Roguelike Celebration Talks Start Tomorrow!

Ah, it crept up on me, so let me remind everyone that Roguelike Celebration begins today, although until tomorrow it just means they’re opening their social space for awhile. Nicole Carpenter at Polygon wrote a short piece about this year’s conference.

There is an admittance fee, but if you can’t afford it you can also get a free pass! Please consider paying them if you are able though, they do a lot of work every year in putting it together.

Here is the official schedule (linked), below is it presented just as a list of talks, with ✨sparkle emojis✨ around the things that personally enthuse me. ✨Just because!✨

Times given are US Pacific/Eastern. If you think the short times between starts are indicative of short talks, most of them aren’t that short, they have two tracks going on beside each other:

SATURDAY

9:30 AM/12:30 PM: Arron A. Reed, Klingons, Hobbits, and the Oregon Trail: Procedural Generation in ✨the First Decade of Text Games

10:00 AM/ 1 PM: Nic Tringali, ✨Abstract Space Exploration✨ in The Banished Vault

10:30 AM/ 1:30 PM: Linas Gabrielaitis, Fictions of Infinity in ✨Geological Finitudes

10:45 AM/1:45 PM: Ludipe, Exploring ✨Pacifist✨ Roguelikes

11:30 AM/2:30 PM: Florence Smith Nicholls, Another Stupid Date: ✨Love Island as a Roguelike

11:45 AM/2:45 PM Kes, Hunting the Asphynx: Roguelikes, ✨Provenance✨, and You

Noon/3 PM: Mike Cook, Generating Procedures: ✨Rule and System Generation✨ for Roguelikes

1:30 PM/4:30 PM: Scott Burger, The ✨Data Science✨ of Roguelikes

2 PM/5 PM: Nat Alison, In Defense of ✨Hand-Crafted Sudoku

3 PM/6 PM: Eric Billingsley, Scoped-down design: ✨Making a Tiny Roguelike

3:30 PM/6:30 PM: Elliot Trinidad, Touching Grass & Taking Names: Tuning the ✨Blaseball✨ Name Generator

4:30 PM/7:30 PM: Paul Hembree, Audible Geometry: Coordinate Systems as a Resource for ✨Music Generation

5 PM/8 PM: Jurie Horneman, Why ✨Dynamic Content Selection✨ Is Hard

SUNDAY

9:30 AM/12:30 PM: Mark Johnson, ✨Generating Riddles✨ for a Generated World

10 AM/1 PM: Jesse Collet & Keni, Fireside Chat About the Development of ✨NetHack

10:30 AM/1:30 PM: ✨Leigh Alexander✨, ✨McMansions of Hell✨: Roguelikes and Reality TV

1 PM/4 PM: Ray, Remixing the Layer Cake: Facilitating ✨Fan Reinterpretation✨ Through ✨Caves of Qud✨’s Modular Data Files

1:15 PM/4:15 PM: Crashtroid, Preventing Ear Fatigue with ✨Roguelike Music

1:30 PM/4:30 PM: Everest Pipkin, The Fortunate Isles: Fragment Worlds, Walled Gardens, and ✨the Games That Are Played There

2 PM/5 PM: ✨Jeff Olson✨, ✨Alphaman✨: Developing and Releasing a Post-Apocalyptic Roguelike Game in the ✨DOS Days✨ When Computers Were Slow, Memory Was Scarce, and No One Had Ever Heard of Object-Oriented Code

3 PM/6 PM: Dustin Freeman, ✨Live Action Roguelike

3:30 PM/6:30 PM: Jonathan Lessard, A ✨Simulation✨ with a View

3:45 PM/6:45 PM: Tom Francis, Generating ✨Boring Levels✨ for Fresh Experiences in Heat Signature

4 PM/7 PM: Patrick Kemp, Design Tooling at ✨Spry Fox

5 PM/8 PM: Stav Hinenzon, A Messy Approach to ✨Dynamic Narrative✨ in Sunshine Shuffle

5:15 PM/8:15 PM: Josh Galecki, ✨Procedurally Generating Puzzles

5:30 PM/8:30 PM: Jasper Cole, ✨Backpack Hero✨ – Player Upgrades and Progression

6 PM/9 PM: Brianna McHorse & Chris Foster, Fusing AI with Game Design: Let the ✨Chaos✨ In

The Worst Possible Day to Play Nethack

As we’re reminded by abadidea on Mastodon, that day is today, October 13, 2023.

Nethack uses the system time-of-day clock to affect the game in modest ways. It figures out the phase of the moon, and if it’s a full moon the player’s “base luck,” the number at which it starts and tends to trend towards, is +1. Luck affects the game in many minor ways, most notably affecting the to-hit chances of striking monsters. Full moons also affect werecreatures and the chances to tame dogs, but those effects are highly situational.

Playing on a new moon has one effect, but it’s a big one. If you’re fighting a cockatrice and you hear its hissing, and are not carrying a lizard corpse, then you always begin turning to stone, instead of there only being a one-in-ten chance. This is what is called a “delayed instadeath”: you don’t die immediately, but if you don’t take immediate action it’ll happen in the next few turns. That’s the next few turns from the game’s perspective: various events may conspire to prevent you from getting that action at all. (The Nethack Wiki’s page on petrification is instructive.)

If you do get the turn, one of the things you can do is eat a lizard corpse, or that of another acidic monster. (Eating dead monsters raw is something you just end up doing often in Nethack.) If those aren’t at hand, what usually works is prayer, provided that you haven’t prayed too recently, your patron god is not angry with you and you’re not in Gehennom. Ordinarily, if you haven’t been playing badly, your god isn’t mad at you. If you’re in Gehennom you’re in the late game anyway, and probably have had ample opportunity to obtain one of the several ways of halting impending calcification.

Prayer is nearly a universal panacea, if it’s available. But there is one other thing that can block prayer: if your luck is negative. Even if it’s by just one point, prayer will never work.

That’s where the only other date effect in Nethack comes into play: on Friday the 13th, your luck defaults to -1, the opposite of the full moon effect. So, unless you’ve increased your luck by one of a number of means, prayer will never work on Friday the 13th. And today is both a new moon night and Friday the 13th. Other uses for prayer won’t work either: if you’re weak from hunger? Too bad. Low on hit points? Sorry. Punished with a ball and chain? Not going to work. Wearing cursed levitation boots? LOL.

Days that both have a new moon and are a Friday the 13th are rare. The last one was in July of 2018, before that November of 2015, and the one before that was in 1999. So, um, if you’ve been thinking about trying out this weird old roguelike game you’ve heard about, you might want to wait a bit. Until tomorrow, anyway.

Shiren the Wander 6 is Out in February!

Chunsoft has announced a new Shiren the Wanderer game, Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island, for Nintendo Switch, due out on February the 27th! Some of the most popular columns from @Play on GameSetWatch were the screenshotted play I demonstrated of the fan translation of Super Famicom Shiren, and if the comments on the trailer are something to be trusted, there’s still a diehard group of fans out there.

Interestingly, the theme of this one is “back to basics,” suggesting that some of the greater mutations of the more recent games, like the Night rules, equipment experience and such, will be pared back. Some of those rules I like and some I don’t, but I have said that more recent Shiren games, while fun, feel like they’re lacking something. Some of the series enhancements starting from around Shiren 4 (which never got an official English release) I have issues with, particularly, monsters always going straight through blind intersections if they have no knowledge of Shiren’s location, allowing the player to take advantage of the AI to avoid conflict; and that Shiren’s healing rate actually decreases, not just relative to maximum HP but in absolute terms, as he gains experience levels. These are relatively minor qualms though, and most players won’t even notice them.

Here is that trailer:

Some noteworthy elements are the return of Shiren’s lady friend Asuka (who despite appearances is several years older than him), and of giant-sized boss battles, possibly using some of the engine enhancements done to facilitate large Pokemon in Rescue Team DX. I also appreciate that the story appears to be a naked grab for loot! It’s always felt to me that a wanderer’s life is, or should be, a hard-scrabble existence, and while our rogueish characters may affect the fate of the world, they’re still usually in it for themselves. That way, if they fail (and they fail often), you can laugh at them more than feel sorry for them.

I keep trying to do more @Play columns but other work continues to get in the way. I have a fair number of subjects to write about now though, not the least of which being my ill-advised decision to buy the super-skeevy Omega Labyrinth Life on Switch. I feel like paying money for that might have gotten my name on a list somewhere, so I might as well get some column inches out of it!

Roguelike Celebration Preview Videos

A little while ago Roguelike Celebration, this year on October 22 and 23 (later this month!), did a short preview as a promotional event. I mentioned this before, it came and went, and now the talks are online.

Nic Junius: Play as in Stage Play (38 minutes):

David Brevik on the Making of Diablo (30 minutes):

And, Aron Pietroń, Michał Ogłoziński on Against the Storm (35 minutes):

The Digital Antiquarian on Rogue and Successors

[EDIT: link fixed, thanks to the Grogpod Roguelike Podcast for pointing it out!]

