Writer of Friday's Top Fives, Oliver Toms, laments the lack of exposure of games that identify themselves as 'roguelikes' have. Never heard of them? Then make sure you pay close attention as Oliver explains what they are:
It’s a shame, really, that so many gamers know what terms such as FPS, MMO or RTS mean, but comparatively few know the meaning of the terms ‘roguelike’ or ‘roguelite’. Perhaps you’ve heard it before from a friend, or in the description of a Steam game. Chances are if you play a lot of PC games you’ve played at least one ‘roguelike’ in the past, even if you don’t know what it is. For those of you to whom this applies, then, hopefully this little guide will provide a decent introduction to a genre which is rapidly expanding both in popularity and in significance to the gaming industry.
It’s tricky to really grasp what a ‘roguelike’ is because, as with so many other genres of game, the genre has evolved from its initial form into a sprawling web of different features and ideas. We can be sure, however, that the term came from the 1980 title Rogue, a role-playing game (RPG) which placed the player in the role of an adventurer who must fight through the floor of a monster-infested dungeon to advance to the next floor, and the next, and so on. The game received critical acclaim, and its popularity prompted a number of similar games from developers seeking to imitate the Rogue formula.
The following is a list of the typical features of these games. Games with the label of ‘roguelike’ or ‘roguelite’ tend to follow at least two or three of these rules:
Dungeon Crawling – the game revolves around the player progressing from floor to floor of a dungeon filled with a multitude of enemies. Dungeons are comprised of multiple rooms, and you can only exit each room when every enemy there has been defeated.
Fantasy/Magic – The vast majority of games in the ‘roguelike’ genre take place inside a high fantasy environment, filled with magical spells and equipment, as well as fantastical enemies and locations.
Tile-based – Players and enemies move from one tile to the next, like a game of chess.
Permanent Death – In most games, when the player dies, they are teleported back to the last checkpoint, or save-point. In a ‘roguelike’, when you die, it’s game over. You go back to the beginning.
Procedural Level Generation – The game relies upon algorithms to create a unique, randomised map every time you play. While in most games the levels are created by level-designers and never change, in a ‘roguelike’ you never play in the same level twice.
Enemy Variety – Instead of a single type of enemy, a ‘roguelike’ often prides itself on throwing dozens and dozens of different types of enemies at you, to keep the gameplay experience interesting and engaging.
Progression/Difficulty – The further you progress, the more likely you are to find better weaponry and equipment or otherwise increase the power of your character. To compensate for this, the deeper you delve into the dungeon, the more challenging the enemies become, and the harder it is to stay alive.
‘Roguelike’ vs ‘Roguelite’
By now, in addition to the term ‘roguelike’ I’ve also mentioned the related subgenre of ‘roguelite’, and the line between the two subgenres can get pretty blurry. Basically, any game influenced by these ideas which isn’t quite similar enough to be called a ‘roguelike’ is instead called a ‘roguelite’, or a ‘procedural death labyrinth’. ‘Roguelites’ tend to expand the genre to new areas by combining the above features with the features of different genres. ‘Roguelikes’ aren’t necessarily identical to the original Rogue, but they do stay pretty close to its original formula. ‘Roguelites’ lack the zealous mimicry of ‘roguelikes’, preferring instead to mix things up a little and introduce new tones and flavours to the genre.
Oliver Toms, Games and Tech Columnist
What are your favourite ‘Roguelikes?’ Want to know more about the sub-genre? Then feel free to drop us an email at firstname.lastname@example.org. For more on everything else games and tech, check us out on Facebook and Twitter.
Be sure to keep checking back here at Exeposé Games and Tech for part 2 of Oliver’s Beginner’s Guide To ‘Roguelikes,’ where he picks out his personal ‘roguelike’ recommendations.