@Play: Which Is Better, Ring Mail or Splint Mail?

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

Gary Gygax was a weird person. I won’t get into his life or history or, the casual misogyny of AD&D character creation, or the Random Harlot Table. But he did know a lot about medieval weaponry and armor, and to some degree this obsessive interest seeped out and infected a whole generation of nerds.

How useful is this armor in protecting someone? Five. It is five useful. (Image from National Museum in Krakow)

I know which is generally better: leather armor, studded leather armor, ring mail, chain mail, splint mail, plate mail or plate armor. I know that, although in life each is different, battles are random, and there’s countless factors that might determine who would win in a fight, the order in which I have given them is roughly how effective they are, because it’s the order that Armor Class increases, sorry decreases, in classic Dungeons & Dragons.

While the list of armors is presented, in practically every Player’s Handbook, with their effects on protection right there in order, unless you’re steeped in the material, it is not obvious, just from reading the names of the items, which is supposed to be better than another.

Splint Mail was rare in Europe during the medieval period. It’s also really hard to Google Image Search for without ending up with pictures taken from D&D material!(Image from Wikipedia)

This is a considerable roadblock, and one I struggled with for a while, when I first tried to learn to play Rogue, because that game expects you to know how effective each piece of armor is. You start out with Ring Mail +1. You find a suit of Splint Mail. Should you switch? People who play nearly any classic roguelike are going to run against this eventually. Even now, some games just expect you to know the relative strengths of each.

If you decide to take the chance and try it on, to Rogue’s (and Nethack’s) credit, it tells you immediately how effective the armor is on the status line, and you can compare its value to your past item. To Rogue’s (and Nethack’s) detriment though, if the new armor is cursed, you’re stuck with it, until you can lift the curse (to a new player, unlikely) or die (very likely). And then, unless you’ve been taking notes, you’ll still probably forget the relationship between the two items, meaning you’ll have to guess their relative value again later, and deal with the same risk.

Classic D&D tended to give short shrift to the intricacies of real-life armor use, simplifying a complex topic beyond perhaps what was appropriate. AD&D attempted to remedy that by going overboard, giving each armor ratings according to its bulkiness, how much of the wearer’s body it covered, how much it weighed and how it restricted movement. Gygax’s tendency towards simulation is responsible for some of the most interesting parts of the game, but it didn’t help him here I think.

Most classic roguelikes, at least, use the “bag of Armor Class” approach to armor, which is probably for the best. Nethack probably goes to far in the Gygaxian direction. If you find Plate Mail in Nethack, you’re almost entirely better off just leaving it on the ground, even despite armor’s huge value, because it’s simply too heavy. Even if you can carry it without dipping into Burdened status, or, heaven help you, Stressed, its mass and bulk lowers the number of other items you can carry before you reach Stressed, and carrying many other items is of great importance. This is the secret reason that the various colors of Dragon Scale Mail are so powerful in Nethack: it’s not that they have the highest best AC in the game (though they do), it’s that they’re also really light! Even if you don’t get the color you want, it takes concern about the weight of armor completely off your list of worries.

The use of armor underwent revision throughout D&D’s development. (This page lists the changes in detail.) For reference, the relative quality of D&D, and thus roguelike, armor goes like this.

NameNew-Style Ascending Armor ClassOld-Style Descending Armor Class
Leather Armor28
Studded Leather & Ring Mail37
Scale Mail46
Chain Mail55
Splint Mail & Banded Mail64
Plate Mail73
Plate Armor82

Why the difference in values? Up until the 3rd edition of D&D, Armor Class started at 10 and counted down as it improved. 3E updated a lot of the game’s math, and changed the combat formula so that AC was a bonus to the defender’s chance to be missed instead of a penalty to the attacker’s chance to strike. Because of that, now it starts at 10 and counts up. The changeover was a whole to-do, I assure you, but now two editions later we barely look back. Back in that day others were confused by the system too, and even Rogue used an ascending armor score. But Nethack, to this day, uses original D&D’s decreasing armor class system.

If you compare those values to those used in 5th Edition, you’ll notice that even the new-style numbers don’t match up completely. As I said, while the relative strengths have remained consistent, if not constant, the numbers continue to change slightly between versions.

That concludes this introductory level class. You’re dismissed! If you’re looking into the relative effects of different polearms… that’s the graduate-level seminar, down the hall.

Episode 3 of BS Shiren the Wanderer Recovered

The Mystery Dungeon series of Japanese roguelikes, which includes the Shiren the Wanderer games, has a fair number of obscure entries. There’s “The Rainbow Labyrinth,” a mobile entry that toyed with adding F2P features and never made it out of beta. There’s a few other mobile remakes of early titles that can’t be obtained or played now due to their platforms being discontinued. And back on Super Famicom, one of the very first Mystery Dungeon games, a spinoff and modification of Furai no Shiren, was released for Nintendo’s Satellaview add-on.

