I've been thinking about the food clock recently a lot.

Food clock is something that appeared in the original Rogue, and can be found in many roguelike games such as Nethack, Angband, Crawl and ADOM, applied with varying success. In ADOM you even get two "food clocks" -- one is the actual food, the other is based on corruptions.

Anyways, I was never a big fan of the food clock, as it made the game annoying in my eyes -- instead of focusing on exploration, discovery and generally being awesome, I had to take care of the mundane, and I was often at the mercy of chance -- bad luck with finding food in Rogue can easily kill the strongest player character. So when I was making my own games, I always tried to skip the food clock. Simply not have it.

To my disappointment, all the games that I made are very boring. You just walk around and kill monsters, and nothing really comes out of it. I have one game that is somewhat fun to play, and it's the very first one, Z-Day (I made it before the other game, so they've stolen the title from me ;) ). So after making another extremely boring game for the 7 day roguelike contest, I decided to sit down and figure out why Z-Day is fun and the others aren't. And I think I figured it out. Z-Day has a food clock, in form of limited ammo. Without ammo you are as good as dead. You need to make sure that you find more ammo than you use up, on average, or you lose. The whole game is about ammo optimization, just like Rogue is about food optimization.

Now, I suppose you can have a similar system with hit points. You need to make sure you lose them slower than you find means of healing. But somehow just that is not interesting enough. You need several levels of resource management, increasing in time scale, it seems.

What are your thoughts and experiences with that?
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Ido Yehieli's profile photoAaron Steed's profile photoRadomir Dopieralski's profile photo
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I also had a similar realization, with my first 7drl crypt-rover(2008) that has very harsh food clock(s). I kinda stumbled with that in cardinal quest too, although I countered with a pseudo foodclock (0-xp enemies start spawning once you haven't uncovered new tiles/saw an enemy for a few turns). May have been better to have an explicit turn limit like microgue or prince of persia.

Basically I think that in huge somewhat-rpg-ish games food-clocks were simply not very well implemented, adding tedious "busy work" as you noted seemingly without adding much to the game.

However smaller/tighter roguelikes like brogue, doomrl, and many 7drls are not really about exploration, discovery and teenage power fantasies. They are about figuring out a solution to tough situations the RNG puts you at. Being forced to do so quickly make the challenge that much more interesting (as it forces you not to take the safe way out, since that puts you in danger of running out of time).

So it all comes back to knowing what your game is about. And in my mind a roguelike and an rpg are quite different from one another (even tho some games overlap both, like ToME and ADOM).
 
To add to my last point - that's why I prefer to bunch up roguelikes with turn-based strategy games (like advance wars or chess) rather than with RPGs: even tho they share more superficial similarities with the latter , their core purpose is better aligned with the former.
 
+Ido Yehieli I actually learned some from the strategy guides for Super Dungeon Explore, which is a tactics board game -- it also has a number of counters, and the main task of the players is to make sure that some of them run faster than the others. For example, in here http://www.boardgamegeek.com/thread/897603/press-start-to-play-a-strategy-guide-for-consul-pl they describe how it's all about balancing action points, skull points (used for spawning monsters) and hit points. Monsters cost skull points to spawn, and usually have the same number of hit points and actions as the skull point cost. So it's kinda balanced. Then there are various tactics you can use to disturb that balance to your advantage, and that's basically what the whole game is about. I feel that this could translate to roguelikes very well.
 
I think a food clock is there to combat brute-force-by-waiting.

Though I prefer more inventive food clocks like FTL's rebel fleet. A countdown is fine, but other depleting resources add more gameplay.
 
Given an infinite number of turns the player will attempt a stalemate pattern of moves or an extremely long series of moves to effect a solution. If the number of turns is limited then the player will never have the option of experimenting with this.

Giving a limited number of moves states to the player: there is a simple solution to this problem, otherwise I would not have given you limited resources to perform it.
 
+Aaron Steed we are still talking about Rogue, right? How would such "solution" look like there? Somehow I can't imagine that.
 
Given an infinite amount of food in Rogue the player will tediously search every nook and cranny of a level for items. Backtracking over and over. They would be forced to do this because having a lot of items "solves" Rogue.
 
+Radomir Dopieralski but we are not talking about rogue, we are talking about roguelike...Some of these games are actually not very much "like rogue" e.g. ending, doomrl, etc. The general solution is much more interesting than rogue specifically.
 
+Aaron Steed that's what you actually have to do anyways, because you can't afford to leave behind any food.

+Ido Yehieli since the food clock originated in Rogue (at least in context of this kind of game mechanics), it's hard to believe that its purpose is to do something that wasn't necessary in Rogue.
 
i think we can accept that some implementation details in rogue were wrong/suboptimal while embracing or at least learning/understanding the idea behind them and trying ro do better. 
 
Foodclocks in particular were implemented much better in later games such as spelunky and many of the micro-roguelikes, and prevent brute force solutions aaron spoke of.
 
I believe that the food clock is much more important and has more function than just preventing waiting or exploring too much. There are other mechanics that would do it better, and you can see them in games.

For example, in Shiren, if you spend too long on a single level, a gust of wind will take you back to level 1 (which is equivalent to you dying in that game). You get several warning gusts before. Interestingly, Shiren has a traditional, food-based food clock at the same time.

In Spelunky, you have the dreaded ghost which will appear and kill you, pretty much the same as the gust of wind in Shiren. I did not notice an actual food clock in that game though, with the "use resources to postpone it" mechanic of food clocks, but I admit I didn't play too much of it.
 
That was some interesting discussion, especially the examples of different approaches in different games.

But one thing struck me. At some point the say that the food clock is very unfriendly for the newbies, because so many new players die of hunger so often. But I think that the global food clock that spans multiple levels and is not getting reset is actually newbie-friendly. It's a cushioning, letting people to explore the initial part of the game, see how things work and what common dangers there are, without having to worry about being efficient just yet. Similar to how they later talk about high scores, actually.

For instance, in Rogue (sorry, it's my favorite game) you don't have to care about food for good 4 or 5 levels. You start with a full belly and an extra food ration in your pack, and you are bound to find at least one more food ration along the way. So, unless you are doing something obviously stupid, like running back and forth through the whole level many times, you won't die of hunger until you get to the middle part of the game.

It looks like it's a way of delaying a game mechanic until the players are ready to start learning it. It also has the additional benefit of making the initial levels, which were supposedly "mastered" already, interesting again. Sure, you can confidently get through them now without dying, but can you do it with enough food left?

Then that gets repeated in the later game with other resources. Sure, you can survive the middle part of the game, but can you do it with enough aces up your sleeve left to get through the late game's totally unfair overpowered monsters?
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