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Roguebook interview: Rewriting the Slay to Spire formula

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Roguebook interview: Rewriting the Slay to Spire formula

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Abrakam Entertainment enjoys tweaking existing game genres. You can see this in Faeria, its collectible card game that mixes in board game mechanics. And it’s a hallmark of the studio’s second game, Roguebook.

Roguebook takes inspiration from titles such as Slay the Spire, Dicey Dungeons, Gordian Quest, or Monster Train (one of my favorite games of 2020). It’s a deck-building roguelike, but instead of giving you branching paths, you explore a map and figure out your own road to the chapter boss. And you use brushes and ink to reveal hexes on the map, which ties in well with how Abrakam frames the game through a book.

It takes some time playing around with Roguebook’s mechanics to get used to it. You aren’t fighting alone — you get a companion and allied spirits — but you’re often outnumbered in battle. Healing is rare, and armor is fleeting. The pace of combat is different than what you find in other deck-building roguelikes. Yet this helps Roguebook stand out in an increasingly crowded genre.

I recently spoke with Gary Morris, a game designer and community manager at Abrakam Entertainment. We delved into how Roguebook came about, its framing, and the mechanics that make it distinctive from the likes of Slay the Spire.

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This is an edited transcript of our interview.

Story time

GamesBeat: Why frame Roguebook through a book?

Gary Morris: We ended up deciding on a book because we we wanted to find a way to connect this game to our other game, which was Faeria. We said, OK, we’ll make a new game, a brand-new type of game. How do we connect these two things? We ended up with this concept of a book that, long story short, absorbs the world around it. It takes in things around it. If you put it in a room, it’ll start absorbing things from the room. It’ll take a cup or a painting off the wall or even eventually a person. It’ll start taking people. There’s this book that starts getting a will of its own. It wasn’t always this way, but it has this will of its own, and it starts sucking things into it and creating its own universe inside of it, its own unique story, a never-ending story kind of thing.

The idea was to have a place where we could have a reason to have all these Faeria characters in one place, working together and teaming up when they normally wouldn’t, because you have good guys and bad guys working together. When you’re in battle you’re fighting things that would normally be “good guys.” So really, the book ended up as the solution for that goal, for getting ourselves into the same universe but a different story.

GamesBeat: All the monsters, characters, items, and areas inside the book have been sucked in by the book or written by the book’s author with the magic. The book itself doesn’t create these things?

Morris: No. The book doesn’t know how to create things. It can only take from the world around it. It’s kind of cursed in that way. It wants to take more and more so it can tell more and more stories. It has this insatiable urge to continue to tell more stories. It started learning how to create, I guess I could say, because I will say that the character Nadin, who’s basically your guide, the tutorial in the game, the little furry guy who walks around — he is not from the world of Faeria. He was created by the book itself. He’s a very unique case.

GamesBeat: Are you fighting the person who made it, or are you fighting the book itself?

Morris: You’re fighting the book itself, the spirit of the book. Right now there’s two forms it can take. There’s two end bosses. We call the Avatar of Greed and Avatar of Mist. But it takes a different form each time you play, each time you do a run. It’s kind of like the spirit of the book.

Mapping their own lane

Above: Brushes and ink reveal spaces on Roguebook’s map.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

GamesBeat: Why use an open map? You can take different branches, as opposed to Slay the Spire, where you take one branch and then take another branch.

Morris: That was one of the ways we wanted to innovate. We wanted to make a game in this genre, this roguelike deckbuilder genre. I think it’s really awesome. Of course we played a lot of Slay the Spire. But where can we push? Where can we innovate? The overworld, we’re actually really proud of where we ended up, but it was one of the scariest things to develop. Because you’re right: We could just do the branching path thing that Slay does, but we wanted something more. We experimented a lot. We wanted an overworld. We want you to explore a map. That was basically where we started.

We tried so many different things that failed, to be frank. There was a time when you could only move so many spaces, and then there was a night and day cycle. We had the boss chasing you. We went through a lot of iterations that just weren’t working. We were really afraid. Are we gonna dead-end ourselves? Do we have to fall back on a branching path? But somehow, by some miracle, we ended up with this idea of revealing tiles as an economy, that sort of thing. Putting values in tiles and revealing them. We have a painting. We’re painting the book around this. We originally had this as torches, a torch system. You had to light the world around you. But wait, we’re in a book. Why don’t we make it about inks and brushes? Long story short, we ended up there because we wanted to make something new and interesting, something fun and unique. I think we did it. I’m really proud of it.

