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An interview with MaeL about his thoughts on dungeon crawler mechanics
[Interview] 2020-10-24 12:29:14
Written by: zooperdan

MaeL, known for this LP's on YouTube and current WR holder in EOB speedrun, gave a short interview with one of his viewers in the comment section under his Black Crypt stream video.

There are five sections of Q&A. The first part is about dungeon crawler game mechanics in general. The second part is more focused about Black Crypt.


Consumables

Q:

There are a lot of consumables in those games like potions, wands, magic cards, ...
Everybody hoards them, but nobody really uses them. I mean what is the point of this items?

A:

I find those as good items, that 'could' be used when in danger. You never know what awaits you on the next floor. Why would you waste wands of fireballs on enemies you can dispose in few hits? For Black Crypt: wands are best used against monsters that NEED to be terminated quickly due to status ailments (poison, disease, party hold). For EotBs - most wands are useless anyway, as either the animation takes too long (since it stops the game for that period) or monsters can resist those spells anyway. In this stream I actually used most of my wands as I got them. Potions are a different story - They were crucial in Dungeon Master, since they provided buffs, could heal, cure poison, restore stamina & magic etc... there was no real healing method, as sleep-to-heal took waaaay too long. In Heretic (by Raven software) I find that they did it best to force players not to hoard consumables. After each level, any quantity of consumable, was reduced to a single item (5 potions >1 potion) etc. Those were not required to complete any level, heck, game wasn't even that hard without using any of them, just making life easier. since it was reducing the number, you couldn't just hoard them until boss level.


Traders

Q:

There are only a few games with traders like Stonekeep, Lands of Lore or Dungeon Master 2
but in my opinion those traders are broken because you can afford everything they offer
and this often means the first time you meet them.

A:

I don't recall any game that had traders in it in my playthroughs, as I never played Lands of Lore or Dungeon Master 2. Stonekeep is a thing of the past, but I've got all of those games on my bucket list. In other games I've seen traders offer useless junk, overpowered & way overpriced items or just consumables that can make players lazy. As I've seen on CaptainPlanets DM2 LP, if you invest time to farm your levels and stuff for sale, you could earn the option to turn game into easy-mode. But why traders, when you can just find the right stuff shortly after? kill for food just outside the town? buy water, when there's a water source INSIDE the shop itself? Even with more 'modern' RPGs like M&M 7 - shops are filled with overpriced junk, that nobody wants... at least the money is required for training/healing at temples 

Equipment shops are really hard to balance. Make them sell best stuff but make it affordable after some grinding? Sell equipment depending on what level is your party? With no requirements to wear such equipment, it can be pretty easy to exploit. Perhaps such shops should only sell equipment you could potentially find in the previous section? Or just an addition that could be skipped or completly disabled when starting a new game?

Yendorian Tales had merchants too. Weapons delears were a source of buying your gear off you. Food could easily be created with magic, potions were... hoarded by me (just recently started to use them in greater numbers). There is also a enchanting place, that offers to upgrade your gear, but the costs adds up and you could find better gear in the following areas. Money has its main use: Train your characters to level up. Other than that - you hoard it as it does get expensive!


Replayability / Variability

Q:

In my opinion the replayability of those games is very low because there isn´t much variability. Black Crypt might be the best example for this. You are basically starting with a preset group and also getting the exact same items. You can only choose were to go first like blue or red crypt. But people are playing / watching these games over and over again.

A:

I agree on this. Black crypt is a great example with no replay value, since you NEED to do everything to continue. Even if you skip skull glyph on 4th level, you can potentially backtrack in post-game. Other Variability is with the hub leading to 4 generals - you could go Possessor realm > Ram Demon > Medusa > Underwater for easy mode (first two have stone/doom weapons). Any other option is also viable, even starting with Underwater, since the game throws underwater breathing potions a lot! This game is replayed not for new experience, but for exactly the same one as with the first playthrough!
For that time BC offered excellent sound and gameplay, which lacked in other games. Also, it was NOT made according to ad&d rulebook, which shown that pre-selected classes are OK to go with! This made it unique in my eyes. EoBs/DMs had their rulebooks to go with. EoB1 allowed skipping levels by portals or doing a near 100%, DM only options were different classes or 'reincarnating' them.  Any of such solutions are good for those games. MM7 offered great replay value - not only different classes that can learn different level of skills, but also splitting them between good & bad, having their own hubs.

