Tuesday 1 January 2008

What is a roguelike?

The new poll on commercial roguelikes is up. Of course, I've been fairly broad in defining what commercial is, and more importantly, what a roguelike is.

I'm interested to hear your thoughts on the matter. Is it not using graphics? Perma-death? Randomly generated dungeons? Rapidly ramping up difficulty level? Should I have added Uplink: Hacker Elite?


Rebecca said...

I define a commercial roguelike as 'one that is sold online or in a store, like other commercial games'.
But that's simple, and sort of dodges the issue. In order to stand a chance of recouping any money spent developing the game, however, the game has to appear playable to the intended audience, and that audience is not just fans of roguelikes such as NetHack and Angband - though wasn't NetHack once commercial?
So the games are simplified - you may have a single possible character to play (Azure Dreams with Koh, Shiren the Wanderer with Shiren, Chocobo's Mysterious Dungeon with Chocobo), and rather than permadeath in those cases, you just lose your progress in your current attempt and any items you carried with you. You retained items kept in storage. You might even be able to restart from an earlier save made outside the dungeon (Azure Dreams).
There are less items, less unique and normal enemies - rather than having race/class combinations, such as... goblin shamans? You just get goblins, or maybe red goblins, green goblins and blue goblins, and they all act the same, except green and blue goblins do more damage than red, and don't appear on the same levels.
They're also made easier to understand, visually - it's part of making it accessible to a wide audience, again, but also part of not convincing them they wasted their money on a game that can't even be bothered to use graphics, rather than coloured letters. You can assume that at least a portion of the audience wants to try the game first without reading the manual, too, so being able to identify items onscreen without resorting to a help command - which might not even exist - lowers frustration on that score.

Losing permadeath and allowing a player to gradually increase the character's abilities - by saving good items and equipment for future attempts, or providing 'helper' characters the player can have accompany him (Azure Dreams, Chocobo's Dungeon)

So it's easier to understand, and easier to play, overall. There are a couple of games on the list that I'm not sure I'd define as roguelikes, if asked to reel off my own list - I can see why they're there, but something just doesn't seem right about them overall.
Diablo and Diablo 2, for example; one key feature of roguelikes for me was, always, that the action took place in turns. I only very recently started playing Diablo 2 - Christmas gift - and though it has random loot and maps, upgradeable class-defined characters of generic identity, and the occasional quest, the game's combat (thus far) relies primarily on the player's skill at clicking quickly in the right directions, and repeating until everything else is dead. Outside of combat, preparation seems to consist of equipment, selected spell/attack, number of Rogues accompanying, and what potions you have on belt. You can't do much in combat paused.
Wierd Worlds is another I wouldn't have listed, but now that I see it there I think it fits better than Diablo 2 does - like Diablo 2, combat runs in real-time, but you can pause at any moment and, importantly, update ship orders. The reason I wouldn't have listed it is that my idea of what a 'dungeon' is, is limited to... well... dungeons. Not the random depths of space and planets.

...others I just haven't heard about. A Gundam Mysterious Dungeon? JauntTrooper? FastCrawl? Why not S.T.A.L.K.E.R., if you have Diablo?

Azure Dreams has always been my favourite; before that game I'd only really messed around with Moria as a kid. Azure Dreams reintroduced me to the genre. Nowadays I look at it and think it's a member of the Mysterious Dungeon series of games in all but name, as there are numerous similarities between that game and Shiren, or Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, or Chocobo's... or any of them. Azure Dreams is still my favourite, though.

rnx said...

no kamyran's eye 2?
More of a roguelike than most others here.

Joshua Smyth said...

1.) Randomly generated dungeons.
2.) Character that advances in skills and abilities as you play.

That's about all I require in my roguelike definition.

Slashie said...

My favs are definitively Azure Dreams and Lufia II (for its eternal dungeon I guess?)

Diablos (I and II) are nice too... a shame they are realtime :P

Ravious said...

I would disagree with Rebecca on the definition of commercial. I think that yes, roguelikes you have to pay to play are commercial roguelikes. Roguelikes that are open source are usually well out of the commercial range. It is the tweeners that I am not wholly certin about: ADOM, Dwarf Fortress, and Incursion to name a few, where they are free to play, but closed source.

Look at ADOM's web page... that guy seems to want to milk every penny he can from ADOM fans, and it is no secret that the Dwarf Fortress developer is practically living off of donations. They are providing a service (that can really not be provided by anyone else, i.e., closed source), and it seems they hope to profit. Incursion is a little different because we have the "gentleman's promise" of open source next decade.

In my mind a roguelike is most characterized by two things 1) severe consequences for all actions, but not necessarily perma-death, and 2) random world generation, whether the world is just dungeons and potions or has its own history. I think the next characteristics would be a personal style play (@) where the advancement and acquisition of loot is core to the game.

Now that being said, I am a fanatic of the Earth B definition, and I think that roguelikes are fairly squarely in the Earth B umbrella. In my mind Earth B games focus on replayability, depth of content, and complexity far above graphics. In my mind Earth B games are what emergent play and procedural content marry in the most harmonious ways.

Anyway I would not have included Uplink because I think it does not have the personal style play that roguelikes have. To me it is kind of a glorified mini-game. I would barely consider it an Earth B game because its depth of content is very minimal.

Alex said...

Gain in abilities over time (based partly on initial character choices and partly on items found), randomly generated dungeons, and permanent death.

ASCII interface optional.

Robert said...

Three things are definitive to me:
(1) Turn-based.
(2) Gameplay centers strongly on a single game object.
(3) The game has been designed to maintain replayability even after hundreds of plays.

If you have 2 and 3 but not 1, you have an action game like Diablo or Chip's Challenge.

With 1 and 3 but not 2, you have a strategy game like X-Com or Civilization.

With 1 and 2 but not 3, you have either an RPG or IF, depending on how much randomness affects the game. Permadeath is not necessary, but strongly facilitates 3.