Most Satellaview titles are extremely obscure now, with their only remaining remnants that aren’t languishing in a vault somewhere inside Nintendo (if they even exist there) being saved data files on aging flash memory cartridges in the possession of diehard Nintendo players and collectors in Japan. Satellaview was treated as a way of distributing disposable software, games and other programs that were tied to a specific date or time, so there are a good number of lost items for it, and many will probably never be recovered.

Entropy and bitrot are huge problems with computer software of all types, and it’s shocking how little most companies, even Nintendo themselves sometimes, seem to think about recording essential parts of their past. So any successful reclaiming of old data from the land of howling hungry ghosts is good.

Image from Satellablog

That’s why I’m remarking here that Satellablog, dedicated to recovering and making playable as much old Satellaview software as they can, has managed to obtain a copy of Episode 3, of the Satellaview version of Shiren the Wanderer, “Save Surara” or “Save Surala” depending on the tastes of the person romanizing the title. That means episodes 2, 3 and 4 have been found, leaving only the first episode.

Save Surara was a Soundlink title, like the releases of BS Legend of Zelda. That means they were intended to be played at the same time as a special audio broadcast, and contained events that were timesynced with that broadcast. Without the broadcast (which are usually lost now), Soundlink games can’t be entirely played as originally intended, but it’s still better than nothing.

Here is video of Episode 3 in action. It’s about 49 minutes long. It’ll have to be modified to get it into a state where people who aren’t into romhacking will be able to play it themselves:

With three episodes recovered, there’s still hope that someone in Japan saved a copy of Episode 1 on a forgotten flashcart resting in a closet somewhere. Frog bless all of you awesome hardware horders over there!

C64 Dungeon Play and Lost World Demonstration

Another personal project post! I have done more work in making David Caruso II’s obscure Commodore 64 CRPG Dungeon, published in the issues of the disk magazine LOADSTAR more than once, presentable to current-day audiences. Although it certainly has its limits, there are some aspect to it that are unique, even forward-thinking. We posted about Dungeon here before. To remind everyone, we sell Dungeon on my (rodneylives’) itch.io page for $5, with the blessing of rights-holder and LOADSTAR owner Fender Tucker.

There are a few bugs in Dungeon, now basically impossible to fix, that I’m trying to track down and document, and I’m also working on improving the documentation, as well as provide some useful goodies with the system, like a disk of monsters, equipment and magic items. That’s useful because Dungeon has a special feature where it’ll take the monsters and items on a “Data Disk,” and scatter them around a dungeon map of its own creation. It calls these randomized adventures “Lost Worlds.”

Lost Worlds operate as a kind of quasi-roguelike. The Dungeon software creates a random map and places random items around it, but once created it becomes a Dungeon adventure that any created character can explore as many times as they like. While it doesn’t have roguelike tactical combat gameplay or random item identification, it does have a form of permadeath. Characters only get three lives to advance their level as far as they can go.

Lost Worlds are interesting places to explore, but there are some bugs in them. It is possible, in fact pretty easy, to get stuck in a part of the dungeon from which one can’t escape. Sometimes a one-way door leads into an area that can’t be escaped, and sometimes a passage-blocking trap will strand the player’s character in a dead-end. And once in a while a Lost World is downright unfinishable, its goal item disconnected from the parts of the dungeon the player can even reach.

While there are spells (Passwall and Teleport) that can release a trapped character, if they aren’t available the character is not completely lost. If you turn off the C64 (or close the emulator), then return to the Guild screen, the character will be marked as GONE. Over time, measured in loads of the Guild menu, the character will eventually find their way back on their own. It takes quite a while for this to happen though: I counted 15 loads, saving the game each time, before a GONE character returned.

This video (23 minutes) is is something I recorded myself as a demonstration of both Dungeon’s gameplay, and its Lost World adventure generation. It uses a set of 30 low-level monsters and items based on the stats of the old Basic edition of D&D, and a set of magic items I created for usefulness and to show off Dungeon’s spell set.

So, why would someone want to play this game, when there’s so many other newer CRPGs out there to play?

