Free Indie Game Turns Players into Devs

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The classic ‘dungeon-crawling’ video game archetype was spawned by a game called ‘Rogue‘ – an incredibly graphically-basic top-down game which had players exploring a randomly-generated dungeon, slaying monsters and collecting loot. The format proved popular, and a huge quantity of spin-offs (both official and not) appeared, referred to collectively as ‘Roguelikes’. Roguelikes, even modern ones, tend towards a similar art and gameplay style, as a way of paying homage to their progenitor. Essentially, the Roguelike style has become a succession of remakes and adaptations.

But a new, free game called ‘Mercury‘ looks set to shake-off the coat of dust which has settled on the Roguelike style. Graphically, it takes on a stylised version of the traditional ‘ASCII-based’ view, with characters looking Latinate, and the familiar black backdrop being replaced by a yellowed parchment. It is also a more challenging, arcade-style of play, with players having a limited number of ‘actions’ in which to complete the level in. However, the final, and probably most interesting, feature of the game is the privilege granted to those that top the high-score charts. Upon ascending to these lofty heights, and joining such memorable heroes as “Kevin”, “UltimateCarl” and “ta56636”, the player is prompted to add content to the game using a simple editing tool (consisting largely of drop-down menus). The most popular kinds of content thus-far are customised monsters and weapons for player-characters. This content is applied to the next generation of players that downloads the game.

Such a concept is interesting, because it displays a level of trust invested in players by the game’s developers. The generally-held rule amongst game developers is that if you give the community the ability to create content, you will end up with a slew of poor-quality, generally immature and inappropriate add-ons. However, it would appear that the concept behind such far-reaching development freedom is that only experienced and dedicated players (having reached the high-score boards) would be given access.

Thus, the game itself regulates content. So what does this teach us? Many developers are reluctant to allow for community content for the aforementioned reasons, but a system of self-regulation which actively helps the game to grow looks to be working very well, thus-far. Perhaps video game companies should afford a little more trust in those that play their games? A community-driven package will often prove to be massively popular.

So is the game industry-defining? Does it change absolutely everything we know about video games? No. It remains a fairly bland but quirky little RPG, with an often irksome turn-restriction. However, it conveys a level of trust in its player-base which is not often seen in the industry. In this case, I think the message it carries is actually more important than what the game itself offers.