rethinking layouts


Although the central place for design discussion is ##crawl-dev on freenode, some may find it helpful to discuss requests and suggestions here first.

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Vaults Vanquisher

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Post Monday, 30th December 2019, 19:09

rethinking layouts

So layouts are in the news again. Level size was mentioned in the stairs thread and size definitely matters when it comes to crawl levels. I'm not sure what the state of the art on resizing levels is, but I am aware that one of the jeremygurr forks has a level-enlarging feature (wrong direction to go, but perhaps similar functionality).

What I want to talk about is how to make good layouts from dcss layouts. I understand layouts have not been a focus of development for a number of years and perhaps institutional knowledge about the technical side of it has declined, but my view is that crawl layouts are generally too big and too intricate. They rely too heavily on narrow chokepoints, 1-tile hallways, straight lines and boxes. They tend to go for "aesthetics" or "feel" over tactical interest and variety. What they get right is generally technical stuff like connectivity or just writing something down. The good ones are usually based on noise functions and the "ruin" effect applied to simple, open layouts (think lair layouts).

My view and attitude is that simple transformations can turn these overwrought, repetitive, easily-exploited art projects into something more varied and organic, with fewer exploitable features (narrow chokes, 1-tile halls, circuits).

For example, take those "loops" layouts with the weird diamond-shaped hallway junctions (highly exploitable). What if we took one quadrant of one of those, cut off hallways leaving that quadrant, and scaled it up by a factor of 2, then applied the lair ruin effect to round off corners and break things up? No more weird diagonal halls, larger, less intricate features, few or no 1-tile chokepoints. I think this would be an improvement.

Or suppose we have a satisfactory layout and we just want to make it smaller. How about just cutting out a quadrant of it or maybe two half quadrants out of opposite corners, filling in with walls or decorative, no-entry vaults? This addresses the size issue.

Do you have one weird trick that reduces the floor space, generally busy-ness, incidence of 1-tile halls and chokes, and circuitousness of a generic crawl layout? Sound off in the comments.
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Ziggurat Zagger

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Post Monday, 30th December 2019, 20:25

Re: rethinking layouts

So there's four possibilities here:
1. Increase the frequency of 1 tile choke points
2. Leave them as is
3. Reduce the frequency of them
4. Eliminiate all instances of them

Here's what that looks like in practicality:
1. Means you have lots of close-in choices for optimal positioning, this means any reasonably skilled player will always fight with near-optimal tactical positioning all the time, without much overhead, this may or may not lead to more mistakes in fighting nearer to uncleared areas (noise mistakes) it will make fighting in optimal tactial positions easy/trivial
2. Things are as they are.
3. You have fewer choices for optimal tactical positioning, this means any reasonably skilled player will still fight in tactically optimal positioning *most* if not all of the time, but the overhead is increased proportionally to how infrequent that positioning is, you'll end up spending more time shouting/luring for the same amount of combat.
4. There are none of the existing choke points, so there's no need to seek them out, however whatever the new "optimal" tactical position is will replace the old one as the new position to lure things to.

None of these fundamentally change the type of fighting you do except 4. 3 is the worst from the tedium standpoint (and sounds to me like the results of your suggestion), 4 doesn't actually change the tedium/repetitiveness of the game at all, it just changes it's focus to something else (corners, 2 square-wide corridors, whatever) which is a short-term gain as experienced players re-learn, but has little to no long-term impact.

The problem with the layouts is really that there's little variation in how combat interacts with those layouts from monsters. Most of the monsters have pretty limited types of interactions, pretty much we have melee range and some form of LOS attack encompassing 99% of the possible combats, more types of interaction might change which types of terrain are optimal to be different depending on what you're fighting. That would mean that you'd have to evaluate what good positioning was depending on what you were fighting. Hailstorm (as an example of "not quite smite" type attacks that hit not-LOS but also not "smite targeted"), LCS, maybe some form of "wall crush" attack (that hit you for damage proportional to how many walls you were standing next to, like the spriggan druid's attack does with trees) More bouncing attacks (Maybe we can add some new wall types and have different attack elements bounce off different types of walls?), maybe a wall collapse that made a wall go away and do damage to you etc. etc.

The solution to the monotony you see isn't to try to force the user to use optimal tactics less often, but rather to create more variation in what *is* optimal.
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Vaults Vanquisher

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Post Monday, 30th December 2019, 20:33

Re: rethinking layouts

Not interested in controversy about my analysis of layouts and their impact on crawl tactics. Only interested in methods of processing existing layouts to resolve the issues I've outlined above. The simpler the method, the better.
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Ziggurat Zagger

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Post Monday, 30th December 2019, 20:44

Re: rethinking layouts

tealizard wrote:Not interested in controversy about my analysis of layouts and their impact on crawl tactics. Only interested in methods of processing existing layouts to resolve the issues I've outlined above. The simpler the method, the better.

