Zelda? That’s for wimps!

A while ago I was recommended a game from some place. I don’t recall where. The recommendation was so enthusiastic that I felt it’d be rude not to investigate. The game is known as DROD – Deadly Rooms of Death and it looks like this:

DROD - Not too tricky.. yetDROD – Not too tricky.. yet

Clearly, this game isn’t about the graphics. Whilst this may disappoint some of you, others can take joy in knowing that it is possible to play this game on a low-spec PC. For those of you wishing for better graphics then you’ll be pleased to learn that the image above is taken from the FREE version of the game. A newer engine has since been produced which features updated graphics – however, the same top-down view is used.

So what’s so good about this game then?

Well, apart from being a jewel in the crown of the ‘gameplay over graphics’ argument (one which often gets forgotten as a new generation of hardware launches) the game is FREE, contains humour that’s just the safe side of black and, as already mentioned, doesn’t require you to remortgage your house to play it on a PC.

The game is a series of rooms spread across a series of floors. You play Beethro – a sort of medieval Rentokil employee. You must eliminate all the dangers in each room of the floor to gain entry to the next. In many respects the game plays like those Zelda dungeon sequences. A series of very simple entitles combine to make increasingly challenging rooms.

An example of these entities and their simple nature are switches (which toggle barriers), roaches (enemies that instinctively approach you directly)and eyes (stationary until you enter their line of site, then they move towards you). Each entity has behaviour that, on it’s own, is very simple to understand. However, once the game starts to combine them together along with fiendish wall and floor design it becomes apparent that ‘simple’ does not mean ‘easy’.

If your head is still in Zelda dungeons then allow me to point out some crucial differences between Zelda and DROD. For starters, DROD isn’t an action based game. Quick reactions are not necessary because enemies don’t move until you do. Movement is conducted by using the number pad keys including 7,9,1 and 3 for diagonal movement. Beethro moves from square to square with each press of the key. After Beethro moves, the enemies move. If you don’t move then nothing happens. Whilst this may sound rather placid and unexciting it makes the game incredibly fair and approachable. There are no random scenarios, there are no times when the game is giving you impossible odds. Everything can be achieved by some thoughtful movement and a little planning. In fact, the best way of playing the game is to look at each room and think before moving.

Like Link, Beethro has a sword. Unlike Link that’s all he’ll ever have in his arsenal. This is no RPG and there are no power ups. Death is instant and always your fault. Beethro’s sword skills are basic – it points forwards. Pressing the Q and W keys rotate Beethro and sword and count as a move – just like stepping across tiles does.

The golden rule is to keep your sword between Beethro and his enemies and you can’t lose. Of course, sticking to that rule isn’t as easy as it might seem 🙂

And that’s all you need to know to play the game. Needless to say, the first few levels will get you warmed up and get you totally familiar with the mechanics of gameplay. After level 3 things start to get more serious and you’ll probably find that keeping Beethro alive probably involves fancier footwork than you might have assumed the game would allow.

The free version of the game has 25 levels in it and, by level 8, you’re going to be facing challenges and downright cruel design that will make Zelda look like a walk in the park. Under no circumstances should you underestimate this game based on it’s simple controls, turn-based nature or basic looking graphics.

As it is, DROD represents one of the most finely crafted and cleverly designed games I have ever played and I’m only sorry to say that I joined the party so late.


Head to the downloads section and look for the file that’s shown as “0 kb” – that’s the full King Dugans Dungeon (KDD) set of dungeons for free. The actual download size is around 13mb.

There are no shortage of fan-made levels and graphics on the forums of the site. Also, a whole updated version of the game which includes lots of cosmetic updates and brand new dungeons (referred to as Keeps) collectively called “Journey to the Rooted Hold” available for purchase. If you storm through the 300+ rooms in the free version of the original game then I recommend you purchase the newer version.

It’s also worth pointing out that you never need to be stuck!

The DROD forum is a marvelous place and has a truly superb search function that allows you to select which set of dungeon/keep levels you want help on, choose a floor, click on a graphical represenation of the room and then see a series of support posts related to that specific room. Absolutely fantastic.

