Dungeonmind

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This is a broad topic, but an interesting one nonetheless. I have been currently messing around and making a prototype that I will eventually put up for sale on steam, and I could use some people's experiences, opinions, and whatever else you can throw at me. When I hear the words "dungeon crawler," I picture Etrian Odyssey games.

Do you like exploring and grinding? What are the dos and don'ts for getting excited about a dungeon crawler rpg?
 

LordOfPotatos

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I think the biggest pitfalls of dungeon crawlers are starting characters, having too many classes and mindless grinds.

The first one is simple, starting characters are often so limited that the first hour of the game is ultra lame compared to the rest.

Etrian odissey more or less solved this by giving new characters a couple of extra skill points so they start with something to do. Please give new characters something to do. First impressions yada yada.

The second is linked to the third. When a dungeon crawler has, say, 15 classes to play and the party limit is 5.
It's not unreasonable for a player to want to play as all the classes, right?
The problem is dungeon crawlers often only have the content to play through as 1 party, so if you want to have multiple the ones that get the quests will progress smoothly while the rest will have to grind. and grind a LOT. Or you can split the quests between everyone and everyone will have to grind a lesser amount all the time.

To use etrian odissey again, the last one I played was nexus for the 3ds, which has features specifically designed to have multiple parties, but actually playing with multiple increases your time spent grinding exponentially.

I have come up with some solutions for this, like having special on field enemies that drop EXP bags you can save for other parties and having randomized elite hunt quests so underleveled parties can catch up faster.
You can probably come up with something better.

Also limited inventory space is dumb, the risk reward of healing supplies vs sellables is false since you can farm sellables faster if you come back after outlevelling the dungeon instead of actually taking risks.
All it does is sometimes make you retreat before you even run out of MP if you run out of room. Which is dumb.
This one isn't a big pitfall it's just annoying.

Thanks for reading my rant/essay. I'm sorry.
 

Animebryan

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For me, I prefer roguelikes (randomly generated dungeons). It gives a game so much replayability, instead of exploring & memorizing the same layout time & time again. Also, randomized chests/loot & enemies.
 

spejoku

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I think the biggest pitfalls of dungeon crawlers are starting characters, having too many classes and mindless grinds.

The first one is simple, starting characters are often so limited that the first hour of the game is ultra lame compared to the rest.

Etrian odissey more or less solved this by giving new characters a couple of extra skill points so they start with something to do. Please give new characters something to do. First impressions yada yada.

The second is linked to the third. When a dungeon crawler has, say, 15 classes to play and the party limit is 5.
It's not unreasonable for a player to want to play as all the classes, right?
The problem is dungeon crawlers often only have the content to play through as 1 party, so if you want to have multiple the ones that get the quests will progress smoothly while the rest will have to grind. and grind a LOT. Or you can split the quests between everyone and everyone will have to grind a lesser amount all the time.

To use etrian odissey again, the last one I played was nexus for the 3ds, which has features specifically designed to have multiple parties, but actually playing with multiple increases your time spent grinding exponentially.

I have come up with some solutions for this, like having special on field enemies that drop EXP bags you can save for other parties and having randomized elite hunt quests so underleveled parties can catch up faster.
You can probably come up with something better.

Also limited inventory space is dumb, the risk reward of healing supplies vs sellables is false since you can farm sellables faster if you come back after outlevelling the dungeon instead of actually taking risks.
All it does is sometimes make you retreat before you even run out of MP if you run out of room. Which is dumb.
This one isn't a big pitfall it's just annoying.

Thanks for reading my rant/essay. I'm sorry.
I do agree that the etrian games seem paced so that you only need one main team to go through it once, and that means that its super annoying if you want to experiment after getting halfway through because you need to grind up your newbies from zero. also this makes starting blind painful- there's party comps that are more effective than others and if you start with one thats long term unsustainable but works for the first few floors, it gets really annoying when you want to change out a party member and your new guy starts at 1 and needs to catch up.