Ah, you want a simple resolution? Great, every level is a big open square, all your layout concerns are gone.

This isn't a controversy, you've presented a problem with a fundamentally flawed premise, there *is* no solution inside your preferred discussion parameters. I'm just pointing that out.

You've presented a preferred solution as the problem, but that's not the problem at all.
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Post Monday, 30th December 2019, 20:52

Re: rethinking layouts

I am interested only in suggestions about a narrow problem because I have a number of other measures in mind that add up to a total solution to various luring issues, but I don't want to get into the specifics of them here. Layouts with no walls are a better concept than you seem to realize, but I don't want to get into that either.
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Ziggurat Zagger

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Post Tuesday, 31st December 2019, 04:22

Re: rethinking layouts

tealizard wrote:Not interested in controversy about my analysis of layouts and their impact on crawl tactics. Only interested in methods of processing existing layouts to resolve the issues I've outlined above.
Then you posted this topic in the wrong subforum. Try CYC or Coding.
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Post Tuesday, 31st December 2019, 13:55

Re: rethinking layouts

Oh, sorry, I was just trying to be polite. I am interested in and willing to entertain good controversy about my analysis. No "actually, change is impossible" arguments, please.
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Swamp Slogger

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Post Thursday, 2nd January 2020, 20:50

Re: rethinking layouts

The issue isn't "change is impossible," the issue is that evaluating a change in isolation is not helpful. Doing nothing except changing the map design is not particularly useful, for the reasons Siegurt pointed out. But then, as you said, you have ideas to build on it all.

The catch is that evaluating your ideas for map changes without an idea of the "other measures in mind that add up to a total solution" is not practical. If, to take an extreme example, you were going to make tiles that had already been stepped on crumble into shafts, we would look at your changed map layouts very differently than we do now. The same would be true if your other anti-luring measures involved making monsters faster, or giving them a way to block a player's retreat, or any number of other things.
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Post Thursday, 2nd January 2020, 21:39

Re: rethinking layouts

There's only one substantive reply in this thread and its argument specialized to the case actually contemplated in the OP comes down to "if you do this, something new will happen." Big if true. Like if you take this argument seriously, it hinges on the idea that a new optimum must be unique (!) and independent of local dungeon generation (!!). Unsurprisingly these points are not followed up on (and I have to say I'm content not to have to read such an effort).

The lesson of attempts to discuss layouts on tavern is that few people have any real thoughts about them, there's no vocabulary for even talking about them, and people are resistant to talking about them because they don't see the endpoint of new thinking. Even the most basic points that you would think anyone would agree on, like the overwhelming dominance of 1-tile chokepoints in crawl tactics where present, get pushback and attempts to shut down conversation.

Now I think you could make a fair argument that the proposition that we need to change monster behavior to address 1-tile chokes and so on at least represents historical devteam thinking -- you may recall that meliai were introduced as monsters that "resist corridors" or something to that effect. The experience with meliai is evidence that this is a dead end though. As soon as you've accepted a normal combat situation that comes down to distance in a straight corridor, you've given up on the potential of grid-based combat. Mechanically, meliai just dump big damage on the player in any terrain.

If you look at recent vault designs, though, which I've only experienced in bloatcrawl2, I think you see a different view on dungeon terrain. I don't have any major takeaways there, but I think there is an understanding that 1-dimensional combat is 1-dimensional and we should reach for something more.
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Zot Zealot

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Post Thursday, 2nd January 2020, 23:07

Re: rethinking layouts

I think you're right there is a vocabulary problem. Maybe the way forward is to create a layout you think illustrates good design, and contrast parts of it with an existing layout you think has problems. I've personally found this thread a little abstract. Your example with the "loops layout" I find impossible to visualise.
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Post Friday, 3rd January 2020, 00:26

Re: rethinking layouts

I mention lair-style "ruin"-based and noise function-based layouts as reasonably successful examples though? I felt my talk about loops layouts and my transformation of them was fairly concrete too.
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Swamp Slogger

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Post Friday, 3rd January 2020, 01:52

Re: rethinking layouts

Are lair-style maps really so great? I feel like they introduce a lot of mental overhead (in terms of figuring out sight lines) without being much more tactically interesting than maps with more straight lines. Of course that could just be a failure of my tactics.

I think "elf, but with 2 or 3-tile-wide hallways" would be pretty good.
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Post Friday, 3rd January 2020, 02:59

Re: rethinking layouts

Irregular features create more variety of positions in that you have different configurations of walls with respect to a shortest path around a feature, for example, different kinds of corners, etc. If you compare e.g. vaults layouts, I think you'll see that your best positions to stand and fight are near doorways and corners and that these positions tend to be remarkably similar regardless of details of rooms or other spaces they occur in. The local symmetry of straight wall formations necessarily creates a lot of extremely similar positions that irregular formations do not.
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