Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

Roguelikes (PDLs) Vs RPGs?

Posted by Rampant Coyote on February 25, 2014

Nethack_VEI’d like to enumerate what – to ME – amounts to the fundamental differences between roguelikes and RPGs:

Some folks may argue with me  – please do! I think it’s mainly certain roguelike fans who see a major distinction, or maybe some other folks who can’t squint hard enough to see the similarities between Nethack in all its ASCII glory and Dragon Age. But I’m of the opinion (which at least Wikipedia supports) that  roguelikes are a subset of computer role-playing games. Yes, of course, there are some additional constraints on a game for many people to qualify it as a roguelike, but the category has become increasingly flexible. And increasingly cool.

Lately – probably because they are well within the parameters of indie development and have had some notable success stories – there has been an explosion of roguelikes and roguelike-likes.This makes me happy, mostly. I mean, sure. There are plenty of pretty vanilla roguelikes out there. But there are others that really push the bounds of the genre, or go to great lengths to make the genre more accessible to new players, or strip the gameplay down to its most fundamental roots and really polish that.

Some people have taken issue with the name of the subgenre, and have proposed alternatives. It’s tempting, especially when you start getting into people using the term “roguelike-like.” That’s like “RPG Elements” in other games that really have nothing to do with RPGs. I mean, I am perfectly fine with game genres cross-pollinating. But adding procedural level design to an action game doesn’t make it a roguelike any more than a first-person perspective in Might & Magic X Legacy makes it a first-person shooter (thankfully!). And I kinda dig the term, “Procedural Death Labyrinth,” (PDL) although I think it’s still not very accurate for some of the fascinating directions roguelikes may be going.

Historically, many of the earliest computer RPGs (especially in the mainframe days) would more closely resemble roguelikes today. Saved games were kind of on the iffy side anyway back then, and the games were largely an attempt to recreate the table-top experience of the era… which had a high character mortality rate. Procedural content generation served the grand purpose of keeping the game interesting for their primary audience, which was often the creators and their friends.

FTL_SS1One of the differences between roguelikes and “full-fledged” RPGs has been an emphasis on story and quests with the latter. But it’s not like all RPGs have had that much story (or direct questing). And the roguelikes? While FTL (Faster Than Light) lacked most of the trappings of your average roguelike, it has nevertheless been accepted by most people as part of the subgenre. The story snippets and quests are not interrelated and don’t come together to form an overarching plot, but they definitely drive the narrative in the player’s head. While Soldak’s games (Din’s Curse, Drox Operative, etc.)  may be more “Diablolike” than “Roguelike” (But Diablo kinda began life as a roguelike before going its own way, so there!), but they have clearly shown how dynamic quests can drive the overall theme of the game and “plot”, if you will.

FTL, Drox Operative, and Din’s Curse all scratch my roguelike and RPG “itch.” Mostly.

I guess my big contention is that I don’t really draw much of a line between roguelikes and RPGs, and I think the health of roguelikes is good for the health of computer RPGs. I’d like to see more games crossing the already-faint line in either direction, and taking the concepts both ways. I’ve always felt that commercial RPGs could get some pointers from some of the biggest, coolest roguelikes out there. I’d also like to see more “roguelikes” (or PDLs if you prefer) branch out in new directions, new settings, new styles, and new ideas. Will they cease to be roguelikes at that point? Maybe. But they’ll be some pretty awesome games.

Filed Under: Roguelikes - Comments: 3 Comments to Read

  • Infinitron said,

    Wizardry X?

  • Rampant Coyote said,

    Good grief. I was mixing up wish fulfillment with my enjoyment of M&M X. I’m even relatively certain I was caffeinated when I wrote that.

  • McTeddy said,

    I’ve never cared about what people call Rogue-likes. I’m just overjoyed to see the features being used in so many different ways.