I think the main reason they have the limited inventory is to put a time limit on your exploration. if there's no external reason to go back to town, why would you unless you had to? other games of this type could include like a hunger mechanic to enforce this- the limited exploration time is part of the point and pacing.

honestly i found it odd that they never just included a "oh btw your non-active members get a percentage of exp by default" setting. its annoying having to equip something to a party member to do something i think should be done by default

Dungeon crawlers are great imo- if done well they can create a sense of exploration and progress, and the way that the game style alternates between preparation and exploration creates for a good game loop. go into dungeon until inventory full or out of mp. hopefully make progress by reaching a shortcut or checkpoint. leave, reap the rewards and use the rewards to prep for the next leg.

at the start, I feel like players want to feel like theyre making impactful decisions right off the bat. in etrian, thats from having 3 starter skill points. from something like labyrinth of refrain, thats from the fact that making new units requires items from the dungeon. Including some sort of customization mechanic at the very very beginning so that the player can have something other than basic attack to do is a must imo.

some example customization mechanics: creating characters for your party, buying skills from a selection of skills, choosing what skill loadout you have equipped, crafting mechanics, class changing, and stuff like that. the pitfall here is frontloading too much. if your game doesnt even start until the player has to pick through 10 races and 12 classes with 20 skills each, thats too much too soon imo.

I also feel like they need to have some sort of limiting factor or mechanic that encourages you to go back to town every once and a while. a lot of dungeon crawlers only let you truly save when in town. etrian uses limited inventory, as do stuff like legend of grimrock. labyrinth of refrain has Reinforcement, which is a secondary resource you use for out-of-battle skills like breaking down specific walls and creating one way teleports in and out of the dungeon. if exploration is infinitely self-sustainable, then the game's pacing is hard to control.
 

Dungeonmind

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For me, I prefer roguelikes (randomly generated dungeons). It gives a game so much replayability, instead of exploring & memorizing the same layout time & time again. Also, randomized chests/loot & enemies.

How random would suffice? Like, if I designed 10 different possible variations per floor of the labyrinth, would that work? Every play through would be different, and once you got to each floor, it would lock it in for that save game.

I think the biggest pitfalls of dungeon crawlers are starting characters, having too many classes and mindless grinds.

This is a very good point here that many seem to agree on. Limiting the number of characters shouldn't be a problem due to budget constraints anyway. So I can focus much more on making the available classes better.
I do agree that the etrian games seem paced so that you only need one main team to go through it once, and that means that its super annoying if you want to experiment after getting halfway through because you need to grind up your newbies from zero. also this makes starting blind painful- there's party comps that are more effective than others and if you start with one thats long term unsustainable but works for the first few floors, it gets really annoying when you want to change out a party member and your new guy starts at 1 and needs to catch up.

So it's almost like saying it would be better off if you could hire characters that are levelled instead.

Dungeon crawlers are great imo- if done well they can create a sense of exploration and progress

I would have to agree here.

Thanks guys! I really appreciate everyone's input, and it's very helpful to know what everyone likes and doesn't like.
 

spejoku

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oh yeah also I like dungeon crawlers where it's relatively easy to get back to where I last left off. Etrian Nexus does this by having the ability to start from a given floor's entrance, so long as you've explored enough of the previous floor as well as placing an unlockable shortcut after most FOE puzzles. that makes it so that any given floor would have a few shortcuts that, once you unlock them, make it relatively simple to get back to where you were while making it so the player has an idea of how long it'll be before they get a checkpoint.

however, etrian 2 untold leaned too hard into this. by being able to teleport to any staircase at practically any time removed most of the tension of "oh no do i have ariadne threads??" because you can just teleport to floor one's stairs whenever.

also, make sure there's plenty of events on the map. etrian 2 untold had ginnungagaaap or however you spell it and thats essentially a bonus dungeon with just FOEs, treasures, and random encounters. I found it very boring because it felt so abandoned and bare-bones from a flavor standpoint.

