Making D:1 more interesting for newer players


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Ziggurat Zagger

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Post Saturday, 14th September 2019, 05:48

Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

Objstat results generating D:1 500,000 times. (Thanks to gammafunk for turning the objstat files into a spreadsheet).

New players often complain that the early game is boring. While I never felt this way about, say, D:5, I can absolutely see why someone would feel this way about D:1.
People who are new to the game will usually be directed towards strong combos like MiBe. These combos can still be challenging on D:2 and beyond, but tend to make D:1 a trivial chore. If you go to the "Monsters" section of the spreadsheet and sort by NumNonVault, you can see that only 13 monsters are able to generate naturally on D:1. (Goblin, rat, kobold, hobgoblin, bat, frilled lizard, jackal, giant cockroach, dart slug, leopard gecko, ball python, ooze, and gnoll, in descending order of frequency). A D:1 gnoll might be scary to some of these combos, but it's also quite rare, appearing in less than 1/10th of games.
It is possible for the minmay_shallow_snake_nest vault to put an adder on D:1 that is not trapped behind walls, but this is extremely rare. The rest of those vault monsters are not accessible without digging/Shatter/etc.

Furthermore, a ton of items are either outright unable to generate on D:1, or so unlikely to generate on D:1 that they might as well be unable to. These items include books (it takes an average of about 3,000 D:1s per book), staves (about 7,000 D:1s per staff), miscellaneous items (~40,000 D:1s), wands (~1,000 D:1s), manuals (can't appear at all), and numerous specific item subtypes, such as scrolls of torment (~25,000 D:1s). Artefacts are also incredibly rare on D:1, with an average of around 1/5000th of an artefact generating on each D:1.

So we're left with a level that has no monsters that are interesting to the combos new players typically play, none of the artefact items that excite new players, and not even a whole lot of vaults aside from the arrival vault.

This is a problem that has been gradually worsening over DCSS's development, with an increasing number of items being banned from D:1, and especially the removal of post-level-generation monster spawns, which left D:1 unable to generate adders and such. Yeah D:1 is interesting on NaMo or MuCK but if you're playing a good combo then D:1 is an easy level where you never find anything cool.

Therefore, I'd like to make some suggestions to make D:1's monster and item generation less restrictive, in the hopes of making it less boring for the players that aren't playing bad combos.

Let adders and quokkas appear on D:1
Previously, normal games would see these monsters on D:1 occasionally due to post-level-generation spawns. Restoring this would provide some more substantive threats on D:1. They could be as uncommon as gnolls and still be memorable encounters (although I think they should be a bit more common than that).
If you think that adders or quokkas on D:1 would be unfair, another option would be to buff oozes and/or ball pythons, which are currently uncommon D:1 monsters that don't work very well.

Remove the item_level > 2 checks in _try_make_armour_artefact(), _generate_book_item(), _try_make_jewellery_unrandart(), _generate_jewellery_item(), _try_make_weapon_artefact()
This check is why it's so extremely rare to find artefacts on D:1, D:2, and D:3. With it gone, artefacts would still be less common on early levels (artefact frequency increases with depth, not to mention later vaults tend to have more loot), but not so vanishingly rare.

Remove the item_level > 6 check in _generate_book_item() that stops manuals from generating early
I'd argue that manuals are at their most interesting when generated early, if anything. Once again, manuals would still be more common at deeper depths (vaults that explicitly place manuals notwithstanding), but it shouldn't just be impossible to get them early.

Remove the item_level > 7 check in items() that stops misc items from generating early
Wanderers can even start with some of the misc items already! So clearly they aren't that broken to have on D:1.

Remove the chance in items() to turn early books and staves into potions and scrolls
I am really baffled by the decision to keep staves off of D:1, it's not like they're super powerful items. Like manuals, finding books early tends to be more interesting than finding books later.
This check also applies to wands, but for wands it is probably worth keeping, simply because giving the player a wand on D:1 probably makes their game free while also being way less cool than a good weapon/armour/whatever.

Remove the depth_mod < 4 checks in _generate_scroll_item() (and adjust the items' weights downward to compensate)
This is responsible for vulnerability, summoning, acquirement, silence, brand weapon, torment, and holy word being nearly impossible to find on D:1 (and the next few dungeon levels). If scrolls of summoning would be too bad in the hands of early monsters, mark them with ISFLAG_NO_PICKUP as is done for high-tier wands and potions of berserk rage. Restricting the items themselves not only makes early dungeon levels less exciting, it means you should keep track of which level you found an unidentified scroll on (since that tells you its likelihood of being one of the aforementioned scrolls), which is bad.