I think to me, if you ask me what the hardest battle of making this game was, it was getting the overworld right, because there were so many opportunities to do it incorrectly.

GamesBeat: Was the overworld something that was part of your first design doc? Or was it more of a goal, and you had a fallback plan in case it didn’t work?

Morris: The very first iteration of Roguebook was a prototype based on the Faeria engine. We took Faeria, and we took the bare bones of it, and we made a game, a barely functioning roguelike deckbuilder. Because Faeria has a boat, has lands on it, we used that. You walked on a board. It was a very boring board, but it was a functional board. The first iterations were close to the branching thing you were talking about, but we eventually expanded it from there into a world. I wouldn’t say from the very beginning we were going to have an overworld. It naturally evolved from the nature of Faeria having a board. That turned into Roguebook having an overworld.

GamesBeat: Why did you settle on having a hex map? Was that something you felt was going to best way to do this idea, or did you go through squares or other ideas first?

Morris: Again, it’s because of Faeria. Faeria is hex-based, the engine is hex-based. Hexagons are just the perfect thing for that layout when you want to do stuff like that. It really came from Faeria again. If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, I guess is the answer.

GamesBeat: You said you experimented with a day/night cycle. How would that have worked?

Morris: Oh, gosh, let me try to remember. You’re talking about a year ago. The way it worked is you had a set number of turns you could do. Let’s say the entire map is revealed to you — well, no, it wasn’t that. There was fog of war. But you could move, let’s say, 30 times. Once you moved 30 times, and that includes moving to a shop, moving to a fight, picking up gold, whatever, after you moved 30 times it switched to nighttime. When nighttime triggers, different things happen. We had shops that would only appear at night. I think we had certain narratives that appeared only at night. But most important, this is when the boss unlocked. The boss would reveal himself on the map somewhere, and you would see him, and each turn you moved now, he would run toward you. Once you’re in night cycle, you had a limited amount of turns before the boss would catch up with you and you would fight.

GamesBeat: That sounds like an idea worth revisiting in some sort of expansion.

Morris: There’s a lot of problems with it. Specifically, the economy of movement isn’t particularly fun in a lot of scenarios. You ended up in situations where you would explore the map down a long path, and then you’d be at the end of it, trapped, but to get out you had to spend movement. That felt really bad. We started iterating with an idea where you could move to anywhere you’d already explored for free, without counting down the timer. But that introduced other problems. It led to gameplay where it didn’t feel like you were exploring a world at all. Why even have an overworld at that point?

Eventually, we came to the solution of, what if you chose what to reveal and how much to reveal at a time? Really the brush system came from that day-night cycle concept, where we believed that we ended up with the best possible version of that. Even though it doesn’t sound the same, it’s the logical conclusion of where we went with the day-night cycle.

GamesBeat: About the brushes and ink: Are y’all a bunch of painters, or did this idea of using brushes and inks just bubble up from something else?

Morris: No, we’re not painters. We have some great artists, though. But no, it came from the idea of a book. From the very beginning this concept of being inside a book, being trapped inside a book — if you’re inside a book and you’re revealing the world around you, how would you do that? What would make sense to do? And like I said, at first we had torches, but we thought what would be cooler is — you’re in a black void, and you’d use torches. But no, what if you’re actually playing on a book? If you play Roguebook, if you look at the borders, the borders are the edges of a book. There’s paper all around you. So yeah, you’re using brushes and ink to create the world around you. The idea is it doesn’t exist until you use your ink and brush.

GamesBeat: While you don’t have the lanes as you do in a Slay the Spire or other games like this, it certainly feels like the limited amount of ink is pushing you to explore one side of the map or another, but not both.

Morris: That’s something we struggled with, getting the right amount of exploration. We don’t want the player exploring the entire map every game. That would eliminate the purpose of exploration. We want there to be value in that. The way we ended up solving the problem where — because how you control how much the player explores, so they have the right power level, so they see the right number of things, so that by the time they get to Chapter 3 they can fight the boss and — we could be comfortable knowing that the player has had enough opportunities to power themselves up, so to speak.