On my yesterday’s stream (29.12.2018) I've replayed EotB3 - I really disliked this game during blind LP, but a challenge run with single hero was a lot more enjoyable which makes me think - almost every game is worth replaying, at least to compare the experience and how you enjoy the game on your blind playthrough and on the next, knowing where to go and what to expect (that's why challenge runs compensate for game knowledge)


Melee / Range / Magic – combat system

Q:

Except Lands of Lore range combat with throwing items or bows seems to be useless. Those games are so heavily melee focused that magic users and range fighters are nearly pointless.

A:

Ranged IS in fact useless. BC offered two mechanics with ranged weapons – Arrows were getting stuck in the enemies and you could reclaim them ONLY when you kill the enemy but thrown weapons would stay on ground. Those were NOT bad weapons to use, BUT after every damn enemy, you had to pick it up manually! Solution used in Diablo2 was good – get a quiver with limited number of bolts/arrows or javelins/throwing weapons. If player would be given a non-reclaimable, limited uses weapons every now and then, I believe they would be more keen to use such items. Unless they would hoard them :) This comes down to consumables such as wands for magic – people don’t really use them, because there is no clear indication on damage dealt. Is it strong? Is it stronger than regular spells? Will I need it later? In such cases, being given a limited use on quivers (perhaps 30?) that each hit deals 2-4 dmg – that’s 60-120dmg in total which is a lot, but you don’t really feel like wasting any of it since it’s divided into smaller pieces

Melee can only be compensated by giving powerful weapons… Instakill weapons? Broken! +5 weapon that can easily deal 20+ when rest struggle at 15s? Broken! Dual wielding with a +5 main hand and +4 offhand? Let’s not even go down that way… Melee offers a great option for dancing around enemies, it does NOT need such OP items, since in those games – weapons did not break at all! EoB2 challenged sidestepping enemies since they also could sidestep AND attack straight after moving. Of course, this could be handled with ease by doing 2 steps back, wait for enemy to move forward and attack once again. 

Magic is too generic… I think Dungeon Master done it the best – no actual healing spells, most of the buffs came in bottled versions only. Offensive magic is strong but costs A LOT of magic points. You don’t want to save spells for later, because you level up your classes as you use them! MM7 done it pretty nicely – most of the spells were used for buffing, unless dark path was chosen (mainly extra powerfull damaging magic). EoBs did it poorly since there were only 2-3 offensive spells worth using, but once enemies became resistant to magic, it became totally used for buffs only.


Food

Q:

Eye of the Beholder, Dungeon Master or Black Crypt all these games have food systems, but food seems to be never rare. I mean what is the point of a food system if food is abundant? 

A:

The annoying part of the game… but that’s what at that time game devs wanted to make to feel it closer to … life? You will never need all that food/water you hoarded… but you still carry it around. BC made an early create food spell, that could serve as obvious food source and less obvious pressure plate fodder (not that there were many places that it needed to be used). If the game would have only sustenance spell in final tome, it would be a lot more balanced. Rushing through the game also makes food a lot less required. Perhaps party should get hungrier the more damage they deal? Instead of stamina drain… or the faster you drain your stamina, the more food needed? MM7 did a wonderful job – go to tavern, get some extra food for emergency rests. Late game offered taverns that provided food for a lot more rests, which makes sense (magic costs more, more damaging enemies etc.). MM9 gave up on food requirement, which makes healing party a lot easier. Yendorian Tales did a similar thing to MM7, but you could create food with magic quite early. To compensate this action, game magic mechanic requires not only spell points, but ALSO one of two (or both) types of ores, which is a valuable resource, that can be purchased later on (with all the money hoarded!). EoB2&3 did it really poorly when it comes to food – you already have create food spells, even the game throws bunch of scrolls at you every now and then…


Black Crypt – could it do better?