Adjust weapon subtype selection
This one's more complicated than just removing an item_level check. There is an item level check - an item_level > 6 check in _determine_weapon_subtype() that stops lajatangs, triple crossbows, fustibali, demon weapons, double swords, eveningstars, executioner's axes, quick blades, and triple swords from generating early. But if you look at the objstat, you'll see that it's not just these weapons that are super rare; everything except club, dagger, short sword, whip, spear, mace, hand axe, and hunting sling is near-nonexistent on D:1. Flails and halberds show up occasionally, but only because gnolls are carrying them (look at the OrdNumHeldMons column).
This is the way _determine_weapon_subtype() currently works:
1. If it passes that item_level > 6 check, a 1/30 chance, and another [item level]+6 in 100 chance, it picks a random one of the "rare" weapons listed above.
2. If it didn't do that, there's an [item level]/20 chance of effectively picking from a weighted list of weapons, like is done for potions and scrolls and other items with sane generation mechanisms.
3. If it didn't do that, there's an [item level]/[item level+7] chance of picking a quarterstaff, falchion, long sword, war axe, trident, flail, or rapier, all equally likely.
4. If it didn't do that, it picks a hunting sling, spear, hand axe, mace, dagger, club, whip, or short sword, with daggers being twice as common as the others.

D:1 has an item level of 0, so it hits option 4 every single time. Weapons other than those eight only manage to show up on D:1 because of vaults and monster equipment.

Compare this to _get_random_armour_type(), which generates higher quality armour more often at higher item levels, but still has a small chance of giving you good armour even on D:1. I'd like to see _determine_weapon_subtype() be more like that.

Also, altars
Currently vaults can place altars on D:1, but it's very rare except for Ashenzari, TSO, Nemelex, and Xom altars. And dpeg_arrival_lava_altar and dpeg_arrival_water_altar have the altar hidden in a place that most players probably will not look. It might be worth generating other gods' altars on D:1 more often.

And to prevent power creep...
...one could either slightly decrease the overall quality of items, or slightly reduce the overall quantity of items. Changing _num_items_wanted() in dungeon.cc would be a very easy way to nerf the number of items, though this also changes the ratio of non-vault items to vault items. It is also easy to make a change to _num_items_wanted() that only affects the first few dungeon levels, much like the other changes I am proposing.

If you want to go the route of nerfing item quality instead, there are a lot of x_chance_in_y(X + item_level, Y) calls in all these makeitem.cc functions I've been listing. Nudging the Xes down and the Ys up is pretty easy, and would hit vault loot too.

Other possible complications besides power creep
Allowing better items to generate on D:1 makes startscumming more effective. I am skeptical that startscumming for a scroll of acquirement or whatever would be better than startscumming for, say, crystal plate armour, which you can already do. However, I admit there's potential for startscumming for unrandarts to be an issue. It's possible that those item_level > 2 checks would be appropriate for deciding whether an item can become an unrandart.

A really good item generating arguably makes the game too easy. On the other hand, venom weapons already generate on D:1 and D:2 all the time. A good weapon base type or a +Blink artefact or whatever has the potential to be useful longer than said venom weapon, but item quantity on early levels can be reduced accordingly to avoid giving the players more useful-all-game items overall. (There are already many useful-all-game items that generate on D:1; they just aren't flashy, because they're potions, scrolls, non-artefact jewellery, and throwing nets.)



Any other suggestions?

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Slime Squisher

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Post Saturday, 14th September 2019, 09:34

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

This is relevant to my interests.

As for other suggestions, reinstate disc of storms and make it eligible for early generation.
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Crypt Cleanser

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Post Saturday, 14th September 2019, 09:41

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

I'd find generating items that inform player choice especially nice, even for myself. You already mentioned altars, misc evocables, manuals and spellbooks. Top-tier unenchanted two-handed weapons (such as triple crossbows) could inform player choice without providing a short-term boost. (Because, unlike demon weapons, they wouldn't be worth using on early D.)

Ziggurat Zagger

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Post Saturday, 14th September 2019, 09:54

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

petercordia wrote:Top-tier unenchanted two-handed weapons (such as triple crossbows) could inform player choice without providing a short-term boost. (Because, unlike demon weapons, they wouldn't be worth using on early D.)
Um, early D is generally the place where those weapons are strongest: their damage/delay compared to other weapons is better the lower your weapon skill is. Although the low base accuracy can make them bad against certain high EV monsters.

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Ziggurat Zagger

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Post Saturday, 14th September 2019, 14:34

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

I'd love to see all these implemented.

As for other suggestions, stop generating the weakest monsters after D:1 or D:2 (bat, rat, goblin etc.).
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Post Sunday, 15th September 2019, 18:31

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

A few thoughts:

--- While adding more monster variety to D1 would be good, I don't know if adders and quokkas are the right way to go. They're both straightforward melee monsters, and more importantly, they're both much faster than most player characters. Quokkas are speed 12 and adders speed 13 (plus they poison!). I don't know that D1 needs more difficulty, just more variety. I'd suggest instead adding a couple weak monsters that could be introductions to spells/abilities.

