In my last post I talked about where part of the idea for my road-lite, Nightvision, came from (more on the rest of the origin of the game some other time), and I touched a bit about how a rogue-like’s CHALLENGE plus RANDOM LEVELS combine to make something special… which is what I was going for and am pleased as punch to have delivered on.
Above and beyond that (and I may get a little metaphysical on this one) I’d like to talk about something I sort of didn’t expect. Something “extra special” that you may have picked up on me hinting about in the last post. That’s what I’m going to delve deeper into today. Until you get to play the game, I’m just going to have to try to describe this phenomenon to you — and I DO feel like phenomenon is the correct word here. Maybe it sounds a bit mystical, or like I’m just trying to build hype, but this is a real thing so bear with me and I’ll try to explain.
With random terrain and roads, there’s always the excitement and unknown of what’s ahead — if you’re [watching/reading] this then that’s probably what interested you in being here in the first place — but there’s also a tinge of sadness, or maybe even regret, in a rogue-lite, in that you won’t ever get to play that same stretch of road again. That that particularly interesting mountain range you just carved through is gone forever, the ones and zeros defining its vertices into polygons was a temporary hallucination and you will never see them that exact way ever again. And — in the spirit of all rouge-likes and rogue-lites and now road-lite — that the progress you made is lost forever as well. Terrifying and sobering, isn’t it? This is inherent in all true rogue-likes and to SOME extent is part of it’s charm — the impermanance of all things.
But normally this is what is referred to as “a bummer”. Rogue-likes and even rogue-lites are often the type of game not everyone can really handle. To some it’s a fun challenge and it only spurs them on to try to make it further the next time. To others it’s infinitely frustrating. And in still more cases, a rogue-lite can push you from the former opinion to the latter after enough punishment. I had planned early on to soften this in two ways…
One: So that you don’t feel you’ve lost too much progress, the races are fairly short individually, and you start over from that particular drive — even though it’s randomly generated each run, the same template if you will, of all the level settings and tweaks that mark the gradual progression and difficulty ramp through the game. I think most players would prefer this, rather than having to start over at beginning of the game. Permadeath is par for the course in true rogue-likes or even other games that offer a “nightmare” type of difficulty level, but it just isn’t needed in Nightvision, and it would feel too punishing for all but the most hardcore players.
Two: I had the idea very early on, and felt strongly about it, that you should be able to jot down your favorite level seeds and settings to be able to replay them later. Sort of like those level passwords back in the NES days before battery backup carts were the norm — found in the likes of everything from MegaMan, to Metroid. …actually alphabetically those examples span only a few titles but the practice was commonplace when actual save-games as we know them today were just too expensive or even impossible. Non-volatile ram wasn’t really a thing yet, and… eh sorry, another history lesson… I digress.
Satisfied these were good mitigations of the pitfalls* of many otherwise-great rogue-likes, I soldiered on, implementing — nay, ingraining these theories into the core of the game.
So I put my theories to the ulimate test: Now as a GAMER, instead of a developer, I was safe in the knowledge that I wasn’t going to lose much progress, and that if there was a really cool level I wanted to try again I could, I no longer worried about it. It turns out that I approached the roads very differently after this. I started getting this new sensation while playing, that I think now I can put a description to (finally getting back to the Something Extra Special thread I’ve been dancing around). I reached this kind of zen-like road-lite enlightenment where I was still excited and scared of crashing, but I wasn’t holding back because of it. I could push it on a little harder. Each time I did and I happened to push it too hard or the RNG gods did not favor my road on that run, making me fail, it still felt really good. And I was immediately ready to try again, and excited by the fact that the next run would be all new, and I wouldn’t be “cheating” by just losing so many times that I had every turn memorized like the back of my hand. It’s then that I discovered the true spirit of Christmas… er, I mean, of the game.
It’s what I had secretly hoped for: this jump from just replicating an (admittedly exciting) scenario where you’re driving too fast through fun roads, and videogame-izing it so well that you reached a state you could never reach in real life; even if you had a fast car, endless twisting desert highways and a deathwish. It turned out to be that something special that I aimed for but wasn’t quite sure how I’d reach it or what it would feel like.
But I succeeded.
And it feels awesome.
And you really need to play it (greybush-style nodding)
So to wrap this one up… I tried to make a driving game for people who don’t like driving games. To make a rogue-lite for people normally frustrated by rogue-lites. This was the experience I was going for. Something simple and unique, executed really well. Something even more fun than letting the monkey drive. And it’s something I humbly suggest you experience for yourself.
Until next time, drive safe… Save it for the game man. You’re gonna need it.
*Note the original Pitfall games on Atari 2600 had NO savegames OR passwords.