Crushed By The Crawl

Take the 312 files in my %appdat%/crawl/morgue folder, divide it by 3, that's the number of characters I've created who have been permanently retired in Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup.  104 characters across 5 days (the download directory shows 1/22/13) is an average of 21 characters a day.  Thus far, not one has survived.  The two highest level characters I had were a scanty level 10, scoring above 4000 points.  Over 90% of my heroes died at 500 points or less because most new characters are extremely vulnerable.
I just love the art for the splash screen.  It visually demonstrates
some of the great talent in the open source contributors.
I'm beginning to doubt what I said earlier about the game documentation "philosophy" section being so incredibly awesome when it came to promoting a well-balanced experience.   No, while I really enjoy that read, I think what the community of Crawl wanted was not so much balance as a truly difficult Nethack.  Nethack wasn't exactly an easy game to begin with, but there were certain tricks that would dramatically boost your odds (such as engraving Elbereth).  Crawl has none of those, and also endeavored heavily to plug the major holes of  "scumming," the roguelike community's term for exploits.  What I'm saying is, while Crawl does indeed promote a challenging experience, and deftly undoes many loopholes, whether it promotes a fair experience is going to be a matter of opinion.

The factor that undoes it is perhaps the foremost factor that makes roguelikes great: the unpredictable nature of a game with highly randomized content.  For example:
  • I've been insta-killed from full health for opening a door and having several orcs standing on the other side of it holding scythes, a high damage weapon which is also a polearm that permitted all of them within 2 spaces to attack me in one turn.
  • I've been chased down by mobs stronger and faster than me, spawned several dungeon levels above where I would expect them, and spotted only when they were virtually on top of me.
  • As if dealing with nasty mobs was not bad enough, I often have to deal with the ghosts of my previous heroes, essentially becoming my own worst enemy.
  • My top scoring character (a troll monk juggernaut) was defeated when some named ogre mage tart simply banished him to the abyss, where he survived some 200 turns without having found a way back home before the denizens of that infernal plane hunted him down at last.
The open-source development community of Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup is well aware of this, as the documentation says:

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.
Honestly, I think it's far too easy to nitpick "tactical" or "strategical" mistakes with virtually anything.  They might as well just admit they haven't completely eliminated luck as being essential, to point of being able to override player skill.  Not my ideal balance but, admittedly, if I didn't like the idea of being quashed by sheer bad luck, I've little excuse for my favorite Crawl diety being Xom.  I usually set myself up for the expectation that death is inevitable, and it's more a question of how long I can stave it off.  That, in itself, is fun enough.

Always, it comes full circle to this: rather than nitpick how every little thing I would do differently was not met in other peoples' games, I really should stop whining and try making my own. It's true, I've been procrastinating pretty hard as of late, and I need to get back to work on building the skills for making my own game.  I recently checked out a book on overcoming perfectionism: maybe the problem isn't a lack of effort on my behalf, nor a lack of motivation, but rather being flummoxed by my own perpetually-too-high expectations... or maybe I just have adult ADHD.


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