels above my friends caster, which in turn caused him to get farther from combat, meaning he got less experiance, and so on.

    I think some multiplayer would be a welcome addition to any dungeon crawl, so long as its balanced so that one person(namely the one closet to the action) doesn’t become ludicrously wealthier/more powerful.

  8. Jeremiah says:

    I’m not as big a fan of the single dungeon that keeps going down. I liked the direction they took Diablo 2 with the different cities with multiple disconnected-dungeons as well as above-ground fighting.

    Yeah, overall the effect is pretty much the same: you go around killing lots of things, collecting loot, and leveling up, but it gave it a pretty nice dynamic feel.

  9. Eldiran says:

    Customization! As you pointed out, Shamus, meaningful choices when you level up are essential. For some people (like me), the more unique and customized their character is, the more fun it is for them. So, give plenty of meaningful choices to the player regarding their character (besides what equipment to wear). If the choices are too overwhelming to give all of them to a beginning player, then unveil the extra customization as the game progresses.

    Also, co-op is excellent.

  10. Lochiel says:

    @Factoid: Have you looked at Jumpgate, or Jumpgate: Evolution? They are Space Combat Sim MMOs, and might interest you if you’re looking for a XWing replacement.

    I agree with Von Krieger. A multitude of races and classes make for massive amounts of player story telling and replay. Don’t bother balancing the race/class combinations. Create races that are interesting, classes that are interesting, and let the players sort it all out. Sure the Titan Battlemage might be a little overpowered, but that’s good a good combo for new players. And the Vampire Priest of Light won’t make any sense, but I promise that some players will try it and enjoy the challenge of being hurt every time they cast a spell.

  11. Hal says:

    I know Shamus isn’t keen on the idea of story in a dungeon crawler, but I don’t think it can really hurt to have something at least vaguely compelling for the player besides, “Go from point A to point B and get all of the gold/XP pinatas in between.”

    A while back I played a dungeon crawler on the DS called Orcs and Elves. It was definitely pure in terms of being a dungeon crawler, but the general exposition of the story was unsatisfactory to me. I generally felt like I was just along for the ride, and the “spoonfuls” of story felt contrived and artificial, like an obligatory element added in just to get me to play for another level.

    I’m not asking for Lord of the Rings here, I just want a reason to care beside your standard Ancient Evil of Doom (TM).

    1. Shamus says:

      Hal: I hope I didn’t mislead you by downplaying story in a dungeon crawler. I still love story and wouldn’t mind MORE, but generally these games don’t have much. I guess a better way of putting it would be “If you’re going to have a meager story, make it count.” On the flip side, I would suggest that if you’re going to have a lot of story, you should make it optional. Tuck the backstory and setting details into books (as in Elder Scrolls) where they can be consumed or ignored at will. Some players are here for action, and too much history and geography will turn them right off.

  12. Werdna says:

    A way to have loot without shops is to introduce skills that allow creating a new item from existing weaker items. If you’ve got a skill tree you could even keep the situation where the player holds onto the item until it is useful. Maybe his tinker character starts out with the ability to combine stuff into new bladed weapons, but he can see that five levels away there’s the ability to combine stuff into new amulets… assuming he spends all the skill points of those five levels climbing up the tree rather than improving his ability to make bladed weapons.

    If you’ve got a large enough party (say five or six characters) and you are given the ability to make characters who are useless in combat because they pour everything into support skills, and share equally in experience with the ones who are fighting on the front lines benefiting from that support… well, to me that leads to lots of interesting choices. Though this sort of thing would be a lot easier to implement in a turn-based game than the real-time ones that Soldak has done so far, and it almost requires a party rather than a single character.

  13. Zombie Pete says:

    Yup, making good stuff from lots of junk, like the schematics in Fallout 3 can be a blast (although some are better than others…). Finding the plans for building these items are miniquests in and of themselves.

  14. Old_Geek says:

    How about an Etrian Odyssey type mapping system?

  15. Mari says:

    Mmmmm. I love a good dungeon crawl. Just my opinions here but they’re quite strong and solidly formed:

    Leveling gets more fun the more complex it is to me. The guy who can spend half an hour managing his inventory? I can do that at a single level-up screen balancing and juggling skills choices. Which reminds me, if you go for a meaningful level-up system, give me the option to “try before I buy” by giving me a preview of the character sheet with the selected options and asking if that’s how I want to spend my level. Nothing worse than moving from twitch mode to the level-up screen, accidentally having a muscle spasm and hating myself for now having the “shoot green boogers on foe” skill that I didn’t want because a single checkbox was all that stood between my abused fingers and my new skills.

    Multiplayer is a must. Well, obviously it’s possible to make the game without it but nothing will get my house to purchase a game faster than the ability for myself and my husband (and now the kids sometimes) to compete on the field of battle for glory and loot. And yes, we know we’re supposed to be on the same side ;-p

    Pretty options help, too. Especially for the hubs. Me, I’ll take whatever has the best stats and how it looks can hang but he’ll turn down the lime green boots of speed unless they match the rest of his armor. Similarly, I tend to opt for the biggest, burliest looking ‘toon available but he’s all about having something pretty to follow behind with the camera.

  16. Factoid says:

    @Matt K: Yes, Black Sigil has been released. It’s gotten fairly average reviews, but fans of oldschool RPGs seem to really like it.

    @Lochiel: Yeah, I tried out Jumpgate when it first game out, but I was not a huge fan of the style, and I’m not an MMO kind of guy anyway. The last Space Flight game I played was X3, but I literally quite in anger after the first 10 minutes because the gameplay was completely impossible, the flight controls sucked and there was no tutorial to tell me what the hell I should be doing. I’ve heard it’s a good game, but I couldn’t figure out how to GET to any of it.

    I’ve seen a couple of promising concepts for space flight games pop up in the last couple of years, but they all seem to get cancelled or end up being trash because they’re developed by third-rate studios or community modding groups.

    My deepest wish is that we someday get another X-Wing series installment, and my hope of all hopes is that we get a second Tachyon game and a third Independence War.

  17. Rutskarn says:

    I think a lot of games underestimate the value of a rewarding loot system. Honestly, when I look back on Morrowind, my finest memories were of looking through the dungeon, seeing a nice shiny, and going, “Damn, looks like I’m getting the new enchantment after all.”

    It’s fun to recapture some of those memories in my Let’s Play.

  18. Groboclown says:

    The one graphical looter that I really enjoyed for some reason was Dungeon Siege (the first one). It had some issues, but it was really fun to play – deep dungeons, a story if you wanted to pay attention to it (even in the multi-player world!), and a really big environment to run havoc in.