In Slay, where you see the branching trees and everything, from the beginning you can look at that, and as a player you say, I’m gonna do this and this and I’ll have this and this. You can’t do that in Roguebook, or not as easily, because you can’t guarantee what you’ll find. But what you can do is go to points of interest. We created points of interest on the map. This was something that took a while to arrive at the right version of, too.

But we have those sky towers. That was one of the earliest things we had, these sky towers. You can see them popping up in the distance. If you get to them, there’s a big reward. You do a big reveal. There’s always a certain amount of rewards in those towers. You go to the towers on each run and that guarantees something. We reveal every single battle on the map. Battles are important because they give you more ink. In some cases — the normal battles give you ink. You almost always want to have an ink before you use your brush. The whole exploration system is built on, OK, you can just use your brush and reveal some tiles, but if you pick up this ink, it’s designed in a way that will make the brush more effective. Specifically, you can shoot a line of ink out three spaces ahead of you, and if you move into that space and use the brush, all of a sudden you reveal a ton of spaces. You’re incentivized to fight the battles to get the ink and explore more.

Above: Faeries like this one grant you loot — if you can defeat them before they run away.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

We have some other incentives, too. There are treasures on the map you can see and go find. There’s a revealed boss path with an elite fight, and the elite fight will give you ink. But the idea is that the player should — there should be a consistent amount of exploration per chapter because of the things we choose to reveal to the player. Naturally, you should find enough to where you have a consistently good amount of choices, but it’s not the same every run.

GamesBeat: Another way you also do this is the treasures you put on each side, trying to drive a player one way, right?

Morris: Yeah, yeah. There’s two treasures. They appear on the left and right. You can’t always get both of them, but you can look and see what they are. Which one is going to be better for me at this point in time? We also have things you can find on the map that are not revealed, that can help give you bonuses, but we try to make it so that you can look at a map and plan out in your head, OK, I want to hit this, then I want to hit that, and along the way you’ll find some bonuses. That’s the general idea.

GamesBeat: During your playtesting, did you get any feedback from people like me, who love playing strategy games or RPGs, but have this compulsion to see the whole map?

Morris: Well, we had a lot of feedback from a lot of different types of players. For someone who wants to see the whole map, we never got specific feedback in that direction because the game was never built in a way where that would make sense. Well, I will say, it was like that, kind of, back when we go back to the day-night cycle. I’m not sure we ever had a version where it was completely revealed, but you could do a version where it was completely revealed and you had a certain number of steps to take.

But again, that whole concept breaks down when you start having paths that you can walk to, because now you have to backtrack and that costs your movement economy to do that. You end up making this flat map that might as well just be a tree, a Slay the Spire tree, because you’re just making a more complicated version of a branching path, I would say.

GamesBeat: Do you think that players will figure out, after a few runs, that you don’t want to try to reveal the whole map?

Morris: Well, they can’t. They want to. Players would love to reveal the whole map, because then you have everything, but it’s very unlikely. We’ve tuned it to where you only get so many brushes, so many fights. Revealing the entire map is impossible.

The Garfield influence

GamesBeat: Where did you get the idea of the spirits that help you in combat?

Morris: Allies, yeah, this is where we leveraged the assets from Faeria. We wanted something permanent on the field. Richard Garfield had a lot of input on this. We initially had them and they were kind of weak. They’d basically just do damage every once in a while. Richard, who worked with us on this, he pushed the idea to really have some permanent, significant, impactful allies that were with you in each fight. You could build your deck around them. We’re a small team, so in an ideal world we would have them fully animated, these creatures fighting alongside you, but there’s a lot of allies. So how do we make so many allies and set them up in battle? We came up with an idea. We’re going to use assets from Faeria. These are cards directly from Faeria. But we’re going to say that because the Roguebook is kind of outside the world of Faeria, it’s like a portal. You open a portal, like a gateway, and this ally fights alongside you. I’m not sure that’s communicated very well in-game, but that’s our idea behind it. There’s these little gateways to these allies that come and fight with you.

GamesBeat: They remind me of planeswalkers.

Morris: Yeah, speaking of Richard. It’s kind of like — in Slay the Spire you have powers, but we wanted you to feel like you had a party going, a group of adventurers that are working together and they can attack, too. They don’t just have abilities. They attack with you. We wanted that kind of feeling from it.