Consumables

Q:

Lesser potent consumables but more consumables or vice versa?

A:

Lesser but more is a good choice. It would quickly fill out the inventory, which basically could FORCE the players to start using them. Why discard if it can grant even a lesser effect? :)

 

Q:

Potions that can be used multiple times?

A:

A 3-dosed potion would be an awesome thing! This WOULD be a terrific thing to do in BC, but we need to keep in mind that 'back then' games were very limited. BlackCrypt has probably around 200-220 items and I assume ItemIDs were limited to FF value. Having a 3-dosed potion versions would triple the potion item ID list.More sprites, more Item information, if there would be a store, even more variables concerning item values etc.


Q:

More consumables with unique effects?

A:

Yes, but nothing OP. Having potions of invincibility would most certainly mean you won't use them until end bosses.


Traders

Q:

Traders yes or no?

A:

Yes

 

Q:

A limited amount of money in the game but a huge amount of buyable stuff?

A:

Yes, or even huge pool of buyable stuff, but having the vendor allowing to buy 1 item or 'random' un-identified? similar to Diablo2 gambling? downside is people could save-abuse it to get what they want.

 

Q:

Traders can only be visited ones?

A:

Yes, and to solve the problem above - force save AFTER the trade is done

 

Replayability

Q:

Full party creation with multiple classes, races, talents and spells? Multiple but preset parties you can choose from?

A:

I know this is time consuming to dev, but both options would be really viable. Presets would be perfect for newer players. Full party creation could be a dangerous thing - you would need to assume that the game is beatable with every possible party. EoB3 did the thing with places requiring thieves - either thieving tools to fix the lever or potion of giant strength to force switch it.

 

Q:

"Either ... or" paths in the dungeon? Like choose the red crypt and never see the blue one. Choose your reward places like the golden key chambers in Legend of Grimrock or EOB1 where you can choose one reward out of 3?

A:

If the game is tied to some story, splitting paths would potentially create too many storylines to follow, unless there would be multiple shorter story lines (dungeon, where the path splits 3 times could potentially create 8 outcomes). Or if not tied to any storylines, each path could grant a different reward, but would need to be somehow balanced (take a sip from enchanted fountain could result in "+1 random stat" or "+2random stat and -1other stat"). Having a reward 1 from 3 is a perfect thing to do as there is nothing more frustrating in Diablo/MMs games to find the most powerful Infernal Dwarven 2-h Battle Axe of Your Doom, when there is no melee hero (or specializes in beating their eyeballs out with a proper club) in the party!
Also, Torchlight II did a nice thing to be able to choose one out of 3 items as a quest reward.

 

Q:

Random loot from bosses and monsters?

A:

It really depends on the game itself. I wouldn't go too much into random loot if there would be no or rare-to-find traders. Perhaps a small chance [5-10%] to drop an item from its loot table? Create X loot tables and have certain monsters be able to access specific table. Consider having a hidden "item size" value, unless the game will have a bigger chunk of humor in it :) Having a Full Plate armor drop from a cave rat is quite questionable! 

 

Q:

Difficulty modes? New game+?

A:

I did like what Rouge Legacy did to NG+ but after NG+2/3 the challenge was gone(all upgrades were bought) and it came back at NG+6 and more where you basically had to avoid ANY hit to not die :) I think a good example for NG+ could be LEGO games series (I played mostly Hobbit/LOTR) - as you progress through the game, there are certain spots that you cannot get. You unlock such abilities later in the game or also as a end game reward. Playing a NG+ would allow to complete the game in 100%
Difficulty is hard to set for such games. I'd just add an 'expert' mode for people that know what they're doing. Casual would recommend certain actions throughout the game. Potentially the game could have preset parties ranked as difficulty level (harder = less viable characters with worse stats and skills, randomized across weaker skills) or enemy stats could be set to 50%/100%/200%. (Diablo 3 offered 10+ difficulty levels, which was absurd, but allowed only certain items to be acquired on higher lvl)

 

Combat system

Q:

Semi turn based combat? You cannot move as long as your weapons/spells are on cool down. 

