Indie games are rushing to embrace the principles of the old roguelikes, with great success. Daniel Wilks explains.
By Daniel Wilks on July 8, 2013 at 1:01 pm
Ever since Rogue first appeared on the scene back in 1980, games with Rogue-like elements have been a mainstay of the RPG genre. For those three of you unfamiliar with Rogue and Rogue-like games, Rogue was the first, but by no means the last, or best ASCII based, procedurally generated dungeon crawl.
Players took the role of a randomly generated character and tried to make their way to the bottom of a dungeon, then back to the surface. You had only one chance – death in Rogue, and many of the games it inspired, was permanent. Rogue went on to inspire Hack, the game that went on to become NetHack, arguably the most well known of the direct Rogue descendants, as well as countless other games, including AfterMan, the game that inspired Wasteland and the Fallout series. The impact of Rogue-like gameplay is still evident today.
It’s easy to argue that games like Diablo, or any other ARPG that used procedurally generated levels and a predominance of loot drops owes more than a small debt of gratitude to Rogue and its developers, Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman. Case in point, Path of Exile currently seems to be paying tribute to its forebears with a season of “Descent” races, in which players battle permadeath to make their way to the depths of a randomly generated dungeon, but that’s not what I want to talk about today. What I want to talk about is how more traditional Rogue-like games are making a comeback in a big way.
One of the absolute standout games of last year was FTL, a title that handily combined space sim and Rogue-like gameplay as the player attempted to make their way across a hostile galaxy rife with pirates, rebels and cosmic disasters. It seems as though FTL has reawakened a primal passion for randomly generated adventure, because 2013 and 2014 are positively dripping with impressive looking takes on Rogue-like gameplay.
First off the mark we have the recently released Rogue Legacy (http://www.roguelegacy.com/), a side scrolling action platformer (in the Metroidvania vein) that takes an interesting approach to the problem of permadeath and continuity. Players initially start as a brave, randomly generated hero from a selection of simple classes. When that hero dies, the player can then choose from one of three randomly generated progeny, and so on and so forth. As the game progresses, players can unlock new classes and abilities, making for more and more varied progeny becoming available upon death. It’s brilliant, hugely addictive and easily worth the $15 being asked.
Also this year come Risk of Rain (http://riskofrain.tumblr.com), a side scrolling platform shooter that sees players fighting off hordes of enemies whilst scrabbling for random drops and Shovel Knight (http://www.yachtclubgames.com), an action platformer tribute to 8 and 16-bit games. Whilst these two games skirt the boundaries of what defines a Rogue-like game, concentrating more on the procedural generation of levels more so than randomly generated characters, two other games set for release in 2014 definitely recall both the feel and style of more traditional Rogue-like games.
Due out in Q1, 2014, The Binding of Isaac: Rebirth (http://www.nicalis.com)will see players returning to the creepy, theologically tinged nightmare that is Isaac’s life – an existence predicated by self doubt, randomly generated levels, loot drops and heaps of enemies. Developer Edmund McMillen has kept mum on most of the actual details of the game aside from the fact that it will be bigger than both the original Binding of Isaac and its expansion, and that co-op, a feature cut from the original, will be implemented.
Finally we have the most impressive looking, and my most anticipated game on this list. Due out in May 2014, Chasm (http://www.chasmgame.com), although it adopts the side scrolling format that seems to be the mainstay of Rogue-like games at the moment, is probably the most traditional of the games on offer, with a hero, a descent into caves, random level design, random look, abilities predicated by said random loot and a hardcore permadeath mode. If you’re interested you can download the GDC demo from the website now.
Anything I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments below.