The Curious Expedition, an exploration roguelike where Charles Darwin searches for Atlantis

The Curious Expedition is a roguelike exploration game with an unbearably interesting hook: take your pith-helmeted hero into a violent, randomly generated jungle and meet new tribes, fight lizard men, find ancient ruins, and return a famous explorer. By taking the classic roguelike above-ground and into unknown continents, Curious Expedition might be able to plant a stake in a crowded genre in the tradition of FTL .

“Roguelikes are story generators, where the author is not the game developer, but where the story is written by the attempt of players to deal with the emergent behavior of simulated systems slowly spinning out of control,” says programmer Riad Djemili. Djemili and artist Johannes Kristmann are developing curious Expedition independently. “In our game these systems represent the delicate psyche of your party members and their interaction with an incomprehensible world.”

After equipping your expedition and making choices reminiscent of Oregon Trail (Did I pack enough water? Should we have hired extra soldiers? I brought way too many bullets), your group makes its way into the randomly generated wilderness toward a long-lost ruin like El Dorado or Atlantis. Though reaching the ruin is your ultimate goal, along the way you'll have opportunities to meet and trade with natives and, as befitting explorers in the age of early colonialism, leave a trail of destruction behind you. Using a magic wand that summons a spring of fresh water in the desert is a no-brainer, for example, but Djemili warns that the spring might turn into a new river, flowing across the countryside and washing out villages until it empties into an ocean. If enough natives are displaced, the resulting tensions could bring a war crashing down on your fragile expedition.

Inspired by the stories of Darwin and Dr. Livingstone, the team has also added a dash of Steampunk and Lovecraftian horror. Nikola Tesla explores the wilderness armed with his Tesla gun, a powerful electrical weapon that can be recharged by harassing electric eels. Explorers must also carefully manage their sanity, as low sanity causes morale problems and “can lead to all kinds of mischief like paranoia, hallucinations, claustrophobia or spontaneous tentacle growth,” according to Kristmann.

Different heroic explorers have different skills. Darwin the naturalist catalogs wildlife while Huizinga the anthropologist befriends natives and learns their cultural rites. In addition to using different skills, some of the explorers are less equipped to undertake the journey at all. Playing as an unprepared city-dweller with no survival skills introduces an organic higher difficulty setting to the game.

The team's plans for Curious Expedition are remarkably ambitious, and I hope they aren't overpromising or setting themselves up for creeping feature lists. If it goes as planned, the premise of Sigmund Freud embarking on a quest to loot the treasures of El Dorado is so compelling that I can't wait to see more about it. A playable alpha for Curious Expedition is planned for next summer, with the full release to follow late in 2014.