Friday, December 14, 2007

Blame Jeff for the delay...

There's a reason I've not released anything yet - POWDER. Jeff Lait's devilishly addictive Rogue-like has me hooked. I played it on the GBA a couple of years back, but I've recently rediscovered it in the DS version, with its bigger screen and slightly nicer controls (X+Y are more comfortable than the Start + Select)

Unlike Nethack and friends, Powder was designed for the GBA's d-pad controls - there are no diagonally moving monsters apart from the weak grid-bug - and this really helps the flow of the game. It is very fast. There's also a high wheat to chaff rate - interesting items are abound. On the first few levels you'll have loads of great wands of zapping, potions of damage or healing, and swords of slicing. To decrease the frustration factor, your inventory is huge and you aren't penalised for carrying lots of items. Not very realistic, but immensely gratifying. There's nothing worse that having your movements hampered because your Diogenes syndrome kicks in and you can't bare to throw any of your junk away in case it's useful later.

The dungeon layouts are good too, with the random generator spitting out some interesting set piece rooms every now and again. Woe betide the newbie adventurer who comes across an island of ghosts as shallow as the 4th level! The layout is optimised for the GBA's 512x512 tile mode and the wrap around is a cute idea that makes the levels seem bigger than they really are. The graphics are decent for a homebrew game, perhaps the only quibble is the contrast of the text on the items screen (white on grey) as it can be difficult to make out at times. The main character is novel in the way that your on screen player avatar shows what he is wearing and clutching in his mitts at all times. There's an air of Monty Python absurdity to it each time a new game starts off with the hero stood there, bright pink and in his Y-fronts.

The gods of the game - in all there are 7 - play a crucial part to the way you decide to explore the dungeon. I don't mean just praying for food when you feel a bit peckish either a la Nethack, it is a bit deeper than that. Each of the 7 gods expects a specific behaviour from its desciples and failure to fulfil a god's wishes can end in tears. For example the god of the barbarians, H'ruth, expects plenty of killing and no magic use. If you are a wizard in training then it is very likely you'll piss H'ruth off. Luckily the wizard leader Belweir will protect you, so while H'ruth may poison the player, Belweir will cure the poison and provide gifts of magical items.

The god system has a slight flaw in that the fighter god Klaskov is very easily pleased, so rampaging through the game casting a few damage spells is usually enough to get in his good books. I have no idea how to please the pacifist Pax - casting cure seems to work, but killing any innocent rodents usually ends up with a dead player. These aren't even defects really, indeed they could even be considered extra challenges - "easy" mode would be to play as a fighter, while "hard" would be trying to get through as a cleric. Though quite what the god ><0|V| expects is anyone's guess.

Food plays an interesting role too. There's a saying "you are what you eat" and Powder covers this pretty well. Eating a char grilled fire snake will give you the ability to avoid fire attacks, while eating grid bug bodies leaves you immune to spark attacks. Unlike other rogue-likes the enemy corpses tend not to go rotten, so unless a baddie is obviously poisonous it is usually safe to eat it after defeating it. But don't go overboard if you plan on being a cleric - killing innocent Kiwis and scoffing them down is not very nice. Despite the lower starvation rate than other similar games, lately I've been getting snuffed out because in my hungry state my health wasn't regenerating...

Some spoilers you say? OK, stop reading now if you want to discover these things for yourself!

There's a whole dressing up sub-game hidden within the game. I've so far discovered that to dress as a Wizard you require the pointed shoes, plain robe and floppy hat. In your hands you can carry either nothing (not recommended) or a staff. The advantages... I'm not sure yet. It obviously pleases the gods. To dress as a Ranger, you need a leather tunic or the studded variety, hiking boots, a leather cap and either a bow or a torch in your hands. This get up seems to give you better searching abilities and may also help your ranged weapon attack damage... but it's difficult to say. The powder web site also mentions dressing as a Fighter. I've not discovered this one yet though, but I bet it requires a hefty warhammer and some sturdy iron boots.

Anyway, let's hope I get over this addiction soon. And meanwhile, I really recommend you checking out the latest version. It's one of the unsung classics of the homebrew scene.


  1. Anonymous4:04 pm

    I'll have to give powder another try. I played it on the GBA but not yet on the DS. My biggest complaint was that the monsters' behaviours seemd subpar to NetHack. Until recently the only portable roguelikes I played were Hack AGB and Rogue AGB, by Donnie Russell. His control scheme is flawless for Hack AGB and very good for Rogue AGB. I have started playing NetHackDS again now that a new developer has picked it up. . I'm not crazy about using the touch screen to move around, and I realise a context-sensitive menu is maybe impossible given the number of commands and object interactions, but I still find it a bit uncomfortable to play. Fortunately, a new version has arrived to see what improvements have been made in this promising port.

  2. I played Donnie Russell's Rogue and HAck ports, but I didn't like the use of keyboards on it. My own GBA port of Rogue was in reaction to this - everything should be graphical on the GBA (or DS) IMO, virtual keyboards don't really work. Powder uses this philosophy too, which I think is why I like it so much. Now the source is out I'm going to have to resist the urge to read spoilers!!

  3. Anonymous7:13 pm

    His last few versions are controlled by context menus rather than the virtual keyboard and play quite fluidly. You can QPC save if you have a supercard.


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