Etrian has the advantage of a customizable map. Without drawing the map taking some of the player's time, the game changes flavor. having a good map is essential in these kinds of games, and as much as i enjoy the genre i hate it when I need to like. break out a sheet of graph paper. if you want examples of games like this without etrian's map system, try legend of grimrock, Labyrinth of Refrain and Demon gaze 1 and 2. Wizardry 8 is also highly recommended
 
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spejoku

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So it's almost like saying it would be better off if you could hire characters that are levelled instead.
well, if you have something like a class you unlock a ways into the game. having new recruits scale with the party a bit is probably a good idea (maybe every ten levels idk so you have just a little bit of catch-up to do at worst) usually when i start an etrian game i make one of every class so i just have them and then use the "spread xp to inactive party members" accessory all the time.

you could just as easily have a party of set characters and they can just change the class assigned to them while retaining their level. that removes the catch up grind, but also potentially makes it so that each new class feels less special as you don't get that experience of slowly getting their new skills and learning what their playstyle is like.

If you got a specific story you want to tell, randomization makes it harder to do so. It could be pretty cool if you could access like a conjured dungeon as a side thing that has randomized layouts and encounters that are determined by like. what items you use to create it. like chalice dungeons in bloodborne
 

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Of the Dungeon Crawlers I've played (I haven't played many, because mindlessly killing enemies just never feels interesting to me... I like a reason to do so beyond gaining levels), here's the (short? long?) list of things that I've personally enjoyed about them.

1. Multiplayer. Honestly, I vastly prefer when a dungeon crawler is "multiplayer" as opposed to singleplayer. If it's singleplayer, I'll pick the single most optimal path through the game, play the game once, and then will be done forever. If I finish at all. If it's multiplayer, then my friend and I can pick different things, impose different rules, and generally just make the run "more enjoyable" that way. While Wasteland 3 wasn't a "Dungeon Crawler", it had mechanics I really enjoyed, which I wish had ended up in future Dungeon Crawlers. Namely, the ability for the other player to create their own characters and so you could create a single "unified team" by having two players contribute to the same party. I created a Shotgun Medic. Why? Thought it would be fun. My friend made a Melee fighter who specialized in explosives and demolitions. Why? No idea. Said melee character also became a master merchant later too. My Shotgun Medic also eventually became really good at lockpicking. But, I have played multiplayer dungeon crawlers (like Path of Exile or Champions of Norrath) where each player picks their class and plays through the game. I like that too. Brings a lot of replayability and the ability to sort of edit your character as you go so that you compliment each other. This leans into #2.

2. Options. I like options. I hate how many there are in Path of Exile (makes charting a list of what you want to do and how to do it nearly impossible, it's so vast and weird and interconnected). For example, if I can be a mage, I like the ability to decide what sort of mage I'll be. Do I want to just be a fireball slinger? Maybe I want to cast plague or poison spells? Maybe I want to deal in acid and necromancy? I like options. The ability to customize what I've got matters quite a lot to me. I don't mean just a few options either. Generally speaking, I want the ability to tailor a character to specific purposes. Oh, I can't make a thief into a "Critical Hit" thief that does nothing except land criticals? Eh. I can't play a Ranger that engages in dual swords AND pet mechanics? Eh. I like to know there's multiple ways to run a class and each is it's own "playstyle". Or, that I can "mix and match" what exists to create my own playstyle. After all, I find it more interesting if a game lets me be a "magic tank", where I have a character that lets me run out to the front lines with Sword and Board... but he draws all the magic attacks to him and they do next to no damage to him, because that's the way he rolls. That's more interesting than "let enemies whack me with swords and sticks and just eat the damage". I like stuff like that. So, the more I can do interesting stuff like that, the better.