I’ve been thinking about doing more @Play lately, but in the meantime, please read this mostly nice, lengthy article from The Digital Antiquarian on Rogue and its legacy. I say mostly because there are a few minor points I disagree with. Maybe I’ve played too much of it, but experienced players tend to view vanilla Nethack as maybe a bit too easy. There’s a ton to learn, but once you’ve internalized it all, you come to realize that most situations have counters, and it comes down to knowing what they are, and not pushing your luck too far. Ah! I’ve not said much on Nethack for years now! I should get back to doing that….

A screen of Amiga Rogue, from the linked article

The Digital Antiquarian: Going Rogue

Roguelike Celebration Preview Event on September 10th

The fine folks at Roguelike Celebration are holding a free “fireside chat” style preview event next month on the 10th, at 4pm US Pacific time, 7pm Eastern! Any rogue-likers out there should definitely have a look.

  • David Brevik will talk about the development of Diablo, a game that I understand some people greatly enjoy!
  • Aron Pietroń and Michał Ogłoziński will talk about hardcore city-building survival game Against the Storm!
  • Nic Junius will be presenting a talk titled “Play as in Stage Play: Designing Dynamic Narrative Moments Through Character Acting.”

You can submit a question for the talks here, and get a free ticket for them here! And look forward to the full Roguelike Celebration 2023 event on October 22 and 23!

@Play: The Angband Family Tree

@Play‘ is a frequently-appearing column which discusses the history, present, and future of the roguelike dungeon exploring genre.

It’s finally time. Time to reveal the maelstrom of roguelike games which has, as its center, the game of Angband.

You might be interested in our other recent columns on Angband: Re-introduction, Getting Started, and Version History.

Here is a chart of the 100-plus variants of Angband (homepage) that we know of. RogueBasin and the variants table at Tangaria were both major sources for this. You might have to right-click it and download to view it without blurring. Here’s a direct download of the PNG.

The degree to which these games have been changed from the original varies tremendously, from slightly hacks to repurposings to entire other games. In ToME, Angband was used as a base that would be completely rewritten, twice, and turned into something completely separate. Many of these games could have whole articles written about them. I’ve written at least one so far, on Zangband.

Looking through the chart, one can find two great jumping-off points from Angband’s source tree. One is PC Angband 1.3.1, largely because of being the original base of Zangband, and the other is Angband 2.8.3, which was the site of legendary maintainer Ben Harrison’s great cleanup of the code, which made it much easier to create variants than it had been.

Looking at the list, one might get the impression that this list also serves as a timeline, but that would be in error. Some variants would be updated over time, bringing in features from later in Angband’s development, and this chart doesn’t reflect that, and sometimes a game wouldn’t branch off from the newest version of the code. Please keep this in mind when looking through it.

A few interesting finds from the list:

Steamband is a complete reskinning in a kind of Jules Verne pulp steampunk style. It is what we might call a literary game, taking direct inspiration from a particular corpus of stories in the same way as Call of Cthulhu or Gygax era Dungeons & Dragons. In it, you start in a town in the center of the Earth, and try to ascend to the surface. It has some interesting ideas around the theme, but I cannot recommend it wholeheartedly because of its “race” system, which is easy to perceive as actually racist. I think its intent was to present the racial attitudes of the fiction works from which it was derived, which were really terrible, but it comes across, not to mince words, as gross these days.

There are two My Little Pony variants, based off of the “G4” version of the franchise that became meme popular for about 45 minutes of web time. Ponyband, a.k.a. My Little Angband: Dungeons Are Magic, derives from the popular 2.8.3 branch; Anquestria got its basis from the later 3.2.0.

ToME, a fairly popular variant, has the distinction of not only having a living homepage, but is also available on Steam and GoG. It has a free version, but other features are available to paying players. It’s a game that’s changed a great deal over time, starting out as Tales of Middle Earth. Now, little of its Tolkien basis remains, and its name has been retconned into “Tales of Maj’Eyal,” because you gotta have an apostrophe. Its page vaguely gives it an air of being an MMORPG, but I think it’s still a strictly single-player game. It is a game that, judging from comments, there is a great deal to get stuck into, but to my eyes it has a lost the simplicity of its origin, and it’s not an easy game to pick up. It is still under development though, and that is beyond laudatory for a game of its age and lineage.

Ironband is a challenge variant, intended to make the original game even harder. An “ironman” mode, preventing the player from going upstairs, forcing them to descend ever deeper, is part of the base game now. Ironband dates back to 2012, which may be before this mode was added, although I cannot date its inclusion conclusively right now. But whether is or not, by devoting itself to this mode of play, it is free to be completely redesigned around it. So, Ironband has streamlines the game in its service, removing races and classes, and giving the player all of their options at once. After the start of the game, there are no shops at all; everything the player gains after that point must come from the dungeon floor. Because all characters can use all things, there’s much fewer completely useless items. The “stat gain floor” phenomenon, where you have to grind on certain floors to get necessary potions to improve your attributes or risk almost certain death, has also been alleviated. Because dungeon progress is one way, it refreshes the skill points that your abilities require upon entering a new level, which is an interesting play decision: if you run out of SP, you can get them back by advancing a floor, but at the cost of increasing the game’s difficulty, possibly earlier than you’d want.

@Play: Highest-Rated Games of 7DRL 2023, Part One

@Play‘ is a frequently-appearing column which discusses the history, present, and future of the roguelike dungeon exploring genre.

It’s been a while since we had a look at the roguelike space. I’ve been waiting to make @Play’s return a review of some of the games of 7DRL 2023. Scoring is finally done, so we have a solid top-ten, or rather top 11, since there’s a three-way tie for 9th place.

7DRL stands for Seven-Day Roguelike, a game jam where people try to complete a roguelike game in one week’s time. While you don’t have to participate strictly during a specific week, people who participated this year from March 3rd to March 13th, and made their projects available through the popular and wonderful indie game distribution platform itch.io, could have their games rated by the community and included in the 7DRL 2023 itch collection.

Long ago when @Play was on GameSetWatch (R.I.P.), one year we reviewed every game that completed 7DRL. That I think was in 2011 or 2012? There were a bit over 60 games that year, and doing it nearly broke my silly head. This year there are 235 games in the itch.io collection, so I won’t be doing that. Also, since the jam doesn’t forbid the use of libraries that take a lot of the grunt work out of making a roguelike out of the process, there are entries from all across the game development and design skill spectrum, and the dregs of that barrel…. I won’t speak ill of them, since making any game is an accomplishment, let alone in a week’s time. But it isn’t always easy to find something to write about them that’d be interesting to read.

So I figured though that it might be interesting to have a look at the games that were rated mostly highly. This time, we’ll look at the three games that were tied for 9th place: Animal Party, Snapdragon and Totem of Seeding. I checked these games out on May 23rd, and they may not be in the state they were at the end of 7DRL’s challenge period. I’m more interested in telling you about fun things to look at and play than strict observation of the 7DRL time period.

9th Place tie: Animal Party

Animal Party, by Ethan’s Byproducts, with music by Kai Keys.
For Windows and HTML5 (playable in-browser). Made with Gamemaker Studio.

The definition of a roguelike game has drifted a lot since the days when the term was coined, as an umbrella term for discussions, on Usenet, for a variety of games that were playable on terminals. It was fairly obvious what a roguelike was then. Now, it often gets used for any game with a procedural element in its level generation, and a vaguely arcadey setup where losing means failure, forcing the player to start again if they wish to keep playing.

I use the term roguelite to refer to games that aren’t strict turn-and-grid-based tactical games, but that’s mostly my usage. 7DRL casts a wide net in their entries. Animal Party, for example, is mostly just a puzzle game sort of along the lines of the old Adult Swim-sponsored Girls Like Robots. Your task is to place a collection of friendly animals on the empty spaces of a grid, to defeat as many “evil” animals that are already there, while losing as few animals yourself. It’s not a tactics game at all, and so ranks very low in “Roguelikeness” (116th place), but high enough to tie for ninth in overall quality for the jam.

The rules are: Wolves attack Geese, Geese attack Frogs, Frogs attack Spiders, Spiders attack Hookworms (how?), and Hookworms attack Wolves (obviously through parasitazation). For every evil animal you destroy, you earn one ghost, which you can use as currency in a between-level shop where you can earn special powers to use to make later boards easier. For every friendly animal you lose, you lose one point of morale. Lose too much morale and the Animal Party is over, and I guess everyone goes home sad.

Complicating things is, while you don’t have to eat all the evil animals, you must place every animal you’re able. Earlier this means just placing one of each, but later it means filling every empty space on the grid. Your group gets bigger at two places along the way, and the grid sizes also increase. Eventually you’ll have more animals than spaces, which affords you a bit of leniency since you can choose which animals go in the spaces. You’ll notice pretty soon that, when your own animals get eaten, you don’t really lose them. Nothing decreases your party’s size, it only gets bigger.

In later boards you’ll probably have to sacrifice a few animals to fill each grid. Your animals are friendly to you but not to each other, and they’ll happily munch on their colleagues, so keep in that mind. Some of the evil beasts get random modifiers as the game continues. To find out what a given animal’s deal is, press the Tab key while hovering the mouse over it. There are animals that take two hits to defeat, animals that sate their attacker so that attacker can’t attack other animals after they’re eaten, animals that attack diagonally instead of in the cardinal directions, animals that attack two spaces away, and animals that explode when defeated, taking out all animals adjacent whether friend or foe. It must be something in the water.