I understand the game makers are making a community based interface that you can subscribe to that allows you to see high scores, best runs and other information about your particular room as you play it.

I very rarely openly declare my undying love for a single game. I also find myself very rarely so impressed with a game demo that I want to invest in the full thing. DROD defies my nature in both these aspects and I can’t recommend it highly enough but will attempt to do so until the day I die. It is supremely well designed and extraordinarily easy to pick up. It is, without question, the best game you’ve never heard of!

You’ve never had it so good

As the arrival of the next generation is literally knocking on people’s front doors I find myself in a reflective mood. Some people are already expressing disappointment with what they’re seeing. I tend to think they’ve had their expectations set too high. We want the huge leap that we got when 2D became 3D, or when games stopped being 3 flickery sprites and started to resemble actual games. As the frontiers fall away people still expect new ones to be broken – without realising that there may not be that many frontiers left to break.

I don’t think HD is a new frontier, I think it’s refinement. I don’t think motion senseing is a new frontier, I think it’s a gimmick. I think consoles and online options may still hold some surpises for us all – even then, these will be more subtle than the giant technological advances of previous generations.

For a moment, rather than trying to see where that next frontier might be and what might be done to break through it, cast your mind backwards. Take stock of all the achievements that have been made – all in the name of entertainment.

Space War and Pong – without any question, these are the foundations of every single game we play today. They started a ball rolling that has gathered so much speed and pace that it’s almost out of control. History books show what happened next – Space Invaders, Asteroids, Defender and others. Breaking down barriers of thought with their crude digitial stylings. Opening up sensations of entertainment and challenge that humans had never before encountered. These are milestones of an entire race – not just mere videogames.

With that, perhaps overblown, statement another realisation rings true: the great minds of these achievements are still with us. We don’t need to wonder about their processes and thoughts as we do with Da Vinci, Einstein, Shakespeare or Lennon. Those of us with an interest in the culture, meaning and origin of games are the privileged few. We can speak to the innovators! With the exception of a very few (Dani Bunten, Gunpei Yokoi) they are still with us and being productive. Hell, we can even email these visionairies directly or, at the very least, find current interviews with them by using the internet (Thanks to Tim Berners Lee).

In twenty years time, who is to say who will still be with us? Will we wish for a few more games from the sadly departed? Will we wish to have the time to ask them a couple of questions or to learn their processes and methods to better understand them and the medium we adore?

Today’s gamers have it all – the techonology and the achievements that make our passtime more than just a series of random dots. Not only that, but those that inspire, invent, create and revolutionise are still with us. They are the Creators of our passion. We should not worship them, but we should not ignore them or dismiss them. We are in a unique position to learn from the masters – future generations will not be so fortunate as us.

So, don’t be so quick to dismiss a box of circuits. Your energy would be better invested by counting your blessings.

Us and them

This year has seen a lot of activity involving games, politicians and legislation. Some states in the US have brought in legislation to control the sales of videogames to minors in an effort to protect them from the so-called corrupting influences of our media. A frequent response to such behaviour is for someone to explain that no other form of entertainment media is controlled by government legislation – it’s controlled by the industry. Why should games be any different.

Whilst I agree with this sort of response in principle it makes me think about gaming and whether the positioning alongside that of film, music and books is truly justified.

Clearly, I’m biased. I freely admit that. Whatever I may feel about videogames I can assure you that I still indulge in other forms of entertainment. In fact movies are probably my second greatest passion after videogames (it goes without saying that my greatest, greatest passion is my wife – who can regularly kick my ass at SSX. What a woman!). I feel that videogames have the added dimension of interactivity that elevates and seperates them from their established cousins.

