Interview with Brasilian pixel artist Cecilia Favo de Mel

Roguelike games’ developers often concentrate on the gameplay, depth and innovative mechanics leaving something to be desired in visual aspects. This is not to say user interfaces are not improving. They are, but even quite advanced games usually do not receive tile graphics. Sometimes author can do the art himself well enough. Another possibility is to get someone else to do the hard work.

With the recent update 1.6.1, Mario Donick’s roguelike RPG “LambdaRogue” also received a new graphical tileset, which improves overall experience especially for those players who don’t stick with puristic ASCII mode. In this interview, Cecilia talks about her work.

Mario Donick: First of all, can you tell our readers some basic things about yourself, like your name, age, living place, occupation?

Cecilia Favo de Mel: Hi Mario and thanks, well, name, Cecilia Souza Santos. I am 30 years old, live in São Paulo – Brasil. My occupation is pixelartist – really, that is my full time job, though I have no fixed contract so always freelancing on small contracts.

M: Have you always been an artistic person?

C: Well yes, when I was a kid I loved to draw cars since I always loved machines, and tending to fictional machines made me draw even more until I tried organic stuff and then got my first computer with Paint on it… XD

M: When did you start creating graphics for video games?

C: Well you could say around 2000 for my own projects on rpgmaker, but by then I was into pixelart for about 10 years already, just with no application before. But professionally, or rather, for other games, around 2007.

M: RPGmaker? Do you still use this tool, or are there any games done by you available?

C: Yes I do, I use RPGMaker VX, however due to lack of time I shifted my focus to a webcomic project – still related to my game ideas and made in the exact same graphical style, once I learn how to set the blog out for webcomics it will start off and hopefully help me have more time for the game. My setting for both games and webcomic is the kingdom of Star-La the the series is Star Light Romance, got a file about the setting if you want to check 😀

M: On what game projects did you work before?

C: A lot, seriously, as I said I live off from small contracts and many times games I worked on get released and I get no notice from client, like Swords and Potions (though Mat is still a nice client and always comes back to me when he needs updates). So here are some titles:

– Swords and Potions

– TinyTown

– Rogue Runner

– Combats Commander

– Dark Souls 1 and 2

– Beyond Beyaan – not released yet

M: Did you know about roguelikes or the roguelike scene before you worked on the LambdaRogue tiles?

C: Yes I did, mostly because of Gearhead, a mech based roguelike game which, funny enough, my dad linked me to. He knows I am insane about mechs and sci fi and god knows how he stumbled across the link to the game. I downloaded and got a feel for roguelike games, but still didn’t play too much back then neither searched for others.

M: What is your usual process when you work on a tile? Do you draw sketches before, or to you start digitally right away? Please explain a little bit about your work.

C: Well I’d say I first sketch everything on my mind, since I have a very clear imagination I can basically see (almost touch :P) what I imagine so yeah. Once I have the design in mind I imagine how it will be in pixelart and start out pixelating on ms paint. First basic outlines, then basic color separation, then shading and antialising as needed. The rest is photoshop and the only tiring part – cutting every tile into a separate png – but just because it is simple yet done a lot 🙂

M: Most roguelikes have square tiles, with same width and height. LambdaRogue, in contrast, has 20×40 tiles. Was it difficult to work with this small and irregular size?

C: Yes and no – I am used to console style rpg setup where only terrain tiles are square while character tiles or some object tiles are rectangular, so for those it didn’t affect me in anything. In fact only thing that affected me is having all terrain tiles tileable vertically as well as horizontally, because of the details I wanted to add, but in terms of effort, all fine.

M: Did you play LambdaRogue before creating the tiles, or were you able to work without playing first?

C: I did start a game just to read more on the game, know what was going on and how the tiles and characters previously looked together.

M: The tiles you created include both fantasy and sci-fi elements. What’s the idea behind this?