GamesBeat: For the places where you could draft cards, are those there to teach the player about how to build your deck, especially the dangers of adding too many cards to it?

Morris: The vaults, they are a way to provide deck rewards on the map. You can always just go to the shop. There’s a shop on every map and you can buy whatever you want, but it’s expensive. If you buy a card from the shop, it’s a lot of your net worth. But on the map we’re rewarding your exploration. You reveal a set amount of tiles and you find this vault. Now, it’s very cheap, 25 gold usually, to draft one card. You don’t have to pay to look. You can just open it up and look, and then you can see the three choices you have. You can choose to spend 25 gold, which is a very small amount, to pick whichever card you want. Now, we incentivize, or we try to, that you are comfortable picking something even if you think it’s not perfect for your deck. That’s where the talent system comes in.

That’s where the whole idea behind — the direction of this game is the idea of — this is really what Richard worked on with us, the idea of a huge deck that you could add anything you wanted to, and it was just fun to get a new card and play with it. The equivalent concept in Magic would be the Tower deck. Some people buy a bunch of booster packs, shuffle them all, 10 packs or something, and you put them all in one giant deck and that’s what you use for the play session. It’s not super-optimized. You don’t have the perfect amount of lands, this combo that goes with that combo. You have some combos and synergies in there, but it’s fun and unpredictable. You’re rewarded for building that large deck in different ways, and one of those is primarily our talent system.

That’s the purpose of the talent system, to show the player, hey, you know what? This isn’t like other games out there. You don’t have to trim your deck and build this particular meta-build that’s the best and everyone uses it. You can build your own, and each time you find a card it can be exciting for you, because you won’t feel like you can’t take it just because it will ruin your deck.

Armor all — or none?

Above: Armor lasts just for one turn, provided your foes don’t destroy it first.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

GamesBeat: In some progression roguelikes like this, between rounds you retain your armor. But you don’t here. Was that an intentional design choice, to make you decide between combat and armor? Or was there another reason for that?

Morris: It’s funny you ask that, because originally we wanted to make a game with no block. We said, “We don’t like block.” We don’t like that play cycle for a battle, where you calculate how much block you need and then attack. What if you could just only deal damage and you had to heal afterward? You never had to worry about block. Well, eventually we walked back and obviously, no, well, you kind of need block to make this game work and not feel so bad. But as far as retaining block between battles, no.

We really tried to minimize block as much as possible in this game. Even though it might not seem like it. We want players to be attacking and doing as much damage as they can and not worrying about so much that they must protect themselves at all costs. Taking one damage is a big deal sometimes in other games, but in ours you can take some damage because you’ll get some healing. There’s healing on the map. Cards will heal you for certain heroes. It’s also important that at the end of a run, when you beat the boss, you’re fully healed and all wounds are removed from your deck. You get wounds when your hero dies. You can accumulate a lot of those, and it can feel bad if you’re carrying those forever. But you don’t. All you have to do is beat the boss and all the wounds are gone. Hero is fully healed. Fresh, clean slate.

GamesBeat: Healing is where I got the most frustrated, because I never got any cards for healing. The only healing I found on the map were the potions, and those didn’t seem to be really helpful.

Morris: I should say that the healing specifically is limited to the next two heroes, not the starting hero. It makes sense that you didn’t find those. But as far as finding the potions, yeah, they’re scattered throughout the map. There is some meta-progression to add more of those on. Maybe it’s undertuned where we’re not putting in enough to begin with. But ideally you’re finding enough — we even see a lot of players toward the end, as they keep playing the game — we’ve seen people go to chapter three with like nine healing potions, because they carry over from chapter to chapter. When you first begin you’ll find less until you get those early meta-progression perks, which will boost that up for you.

Faeria links

GamesBeat: Besides being in the same world, are there any other tie-ins from Faeria?

Morris: No cosmetic bonuses. We have activatable allies, of course. Sometimes they have the same abilities they do in Faeria. They’re really — as far as cosmetic stuff, we only had time to implement some hero skins and some alternate card art. We do have some card backs as well. But as far as Faeria influencing that, no. It would be cool to have something in Faeria that you can bring with you into Roguebook. That would be awesome. I wouldn’t say that’s going to happen, but I’ll say that we aren’t against it happening.