The whole interactivity thing is a blessing and a curse regardless of which side of the line you stand with regards to games being harmful or not. I feel that the connection a player may make with a game has the potential to be far stronger than any other medium. Nothing else puts you in the middle of events, directly responsible for the direction they unfold in or the pace at which they unfold like a videogame can. Films are, perhaps the most passive and undemanding of the three alternatives I’ve mentioned as nothing is required of the viewer to enjoy them other than to sit still and keep their eyes and ears open. Music requires a little more effort to get the most out of it – to listen and interpret the lyrics. Of the three it is books which demand your attention, vocabulary, imagination and understanding that are possibly the closest in terms of involvement a particpant comes when making comparisons to videogames. Typically, the more effort something requires the greater a sense of achievement is gained from it’s completion. Once again, films are the least rewarding and disposable whilst music and certainly books have the potential to become incredibly important to us. They can represent some of the greatest and most rapturous rides that our consciousness has ever experienced. I firmly believe the return is directly related to the investment the viewer/listener/reader makes.

It’s no surprise then, when you see such direct involvement with the medium and such commitment and dexterity required by the player that I feel the rewards and satisfaction can be in a whole different league to a film. Of course this isn’t a golden rule. The worst games won’t be as rewarding as the best books. But that level of interaction just takes the participant to the next step and opens a greater dimension of return for their investment.

Certainly, let’s continue to group gaming with other forms of entertainment, it would be silly not to. But we should not ignore gaming’s most unique qualities and differences from other mediums. Nor should anyone else. Failure to do so is a failure to understand the medium and, fundamentally, make judgements on it. Those that know the medium the best – the developers and the gamers – are the experts. They are best qualified to aid studies into any effects gaming might have on the physical or psychological behaviour of the player. If you are not a gamer yourself then to dismiss their value as vital and accurate representatives of this medium is to demonstrate a total lack of understanding, respect or objectivity for it.

GTA GTA GTA (Had enough yet?)

I linked to a newspiece a few days ago. The story was about how celebrated game designer Warren Spector was giving his views on the perception on gaming. The part of Warren’s comments that appear to have stuck in the gamer’s collective consciousness was his criticism of GTA.

Warren is “really angry at the GTA guys” for doing so much for gaming on a technology and design level but for pushing the content in such a confrontational and alarmist way. I can see the guy’s point. GTA3 was an absolute revolution for gaming. Gamers had pined for a truly three dimensional GTA for a few years but what they got was a hell of a lot more. Take 2 and Rockstar had succesfully created what felt like a living city for the game to take place in – one that was so convincing that the player was compelled to wander around and discover the world for themselves.

Of course, a player can only play a game in the way it was designed to be played. With such an open-ended style of game as GTA the core A-to-B mission represent a fraction of what can be done. After that, it’s up to the player to exploit the tools and elements in the game world set by the designers to see what they can do. GTA is primarily about cars. So the player is grabbing cars and doing things you’re not normally allowed to do in real life – stealing, driving too fast, crashing, aiming at pedestrians, looking for impossible jumps, driving on the wrong side of the road, creating pile-ups, baiting the police – you name it. And then there’s weapons – you don’t need to think to hard to consider your options here. To GTA’s credit, there’s a heck of a lot more than just doing stuff in vehicles. The game responds to your actions in a variety of ways and opens up goals for you. Steal a taxi? Start getting fares. Steal a police car? Go on mercenary missions. There’s property development and even basic RISK style territorial gameplay challenges in the later games.

But what is GTA known for? Encouraging you to misbehave.

You know what? People are always going to misbehave. In fact, it’s one of life’s great pleasures! How many of you surf the internet at work when you shouldn’t? What about making a personal call on the work phone? Do you park selfishly? Do you veer away from your diet?

Misbehaving and not getting caught is our guilty pleasure – and videogames have opened up a huge array of different ways to misbehave and actively encourage you to. It’s not just GTA. On Warren Spector’s CV you’ll find titles like Thief – not the most morally pure game on the planet. How many people, after they bought a DS started sharing rude doodles with their friends? You have the freedom to draw – so what do you draw? Something rude. It’s silly but you can get away with it!

Give enough possibilty to people in *any* area and the naughty, impish side of humanity will come out. Some people put more effort into that others – such as the strange skins people have created that you can apply to your Sims avatars. What about email scammers or those eBay auctions that are carefully worded so as to fool you? The new Lionhead game The Movies has launched this week. It has a sandbox mode that allows you to virtually direct computer graphics movies (also known as Machinema). The support for the game extends to a community for players to share their home-made movies with each other. I wonder what people will come up with with this particular set of tools the developer has given them..

