Tales of the Rampant Coyote

Adventures in Indie Gaming!

An Explosion of Roguelikes

Posted by Rampant Coyote on September 4, 2013

Rogue1Maybe 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).

2. Permadeath

3. Turn-Based

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.

dredmor1Dungeons 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.

majeyalTales 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.

The Wizard’s Lair

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.

Cardinal Quest – a very popular indie roguelike. And its upcoming sequel, Cardinal Quest 2!

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.


Filed Under: Roguelikes - Comments: 9 Comments to Read

  • Andy_Panthro said,

    I’ve been playing Dungeons of Dredmor recently (and not so long ago, FTL).

    What I like in particular about DoD is the humour and crafting, the former making it stand out somewhat from the rest of the pack and the latter adding a bit more depth to the game.

    Much like many other Roguelikes, I have yet to complete it. Both DoD and FTL I can manage to get to the final boss, and land a few hits, but never actually destroy them.

    Nethack on the other hand destroys me every time, for a variety of reasons (which is part of the enduring nature of it, as there’s always another death to learn from).

    Unfortunately I feel like I’ll never quite reach the level required to finish these sorts of games, since I tend to get a little bored with them after I’ve died a bunch of times.

  • Nachtfischer said,

    It’s a shame how we associate things like “permadeath” and random content immediately with roguelikes. Those are actually things games in general NEED to have interesting decisions AT ALL.

    There were many discussions about permadeath, but in fact it actually just means that you can lose the game. And by extension that roguelikes really are games, because if you can’t lose you’re actually not even playing, you’re either just experiencing something (like in all these AAA “press X to win” games) or solving a puzzle.

    And input randomness (randomness in setup) is the other crucial quality of games. In a system without (effectively) random (i.e. uncertain) content you’re not making decisions, you’re just memorizing things. So, in a single-player game (which pretty much all roguelikes are) you have to have randomization to bring uncertainty into the system. (Many roguelikes also use output randomness to achieve that uncertainty, e.g. dice-rolling for attacks, which I’m definitely not a fan of…)

    So these two things are really what I love about roguelikes. In fact, roguelikes are like this bastion of actual games in today’s digital entertainment world. Granted, I’ve consequentially moved on to playing lots of board games now, but I still enjoy a good roguelike from time to time. Good to me means less stuff (e.g. loot, stats, bla) and more gameplay (e.g. positioning, skill usage, tactics in general). Sadly lots of “big” roguelikes are really heavy on the “stuff side” and overdo their randomization in ways unhealthy to the system itself. Therefore my favorites have become 86856527, Shiren The Wanderer, Brogue, 100 Rogues, Zaga-33 and if you stretch the genre definitions a little also Desktop Dungeons.

  • espectra said,

    @Andy_Panthro good points – one of the things that kept me glued to Shiren the Wanderer was the animated variation on roguelikes and more importantly, the RPGish uniqueness of each new floor and dungeon, and the monsters that lurked there.

    @Nachtfischer I agree that less is often more and Shiren is a near perfect example of that. It’s very approachable but also VERY hard and very tactical.

  • Felix said,

    Actually, people have been churning out a variety of roguelikes for years. Just look at RogueBasin: experimental games, classic style, ASCII, graphics… the first roguelike I played extensively didn’t even have permadeath!

    (Speaking of that, it drives me crazy when a roguelike purist rants against “save scumming”. Few things in gaming are worse than a developer telling players how to enjoy their game.)

    What I see nowadays it a massive increase in interest towards roguelikes. A lot of the visitors I get at No Time To Play are looking for them. And we’re not even an especially relevant resource for the genre. So yes, roguelikes are coming to the fore in a big way. To which I say, good!

  • Modran said,

    Yeah, I’ve already said it here on the comments section a long time ago, but I don’t see the interest in Cardinal Quest. I don’t find any depth to it :/. Played it a couple of hours to make sure.

    DoD on the other hand… I’ve played more than 40 hours. Never finished, never even reached the final boss. I always get careless at one moment or another (or just plain unlucky…)

    I’m looking for a good roguelike on Android. I’ve tried the following:
    – Dweller is interesting (even if a tad unbalanced on the class-side: Ranger >> Mage > Fighter IMHO)
    – Traquehack has an interesting gimmick, as it’s zoomed in on you and the 8 zones around you, but yeah, not much more.
    – Nethack is impossible to use
    – Hydra Slayer is very interesting (but a good chunk of luck) as you need to calculate your way to victo- survival :p: you need to cut all the remaining heads of the opposing hydra in one go, or they’ll regrow. And the number you cut depends on the size of your weapon (it matters!), its material, and the hydra’s type.

    Have you guys some other good ones?

  • espectra said,

    Modran, here are a few I didn’t see in your list of Android roguelikes:

    Pixel Dungeon: people are raving about this and it’s free and very Brogue-like I believe (or was it DCSS-like??)

    Legends of Yore: quite popular for a long run on Google play – it’s a more casual roguelike.

    Voyage to Farland: (I’m the developer) should be fun for people who like Shiren the Wanderer and don’t mind the virtual DPAD.

  • Shaf said,

    I supported “Tales of Maj”Eyal” in 2011 well worth the money. Thanks for memtioning the OUYA I just got one, specifically to run Retro Classics but since I loverogueLikes and RPG’s all the better.
    Thanks for also mentioning “Sword of Fargoal 2” I wasn’t aware of it, also worht looking at is ZangbandTK and Brogue.

  • Modran said,

    @espectra: Heh. I’m on a train tonight, and you don’t even require any special authorization. You win,I just bought Voyage to farland :).
    I’ll tell you what I think !

  • Modran said,

    (as for pixel dungeon, yeah, I’ve got it too, but can’t go past floor 3. I can’t manage hunger if my life depended on it and it does…)