    A few newer bits of the genre I’ve come to dislike:

    – the armor sets (collect them all!) It has some nice advantages in making a complicated decision making arena, but seems like more complexity in the inventory area than what’s necessary. Primarily, I get really irritated when I finally start getting the completed set when it’s already underrated for my level.
    – locked-in leveling decisions. This has been hammered on by other people, so I’ll point out a slight variation. In particular, when I played Diablo 2, I found early on a killer pike that did well for my play style. However, I started using level points to specialize in that weapon. When the weapon became under-powered for the game, I could never find something similar to match the skills I chose to use the thing.

  19. Cat Skyfire says:

    This concept is interesting to me for a different reason. As a DM about to send my group into some dungeonesque areas, what IS the balance? How do you keep the excitement up without being bogged down in repetition (and not the good kind). For example, if every single door is locked, you get bored tending to every single door. Do I really need to check every square foot for traps? (There goes three hours just for that). And why is the killer marmot trap in a high traffic area, anyway?

    On a side note, the article mentioned that cutscenes wouldn’t work as well. Do they EVER work well? Yes, they’re all pretty and such. But how often do you watch two minutes (or more) of cutscene that didn’t provide anything that three lines of text couldn’t have? A cutscene is, to me, the moment where you stop playing the game and watch a movie. If I wanted to watch action happen without my causing it, I’d watch a real movie. I want to play the game. The only thing worse than a cutscene is a cutscene you can’t skip. It’s especially bad if you’ve either played the game before or if it’s an unskippable cutscene right before a a big fight that you’ve had to try eight times so far.

    And the only thing worse than an unskippable cutscene is using the cutscene in the commercials and advertising so it looks like the game is super-duper awesome when, in actuality, it’s not.

  20. @froogger I’m hoping we will have locked doors that you can open if you have a key, pick if you have the skill, or bash down if you don’t (with some kind of penalty).

    @Tarev We are currently planning co-op.

    @Jeremiah While I think we are only going to have 1 town per game, each town and world will be random. Once you have “won” the current town/world you will be able to move on to another town. So I think we will basically have multiple towns, you just won’t be able to go back and forth.

    @Hal I should explain what I’m going for with the story in this game. I did not mean to imply that their won’t be a story. Each game will have a few main quests that need to be solved for that particular town. If you solve these quests you will “win” that town. However, the quests will be very dynamic (similar to Depths of Peril) and it be possible for them to spawn/lead to more quests, twist into something you didn’t expect, and even possible for you to fail them. So what I meant in my first post (but didn’t really explain) is that we will have much more than go kill the boss, but at the same time won’t try to cram in some huge storyline that is the same each time. Each game will have a story that is different from every other game and it will be partially dependant on your actions.

  21. @Mari: In Depths of Peril you could buy back your skill points with gold. I think it worked out pretty well so I think we will do something similar in this game.

    @Cat Skyfire: Don’t worry we won’t have any cut scenes. :)

    @Shamus: I should also note, that I’m trying to have our story impact the player and the world so that it does actually matter to the player.

  22. Corruptor says:

    My favorite pure dungeon-crawler would be Mordor II. You start off with virtually no story, just ‘there’s monsters’ and you descend into the dungeon to kill stuff. Sure, there’s other problems with the game, but every time you find a new boss-monster, which happens every few levels, you get some exposition as to what you see going on in the dungeon. It’s great.

    I think that in a dungeon crawler, the most important thing would be that regardless of your choices you make when you finally hit the ding, you get some basic rewards for simply being higher level. Higher hit points, a few more points of base damage. That way even if you make terrible choices or pick something that leans one way on the skill tree, when confronted with a situation you didn’t explicitly prepare for, you’re not completely screwed.

  23. Spider Dave says:

    Ah, the dungeon crawler. Dungeon Master was one of the first games I was exposed to, sitting on my mothers lap aged 1. In my later years, I must say, I really enjoyed the magic system. Your characters had a set number of runes that when used in combination caused different effects. Certain runes had certain mana costs to use. The best part of this was the ability to experiment to learn new spells, rather than either learning them at level up or buying them from a teacher.

    I also liked that your characters got hungry and thirsty. And could eat the monsters.

  24. ngthagg says:

    I like the idea of a complex leveling system, but with a few caveats:

    Make levels frequent. If leveling up a character involves any kind of decision, the player should never go long enough between levels to forget what his goal for the character was. The more complex a system is, the more frequent the levels should be. Nothing turns me off of a new game faster than realizing two hours in that I’ve screwed up my character.

    Make the consequences of the player’s choices clear. If I raise my power stat from 14 to 15, I’d like to know exactly how that compares to my accuracy stat or my energy stat. Hiding this information just punishes casual players, since hardcore players will take the time to find the information outside of the game.

  25. Mark says:

    Puzzles. I love puzzles.

  26. Jennifer says:

    I’m a big fan of Titan Quest, which is pretty much identical to Diablo II except that they got rid of the petty annoyances. You don’t have to buy scrolls of Town Portal. You don’t have to identify items. When you die, you just re-spawn in town; you don’t have to run naked through the dungeon to loot your corpse. You don’t have to repair gear. And since you pick two classes from a list of nine options, you can play a wide variety of characters.

    The main problem with Titan Quest, I think, is that they nerfed magic really heavily so you can’t really play a straight-mage character. You are still dependent upon finding a weapon in order to fight. This is because the spell abilities cost too much mana to spam or they have an outrageously long tick-back.

    I think you should *either* have a mana system *or* tick-back on abilities, NOT BOTH. Imposing TWO limits on how much you can use your powers is just silly. One is more than enough and much easier to balance.

    Hellgate: London is another dungeon-crawly game that I enjoy playing (even though it’s quite limited and two-dimensional in many ways). The problem is that looting just isn’t all that enjoyable in the game. There’s a very limited set of bonuses that are actually worth anything. That, and you have to get to a pretty high level before you start finding interesting and neat gear. Unique items, set pieces, etc., even at low levels, are a must-have for dungeon crawls.

    In addition, the ability to swap gear between different character instances can make the game. Titan Quest added this with their Immortal Throne expansion and it is terrific. Find that mega-caster gear on your fighter character? Make up a wizard and throw it over. It gives you an incentive to keep leveling that wizard until he can wear it. Finding awesome gear on the wrong character is really disheartening.