On a grander scale, some of the things the Garry’s Mod for Half Life 2 on the PC have produced are easily on par with the worst GTA can offer.

GTA isn’t totally innocent of course. Stealing cars and using weapons is necessary to make progress in the game. The game points the player in that direction, suggests that misbehaviour equates to success and let’s the gamer run with the idea. Gamers, on the whole, adore it. GTA’s crime is that the skill and artistry in creating such a cohesive world for the player to run amok in works so damn well!

GTA and videogames as a whole are greatly misunderstood. They are books that are judged by their covers. Typically, a harsh critic outside of the culture might only read the first chapter. If we’re lucky they’ll have read the story to the end. But I don’t think anyone makes any effort to understand the author. I don’t want to suggest that GTA has some deep political subtext, I think it revels in its own adolescent bravado. It’s not shallow, it KNOWS it’s adolescent. It goes out of it’s way to drive the point home – sometimes in obvious, sometimes in not-so-obvious ways. Listen to those fake adverts and talk-radio in the game’s radio stations – they’re not fart gags, that’s observational satire! GTA Vice City and San Andreas are almost a satirical commentary of the era’s they’re set in. The fact that GTA itself will be referenced in commentary of gaming culture for years to come seems poetic justice.

All this is eclipsed by the attitude of critics that want to ignore the subtleties and achievements of the game and point out singular instances of out-of-context moments in GTA. GTA is perfect fodder for anyone who wants to act alarmist. It’s consciously designed that way.

I personally experienced this sort of mentality a while back. I was, once again, trying to justify why I didn’t take the over-authoratative rantings of gamers praising one thing or bashing another. I explained that their assumptions were incorrect and that they were not qualified to comment on, in this case, how easy or difficult game development was if they had never undertaken the task themselves. Metaphors are useful for demonstrating a point of view by putting it into a context that the other person isn’t so attached to. In an attempt to show these people why I couldn’t really accept their ‘wisdom’ as authorative I asked:

If you were a sexually active adult would you accept love-making tips from a group of virgins?

I felt that the topic of sex was fairly universal and this particular question could be appreciated by young and old alike. It also offered those I was speaking with ample oppurtunity to live up to their claims of maturity. So it was disappointing to be greeted with answers that amounted to xenophobic comparisons of British and American libidos (apparently gathered from an animated satire) and accusations of me being a pervert. In fact, the phrase was dissected and savaged from every angle other than the one in which it was presented. I have no doubt that the metaphor was understood but getting angry and waving your arms can often be enough to distract from the core issue and make your own interpretation of events appear to be the ones that matter.

GTA, like any video game, is not to be taken literally!

Is Mario Bros to be branded a ‘tortoise shell jumping murder simulation’? Is Pacman a ‘lesson in gluttony for the undisciplined McDonalds generation?’. Is The Sims *really* training people to be paedophiles? REALLY?

The answer to all of these is yes – if you insist on interpreting the movements of zeros and ones and pixels in an absolutely literal context.

So Warren, I agree with you that it’s a shame Rockstar’s talents gave the player so much freedom but immediately encouraged the player to misbehave. Given half the chance in any situation, we’re going to misbehave anyway. If a game can be made more fun by misbehaving, then gamers will do it – whether the designers intended to or not.

Rumours of ‘Carrot Slicing’ Revolution game to become reality?

Hideki Konno, lead designer of the revolutionary Nintendogs and Nintendo staple Mario Kart, is playing around with the idea of making a cooking game for the Revolution console.

“We have this game with a big wok that you use to cook Chinese food and it’s really interesting to have the meat and vegetables frying in there and use the controller to flip the food around without it spilling out of the pan,” he told Chris Kohler.

Sources [1], [2], [3]

I could make this shit up, but it seems I don’t even have to try.