A:

That would mean range & mage glass cannons would be pretty useless, unless they can use multiple different attacks. This would contradict with replayability when trying a challenge run with pure rangers/mages party. Imagine having the party shoot and miss a group of goblins, then they'd just stand and watch as goblins butcher party members one by one :) 

 

Q:

All attack function like EOB3?

A:

This is lazy mode. EoB3 could be played with potentially 6 warriors, where the mid & back rows could wield polearms and front row 2 weapons. That is 8 attacks per click - when paired with being able to dance around enemy, this is ridiculously overpowered.

 

Q:

Range combat with limited ammunition or range combat with unlimited ammunition but much longer cool down?

A:

If the party cannot split, then there is no bad choice here. I'd probably go with both solutions - unlimited basic ammo but bought/looted better type for higher dmg output and longer cooldown. Such ammo shouldn't be that rare, as people once again would save it up for special occasion. 10-20% longer cool down would not really make much of a difference for the extra point or two more damage points. With each more powerful ammunition type, the cool down could be extended over and over again. Who would want to rushingly shove the Unstable Onyx Bolts of Imminent Doom knowing that he could ACCIDENTLY cut himself and die on spot? :)
Yendorian Tales offers also ranged weaponry to all party members with unlimited ammo, but it is pretty useless if no points are given into the skill, not even to barely soften down an enemy from distance. This also reminded me - YT had 'repair' skill - your gear has no durability shown, but as it is being used, there is a chance that it will break to unusable state until repaired - this could be used for traders that could sell 'FixItYourself kits' or fixing at their place. This could also solve unlimited ammo problem.

 

Food system

Q:

Food system yes or no? Resting consumes a huge amount of hunger and thirst? 

A:

Does the health/mana regenerates over time? If yes, rest to consume ~25% or more of max limit sounds like a fair trade. 

 

Q:

Food is abundant but can spoil?

A:

Two games come to my mind with food spoiling. #1 is Mount & Blade - it offered a variety of foods that you could buy, loot or pillage. some of the could get spoiled, some were 'dried meat' that would lasted longer or forever? #2 is ADOM (Ancient Domain of Mystery) - most of the enemies dropped could drop their dead body - depending if lawful or chaotic, what deity was their chosen one - you could eat most of those bodies. Some granted random temporary/permanent buffs, other could even kill you, some were not edible. Wilderness offered a lot of food options (but hunger came a lot quicker) fights were usually with a group 10+ monsters, some even in 100+. Regular food could get spoiled, cooked lasted longer. Cooking skill allowed for the food to go bad a lot later or even allowed to cook bodies of the fallen enemies :D (also, game had a value for Cursed/Normal/Blessed items - blessed food usually granted better buffs, if any, had to eat less etc., while cursed could cause sickness or vomit (making you even hungrier)

 

Q:

No create food or sustenance spells? or very limited uses?

A:

Creating food could be an option when resting wouldn't be restoring full hp/magic or could be absurdly pricy, so wouldn't be abused. Perhaps any of those options? #1 - food can get spoiled, rotten food cannot be eaten, rotten food rots after a while, 'create' food spell requires 'rotten food' as an ingredient to create magical food (is automatically consumed on cast) or #2 - Create food restores hunger meter but not as typical food, more like Aid in EotB grants additional life - you can magically extend your hunger meter, but like all magic - it expires on rest - either party member dies if regular hunger meter is not restored or it simply doesn't count for resting as the results would still be death.

 

A big thank you to MaeL for this interview. His vast experience in playing dungeon crawlers shine through every answer and his opinions on this topic are on point and I agree with most of them. What do you think?

 

Check out MaeL's videos on YouTube and give @LP_MaeL a follow on Twitter!

 


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