Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 4, 2013
Maybe it’s just my attention bias, as I consider roguelikes to be a subgenre of role-playing games, but it sure seems to me that there’s been an explosion of roguelike indie games lately. For years, it seemed that there were just a dozen or so ASCII-based roguelike codebases making the rounds, but now that it’s proven demonstrably possible to have a commercial indie roguelike succeed in the marketplace – from PC to console to mobile – things have gotten a little bit interesting. Now – again, it could simply be that the indie explosion is a tide that lifts all ships, roguelikes included, and the category isn’t growing significantly more than every other category under the sun in indie-dom. Still, there are more roguelikes out there or in development right now than I can track.
I ain’t complaining.
One natural side effect of all this is that the definition of “roguelike” has gotten stretched quite a bit. Now some people even use the term “roguelike-like” to describe games that could belong to the family, but perhaps deviate a bit too much for the purists to accept.
What are the traditional features of a roguelike? I confess I’m not much of an authority, but the usual list runs something like this:
1. Randomly generated levels (often dungeons).
4. Traditional RPG-style adventuring gameplay – you waste bad guys and take their stuff.
5. Solo character – although you may have a pet or other semi-controllable henchman.
6. ASCII graphics
The thing is – none of these features really need be there for a game to be considered a roguelike anymore – at least for us non-purists. After a certain point, sure, it gets a little hard to call it a roguelike. FTL is sometimes called a roguelike, but it deviates so much that most people – at best- describe it as a “roguelike-like” or “inspired by roguelikes.”
I’m actually pretty okay with this. More than okay – thrilled. As much as I do enjoy going back to good ol’ classic gameplay, I don’t want to see it stagnate. FTL showed what cool things could be derived from that foundation.
To be honest, I never really got into Nethack that much. Not as much as some other roguelikes. The one that seized my brain for much of a summer back in the 90’s was Moria – which was the progenitor of the Angbad series. And – according to that pinnacle of correctness Wikipedia, it was also the direct inspiration for Diablo. Many of you may already know this, but Diablo began life as a turn-based game. Amusingly, when I was hooked on Moria, I kept thinking, “Wow, you know, with some high-quality graphics, I don’t see why this couldn’t be a commercial game.” Apparently, I can call it, but I can’t get rich off of it.
Anyway – that can lead to a lot of arguments over what is and is not a roguelike. And maybe it’s because I’m okay with stretching the definition that I’m seeing so many more. I dunno. I don’t care. Was Telengard, one of my first RPGs (and first addictions) a roguelike? It used real (albeit crappy) graphics, and the world configuration wasn’t random. But it was so large that in one teleport trap it might as well be… and the events were incredibly random. It was something of an action / turn-based hybrid. I’ve little doubt it was – or at least the games that it imitated were – an influence on the roguelike genre from the early days – even on Rogue itself.
Dungeons of Dredmor is roguelike to its core… but it doesn’t have ASCII graphics, and *GASP* permadeath can be disabled! Does that disqualify it? Not in my book. So what about other games like Diablo, Drox Operative, and others where you can choose hardcore or not? And what about Dwarf Fortress, which is more of a civilization simulator than classic roguelike gameplay, yet otherwise shares much in common with roguelikes?
A few somewhat recent entries of late that have come to my attention (or found their way into my possession, often through indie bundles). A lot of these are in no way pure roguelikes… some really are other genres (like platform shooters) but keep one foot in the roguelike arena.
100 Rogues – action-roguelike originally for the iOS, now released on the Ouya
Rogue’s Tale – classless roguelike
Rogue Legacy – a side-scrolling roguelike-like with (kinda) genealogical progression and genetic deficiencies.
Drox Operative – Another one that’s vaguely derived from roguelikes, but takes it in a totally different direction… in space. Randomly generated space. With a hardcore option. Work with me, here.
Voyage to Farland – advertises itself as a “tough as nails” roguelike.
Sword of the Stars: The Pit – a semi-mainstream studios entry into indie-dom, with a high-quality sci-fi roguelike.
Tales of Maj’Eyal – AKA ToME, this is an Award-winning graphical roguelike with an emphasis on tactics. This one is completely new to me, and looks excellent.
Lair of the Evildoer – a low-budget action-roguelike (is that a new subgenre? Can we just call all these Diablo-likes “action-roguelikes” now?)
99 Levels to Hell – Again, an action-platformer game, borrowing the procedural generation and a few other bits from the roguelike genre.
Dark Gates – still in alpha.
Deep Dungeons of Doom – now on Ouya
Heroes of Loot – a high-quality roguelike / shoot-em-up coming in about a week to Android, IOS, PC, Mac, Linux, and the Ouya.
Sword of Fargoal 2 – the sequel to an ancient classic, this kickstarter-funded title looks like it could be pretty exciting.
Steam Marines – this looks interesting, but I haven’t played it yet. Still in alpha, it’s a squad-based tactical roguelike.
Malevolence – Sword of Ahkranox – First-person, persistent world, turn-based, grid-based, infinite-world game. It’s not randomly generated, but it is procedurally generated. Like Telengard.
Project Zomboid – this zombie survival rpg has been in development forever, it seems, but has been playable and popular for a good while.
I’m only scraping a few chunks off the tip of the iceberg here, but you get the idea. And then there are the classics that continue to get updated.
I can totally understand the appeal of the roguelike as a developer. If your goal is to make the game that you want to play, but you want it to surprise and challenge you as the developer, it is tempting. I can’t say I’m not tempted myself – someday. Maybe for a 7DRL competition or something. Although I have about three different ideas that would be really fun to do as a roguelike.
As always, it’s a good time to be a gamer.
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