Some self analysis

So, for reasons I don’t particularly feel like going into, I had a fairly interesting weekend. Let’s just say I got a little mental workout and some late nights. Sometimes things happen and, even when you’ve told yourself you’re finished with them, they linger around your psyche for a while. When this happens I tend to reflect and make an attempt to understand what’s going on – almost like I’m trying to communicate with that big chunk of our brain that we don’t use. It’s like it’s got the answer to something about me and I have to prod it a bit for it to give me some hints. I’ve done this to myself a number of times in the past and I’ve always learned some important things – and in some cases, made some life-changing decisions.

To anyone that knows me online and has encountered me on gaming forums they probably know I’m quite a ‘take no prisoners’ guy, really stubborn and often come accross as a grumpy old man. My demeanour on instant messengers and in person tends to surprise people that only know me from forums as I’m fairly mellow and good natured (with dashes of seething rage thrown in on occasions).

So why are you such a grumpy sod on forums then Koffdrop?

Good question. The short answer is that, by the time I’ve read the whole topic in question and ready to make a reply I’m angry with all the dumb stuff that I’ve read in it. I don’t frequent gaming forums as much as I used to (understatement of the year) so I normally have a lot more to catch up when I eventually meander over and read a topic that catches my eye. Now, I try to make a point of reading an entire topic before I respond to it – I think it’s good manners and also saves you from possibly making a prat of yourself by making an ignorant reply. I also don’t think it’s worth my time or of any value to a conversation if all I can really say is “I agree”. If I agree, I just move on to another topic. So it’s only when I have an alternative view that I respond – and I only respond when I’ve caught up on all the stuff in the topic. I guess you could liken it to taking a bottle of fizzy drink, shaking it more and more with each post I read and when I hit REPLY that’s the equivalent of unscrewing the cap – my vitriol gushes forth almost uncontrollably.

There’s a number of ways to deal with this. One is to only hang around the game forums that don’t have ‘dumb’ posters and topics. That, my friends, is easier said than done. There are only two gaming forums that I have seen in all my travels that have what I consider to be a decent level of maturity and insight . One got stained quite badly a few months back and, to me, has never fully recoverd. The other is so damn good that, frankly, I’m not worthy of making any posts there as I’m way out of my depth. The forum tends to be populated by game journalists and industry professionals. It’s a fascinating place to read and, like some secret garden, I don’t want to share it with many people in case it all goes south. Needless to say the feeling I get when reading the posts on that site is one of awe and inferiority rather than anger.

An alternate way of dealing with my ‘problem’ is to withdraw from forums altogether. This is the tactic I employ with a pretty high rate of success. The nature of websites these days is that it’s very difficult to read gaming news or culture commentary without also finding a shedload of comments underneath the article – which drags me perilously close to square one. There is no way in hell that I’m going to withdraw from the internet completely. I’m way too opinionated, love my downloads and love my gaming news too much to do that.

Of course, in my ideal world, there would be no dumb comments. Somehow I don’t think this is going to happen. Whilst I can police my own behaviour and make a change, I simply can’t do that for the rest of the online population – no matter how tempting the idea is. My problem lies in that I’ve spent some time in the magic circle that is the games industry and have even lived there for quite a few years. It’s a double edged sword. Whilst you may know how the magician does his tricks the knowledge you’ve gained means you’ll never enjoy those tricks the way you did before. Likewise, whenever you overhear non-magicians claiming to ‘know’ how or why this or that is done you can’t help but realise how far away from the truth of the matter they really are. Of course, it’s pretty insulting for a non magician to tell a magician to shut the hell up when he’s attempting to explain how and why some magic tricks work. It’s even more insulting for other non-magicians to support each other in approval of this dismissive behaviour with phrases like “pwned”

But that’s the internet for you – anyone can tell anyone else to shut the hell up.

Which is why it’s great to have your own site and commentary where you can say whatever you damn well please and not have to deal with feedback unless you want to. 🙂

Quote of the week

“The only time I play is maybe the 20 minutes I spend testing rivals’ new machines, I don’t play video games in my free time. On the weekends, I fix things around the house, garden, or play the guitar. Or I’ll exercise, go swimming, take the dog for a walk, or go for a hike.”


Have a look at this

A couple of articles at Next Generation online make for some very interesting reading about the industry and what some of it’s most talented icons think about it.