3. I need a reason to play. Look, it's not enough for me to "level up". It's a tired progression system that has rarely meant anything to me in all my long history with video games. Unless a level granted me a significant change in power, then I've largely not cared about it. If it has granted me a significant amount of power, I've used that power to over-level the content and steamroll the rest of the game (because devs rarely ever balance for anything beyond numbers, which is hilarious, and stupid). The story of a Dungeon Crawler doesn't typically grab me either. Mostly because... they're just generally not written very well. They can't be when the main objective is "wade through thousands of enemies to get to the one thing you're trying to do... if you don't wade through thousands of enemies, there's no game, so nobody can have 2 brain cells in the plot". No, what I need are extra things to be doing. A checklist, most often. Different rewards helps too.

Here's my off-hand example of what I'd like to see.

"Kill 30 Dire Bats to unlock 1 extra skillpoint"
"Use Fireball 300 times and it grows in experience"
"Beat the game with the Thief and unlock a new Trait for all future characters to use".
"Complete all the quests in this area to grant 3% better drop chances for the rest of the game".
"Reach level 25 with the White Mage and the Black Mage to unlock the Time Mage".
"Do this long quest chain across most of the game in order to unlock a second earring slot" (this one is actually in the second Champions of Norrath game, and it was fantastic to unlock it)

I like extra bits to do. Things that will grant me some reward or power that I might like. Even extra options to play with. I've always liked when games did that for me. "Here's the game... but here's also this list of Challenges of other things you can do, too. It has rewards for doing them!".

4. "New Game +". If the game is significantly interesting enough for me to finish it the first time, I'm sometimes wanting to keep playing with my character and start the game over again. But, retain all the work I put in the first time. Look, I love this feature in a great many RPG's as it is. I loved beating the game on Easy, then taking my beefed out character into the hardest difficulty for a slightly easier time. Or, playing it again on the same difficulty with my maxed out characters and fully unlocked everything, to just roflstomp the rest of the game. That's fun for me in a lot of cases. It's cathartic to a degree. I also like rewards and incentives to do things differently on a "new game +" mode. If I beat the game with a Mage, Warrior, and Healer last time, maybe each grants me some new reward thing I can use for a new run. Some new trait or item or something, to make leveling the low levels interesting or fun. Oh, the Healer gave all my characters a 5% HP Regen, whether they're old or new? NICE! Oh, I unlocked a much harder version of the game to play with my maxed out characters that unlocks ultimate equipment? AWESOME!

I like an excuse to keep playing. New Game + is often a good way to keep me going. At least, if there's a reason to do it. Though, to be honest, being able to roflstomp all the early game stuff that gave me trouble is pretty nice in its own right. Probably why I actually put 5 runs into "Trials of Mana". It was fun using my overpowered characters to cakewalk pretty much the whole game while I leveled up everyone else to max level.

I'm a sucker for stuff like that.
 

LordOfPotatos

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I also feel like they need to have some sort of limiting factor or mechanic that encourages you to go back to town every once and a while. a lot of dungeon crawlers only let you truly save when in town. etrian uses limited inventory, as do stuff like legend of grimrock. labyrinth of refrain has Reinforcement, which is a secondary resource you use for out-of-battle skills like breaking down specific walls and creating one way teleports in and out of the dungeon. if exploration is infinitely self-sustainable, then the game's pacing is hard to control.
exploration shouldn't be perpetually self sustaining but do you really need an extra mechanic just for that?

limited MP does that already in a much more natural way.

like running out of MP means you can't keep going because your characters are exhausted, running out of room for junk means you could keep going but you have to go do your taxes or you'd be losing money.
 

spejoku

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exploration shouldn't be perpetually self sustaining but do you really need an extra mechanic just for that?

limited MP does that already in a much more natural way.

like running out of MP means you can't keep going because your characters are exhausted, running out of room for junk means you could keep going but you have to go do your taxes or you'd be losing money.
the issue comes in how etrian adds mp restoration abilities as you progress through the game. for example, in untold 2 you can get a passive mp regen on any character via a grimoire stone (which is a bad mechanic due to the sheer rng involved but thats a complaint for another day), and in nexus farmers and sovereigns can get mp restoration abilities- farmers from walking around in the labyrinth and sovereigns from dispelling buffs. but even using those it's kind of finicky and not entirely reliable.

