Crawl's Manifiesto


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Post Friday, 21st April 2017, 01:47

Crawl's Manifiesto

I recently read the article about the awesome dev team and I found the Manifiesto particularly interesting (see code).
  Code:
N. Philosophy (pas de faq)

In a nutshell: This game aims to be a tactical fantasy-themed dungeon crawl. We strive for strategy being a concern, too, and for exquisite gameplay and interface. However, don't expect plots or quests.

You may ponder about the wisdom of certain design decisions of Crawl. This section tries to explain some of them. It could also be of interest if you are used to other roguelikes and want a bit of background on the differences. Prime mainstays of Crawl development are the following, most of which are explained in more detail below. Note that many of these date back to Linley's first versions.

Major design goals
challenging and random gameplay, with skill making a real difference
meaningful decisions (no no-brainers)
avoidance of grinding (no scumming)
gameplay supporting painless interface and newbie support
Minor design goals
clarity (playability without need for spoilers)
internal consistency
replayability (using branches, species, playing styles and gods)
proper use of out of depth monsters
Balance

The notions of balance, or being imbalanced, are extremely vague. Here is our definition: Crawl is designed to be a challenging game, and is also renowned for its randomness. However, this does not mean that wins are an arbitrary matter of luck: the skill of players will have the largest impact. So, yes, there may be situations where you are doomed - no action could have saved your life. But then, from the midgame on, most deaths are not of this type: By this stage, almost all casualties can be traced back to actual mistakes; if not tactical ones, then of a strategical type, like wrong skilling (too broad or too narrow), unwise use of resources (too conservative or too liberal), or wrong decisions about branch/god/gear.

The possibility of unavoidable deaths is a larger topic in computer games. Ideally, a game like this would be really challenging and have both random layout and random course of action, yet still be winnable with perfect play. This goal seems out of reach. Thus, computer games can be soft in the sense that optimal play ensures a win. Apart from puzzles, though, this means that the game is solved from the outset; this is where the lack of a human game-master is obvious. Alternatively, they can be hard in the sense that unavoidable deaths can occur. We feel that the latter choice provides much more fun in the long run.

Crawl has a huge number of handmade vaults/maps to tweak the randomness. While the placement, and often parts of the contents, of such vaults are random as well, they provide several advantages: vaults offer challenges that are very hard to get via just random monster and layout generation; they may centre on some theme, providing additional immersion; finally, they will often contain some loot, forcing players to decide between safety and greed.

(The next topic can also be filed under balance; see Replayability for what balance does not mean to us.)

Crusade against no-brainers

A very important point in Crawl is steering away from no-brainers. Speaking about games in general, wherever there's a no-brainer, that means the development team put a lot of effort into providing a "choice" that's really not an interesting choice at all. And that's a horrible lost opportunity for fun. Examples for this are the resistances: there are very few permanent sources, most involve a choice (like rings or specific armour) or are only semi-permanent (like mutations). Another example is the absence of clear-cut best items, which comes from the fact that most artefacts are randomly generated. Furthermore, even non-random artefacts cannot be wished for, as scrolls of acquirement produce random items in general. Likewise, there are no sure-fire means of life saving (the closest equivalents are controlled blinks, and good religious standings for some deities).

Anti-grinding

Another basic design principle is avoidance of grinding (also known as scumming). These are activities that have low risk, take a lot of time, and bring some reward. This is bad for a game's design because it encourages players to bore themselves. Even worse, it may be optimal to do so. We try to avoid this!

This explains why shops don't buy: otherwise players would hoover the dungeon for items to sell. Another instance: there's no infinite commodity available: food, monster and item generation is generally not enough to support infinite play. Not messing with lighting also falls into this category: there might be a benefit to mood when players have to carry candles/torches, but we don't see any gameplay benefit as yet. The deep tactical gameplay Crawl aims for necessitates permanent dungeon levels. Many a time characters have to choose between descending or battling. While caution is a virtue in Crawl, as it is in many other roguelikes, there are strong forces driving characters deeper.

