Interview with Zeno Rogue

I suppose I am mostly known as the main developer of HyperRogue, a non-Euclidean puzzle roguelike. 

Where did you study game development?

I have started doing the relevant things at a very young age: programming on an 8-bit computer, doing mathematics, creating simple games (both computer games and pen&paper), and math visualizations. At some point in the late 90's I have found roguelikes -- while they were not a popular genre, they were significantly better (in my opinion) than more popular games of the time. I have studied mathematics and computer science, and eventually became a theoretical computer scientist, but I have always done game development in my free time. Later, my wife has found ways to use HyperRogue for scientific research in computational non-Euclidean geometry, so the two paths have combined, somehow.

Looking back, would you recommend your path to beginners?

If you are a person who considers creating games fun -- sure, there is no reason not to do it! Game development is a great thing. Very satisfying, and more fun than playing games. Theoretical computer science has a problem that common people do not understand what I am really working on, so creating games helps me feel that I am doing something that (mostly common) people love.

However, I feel that the whole system (funding, game journalism, etc.) does not really benefit games I am mostly interested in (traditional roguelikes, experimental games, innovation). There are tons of cool games that nobody has heard about. This works much better in science, so I am happy that I am primarily a scientist.

What is your current project and what tools are involved in your work?

Non-Euclidean geometry is a huge unexplored area for interesting game design, and I see no signs of getting bored and wanting to switch to something else. Usually it makes more sense to add our experiments in this area to HyperRogue rather than create new games. So, still working on HyperRogue -- our recent work involves VR support, and previously, weirder 3D non-Euclidean geometries.

I tend to use my own tools. I kind of did not have a choice (for example, Unity has not yet been a popular game engine when I have started working on HyperRogue, and my first experiences with it were very bad), and as a good programmer, it is more natural for me to implement most things on my own. I use C++, SDL, OpenGL, Linux, Github, i3, and mostly my own development environment (a simple text editor + own scripts to build things). 

What are your favourite games in 2020?

There have been lots of new games in 2020 which look amazing, but I have not yet played them -- I tend to wait a bit, a great game will be great forever. I have played lots of free/cheap games in 2020 (free games in Epic store, games in the Racial Injustice bundle), although somehow I have not found any gems there.

The game I have played the most in 2020 is Dominion (the original deckbuilder -- this is a card game, not a video game, but I play mostly online; originally released in 2008, but it still gets new expansions), it is still the best run-based game ever. I also played some action games with heavy roguelike elements, such as Unexplored and Caveblazers.

I think I have not played Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup in 2020, but I always recommend it to people who want to explore the traditional roguelike genre. Traditional roguelikes have inspired like six major genres of modern gaming, while not being popular themselves. DCSS is very close to the tradition, while not having some UI/design flaws of older games in the genre.

Who are game studios and developers you admire most?

I think the developers of Dwarf Fortress are quite amazing (just two guys creating an extremely complex game), although I have not played Dwarf Fortress myself. In general, this question is rather difficult to answer, because I think that the greatest games are discovered, not created. These games have always existed (in some sense). Sometimes the same game has been discovered independently by multiple designers (e.g., there were roguelikes before Rogue), sometimes by chance. The things in HyperRogue which I consider to be the coolest also happened by chance. While many video game design celebrities design all the details in their games, I feel it is more amazing when a game creates interesting situations by itself (e.g., using procedural generation), rather than being designed by a human. I do not think I know any game designers who consistently discover new fun stuff, and some people who created great games did something annoying later.

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