    Another great thing to do with gear is to have gear modifications like in Hellgate: London, where you can spend money to add a new random bonus, fill up “mod slots” (like gems in Diablo), upgrade the item, etc. This is terrific fun if handled well and soaks up all the money the player would have been spending on town portals, ID’s, and gear repair. Don’t do it like Hellgate did, though: make it possible to spend money again to REMOVE a bonus you didn’t like.

    Hellgate had one additional problem with gear that I should mention. Because of the way they did their class system (two classes per gear set), you would very often find that the gear you found had bonuses to abilities you didn’t have or couldn’t use. This would get REALLY frustrating after a while because you needed EVERY bonus on EVERY piece of gear for Nightmare difficulty, and if two or three bonus slots were occupied by stuff you couldn’t use it was no good.

    The ability to make your own gear is also quite nice. In addition, if you have a totally-random loot system, it’s useful to hand out some Guaranteed Decent gear as a reward for certain quests in case anyone is having a run of bad luck. The ability to affect the random drop system in some way via bonuses can also be cool.

    I also find that I like the games with multiple difficulty levels the best. By the end of Normal difficulty you’re often just hitting your stride and fleshing out your character. It’s fun to keep playing that same character against even-more-awesome foes.

    P.S. and, if possible, include a system whereby you can “buy back” skill points and reassign them if you wind up buying something you really didn’t like and won’t use. No description system ever does the skills justice–you have to try them out to see EXACTLY how they work–and having your precious points permanently sucked up by something you hate is really depressing.

  27. Magnus says:

    If I could ask for just one thing, it would be a perk and/or trait system similar to Fallout.

    Saying that, my favourite character creation systems were from Megatraveller, Darklands and Daggerfall.

    The first two had a career system, which was quite good to counterbalance the usual youthful protagonist. I enjoyed mapping out the early path of my character, balancing youth and higher stats with age and higher skills.

    Daggerfall on the other hand had a fairly regular character creation, but allowed you to customize your character to a great extent, I always remember making a vampiric-esque sunlight avoiding character, who was far more powerful at night.

    So, basically, good character creation! It can really get you into a game right from the start. The games I’ve mentioned above I’ve spent hours creating a character that I wanted to play the game through with.

  28. BeamSplashX says:

    I think the element of fear can make dungeon crawling a lot more compelling. At first, you balance your desire to push forward with your fear of the unknown. The satisfaction of eventually acquiring killer equipment and kicking ass is much greater in that case.

    I think that’s part of why I liked Phantasy Star Online so much. Reeeeally creepy dungeons and monsters. PSO’s method of plot exposition was also done nicely; messages are scattered about with both tips for fighting monsters and plot details as to what’s going on. Realizing the fate of the person leaving the messages by the end of the last dungeon is probably one of the most tense buildups to a final boss, too.

    Then again, I really liked PSO’s combat system soooo that swings it a bunch. Real-time, combo-based (each hit of the combo is more accurate than the last), second-by-second decision-making (opposed to most MMOs where you sorta decide things ahead of time, I guess?), and an “everyone can do offense” approach to characters.

  29. Cybron says:

    @Magnus: They made a game of Traveller? Why have I not heard of this!

    If Dungeon Crawl: Stone Soup has taught me anything, it is that I do not miss selling loot. It is a repetitive task which really doesn’t add too much. There are plenty of other way to 1) make loot interesting and 2) introduce resource management. Choose a way that isn’t a boring repetitive task.

    That said, I love weapons with unusual effects. One weapon might have the advantage of occasionally raising the enemies you kill as zombie minions, another the disadvantage of raising them as hostiles. A weapon that reacts when you use certain abilities. Basically, weapons with non-numerical effects or weapons that interact with the choices you make during combat. Such things are both cool and tactically interesting.

  30. Another Scott says:

    I agree that having a loot system does add a lot of depth (to those who care for it) and it shouldn’t be that hard to construct. However I have seen too many games that have the value of shops plateau way too early because there is nothing of value to buy with your gold/credits/caps/eyeballs that trumps what gear and supplies you find through adventuring.

    A quick way to counter this is to have interesting EXPENSIVE items in your shops that can’t be stumbled upon in the field, just don’t set the price too high or the players will scoff and ignore the whole process. And rightly so, getting these rewards should be a pay off of saving up and making due with what they have so that they save enough for the primo-hardware, not some quota from a day of grinding local monsters… you want their prize for their monetary efforts to be like a cookie jar on the top shelf, just out of reach.

    As for interesting items, try to be more creative than +5 to damage, if you have to plow through thousands+ enemies just to get a sword that just helps plow through more enemies, it’s redundant… it’s also Diablo! (Heehee, I couldn’t resist). It isn’t hard to make creative items, just make a plethora of items that do DIFFERENT things, and let the player decide which ones are the most desirable items.

    In Oblivion you buy get a club (tonfa?) that does fatigue damage, but heals your opponent as you strike him/her, letting you knock them unconscious but never killing them; a terrible combat choice maybe, but it was my favorite item. In Fallout 3 there is a gun you can build that shoots superfluous crap from your inventory! Imagine my delight when I discovered that my garden-gnome collection could be employed as a deadly weapon.

    My last point is that providing your players with (attainable) options allows them to best amuse themselves as every player will have different tastes. This keeps them engaged in the game, and gives an additional reason to keep progressing through the game as they cash in loot along the way.

  31. Magnus says:


    I warn you, it’s very unforgiving!

    I never completed it or its sequel, and not for lack of trying. I tried replaying it more recently, and I just couldn’t bear to use the rather horrible interface. I don’t have the patience I used to!

  32. LintMan says:

    I need a story to go with my dungeon crawling. It doesn’t have to be cut scenes, but I want more motivation than “kill the baddy on level 30 and get back out”. I’ve played a lot of Nethack in the past, so I’ve been there and done that. Nowadays, I need something more compelling.

    As for “loot”, I have a love/hate relationship with it. The drive to find better equipment keeps me going, but I hate hate hate all the encumberance juggling: Trying to figure out which items are most valuable and which you have to leave behind, and/or having to make constant back-and-forth trips to the shops to sell all your stuff. Does anybody enjoy having to do that? It’s tedious and boring, but I’m too compulsive to prevent myself from trying to min-max my loot carrying. And don’t even get me started on “Tetris” style inventory management!

    Dungeon Siege had an interesting idea: a spell that turned unwanted loot into gold. Unfortunately it only gave a tiny fraction of actual worth, so I hardly bothered with it. What would be cool is a spell or item that allowed you to send your loot to directly to a shop (or secure room) in town where it would wait until you returned and could sort through and sell it. Then the only stuff you’d need to carry with you in the dungeon is the stuff you actually *need*.

