Saturday, 14 September 2013

We Share Our Mother's Healthpoints: Rogue Legacy

Rogue Legacy is currently available on Steam at the bargain price of £7.49, a discount of 40%. It's the game I've played most this year, and here's why:
Lineage
Family, eh?

In Rogue Legacy, you play Sir Scorpio, the latest in a long line of knights, mages and barbarians on an inherited quest in a strange land… until the moment you die. Then you play Lady Chun Li, the latest in a long line of knights, mages, barbarians and undead bloodsuckers on an inherited quest in a land that, thanks to its randomly-generated levels, is strange all over again.

The quest – to clear a castle full of ghouls and ghouls, plus five bosses – isn't the only thing you inherit. The death of your predecessor grants you their long-coveted possessions, yes, but as their offspring you're also prey to all the genes that brought them to a sticky end in the first place. As in life, so in Rogue Legacy.

The former means any gold picked up by your predecessor on their run through the castle – picked up by smashing furniture, beating enemies and finding chests – and which powers the game's hybrid level-up/shop system.

The latter … well, it's the game's masterstroke. After dying, you pick one of three heirs, each with their own combination of class, spell, and traits. Traits are the kind of role-playing characteristics you don't see in the Skyrims of this world: everything from colour blindness, which turns the screen monochrome, to OCD, which rewards you for smashing every box and barrel in sight, to congenital baldness, which ... makes you bald.

Colourblind

It's silly good fun, but the variety this introduces also helps keep the game feeling fresh, and adds an extra layer of exploration. Discovering what hypochondria actually did in-game, for example, was a great laugh-out-loud moment. I won't spoil it here.

This is just one of the many ways Rogue Legacy draws you back in for one more go. The levels, shuffled afresh for each run, offer variety and plenty of one-off surprises: rooms with knife-throwing challenges, or histories of developer Cellar Door's previous games. And then there are the upgrades.

Remember that inherited gold I mentioned? Before the next game starts, you have the chance to spend it all on equipment, upgrades and unlocks. These can be incremental, like a shinier sword or an extra health point, or tangible game-changers. Buy the Air rune to gain the power of flight; unlock the Paladin class and you'll be able to block enemy's attacks.

A poke in the eye
These post-death upgrades make Rogue Legacy the ultimate 'one more try' game, an endless cycle of explore/die/spend/explore/die/spend that cost me a good chunk of the summer. But this persistence also serves to undermine the power of permadeath.

In other roguelikes, you build up a character and progress deeper and deeper into a randomised world, the odds stacked increasingly against you until finally you're overwhelmed. There is a neat horror in that moment, the loss of invested time providing an analogue to the loss of life, which is also part of the fun.

Here, all you really lose is the set of levels generated for you this time round, which you can keep for a penalty – and so each death is just fuel. Sometimes, I'd catch myself dashing a character against the rocks to grab one final chestful of gold, knowing they'll die but also knowing it'll give me enough to buy that next sweet upgrade.

It's never quite a grind though, even when the clunky keyboard controls make the game's more bullet-hellish screens difficult to navigate, because all money gathered has to be spent before the next run starts, meaning you can't stockpile resources. And while you're playing, it's never anything less than great fun.

Meta!

Still, it's easy to come away from a two-hour binge – which, make no mistake, is how you'll play Rogue Legacy – feeling a little empty. In the quieter moment of play, you can hear that little lizard voice at the back of your mind whispering 'grab the money, die, buy the shiny things'.

Sometimes, I didn't feel like a hero so much as a prudent investor, putting away something for the kids' future. Maybe that's part of the point, though. I automatically looked at Rogue Legacy from the perspective of a child but it also has you playing the parent, in an endless loop of sacrifice and gain, unconditional love and selfish hunger.

...Family, eh?

Game over, man

Thursday, 12 September 2013

Glass: Half Empty, or Half Full?

Google_Glass (32)

I've been fascinated by Google Glass since the first day I heard about it. It's the sci-fi-ness of the thing, I suspect, the idea that it will eventually evolve into a Minority Reportesque digital contact lens, a HUD for everyday life.

Well, one of the perks of being a (sort of) tech journalist is that you have an excuse to try these things out. So I slipped on a pair, wandered around central London for a couple of hours, and wrote about it for the latest issue of Mobile Marketing Magazine.

The resulting feature takes a tour through the history of Glass, what it does, and what lies ahead for it, both in terms of potential and obstacles. Oh, and most important of all, it's got my own impressions of trying it out (complete with a picture of me in Glass looking very serious indeed). It starts something like this:
“It’s been hailed as one of the best inventions of 2012 by Time magazine, and has also been condemned as a dangerous invasion of privacy. Some people believe it will revolutionise mobile technology, for better or worse, while others think it will struggle to find any sizeable audience. Google Glass has been dividing opinions since the moment it was unveiled.”
Read the rest here
Glass Spread

And if you enjoyed that, good news! This issue also features a piece by me on mobile marketing at music festivals, from apps to recharge tents, and how it all breaks down in an isolated field with mud where you'd usually have access to electricity, and yelling crowds where you'd usually have phone signal.
““People increasingly want to stay in contact at all times,” says Vodafone’s Ben Taylor – and while that’s true, the practicalities of a festival can get in the way of this. Frankly, the events are an endurance test that smartphones were never designed to face, and it’s for that reason that many festivalgoers end up defaulting to its less glamorous ancestor – the feature phone.”
Read the whole thing here

About Me

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London, United Kingdom
Videogames, film, music, comics: feed them into the Alex-Spencer machine and out come neat little articles. Like the ones you're looking at here.