rouge postmortem

origin, development, and results

Rouge began with the goal of making a game based on the mistaken spelling of 'rogue' as 'rouge'. This soon became the player's character being a female apothecarist and cosmetologist selling medicine and makeup to clients before being accused of heresy during the Inquisition. While fleeing, the protagonist would escape into a cave system to evade her armed captors, making stealth pivotal to success. The final game cut all but the cave system due to time constraints.

For Rouge, I created a modeless, contextual interface with mixed results. The core mechanic in Rogue is not making noise. In turn-based games, this is often implemented as a mode alongside other movement modifiers such as running. Rouge instead requires players to use the pause key between steps: Consistent, silent movement is a pattern of step, pause, step, pause. Taking multiple steps without pausing will eventually lead to making noise that alerts inquisitors. The action was inspired by Beyond: Two Souls's quick-time events where the goal was to make the player feel as if they were the character.

As a brief aside, the modeless interface goal led to using ! to quit or return instead of q or the equivalent with a prompt.

An interface problem common in roguelikes is the message buffer. After a player or entity performs an action, any textual results are printed in the buffer. Linking results with a specific entity is fine as long as only one such entity is present, but multiple entities of the same type make it harder to distinguish which one performed the action that generated a specific result. Thus "An inquisitor hears a noise." is a useful message if only one inquisitor is on the screen; with more, it's unclear which inquisitor has heard the player.

Rouge displays these messages as icons directly over each inquisitor in addition to playing an audio file. However, it doesn't make clear what each icon means. Without this information, making and executing plans becomes more difficult until sufficient experimentation has occured.

The light-blindness mechanic was also not detailed explicitly. Each inquisitor's field of vision is displayed by setting adjacent squares to maximum brightness. In contrast, the player's field of vision was 50% as bright. The thematic idea was that the inquisitors carried torches; therefore, stepping into a torch's range blinded the player until they escaped and their eyes adjusted again to the darkness. While successfully making discovery dangerous, the resulting confusion did little to encourage players to keep playing.

Player results of either dying or escaping were displayed on the history scene. Deaths result in graves appearing, while escapes cause the graveyard to fall slowly into ruin, first with broken fences and culminating in broken statues. Though not difficult to understand, changing the label from history to cemetery or the equivalent may have lessened initial confusion, as would making the layout static instead of random.

Overall, I'm happy with how Rouge turned out despite having to stop development early. The modeless stealth mechanic is promising and suggests that the pauses are still useful in roguelikes, while the interface's failures were instructive. Thematically, the game falls into the female-protagonist-in-a-horror-movie trope. Though this fits the mechanics reasonably, it's something else to improve in the future.