C: Well my favourite setting is Sci-fi;fantasy, I love the idea of having magic, swords, knights alongside robots, starships, pistols to the point most of my favourite games, anime and movies follow that including my own game projects. So when I read LambdaRogue intro and it mentioned that civilization was destroyed, but some technology was not lost my idea was a world similar to Phantasy Star IV where there was tech, but humanity was living very poorly to the point that this tech was lost and little development was made since surviving was priority. Magic I supposed was developed before, along with technology and most of the teachings could still be passed down from masters so easier to keep than gadgets.

M: The old Phantasy Star games were really great, indeed. Phantasy Star 1 was the first RPG I ever played, and I still think of it very often when I think about RPG design. Even with its simple methods and nearly no dialogue or story, PS 1 was able to create the feeling of a huge world, or even star system — I never forget when I first entered the space ship and went to that desert planet, and later on the ice planet. It also had huge dungeons, even in 3D graphics.

Anyway — are there any current RPGs which you like to play and where you can find a mixture of Sci-fi and fantasy?

C: Well most current rpgs, both console or PC and Japanese or American don’t appeal to me that much, too much going on in graphics and such, but not so much in depth, though Mass Effect was looking interesting, but I need a new video card to play it properly.

My top sci-fi-fantasy rpgs are:

– Phantasy Star IV

– Final Fantasy VI

– Chrono Trigger

– Xenogears

– Grandia

– Wild Arms

– Cyber Knight 2

– Septerra Core

M: Which tiles were most difficult — dungeon tiles, items, or creatures (such as player, monsters, NPCs)?

C: Both items and humanoid monsters, mostly because in my own setting you either face humans or animal like monsters, no zombies or medusas etc. But both were challenging in a fun way, just outside my comfort zone which is nice to shape up.

M: And what was most fun?

C: Ooh the human characters, both player, npcs and enemies, specially the enemy guards, Benito Leone, female archer, mage, soldier, the badass looking weapon seller and the waitress XD

M: You also created new effect icons for spells and items, new character portraits, and some general UI elements. This is not game graphics itself, but part of the user interface. Did you work on interfaces for other games or software before?

C: Yes, mostly for Beyond Beyaan and lately for Combats Commander.

M: How did you ensure that users will be able to recognize the meaning of the icons?

C: Google XD And a bit of experience, I mean even as a player I look at games with the eyes of a professional in graphics department, so I use what is most common in games of the genre with some peculiar design tweaks. When it is something too new… I google and check out the first images related to that word or concept.

M: Will LambdaRogue players see more of your work in the future, in other areas of the game?

C: As long as you want my services, I am here! You are a nice client and I truly like the setting of the game and want to play it on next release. So yes!

M: How can interested developers contact you? Do you have a website?

http://clest.deviantart.com – my DA gallery, lacks updating

http://www.pixeljoint.com/forum/forum_posts.asp?TID=10246 my pixeljoint portfolio topic, updated and running

But mostly, best assured way to catch me: (cecifavodemel AT gmail.com) – my e mail.

Ascii Dreams Roguelike of the Year 2011 winners!

Voting for best roguelike games at Ascii Dreams has finished today. This time almost three thousand people have voted! Undisputed winner is:

Tales of Maj'Eyal logo

Tales of Maj’Eyal

Following are the 20 first games (note we have two ties):

1. ToME 4 with 702 votes

2. Dungeons of Dredmor with 612 votes

3. Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup with 486 votes

4. JADE with 431 votes

5. Desktop Dungeons with 391 votes

6. Dwarf Fortress with 373 votes

7. Brogue with 240 votes

8. The Binding of Isaac with 199 votes

9. DoomRL: Doom, the Roguelike with 178 votes

10. Cataclysm with 170 votes

11. Legends of Yore with 94 votes

12. X@COM with 90 votes

13. Caves of Qud with 87 votes

14. UnReal World with 79 votes

15. Angband with 68 votes

15. Cardinal Quest with 68 votes

17. POWDER with 66 votes

18. Infra Arcana with 62 votes

19. Prospector RL with 49 votes

19. Rogue Survivor with 49 votes

Check and mate!

