WazHack – Roguelike 101

Roguelikes are definitely a niche genre. There’s those who grew up on them and have been playing them for years, and those who have never heard of the term. But recently there has been a growing number of Roguelikes that have been made with the idea of introducing modern gamers to the genre.

For those who aren’t familiar with Roguelikes, here’s a bit of a rundown. Roguelikes are generally turn-based games with a large focus on replayability and intricate gameplay. They tend to be role-playing oriented, giving the player a character that they create and explore the world presented to them. Roguelikes tend to be very challenging and feature a permanent death system; if your character dies it’s game over. The focus on turn-based play makes them more strategic than reflex based, winning is about how you build your character and the choices you make, rather than how fast you can hit a button.

Games such as Dungeons of Dredmor provide a relatively easy step into the world of Roguelikes with a more graphical approach than is traditional in the genre. In the past Roguelikes have generally been text or ASCII graphics based, using simple letters and symbols to represent the player, monsters and the dungeons. But there has been an influx of newer games that have started implementing everything from simple tiles to full graphics in order to present a more modern face to the genre.

WazHack by Warwick “Waz” Allison, a 42-year-old “beardy old hacker” in Brisbane, Australia, is the newest entry on that list. Waz has been writing computer games since he was 12. He created Troglodyte for the Atari back in 1988.

“[WazHack] is most heavily inspired by NetHack,” said Waz, “which I worked on in the past. I created the original “tile” graphics for it years ago.” The inspiration is clear when presented with the countless references from the classic game.

WazHack presents a new twist on the standard “top down” view that most Roguelikes use. Instead of the traditional bird’s eye view that players have, WazHack gives you a side view of the game. In essentially a side-scrolling style the player will travel down through the dungeon in an attempt to find the Amulet of Zaw, a mystical artefact – and a classic objective in Roguelikes; finding the uber doo-dad of power to win.

The game is also fully graphical. The player sees their character exploring and the game shows all equipment changes they go through. Enemies are well detailed and minor details in a monster can show the player the difference between variants of a type. The sewer rat that is of little concern stands out from the plague rat that can cause you great trouble. The graphical style has more appeal to modern gamers who aren’t used to text-based games.

The game is currently in the Beta4 phase but a new version should be released soon. While the game is a little bare bones at the moment there are a lot of features Waz intends to implement.

“High on my list are side-branching dungeon areas and special levels,” said Waz. “These add variety to the scenery and of course they will come with their own unique fauna.”

The game currently sports over 100 different monsters and over 250 items to be found and used. For every item Waz has to create a new in game graphic, so that’s a great undertaking. As is standard with Roguelikes, the dungeon and what you encounter is randomly generated. So every adventure is a unique experience. While there is a general progression to monsters and loot as you explore there is a great deal of randomness that will help shape your journey. Finding a powerful weapon early on or a useful spell might drastically improve your chances of survival; of course that water nymph that runs off with your armour might change them just as much.

“I’m developing a very unusual form of co-op play,” said Waz. “I can’t say more yet because the design is not complete. I love co-op gaming so this feature has been planned from the start, but it will need a lot more testing help and input from the player community than the single-player game.”

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There will be two styles of multiplayer, co-op and competitive. In the co-op mode, players will both run through copies of the same dungeon and will automatically share information with each other in regards to identified items as well as being able to communicate to warn each other of dangers they each face. There will also be a trading system in place so that they can share items between each other to help each other out. Having the warrior player pass spell books over to the wizard player while receiving armour in return would definitely help with survivability. In the competitive mode, these features will be disabled and it will be more of a contest of which player can outdo the other.

As the game is turn-based, lag and latency shouldn’t be a problem. If one player is dying they can wait for the other to explore ahead so as not to put them at more risk. Or if one player is having problems with a monster the other could drop off some healing items to help them out. All this is a wonderful new approach to Roguelikes, which have always been single player affairs.

“Yes, it’s weird,” said Waz. “But it’s great fun, and feels a lot like other co-op games, while definitely being true Roguelike.”

Reliance on the community is often a key factor in the development of Roguelike games. As with most independent developers their design isn’t a matter of a marketing department telling them what the players should enjoy. It is usually an open dialogue with the players to receive their input on what’s desired, what works and what doesn’t.

There are various ways that Waz checks on player feedback. The direct emails, posts on the Reddit page and thousands of game results are key sources of information. But the wishing system in game is also something that lets Waz see what they players are demanding. “There are times in the game when the player may wish for something,” said Waz. “If the wish cannot be granted, it is added to a database that other players can then vote on. In the Talent system of Beta4, almost all Talents are answers to wishes. For example, some players thought that there was not enough food, so now those players can choose to pursue the Anatomy talent which gives them more meat from creatures they slay.”

Seeing this level of dedication to the players is one of the things that get independent developers so much praise. It’s also one of the reasons there are countless Roguelikes out there. No matter what it is you’re seeking, there’s bound to be something out there to your tastes.

Currently the game has a two-dollar registration fee. This small fee allows you to actually complete the game, though you can still play down to 800 feet down in the dungeon before that point. When the game is “released” Waz intends to make it a five dollar cost, available on Steam and Desura, so early registrations will save you a little money. However the game will not be “finished” for some time as Waz will continue to add content even after the game is fully released. The release version will be a standalone program however, the current web based form is being used for the ease of development and ensuring the players can test the latest version.

WazHack is a great Roguelike game that lives up the standards of the classics but still presents a more modern face to players. Whether you’re a Roguelike guru or new to the genre this is one game that’s definitely worth taking a look at.