Obviously, we tied this heavily into Faeria, so we would like the two games to interact with each other, but easier said than done I guess is the answer for that.

GamesBeat: How big is the team now?

Morris: We’re pretty small on the office side. We have more devs than we do game designers. I’m just going to guess off the top of my head, but I’d say we have six or seven devs, two game designers, a lead designer. What are we up to there, 11 or 12? Then we have sound, artists. I’d say the core team, and it’s hard to say what is “core,” is 15 or so people. And then of course we have a lot of external contractors and whatnot.

GamesBeat: When did you start work on Faeria?

Morris: Faeria was all the way back in 2013. There was a Kickstarter for Faeria. Faeria was originally a browser game, played only in your browser. It got relatively popular and people really enjoyed it, so a Kickstarter was made to create it for the PC. That was successful, the Kickstarter. It took years. I think Faeria finally released — was it 2016? It was years of development to completely rebuild the game from scratch in Unity. But even before that, even before I was on the team, the founders, they had been working on Faeria for, as far as I understand it, at least 10 years as a board game. It started as a board game. They just kept working on this board game on the side.

Above: Faeria mixes board game and card game mechanics.

Image Credit: GamesBeat

GamesBeat: I never knew Faeria started as a board game, but I can definitely see that.

Morris: Oh, yeah. They made a mockup, made the pieces and everything. They decided to get serious about it and they turned it into a Flash game. That’s when I first heard about it, their Flash version of it.

GamesBeat: And when did you start work on Roguebook?

Morris: Oh, gosh. We had a Kickstarter for Roguebook in … 2018? Again, all my years are running together. I’d say right now it’s been two to three years in production, if you count the very early prototypes and early concepts. But then actually crunching out the final version of the game, I’d say that took us a little over a year, year-and-a-half, something like that.

GamesBeat: What’s your road map from here?

Morris: Oof. We have content already in the works. We have free content, new free content coming. We’re already in production for that. Beyond that, we have some more plans, and it all depends on how release goes and so on. But we’d like to add things like a new hero into the game. If you can think of it, we’ve probably thought of it as well, and we’d like to continue updating. We have plans for at least two sets of updates. It all depends on how well the game is received. We’d love to work on it forever, as long as people keep playing it.

GamesBeat: I think one good example of the potential this has — I started it, I got frustrated, but I kept pushing through, and the first day I played it I ended up going two hours longer than I’d played.

Morris: Well, great. It sounds like we’re doing something right. There has to be some frustration, there has to be some bad to make the good feel good, right? We can’t make a game where you always win. There has to be some amount of difficulty, a reasonable amount of difficulty, where you feel like, if only I’d done this or gotten that, I could have gone a lot further. I’m going to try again. I learned this on the last run, so next time I know what I should or shouldn’t do. Maybe I’ll get lucky and find a better treasure. Finding that balance of — we don’t want to punish the player. We want the player to have enough rope to hang themselves with, I guess, is a good analogy.

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Roblox settles NMPA lawsuit, paving path to music in the metaverse

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Roblox settles NMPA lawsuit, paving path to music in the metaverse

Roblox Swordburst 2 and Flood Escape

Roblox Swordburst 2 and Flood Escape

Image Credit: Roblox

A new GamesBeat event is around the corner! Learn more about what comes next. 


Roblox announced today that it has settled a lawsuit filed by the National Music Publishers Association (NMPA). The lawsuit from the NMPA has been summarily dismissed, and Roblox will be open to further agreements with artists who want to debut their music in the game world, as they can now make their own deals with Roblox.

The NMPA originally sued Roblox for about $200 million for copyright infringement. Now the two companies appear to have come to an agreement that will allow music within the metaverse, or at least it will give publishers the chance to decide whether or not they are willing to allow it. NMPA President David Israelite called Roblox “a unique platform for musicians and songwriters in the metaverse” and said it offers unique options for artists to connect with fans.

According to the NMPA, this new settlement will allow Roblox to broker more agreements with music publishers going forward. They now have “an industry-wide opt-in open to all eligible NMPA publishers” with Roblox as well as a negotiating period that allows publishers to work out individual licensing contracts. The NMPA adds that these deals will offer new ways for songwriters to monetize their music.