Analysis: What That Deal Really Means
The Bioware / Pandemic / Elevation deal and what it means from the people involved.

I have bags of respect for Bioware and Pandemic. Their reputations are outstanding and their mentality and track record set a precedent that others can only dream of. Their plans benefit gamers as much as themselves.

Spector Slams “Insane” Costs
At the Montreal International Game Summit, Warren Spector has pleaded for more creativity and risk taking in game design while lamenting the high costs of making games.

When this man talks, you should listen. His talent and experience are simply unequalled and it’s nice to see the guy still retains a sense of humour.

I also find it interesting to get such earnest and relevant feedback on the industry from such knowledgeable and influential characters. Whilst a soundbite from Miyamoto is mana from heaven for your typical games journalist the guy doesn’t seem willing (or is not allowed) to get his hands on really earthy issues like these guys do.

Massive credit to Next Generation Online. Awesome stuff!

Dumb and Dumber

In the same way that you know picking a healing scab is wrong yet you still go ahead and do it, defying your own common sense and all those things your mother told you, I had a moment of weakness I recently dipped my toe back into the frothy waters of internet forums. I think it’s turned septic.

I left forums some time back for a number of reasons. One of the reasons was that I was tired of attempting to explain myself to an audience that was absolutely determined not to get the point. Usually, I was pointing out holes in their arguments or errors in their way of thinking or presenting themselves. So long as the audience persists in acting as though they don’t understand what I’m talking about they can comfortably convince themselves that they are free of criticism. It amounts to those simple magic tricks that depend on misdirection and distraction than genuine skill. Psychologists see this behaviour a great deal and it’s summed up by stating that until the individual admits there’s a need to change then they’ll never change. Typically, a person would speak to a psychologist and explain how the world doesn’t understand them. The psychologist will explain that the world is as it is – if things are to improve it’s the person who must change, not the rest of the world. I am, of course, over generalising the situation but, hey, I’m trying to make a point.

My recent contributions to a particular forum topic have left me feeling as if I’ve personally re-lived a scene from a certain movie:

Lloyd: What are the chances of a guy like you and a girl like me… ending up together?

Mary: Not good.

Lloyd: Not good like one in a hundred?

Mary: I’d say more like one in a million.

Lloyd: ……….So you’re telling me there’s a chance?

The scene is funny because, we, the audience are smarter than Lloyd and we can both laugh at his idiocy and empathise with his misplaced optimism. At the end of the day though, the poor sap just isn’t getting the point because his desire to believe something eclipses his grip on the facts of the situation.

I like that movie. It’s dumb fun. But I wouldn’t want to LIVE that movie and I certainly wouldn’t want to live out that scene ten times a day for weeks on end. It’d exasperate me to the point where I’d have to switch off and never watch the movie again. Fortunately for me, I switched off in time for me to keep my sanity and leave the Harry and Lloyds of the internet doing stuff like this:

Lloyd: You’re it.

Harry: You’re it.

Lloyd: You’re it, quitsies!

Harry: Anti-quitsies, you’re it, quitsies, no anti-quitsies, no startsies!

Lloyd: You can’t do that!

Harry: Can too!

Lloyd: Cannot, stamp it!

Harry: Can too, double stamp it, no erasies!

Lloyd: Cannot, triple stamp, no erasies, Touch blue make it true.

Harry: No, you can’t do that… you can’t triple stamp a double stamp, you can’t triple stamp a double stamp! Lloyd!

Lloyd: [hands over ears] LA LA LA LA LA LA!

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m not against humour. I even enjoy watching some slapstick. But I don’t want to swim in a sea of idiocy. It’s a shame as the forum I refer to does have a great sense of commnity. Unfortunately it just comes accross me now as a really well organised clown convention. I’m sure it’s fantastic fun if clowns are your thing. If you can’t get enough of flowers that squirt water and garish characters tripping up over their own feet then I’m sure it’d be your idea of Nirvana. The thing is, I don’t find clowns funny any more – maybe when I was 6, but not now.

Also, I realised that clowns have no sense of humour. You ever tried to tell a clown that they’re not funny? It just doesn’t register. How dumb can you get?