Roguelikes are a type of game that relies heavily on procedural content generation to assemble levels and even enemies. Often referred to as dungeon crawlers, most roguelikes cast you as a warrior traversing a deep underground area, with each level being created by the game on the fly.
Once upon a time, roguelikes used to be quite popular. Just as military shooters get the blood pumpin’ today, vast, blotchy caverns and Tolkien-ish plots used to be a staple of the gaming life. Now those blotchy pixel and procedurally generated games have given way to more cinematic, epic, 3D adventures. Deus Ex. Mass Effect. Skyrim. We’ve grown bigger and better at almost everything, save one: the joy of random levels, of finding new, unexpected things, of being able to run through a game without a wiki – that’s been lost. And entire generation of gamers my age barely know anything beyond Call of Duty, Need For Speed and Warcraft.
Though recently, roguelikes seem to be returning. Torchlight and Diablo III are bringing the fight back on the 3D level, while games like Edmund Mcmillen‘s the Binding of Isaac are slowly bringing back the joys of 2D dungeon crawling to the modern gamer. Lately, I can’t help but notice that the “#D is everything” debate is wearing thin, and indies are straying off the Angry Birds path and onto procedural content, and eventually on to roguelikes. Nethack’s being reincarnated, so to speak, as a new generation of “retro” games. I’ve got a review for one of them [ Legends of Yore ] in the background as I type this. Even Minecraft, come to think of it, has certain roguelike elements.
I can’t help marvelling at the power of roguelikes. From my own tussles with procedural game development, I know how powerful it can be [and how difficult it is to get right]. A roguelike’s a game that never runs out of maps, never stops delivering new content; a game that, if enjoyable enough, will last you a lifetime. A good game designer has to balance the gameplay of a roguelike down to pinpoint levels – there’s no set pieces here, no previously choreographed cutsenes, nobody telling the player to “Move to Point A and flank the soldiers at B, Private”. you’re essentially putting the player in the hands of the machine, so you better tell it exactly how it should go about things. There’s a lot more to it than just building a level generator and poking in a few Elvish items.
I’m getting sleepy now. Nevermind; my rant is at an end. Final word: Roguelikes are coming back [they appear to] as indies, and I for one welcome them. It’s time we got something unknown to explore.
- ROGUES ROGUES EVERYWHERE but there is unfortunately a more limited selection for Macs (ask.metafilter.com)
- Roguelike Radio: The Binding of Isaac (rockpapershotgun.com)
- Potions And Pitfalls: My Year In Roguelikes (rockpapershotgun.com)