Roblox has recently begun expanding its music offerings, most recently with the addition of Listening Parties — in-game music streams in which artists can show off their work. It’s also held several virtual concerts within its metaverse for users. Roblox’s Global Head of Music Jon Vlassopulos said in a statement: “We are pleased that the publishing industry sees the potential of Roblox to be a significant creative and commercial opportunity for its members.”

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The NMPA also recently settled a similar issue with Twitch, wherein it didn’t exactly condone the widespread use of licensed music on the platform, but it did leave the possibility open for individual artists or labels to have their own deals with the platform — an “opt-in” it described in almost identical language to its settlement with Roblox. The NMPA said this agreement will allow artists to find their audiences: “From virtual shows to studio sessions, the partnerships stemming from this agreement will connect the Twitch community in many ways to the music they enjoy.”

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GamesBeat’s creed when covering the game industry is “where passion meets business.” What does this mean? We want to tell you how the news matters to you — not just as a decision-maker at a game studio, but also as a fan of games. Whether you read our articles, listen to our podcasts, or watch our videos, GamesBeat will help you learn about the industry and enjoy engaging with it.

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How IT managers plan to deal with rapidly growing API complexity

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How IT managers plan to deal with rapidly growing API complexity

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The rapid increase and ceaseless evolution of API technology has ushered in a challenging new era of API complexity. A new study of IT leaders by Axway reveals that the average enterprise currently uses three different API management vendors, and plans to engage more to reach an average of four by 2023. In some countries, the number could even grow to five different API management solutions on average per company.

While 44% of IT leaders primarily benefit from reduced IT complexity and/or better oversight, 34% of enterprises do not have access to the multi-management capabilities needed to master API complexity, though 66% say they have some kind of plan in place to master these complexities.

There was a surprisingly strong correlation between enterprises that have mastered API complexity with an API-first approach (those who can build APIs the quickest), and the number of digital projects they can launch each year. Enterprises that build APIs in a matter of hours or days are more likely to launch more than 40 new digital projects every year, while enterprises that need weeks or months tend to launch fewer digital projects per year.

The study also showed the same correlation between the number of digital launches and the time to onboard new partners, or how often enterprises are able to reuse APIs. Companies stand to save nearly US$ 30K on average every time they reuse an API.

Axway, a global API Management company, analyzed new data from more than 800 senior IT and business decision-makers in the U.S., U.K., France, Germany, Australia, and Singapore. The study concluded that API complexity is negatively impacting the bottom line, raising numerous challenges and pain points — from security to governance to innovation and many others.

Read the full report by Axway

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Use your TV as a computer monitor: Everything you need to know

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Use your TV as a computer monitor: Everything you need to know

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Will that big, sexy screen look as good on your desk as it does in your living room? Let’s dig into the specifics of using an HDTV with your PC.

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You’re not the first person who’s wondered what it would be like to have a giant desktop monitor. Think of all the multi-tasking and immersive gaming you could manage if you had a 50- or 60-inch monitor instead of a standard 24-inch monitor! But you’ve probably noticed that as monitors get bigger, they also tend to get prohibitively expensive.

You’ve probably already got a big screen in your house, though—a high-definition television. At the end of the day, isn’t an HDTV just a giant, living-room-oriented computer monitor?

Not exactly. While you can use a TV as a computer monitor in most cases, that doesn’t mean it’s the best option. In fact, it’s likely less attractive, convenient, and usable than you think (not to mention, probably not that cheap). There’s a reason dirt-cheap 32-inch HDTVs aren’t flying off the shelves to be used as budget-friendly jumbo screens.

You definitely can use an HDTV as your PC’s display, though, and your television can also work in a pinch if you suddenly need a second screen. Here’s everything you need to know about how to set up a TV as a computer monitor—and why you might not want to.

Will it even work?

The short answer: Yes. You may need a special cable, depending on your PC’s outputs and your HDTV’s inputs, and you’ll need to check a couple of settings, but you shouldn’t have too much trouble hooking most modern PCs up to most modern HDTVs. 

Modern HDTVs have HDMI outputs. Some older HDTVs have DVI inputs, and some even have VGA inputs specifically designated for “PC use.” If your graphics card has an HDMI output, you’re good to go: Just use an HDMI cable to connect your PC to your HDMI.

dsc01797 Brad Chacos/IDG

All modern graphics cards (like this Sapphire Pulse Radeon RX 6600 XT) include at least one HDMI port (second from left, between several DisplayPorts).