Interface

The interface is radically designed to make gameplay easy - this sounds trivial, but we mean it. All tedious, but necessary, chores should be automated. Examples are long-distance travel, exploration and taking notes. Also, we try to cater for different preferences: both ASCII and tiles are supported; as are vi-keys and numpad. Documentation is plenty, context-specific and always available in-game. Finally, we ease getting started via tutorials.

Clarity

Things ought to work in an intuitive way. Crawl definitely is winnable without spoiler access. Concerning important but hidden details (i.e. facts subject to spoilers) our policy is this: the joy of discovering something spoily is nice, once. (And disappears before it can start if you feel you need to read spoilers - a legitimate feeling.) The joy of dealing with ever-changing, unexpected and challenging strategic and tactical situations that arise out of transparent rules, on the other hand, is nice again and again. That said, we believe that qualitative feedback is often better than precise numbers.

In concrete terms, we either spell out a gameplay mechanic explicitly (either in the manual, or by in-game feedback) or leave it to min-maxers if we feel that the naive approach is good enough.

Consistency

While there is no plot to speak of, the game should still be set in a consistent Crawl universe. For example, names of artefacts should fit the mood, vaults should be sensibly placed and monsters should somehow fit as well. Essentially, this is about player immersion. As such, it's good to have in mind, but consistency is always secondary to gameplay. A typical example is player vs. monster behaviour: while we try to make these identical (or similar), there are good reasons for keeping them distinct in certain cases.

Replayability

This is actually quite important, but in some sense just a corollary to the major design goals. Besides these, there are several other points helping to make playing Crawl fun over and over again:

Diversity
whenever there are choices to the player, be that choice of species, god, weapon or spell, the various options should be genuinely different. It is no good to provide dozens of weapons with different names (and perhaps even numbers) if, in the end, they all play the same.
Many different species
This is partly due to the skills and aptitude system. Similarly important are the built-in starting bonuses/handicaps of species; these often have great impact on play. To us, balance does not mean that all combinations of background and species play equally well! Some are much more challenging than others, and this is fine with us. Each species has at least some backgrounds playing rather well, though.
Dungeon layout
Even veteran players may find the Tomb or the Hells exciting (which are designed such that life endangering situations can always pop up). These and other branches may or may not fit a given character's buildup. By the way, we strongly believe that games are pointless if you can reach the invincible state.
Religion
This addresses new players, as getting to the Temple and choosing a god becomes the first major task of most games. But religion is also a point in favour of replayability for experienced players, since the choice of god can matter as much as species does.
Playing styles
Related to, but encompassing, species, background, god are fundamentally different playing styles like melee oriented fighter, stabber, etc. Deciding on whether (and when!) to make a transition of style can make or break games.
Out of the depths

From time to time a discussion about Crawl's unfair OOD (out of depth) monsters turns up, like a dragon on the second dungeon level. These are not bugs! Actually, they are part of the randomness design goal. In this case, they also serve as additional motivation: in many situations, the OOD monster can be survived somehow, and the mental bond with the character will then surely grow. OOD monsters also help to keep players on their toes by making shallow, or cleared, levels still not trivial. In a similar vein, early trips to the Abyss are not deficits: there's more than one way out, and successfully escaping is exciting for anyone.
As this forum is supposed to discuss gameplay and gameplay changes I think it would be a great exercise to talk about what are the fundamental mechanics that make you love crawl. What makes crawl, crawl? Do you agree with the manifiesto? Disagree? What parts? Hopefully this thread will become a resource for framing future discussions and help the dev team get some input, or at the very least be educational so we as players can identify the fundamental philosophy that makes us love this game and implement it.

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Post Friday, 21st April 2017, 07:00

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

I think the best part of this game is the interface which has ruined every other rogue for me(including older versions of crawl which might otherwise be more interesting to play). I think a good job was done making the beginning of the game a little less grindy. I'd like to see more unpredictability and interesting situations, particularly after lair.(collect 3 runes, or more, always from the same places in roughly the same order.) But the emphasis in development seems to be more on the e-sport aspect of the game which doesn't interest the majority of players.

