Interview: dpeg


This interview is from a veteran of the Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup development team, dpeg. Is he a wizard? Read on!


1) What are your favorite roguelikes right now (maximum of letโ€™s say…5)

As narrow as it will sound: Brogue and Crawl.
I’ve played some more, but I cannot really recommend Nethack (if you’re going to try it out, be sure to pick a modern fork like UnNethack or Nethack4), and I couldn’t get into Sil, despite trying quite a bit. I played 100 Rogues and liked it, but I don’t own any device to play games like this.

2) What do you love about the fantasy genre?

To be honest, not much. Flavour is cheap, and many kinds of setting would work. What I really love is Crawl’s approach to gods — I am really in it for the gods. Also, I like mythology and history more than fantasy, and that’s perhaps why things like ziggurats, bazaars and the very Greek-inspired Shoals have sprung up when I was involved. It may also explain my irrational defense of the labyrinth and its minotaur. ๐Ÿ™‚

3) What is your favorite new thing in the upcoming 0.14 release?

Impossible to answer: too many things.
On a global scale, I absolutely love that player-designed/coded features are going into the game (a god and at least one species). On another angle, it’s great to see that the Forest branch did not arise and disappear in vain, but is now injecting fresh blood into existing content. Personally, I am very happy that I could convince the active developers on the runelock. It’s not so much about the precise mechanics, in my opinion, but the willingness to tweak old or impose new game rules. This kind of open-mindedness is very important, I think.

4) Where do you see Stone Soup in ten years?

Still completely free; still supporting 80×24 console, even though less than 5% of the players will use ASCII by then. The game full with 27 species, 27 backgrounds and 27 gods, each different and well-rounded. Tournaments with 10000 participants.
A pipe dream of mine: randomly generated gods exist (in addition to the 27, of course), and are also used for player gods (algorithmically made from particularly impressive atheist wins) and as pregenerated gods (appearing in vaults and some Sprint maps).

5) What are your three favorite species in DCSS?

Demonspawn, Octopode, Ogre.
I always liked the idea of a mundane humanoid whose demonic ancestry bursts out over time. The original version had all the flavour, but left something to be desired. Together with Doy, Sorear and others, I helped come up with the current tier system; and while it still has flaws, I like it a lot (including Nightstalker, Demonic Guardian and monstrous!), and I love to play them.
Octopodes where invented and coded by Eronarn, a long-time and active contributor. I like the bizarre setup (a dungeon-roaming mollusc!) and gameplay-wise, I am an absolute sucker for the kind of gamble they initiate: will you find lots of useful rings early on?
Ogres are considered a subpar or challenge species. I never cared. My contribution to them was a decent Spellcasting aptitude paired with hostile special magic aptitudes (back when Ogres and Ogre-Mages were merged into a single species). I think that was an interesting aptitude niche, and between large rocks, a giant spiked club and interesting spell choices, I love to play them to this day.

6) What are your three favorite gods of DCSS?

Why three? You are asking the impossible! I say: Lugonu, Trog, Ashenzari. But the answer might be different in ten minutes.
Lugonu: the first god I proposed as a developer. (One lesson learned: never use “working names” for gods — Lucy still spooks around.) The basic idea was extremely plain: a god that provides another option to leave the Abyss. I was absolutely confident that “abyssical god” was thematically rich enough to flesh that out into a full deity. And so it happened, and I really like the tension in the Abyss (I have died from refusing Lugonu, and I have suffered the wraths of my ex-gods) and corrupting a level is such a beautiful sight! With some luck — and thanks to Grunt who has addressed divine wrath, efficiently and without recourse to any of the year-long talk that preceded his work — we can redirect some Lugonu piety gain from killing into altar desecration. This would not only turn altars into resources, it would also lead to a wrath-management mini-game, not to mention the immediate flavour boost. I love to tell little stories such as that of Lugonu, the fallen god (presumably one time part of the pantheon, now clearly not anymore) — but not through wordy descriptions, but through gameplay!
Trog: the rage god was always there, and was always a good choice. Berserk is just such a balanced mechanic (well, more so since the removal of Resist Slow). Fun fact: when I suggested book burning to the other developers, it was unceremonially rejected. When Jpeg did the same a year or two later, it went right in ๐Ÿ™‚ Trog has become much better over the years, too: back in the day, the only abilities where Berserk and Might. Deciding whether book burning or altar desecration is cooler, I am torn, but just yesterday Greensnark convinced me that it’s altar desecration.
Ashenzari: I had to fight tooth and nail to slap the curses mini-game onto the deity. I realise that not everyone is happy with this, but Ashenzari plays very much as I envisioned it. Flavour and gameplay go very well together with this one, in my opinion. The cursed god is also a god opportunity to say that all god designs were group efforts, often with non-developers substantially involved.

