View Full Version : Building a Turn-Based Strategy Game Set in an Underdark-like Setting

2015-12-30, 05:06 AM
Hey guys, Rosstin here. I'm tentatively planning to build a Turn-Based Strategy Roguelike Video Game (PC/iOS) set in a setting similar to the Underdark. I have some fluff I'm working on for it, so I want to steal some good ideas from the Underdark.

I'm taking the mechanics of a Roguelike and baking it into the setting entirely. Roguelikes are about an outsider coming into a sacred space, killing its inhabits, defiling it and stealing its greatest treasure, and I want my game to reflect that. The protagonists will all be villains with selfish motivations, for instance a necromancer who wants to bring her dead wife back to true life. These surface-dwellers delve the Underdark in order to find The Wish, which, if used, brings ruin to the world but grants the wish of the wielder. The Wish is guarded by the denizens of the Underdark, who revere the wish as a goddess. Expending the wish would be like devouring the heart of baby Jesus to gain immortality or something.

I thought I'd solicit some feedback and ideas.


The game mechanics themselves involve drawing paths on a hex grid to form patterns. Essentially the player character attacks along her path of movement. Enemies attack you while you are moving. It all happens very fast. I'm working on a prototype which will be done in April if people want to have a practical demonstration later.

Mr. Mask
2016-01-01, 02:38 AM
Hey Ross. I thought about it, and rambled about the premise, and I came to my thoughts on what you might do. This might be completely against your design and story goals. Hopefully there's an idea or two worth keeping:

Hmm, you're mentioning two normally opposed subjects. The underdark is meant to be a dog-eat-dog world of terrible, evil monstrosities, and rogue-likes are generally similar delves into menageries where even the sheep attack you (and just as well, since you starve if you don't eat every five minutes). Damning the world and killing the innocent normally have nothing in common with this (everything you attack normally attacks you first, save a few rare NPCs who you might attack because you need to cannibalize them to survive).

You could try to have the underdark as a construct to protect something holy and sacred. That way it could still be a den of terrible monsters, but the monsters are there for the express purpose of guarding something unmonstrous. The wish might also have some grand purpose, like saving the worlds of living and dead, so using it for anything else would be disgustingly selfish. Of course, if its purpose was that grand and the character knew it, it would be questionable why they'd want to bring back their dead wife, as the living and dead worlds would be in danger. Compared to the options of suicide or some more creative, powerful wish, it would require them to be pretty foolish. Hmmm, so what about this? The creatures of the underdark are evil people, sent down in monstrous bodies to serve a sentence and repent. The wish will eventually cleanse them and allow them to shed their monstrous flesh. The necromancer and other characters, figuring their wife can't possibly be among these damned creatures, can't give a damn for their salvation, and figures they deserve to be like this forever. Throw in the twist that his wife might be among the monsters he spurned, so his wish damns her, and you have Greek levels of depression on your hands.

It would also be interesting to work out how you want to present the monsters as their religion. Perhaps, for example, they consider devouring each other and hunting each other perfectly sporting, it's the fight for survival. But coming in and slaughtering everything without eating it (very much against the traditional rogue-like) would seem bad mannered, carrion creatures eating the corpses after the adventurer leaves. But that would pale in comparison to extinguishing their one hope in all the world, someone willing to fight towards that goal would seem more disgusting and monstrous than any of their number. You could have them elaborate that the reason it's called a wish isn't because it's a whim, it's the desire of every monster of the underdark, of every soul who fears themself or relatives one day being reincarnated there, of even the god(s) who in mercy wish to save the denizens of the underdark. To steal that wish, that would be stealing their hope. You can also elaborate onto why the god(s) themselves don't stop the adventurer, who might be sceptical of all this, that the god(s) gave mortal kind this wish for this grand purpose, but in the end it can be used however they desire. If one of them was selfish and cruel enough to waste the wish, then it would show mortal kind (or more, the worst of it reincarnated into the underdark) didn't deserve saving. Moreover, anyone reborn as a monster might be incapable of using the wish, making them perfect guards for it, and making everyone feel secure that all the most selfish and evil people weren't able to use the wish.