If you’re using an older graphics card or motherboard that only has a DVI output, you can snag a cheap DVI-to-HDMI cable and plug it into your HDTV’s HDMI output. Amazon sells a six ft. AmazonBasics version for just $7. Although some older HDTVs and some older computers only have VGA inputs/outputs, they aren’t not an ideal choice. VGA’s an analog signal that will give you a far fuzzier, lower-resolution image than you’ll get with an HDMI or DVI cord.

If you want to use your HDTV as a second or third monitor, you may need to use a different port, such as your graphics card’s DisplayPort output. In this case, you’ll need to use a different cable (DisplayPort-to-HDMI). The main advantage to using the DisplayPort output instead of DVI or VGA is that HDMI and DisplayPort carry both video and audio signals. A DVI-to-HDMI cable can transmit both video and audio if your graphics card supports HDMI audio via DVI—unlikely if it doesn’t have any HDMI ports—while VGA only transmits video. If you use DVI or VGA, you will most likely need to connect your PC’s audio up to the HDTV separately, or use external speakers or a headset.

Bottom line? Try to stick to HDMI if or DisplayPort-to-HDMI connections if it’s possible. It’s the easiest solution.

Getting your PC ready

You’ll also need to determine whether your graphics card (or your PC’s integrated graphics) is capable of outputting at the resolution of your HDTV. To do this, you will first need to find the resolution of your HDTV by consulting the manufacturer’s manual. Some HDTVs have non-standard resolutions; it’s not a given that your HDTV will be supported. Most stick to standard 720p, 1080p, or 4K resolutions however. Next, find the maximum resolution your graphics card/integrated graphics supports.

display adapter properties Brad Chacos/IDG

Open the Windows 10 Start menu and head to Settings > System > Display > Advanced display settings > Display adapter properties for Display 1. In the window that pops up, click List All Modes. Find the resolution that matches your HDTV’s resolution and select it. 

If you’re using the HDTV to supplement a standard computer screen, simply follow our guide on how to set up two monitors to tell Windows how to manage both displays. 

Will it look good? Maybe. It depends on how you’re using your HDTV.

HDTV features to keep in mind

If you’re turning your HDTV into a PC-backed multimedia powerhouse, and you plan on using it primarily as a television and streaming hub—e.g. a screen you’ll continue to view from several feet away—it will probably look fine. But if you’re trying to stick a 60-inch HDTV on a desk, you’re more likely to end up with headaches and eye strain.

There are a few different factors to keep in mind if you want to use an HDTV as a computer monitor.

Pixel density

Pixel density, or the number of pixels packed into one square inch of screen (measured in pixels per inch or ppi), is the most important factor to consider. A 15.6-inch laptop screen with a 1920 x 1080 resolution has a pixel density of 141.21ppi, while a 32-inch HDTV screen with the same resolution has a significantly lower pixel density of 68.84ppi. The lower the pixel density, the less clear and detailed the image becomes.

But the importance of pixel density decreases with viewing distance. The further you sit from a screen, the lower the pixel density need to be for you to have a comfortable viewing experience. You won’t have any problems looking at a 15.6-inch/141.21ppi screen from two feet away, but you will find it much harder to view a 32-inch/68.84ppi screen from the same distance. This is why a “Retina” screen on the iPhone has a pixel density of 326ppi, but a “Retina” screen on the Macbook Pro has a pixel density of just 226ppi.

55r635 front hero TCL

A normal user typically sits between two and three feet away from a desktop monitor. To comfortably view a monitor at this distance, you should aim for 80ppi or higher. This means that for 1920×1080 (1080p) resolution, your screen should be no larger than 27.5 inches diagonally, and for 4K sets, you’ll want to max out at 55 inches, like the $700 TCL 6-series 4K UHD quantum dot TV shown above. It’s our favorite bang-for-buck HDTV.

Important: “4K” is not a market standard. A 4K HDTV can mean 4x720p (3840×2160 resolution) or 4x1080p (4096×2160 resolution). Most models use 3840×2160, but you should check the exact specs of your model to determine pixel density.

Input lag

Input lag is the delay between movement you make on your input device (in this case, a mouse and keyboard) and what displays on your screen. While most computer monitors prioritize minimal lag times, HDTVs generally do not—they prioritize (laggy) video processing instead. These extra milliseconds may not seem like they matter, but they will make a massive difference if you’re trying to do something like competitive online gaming.