Honorable mention: Yredelemnul, for all the thought and work put into the gods by Dolorous.
Beogh: so popular in Korea, and got Jpeg a real-life job. There are players who got sucked into Crawl through the orc god.
Cheibriados, for all the hate the slow god gets, and for the deity’s few faithful defenders.
Elyvilon, for all the ##crawl people who sneered at me when I laid out my plan to take the “pacifist god” seriously.
Jiyva, for awesome slimy flavour, suggested on a whim by Cyrus on the SA forum and coded upon request by 78291 within days. Yay!

7) If backgrounds are just a simple starting point, why not slim down them into a handful of distinct classes with more early customization options(which book for my mage, etc.)?

This could be done, but comparison is easier with the way it’s done now: any religious background tells you the god right away, any magical background tells you the spellbook. One bit I quite like about Crawl is how quickly you can fire up a game. I played ADOM and Sil a little, and I just don’t have the patience for their more elaborate start-up screens. ๐Ÿ™‚

8) Are you secretly a Wizard in real life?

I’m a mathematician, so to some, that’s yes.
Apart from that, I come from a region which is among the most godless (according to some UN statistics). No religion, no superstition, no murky moral codes.

9) What are your favorite television shows and/or movies?

No television for me, only books. I go to the movies about twice a year, so I cannot competently answer either. Some good movies I’ve seen over the years: O Brother Where Are Thou?, Pieta, Braindead.

10) What is the origin of your username, dpeg?

My sister used to have the nick “jpeg” at school, where the first two letters are her initials, and the second two related to her school. So I simply had to replace her first name initial by my one.

11) What is something about you that people donโ€™t know?

I’m a father of two. I didn’t select Mountain Dwarves for genocide to upset the player base. I think that deep inside, Nethack could be a good game — more powers to the forkers (forkists? forkants?). I consider violence justified in some rare cases, nazis and misogynists spring to mind.

12) Letโ€™s say in real life you get polymorphed into one of the playable species of DCSS. Which species would you least want to be turned into?

Halfling. On the brink of extinction for years now. ๐Ÿ™‚

13) What are you favorite music artists/bands?

Ha, another one where three won’t do ๐Ÿ™‚
I used to have a broad musical taste, but it all degenerated into noise. (Fun fact: I am playing the piano a little bit.) Let’s go, the stuff below are the basics, music I can and do listen to all day, any day:
Grindcore: Swarrrm (Japan), The Kill (Australia), Hellnation, Bad Acid Trip, Threatener (USA), Asterisk (Sweden).
Black metal: Gorgoroth (Norway, first three records only), Nagelfar (Germany), Aldaaron (France).
Speedcore: Destroyer (Italy), m1dy (Japan), Napalm (German record label).
Hardcore punk: SM-70, M.V.D., Antitrott (all from Berlin), E.N.T. (UK), Infest (USA).
Honorable mention for acoustic fast music: Scarlatti, Fanfare Ciocarlia.

14) How does the gameโ€™s development work? Can any developer code something up and throw it into the trunk at any time, or does it have to be approved by some others? Then, who decides if itโ€™s good enough to make it into the stable release?

Development is very free. There are some attempts to single out important construction sites, but someone could pick something else and just do it. This is how the new Vault monsters got into play, or the various Abyss iterations. Changes can be disputed, and sometimes get reverted. This is inevitably a potential source for bad blood. (I once quit the team because of the revert to monster constriction, which arrived out of the blue. In hindsight, the numbers I provided were abysmal; the concept was solid, so better communication could’ve prevented some drama — as always.)
If someone has a pet feature, it’s likely to stay as long as the others don’t feel balance is threatened. This kind of niche is easier for species than for monsters, for example. Generally speaking, everything has be reassessed at some point, nothing is sacred.

15) ToME is on sale on Steam. ADOM had a crowdfunding campaign. Is there any chance that DCSS goes either of those routes in the future, or will it always be as it is now; free with developers volunteering their time?

No chance, at least as far as I am concerned.
I don’t want to condemn those who are using monetizing schemes — if they can make a living from their game, more power to them. Crawl goes in a different direction: with very many developers (officially 34 at the moment, three new ones just this week!) and very low player-to-contributor-to-developer thresholds. Moreover, I firmly believe that absence of money is good for design decisions: regardless of the wisdom of the move, would we have dared to cut Mountain Dwarf in the face of paying customers?
Ethically speaking, my background is that of the DIY movement: I see DCSS as an offer to play and contribute intelligently in a sea of commercial rubbish. We are not professionals but we live and learn. I believe that dedicated amateurs can come up with very good content, especially in the artistic direction (and always at the expense of production values, but we’re making a roguelike, thank Trog). An advantage of how Crawl works is that it’s around for much longer than a commercial product: this means that some aspects will inevitable better — no need to rush, and an eternity to polish.
That said, these matters have, to my knowledge, never been officially discussed within the team. What I write here could easily be a minority opinion.

