Hobbying Around : Pixel Odyssey

An introduction to my current hobby project Pixel Odyssey and its progenitor Pixel Dungeon.

    So, I've started hobbying around a bit. Being sick gave me that opportunity. One of my favorite games on my android phone, Pixel Dungeon, recently made the leap over to desktop and it happened to be open source already. While the game has evolved considerably over its history and even had a number of modded versions show up to help refresh it, it has never really transformed into anything but the excellent game that it started. I've set out to change that by trying something incredibly ambitious and creating a derivative game based upon the source code that attempts to take the gameplay and concept in an entirely different direction as its own standalone experience. Before I start talking about how my game will work, let me take a moment to talk about what Pixel Dungeon is.


The Inspiration: Pixel Dungeon


(Title Screen for Pixel Dungeon)

    Pixel Dungeon is a turn-based Roguelike game initialy developed for Android but gradually expanded to be fully cross-platform. It is free on all platforms but has an identical paid option on the App Store, Google Play, and Steam for those people who want to contribute to its developer. Players take one of four heroes.



The Heroes



The sturdy melee type who heals from food.


The crafty wand user who recovers charges from food.


The evasive fighter who makes his way through a slew of minor tweaks.


The unlockable class who is based around range with a boomerang to match.



Structure of Play


    These classes act as simple modifiers for play as you attempt to navigate through thirty levels of roguelike fun on your way to recover the ubiquitous Amulet of Yendor, fighting through hordes of randomly generated threats from a level-appropriate list of spawnables. Be clever, be careful and take your time, because one slip-up and you're on to your next hero. Badges are sprinkled in and a soft attempt at introducing events into the game has given it a few signature moments amidst the otherwise standard randomly generated world. The random generation never attempts to exceed the bounds of generating new maps and the game pares back much of the experience of a roguelike to a very easy to pick up mobile format. Fun abounds.




The Project: Pixel Odyssey


    So then, with all of that said... what could I hope to do to change this sort of design up and make it into something new and interesting? A little bit of everything, I think. Let's start with a change of venue.


    The game I am working on takes the entire structure out of fantasy and instead explores high concept sci-fi. Gone are the wands and magic spells and in their place futuristic gadgets, alien artifacts, psionics and maybe even a touch of the Force. 


World Design

    In the original Pixel Dungeon, players followed a fairly linear pattern of looped mazes that led them down to bosses every 5 floors and a change in tilesets and enemies after each boss fight. This was handled more or less like clockwork through the 30 levels with almost no deviation from the formula. I'll be tackling this by creating a "Surface" level to begin with which will have both smaller vermin like dogs and rats that may be aggressive, as well as some crazed folks, and here and there a few stragglers who have made it through the hardships and may serve various purposes for you.



    The original Pixel Dungeon gives a very vanilla fantasy story about retrieving the Amulet of Yendor capable of giving immortality and really any story is meant to be filler and plot excuses for the clockwork level design. My game will be using procedural generation to create a randomized story thread and potentially sidequests throughout the game. The things that are set in stone are that you are an Agent of one of the MegaCorps that runs the new universal order. You have been deployed to a world that is on the fringes of civilization (or perhaps beyond it) where your corporate overlords are certain some alien artifact, material, or creature referred to as "The Anamoly" has been detected and you are sent with strict instructions about what to do about this thing. Everything else about the story including the specifics of the world, the Anamoly, and your goal will come from a battery of potential random options.


The Gameplay

    The original Pixel Dungeon is a study in paring back the roguelike experience to the bare minimum elements to make a compelling game. There are less than a dozen weapons in the game, less than ten potions, wands, and scrolls each, and the only stats that you have to juggle are strength (a blanket modifier for damage and ability to wear equipment), health and hunger (a mechanic that propels you to find food or healing or die gradually from hunger). I will be expanding this to a set of three primary stats : Strength, Agility, and Wit - These stats will handle potential equipment to be worn, various tools that may or may not be useful to you, and provide interactions with a bevvy of different attacks, traps, and weapons. Further, I am removing the nebulous Hunger and replacing it with Energy, a bar beneath health that represents the amount of Energy in your "Evosuit". Passing time in a region that requires life support and using some weapons will naturally deplete your Evosuit and in many areas, toxicity, radiation or extreme heat or cold will be damaging if your suit does not have the energy to sustain life support.



    While the original graphics for Pixel Dungeon suited it perfectly,I've decided to up the ante by not only coming up with a new set of graphics fitting new locations and a whole new genre, but also to take the opportunity to play with asset sizes by making Pixel Odyssey use assets that are double the resolution on average of its inspiration. Because of this added real estate, it is possible to use much more sophistocated pixel art and micro-sprites and the feel of the game shifts to something a little more removed from Pixel Dungeon. I will be using my own minor ability to sprite as well as the Pixel Dungeon assets and derivative works of Creative Commons or Public Domain assets to create the game's visuals.



    Pixel Dungeon has, hands down, one of the best soundtracks of any of the roguelikes you're likely to see out there. It is upbeat when it should be, promising interest and excitement, and it manages to fit the game's aesthetic beautifully while not sounding like a renaissance faire. To match this, I have been scouring the internet for suitable free sources and have found some truly exceptional stuff. I'll be weaving these assets together to create a cyberpunky, dark-side-of-space soundtrack that plays to both the scuzzy outskirts of a settler's town that failed and the etherial alienness of the ruins of a species that was extinct before Terran life left the mudbanks.


Depth and Player Interaction

    One of the few complaints I might level against Pixel Dungeon is that it lacks a lot of the depth that so many Roguelikes offer so well. Pixel Dungeon does a few things extremely well, but does not attempt to exceed that humble list in the slgihtest. It is not attempting to offer any sort of multiplayer aspect, even through shared scoreboards. It is not offering a vast diversity in builds to make the act of replaying likely to show new experiences even to a seasoned player. It is not interacting with the player on multiple levels of strategic thought. The number of choices involved in combat are often only one step removed from your basic turn-based JRPG when you stop and consider it. These are all things I intend to try and address in various ways. Look forward to hearing how as I move towards that goal.


So what is Pixel Odyssey NOT?


    That's probably the best thing for me to outline. I love Pixel Dungeon, but this is not intended to be a reskinned copy of the same game. Ideally, people who play my final game and Pixel Dungeon will hopefully see them as cousins who share a few family traits in common. It would be fair to call it a Pixel-Dungeon-like. The art of Pixel Odyssey is not at this time intended to be a vehicle of my pixel art genius. It may not always be consistent and it may not always be pretty. I do not intend to pander to the aesthetic of Pixel Dungeon despite throwing so many of its other features out. Pixel Odyssey is likely to be too varied in its content for the sorts of "challenge runs" and "head-to-heads" that people in the Pixel Dungeon subreddit are wont to post about. Pixel Odyssey is not meant to be lite fare that a person might start on their phone while waiting for the bus and be done playing by the time they get off at their stop elsewhere. I know this flies in the face of mobile gaming to a great degree, but I think it does so by following some of the established tropes of a good Roguelike. I would rather make an amazing cross-platform Roguelike than an excellent mobile game and I'm okay with not everyone loving that.


    Whew, hopefully with all of that said, you'll have a better idea of what sort of game I'm trying for. I look forward to sharing more of my progress with you, my readers. Until then, here's a video to help you Dream of the Stars:



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