Rogue-likes have been around since at least 1980, the year the original game the genre is named after, Rogue, was released. The genre has recently seen a renaissance, with an explosion of games identifying as rogue-like (despite many of them not quite meeting the criteria in the purest sense—these games which utilize some elements of classic rogue-likes while infusing them with more modern gameplay styles are colloquially known as “roguelites”).
So, what makes a rogue-like a rogue-like? Justin Williams Laser explains the most important features:
1) Random level generation. One of the most important parts of a rogue-like is experiencing a different map every time you play, making each play session unique.
2) Permanent character death. Justin Williams Laser points out that this ties in neatly with the number one feature of random level generation: every time you lose, you must start over from the beginning.
These two features are what most modern-day games are referring to when they brand themselves as a rogue-like or roguelite. However, there are many features that for decades were considered essential to the rogue-like experience.
3) Tile-based map/dungeon. Traditionally, Justin Williams Laser explains, a rogue-like’s map is tile-based, similar to a game board. This allows for easier generation of levels by the game’s algorithm, and also for simpler implementation of depth of the game’s logic systems. Justin Williams Laser gives the example of “water” tiles slowing down player characters and conducting electricity, or “fire” tiles burning cloth items.
4) Resource management. Typically, Justin Williams Laser says, rogue-likes forced you to make use of an inventory system, wherein you must carefully decide which items to bring along with your character, and which to ditch or use on the spot. Typically, these inventory systems are either grid-based (fitting as many items as you can in your “bag” by rearranging them) or weight-based (each item is assigned a weight, and your character’s stats determine how much you can hold).
If you’re looking for a modern take on the classic roguelike genre, Justin Williams Laser recommends Dungeons of Dredmor. The art style is cartoony and hand-drawn, compared to the original Rogue’s ASCII characters used for graphics, but it retains many classic elements, including the tile-based movement and combat system and inventory management that are typical of the genre.
As Justin Williams Laser had stated earlier, there is an increasing amount of rogue-like elements in modern games. These “roguelites” are experiencing massive success in the industry, perhaps, Justin Williams Laser postulates, because of the ability to fully “complete” a run-through of the game in one sitting.
Slay the Spire is one such example: it’s a deckbuilding card game where the goal is to battle AI enemies as you ascend three “floors”, however, every time you play, you start from scratch at the very beginning, and the encounters are randomized.
Another example Justin Williams Laser gives us is Crypt of the Necrodancer, which at a glance on its surface looks like a classic rogue-like. You make your way through randomized levels of a dungeon, collecting items for your inventory and power-ups along the way. The twist is this is a rhythm game, and you must make every action in time with the catchy tunes that are constantly playing over your quest.
If the current trend is any indication, there are going to be a lot more roguelite and rogue-like games releasing in the near future, and Justin Williams Laser can’t wait to see what the future has in store for the genre.