I'm of the opinion that it's a good thing to have more tools to control the pace of dungeon exploration. and compared to something like a hunger mechanic the limited inventory does it in a pretty elegant way. honestly i think it's mainly there so players cant have 99 medicas and nectars and make it so they never need to think about running a dedicated healer because they just have so many healing items in their pockets.

i suppose in that vein if you wanted to have a limited consumable inventory and an unlimited materials inventory, youd be able to strike a good balance.
 

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When I hear the words "dungeon crawler," I picture Etrian Odyssey games.

Do you like exploring and grinding? What are the dos and don'ts for getting excited about a dungeon crawler rpg?
I like the exploration part the best. I don't like grinding, but I do like character customization.

My favorite dungeon crawlers are:
Mordor: the Depths of Dejenol
Etrian Odyssey series
Diablo 1/2 (they're not first-person dungeon crawlers, but they meet most qualifications)

And the more interesting combat is, the more it compensates for anything in the exploration department.

I do agree that the etrian games seem paced so that you only need one main team to go through it once, and that means that its super annoying if you want to experiment after getting halfway through because you need to grind up your newbies from zero.
That's not really true, at least not for all of them. I haven't played deeply into the earlier games in the series, but from, like, 3? on, you have options to multiclass and/or reclass characters at a slight level penalty without grinding newbies up from zero.

I do think the Etrian Odyssey games tend to require a bit too much grinding when you get to the storyline bosses (unless that's because I tend to jump right into Hard mode and there's some experience penalty in there).
 

spejoku

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That's not really true, at least not for all of them. I haven't played deeply into the earlier games in the series, but from, like, 3? on, you have options to multiclass and/or reclass characters at a slight level penalty without grinding newbies up from zero.

I do think the Etrian Odyssey games tend to require a bit too much grinding when you get to the storyline bosses (unless that's because I tend to jump right into Hard mode and there's some experience penalty in there).
I do like how they let you respec your skill points at the cost of 2 levels. that feels like a minor but still meaningful penalty to include.

the issue comes from if you want to Retire. if you retire a character at max level you get a lvl 30 newbie who has extra stats and skill points. so for True Minmaxing tm you'd need to grind a character up to level cap, retire them, and then grind the second guy up to cap as well. Reclassing a character doesnt give you that stat bonus (except in the untold games because you cant get rid of the plot characters and then it only applies to them). and the games kinda expect you to have retire bonus stat characters when challenging the endgame and postgames on hard. which requires grinding.

also iirc hard mode doesnt have an xp penalty, it just has a 1.2 modifier added to most damage and ailment infliction calculations while easy has a 0.8 modifier. that might only be true for 5 and nexus though, as those are the only ones ive actually looked at under the hood.

(oh yeah also if the game has a hard mode i like it when there's stuff you can only get via the hard mode. if there's no difference plotwise between hard and normal and easy, and the game prides itself on it's difficulty like etrian does, then i have no incentive to stay in hard mode once it gets frustrating enough for me to lower to normal.)
 

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What I like to have in a dungeon crawler:
- A rest area where I can freely move around, save my game, look at my characters' skills and abilities, read lore from the collectibles, etc.
- Saves being connected to progress; i.e. saving/loading in one place is also a clear progress marker.
- A variety of character skills or abilities to choose from but is easily available (or not locked behind character selection).
- Collectibles! Lots of different collectibles! Especially if there's a lot of grinding!
- Difficulty modes!!


What I don't prefer to have:
- Random encounters just about anywhere and everywhere
- Character dialogues being too frequent
- Saves and heals being too limited
- Grinding with little reward beyond trumping area bosses
- The same strategy in defeating different enemies, or too repetitive enemy patterns or so
 

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I love dungeon crawlers! I've thought of making one myself eventually...

However, I'm not TOO picky. I'll have to agree that I love exploration the most out of dungeon crawlers!

