by @slashie, builder of the Temple of the Roguelike, 2022. v1.3.1
The foundations of this article are the conclusions from my talk at the Roguelike Celebration in 2017. Click here for a brief history of the “roguelike” term. It has been updated in 2022 to address the missing considerations about meta-progression.
As wisely stated on the homepage of roguebasin, one doesn’t simply ask “What is a roguelike?”
Many people have tried to define what a “roguelike” is, more so given its recent usage as a term to describe a wide variety of games with different features. While there is no ultimate answer to that question, given the nature of the word and its history, I believe it’s useful to share and spread the core values of the Traditional Roguelikes, merely to help people discover newly created games that follow the original format more closely than others, as well as allow this specific branch of roguelikes to continue evolving on its own. My interpretation is inspired by what I call the “Second Age of Roguelike Development”, happening around 1995 to 2005.
While I believe modern roguelike developers should feel free to include as many or as few ingredients as they want from the historical roguelikes into their games in order to make fun and innovative experiences, it should make sense to qualify their games appropriately to distinguish them from these traditional style games.
Having said that, here are what I believe to be the core aspects of traditional roguelikes:
1. Permanent Consequences
The outcome of any action you take into the game cannot be rolled back by reloading a saved game (including death).
This encourages both careful tactical play and long-term strategies and planning and increases the excitement of advancing through the procedural content generated by the game.
The player controls a single character in the game at a time, this is in contrast to both a.) games where the player doesn’t control person-like characters or vehicles directly (for example puzzles) and b.) “god” style games where the player is an abstract entity creating and managing multiple discardable “units”.
Being character-centric helps the player establish a strong relationship with the individual characters, increasing the impact of the permanent consequences.
3. Procedural content
Increases the replayability of the game by having most or all of the world be generated by the game for every new gameplay session.
In addition to providing an incentive for players to dig into the game, procedural content serves as a tool to prevent the player from being frustrated by the harsh effect of permanent consequences, reflected in having to start gameplay sessions from scratch frequently.
Gameplay is similar to a board game where you can think about your actions carefully, having infinite time to reflect on your available options to face the situations presented by the game using the resources you have at hand.
This is relevant given consequences are permanent, and the intent of the game is not to test how quickly the player can take an acceptable decision but rather to challenge him to think out the best move he can make in critical scenarios.
5. Clean Runs
The consequences of death are permanent. This includes losing any progress you had made in the game. There is no “meta-progression”, as a player you don’t acquire any advantage to be applied to characters on subsequent runs, other than the knowledge you have acquired about the game.
The player represents a character, not an entire legacy of them. The games are designed so that you are rewarded for how you use your growing knowledge to adapt to the procedurally generated challenges, obtaining drastically different results compared with your initial runs while keeping the same in-game starting conditions.
Throughout the years there have been several efforts to interpret What a Roguelike is; while none of them should be used as a definitive guide to classifying a game as a roguelike, they can give an idea of the many features the games of the genre have:
- My 7 points “Classic Roguelike” criteria (2014)
- The 15 points Berlin Interpretation (2008)
- My 13 points “roguelikeness” factors (2008)
- 1.3 – August 10, 2022 – Improved text and added references to meta progression
- 1.3.1 – August 10, 2022 – Reduced prescriptiveness and renamed article
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