16) If you could use one ability/spell/god power from Stone Soup in real life, which would it be?

Pacify for lesser evil people, slimify for really evil people.

17) What are some hobbies of yours outside of video games?

I am a Go player (shodan), a reader (history, no biographies), and addicted to extremely exhausting exercises. I play with the kids, and with the piano. I am happy to have a wonderful wife. By the way, I basically don’t play video games ๐Ÿ™‚

18) What are your favorite novels?

I don’t really read novels anymore. The book I just finished is (the German edition of) “The Great Sea. A Human History of the Mediterrean” by David Abulafia.

19) Is there any chance of purchasable DCSS t-shirts, miniatures, and other cool items in the future?

Why not? However, I don’t think the devteam would make and sell these. It’d be much more in the Crawl spirit if some enthusiasts came up with designs and shared them or distribute the stuff.

20) Is there any chance of firearms getting into the game ever?

I hope not. If I had my say, the game would stay clear of modern weapons, pirates and anime.

21) What is your biggest contribution to the game?

As much as it hurts to admit, my major contributions are probably not about gameplay or gods. I was DCSS developer number 4, and at that time we were two coders (Greensnark, Haran) and two non-coders (Erik and I). With help by Erik I wrote the design statement (which always was and still is to be found in the manual; it is section N right now). This turned out to be much more important than I’d ever expected back then; from what I’ve seen, the very idea seemed to have influenced other roguelikes, too, which is pretty cool.
Next, I have been helping to open up the game for new developers. This was originally a rather slow process, because none of us developers had the powers to hand out commit rights. Using a combination of good will and innocuousness, I obtained those powers, and immediately put them to use. We could now make life much easier for those who sent bug fixes or interface patches, and thus also for ourselves. (My motivation was in part selfish: I needed coders for the gods!) Looking at the process from some distance, I am very happy with how things have turned out. A few times we might have been too hasty with commit access, but never anything bad happened (at the worst, someone would disappear after very few commits.) Needless to say, the people you invite may proceed to downvote your ultra-cool ideas later on, but that’s a price I gladly pay.

Finally, DCSS always had a nerf culture, which is crucial for balance: always evaluate, buff & nerf, reassess — the great balancing wheel should never stand still. I’d like to think that I helped establishing a cut culture: adding content is much cooler than balancing, let alone cutting existing content. However, in the long run it will only help to develop a mindset where features can actually be removed. This started with a number of species for whose removal I lobbied (Hill Dwarves, Elf, Grey Elf, Gnome were the first to go, if memory serves right — our standards for what “well-differentiated species” means have risen over the years… in the end species cuts happened without my doing) but was later extended to many spells (including the whole school of Divinations), the Hive branch and any number of spells, uniques etc.

As far as actual game content is concerned, I suggested a number of interface bits: the % screen, the (new) Ctrl-O screen, changing the key commands for DCSS 0.4 or so… stuff like that. I made many vaults back when we desperately needed D:1 entry vaults and maps of all kinds (this is in fact how I got into the devteam). Some species are influenced by me: Vampire (building on a patch by Jarmok), and Deep Dwarves (these two are my attempts at getting rid of rest-for-healing within Crawl, a mechanic I dislike very much). I like thinking in terms of global rule changes… some of those which I suggested are constriction, the Lair subbranch roulette, Slime’s acidic walls and the Royal Jelly death effects, axe cleaving (lifted directly from Brogue). I came up with the concepts of portal vaults (building on Labyrinths, I specifically suggested and drew maps for Bazaars, Sewers, Ziggurats, Baileys, Troves) and serial vaults (a number of vaults linked by some theme, for a single level). For both portal and serial vaults, the initial idea caught on, and people were adding more maps and completely new instances.

Finally, and that’s where I am still doing something: gods. Of the new gods, I had the pleasure to influence Lugonu, Beogh, Ashenzari, Cheibriados, Fedhas quite a bit. Of the inherited gods, I substantially modified Elyvilon (pacification mechanic), Nemelex (deck tiers and card manipulating abilities), Trog and Zin (preach, Imprison, Sanctuary). I’ll freely admit that sometimes things went wrong: for example, Zin’s preach ability was unusable for a long time, and only with Eronarn’s take on it Zin became the cool god we have now.
I have ideas for a couple more rule changes, and also for some gods. ๐Ÿ™‚


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