I really loved Wizardry: Tales of the Forsaken Land - it had a good atmosphere.
 

Animebryan

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How random would suffice? Like, if I designed 10 different possible variations per floor of the labyrinth, would that work? Every play through would be different, and once you got to each floor, it would lock it in for that save game.
10 variations? Nope! Not even close. I'd say at least 50 variations minimum. The last thing a person who plays roguelikes wants to see is to see the same variation of a floor 10% of the time. At least with 50 variations, you would only have a 2% chance to get a particular layout, and 2% is considered rare.

And of course, that's 50 variations for just 1 floor. Another floor, another 50 variations. In fact, you could break up each set of variations as themes or sets for certain floor depths. A basic layout for the first 10 floors, then a bit more complex set for the next 10 floors, etc.

The very first RPG Maker project I ever started & worked on was my own version of Lufia 2's Ancient Cave, the very first console RPG to use a randomized dungeon.
 

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Hmm I really enjoy Etrian Odyssey IV. I love customizing stuff like what classes make up my party and which skills those units obtain as they level up.
I really enjoy the resource management aspect combined with taking on difficult encounters as you explore a dungeon.

I don’t really like Labrynth of Refrain. Personally the classes didn’t feel that distinct from each other. Combat felt boring and repetitive. Maybe it gets better after the 15 hour mark? But that is where I fell off.
 

spejoku

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Hmm I really enjoy Etrian Odyssey IV. I love customizing stuff like what classes make up my party and which skills those units obtain as they level up.
I really enjoy the resource management aspect combined with taking on difficult encounters as you explore a dungeon.

I don’t really like Labrynth of Refrain. Personally the classes didn’t feel that distinct from each other. Combat felt boring and repetitive. Maybe it gets better after the 15 hour mark? But that is where I fell off.
ngl labyrinth of refrain treating your party members as like. equippables to the squads that you have 5 slots for kinda super sucks imo. it means its hard to form an attachment to any individual party member. Plus theyre not even present in the plot and at just 15 hours in the plot is "keep going because I say so" rather than having an actual goal the player can care about. just. keep goin until you can see another cutscene.

the plot goes places but it takes way too long to actually have the plot and the dungeon exploration to connect together meaningfully.
 
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spejoku

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10 variations? Nope! Not even close. I'd say at least 50 variations minimum. The last thing a person who plays roguelikes wants to see is to see the same variation of a floor 10% of the time. At least with 50 variations, you would only have a 2% chance to get a particular layout, and 2% is considered rare.

And of course, that's 50 variations for just 1 floor. Another floor, another 50 variations. In fact, you could break up each set of variations as themes or sets for certain floor depths. A basic layout for the first 10 floors, then a bit more complex set for the next 10 floors, etc.

The very first RPG Maker project I ever started & worked on was my own version of Lufia 2's Ancient Cave, the very first console RPG to use a randomized dungeon.
the problem is that with randomization you lose a lot of control as a designer. a pool of randomized hand-made maps is probably the best way to maintain control over the pacing of the floors, but it's very very time consuming. meanwhile a fully randomized floor can be pretty hit or miss, depending on the parameters are used to generate it. though to be fair, randomization is really good for quicker-to-fully-play-through dungeon crawlers, and adds a lot of longevity to a game.

there's ways to make fully machine-made random maps in rpg maker, but to auto-populate those maps with a range of monsters and random treasures is harder to do. people have definitely done it though, and have probably made plugins to allow for full map generation.

its really difficult to have big, complex puzzles in a randomized dungeon format. anything beyond "locked door find key" or "push block" is way more difficult to implement compared to just hand-making that floor.

some roguelikes take a sort of half-approach to randomized levels- hades for example has randomized "rooms" but the floor always has the same number of rooms before it ends, ends with a boss fight against a specific boss, and during that floor you're guaranteed to have access to the shop at least once. you could use those as inspiration and have a mix between fully randomized floors and hand-made floors or anything in between.
 

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