    As for leveling systems, too many of them put “player convenience” skills/abilities like loot carrying capacity or automapping on the same balance scale as power skills like “more damage”, “faster attacks”, and “more hitpoints”. The latter are critical to game balance, while the former really aren’t: even infinite loot-carrying capacity isn’t going to help you kill the dragon any faster. If a skill is mainly going to make the player’s life more pleasant/less tedious, rather than change the game balance, it shouldn’t cost the same as a game-balance-changing skill.

  33. Magnus says:

    On the loot front, one of the things about Diablo that annoys many folks is the vast amount of useless trash items that are part of every drop.

    Since from very early on you only pick up magical/unique/set items, why not just make it so that these are the only items that drop? (with a far reduced level of item drops in general)

  34. Kronski says:

    Shamus once posted an article about a new combat system that would be more realistic and strategic. In a game that focuses on combat, making the battles more interesting would be pretty crucial. Read it here:

    Anyway, it looks like it might me hard to implement, but it would be awesome.

  35. MadTinkerer says:

    I have a few thoughts on this. First of all:

    1) DoomRL is one of the best and surprisingly deep Roguelikes I’ve played recently. In fact, I’d say it’s significantly better than the Doom RPG (on cellphones everywhere).

    In addition to the fact that it takes Doom-style mayhem and makes it turn-based with randomly generated levels, there’s two things that really make it great: the trait system (somewhat similar to Fallout and/or Savage Worlds) and the inventory/crafting system. See the wiki for some details on the traits, though you’ll really need to try playing to get a feel for them.

    Being based on Doom, the amount of different kinds of items is smaller than you’d find in a typical roguelike or any game with a proper inventory. This is nice, because it means some inventory management, but you don’t have to worry about selling junk: you can just drop it and keep the good stuff (and there always seems to be just enough room for the good stuff). In addition to spare sets of armor, a nice variety of weapons, ammo, and healing items, there’s mods. If you invest in a trait called Whizkid and/or find special “advanced” weapons, you can simply slot mods into weapons and armor to customize them. This adds a suprisingly huge amount of strategy to something that’s supposed to be based on the original mayhem shooter.

    2) The only other thing that immediately springs to mind is the way that in Half Life series there are lots of NPCs that join up with you for missions temporarily (and recurringly for some NPCs), adding neat plot hooks to keep you interested while you’re shooting away. But this doesn’t seem to happen in dungeon crawlers at all. I want a dungeon crawler where I have some proper companions with their own motivations for helping me out other than being a hired henchman who also have an impact on the plot. Dungeon Seige was a semi-adequate start of this concept, but should have been taken much farther.

    Basically, give me Sims-style NPCs and companions.

    3) Oh also I want something like the original Ultima Underworld games: there’s NOTHING wrong with having a “town” area full of friendly NPCs in the middle of a dungeon. There were plenty of justifications for such things throughout the Ultima series as well as classic D&D adventures. Plus it means you don’t have to include silly overused “town portals”.

  36. MadTinkerer says:

    Oh, also:

    4) Procedurally generated plots.

    5) Procedurally generated puzzles.

    There’s actually been some progress made with 4 by a few folks. 5 is a bit trickier, but some people have some theories on that as well.

  37. Joshua says:

    No comments on the leveling and item systems, but I’d really like a robust 3-dimensional exploration system for a dungeon crawl, especially with a fantastic feel of exploring lost worlds and what-not.

    Not just, “you go down further via a set of stairs and now you’re on a completely flat level”, but a system of complex terrain with the ability to go UP and DOWN in exploration- that’s something a dungeon can provide that normal world exploration usually can’t. I’m thinking of near Descent type 3D, for those who remember the 90s.

  38. Matt K says:

    Thanks Factoid, RPGFan actually had a pretty good review (and as such I’ll be checking out their sites some more. Unfortunitly the game breaks one of my cardinal rules of RPGs, too high an encounter rate.

    As for the topic, I haven’t played a Looter in a long while but what I like is unique weapons (as mentioned above), everyone having some active ability and each ability being useful throughout the game. As in spells and such get powerful with you and even lvl 1 spells can be useful at end game. Traits and such are also a good addition.

  39. trevelyan says:

    Just to go totally old-school, I really enjoyed the game Tunnels of Doom on the TI/99 when I was a kid.

    The presence of really unique and difficult enemies/treasures at the lower levels meant the game stayed interesting even when you got down to levels nine and ten. Morrowind was fun, but would have been more fun if there were more challenging things around to kill, even if completely optional and buried somewhere off the map.

  40. Fon says:

    Wall of text, beware.

    * Weapon Variety

    For a loot heavy game, weapon variety is really important.

    If there is no weapon variety or balance between weapons, the players will generally stick to the strongest weapon and never bother with other weapons anymore, which means the player have lost interest in weapons, and this is bad for a treasure hording game.

    Many games suffer from this, in fact, NetHack is one of them.

    * Bad Weapon Variety

    Due to NetHack’s skill system, you will end up focusing on a few weapon types. However, most weapon don’t have any real variety at all, some of the weapon type are just simply more powerful.

    For example, if you play as a healer, once you get unicorn horn you won’t want to change weapon anymore. Because unicorn horn is not only powerful, but common as well. Even crystal knife which is hard to get can’t compere. Artifact isn’t an option because there is no artifact that healer can be skilled in.

    And some of the artifacts are just way too powerful (compered to the other artifact), like Grayswandir, once you get it you never need another weapon again.

    Instead, artifacts like Orcrist and Sting are completely trash, you don’t even want to see them, because they drop your chance of getting other artifacts.

    In short, you don’t really get to pick your weapon, because some of the weapons are just simply better. It is like a choice between a Club and a Long Sword, nobody will ever take the Club or put any skill point in it.

    * Good Weapon Variety

    The importance of loot is that THE PLAYER ALWAYS WANT MORE AND MORE AND MORE. If a player ever stop seeking for more loot, then you probably did the game wrong.

    It’s like Diablo 2, you will never, ever stop searching for loot. You will always press alt, just to find those rare gold text items. And the weapons never stops getting better, so it is always worth it to gamble for new weapons with your hard earned money, which you get from selling other loots.

    This kinds of cycle is what attract to people to play Diablo 2 non-stop.

    Of course this can’t apply to a dungeon-crawl game perfectly, due to it’s non-randomness. But it would be better than having the player always taking the sword skill when playing a warrior, just because swords are more powerful.