One thing that may turn out to be important to playing well: animals get their turns in a process that goes row by row, with each animal being resolved on a row from left to right. You can take advantage of this to defeat an enemy animal from above, and depriving it of its own turns when the resolution order gets to it.

Most of the powers you buy in the between-level Ghost Shop, it should be remarked, are not one-time-use ever, but can be reused once per purchase on every level, so the things you buy early on have a great influence upon the whole game. My recommendations are the one that lets you move one enemy animal one space, and morale boosts, which give you a big five extra points. Using them, I was able to finish this game on my first attempt.

It’s a fun use of a few minutes of your time! It’s also browser-playable on its itch project page, and has chill music to jam to while you play.

9th Place tie: Snapdragon

Snapdragon, by sarn, vaalentines, Duckonaut and Oroshibu.
For Windows and HTML5 (playable in browser). Made with Gamemaker Studio.

Another game with really nice music! Maybe that’s going to be a theme this year. A good soundtrack adds so much to a game, even if it’s not a traditional roguelike feature.

From the screenshots it looks a lot like the classic game Snake, but running into your own tail doesn’t result in losing. You can shrink your length down to two spaces at any time by “Snapping,” with the C key, and you can also switch your head and tail with the X key, and dash by pressing Z before you move in a direction. All of these acts take one turn, so your enemies get to respond after each.

This is a lot more like a traditional roguelike than Animal Party was, following the classic rules of one move per turn, then the enemies all get to act. The enemies all have different movement patterns, with many of them able to move multiple spaces in a turn. It takes a while to learn their movement patterns and health. As a player aid, the game provides a warning of what each enemy will do, by showing its planned movement in yellow, then red on the turn before it moves.

Attacks are roguelike standard: you attack enemies by moving into them, and they attack you by moving into you. The enemies all seem to be various animals, including the likes of squirrels and crabs. You get three health units, but they’re all replenished at the start of every level.

Each level also has at least one key (you can only carry one at a time) and a treasure chest. If you can get the key to the chest, you’re given a special item. You can only have one item at once, so you should use it before you get another one. An unused key can be carried between levels.

Snapping slows you down by one turn, but if you’re not fleeing enemies you could probably just do it every turn. If you can evade enemies without worrying about them attacking your tail (you’re vulnerable all the way down), it’s a good idea to just get away, there are no experience points, or other game benefit to attacking enemies other than increased safety.

The description page says the game was actually finished in just two days, which was accomplished by narrowing its scope. I’d like to know what had been planned before, because Snapdragon is rather complex even in this feature-limited form, with multiple regions each with different monsters, graphics and gimmicks.

The verdict? It’s really nice! It’ll probably take you a few plays to get far into it, it rewards patience and careful planning, but isn’t greatly taxing.

9th Place tie: Totem of Seeding

Totem of Seeding, by anttihaavikko
For Windows, Mac, Linux and HTML5 (playable in browser). Made with Unity.

It is easily possible to play this game, in some ways a pretty standard random dungeon shooting action game that relies heavily on its loot system, without even encountering the feature referred to by its title. If you never interact with the titular totem in the first room, it’ll look a lot like the kind of game that’s been made since at least Binding of Isaac, which came out in 2011, and with a quirky art style where all of the characters and items are @-signs and letters, an unusual choice for an action game.

And I mean, that’s okay. It’s the Seven Day Roguelike challenge! No one expects greatness in seven days. The fun of Totem of Seeding comes from the fact that it’s one of those few Rogue-inspired games to use its letters for something other than representation: the game expects you to spell words with them.

The best use of this idea of which I’m aware is roguelike design wizard Jeff Lait’s Letter Hunt. Jeff has made all kinds of brilliant roguelikes over the years, many of them for 7DRL. In addition to making the popular game POWDER, he made Jacob’s Matrix, a non-Euclidian roguelike that still amazes me, and it’s far from the only astonishing variation on the roguelike theme he’s made. But to talk too much about Jeff in a review of a different game, that is not his equal, sounds like I’m trying to tear down Totem of Seeding. It’s a perfectly fine game in itself.

In overview, your character (an actual animated @-sign) explores a series of one-screen dungeon rooms, not unlike those from the original Legend of Zelda. They fight monsters with firearms, melee weapons and the odd magical item, most of which they find in treasure boxes in the dungeon. This is one of those games where your success is strongly tied to the items you find. It’s not a case where everything is good in some way or other: there are definitely some items that are better than others, and whether you have a good game or not depends on whether the roulette wheel lands on your numbers this time.

Good items? Shotguns, magic weapons, and anything that gives you a plus health or plus damage bonus. (Lots of things give you percentage bonuses, but as with a lot of games I’ve noticed, their effects are barely noticeable. You definitely want plus health bonuses, not percentage bonuses, the difference is huge.) Bad items? Most other things, but especially melee weapons, which for interface reasons only the enemies can make good use of.

Your camp is in the first room, where you can rest at the campfire to refill your health or visit the Totem. We’ll get back to the Totem, don’t forget about it.

There is an exit from the room, and when you go through it, you’ll be in the first room of a dungeon with a random, three-letter name. You can, at any time, go back to this first room and to your camp. That will end the dungeon run; the next time you go through the exit from the camp room, you’ll be in a different three-letter-named dungeon, with a different map, different enemies and different loot.

There will be times when it wil be best to abort a run and go rest at the campfire, but it’s important not to make too much use of this resource. Every time you start a new dungeon, the day number advances, and the higher the number, the harder the monsters will be. The game generates more monsters, they’ll have more health, and they’ll be more in each room. It also seems there will be fewer treasure chests. Day 1 is laughably easy, and Day 2 usually not too much of a bother, but they get much harder from there.

Before too many days the enemies will severely outclass the items you probably have, turning into damage sponges. Totem of Seeding calls itself a bullethellish roguelike, and while it’s only a few enemies that force you to dodge to that extent, you’ll run into them pretty soon, and much more often as the days advance.

The worst enemies are Skeletons, who have guns of their own; Orcs, who not only have guns but fire lots of shots; and Kobold Warriors, who often dual-wield melee weapons and rush you as soon as you enter the room. The room generator sometimes puts enemies right next to you as you enter, and there’s times when a Kobold Warrior will be right in striking distance as you walk in. This usually ends your run immediately. The play balance could use a little more work, is what I’m saying.

Sometimes you’ll find traders, NPCs who will offer to give you a randomly-chosen item if you give them a different randomly-chosen item, that you’re probably not carrying. Sometimes you’ll find blacksmith NPCs, who will offer to improve a randomly-chosen item you’re currently carrying. Because of this, you’ll often find yourself wielding an upgraded version of the pitiful Pistol you start with. Blacksmiths, in practice, never improve an item in a way that’s noticeable. Once, for me, it made an item much worse, in that it replaced a plus-health bonus it had with a different bonus. Way to help, @-person.

When you explore the last room in a dungeon (the game helpfully provides a map, viewable with the Tab key and with a portion shown in the upper-right corner) you’re told about it, and it tells you then to go back to camp. You still have to walk all the way back for some reason, through the deserted halls. Fortunately travel is pretty quick, and dungeons tend not to be very large.

That’s the shell of the game, a kind of game that’s been iterated upon by many people over 12 years. Now we come back to that Totem.

By interacting with the Totem, back at camp, you can pick a seed for the next dungeon you explore. This is the standard kind of random number generator seed that many other randomized games use to let you decide what dungeon you’ll explore. This has been going on since at least Dreamforge’s Dungeon Hack, back on DOS.

There are two complications to the way Totem of Seeding works. First, you can’t use just any numbers or letters in your seed value. You have to use the letters representing the items you’ve found in the dungeon so far the current play. This means your first day of exploration will always be a random dungeon. That three-letter dungeon name I mentioned above, that the game gives to each dungeon you explore, is a freebie seed the game gives you. And using the items for their letters consumes the items. Fortunately, as said before, the game gives you lots of useless items.

The second complication is rather unusual: the dungeon seed you enter must be an actual word. The game doesn’t let you enter just any sequence of characters, even though to an RNG’s stomach they all taste just the same. The game enforces the real-world word requirement regardless.

To encourage players to make longer words, the game’s generator artificially juices the generator the more letters you use in the seed. Seeds must be a minimum of three letters long; if you can’t make a word of that least that length, you’ll have to settle for the standard, anemic generator you’d usually get. You’ll get some items out of it, but unless you’re still on the first couple of days, they’ll probably be useful only for collecting letters for later seeds.

Each additional letter in the seed has a great effect on the next dungeon. A four-letter word gets you rather better items. A five-letter seed got me some items that increased my health to nearly ten times the pitiful 10 health I began with! Longer seeds also generate longer dungeons, so, a better chance you’ll find items with the features you want, and more letters to use in seeds on later days.

