Jan 7, 2012

Digging deeper and more greedily into Roguelikes

This morning I thought I'd go a bit more in depth on the phenomenon that is the roguelike genre, seeing as I've recently mentioned it in my reviews of Dungeons of Dredmor and The Binding of Isaac, and also because the genre remains completely unknown to perhaps even most of today's avid gamers.

There are even different opinions about what types of games can be called roguelike. For a game to fit that label for me it must meet a few requirements. For starters, that it is turnbased. Roguelikes are not about fast action or good reflexes, but as carefully as possible exploring its dungeons because of its second requirement, the completely unforgiving difficulty it must offer.  For me, the nail biting suspense and rage inducing moments that lead up to every character's gory deaths is perhaps the largest factor that defines a roguelike.  Carefully, step by step and searching every corner for traps, hidden enemies and secret rooms and knowing that even then, my character can very possibly be dead in the next couple turns to some invisible frost ball flinging ogre mage, or impossibly strong golem.  The third and as important as my previous requirement is the element of randomness.  Dungeon floors and room layouts have to be random, the same goes for the enemies.  The same goes for found loot, shop contents and preferably, starting stats and gear loadouts.  Finally, characters that die are lost forever except to memories and a high score table. No saving before opening each new room or drinking some strange potion that could grant you a wish, or destroy your innards with poison.  This is commonly referred to as permadeath, but other terms used can be DiD (dead is dead), or "hardcore".

As mentioned before there are different opinions of what games can be called roguelike. I've seen it used for both games like the Diablo series, and The Binding of Isaac.  While I can see the logic since both rely heavily on randomly generated content, I still have to disagree simply because they are not turn-based games. I'd call them action RPGs at best, or just action games. The roleplay factor in these games are well, close to nil.  Dungeons of Dredmor gets a roguelike stamp of approval from me though, despite the option to turn off permadeath.  At least permadeath is enabled by default, clearly encouraging players to enjoy the game properly. :)  I would love to hear what others feel on the roguelike label, what are your requirements to fit the genre?

The game that started it all, Rogue.
Screenshot from Wikipedia.
I'll leave that subject for now, though because I also wanted to take a nostalgic look back at some of the roguelikes I've played.  There are unfortunately still a lot of them I haven't even tried out due to the amount of time it takes to learn and enjoy each of these games fully.  Did I mention that these games tend to be darned hard?

Now then!  Roguelikes are a genre I've enjoyed a bit on and off up through the years.  The game that introduced me was Rogue, the game that coined the genre itself, hence roguelikes.  My godfather had a home computer (fairly rare at the time, this was mid-80's) with the game installed.  To be brutally honest though, I was too young to really understand what was going on and didn't really appreciate Rogue as I probably should have.  Space Invader'ish games were far more interesting!  Rogue was also a relatively simple game, at least compared to the myriad of games succeeding it over the years.

Nethack in all its ASCII glory.
Screenshot from Wikipedia.

My next encounter was Nethack which I copied on floppy disc from a friend some time after I bought my first home PC.  Nethack was a far more advanced game and the first I really put a lot of hours into and learned to play properly.  The main quest was similar to that of Rogue's but also introduced side and class quests. It also introduced classes for that matter if I remember correctly, deities to worship, different playable races, inventory and gear and such.  Nethack really had me hooked.

Ragnarok. Now with graphics!
Screenshot borrowed from www.roguetemple.com

Around the same time, after I had played Nethack to death I also found a game called Ragnarok.  This game is fairly unique in that its one of the first roguelikes to use graphical interface and game worlds instead of ASCII signs.  I am not 100% sure now but I also believe the game was initially not freeware, unlike most games of its kind even today.  Ragnarok was a pretty darn fun game, and I appreciated the norse mythology it was built on.  It also introduced some new features to the genre such as changing character classes during the game, and even let your character permanently polymorph himself into incredible (or laughably puny) monsters.  While not among the top roguelike games ever, Ragnarok might be a suitable place to start for players looking to ease into the genre thanks to its use of graphics instead of Ascii.

Glorious, endlessly replayable ADOM.
Screenshot from Wikipedia.
The last game I want to round this up with is the fantastic postcardware game Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM).  This is easily the roguelike I've thrown away the most hours and days of my life on and remains my favourite game of the genre today. Released in 1994 by Thomas Biskup and frequently updated until 2002 expanding in its features, this game is still essential to have on my HD and I actually still have fun playing it from time to time. I must have gotten several hundred brave adventurers killed on this title.

ADOM is the most deep roguelike I've played so far. It offers a wealth of race and class choices to play as, an alignment system, talents(or perks), a complex deity system, different victory conditions (as if anyone ever gets that far), tons of quests and powerful artifacts.  It is also very content rich with many different dungeons and other places of interest to explore, including a world map to explore with its many dangerous random encounters.  This all added up, ADOM is an endlessly replayable game, the game experience is wildly different each time, and thats even before you start playing around with all the amusing race and class combinations you can play.  Many classes are also considerably harder or easier than others. A halfling farmer will find it almost impossible to survive even the first levels of exploration, while a gray elf wizard or troll warrior may have a significantly easier time, at least initially. Unless said trolls encounter any ghosts of course.. Just a couple hits from them will age them to the point they die on the spot of old age.

ADOM is highly recommended from me, for anyone interested in the genre who hasn't played it yet.  I'm tempted to recommend it to beginners as well, but I have to admit the game is really, really complex to get started on and will probably discourage newcomers, better then to start with for example Dungeons of Dredmor and then play ADOM. :)  It is available for a number of operating systems, but I think the best would be the MS-DOS version.  It is the most updated one anyway and can be played fullscreen unlike the windows version.

These are the roguelikes I've spent the most time on to date.  I'm still enjoying Dungeons of Dredmor quite a bit and will probably be playing that for a while still, especially now that it has proper mod support.  Once that's done, I'm thinking I should try out Angband, but I'd love to hear from you all what YOUR favourite rogulikes are, that I should sink my teeth into!

'till next time!


Anonymous said...

I`ll always remember the ADOM adventures of Parcalian!! He kicked ass!! ;) Regards Erik

Vads said...

Ohyeah. :)

Jøsses, det var en hyggelig overraskelse å se deg her, Erik! Håper alt er bra med deg og folka dine. :)

Blacktalon said...

Yo Vads!

Been trying to get in touch with you for a while; let me know if you get this message and we'll figure out how to contact each other. :)


Vads said...

Hey Blackie man, yeah I responded to that other comment you left a while ago in some ancient post. :)

if you use steam, xfire or raptr you can find me there searching the email larspett80@live.no or username hybelkanin (might be hybel instead on Steam)

Jeremie said...

Definitely try out Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup if you haven't already. It is excellent!