R is for Roguelikes

The computer game Rogue was developed circa 1980 by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman.  You played as an adventurer seeking the Amulet of Yendor (Rodney backwards) and traversed a dungeon that had randomly generated levels.  Rogue, by comparison to most of its contemporary arcade cousins like Space Invaders, was mean and inhuman.  There were no “graphics” aside from an ASCII interface, the controls were complex and unintuitive, and there was never a second life or continue.  What happened if your hero happens to get killed off by something puny like a bat?  Well, your character’s dead now.  Have a nice day!

Rogue was, in some ways, an interesting way to simulate tabletop rpg’s like D&D on a computer.  The genre of games that it spawned (called “roguelikes”) took on this call more thoroughly as they allowed for greater customization of the character (such as class and race).  What I find fascinating is that Rogue’s features like permadeath, ASCII, or starvation (yes, you have to eat) have been faithfully carried on into modern roguelikes.  Games like Angband or NetHack are more advanced in form and features (there is, for example, a myriad of magical items and monsters), but they still have that old school feel.

Most roguelikes are released for free by the genre’s community of developers, but some have achieved commercial success (such as the Mystery Dungeon franchise or the recent Dungeons of Dredmor).  Where most people encounter the influence of roguelikes is through games like the Diablo franchise which takes place in randomly generated dungeons and the option (at least in part 2) of permadeath.  The recent indie sandbox Minecraft is spiritually similar to roguelikes because it’s a randomly generated adventure game with the option of permadeath.

(More on Diablo:  We wouldn’t have World of Warcraft without it.  Yet it makes me wonder, what if WoW had a single server with a few gameplay tweaks to be more aligned with its ancestor?  If there was a permadeath and starvation, going outside the town would be a risk and going into a dungeon would be a major gamble.  Leveling up to 20 or so would be an accomplishment and hitting max level would be amazing.  Dying in a full size raid would be crushing and the whole serve (both factions) would sings songs of lament.  Not dying in a full size raid would likely be impossible.  But let’s say they went all the way and slew the dragon…they would be spoken of in hushed whispers as legends.  In short, the game would be really, really cool.)


3 Responses to “R is for Roguelikes”

  1. I’m continuously surprised how Rogue-likes have been flourishing in recent years. Even small publishers like Atlus have been bringing over even more niche-roguelikes like Izuna and Shiren the Wanderer. Then of course there was the spree of indie games like Dungeons of Dredmor and Desktop Dungeons.

    To me Permadeath is an annoyance in a modern game, but because I grew up with games like Arkista’s ring if permadeath is done in a retro or revitalized series of games I rather enjoy it. Although that may be the nostalgia talking. If you’d like to see an interesting innovation in death mechanics I highly recommend looking at Dark Souls and its predecessor.

    Sidenote: There have been a few MMO’s that do that, but they tend to fail because very few people are willing to continue playing a game with such great risks and no enticing carrot. Still, it would be really cool, and the single player mmo-emulator .Hack// on the PS2 actually pulled this off fairly well.

    • Shiren on the DS had an interesting feature where, after dying, you could be possibly resurrected by another player through the Internet. I never got it to work because there are so few people playing it. But I bet if you found some of the community’s online boards and put out a request, perhaps they’d come to your rescue!

      I have played Dark Souls and I’m really intrigued by the bonfire concept. I am curious to see if the system could have any place in a tabletop game.

      And I think you’re exactly right about permadeath’s unpopularity. The only current permadeath MMO I’m familiar with is Realms of the Mad God. It certainly makes sense why it’s a free game because so few would be willing to play it!

      • I actually think the bonfire is the perfect example of how to do milestone style gaming, which 4e clumsily tried to execute. I’ve been planning on tackling that but Dark Souls would require a mammoth of a post which I regret not writing when I was playing the game.

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