Monday, October 20, 2014


I'm on the record as being interested in procedural content, but like a lot of things, procedural content is hard to do well, and when it falls short, it falls very short. Runers is a top-down twin-stick shooter. It's a "roguelike", which in this context means that you get a single chance per character to navigate a randomly generated series of dungeons. Unfortunately, it falls short. 

The primary mechanic of the game is that you can craft your own "spells", which are projectile magicks used to injure and defeat enemies. Sometimes, enemies drop a "rune" of a specific element. Runes can be combined to create specific spells, but it's up to you to discover the combinations. 
I love the sense of discovery I get when finding new spells. My first hour with the game was just trying to uncover as many spells as possible, slowly unlocking each one's secrets and nuances. Unfortunately, to combine two runes requires a special item which drops rarely. After a while, I got frustrated with how slowly my new discoveries came. That's always my problem with a roguelike. Your fate is determined as much as by luck as it is by skill and knowledge. If you get bad luck in Runers, you won't get any runes to drop at all, or plenty of runs but no way to combine them into more powerful elements. 

The dungeon generation is an example of procedural content gone bad. There seem to be a handful of custom-made rooms which randomly get linked together. Great level design plays against the mechanics of the game, allowing you to adopt different strategies based on the layout of the level. Unfortunately, these handful of rooms alternate between: a) large, empty room full of enemies, b) large, empty room with a giant block in the middle, full of enemies, c) small room full of crates. Games like Little Raiders do a much better job by creating varied rooms with different chokepoints, barriers, and patterns that play off of enemy behavior and player instincts to keep each room feeling fresh. Runers does not. 

Speaking of enemy behavior, every enemy either chases after you, or runs away from you. The most effective strategy for every room is to run in circles while shooting nonstop, and then trying to chase after the few enemies actively running away from you. This isn't necessarily about procedural content, but even the ghost movements in PacMan were more complicated than this. There are a few enemies who do something different, like steal upgrades and run away, or give you a fake aiming cursor to confuse you, or follow walls. There are a few bosses and sub-bosses who act slightly differently. Other than that, it's not interesting and dominant tactics rarely change from room to room.  

So there you have it. Runers could have been an awesome experience for mefiguring out combinations to increasingly cool spells and running roughshod over monsters. Instead, I got burned out pretty quickly on the non-existent difference between levels, reliance on sheer luck for getting new spells, and the monotony of enemy encounters.