  • The idea of rolling up a character and taking them through scenarios made by other people, to try to get their level up as high as they can get before they die three times, is great. My hope, perhaps misplaced, is this release will inspire other people to make dungeons for others to play, and I look forward to seeing them myself.
  • The magic system of Dungeon, while it doesn’t allow for characters to learn spells themselves, is unique in that most of the spells are utility spells! There are spells for passing through walls, for teleporting anywhere on the map, for revealing terrain, for seeing in darkness, for giving oneself a damage shield, for locating the goal item, for disarming traps, and more. There is only one direct damage attack spell! Spells are more like tools than something you use to pound through the enemies.
  • The dungeon model allows for dark areas, traps that block exits, two-way and one-way teleporters, secret doors, one-way doors, and decorating dungeon maps with PETSCII graphics. The simplicity of the dungeons, all of them fitting on one screen, works in Dungeon’s favor. No dungeon can be too large since they must all fit within the bounds of the map grid.

There are unique design considerations for making Lost Worlds too. Even though the computer creates the maps unaided, since it populates them from the monsters, items and traps that are on the Data Disk, the difficulty of the resulting dungeon is affected. The various doodads are distributed without apparent heed for what they are; I wonder if the generator actually cares for their identities or if it just checks how many of each type are on the disk, so as not to exceed that number.

If there are more easy monsters, more powerful items, and more weak traps on the disk then the dungeon will be easier due to their corresponding numbers being greater, and vice versa. It occurs to me that one of the flaws in the dungeon generation I mentioned could be alleviated, by not giving it one of the wall creating traps that could trap a player in a dead-end, but that also makes the dungeon a bit less interesting, so I’ve left it in the mix I use.

I recognize that, if I let myself, this might become a Dungeon blog. Rest assured, I’m not going to take it that far. But I really hope that some people give Dungeon a chance. While sure it has its inspirations (one person on Mastodon said it reminds them of Phantasie, a somewhat less obscure early CRPG), I think it’s pretty unique, and deserves for more people to have a look at it. I’m particularly pleased how well the sample monsters and items I made work in the Lost World framework, and I’m trying to think of ways that it might be improved. More on this later… but, not immediately, I think.

Shiren 6: What Happens When You Finish The Final Dungeon

I’ve been playing a lot of Shiren the Wanderer: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island lately. Partly in preparation to add a chapter on it to my Mystery Dungeon book, partly because I like Mystery Dungeon games. I streamed my playthrough of finishing the main dungeon (on my first attempt!) here.

Here is the title screen (which is a spoiler for after finishing the main dungeon, although that is really only a short way into the game):

After you finish every other task in the game, including finishing the final 99 Floor “megadungeon” where most items are unidentified, the title screen changes to add a nice rainbow:

I forgot to get a picture with the title in place. I can’t go back and get it now because of what followed….

There is one more thing to do at that point though. That is to play through the megadungeon again, but finding 12 “Celestial Stones” that severely restrict your inventory by the end.

Well, I’m not sure if they really counted on anyone doing that? There doesn’t seem to be much reward for it. It doesn’t go remarked upon by anyone in the game. But it does change one thing: the title screen. Here it is:

I like the red “IN SPACE” stamp! Sadly, all the graphics in the actual game still show an island floating in the atmosphere, and not in orbit. I wonder if they plan on doing something with this in an update? That seems like a lot of extra work for the benefit of not a lot of people.

Looking through my screenshots, I found this illustration that can be unlocked for behind the main menu, showing Shiren stumbling upon a Monster House:

There’s a lot more to say about Shiren 6, after I gather up my thoughts about it….

The CRPG Addict Reaches Nethack 3.1

He’s been at this since the days of GameSetWatch’s run of @Play, but the CRPG Addict has finally reached Nethack 3.1, the game where Nethack reaches most of its final form. It’s true that it has gained features since then (especially weapon skills and splitting apart race and role from each other), but it was the version that introduced the current-day structure of the dungeon, added the many role-specific Quests, made the Wizard’s Tower a three level stronghold instead of just a little place in the mazes of Gehennom, put in the Bell, Book and Candle subquest, handed the Amulet of Yendor to the High Priest of Moloch, and put in the Elemental Planes and the current form of the Astral Plane.

Here are all his Nethack 3.1 posts to date:

Game 504: Nethack [3.1 series] (1993) – Beginning adventures

Nethack [3.1]: Blessed and Cursed – Discovering exercise, death by battery drain

Nethack [3.1]: Rust and Ruin – Beginning of very good game

Nethack [3.1]: Quest for Glory – Middle dungeon levels, Rogue level, Quest branch

Nethack [3.1]: Wish List – Exploring the lower regions of the main dungeon

Nethack [3.1]: Beyond This Place Of Wrath And Tears: from the Castle to Fort Ludios to entering Gehennom to killing Baalzebub

Nethack [3.1]: Nothing Lasts Forever – from killing the Wizard for the first time to getting the Amulet up to escaping the main dungeon for the Elemental Planes

@Play: Glorious Adventure in the Mystery Dungeon

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

It’s the shortest @Play column ever!