One issue with this system is that it makes vowels very important! And as far as item gen goes, not all items are lettered equal. Apples, frequently-appearing consumables that give you a paltry 3 HP when eaten, are the letter ‘o’. The common English vowels ‘e’ and ‘a’, conversely, are not common letters in the dungeon chests.

Because of the way the game monkeys with the loot generation when you seed with longer words, it drives home the fact that the loot generator is being used against you. Its favors are only bestowed on those who appease it with the proper lexical sacrifice. If you don’t feed it good words, it won’t feed you the tools you need to survive. And yet it was that loot generator itself that gave you the letters you have to work with. Due to this fact, some games you’ll just be screwed over. Sometimes you don’t find any vowels in the first dungeon, or not even three letters. A deficit like that will cause your power level to fall behind the advancing difficulty, and it’s unlikely you’ll catch up.

This is a definite flaw. The game could use a little more balancing in its item generation to account for it. But it’s the kind of flaw that I’d find, typically, in a big game, something I’d find on Steam. For a 7DRL, to make too much of a problem like this is grossly uncharitable. It’s a game made in seven days. And by a single person too! Treat it for what it is and you’ll still have a decent amount of fun with it, more than you’d have thought possible under such a design constraint. I look forward to seeing what its developer does with the idea from here.

@Play: Angband Variant, Zangband

@Play‘ is a frequently-appearing column which discusses the history, present, and future of the roguelike dungeon exploring genre.

I’ve been lagging behind a bit with @Play, which I apologize for. There are a lot of Angband variants, and even just covering important ones, there’s a lot to go over, and I’ve suffered from many distractions lately. So I figured I’d just take a more leisurely pace for a bit, which works out because many variants have quite a bit to say about them. So let’s start out with what’s probably the most important Angband variant of them all:

Zangband

Lineage: PC Angband 1.3 > Angband– > Zangband

First released in 1994. Last update 4/2003

We could consider Zangband to be the first major Angband variant. It forked directly off of frogknows, but contains modifications to Angband dating after that. Its list of maintainers includes Angband maintainers Ben Harrison, and Robert Rühlmann, who took over as lead maintainer Zangband from Topi Ylinen. Of note is that he stopped being the maintainer of Angband at around the same time that Zangband entered stasis, and previous Angband fansite Thangorodrim went dark. Maybe Morgoth finally got him.

The standard Angband starting town can be shapes other than rectangular, have a wilderness outside its walls, and if you go far enough you can find other towns, with other kinds of shops.

It’s a tradition to name Angband variants with some variation upon its name. The Z in Zangband stands for Roger Zelazny, the author of the Chronicles of Amber series, and contains monsters and items from that series. Cribbing from fantasy literature has long been a way that roguelike authors have paid homage to their favorite stories.

An interesting aspect of Zangband is its version of the Angband character auto-roller. Instead of going until it hits minimum stats that you specify, asks you to “weight” various stats on a scale of 1-100, and then rolls 500 characters and picks the best one rolled as judged by those weights. This means you can’t just set your character to roll dice indefinitely until you get the perfect character–or at least, you can’t do that automatically. Nothing stops you from killing the process if you don’t get a character with stats you like and trying again, as many times as you like. Statistical cheese has, after all, long been part of the flavor of rolling up character stats, dating back to all those D&D house rules groups used to make characters more powerful/interesting than typically produced by the old roll-3D6-six-times-then-assign system.

Standard dungeon levels look like classic Angband for the most part.

In addition to adding a lot of new character classes and monsters based on the Amber books, and other sources as well because why not, Zangband opens up the world outside the starter town. You can step past the walls of Angband’s town and see the outside world! That world works rather like a horizontal dungeon: instead of diving down into the earth, you can explore outward in all directions through the wilderness, which is filled with varied terrain kind of in the style of Minecraft. A new character can die very quickly that way, however; unexpectedly, the first levels of the main dungeon are rather easier to survive than just outside the town’s gates. If you have a means of defeating strong monsters, though, it’s possible to gain levels very rapidly without traveling too far from the starting town.

Some of the overworld terrain elements can also appear in dungeons. These green marsh plants do damage if you wade through them.

Out in the wilderness there are other towns to find, some of them with their own entrances into the dungeon (which work just as if you had entered it from the main town). As you progress out further from what we might call Point Zero, the monsters found in the wilderness get more dangerous. Some towns have special kinds of shops that are not to be found in the starting shop. The game’s bosses, which have been changed to the Amber-flavored Oberon on Level 99 and the Serpent of Chaos on level 100, are only found down in the dungeon.

In addition to various kinds of room template designs, sometimes you find a whole themed level, like this huge swamp area.

While it did pick up some of Angband’s later advancements, it still halted development nearly two decades ago. Angband has changed a fair bit in the time since Zangband became frozen, so to speak, in Amber. Playing it requires getting used to the many little things that Angband has abandoned in more recent years, like having to actively search for secret doors and traps. If you’re playing a magic-using class, it’s possible for your starting spellbooks to get incinerated by a fire attack, then for you to head back to town and find that it’s not for sale. Once you’re alert to the danger of this, you’ll know to buy extras when you can and keep them in your house. It’s the kind of affliction that affects most players exactly once, which is a common enough experience in the world of classic roguelikes.

We’re back to classic Angband rules here, so selling things you find in the dungeon is an important source of money.

Zangband is notable for itself inspiring a bunch of variants, in fact a lot of Angband variants get those genes through Zangband as an intermediate parent. Its inclusionist philosophy of adding a whole bunch of monsters and things, and its inclusion of a persistent overworld (which it originally borrowed from Kangband) might explain the attraction.

While Zangband hasn’t been updated in nearly twenty years, its website persisted doggedly until just earlier this year, at zangband.org. Sadly, it has finally succumbed to linkrot, and now can only be found through the graces of the Internet Archive. Its Sourceforge repository still exists however, meaning you can still obtain the game through a living site, at: https://sourceforge.net/projects/zangband

@Play Extra: Inner Details of Pokemon Mystery Dungeon

The Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games are interesting offshoots of the mainline Mystery Dungeon titles. They make clear a stark difference between primacy and popularity: if you only care about sales, then there is no question that Pokemon Mystery Dungeon games are the main games, because their sales vastly outweigh the other games. The games in the second generation, Explorers of Time/Darkness/Sky, are the best-selling Mystery Dungeon games of all. You have to know that there’s around 30 other games, many much older than the Pokemon flavor, in fact older than Pokemon itself by three years, to know the whole story.

Yet the PMD games are still Mystery Dungeon titles, and they play very similarly. They’re graphical roguelike dungeon-crawl games, just, you, your teammates, and your opponents are not generic fantasy creatures, but Pokemon. That is, specific fantasy creatures. Trademarked ones, in fact.

Because PMD’s fairly popular, you’re more likely to find investigations into its internals than the Shiren or other Mystery Dungeon games, just from the number of people who exist in its audience with both the will and skill to investigate. Yet, those internals are close enough to the MD standard that they even provide insight into how classic Mystery Dungeon operates.

YouPotato TheZZAZGlitch’s usualy video stomping grounds in Pokemon, but they have a fondness for PMD, so they’ve made a video on how the first generation (Red/Blue Rescue Team) generates its dungeons, and what do you know, many of these floor types are also very familiar to me from my time exploring the Shiren games, and it doesn’t seem a stretch at all to presume they’re run by the same, or at least a very similar, algorithm.

And YouTuber Some Body (who has a low number of subscribers, maybe folk should send them some love?) has two videos explaining how the AI in those games works. The first is of more general (well, less niche) interest (the one above), while the second is more about covering exceptions and edge cases.

@Play: Angband Version History

@Play‘ is a frequently-appearing column which discusses the history, present, and future of the roguelike dungeon exploring genre.

Back in the GameSetWatch era, I focused more on a general kind of audience for @Play. No, really! I notice that I’ve gotten a fair bit more detailed so far in the Set Side B era. That’s especially the case this time, which is a dive into the history of Angband. But there’s a purpose to this: after knowing where Angband’s been, it’ll help us when, next time, we finally look at its huge number of variants. That should be a lot of fun, and I’m looking forward to it. I hope it’ll make up for all the time I had to spend building this one.

Angband has a long and somewhat convoluted history. There aren’t many open source games with its longevity. It’s managed to keep going by changing ownership somewhat regularly, with each maintainer adding their own stamp to its play.

The Release section of the current Angband homepage rephial.org goes into exacting detail over what was introduced when, but it’s a lot to sift through, and in terms of volume most changes are just bugfixes.

I have gone through all the pages and tried to render down the essence of each change, and what effect it had upon Angband. In this article, we follow along with the various changes that have been made since its origin, and in the end try to note the best version to play, for people interested (or not) in its various aspects.

Our previous articles on Angband are this general introduction, and this description of its features and early going.

AnteAngband

Some of this will be familiar to people who have been reading @Play on Angband so far, so I’ll keep it brief. MORIA was created by Robert Koeneke in 1983, and may be the first true “roguelike” that wasn’t Rogue itself.

Moria was written in Pascal, a fine language that, sadly, isn’t nearly as popular as C. UMORIA (5/3/1987) is a reimplementation of Moria in C. It was updated until July 7, 1994, with one last gasp on 10/13/2008 by a different developer.