You could have some interesting scenes, like a monster willing to help the adventurer reach the wish. Why? Because he is as messed up and evil as the adventurer, enjoying the idea no one will be cleansed. You could make the person helping you seem a right disgusting villain, and the fact he is disgusting because he helps you with your quest, that he is worse than the monsters that attack you, that's quite an interesting theme for his character and the setting. It would also reflect on the nature of the underdark, being the rebirth place of the worst of mortals. It makes sense you'd get a couple insane enough to damn themselves.

You could have a scene where the necromancer's wife confronts him, and begs him not to use the wish, just before he reaches it. The necromancer would not wish to believe her, the idea that she would be in such a place. He might've known her to be a person who wouldn't hurt a fly who couldn't possibly be here. She wouldn't.... but of course, if he was performing cruel, sordid experiments on the living and dead, and she stood by and watched without complaint. The god(s) punished her for her apathy towards other's suffering, which, thematically, is exactly the malice the necromancer would be practising in trying to save his wife at the expense of everyone else. Whether the player chooses what to do or the necromancer decides, it can make for a really interesting scene.

Not sure what other characters you could have. What I described served pretty thematically for the necromancer, it's dramatic to save your wife at the expensing of the damned, and then ironically she was also damned. But getting it to fit with several other characters might be hard. You could for example have a fallen paladin type who wants to do some greater good with the wish (he wishes to end all suffering or such?), with his folly being that everything has its way and its time to be mended, and trying to fix it at once could destroy everything. Having a fanatic ignoring the monsters' warnings, saying their position is just more evidence he needs to do what he's set out to do, that could be interesting.

If those ideas are any good, let me know and I'll expand on them.

Not quite sure what you intend with the mechanic of drawing. You could have special abilities, like say a charge attack where drawing a line at least three squares long where the last square touches the enemy could be interesting. You could also have enemies you can move through, and ones you can't. So, the enemies you can move through, you can try drawing lines through them to attack them and cross over to the other side of them, hit and run style. Ones you can't move through, those would endanger you of being cornered, so that the monsters can whale on you.

There the question of how monster movement works. With the lines, it seems you'd be travelling more than one square per action, so predicting the monster's path would be very hard if they moved every time you did. You could make this into a deep, central mechanic, where as you draw the line, a projection of the monsters shows where they're going to move to as you draw it. You could limit the length of the drawn line based off stuff like level, abilities, etc..

You could also have monsters that mimic your mechanics, drawing lines. However, in their case, there's a delay before plan and action, allowing you to react to what they're about to do by drawing your own lines.

Hope some of this was helpful. Good luck with your project!

2016-01-01, 04:48 AM
Hey, Mr. Mask! You made a game! I'm gonna check it out when I have a chance!

Queen At Arms Deluxe is coming out on Steam February 4th, by the way. I have to thank you and Brother Oni again for your help and historical advice... I had a lot of production difficulties in creating that game and one of the things that helped me get through it was studying historical context and working on the battle sequences using your advice. It was all a very dark time for me and I'm glad I can move onto something new. Now that the game is truly content-complete and I'm just focused on backer rewards, polish, and promotionary things for Steam, it's a massive load off my shoulders... the best New Years gift I could have hoped for.

Mr. Mask
2016-01-01, 12:16 PM
Thanks Ross! I hope you find the game interesting. There are several errors I apologize for in advance.

Glad the game is nearly completed. I'll have to buy the expansion pack, I don't think I bought the one with extra content yet. Making my own game was also quite difficult, taxing, and depressing, though luckily I didn't have too many life difficulties compounding it. I can see how a major project like [email protected] could wear you down to a thin, dimmed wick. And that makes it very good that you've nearly completed it and can move on to something else, to start the cycle all over again! I think it gets easier each time, thankfully. Anyway, those backer rewards have always sounded like a serious pain when it comes to shipping, so thank God when that's over with.

Anyway, looking forward to how your new project develops. Hope I can be of some help. Nice to chat with you again.

2016-01-01, 02:55 PM
One tricky thing with roguelikes is to give the player some feeling of the persistence of their actions, even though they're going to be starting over quite a bit. The reasoning is something like, between randomness and the difficulty curve, there will be spots where the player feels that they aren't improving and that its hopeless to get better at the game. So if you add a few things that build up between play-throughs, the player can have a secondary reason to stick with it and try to improve, even if they aren't getting closer to the primary goal.

