Roguelikes are still very strong

Roguelikes are still very strong

Once upon a time there was a sub-genre of role-playing games, born at the dawn of the industry that, having started a little quietly, has gained strength over the years, establishing itself above all among developers eager to experiment with algorithms to see up to what point you can push randomness into video games. Thus, issue after issue, the genre took root in common experience, becoming a permanent presence on our screens and in our speeches. We are talking about roguelikes and the fact that they are still going very strong, although some believe they have already said almost everything they could say.


Rogue is considered the progenitor of Roguelikes Roguelikes do not they will never die or, at least, are certainly not dead in 2021. Their very nature makes them particularly fascinating for gamers, full of random reinforcements and mechanics specially designed to dramatically increase longevity. Not only that, because the best titles guarantee total immersion in every game, the rhythm of which is interrupted only by the inevitable death or by reaching the end.

The name of the genre comes from Rogue by Michael Toy, Glen Wichman and Ken Arnold, role-playing game for Unix terminals from 1980, later ported to other systems by A.I. Design, who took care of the MS-DOS version (1984), and Epix, who took care of all the other platforms (1985). The goal given to the player was really simple: go down into a dungeon to find Yendor's Amulet. Unlike other RPGs of the time, such as Jim Connelley's Dunjonquest: Temple of Apshai, Jon Freeman and Jeff Johnson, and Richard Garriott's Akalabeth: World of Doom, Rogue was really simple and straightforward: choosing the name of the character, one was catapulted into the dungeon, each floor of which was a random mix of rooms and corridors.

Another image of Rogue. Notice the Spartan Graphics The player had to scour the dungeon floors, looking for items such as potions or scrolls and making decisions on the spot to not get killed. The deeper levels had some variations, such as dark rooms and stronger enemies, but in general Rogue maintained a great simplicity and clarity of presentation from beginning to end, two characteristics absent from many titles of his time. Considering that that year the then almost newborn video game market saw the release of intricate RPGs such as the first Wizardry or the first Ultima, you will understand that Rogue was in sharp contrast, despite the textual interface and the Spartan graphics made in ASCII code. Sure, it was very difficult, but at the same time it was really accessible. Anyone wishing to try Rogue can easily find it on Steam, where it costs very little.

Beneath Apple Manor

Some consider Beneath Apple Manor for Don Worth's Apple II to be the first real Roguelike. It is an RPG from 1978 with actually all the elements that would later characterize the genre, such as procedurally generated maps. However it did not have a large circulation, so many tend to ignore or forget it.

Roguelike or roguelite?

NetHack is one of the founding titles of Roguelike Rogue established what we can consider the first canons of the kind he gave his name, naturally without knowing it and without intending to do so: randomly generated maps, positioning of objects and enemies included, and permanent death. In 2008, during the International Roguelike Development Conference, enthusiasts will give a broader definition, but at the same time more limiting, the famous and discussed interpretation of Berlin, indicating a circle of founding titles that includes, in addition to Rogue, also ADOM , Angband, Crawl and Nethack, and establishing much stricter rules to be able to become part of the category. For example, the presence of shops contravenes the genre, as well as the ability to move and act in real time. The reason for this ideological squeeze is quite well known: many fans have seen a big loss of consistency in the term roguelike, which has ended up defining all those games with procedurally generated content and a very high difficulty. The most open definition would at the same time be mongrelized and, according to purists, would now represent almost nothing. This is why this subculture was born that distinguishes between the classic roguelikes and all the others, renamed roguelite.

Definitions aside, it is impossible not to notice how we are faced with something really fluid, conceptually speaking, with one faction that would like to impose more stakes for entry into the club and another that instead i paletti does not like them at all and likes a more modern vision of the genre, as well expressed by the developer Darren Gray when he hurled himself against the interpretation of Berlin, in a text that we feel in good part to share, in which a criticism is expressed to the attempt to tie an entire genre to elements that were such only because they were the fruit of their times, such as ASCII graphics for the interface. Academic issues aside, there is no doubt that games with a roguelike structure are now very popular with the public, with dozens of annual releases and constant updates even for very old titles (see Angband or NetHack, for two known and concrete examples). >

Modern roguelikes, from The Binding of Isaac to Returnal

The Binding of Isaac was one of the first modern roguelikes Despite its success, the world of triple A has only recently discovered roguelikes and only through development teams that have always had a pioneering approach to the industry, despite their large size. However, with a few exceptions aside, which we will address later, it is not wrong to say that we are talking about a genre that lives above all on the independent scene, where it has been explored far and wide.

Titles such as The Binding of Isaac, FTL: Faster Than Light, Rogue Legacy and Spelunky have contributed enormously to the commercial relaunch of roguelikes in recent years, a relaunch which then led to other big hits such as Darkest Dungeon, Risk of Rain 1 and 2, Slay the Spire, Enter the Gungeon, Dead Cells and most importantly Hades, the first of its kind to rack up "Game of the Year" awards in 2020. Developed by Super Giant Games, Hades is a game action role-playing with isometric view that puts you in the shoes of Zagreus, the son of Hades.

Ours wants to escape from the kingdom of the underworld, contravening the orders of his father, who will do everything to put a spoke in his wheel by hurling his infernal hordes and the souls of the strongest heroes who ever lived against him . We are faced with a recognized masterpiece, with a very articulated and very varied progression, based on some fixed characteristics and on the acquisition of different skills from game to game. In our judgment, not only is it a great game, but it is also a great introduction to roguelikes, thanks to its modern interface and extreme playability, as well as the presence of features that may appeal to newbies, such as deep narration and written dialogue. really great.

The richest part of the industry, of him, did not get caught up in the fever of the roguelike, dedicating themselves to more easily monetizable titles. Among the few examples of triple A that are approachable to the genre are Prey: Mooncrash, an expansion of Prey that makes the game world the base title and injects us with a healthy dose of random elements. The TranStar moon base therefore becomes the scene of a very difficult challenge, in which every attempt to discover the truth is different from the previous one, despite the fact that the morphology of the map always remains the same.

Returnal is the only concrete attempt in the world of triple A to touch the genre of roguelikes. The most brilliant and unique example of triple A roguelike is actually very recent. This is Returnal by Housemarque, an exclusive title for PS5 that has made a lot of talk about itself in the course of the year that is ending. The game, a third-person action shot from the shoulders of the protagonist, tells of the misadventures of the astronaut Selene on the planet Atropos and the triggering of a cycle that sees her return after each death at the moment of the accident that brought her into a such a hostile place, but with the memory of everything that has happened before. The player's goal is to get to the end of the six biomes that make up Atropos to find out the truth about what's behind the whole thing, so as to break the cycle. All this translates into large procedurally generated levels and a character progression maintained attempt after attempt.

The Future

Darkest Dungeon II is one of the most promising roguelikes to come Returnal is a relatively recent game, but it's hard to say if we'll see others triple A attempting the roguelike route. Surely the genre will not die, given the recent success of titles such as Inscryption by Daniel Mullins, which exploits its mechanics in a creative and original way, or Repentance, yet another expansion of The Binding of Isaac. For example, Stoneshard, The Hand of Merlin and Loot River are worth keeping an eye on, just to name a few. But the list of upcoming games is decidedly more extensive, without considering those already on the market, but still in early access such as Rogue Legacy 2 or Darkest Dungeon II. In short, it is wrong to say that 2021 was the year of roguelikes because in reality there is no year without successful roguelikes, at least not in the last decade and beyond.

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