ANGBAND was based on UMoria 5.2.1, and is where our story really begins.

Other variants of Moria include Morgul (1993), PC Moria (unknown years), and VMS Moria (1983-1985).

Early History

It’s hard to see this zoomed out, but this is a timeline of the development of some prominent roguelikes from Moria to current Angband (4.2.4). Some positions are fudged a little where I have no precise date.
Full resolution version

Angband 1.0 (1990): The first version of Angband was derived from UMoria by Alex Cutler and Andy Astrand. My indications are that Angband was largely a bigger version of Moria back then: 100 levels instead of 50, beat up Sauron and Morgoth at the end instead of a balrog. This version probably doesn’t survive, and doesn’t seem to have been widely distributed outside the University of Warwick.

What The Frog?

Angband 2.4.frogknows (April 11, 1993): This version was called (right on its title screen) “2.4.frogknows,” was produced by Steve Marsh and Geoff Hill after Angband’s creators graduated, and was the first version with a wide release. This version put a definite stamp on the game, and founded aspects of what many consider iconic about Angband. Amazingly, binary and source versions of frogknows are available from the current-day Angband Home Site.

How does it differ from UMoria?

  • Added more Tolkien, D&D and Rolemaster monsters
  • More object types, including rods, which don’t have limited charges, but instead have a timeout between uses
  • More races
  • Special dungeon rooms
  • Monsters can be generated in groups
  • Monsters have more spells and abilities
  • Special monsters based on defeated players (“ghosts”) can appear in the dungeon and attack you
  • Treasure pits, a predecessor of vaults, appear. These are large rooms with lots of treasure but also out-of-depth monsters
  • Artifacts and level feelings are added
While this title screen identifies it as 2.4.frogknows, this is PC version 1.0.

frogknows got ported to classic Macintosh, Atari ST, and Amiga. The CRPG Addict played this version of Angband and reported on the experience on his blog.

It helps, when giving dates, to give some idea of what else was going on in the world at the time. In the same year as frogknows, Bill Clinton was inaugurated as U.S. President, and child sexual abuse allegations were made against Michael Jackson. It was the 16-bit era in console video gaming. Secret of Mana came out for the SNES. Arcades saw the release of Mortal Kombat II and Super Street Fighter II. Among roguelikes, the NetHack DevTeam would release 3.1.0, the beginning of modern NetHack, but they hadn’t yet gotten to the venerable 3.1.3 version.

If you’re only used to 4.2.4, there are some specific things to be aware of. Mages are much more fragile starting out in older versions, with very slow spell point regeneration, while warriors can be played in a much more direct, hacky-smacky style. It you get stuck on a dungeon level, there’s probably a secret door you didn’t find; use the ‘s’ key in corridors and along walls to search for them. You must remember to wield torches to use them, you don’t start with anything equipped. Artifacts and ego items look just like normal items until identified. You don’t find stacks of useful potions and scrolls at once, but have to find across them one at a time.

PC Angband

Seemingly on the same day as the release of frogknows, Charles Teague (who helped with frogknows) released PC Angband 1.0.

PC Angband went on its own for awhile. In the year 1993: April 20: 1.1; May 20: 1.2. August 18: 1.3; August 28: 1.3.1; it switched hands to Charges Teague. Then, March 7 1994: 1.4; and then, by Phil Yellott, on February 18 1995: 1.4.1b. After that, the line seems to have been merged back into mainline Angband.

Most versions of Angband before 2.8.0 are lost, and those that survive are usually only available in source form, but 1.2, 1.3, and 1.4 of the the PC Angband line survive and are playable in DOSbox. 1.0 and 1.1 also survive, but their closeness to frogknows means that the Angband site links them from its page.

PC Angband 1.2 (5/20/1993): Players could look at monsters to determine how wounded they are, and a stat autoroller was added.

PC Angband 1.3, 1.3.1 (8/28/1993): Targeting was added, allowing players to launch missiles and magic in arbitrary directions, not just in the orthogonal and diagonal ones. (You still can’t do this in NetHack, since it would materially affect other aspects of the game.) And players could gain more than one level at a time.

1.3.1 is an auspicious release, as the base of Angband’s first variants. One of these is Angband–, which seems to be lost, but would serve as the foundation of ZAngband, a mega-variant that itself saw a lot of iteration. It would inspire CthAngband, ToME, and Hengband, all variants that continue to see a lot of interest even now. Hengband is a Japanese variant with several notable children itself, and ToME has been rewritten several times, and now is basically its own separate, full-fledged game. You can even get it on Steam. We’ll talk more about variants, a huge topic, next time.

While the Angband site mentions a later version originating the “Monster Memory” feature, there was some form of recall of abilities, even extending between games as far back as Angband 1.0, as shown here.

Mainline Angband, 2.X

Angband 2.5.0 (12/8/1993): Charles Swiger took over as maintainer. Versions from this to 2.5.9 were released with many technical and miscellaneous changes that I won’t bore you with. Targeting was ported into mainline Angband with 2.5.6.

2.5.8 is the only of these versions that is available on the Angband home site, and even that only in the form of source code.

PC Angband 1.4 (3/7/1994): The last version of PC Angband, and Charles Teague’s last contribution to the game. Many of its changes were merged with the core game. It added a new speed system, and other miscellaneous adjustments.

Angband 2.6.0 (9/4/1994): More miscellaneous changes over three versions, and the end of Charles Swiger’s tenure. 2.6.1 and 2.6.2 are available as source code.

The Macintosh port of 2.6.1 marked a notable addition to the roster of people who have worked on Angband….

Angband 2.7.0 (1/14/1995): Ah! With this version, Angband legend Ben Harrison began his work. The current Angband homesite calls it the beginning of the Second Age of Angband.

Ben Harrison cleaned up the code greatly, almost rewriting it, and fixed lots of bugs, resulting in the 2.8 line being the foundation for many variants. A lot of Angband’s reputation for spawning variants is due to this version, both directly and by its successors. Ben Harrison also founded a notable Angband Home Page on the World Wide Web, that survives today. (The successor to it, thangorodrim.net, has not been so lucky.) And, Ben Harrison invented the Angband Borg, in which one’s computer plays Angband itself, learning about the game as it goes.

2.7.2 added the Scroll of *Identify* to the game, which offers complete information on an artifact’s properties. (Angband loves emphasizing words with asterisks.)

2.7.4 is notable because it’s one of the few versions of Angband from back then that’s still available in compiled form, and downloadable from the Angband site. Its Windows version doesn’t work well for me, producing a garbled display on Windows 10. The DOS version appears to be salvaged from someone’s playfield; it has a valid save file for a character named Whopper, a Human Paladin, who is in the middle of exploring the dungeon, and carries the artifact “Sting.”

2.7.5 rewrote dungeon generation. 2.7.6 added a health bar for monsters. And 2.7.7. removed player ghosts “temporarily,” but they have yet to return even today. This is the version that rephial.org says added Angband’s famed monster memory, a set of spoilers that the game creates and maintains as you play, collecting all the information that your characters have learned on their adventures. However, some form of this extends back as far as PC Angband 1.0.

2.8.0 (10/12/1996): 2.8.1 expanded dungeon spaces so more than one item can fit in a space. Up until then, any dungeon space could only hold one object on the ground. This sometimes caused enemies to leave less treasure than they would otherwise have if they were being fought in a corridor, since there simply wouldn’t be enough room for it all. (The Mystery Dungeon games abide by this restriction, where it adds some unexpected wrinkles to its gameplay.) It also made it so any player race can try to play as any class, although some are probably not good ideas with the stats the game assigns to them.

The 2.8 series on Windows contains rudimentary graphics, but several of its releases don’t like to work on current Windows.

2.8.2 removed the prompt for the number of items to drop, sell, or destroy at once. Instead, players could specify a count before the command, similar to Rogue and NetHack’s repeat systems. After vocal outcry from some players, 2.8.3 added it right back again.

Angband 2.8.3 for Windows, with font graphics enabled

2.8.3 was Harrison’s last official version, although he’d release a version of a prospective 2.8.5 for testing. This version seems to be the first version with support for Allegro tile-based graphics on Windows, but it’s not enabled in the supplied binary. It contains the font-based graphics of the other 2.8 versions, but they have to be enabled in ANGBAND.INI, by setting the variable Graphics therein to 1. Although the tiles are tiny and hard to make out, it’s recommended to play this way, as the terminal graphics are messed up on current Windows. You can somewhat get around this by use the Look command (‘l’) to identify characters in sight. This version does not have compiled DOS binaries on the Angband home site. This (the garbled terminal graphics and Graphics=1 in ANGBAND.INI) is also true of several of its successors.

2.9.0 (4/11/2000): A new Angband for the year 2000. Robert Ruhlman took over the reins of Angband with this version and created the thangorodrim.net website (Wayback link). 2.9 added birth options (see the previous article for more on those), one of them being a way to enforce the “ironman” playstyle, where characters are disallowed from ever using upstairs. Other birth options remove shops or artifacts from the game, or else replace the built-in set of artifacts with randomly-generated replacements. Font graphics can be enabled in ANGBAND.INI on Windows, but are on by default on DOS.