ChessRogue

Author Chris Morris
Platform Linux, Windows; (open source)
Version 0.3.1
Website http://chessrogue.sourceforge.net/

ChessRogue: Hiding in a safe tunnelThe name says it all. A rogue on a chessboard. You are the king of white army. In fact you are sole remaining member of said army. But! You can still win by assassinating the black king after you singlehandedly defeat his soldiers. Not the last starfighter story again … Oh well. Roguelikes save for few exceptions have never been good in the plot department. This can be forgiven.

ChessRogue: Nine in a rowChess requires good strategy to win against a competent player. You need to plan carefully and sometimes sacrifice a piece to gain upper hand. ChessRogue is more about tactics. You will often wonder how to get out of a tight situation, what next piece to capture or ask yourself if getting to that treasure out there is worthwhile. Usually looking merely one or two turns ahead is sufficient but later this number increases. With only a single hit point this game leans heavily into puzzle genre.

ChessRogue: Graphical modeThe board is colored with alternating light and dark colors. Helps quite a bit with fighting bishops and making longer diagonal moves in general. There is also SDL mode but it is compiled only for Windows. Linux users need to some nontrivial dependency resolving to compile it first. The looks pass but controls are bit worse. Those of you with disdain for vi-keys will not be pleased. It is here as default control scheme. Sure, you can get around using number pad quite well at the start but later you must make two or three space moves. To do you that need to use the vi equivalent. Despite constantly displaying keys ChessRogue is not good game learn vi style keys because one mistake often means game over. Luckily there is keymap included. On Linux it can be put in home directory or made hidden and it will still be found. Ingame movement display will change to accommodate edits. Unfortunately good news end here. Said keymap states function keys, number pad, return key and other similar key cannot be remapped. Number pad fans are at a loss. People with non-qwerty keyboard layouts will need to edit crkeymap.txt file before playing.

ChessRogue: Lances and mantrapsChessRogue creates a board and sprinkles opposing pieces on it. The most variation in gameplay comes from randomized levels. Number and types of opposing pieces differ only slightly between playthroughs. Water layout defines how the battle will fare. You should look for best places to exploit skills you have and at the same time efficiently hinder enemy. On difficulty modes below expert first level will feature a water cross where you can trap pawns without much trouble and get them all. On toughest setting you need employ crowding tactics to pick them off. Moreover there might be not enough pawns generated to make diagonal capture ability available. Then on second level you may need to face sergeants with just basic powers. Surviving this requires a bit of luck which is against the spirit of chess. Sometimes ChessRogue will smile at you and place bishops or even knights in a spot where they are unable to make any moves.

ChessRogue: YASDAnother subtle but not without tactical uses rule is order of piece movement. Sometimes while observing enemy movement patterns you might deduce that pawn moves before this bishop does. Such knowledge may allow you to move into seemingly dangerous places because you know that a pawn must move first and only available spot to enter is one cutting off a path of aforementioned bishop thus guaranteeing you safety. This is difficult to pull off but very satisfying if played well. Also if you are in a losing position where every possible escape is covered try to look for places that can be obstructed with lucky piece movement. You might survive more than one ambush.

ChessRogue: Fear effectEarlier I have mentioned treasures. These are represented by white exclamation mark and come in three types. Fear effect makes enemy pieces flee from you unless you stupidly wander into a position where you can be immediately captured. Used well this may be helpful in separating tough pieces, splitting dense or well-covered formations or madly dashing to the exit. The last option does not reward you with additional points or moves but in later levels this might be wise decision. After all not much is left to be learned from all those dangerous pieces and you might get captured. Second effect is haste. Speed enables you to make two moves in a turn. Very useful. Finally, learning makes every capture count triple bringing desired new abilities to you faster. On the other hand you receive bonus score for every unexpired treasure when you enter exit. Do not bother with this much before you get your first win though.

