What’s a Roguelike?

What’s a Roguelike?

Look it up on Wikipedia if you want a great explanation – keep reading if you want my mediocre one. Essentially, a Roguelike is a genre of game that has a few basic qualities that separate and make it unique: (1) randomization, (2) permanent death, (3) turn based combat, and (4) a crap load of crazy dungeon crawling in ASCII form (or a tileset if you prefer, depending on the game).

Rogue started it all, and is the reason this genre of game is called a Roguelike. Basically, they all mimic aspects of Rogue in being dungeon crawling, random generating, addicting little deathfests. Rogue itself was created in 1980, which makes it around 30 years old, and over time one could argue its influence has been enormous. Roguelike games are extremely popular, and they don’t all have to be in ASCII or use a tileset for graphics. Games like Torchlight, Fate 1 and 2, Diablo 1, 2 (and 3 when it comes out), Titan Quest, and even several online games, such as Dungeon Runners and Hellgate can be tagged under a Roguelike genre due to their randomization of items and maps, their ability for permanent death, and bundles of craziness that can ensue as a result of the former.

Albeit Hellgate and Dungeon Runners might not be the best of examples, as both games died due to not being profitable enough. However, I personally loved Hellgate with a fiery passion and wished it had not kicked the bucket. Borderlands, while similar and fun in its own right, just isn’t the same as Hellgate was to me. But I digress, this is to talk about Roguelikes, not lament over games of yesteryear.

There are dozens of Roguelikes, many of which also have tilesets which are a blessing for those who can’t stand ASCII graphics but still love the games, such as myself. Chances are you might’ve already heard of some of the most popular ones. NetHack, IVAN, and Angband are just a few. They can be extremely complex and extremely unforgiving. That’s what appeals to me personally, though. I love a challenge. Most Roguelikes start off with a brutal beginning (where most characters die on the first few levels and people may get frustrated and quit or conversely get addicted and thrive), a relatively easy mid-game (which can turn bad fast when you think you can breeze through the rest of the game), and then an insane end-game.

There is very little plot to most of the traditional Roguelike games, but that is never the main focus. These games don’t need a story line. Most of them follow the exact same plot: proceeding down the dungeon until you find item X and get your ass back alive with it in your possession. The real fun is in the strategy.

They all may have similar traits, but they also all differ extremely in complexity. NetHack, for example, has an absurd amount of ways to do all kinds of different things. You can be turned to stone if you touch a cockatrice (dead or alive), or if it touches you. If you eat a cockatrice egg or have an egg thrown at you you’re toast. However, if you’re wearing a pair of gloves you can pick up a dead one and wield it as a weapon to turn enemies to stone, or throw the egg at enemies to do the same. But beware; even if wearing a pair of gloves, if you’re holding a dead cockatrice and trip while going down a flight of stairs you fall on the corpse, turning you to stone. If you kick the corpse without wearing boots you turn to stone. If you hit a golem with it, it turns into a stone golem to punch your face in.

There are countless ways to play all the different games. Each one has a multitude of classes and races to choose from, most differing greatly in how they play and the strategies you can use to survive and fight. Do you want to be a troll wizard, a complete idiot with very little casting ability but immense strength and regeneration? Sure, why not! Do you want to be a vampire necromancer with an army of giant skeletons, hydra zombies, and abominations? Go for it. How about a dwarf summoner with the ability to create rats, dogs, elementals and butterflies to fight or distract your enemies? Or maybe a mummy monk? With the ability to burn to dust really easily because it’s a goddamn mummy! But you don’t ever have to eat or drink anything. There are deities to follow too; gods which grant special spells and abilities, and even gift you with items or followers to help you fight every now and then.

The point is you can play a Roguelike a thousand different ways, a thousand different times, and still have a new experience. Personally, I’ve played hundreds of characters in the Roguelike that I play regularly and never actually survived long enough to win a game. I’ve gotten quite far with different characters, but never actually beat it. I don’t care. I love it. I’ve invested hours in my farthest characters, getting so deep in the dungeon that I was paranoid every corner would surprise me with my death, and then I died. Stupidly. Always stupidly in hindsight.

But the fact is I just wasted hours and now my little hero was dead and there is nothing I can do to bring him back. I should be pissed and annoyed, but I’m not. So I just created a new one and start from scratch. Maybe this one will last 45 seconds before dying, or maybe this one will be the hero who finally retrieves the item and survives the dungeon. It amazes me how I just don’t mind dying. It doesn’t even frustrate me. I don’t play these games to win. I play them for the sheer enjoyment and challenge of them. It’s all about strategy.

Sometimes you are quite literally going to die no matter what happens, and there is nothing you can do. Those moments do suck, where its’ just a random number generator deciding your fate. But I don’t mind them that much either, because they are few and far between. There is almost always a way out of any fight, be it victory or retreat.

Posted on January 28, 2010, in General. Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I spent far too much time in my youth playing Moria, then angband and it’s variants. Good times.

    Later, me and my friends loved 2-player Diablo on the playstation 1. Something about those games never gets old, and I wish more aspects of them were seen in modern games.

    • I loved Diablo 1 so much when it first came out. At the time it was probably my favorite game, and I couldn’t get enough of it. I remember playing it on the playstation with my cousin, too. But it was always so easy to kill each other with friendly fire on.

      I tried going back to Diablo 1 again not too long ago, but I can’t get into it anymore. Diablo 2 is superior in so many ways, but the absolute main thing that turns me off 1 is how fast you run in it. It’s crazy slow. If you try D2 for 5 minutes, then try D1, you just get sick of how incredibly slow you walk. It might be silly, but that’s what does it for me. I loved the game in its heyday, but it got replaced by 2 in a heartbeat.

      I still love and play 2, and can’t wait for 3. Here’s to hoping more games in the future have the same longevity and replay value as those ones do.

  2. I used to spend time looking at the posts on the YASD bbs. So much funny watching the frustrations of other people. Dying in stupid ways was half the enjoyment of the game!


    Of course, I had my share of stupid deaths too… like the time I pinned myself under a rock in Sokoban, or the time I forgot I was a gnome and genocided my race.

    My personal favorite was the time my sacrificing in Minetown summoned Jubilex, who of course liked evil me… but then I was blinded by another monster and ‘accidentally’ attacked the elder demon. Whoops…

  3. The Nintendo DS has a nice rogue-like in the form of Shiren the Wanderer (which I think may be getting made for the Wii). Also the Izuna (?) games, which combine great rogue-like gameplay with boob jokes. How can you go wrong?

  4. Just thought I’d stop by to throw Crawl into the mix. You can host it yourself or join the crowd at akrasiac.org, which hosts tournaments and will generate statistics and logs and other things for you.


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