Angband 2.9.0 for Windows, with graphics enabled.
Angband 2.9.0 for DOS, check out the marble border

Angband 3.X

3.0.0 (3/30/2002): A notable change with this version was the addition of Lua scripting to the game. You might think that sounds like it’d be a great idea, after all lots of other games have used Lua, but it actually didn’t see much use, and would be removed from the code with 3.0.8.

It’s minor from a play standpoint, but 3.0.2 removed the term “Genocide” from the game, in order to disassociate a mere computer pastime from real-life horrors. The effect was renamed to Banishment, although this meant that the pre-existing Priest spell Banishment had to itself be renamed to Banish Evil to avoid nominal confusion.

3.0.4 marked two significant changes. With this version junk items, which were included as dungeon flavor but served no real game purpose, were no longer generated in the dungeon. And this was the version to, finally, remove haggling over prices to buy or sell from shops, which I have to say, after experiencing Moria, is probably my own personal favorite change. (Up until this point, the game had already been shortening haggling a lot.)

Robert Ruhlmann stopped maintaining Angband with 3.0.6 (6/8/2005). It’s also the last version supplied with DOS support.

The last DOS Angband: 3.0.6

3.0.8p1 (prerelease, 6/24/2007): Anna Sidwell takes the fiery spikéd torch from Robert Ruhlmann, and removes Lua support. This is the first version to have item “squelching,” allowing the player to set the game to automatically ignore items they aren’t interested in. Mouse support is added, and the code cleaned up again.

3.1.0 (beta, 1/24/2009): This version marked fairly large changes to gameplay. Monsters here ceased to drop so many items, potions began tending to appear in stacks, and healing became proportional to wounds taken. (I’m not quite sure what that means.) A “bad” class of items from previous versions, that reduce a stat and provide no upside, was replaced with alternate items that lower one stat but raise another. Gold generation was toned down in the later dungeon, and traps start out only generating relative safe types, with the worse ones saved for getting progressively deeper in the dungeon.

Angband 3.1.0, TTY mode

Graphics here, by default, are TTY-based, but can be switch to tiled graphics from the Options menu fairly easily. If the window is too small for you (easily possible), the size of the screen can be adjusted in steps from the Window menu.

Angband 3.1.0, Adam Bolt’s tiles, in bigtile mode
Note: from here, Angband comes with multiple tilesets, so how the game looks depends on the tiles selected. If you have the time/energy/artistic skill you could make your own.

3.1.1 (beta, 7/29/2009): Another auspicious moment for the game of Angband. For many years Angband had suffered, after being worked on for so long and by so many hands, of not having a clear line of copyright for all its code, which prevented it from going full GPL. While everyone generally agreed that the game should have fully open source and no one was really against it, the community’s inability to contact everyone who contributed to the source code meant they couldn’t fully relicense it. With this version, the last of these rights issues was finally cleared up, and Angband became available under a dual license, both GPL and its own Angband source license.

3.1.2v2 is credited to the Angband Development Team, I think signalling them taking over from Anna Sidwell.

3.2.0 (12/24/2010): Armor Class, the game statistic indicating how protected a character is from harm, was changed to make heavy armor more worth it relative to their weight. The speed system was changed again. Element resistances was extended to cover carried items. With this version, all artifacts became immediately recognizable: items with names are instantly known, although your character still won’t know what their abilities are until discovered in play. Until that point, you would eventually get a good feeling about a specific item if it was an unrecognized artifact that had been carried for awhile.

Starting in this version, I notice, you can resize the window to get more of a view of the world.

Angband 3.2.0, David Gervais’s tiles, with the window expanded a bit

3.3.0 (7/31/2011): Dungeon generation got another long-overdue overhaul. New cavern and labyrinth special level types were introduced. Level feelings, a part of the game going back to frogknows, were redesigned, separating the danger level of a level from the treasures on it. Resistances were revamped. This version made the spiking of doors, in order to slow down pursuing monsters, a feature that had long been in the game and derived from tactics in classic D&D, more effective.

Angband 3.3.0, nomad’s tiles

3.4.0 (9/14/2012): Development pace slowed for a bit here. Various changes over the years had resulted in Angband becoming easier, and this version attempt to restore some of its classic difficulty.

3.5.1 proudly identifies itself as a variant of Moria

3.5.0 (12/24/2013): Changed the game a fair bit. Charisma, often the dump stat in D&D-derived games, was removed entirely. Item generation was rebalanced, ego items redistributed by level, and shops by default no longer buy items from the player; you can instead donate an item to a shop to be identified or recharged. Money in dungeons was made more plentiful to compensate. (Shops will buy items again, and less money will be generated, if enabled with a birth option.) Random monster generation was toned down, and continuing the trend towards removing bad items, Scrolls of Curse Armor and Curse Weapon were removed. And with this version, door spiking was removed entirely, along with jammed doors and bashing them down. I guess people didn’t like it as much as it was thought they would.

Angband 3.5.1, with multiple windows

By this point Angband on Windows had come to default to offering the multi-headed display. (One of the Ben Harrison released versions also turned it on by default, I forget which one.) It also offers current-day Angband’s choices for tile size. At a glance, it looks a lot like the 4.0 series.

Modern Angband (4.X)

4.0.0 (6/29/2015): Nick McConnell takes over maintaining Angband. A new rewriting of the code begins, with the intent of not making game changes until it is finished.

4.1.0 (6/25/2017): Big changes are made to the game after extensive forum discussion. I described many of these aspects in more detail last time. Active searching (with the ‘s’ key) is removed entirely after 24 years; stepping next to a secret door now always reveals it immediately. Identification of equipment properties and curses takes on its current rune-based form, and classic roguelike “sticky” curses are removed entirely. All potions, scrolls, and mushrooms are immediately identified on first use, and wands, staves, and rods usually identify when used, unless they only work by affecting monsters and none are present when tried. Conversely however, Scrolls of Identify and *Identify* are now gone, replaced with Scrolls of Identify Rune. More level generation types are added, including a “Moria level” in homage to the original game. Status ailments that could be inflicted by monsters were made more interesting.

4.1.1 added a birth option to make dungeon levels persistent, not being regenerated when left and returned to. It’s still in as an experimental feature today.

4.2.0 (8/17/2019): As of this writing, it’s the current major release of Angband. (The newest minor version. 4.2.4, was released 2/22/2022.) This version revamped the magic system, adding two more types to make for four major varieties, and added druids and necromancers that specialize in them. The number of spellbooks was reduced so players don’t have to lug as many around. Shapechanging is added for players and monsters. Many new mechanics are added to the game with this version.

Angband 4.2.4 (main window only)

What Flavor Of Doom Is Right For You?

Some of these versions of Angband are still available to download, so you can play the one that’s in the most accord with your personal preferences. Over the years, some features have been toned down or removed entirely, and others introduced and given prominence. Generally speaking, later versions of Angband are easier than earlier ones, and also put more of the focus on combat than dungeon exploration, but this not a universal trend.

  • If you want an experience as close to Moria, and Rogue, as possible, you’ll want to seek out 2.4.frogknows. You’ll get an authentic, but sometimes annoying, game.
  • 2.7.5 removed player ghosts. It also added, or at least improved, the monster memory. Memory is a great help, over many games, towards recognizing which monsters are the most dangerous and why. (The full history of the monster ability recall function will probably have to wait for another time.) 2.7.6 is the first version after this point that survives.
  • For graphics, 2.7.6 and successive versions have tile graphics if you change Graphics=0 to Graphics=1 in ANGBAND.INI, which will also ungarble the console on modern Windows. For Windows tile graphics, version 2.8.3 is likely the earliest version with Allegro support, but you’ll have to build it yourself.
  • 2.9.0 added birth options, letting you customize the game more to your liking.
  • 3.0.0 added Lua scripting, which might be interesting to modders.
  • 3.0.2 added item squelching, helping streamline the exploration of the dungeon.
  • 3.0.4 is when haggling with shopkeepers, a long-standing feature going back to Moria, was finally removed.
  • 3.0.8 removed the problematic “genocide” terminology, and Lua scripting.
  • 3.1.1 is when Angband’s rights issues were worked out.
  • With 3.2.0, artifacts became known on sight, greatly reducing the possibility of missing out on something great, and dungeon generation was overhauled.
  • Like the idea of spiking doors to delay pursuers? That was in the game from all the way back in frogknows, but was made more effective in 3.3.0.
  • Hate that idea? It was excised from the play entirely in 3.5.0.
  • 3.5.0 is also when shopkeepers stopped buying items from players without enabling that as a birth option.
  • Hate tapping the ‘s’ key to find doors? That was removed in 4.1.0. Up until then, if you didn’t have a magic aid to searching, you could get stuck in parts of the dungeon where all the doors out were hidden. With this version, stepping next to a hidden door is enough to reveal it.
  • Hate cursed items that make it hard to stop using them? Like the rune-based ID system? Both aspects also changed in 4.1.0. That’s also when identification was changed: identify scrolls were removed, but it became less dangerous to ID things from use, and dungeon generation was overhauled again.
  • If you like magic other than just Arcane and Divine, you’ll have to play the most recent line, and thus probably should go with the current version, 4.2.4. If you have no other preferences you should also go with this version to get the latest features and play niceties.