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Post Friday, 21st April 2017, 09:33

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

Can't remember when I've seen a dragon on D:2, if ever. Sigmund now, maybe. Gnolls most definitely...

I can't decide about the whole ease of play thing. It seems pretty inconsistent tactically. I'm glad they are looking into reworking Charms a bit. When you have a lot of buffs, resetting for each new serious melee can be a bit tedious. Riposte feels incredibly powerful to me, and you don't have to do anything to manage it. Polearms are supposedly quite powerful with ideal use of reaching, but you have to pause and remember to do an extra button constantly to get full use out of that one. To be really good at it, you have to enjoy backing up all over the place one step at a time. Then there's Oka's Heroism which gets turned on left and right, as opposed to TSO's aura or Usk/Council/Dith passive attack bonuses. So there are still things that "could work," but do you really want to mash another button for stuff you use so very often -- or should, to be optimal?

Unless you're a speed runner, the trend toward tighter levels/more removals is also something of a trend toward being forced to clear more of the early/mid game levels, just to build up XP to have solid or selective skills. Whether or not that falls under "scumming," I'm not quite sure because I rather like the main Dungeon (I liked it bigger even). But it's still true that pressure to roam some areas more thoroughly can be created by shortening/gating off others. By and large I think the level compression has been handled quite well so far... But then when you meet the one nasty ghost or unique who's tooled perfectly to deny you and there's no more branches to go to, having fewer total blocks to explore still starts to feel more restrictive too.

There's a good selection of gods and species. I think many of the melee weapons (through mid-game at least) still play fairly similar unless you like to micromanage (ahem, polearms). I can't decide if riposte is somewhat OP or other weapons are just much harder to use to get the same effect. Perhaps it's become more of a "weapon + god" combo is ideal, as opposed to just learning a different weapon and movement style. I'm at a point though, where when in doubt I'll almost always pick up a branded long blade on any dodging character, just because riposte. Flavor-wise, I'd like to see other weapon classes have such dramatic impacts without a lot of god-nitpicking and key smashing. Axes are impressive and larger crossbows do great damage, slings and shortbows have good speed... Maces and short blades, they do some niche things but I'm not so sure they're that impressive of themselves now that riposte is around. Polearms I like but apart from summoning allies, I forget to bother to reach most of the time.

I don't play extended a lot, but the Pan lords appear designed more to shock by denying "clarity" about whatever they might do. I don't need to know every single spell in advance, but simply saying it could be any sort of special abilities and some vague physical description, doesn't feel like a lot to guess from for me.

Not really sure where Zigs fit with the general philosophy. They are challenging sure, but they also feel kind of like a grind warehouse for OP characters to me. Ditto for extended trips to Abyss in search of lacked equipment.

On the whole, I do think the game provides a lot of interesting choices (if sometimes obscure or complex, despite a range of documentation - formulas, anyone!).
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Post Saturday, 22nd April 2017, 03:22

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

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Post Saturday, 22nd April 2017, 04:21

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

Let's see. You have strategy by how you choose to train skills, the order and type of actions used each encounter, and the choice of whether or not to make use of good finds that might drop.

You have tactics in how you decide to attack, flee, disable or buff.

Not knowing much about the game keeps it interesting. So the less the game gives away, the better. Some things can be learned or deduced; which is normal. And, others things have no way of being known by design. Of course, some ppl like to read the code because they love to be as efficient of possible or to make self-sufficent bots.

I would like to see a toggle feature for buffs or a simple cast once to turn on, and cast again to turn off feature. Could just have mana drain or a temporary loss of max MP. That's the only thing that ever bugged me about the game.
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Post Friday, 28th April 2017, 04:03

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

I moved this to CYC instead of DCA, even though part of me thinks it should be in GDD. IDK. Let me or another mod know if it ought to be moved elsewhere, I guess.