(e.g. gravedigger that tries to run to corpses and cast animate skeleton, or casts a weakened version of freeze; pixie that tries to steal an item from you and clumsily bludgeon you with it, etc.)


--- I'd agree on removing the level and depth checks for item and altar generation. Most of the really powerful options are rare enough to begin with, and it's generally agreed that it's okay for some runs to be easier than others. Sure, players could startscum for that awesome D1 drop, but they could already do that with armor (as you pointed out), and now that seeding is a thing, players can already select a game with a particular start if they want to.

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Post Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 00:14

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

If the relative power of different styles of play were to be better balanced, this condition you describe about newer players finding early game boring (because they chose a minotaur berserker or fighter) would go away, because they'd have a harder time deciding what to play and why and that's how it should be (difficult decisions). It would prompt players failing with one tactic to try others, and more evenly.

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Post Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 00:43

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

duvessa wrote:
petercordia wrote:Top-tier unenchanted two-handed weapons (such as triple crossbows) could inform player choice without providing a short-term boost. (Because, unlike demon weapons, they wouldn't be worth using on early D.)
Um, early D is generally the place where those weapons are strongest: their damage/delay compared to other weapons is better the lower your weapon skill is. Although the low base accuracy can make them bad against certain high EV monsters.

I guess I should have tested with wiz-mode before making that claim. I've never had a D:1 tripple crossbow ;)

You could also place a shop on D:1 to make it more interesting.

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Ziggurat Zagger

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Post Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 03:09

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

Oh yeah, letting serial_shops place on D:1-3 would probably really help too. Sure characters won't really have any gold with which to buy stuff, but seeing a shop is "exciting", I think. And you can change the 20% chance-per-level to a 16% chance so that the total number of shops in Dungeon remains the same as it is now.

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Post Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 14:12

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

What percentage of starts can reliably survive an adder at XL1? I suspect it's quite small. At least the OoD spawning adders didn't spawn till you had a little time to gain XP.

I don't think you can realisitically add much more threat to XL1 characters. The problem with D:1 is that it has both XL1 and XL3 characters; and adders are a legitimate challenge for XL 3 characters.

Unless you somehow homogenize power levels on D:1, I think it's stuck being relatively easy for the second half.
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Post Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 15:48

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

Also, new players play advanced combos. Among my friends, other than me only one has won a game. But they have many starts as Op, Fe, Dg, Na.

I don't think new players, who often die to misplays anyway, will benefit sufficiently from strong combos having harder D:1 fights to offset frustration of players dying to RNG on the floor that is already the most RNG-heavy floor in crawl by a margin.

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Post Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 17:04

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

I don't think that adding more rng deaths to D:1 makes it more interesting. With all due respect, the idea of putting adders on D:1 is very, very bad. As the current world record length streak holder in DCSS, I can assure you that many - perhaps **most** - combos will just flat out die to adders on D:1 unless they roll well. I really don't like when DCSS turns into a little more than an rng diceroll - do you?

Frankly, I'd go even further in the opposite direction: I'd remove shafts and 1x1 entrance hallways and potion/net using gnolls from D:1 if I could. Do you think that a zerked halberd gnoll is a fair and reasonable D:1 enemy?

Edit: So this post isn't entirely negative, I'd like to say that I mostly agree with your points re: items/altars/shops. I especially like the idea of shops spawning on D:1. Anticipation is a powerful psychological effect - human beings like anticipating things. Give them something to anticipate being able to use later.
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Post Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 20:01

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

Generate adders on D:1 and simultaneously give everyone a potion of curing and a scroll of teleport to start the game.

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Post Tuesday, 17th September 2019, 20:19

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

How about we make D:1 much much smaller (Like 1/2 the area of a normal level, or less) that lets us have D:1 be more "intro-y", and pushes XL:3 down to D:2.

*if* the problem is that XL1 threats aren't a threat to XL3 characters, and you go from XL1->3 on D:1 pushing XL3 to the next level will take care of the problem nicely, additionally, having a smaller D:1 means it takes up less time, making it less tedious.
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Post Wednesday, 18th September 2019, 20:14

Re: Making D:1 more interesting for newer players

duvessa wrote:Oh yeah, letting serial_shops place on D:1-3 would probably really help too. Sure characters won't really have any gold with which to buy stuff, but seeing a shop is "exciting", I think. And you can change the 20% chance-per-level to a 16% chance so that the total number of shops in Dungeon remains the same as it is now.

In particular, it might be fun to put an artefact shop on D1. New players often don't get far in the dungeon, and this gives them something to sorta-aspire to. After a few dozen games of "I got a halberd and I died. I got a whip of flaming and I died. I got a chain mail and I died," they might really appreciate "I saved up X gold, so now I can go get [shiny thing]!"

...not to mention that that might slightly decrease the death rate in the boring intro parts of the game, and let more players experience the massive amount of content that most of them never see.

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