Well that was certainly a long and dry description, but it’s definitely shorter than what I had to read through to get it here. I think it’s still interesting for a look back at a twenty-nine year old game that has been through many different hands. After all that, while it’s changed a lot, Angband still feels a lot like it did in 1993: it’s a tactics-heavy dungeon exploration and combat game, with a lot of area to explore, but with occasional heart-stopping moments of terror.

Next time will be the end of our Angband discussion for now, where we embark on the long-promised exploration into the world of its variants. Angband variants are based on different versions throughout its long history, so having this version key to refer to will be very useful. See you then!

EDIT: Explained frogknows a bit better. Made a few other clarifications. This was a hard article to write.

Sources:
http://www.roguebasin.com/index.php/Angband_version_history
https://rephial.org/release
Use of the various versions available from rephial.

@Play: Wading Into the Pits of Angband

@Play‘ is a frequently-appearing column which discusses the history, present, and future of the roguelike dungeon exploring genre.

Last time we re-introduced Angband. This time, we go more into what it’s like to play its current versions. Our aim here is, as with one of the the Omega articles, to get you to a point where you can play enough of the game to tell if you’ll enjoy it more long-term. Angband is nowhere near as obscure as Omega is, but despite its influence on gaming, it’s still well off the radar of most players. My hope is that this article will serve as an introductory blip at the edge of the screen.

Window Mania

Suddenly, your whole desktop is full of terminal windows.
These labels are for default settings.

When you begin a game of modern Angband on Windows, you might be slighty overwhelmed. The screen fills up with terminals! This “multi-headed” approach seeks to keep more useful game information available at once. There are keystrokes that make that other information available on the main screen, so at first everything but the main game window can be ignored. As you get into the dungeon, you’ll find the other windows more useful.

If you’ve come back to Angband after a long absence, you might be dismayed by this appearance. All of these windows can be individually closed by clicking the close-window button in the corner. If you want them back, go under the Window menu and select Reset Layout.

All of the windows are fully configurable; to decide what each does, you can go under Term Options in the Window menu, but this stuff is for players who want to customize everything.

If you were used to, or prefer, the old ASCII display, it can be activated by going under Options | Graphics | None. There are other tile options there, and you can also choose tile scaling under “Tile Multiplier,” although explaining too much about that is getting into the weeds.

Changing the graphics settings will cause the game to try to set them back up as you had them on later plays, which you might not appreciate if you were trying to get the game back to how it was before you played around with the settings! If you really want to return to the old system, then close all the other windows and set the graphics to None, and then close the other windows. To get it back use the Reset Layout option, although you should know that you must actually be in a game to do it, it won’t work from the title screen.

Piecing By Parts Your Pretend Person

Starting a new game in Angband puts you into character creation. You can spend a lot of time picking a race and class, spending points or rerolling stats, all in order to have all that effort wiped away by a drunk mercenary in town before you even enter the dungeon. My advice is, just pick something fun and get started, because your first game will probably end pretty quickly. Classes that the developers judge doesn’t play well with your chosen race will be printed in a darker color, so just try to steer away from those. When the game asks if you want to do stats with point buy or with a roller, I suggest you go with point buy and stick with the defaults. Customizing these things is more for players who already know the game well and know the consequences of high (and low) stats.

There are two major “types” of character in Angband: those who fight in melee and with missiles, and those who cast spells. All characters but Warriors can do at least a bit of both. Magic users can do some hand-to-hand fighting when needed, but conversely Warriors won’t be able to use magic at all.

If you’re used to Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, It should be said that, unlike as in that game, your class determines some essential and unchangeable aspects of your character. These are listed for you when you press, by default, Shift-S. Each character that can use magic only avail themselves of one type. In previous versions that was either Arcane Magic, which you might think of as magic magic, and Divine Magic, or what the game calls “Prayers.” Each was the domain of either wizards and allied classes, or priests and their relatives. Recent versions have also added Nature Magic, for Druids, and Necromancy, for Necromancers. In the game, this means you can buy and find spellbooks that your character cannot use.

Initial Interests

Welcome to Town!

When you actually begin playing, you’ll be dumped into a Town that, for some reason, has sprung up above this deadly deadly dungeon. You might not expect this on your first game, but the Town Level has is own dangers: at Level 1, you can be easily killed by its more disorderly residents, and in fact you will probably find the first level of the dungeon to be safer. The monsters in Town disappear when you go downstairs, so you could lose all your assailants at once by just dipping downstairs then back up again.

You start out with some gold for buying basic supplies. If you’re playing modern Angband, by default the game will start you out with okay equipment with which you can jump right into the first level of the dungeon.

Following this paragraph is a chart of the most-used keys. You can use the ? key, then ‘a’, to get a list of all the keypresses. Angband is extremely adjustable and all of these keys can be changed, and in fact there is a “roguelike” keyset that uses more traditional keys. You can switch to the roguelike set by going into game options (by pressing the equal key, ‘=’), pressing ‘a’ to go into User Interface options, then ‘a’ again. There are a ton of things you can change in these menus, including defining all the other keys. This chart assumes that they are unmodified:

NOTES
Keys that are different between Angband and Roguelike styles are in boldface.
An alternate way to use items, without having to learn so many keys, is to go into inventory then press the item’s inventory letter, which offers a list of things you can do with it.
In modern Angband there is no ‘s’earch key; searching is automatic when you step near something that can be searched for.
There are three kinds of ‘zap’ function, for wands, staves and rods; there’s more information on these items further down.
Even once you learn a spell (with Shift-G), to cast it you still must have the book.
Modern Angband lets you save without quitting, but it still marks your character as deceased if they die.

Stabby-Stabby vs. Whoosy-Sparkly

When getting started, it’s useful to keep in mind the difference between fighting and magic-using characters. There are nine classes in modern Angband. The first on the list, Warrior, is the only class with no magic at all, other than the magic devices and artifacts they may find. The next four in the list are the “pure” spellcasters, and the last four are the hybrid classes, with fighting and magic.

To attack with a melee weapon, well, this is a classic-style roguelike. Just make sure it’s equipped using the ‘w’ key, which stands both for (W)ear and (W)ield, then walk into a monster you want to attack. To use missile weapons it’s a little more complicated. Equip the right kind of launcher (a bow if you have arrows, a crossbow if you have bolts) then use the ‘f’ key, for Fire, to launch it. You can rapidly switch between weapons you’re carrying with the x key. In previous versions you would have both a primary and a secondary weapon and ‘x’ would switch between them, and you might still end up playing a variant that does things that way. In Angband though the x key just switches weapons. Missiles automatically go into a special section of your inventory called the quiver.

Using magic is a completely different process. For your main spells, you buy a magic book in the Temple in town. Each book contains a number of spells, of various difficulty levels. To see what’s in a book, you [b]rowse it, with the ‘b’ key; to learn a spell out of a book, you [g]ain it, with the ‘g’ key. Depending on your level you’ll have a different chance of learning or casting it, and you can only know so many spells. To cast a known spell, use the ‘m’ key, for [m]agic. Unlike as in NetHack, even when you know a spell from a book, you still need a copy of the book to cast it! Casting a spell both has a chance to fail and costs spell points, but at least spell points regenerate over time, unlike in Omega.

I feel seen.

Exploring the Pits

Recent versions of Angband begin you with everything you need to jump right into the dungeon if you so choose. While you may want to use your starting funds to buy a few healing potions or Scrolls of Phase Door to use in emergencies, many players choose to begin by diving right in. The first few levels are pretty boring; the quality of stuff you find increases rapidly over the first few levels, although some care should be taken with the tougher monsters. It is an exciting way to play.

So you’re in the dungeon, what now? You need a light source; the game defaults to giving you a few torches, one of them equipped, which don’t provide great light but it’s something. You light a torch just by equipping it; using it other than that is unnecessary. You might consider upgrading to a lantern later; those are reusable by refueling them with oil. A prominent early artifact, the Phial of Galadrial, if you can find it, provides light that never runs out.

On top of depleting light, you also need to eat periodically; this can be done by either eating food (you start with a little) or reading a scroll of “Remove Hunger.” The scroll is more effective, but only gets you up to 50% fullness, and is vulnerable to fire attacks.

Aside from such basic outfitting, what you’re mainly here for is to kill monsters, lots of monsters. Once you’re in the dungeon it won’t be long before you find them. Some monsters shouldn’t be engaged with, at least in melee. This is often the case for molds and jellies, which sometimes have things they can do to you or your equipment. If a stat gets drained, it’ll be restored when you gain an experience level, so try to hold on that long. If your equipment gets damaged, there’s not much you can do other than switch to something else.

Your inventory in Angband is your life. Not literally, but very much so figuratively. Nearly all situations can be escaped if you carry the right items with you. Particularly useful is things of “Teleport Other,” that let you send a monster away from you, as in the current version of the game (4.2.4) no monster resists this.