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Post Friday, 28th April 2017, 06:06

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

Polearms are supposedly quite powerful with ideal use of reaching, but you have to pause and remember to do an extra button constantly to get full use out of that one.


you can just mash tab, you'll make reaching attacks when appropriate

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Post Friday, 28th April 2017, 17:12

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

yesno wrote:
Polearms are supposedly quite powerful with ideal use of reaching, but you have to pause and remember to do an extra button constantly to get full use out of that one.


you can just mash tab, you'll make reaching attacks when appropriate
except tab with polearms or ranged weapons tends to move you instead (or attempt to read scrolls) due to a bug

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Post Saturday, 29th April 2017, 06:31

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

duvessa wrote:
yesno wrote:
Polearms are supposedly quite powerful with ideal use of reaching, but you have to pause and remember to do an extra button constantly to get full use out of that one.


you can just mash tab, you'll make reaching attacks when appropriate
except tab with polearms or ranged weapons tends to move you instead (or attempt to read scrolls) due to a bug

I don't seem to have this problem with hit_closest_nomove, do you think it's just regular tab that has the problem?
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Post Saturday, 29th April 2017, 17:35

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

There are two things that make crawl crawl:

1) Combat with high per-turn variability, low average consequence per turn (e.g. low damage, low chance of being hit with magical effects, low availability of items and abilities that have a major effect in a single turn). This is what makes the amount of combat movement and tactics possible. It's the key difference between crawl and many other roguelikes, for example non-sil angband variants. The balance between movement and other combat actions is very good.

2) High evolution of characters post-character generation. Characters don't start on a set track and have some ability to change course throughout the game. This is where religion, skills, etc. come in. Unfortunately, there are invisible tracks in the logic of the game that cut against what looks like a richer system than is actually there.

I think "the manifesto" or whatever is kind of a historical document at this point. If you want to take an old school roguelike and turn it into something playable by today's audience, the design philosophy document is a good place to start. At some point, it plays itself out, at least with a given set of people. I think we've been at a point for a long time where some calls have to be made to progress along the lines of the design philosophy, but those become tough calls for the team and end up being made in forks like hellcrawl. If you think of hellcrawl as the current version of crawl, rather than DCSS, the design philosophy is still very much alive and continues to point a way forward.

One place where I think the design philosophy fails on its own terms is the way that it envisions the game as a single entity that progresses toward perfection, so that for example .20 should be roughly what .19 was with additions and refinements and that all this supposed variety will be part of a single perfect whole. The choices for a god or a branch from .19 in .20 are basically removal or modification. There's no formalized idea that a version could diverge sharply from a previous one, including only a subset of the prior content in a very different arrangement or that .21 could look a lot more like .17 than .18, .19., or .20. The game is just one thing with one mode, with almost total continuity not just in mechanics but in content from one version to the next. A crawl with emphasis on swapping and remixing content, while improving core mechanics and user interface as has been the historic strength of DCSS would be far more vibrant and interesting. Gnollcrawl is a great example of how you can take crawl in an unusual direction in terms of content with minimal changes to mechanics and end up with a surprisingly good result.
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Post Sunday, 30th April 2017, 22:21

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

Siegurt wrote:
duvessa wrote:
yesno wrote:[quote] Polearms are supposedly quite powerful with ideal use of reaching, but you have to pause and remember to do an extra button constantly to get full use out of that one.


you can just mash tab, you'll make reaching attacks when appropriate
except tab with polearms or ranged weapons tends to move you instead (or attempt to read scrolls) due to a bug

I don't seem to have this problem with hit_closest_nomove, do you think it's just regular tab that has the problem?[/quote]
To me, that cause to read the item in "f" slot instead of moving.
So yeah even worse if you have something mapped there
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Post Sunday, 30th April 2017, 22:59

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

nago wrote:To me, that cause to read the item in "f" slot instead of moving.
So yeah even worse if you have something mapped there

I'm still wondering how this never happens to me, and it happens to other people a significant amount of the time, is it possible that it's because I use ';' instead of <tab> as my attack key? I mean it sounds like it's clearly a bug of some sort, and if we isolate the circumstances that cause it, it's more likely to be fixed.
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Post Thursday, 4th May 2017, 21:21

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

watertreatmentRL wrote:There are two things that make crawl crawl:

1) Combat with high per-turn variability, low average consequence per turn. This is what makes the amount of combat movement and tactics possible.