DisplayLag maintains a good database of input lag times, sortable by display type. An input lag of less than 30 milliseconds is considered good for an HDTV if you’re using it as an HDTV. For a computer monitor, you’ll want to aim for less than 20 milliseconds, and the lower you can go, the better.

Response time

Often confused with input lag, response time describes how long it takes for a display’s pixels to switch colors between scenes. HDTVs and computer monitors can have very different response times. HDTVs tend to prioritize richer colors, higher contrast, and wider viewing angles—all of which lend to a longer response time. Computer monitors tend to drop some of the image processing and viewing angles for faster response times. If you use a display with a slower response time, you may see “ghosting” in fast-paced video and gaming sequences.

lg oled55e8pua rear inputs LG

Also pay attention to the type and number of ports. This is only one of two port areas on an LG TV. Many TVs offer ports nearer the side as well for the sake of easy access.

Some HDTVs have a “game mode” setting, which cuts some of the image processing to improve both input lag and response time. If you plan to play PC games on your TV, definitely dig around in your HDTV’s options to see if it has this feature.

Refresh rate

Another factor that may affect performance is a display’s refresh rate. Refresh rate is the number of times a display “refreshes,” or re-draws, its image each second. Most modern displays have a refresh rate of 60Hz, which means they refresh their image 60 times per second. But you’ve probably also seen higher-end gaming monitors and HDTVs with higher advertised refresh rates—120Hz, 144Hz, or even 240Hz. This can be misleading, however, because a computer monitor with a 120Hz refresh rate may not be the same as an HDTV with a 120Hz refresh rate.

The reason for this is because the content people watch on a television is produced at either 24fps, 30fps, or 60fps. The content people view on a computer monitor can be very different—many games can output frame rates higher than 60fps if you have a powerful enough graphics card.

An HDTV with a high advertised refresh rate may use post-processing technology to achieve that rate, such as by creating additional frames to upscale content, or by adding black frames between each frame to prevent image blur. The good news is that this probably won’t make a difference if you’re not playing PC games at very fast frame rates. But if you have a PC designed for the best possible gaming experience, hooking up an HDTV instead of a computer monitor likely means that you’re not getting the most out of your machine.

Is it worth it?

There’s no harm trying to connect your computer to a TV you already own to see if it works for you. Go for it!

pcw windows10 tv Getty Images / Dmitriy Moroz

Our advice varies if you’re shopping though. If you’re looking to get the best bang for your buck, an HDTV isn’t necessarily going to save you money over a monitor. In fact, if you’re purchasing a new display, I recommend sticking with the tried-and-true computer monitor. For one thing, smaller, cheaper HDTVs are typically 720p resolution, not 1080p, while similarly priced monitors will almost always be 1080p. So if you’re looking for something under 27 inches, an HDTV will probably be more expensive and lower-resolution.

These lower-priced 1080p monitors often support AMD’s FreeSync adaptive sync technology as well, which can help your games look buttery smooth. You won’t find that in a cheap TV. 

If you’re looking for something larger than 27 inches, remember that pixel density decreases significantly with every few inches you gain, and there’s a reason HDTV-makers suggest sitting several feet away from their displays. If you need a display that will multitask as an up-close work/email display as well as a movie/entertainment display, you’ll want something with a high enough pixel density that text won’t be a pain to read—and even with a high pixel density, a large display may still cause eye and neck strain if you sit too close to it.

twitch stream Twitch

An HDTV as a secondary monitor is perfect for streaming Twitch, watching Netflix, or keeping an eye on Twitter in real time.

There is an ideal situation in which the HDTV-as-monitor shines, though.

If you want to add an extra display to a single- or multi-display setup for entertainment—say, so you can watch Netflix or Twitter while you write articles, or so you can play Skyrim on a 60-inch screen—then an HDTV can be a very capable (and cool!) monitor replacement. Bonus points if you happen to have an extra HDTV lying around, or if you can pick one up for dirt cheap.

Note: When you purchase something after clicking links in our articles, we may earn a small commission. Read our affiliate link policy for more details.

Sarah is a freelance writer and editor based in Los Angeles. She has a love/hate relationship with social media and a bad habit of describing technology as “sexy.”

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