Some examples:

- Nethack had 'bones' levels which were the levels on which your former characters died. You had a small chance of running into a death level every time a new level was generated. The upside is, lots of loot concentrated in one place. The downside is that whatever killed the previous character is still there, along with your previous character's hostile ghost.

- FTL, Tales of Maj'Eyal, Dungeon of the Endless, and Invisible Inc. all have some form of sub-goal based unlock system. At first, you can only play a few ships/classes, but as you accomplish various goals throughout the game you can unlock other options. Those goals are not always in a direct line for the actual victory conditions of the game, so even if you can't get past some bottleneck point, you might still make progress in unlocks.

- Spelunky has unlockable warps that let you skip deeper and directly try a later level. Good for practice, but probably actually a bad strategy since you lose the chance to accumulate stuff on the way.

- Sunless Seas lets you directly inherit one thing of your choice from your previous captain - a navigational chart, a good stat, some portion of money, etc.

There are plenty of other examples I'm sure.

For the Underdark game, you mention invading and defiling sacred spaces as a sort of theme you want to go for. Could you tie this sort of carry-over influence into that idea? Maybe as you play, you get the opportunity to commit acts that don't directly serve you in getting at the Wish, but they corrupt parts of the Underdark in a way that carries over between games, and which could grant benefits in subsequent playthroughs. Obviously there's a problem where this saturates - the player has corrupted the entire Underdark, but still is a long way from being able to win. So one possibility to make it more interesting would be if the type of corruption determines the benefit, and each class creates only a specific type of corruption. So it may be that by tweaking the pattern of corruption, the player can further optimize their run.

An example might be, one villain serves the cause of War for its own sake, and their corruption increases the enemies on the level but makes it so that sometimes they fight each-other. Another villain serves the cause of Decay, and inflicts a specific elemental damage-over-time to everything in its corrupted area. Another villain serves the cause of Greed, and causes a few enemies on the level to be made more powerful, but to have extra loot. Another might serve Gluttony, and replace some of the equipment generated on the level with extra consumables. So maybe early in the run, you want Greed in order to kit out, but if you had Decay early on then the DoT might kill you; however, later on, Decay is good because you can mitigate the damage over time more readily. To avoid tediousness, probably best to allow the player to choose the corruption for each region at play-time, based on all corruptions they've previously applied in that region. Otherwise 'I have to play the game through 6 times to get things ready for this new strategy to ascend Greed' is a bit much.

You could of course also use this to create a bunch of achievements and other metagame goals - convert the entire Underdark to one god, etc.

Another idea for persistent advancement would be to play on the hex theme you already have. Make the Underdark as a whole be a hex crawl, but at first the map is completely covered. Every playthrough, you reveal whatever hexes you pass through as you search for the Wish, and those revealed hexes stay revealed for subsequent games. Allow a 'true reset' that also resets the fog of war and randomizes the hex grid.

Another thought would be, what if each attempt comes some very long time apart but in the same history, and the villains which previously tried to invade eventually became ensconced in the myths and religions of the Underdark. So your next villain is fighting the cultists of the previous one, or something like that. It could be that each broad type of creature remembers the villain that killed the most of its kind during their run, and worship that one. Might just be a nice ego touch for the player. And of course, you could open that up to an online component, and have it be the player whose villain killed the most of that creature globally within, say, the last week.

2016-01-01, 10:27 PM
NichG, what you mentioned about multiple playthrough carry-over actually relates to a different Roguelike concept I had a while ago, a roguelike where the dungeon warps and adapts to the player's last playthrough. For instance, if you die to spikes there might be a level that acts as an easy spikes tutorial, or if you drown you might see a water level (the game design point would be to teach, tricky to design though.)

Further, I considered having some persistent dungeon flags such as permanent changes that occur in the dungeon... you dig out a wall while playing and it unleashes an aquifer, subsequent adventurers have to unflood it. Or you crack into a new area full of lizardmen, and those enemies begin to populate the main dungeon. Etc etc. So the dungeon state changes continuously. Winning is the ultimate state-changer, causing something dramatic to happen which drastically changes your next play. Etc.

I might not use that here because that's too many original ideas and modifiers and new systems to code for a single game but it's definitely an idea I'm fond of.

EDIT: A wonderful game that basically used the aforementioned paradigm is Baroque by Sting.