    The key is to give every item some properties, like this sword add fire damage, but that one do ice damage. Or even just add levels to the items, so a level 10 orcish bow worth more than a level 3 longbow.

    * Co-op is a bad idea

    I am probably the only one thinking like this, but it is a bad idea for a dungeon-crawl game to be multiplayer. While playing with friend is always fun, it is not the case for dungeon-crawl game, because:
    – It is turn based
    – You have to manage more than one character at once
    – The freedom is limited because the party have to stick together

    Diablo 2 has good multiplayer because:
    – It is real-time action
    – You only control one character at a time
    – You don’t have to stick to your party

    If a dungeon-crawl game is made into a multiplayer, it will have deal with the issues from above:
    – Player will have to take turn waiting, but waiting is boring
    – Let’s say each player control 4 character, the party will become a 8 man party, which is too huge
    – Alternatively it can be made like each player control 2 characters, so the party won’t be too huge
    – But when the players want to go to different directions, who will get the control? Do they all get to control, thus relaying on discussions and spamming directions by pressing button non-stop. Or do the host get the absolute control?
    – On the other hand, the party can split up, but it will defeat the meaning of being a team, instead becoming like individual exploring in the same area.

    Of course there could be some way to fix the issues above, this is just purely my opinion.

  41. Felblood says:

    If you’re not going to have races, you need another way to make characters distinctive.

    A complex character building system that has lots of different types of things to buy with various kinds of points will help, but that’s only going to go as far as the number of classes/subschools you have.

    Loot is, once again, the key.

    It’s not enough to have a lot of loot, it has to have variety and meaning. Nobody wants fifty +5 Vorpal swords; you never need more than eight.

    Swords that give different bonuses against different monsters is a good first step, but it adds to hassle and increases inventory clutter.

    All the different types of weapon enhancements that they tossed into Diablo or Warcraft 3 are good moves, but you’ll need to move beyond those staples and throw in some properties that will occasionally surprise the player.

    You want weapons that change the way people use them. Throw in a rare type of magic sword that gives a ranged attack, or an axe that gives your strikes an AoE.

    Also, weapons and abilities that change the party dynamic, will make play more interesting in solo or co-op play. A bow or spell that damages the caster or his allies, in exchange for being an otherwise superior attack might be a good buy, if you have an excess of healers and a shortage of firepower.

    Lastly, make throwing out items not be a total loss. A secondary skill that allows players to render down items for raw materials, or something to that effect, is a great way to make throwing out the Goblin-slaying Throwing Dart of Disease a less painful experience. If you balance it right, players might dismantle items they would otherwise be able to carry, if they almost have enough materials to upgrade their favorite item.

    Upgradable (but not too upgradable) items are a great way to make items seem better than they are. After a while, players stop feeling thrilled, when they find an item slightly better than what they have, since they’ll find an even better one in another minute. By making items upgradable, you extend the lifespan of a good item, making it a little more interesting.

  42. toasty says:

    Make the game turn based. We do not have enough turn based single player games.

    Make interesting classes. Not just your standard Fighter/Thief/Mage/Cleric and variants thereof. Try and make something memorable that sticks with the players. Alternatively don’t have a class system but just let the players put skill points into various skills or such.

    Mini games? Consider some of them. I remember pazaak was very entertaining in KOTOR II.

    Party-based combat. I love having a part of dudes smashing baddies and then getting loot for everyone. Its fun. Also, make the party members memorable. Give them some life. Don’t just have a drunk dwarf axeman, human holy healer, elf hippie mage and thiefing halfing. Have a halfing who is a barbarian and is a GOOD barbarian. Its memorable and entertaining.

  43. Seax says:

    open-ended story. first of all.

    A big part of an RPG is not about fulfilling jobs, but immersion in the character. the best way to achieve that, in my opinion, is to have full control of the character. Most games let the player control the character’s actions, but not her personality or her goals. Letting me decide was one of the best features of The Elder Scrolls series, in my opinion.

    The way to do that is:

    1. let the player decide on the main quest. Not only how to complete it, but what it should be. Will it be the epic war? Will it be Indiana-Jones-like (or rather “Tomb Raider”)? Will it involve local politics? crime? Good-Vs-Evil(TM)?

    2. Make the player relate to the scene right from the start. I don’t mean using the “You’re the chosen one” cliche, but rather let the player create background for his character (or randomize one, if the player is more hack-n-slashy), so it will relate to different aspects of the surroundings right from the start (for example, will be a member of a political faction, or will know a few people that know people). To do that well, the player has to be informed of the possibilities before starting to play in some manner, and this information should be voluntary.

    3. Have a more intricate reputation scale. The good-bad, or rather Famous/Notorious dimension isn’t compelling enough, in my opinion. Even in D&D, which is a combat-oriented game, there were two dimensions: regard for law and social orientation (or lawfulness/goodness system). This should change with the actions the character makes, and should be reflected at how different people in-game interact with the player. It also makes the player consider the implications of the actions of the player at more complex ways than “will it promote my goal to finish the quest?” or “will everyone have me now?”.

    I myself hate the endless caverns. It is silly, and it stretches my suspension of disbelief to the limit. I’m wondering constantly when will the oxygen will run out in the torch-lit poorly-ventilated half-mile-deep cave I’m delving into. I’d rather play in a city (since we discuss dungeon-crawling, and a city is the best compromise between a dungeon and open terrain), and have an architect consultant on the team, so my buildings will make more sense. They don’t have to be real, but they shouldn’t bother the player.

    The theme of the game should be set in advance, and should reflect on the gameplay. the most important aspect to consider, in my opinion, is whether the main character(s) should be heroic or not. A heroic character becomes more and more untouchable as it progresses. it reflects well in a leveling system, in which the character gets tougher, unrelated to her skills and abilities. It has more HP.
    A game that puts players more on the edge will use a more progressive skill and resource advancement, but will keep the character vulnerable. Choosing between the two systems depends on the theme of the game. I myself prefer edgier games with short and violent battles. I don’t like the hit-30-times-with-fireball battles.

    I miss the feeling of emergency. It really bugged me in Elder Scrolls (which I liked, by the way): The world counts on you, but you’d rather go picking up flowers and training till the end of the year. Well, OK. Letting the players do whatever they want is important. changing the world around them according to what they do in a grand scale is even more so.
    It makes decision making more interesting. It will be more than “do I have the patience to go into that dungeon now, or do I want to progress the story?”, which is all meta-gaming. In the real world, time matters. It should matter in-game too, at least some of the time.