What is happening here? This is the newest Mystery Dungeon game, Shiren the Wander: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island. It’s actually a great deal of fun, a sharply-designed entry in the long-running classic roguelike series.

This isn’t “roguelike” like half the games on Steam. This is a true roguelike, even if it doesn’t have ASCII graphics: a turn-based RPG with substantial randomized elements, that demands that you live (or not) by your tactics, strategy and wits. I don’t begrudge others appropriation of the term, but it does mean I have to now use the qualifier classic when I want to discuss the old style. Really, it’s better to call games not in the original style roguelite.

The dungeon depicted is Heart of Serpentcoil Island, the traditional end megadungeon that most Mystery Dungeon games have. After finishing the “main” dungeon, and playing a lot of extra bonus dungeons that each show off a specific element of the game’s engine, there’s the megadungeon: a 99-level gauntlet of terror where you enter at level 1. None of the items you’ve collected throughout the rest of the game will help you here. You must start from scratch with just a riceball. You don’t even have a weapon or a shield to begin with: everything you have, you must find along the way.

The game doesn’t pull many punches in this dungeon, as you can see. At experience level 1, every space in a room (other than the entrances: that’s a secret tip for you!) could contain a game-ending trap. The only consolation is that they’re really quite rare! I was exceptionally unlucky in this run.

Additionally, the uses of many of the items, the scrolls, grasses, pots, bracelets and incense found in the dungeon, are unknown: their effects must be discovered, through means both blatant and subtle, for yourself. Some of them will be essential to your survival, let alone success; others, like the Ill-fated Seed, you really want to avoid using.

It’s a ludicrous test of knowledge and skill, and a fitting capstone to the game. If the experience shown in the video seems like it might put you off, at least it shows conclusively that the game isn’t taking it easy on you. If you win, and it can be won, it’s a great accomplishment. I’m still working on this one myself; I’ll let you know how it goes.

Shiren 6 Main Dungeon Completion

Whew! At around 3:30 AM last night, I finally was able to play Shiren the Wanderer 6: The Mystery Dungeon of Serpentcoil Island. Five hours later I finished it on my first attempt, with no deaths. I had six Revival Herbs in inventory at the end. (There is a story battle against the boss at the beginning that you’re supposed to lose. I don’t know, maybe there’s a tricky way to finish it? I gave it a good try.)

I did this on my rarely-used Twitch channel. I’ve put the recordings of the play in a video collection, which you can see here.

I’m not going to say this means the game is easy. I can finish Super Famicom Shiren on one try too. I’ve been playing roguelikes for, oooh, over 30 years now? Shiren 6 falls a lot closer to the first Shiren games than Shiren 4 and 5, and I couldn’t be happier about that. I plan on written a full review later, after I’ve recovered from staying up all night playing this game.

I’m sorry that this isn’t more generally interesting, but I’m pretty jazzed!

7DRL 2024 Coming Up Soon

I never finished my recap of 2023’s highest-ranked 7DRL entries, and 2024 is rolling around already, set to begin on March 1st! Here is it’s itch.io page, and Cogmind creator Kyzrati’s Mastodon mention.

7DRL, the 7-Day RogueLike challenge, is one of the oldest still-going gamejams out there, and still among the most interesting. Every year a number of surprisingly interesting games come out of it. One year, back when @Play was on GameSetWatch, I took it upon myself to look at every game that succeeded at the challenge that year. I think it was 2011? Even though it took weeks, enough time that I vowed I’d never review every game again, even some of the lesser ones had some interesting aspect to them.

This year will undoubtedly add yet more game to that backlog, hooray! That was a sarcastic hooray, I won’t deny it. But it was also, in a sense, an honest one too. More interesting and unique games mean more fun for everyone, fun that doesn’t cost $60 + DLC prices. And making them means more experienced gamedevs making things they like, things that don’t rely on multi-hundred dollar triple-A outlays of cash to realize, and that helps us, very slightly yet perceptibly, reclaim gaming culture from the wash of monotonous big-money content with which we’re all inundated.

It all starts March 2nd, so if you’re interested in participating, get ready to make! And it all ends, mostly, on March 11th, so get ready to play! (I say mostly because technically the challenge isn’t absolutely time-locked. But it’s a good period to aim for and build hype around.)

The November Nethack Tournament!

The replacement for the old dev/null tournament, the November Nethack Tournament is on! Get yer armor and weapons, read your spellbooks and start testing those items! Maybe you’ll find a Wand of Wishing on the first floor? Probably not, but there’s all kinds of crazy D&D-ish adventures to be had this month, so get ‘hacking!

The November Nethack Tournament (tnnt.org)

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!