It’s a balance, writing an introduction like this; a lot of the experiencing of playing a new game is in discovering things for yourself. There’s a lot of things I feel like I shouldn’t spoil, and it’s not like I’m an expert on playing Angband myself, but I think it’ll help to tell you that the basic play loop is: explore down into the dungeon until either your resources run low, things get too toasty for your, or your inventory fills up, then read a Scroll of Word of Recall to return to town and dispose of/utilize your acquisitions in a safer setting and replenish your supplies in the stores. Shops in the town always contain a lot of certain basic items, especially those Recall scrolls. Word of Recall always takes some turns to activate, so you can’t rely on it to get you out of immediate danger. Also, scrolls are not fireproof, and having multiples can really help you out should something happen to one of them.

As if they somehow know the details of your efforts, shops stock better and better items depending on the deepest level of the dungeon you’ve been to. It’s a good idea to keep checking in with the shops whenever you return to Town. Money serves no game purpose other than to spend in Town shops, so you might as well use it.

You’ll find the usual basic types of roguelike magic items: potions, scrolls, rings, and amulets. It’s worth keeping in mind the limits of each type of item. Magic and scrolls can’t be used while you’re confused; scrolls additionally can’t be used while you’re blind; potions are heavier but can be drunk whenever you have a spare turn. So if you’re confused a Scroll of Phase Door can’t help you, unless you cure the confusion by drinking a healing potion first.

There are three kinds of “charged” items: wands, staves, and rods. Confusingly, using default keys, wands are used with the ‘a’ key (Apply), staves with the ‘u’ key (Use), and rods with the z key (Zap). Each tends to have their own uses. Wands and staves have limited number of charges, times they can be used; some magic can recharge them, but also risks destroying the item. Rods are the odd item out; instead of limited charges, they have a timeout between times they can be used.

On top of this, some items you find in the dungeon can also be used, with Shift-A. Particularly keep this in mind if you find dragon scale armor, as their breath weapons can be quite powerful! The strongest items in the game, called artifacts, tend to have these kinds of abilities. Artifacts are the items that have names, usually in quotation marks.

Many of the strong items have functions that must be identified. Old versions of Angband used an identification system not unlike that of Rogue and Hack, but more recent iterations have overhauled this entirely. Now, equipment items bear runes that you identify independently. While it may take several identifications to find out all of an item’s runes, once you know a rune you’ll recognize it on other items for the rest of the game. Known runes can be seen with the Inspect command, Shift-I. If there are any unknown runes, there will be a couple of question marks after the item’s name: (??). Runes can be identified with one of the spells, or by reading a Scroll of Identify Rune, but if something in play causes a rune’s effect to function, like if it’s a rune of Resist Fire and you get hit by a fire attack, the game will immediately identify the rune for you.

Another thing that got overhauled in recent versions is the game’s curses. No longer are there the traditional “sticky” curses, which prevent you from equipping the item until the curse is removed. Now, you can freely remove a cursed item if you like.

Your character has an inventory limit, and can only carry a maximum of 23 items on them. Multiple items of the same type “stack together,” occupying a single inventory space, but item stacks are limited to 40 items before further items will spill over into another space. There are some weird nuances to this: arrows in your quiver, even of different types, appear to take up one stack unless you have more than 40. The game also keeps track of the weight of items you’re carrying. There is no limit to how much weight you can bear, but depending on your Strength you’ll get slowed by carrying excess weight.

Don’t forget to keep checking the contents of the shops in town. They change periodically while you’re exploring the dungeon, and tend to improve in what they carry the deeper you’ve been (although with commensurately higher prices). Money is good for nothing else in the game than buying things from these shops, so go ahead and spend it. In addition to identification, charged items you sell to shops get recharged, so if you have the money you can then buy it back with its improved capacity.

You’ll notice that some items tend to get printed with dark gray text. These items tend to have some negative effect for your character, or are possibly useless. Magic using characters will see a lot of the heavier armor is printed in gray, to indicate that they will suffer from reduced Mana when wearing it. However, wearing armor might be worth it for the protection it offers. It is a tradeoff kind of thing, don’t you see.

Speed deserves special mention. Your character’s speed is rated using a score that’s displayed in the sidebar. In general, every ten points of speed above 0 is an extra turn relative to the average monster, and every ten points below is an extra turn they get relative to you. This measure breaks down beyond +/-20, but it’s difficult to get that far.

When you fight monsters, you’ll notice the window that is by default in the lower-right fills in with information about them. This window is your view into Angband’s vaunted “monster memory.” As you play, not just your current game but many games, the game keeps records of all the statistics of the monsters you fight that your characters have deduced. This information is saved to a file as you play and isn’t reset when you start over.

Uh-oh.

At first experience levels come quickly. Angband lets you progress through the dungeon at your own pace. When you enter a level, most of the time, you’ll get a message indicating the game’s opinion of how dangerous the monsters are on it relative to how deep that level is. This message is called the level feeling. Much of the time you’ll see messages like the level seems safe or tame, but once in a while you’ll get a more dangerous-seeming message. In particular look out for the message “Omens of death haunt this place,” that’s the worst possible message and means bad news lurks about. There is also a second message, called the object feeling, that gives a sense of the quality of treasure on the level, but it only shows up after you’ve been on the level for a bit.

Your character has the ability to ‘t’unnel (Shift-T) through walls with the right implement. There’s sometimes money embedded in walls, which can be detected with Detect Treasure magic or just spotted in a corridor wall. Weapons generally are used to do this, although most weapons really suck at it. There exist in the game special weapons, shovels and picks, that are made specifically for digging. They’re awful at combat, but good for striking the earth, although it still takes a long time to do it in terms of turns. Current-day Angband automatically uses your best digging item when you try to tunnel, so you don’t have to bother changing your equipped weapon.

Recent Revisions

Angband has changed a lot since then. Like Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, its developers have worked on it, removed some other elements, added others, and what was left has sometimes been modified greatly. Current-day Angband is not really the same game as the old version, so it’s worth throwing out any old assumptions. Of special note, I’ve seen players mention the game seems to be easier than it used to be.

Some of the specific things that have changed:

  • The magic system has been reworked, to need fewer books. Angband magic requires you keep a spell’s book in your inventory to cast it, so this opens up inventory slots for other items.
  • People who played Moria will remember how you had to go through a rigamarole of haggling with merchants whenever buying or selling something. It may have been interesting once in a while, but it really could wear on your patience over the course of a long game. Thank the Valar it is no more.
  • As stated earlier, the magic equipment system has been changed. Instead of identifying wearable items individually, you effectively identify them in parts now. Each item bears a number of runes that determine what its properties are, and you identify those individually. Once you’ve identified all the runes, you know the item.
  • Curses are runes too now, there are many types of them, and items can have more than one. The traditional roguelike “sticky” curses, that prevented you from taking items off, are gone. Instead, many curses are subtle and not obvious in what they’re doing until the curse rune has been identified, and other items offer tradeoffs between good properties with curses. Some curses may even be of situational use. The removal of sticky curses (of which I’ll have more to say some time) removes most of the danger, but also much of the frustration, of using the equipment you find lying around.
  • There are still individual magic items, potions, scrolls, wands, staves, and rods, that must be identified individually. Now you can give up an example of each item to a shop that deals in it and in exchange it’ll be identified for you. Because of this, the old Scrolls of Identify and *Identify* are gone, although there are now scrolls that identify a rune.
  • To do away with the loop of lugging items back to town to sell, most of which are otherwise useless to you, now shops don’t buy items from players. If the item is useless, you can just leave it in the dungeon, as there is no monetary benefit to having it. To make up for the loss of funds, money found in the dungeon tends to be greater in value. (But see below, on “birth options.”)
  • What was once known as “preserve mode,” in which artifacts you never find on a level before you leave it are put back into the item generation pool and can be found at a later time, is now the default.
A few of these really change the game!
“Generate a new, random artifact set” upends the game quite a bit
“Force player descent” and “Word of Recall has no effect” duplicates “Ironman mode” from previous versions
“Monsters learn from their mistakes” sounds hilarious

Some previous features have been changed to “birth options.” These are options that can only be changed at the start of the game, by entering Options (again, by pressing the Equal key, “=”) during character creation. One of these birth options reverts shops to once again buying items from players, in exchange for finding less cash in the dungeon. “Preserve mode” can be disabled, which improves level feelings to compensate. And an option in older versions called “Ironman mode,” which prevented you from returning to dungeon depths you’ve been to before, always forcing you to explore deeper and deeper, has become a pair of birth options. And there’s even a birth option now that will cause Angband’s levels to persist once you leave them. There’s other interesting birth options too, including one that replaces all the built-in artifacts with randomized alternatives!

There’s much more to say about Angband, especially about its history, and perhaps its greatest legacy: it has a vast number of variants. People modifying the source code have made more than 100 alternate versions of Angband over the years! This seems to be in large part thanks to the efforts of previous maintainer Ben Harrison, who cleaned up the code greatly, making it relatively simple, by roguelike standards, to make meaningful changes. But let’s save those matters for next time.