ChessRogue: Secret weapons labCurrently ChessRogue presents two modes to players. Classic Pieces and no special challenge. Do not let yourself be deceived! Playing with classic chess pieces only makes for easier game because there is less possibilities to consider and fewer levels to get caught. Extra pieces are still present sometimes. They appear with special level entrances and inside those but are not counted in score list. They may still contribute to chain captures though. Overall new piece types make for more interesting play but much less balanced. You will note more than one time the aggressiveness of sergeants. They are by far more dangerous than generals because they cannot move back in orthogonal corridors. If two of them team up or one with a pawn in front be prepared to count that way out. If all your ways get generated with teams like this you know Random Number Generator hates you today.

ChessRogue: Shogi pieces includedWeak point of ChessRogue are its first levels. There is barely any challenge offered even the first time. Unfortunately patience requirement is significant. Imagine getting captured somewhere in midgame. You brain got used to solving difficult situations with advanced pieces on board and now you are back to fighting just meager pawns. Boredom has great potential to turn your thinking off at this point resulting in getting owned by that brown ‘P’. Quite frustrating.

ChessRogue: Super power gainedSpecial predesigned areas are another not so great addition. There you will find prearranged pieces and a boss waiting to be conquered. Exit does not appear until the special opposing piece is captured or (at the fortress) zoo wall is smashed. The problem is the special level is the same every time. Once you figure a strategy (or a few) for solving that puzzle it becomes more like a boring chore to overcome. You need just to make no mistake executing the plan. A plan, which is very similar every time. To add insult to injury capturing cannoneer (boss of second predefined area) while in classic piece mode is useless because there will be almost no sergeants available to load the gun.

ChessRogue presents very entertaining challenge. It is worth recommending it especially to masterminds. In late game with plethora of moves to make try to make the longest chain capture possible. My personal best is 27 pieces taken in a row. The joy is overshadowed by low replayability of early game, poor quality user interface and somewhat by game saving possible only between levels.

Lost, apocalyptic, magical, beautiful, dark, absurd world

LambdaRogue

Author Mario Donick
Platform Windows, Linux, MacOS
Version 1.6
Website http://lambdarogue.net/

LambdaRogue: Outer DungeonThere are two races dwelling on Earth. Mankind and Drekh’Nar. Friendly relations last long but finally a “good” reason to start fighting gets found and war erupts. There are many casualties on both sides. However, neither race had significant advantage until Drekh’Nar acquired the enchanted sword of mankind’s general from a traitor and cursed it. This act caused men to suffer a major defeat and soon they were forced to surrender. Price for losing the war was great: banishment to underground forever. LambdaRogue is a game about exploring locations deep within earth but at the same time shaping future of mankind.

LambdaRogue: Destroyed hivePlay style of this roguelike is close to Angband’s. Dungeons are nonpersistent creating unlimited resources for player to scavenge thus inviting you to grind. However, this is not as simple. Difficulty of a given level is not constant. Killing enough monsters of given type will cause a stronger variant to spawn. Lost hit points do not regenerate naturally. You have to use health restoring consumables which cost you some credits. Early game is a race to get powerful enough as fast as possible in order to earn credits for food and medicine. Weaker characters are going to have tough time starting off. At times it will be more beneficial to descend to meet fresh strain of enemies because these new “basic” specimens will actually be weaker than toughened variants of currently fought monsters.

LambdaRogue: Forgotten RealmAn uncommon and controversial feature is ability to have game saved for a gold fee. Permadeath will claim the lot of your early characters but when you finally hit it big and afford life insurance the tension is no more. A streak of mistakes may force you to go back to earlier point in game but the cost is now insignificant. Life insurance cost increases linearly while your earnings do so quicker. Major roguelike defining point is harmed and decrease in challenge reflects this. Most important reason for going this way is LambdaRogue is primarily aiming to tell a story. If a promising character would get sliced by the grim reaper close to final game player may not return to know how all of this ends. Thus greater tolerance for errors.