    All these points are very difficult to implement, but they will add significant depth to the game, and will make it much more fun to replay again and again. It also does not involve costly eye-candy, but better story design.

  44. RibbitRibbit says:

    Off-topic: Expect a site hit storm. Looks like DMotR has been boingboing’d.

  45. Lain says:

    Hmm, I will mention a “dungeoncrawl” game what isnt one, but it shows the best perfomance of one:


    HUGE storyline, ONE dungeon – the spaceship, a great varity of quests, multiple “organisations”, partly fighting against each other and so on.

    All other important mentioned characteristics were also given, the choosable raising of skills, variety of weapons etc pp.

    To transform this into an fantasy Dungeoncrawling game seems to me not so difficult.

    So u can enter via the notorious prison cell / sewers into the Dwarfen area, which are fighting with the hordes of Skaven ( Surely the evil dark elves, two dragons which different goals, An annoying other Hero-Party and other fractions can be implemented also.

    Hordes of the underdark was a nice good axample too.

  46. Chiller says:

    Your take on the leveling system instantly made me think about FastCrawl, which can be found here(if you don’t know it already).

  47. Take it right back, right back. Go download a free version of Labyrinth Lord, invite some friends over and do some pen and paper roleplaying. Then, sit down and ask what everyone enjoyed, think about what you liked, what you’d change and then bam! Go for it.

    ***Get into the old school mind set and start afresh!***

  48. Legal Tender says:

    I’d like to see two things:


    I’d like a game that did away with the class system and just gave me the 55 bazillion skill choices and my skill points at character creation and let me have at it.

    Almost all my experience with D&D games comes from NWN and NWN2 so I could be wrong but I really dislike the way those games force you to change class (and change a lot of how well you can do certain things) if you want to get access to certain skills.

    In NWN2 I couldn’t stand the only Thief in the game so I wanted to get proficient in lockpicking but that meant diminishing my ability to do I wanted to do (namely, put sticky bits in my enemies innards). I didn’t want sneak attacks, didn’t want to disable traps (I’ll just sit on them with my buttcheeks of steel, thank you very much), didn’t want to use scrolls or wands. All I needed was to bea ble to use a set of lockpicks.

    Another thing is character appereance. I really dislike the way all players in Guild Wars looked like cookie-cutter cut, well….cookies in the game.

    I know there are visual limitations due to armor and equipment at such but I’m tired of the 6’10” 300lb barbarian and the 5’5″ Paris Hilton-esque sorceress archetypes.

    2. DIY Gear.

    I’d like a system where you could find/buy/loot (or “create” yourself if your skills were good enough) blueprints for gear that you could then customize to your heart’s content.

    Say you find a blueprint for a .44 Colt Pacemaker (sorry if I got that wrong, I don’t know jack about firearms). Do you put an ivory handle on it for maximum style or do you go with a carbon alloy handle for max performace?

    Or maybe you found a basic bulletproof vest but you are good enough to modify it. Do you put a kevlar mesh in it (or w/ever it takes to stop blades) or some of that liquid-that-turns-to-solid-on-impact jelly stuff we’ve heard about lately? OR, if you are really, really good a combination of both? (Turn in into a tactical jacket with mesh for the limbs and magical goo for chest area).

    Front Mission 3 had something similar. You couldn’t create anything but you were able to customize your Mecha by switching every single piece of gear. Weapons, engines, legs, arms, supplies.

    (I loved that game. My CD got scratched and haven’t been able to find another copy. =(

  49. Lots of good ideas in here. I would probably have more individual replies but IE couldn’t get to the website earlier and decided to eat my post. :(

    It looks like a lot of people want more weapon variety. I think DoP had decent items, but I think we will push this a bit more in this game.

    For all of those people that have mentioned traits, why do you like traits better than skills?

    @Fon: Our game is going to be real time and 1 character so co-op should work well.

  50. Magnus says:

    @Steven Peeler:

    My only reference for a “trait” system is with Fallout 1/2, and I liked it because it was essentially a free perk, but came with a downside. It meant that you really had to think about choosing them, and it adds to your unique character right from the start.

    I guess skills are something which in many games have a small impact per increment (e.g. boosting your Big Guns in Fallout by 1 point would be relatively useless), whereas a perk/trait/etc. is something that gives you more of a boost, perhaps with a new ability or something.

    Saying that, Diablo 2 did have a skill system that was quite rewarding, letting you know exactly how much better off you would be if you took another level in a given skill (as they were used like magic anyways).

  51. Jay says:

    Lean towards Fallout style loot and away from Diablo style. I remember the first Diablo never had anything worth buying, but I took everything *anyways*. As a result, the area around the town portal was covered with stacks of 5,000 gp (and a short distance away, potions). I ran out of room to carry my money.

    Alternatively, give the player a house or a mule with vast storage capabilities. This still presents the tactical decision of what to bring, but lets you save any little trinket you want. I particularly like the house idea, as it then opens up alternative options for what to do with all that lewt. Buy a sword rack for your collection of elemental damage swords. Buy a mantel to put your collection of goblin eyeballs. Buy a workshop to repair your own gear, or as has been suggested, upgrade it.

    I’d like to bring up the idea of quest relevent NPC’s, because I like it. Just be careful it does not turn into one of those awful escort missions where your target rushes into battle against a dozen trolls and you *both* die.

    I never finished Fallout 2. Even though the interface was more slick, the system was the same, and if anything the combat was deeper, I never finished. Was it too big? Not engrossing enough? Just didn’t grab me. I would prefer a nice, meaty game, but not an epic 70 hour behemoth that gives you too many options.

    Lastly, let us keep playing after we beat the game. I know that seems to contradict my last suggestion, but I’d like to play as long as the game holds my interest, and that may not be when you, or anyone, says the game is over. If I still like playing as the character I made, let me keep going. Import him into a brand new campaign, or have an endless mode that just pits me against harder and harder mobs, but don’t kill my buzz like fallout 3 man, that was a tough day for me.


  52. SteveDJ says:

    Well, I’m saddened to see Steven’s post (#50) saying the game will be real-time. I’m not a fan of that (or any FPS games, either).

    When I play an RPG, I want to PLAY the character(s), not BE the characters. I do not have the physical strength to swing a sword, so I play a fighter. I do not have the magic to cast spells, so I play a wizard. And, I most certainly do not have the skills to mash the controls on a keyboard or controller with sufficient dexterity to pretend that I’m being some other character.

    So, for me, I’ll stick with Turn-Based systems. I can BE whatever character I want, without having to train my fingers differently for each type.