2) High evolution of characters post-character generation. Characters don't start on a set track and have some ability to change course throughout the game. This is where religion, skills, etc. come in. Unfortunately, there are invisible tracks in the logic of the game that cut against what looks like a richer system than is actually there.
This is very interesting. If you feel like expanding on these, and especially on how to improve on 2), I'm very interested.

I think "the manifesto" or whatever is kind of a historical document at this point. If you want to take an old school roguelike and turn it into something playable by today's audience, the design philosophy document is a good place to start. At some point, it plays itself out, at least with a given set of people.
That's a valid way of looking at it. I talked to other roguelike developers, and in a sense, the design document just states obvious facts. (In the Brogue channel they once told me: "The Crawl design sheet is gospel.")

In my opinion, it's a good idea to re-think it from scratch. Where I feel you don't give it enough credit: this loose document has been one tool that allowed a large number of developers to collaborate on the game. This is extremely unusual in the roguelike genre.

I think we've been at a point for a long time where some calls have to be made to progress along the lines of the design philosophy, but those become tough calls for the team and end up being made in forks like hellcrawl. If you think of hellcrawl as the current version of crawl, rather than DCSS, the design philosophy is still very much alive and continues to point a way forward.
Yes. I always dreaded the stagnation coming from a large devteam (another lesson learned from Nethack). Development is very egalitarian, so a lot of ideas get rejected, especially radical ones.

I like the existence of forks, because I hope they can explore design space that vanilla Crawl shies away from. Note that Hellcrawl is the work of a single developer, hence very radical (and rightly so).

One place where I think the design philosophy fails on its own terms is the way that it envisions the game as a single entity that progresses toward perfection, so that for example .20 should be roughly what .19 was with additions and refinements and that all this supposed variety will be part of a single perfect whole.
You say "additions and refinements". But what about the removals? (I know that, contrary to player complaints, each version adds more than it removes, but cuts do happen. I am very fond of that fact, because I started a bunch of them.)

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Post Thursday, 4th May 2017, 23:45

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

Removals are refinements imo

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Post Thursday, 4th May 2017, 23:53

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

Sculpture, per se, is the simplest thing in the world. All you have to do is to take a big chunk of marble and a hammer and chisel, make up your mind what you are about to create and chip off all the marble you don’t want.

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Post Friday, 5th May 2017, 00:30

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

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Post Friday, 5th May 2017, 06:10

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

You just know that Crazy Yiuf spends all his time in his cabin copying the crawl manifesto by hand and mailing it out to random goodplayers.
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Post Friday, 5th May 2017, 17:19

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

CanOfWorms wrote:
Sculpture, per se, is the simplest thing in the world. All you have to do is to take a big chunk of marble and a hammer and chisel, make up your mind what you are about to create and chip off all the marble you don’t want.

If you're really good, you don't even need to take it all away!

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Post Friday, 5th May 2017, 17:53

Re: Crawl's Manifiesto

Hi dpeg. I don't have a lot to say about addressing the criticism I mention in point 2. I suspect this high evolution thing is best addressed by putting the player on a more explicit path from the start so that diversity of playstyles is less emergent and more susceptible to design. Promoting diversity of play is best achieved by a remixing/curation approach to releases as opposed to the software version model, which is what I was getting at toward the end of the previous post.

About point 1, in a GDD thread just now someone mentioned .16, the double melee damage edition. It is interesting that something as seemingly obvious as doubling melee damage had such a subtle psychological effect that players couldn't put their finger on the problem. What this tells us about crawl, I think, is this: The experienced crawl player's feel for combat is more about the swings and the spikes than the averages. The way I think of it is if you take some parameters, say your average and your max damage, what is the most predictable possible distribution with those parameters? What is the least? The more predictable it is, the more control the player has in combat. That's going to make the tactics simpler. Crawl is generally way closer to the "most unpredictable" distribution than angband, for example. Average and max damage, along with max HP, control timescales of encounters, which should match with natural length scales of the game. Anyway, these things come together pretty well in crawl, which is its main virtue in my opinion.
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