LambdaRogue: The Lost OutpostMajor driving force of LambdaRogue are quests. Those provide story pieces and items crucial to game completion as rewards. Other ways to know more about the World of NeoTerr are to purchase text books from library or to discover them through mining. Certain professional ranks require a specific quest to be completed to obtain it. Other ranks need a certain skill set to be matched. A quest log is available. It lists all people who asked you for a favor by dungeon level.

LambdaRogue: CatacombsAmong many facilities in town workshop stands out. Here player may drop items to have them disassembled for some resources like wood, metal and stone. Subsequently those may be used to create a powerful unique item. The problem is amounts required to do so. Only a fixed number of slain monsters will drop items on death. To collect needed quantity one effectively has to purchase cheap stuff from shops to disassemble. In effect resources become merely lots of credits. Exception is stone which is easily harvestable from plentiful rubble.

LambdaRogue: MeteorLambdaRogue has gods. You choose one at character creation and may only interact with that deity. Other divine beings will contact you if they desire or … you actually met them. If you are good enough an opportunity for deicide may arise. A potentially grindy prayer mechanic allows one to make contact with patron deity. Every time you press ‘p’ it is counted as a single prayer. Remember to press it at least once or that one guy (or gal) up there will get angry at you. Fortunately sacrificing items on altar increases total prayer number by a considerable amount lessening the problem a bit. Still, expect to lean your finger on ‘p’ a few times.

LambdaRogue: The Book of StarsRecently it is popular among roguelikes to present players with graphical user interface to attract new players and ASCII for veterans. This is good unless those also bring different features impacting gameplay. Unfortunately LambdaRogue commits this sin. ASCII mode displays much larger map area allowing for pleasant exploration. SDL mode feels claustrophobic in comparison even with small tiles option set to true. However, it has minimap which marks NPCs if you have talked to them already and stairs if you have used them before. This greatly speeds up travel through places you have visited in the past. In ASCII you have to wander until you find what you are looking for or juggle interfaces. If you ascend it is worthwhile to watch ending sequence in graphical mode. Text alone just does not do it justice.

All in all LambdaRogue is successful as a medium to tell a compelling story without resorting to linear progress. With two functional interfaces veterans and newcomers alike will find it easy to get in. While not as replayable as most roguelikes it has passed 1.0 version milestone and is a complete game able to stand on its own.

Preview: Traction Edge

Traction Edge

Author Mongrol
Platform OS X, Linux (source only)
Version 0.1
Website http://code.google.com/p/tractionedge/

What would X-COM look if you left out non-battle phases? Have a look at Traction Edge. Version 0.1 is not much beyond technical demo but already gives you several officers to choose for each of three patrol missions. Your objective is to eliminate all opposition. Choose people with at least 10 points of strength. This allows to carry muskets which are much better than pistols.

Traction Edge: Bashing the doorTraction Edge: Hostiles spotted

You can just blaze through levels. Resistance is going to be small because enemy decision making capability is very limited. They act only if your agents remain in their view. Otherwise you are free to jump from behind an obstacle fire two snap shots point blank and hide again. After you kill last one mission is completed. If you explored fully last level but cannot see anything to shoot at destroy some walls. Surely some slither was placed inside stone.

Traction Edge: Patrol membersTraction Edge: Equip officer

Traction Edge was first released for ARRP 2010. Next version was announced to be revealed on ARRP 2011. To check out the game you need either to have OS X or compile from sources.

The 2011 7DRL Challenge is over!

And so it was that 99 brave challengers entered the 2011 seven day roguelike challenge!

Of those, 46 returned alive, claiming to have a finished and playable game… Now it is your turn to judge!

The Newcomers (First 7DRL Challenge)

Experienced (2 7DRL Challenges)

Gentlemen (3-4 Challenges)

Singing, happy drunks (5+ Challenges)