    Also, I enjoy playing more than one character. That way, ALL special equipment that is dropped, I can probably match up with a character to use. That is, if I could only play one character, and if I choose a wizard, then when that “Deluxe Sword of Whatever” dropped, I wouldn’t get to try it out.

    I’m OK with cut-scenes, as long as they aren’t used in advertizing.

  53. GTB says:

    @Factoid: the hell with x-wing, where’s my next gen “Wing Commander: Privateer” goddammit?

    As for the topic, Mostly I just want random. Random EVERYTHING. randomly generated items, randomly generated maps, randomly generated chests and drops. I didn’t post that on the forums because some people already covered it, but I thought I would put my two cents in here. The most irritating thing to me about rpgs in general and mmos in specific is that you’re expected to sit and farm the same crap for hours in order to get the pair of boots that everyone else has so you can compete. Having a completely random item generation system eliminates that completely. It also eliminates everyone looking identical and everyone having the exact same “build.” which is something else that pisses me off.

    (the downside of course is that it also eliminates a lot of “content.” If WOW had random item generation, people would be out of content after a few weeks, since there would be no need to run the same dungeon hundreds of times to completely outfit your guild with the latest equipment.)

    Dungeon crawl games are perfect for randomization.

    I played dungeon hack ( for YEARS before I got tired of it.

  54. LintMan says:

    @SteveDJ – While Oblivion and Fallout 3 sorta required some FPS skills to play well (most first-person RPG’s do – even back to Ultima Underworld), I don’t think most real time RPG’s need keyboard mashing/high dexterity. Diablo and its predecessors are basically click-click-click or click-and-hold. With the Dungeon Siege series you barely even had to do that. Even Baldur’s Gate was real-time, but pausable to give orders.

    To me, the Baldur’s Gate real-time system is the best: you can pause at any time to give orders, use potions/spells, or fart around with your inventory, but easier battles can be quickly resolved in real-time without the game grinding to a halt every time you come across some piddly rats or whetever with your level 28 uber character.

    @GTB: your comment about running the same dungeon hundreds of times reminded me of my other gripe about some RPGs: so many of them are balanced to require hours and hours and hours of grinding to get to the higher levels and better items. I hate that! In Diablo 2, I finished the story having only gotten about a third of the way through the skill tree and never having gotten any really good items. If I wanted to see the rest, I’d have to play through again and again with the same story, same dungeons, and same monsters, just more difficult.

    I guess some people would call that “replay value”, but I call it “only getting to experiencea fraction of the skills/spells/abilities/items”.

    I might be willing to replay the story to try out a different character type, if the styles are different enough, but multiple playthroughs just to get the best skills and items for the character I’ve already played? No thanks. I don’t want a “lifestyle”, I want a game I can play and see almost everything worth seeing, and then be done with (in under, say, 40 – 100 hours tops).

    When you played Ultima VII, Baldur’s Gate, or Fallout 2, you had a reasonable expectation that by the end of the game, you’d be able to use those level 8 spells, have very high skill levels in your character’s chosen specialization, and have some pretty awesome items by the end of the game. I miss that.

    Lastly, my thought on randomized loot, is that “pure random loot” is a bad thing. I think the Dungeon Seige games had this, and it always seemed like 98% of what dropped was useless even for the rares/uniques- there was so many possibilities, specialized for each class, that the odds of getting something you liked were tiny. Having something like a decent percentage chance for every random loot item drop to suit the player’s class, would be good. Also, a boost to the likelyhood of getting matching set items if you already have part if a set, would be great. I hate being 90% of the way through a game, and having 2-3 pieces each for six different 5-piece sets. ESPECIALLY if I’m only allowed limited inventory space to store it in.

  55. Zanfib says:


    An ancient city has been discovered. It is filled with monsters and treasure. You and a band of sturdy meatshields adventures set out too claim it in the name of your mother country.


    High Fantasy settings get tiresome after awhile, how about setting the game in the age of musketry? Instead of the best equipment being taken from monsters, most of the loot you find is just currency to that you use to buy food ammunition and explosives.


    Eventually you will want to hire gunsmiths healers farmers engineers etc to help maintain your expedition. not to mention replacement meatshields adventurers, to replace the ones that get killed retire.

  56. toasty says:

    Real time? Darnit. Real time is good, but my favorite games are always turn based if they’re single player.

    However, yes, if its Real time it better damn well have co-op.

    Regarding traits/feats/whatever they’re called. I don’t like them. Keep it simple I say. Every level you get X skill points (and EVERY CLASS AND EVERY RACE get the same number of skill points) at the beginning of the game you determine your stats (and maybe you can increase them a bit latter on, but you don’t have to).

    I’m not really big on weapon variety. I don’t really care about that since I’m gonna get the biggest, meaniest looking axe/hammer and smash everyone. That or a dozen tiny knives to hack everyone to pieces.

    Oh, you should consider a decent stealth system or what-not. Oblivion’s stealth system was ace and I loved it. NWN had one, but I never used it, and it seemed rather broken.

  57. Go real time with pause; you please everybody AND you can have some good complexity because players can spend some time weighing up what to do when they feel outclassed or outnumbered.

    Play Deus Ex and get an understanding of how presenting players with a problem, which could be as simple as a locked door, can be solved in multiple ways.

    Consider making a party based RPG to allow the player to experiment with various options and skills. Skill systems have to compensate for missing roles by letting one character do everything (fight well, use magic, thieve, etc) which deep down, the player realises is being done for this reason.

    Make high levels rare and an achievement to get to and not required to complete the game. This will avoid grinding issues. In fact, consider level limiting the game fairly low (say 3-5) to avoid the whole ‘epic’ gameplay that everyone else has done to death. You can always make future games that extend this. You’ll get a very well balanced game system this way.

    Implement levels like a sandbox: it’s ok to have some rooms that are beyond a character’s ability with a good reward in them to challenge expert players… just don’t make them required play to progress. Danger is what makes a game exciting anyway.. abandon the nonsense that is dynamic difficulty and let players reclaim their sense of achievement for voluntarily taking on a hard task – and beating it.

  58. Decius says:

    Seriously, PCs should not have inherent classes.

    Not to say that the same character should be able to both swing a sword and cast all the spells very well, and specilizing in a small area might be better than generalizing.

    See the old classic Dragon Wars for example: each level gave you a small number of points (2, I think). Raising an attribute cost 2 points, raising a weapon or utility skill cost 1 point, raising a magic skill cost 2 points, but the first point cost 10 or 15 points, and there were 4 different magic skills, (Low, High, Sun, Druid. Low magic had to be bought first, but the rest could be taken seperatly.) Higher levels in magic skills allowed more magic points to be spent on some spells, but a higher Spirit attribute was needed to have those points to spend.

    Thus, you have fighters and mages in fact, but not an arbitrary rule saying that some people are fighters and some are mages.

    Also, perks (or feats, or whatever) are a great thing. However, they should be optional (as in, no perk is required for anything), bonus (That is, in addition to the basic abilities), and unique (Each one should do something cool, not just a +n to a skill). I’m not sure I could think of enough of them to be worthwhile, but others might.

  59. Billie Mays's Ghost says:

    I agree about classes: don’t have them. I understand it probably simplifies coding/designing things like appearance and progression, but:
    1) it’s probably easier to allow players to design their characters’ specialties & skills in an open-ended fashion than to try and come up with a class to fit every possible combination of skills, roles, and interests.
    2) No one will be dissatisfied with it. Some people do prefer choosing stock classes, but if you want a “fighter” or a “mage”, it’s trivially easy to just put most of your points into strength or intelligence. Someone who wants to do a cleric/thief, on the other hand, probably won’t be able to do much with classes.

  60. Jeff says:

    Hey Shamus! Regarding story – what were/are your thoughts on Ultima Underworld 1&2? They seem genre-relevant to this.

  61. Legal Tender says:

    @ Decius & Billy Mays’ Ghost:

    Agreed! What I always wanted in NWN2 was a decent fighter that knew how to handle locks and was able to cast 1, maybe 2 spells. Say, one of the puny orbs (fire, to deal with trolls comes to mind) and maybe one illusion to be able to retreat when needed.

    I tried to do that with classes but got spanked by the multiclass penalty and attributes systems =/

  62. Go play Undercroft, guys:

    Excellent slice of old-school first-person dungeon crawling, with a nice, simple and satisfying battle system.

    It has an editor, too!

  63. Stranger says:

    Check out Eye of the Beholder 2 – a pretty good balance of story and gameplay, it holds up rather well!

  64. Alrenous says:

    On loot…

    There’s actually a third way for loot to be interesting that I keep expecting but never see; preparedness for the unexpected. Naturally this loses out on replay value, but not a great deal relative to the shop/resources plan.

    Basically, especially the first time through, you don’t know what you’ll need up ahead. Normally this is borked because there’s doesn’t seem to be much middle ground between ‘convenient accessory’ and ‘plot item.’ I can’t offhand think of a single game where you couldn’t just drop anything named ‘antidote’ or similar unless it’s named ‘phoenix down’ or ‘Yggdrasil leaf.’

    In Blizzard games, you basically want to choose the most expensive item, but there’s no feedback – you don’t know the value of the items you don’t sell. Preparedness has the advantage here too; it’s pretty easy to tell when you chose to pick up a useless item, or leave one behind just before you really needed it…

    Ideally, the game should foreshadow but not reveal what’s up ahead, so it’s not just a guessing game, although being prepared for anything with the smallest kit you can manage is also a fun game.

    I think this is a good place for an easy/hard toggle: it would do things like enhance poisons or give many formerly vanilla monsters various PC-effective crowd control abilities. Ideally this is combined with a good escape system so you can repent when you realize you’re underprepared, instead of suffering a slow death.

    On levelling…

    The levelling system also needs an easy/hard mode. On easy, you just choose whether you want more (the things you listed.) On hard, it can turn out that more endurance than you chose is necessary to get past the enemies of level 26.8, or that this level is so dark that if you don’t have at least some darkvision, all the monsters are basically invisible.

    On dungeons…

    Brandish. You’re stuck deep in the earth, and you have to dungeoncrawl your way out. Ultimately, there’s no big bad, no saving the world from evil…you just want to get out. (There may be a saving-world-big-bad between you and the final exit, I can’t recall, but in the end you just kill it cuz it’s in the way.)

    On the way, you go through all sorts of fantastical elements that ended up there as a result of the people who build the structure you fell into.

    Only problem is otherwise it’s not a very good game. For example, other people also fell down the hole you did…but where do they find the supplies to keep shops? Why is the random crap you find valuable to them at all; can’t they find this crap themselves? Where is their food coming from? It’s explicitly stated that, for instance, the first shopkeeper is not strong or brave enough to climb higher, and there’s nobody else on that level but a bunch of murderous beasts and you…until you leave.

    A better implementation of this idea was Dragon Quarter, which had scads of awesome elements, but I think they ran out of cash and had to release before they were really ready.

    On resources…

    My favourite element, though, was not the get-out dungeon, but the dragon transformation. Whenever you wanted, for however long you wanted, you could transform and just thrash anything in your path…at the cost of a timer that lost you the game if it ran out. Now that’s real tension between risk and reward, and it worked because the game isn’t so long that you have no idea how much you need to ration the timer.

    With multiple dungeons, I don’t think it would work, because you don’t know how long the other dungeons are, so it has to reset. But because it resets, you can just splurge it all on the final boss every time, and the dragon power in Dungeon Quarter was powerful enough to trivialize bosses, which is what made it so fun: it gave you an undeniable sense of power. You WERE the hulk. Don’t make Ryu angry…you won’t like him when he’s angry.

    As a bonus, if anyone runs into That One Boss, they can just say ‘screw it’ and go dragon; it means balancing is more forgiving.

  65. Alrenous says:

    I need to add

    On hp…

    Dwarf Fortress has entirely killed any appreciation I had of one-number health pools. Yes, I do want to be able to lose vital organs in combat, because it means I’ll be able to do the same to my opponents. And yes, I will buy a spear just so I can poke out someone’s spleen and then run from them until they die, just to see how it works.

  66. David V.S. says:

    I’ve finally had time to write my answer. Sorry it took so long!

  67. Shoku says:

    Von Krieger: Lizardmen and the ilk are FLH to me. Typically they’re the kind of native american savage or at least resemble some kind of tribal type and that’s only about as different from the FLH you listed as wearing a turban and hiding the females in a society. Well I guess most people would have no problem with throwing that exact society on something with reverse joint legs and no mouth and declaring it extremely-not-human but it doesn’t work for me.

  68. I gotta say, I am more offended by the so called generic spammer” than I am by the blatant spammer. Why? you ask, Because at least the spammer is completely open and honest about their spam! I know who they are. The generic commenter is a cheat and also a fake! You can probably tell that I have strong feelings toward this group of spammers

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