In recent years, in what we like to call the ‘era of the indies’, it is hard to ignore the amount of innovation independent developers are bringing to the table. Even harder to ignore is the popularity of roguelike games and their respective mechanics in other genres, for example; randomness, permanent death of characters, the ability to power up during instances of play and lose said improvements upon defeat.
The advancements in technology, alongside the benefits of procedural generation and fun of random number generators creates a unique opportunity for independent developers to create more using less.
Some would argue that the roguelike genre has been on the rise since June 2013 with the blowout release of Rogue Legacy into the gaming sphere. Great games in the likes of Slay the Spire and The Binding of Isaac have dominated the market with great use of the benefits paving the path for amazing games to follow.
In this blog post we’ll discuss the benefits of integrating roguelike and roguelite mechanics into games in an example of a genre that is both trendy, technological, relevant and strongly beneficial for developers and players alike.
The ‘Old Histories’ of the Roguelike Genre
The history of roguelikes can be traced back to its root with the game Rogue (1980), the game was innovation at its peak, created by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman alongside Ken Arnold, Rogue was a dungeon crawler developed for Unix-based mainframe systems, distributed freely.
The premise was, in today’s standards, simple, the players were required to take control of a character in exploration of procedurally generated dungeons represented in ASCII in search of the Amulet of Yendor.
Along the way, players had to fend off monsters, collect treasures that helped offensively or defensively. Rogue was turn-based in nature allowing players to take their time making decisions as death in the game was permanent.
Rogue was groundbreaking in its combination of previously used ideas, dungeon crawling wasn’t new nor was procedural generation, yet the combination of both with permadeath and D&D inspired items resulted in the basis of the roguelike genre as we know it.
The Benefits of Roguelike Mechanics in Games
When we’re looking at games nowadays, we have much more data, knowledge and experience as an entertainment industry. We know that content is key and good content will prevail. We also know that graphical appeal is important but there have been and will continue to be success stories that have everything but graphical fidelity.
What is it, then, that makes roguelikes so popular today?
First of all, potential infinite content.
No matter how fun a game is, it won’t hold players for long if there’s nothing to play anymore. The concept of procedural generation allow games to create borderline infinite experience or pipelines. Whether its asset generation, maps, enemies, stories or complete experiences, the concepts of procedural generation as used in roguelikes is very appealing with the technology we have today. Let's take a look for example at the ‘nemesis system’ from the Shadow of Mordor games.
Creating meaningful and memorable enemies isn’t easy, writing and lore building take time and creativity.
The nemesis system can, through various different approaches to interactions in the game, create unique enemies from a set pool of variables that are then able to act and react in a plethora of ways. All these layers of variables and possibilities create a mathematical spectacle, there are almost infinite possibilities of what can happen with each new Orc in the game.
Then we have the meta progression.
A good meta system (META = most effective tactics available) is one that balances meaningful progression over a difficulty curve along the game. A lot of games outside of the roguelite genre have a strict difficulty curve to allow players to reach from start to finish. The end line is not as strict in roguelite games and as these games often have more than one goal to work towards they allow developers to have a more harsh and a longer difficulty curve over the games’ progress.
Often games will have a difficulty curve as shown above, this is done to allow players to have meaningful challenges to overcome and time to enjoy the accomplishment working towards the next goal.
Roguelikes are much steeper because of permadeath (permanent death), yet, as roguelites have meta progression, each round is meaningful and creates options for advancement and further reach in subsequent plays. Be in through easier play, more resources, new options and more. This new dynamic truly shines when these games also provide new mechanics and opportunities over progression from the game’s perspective like new enemy mechanics, new bosses, maps, terrain, etc.
After discussing content and meta, it is time to talk about the third standout pro for the Rogue genre and its fun.
Due to a lot of mechanics being partially or fully based on RNG (Random Number Generators), there’s a strong surprise and risk-reward aspect to these games.
Namely, risk - reward dynamics being one of if not the most important aspect to fun in video games.
From the decision making of turn based RPGs like Final Fantasy through the gripping decision making of Civilization games to the gripping moment to moment fun of cracking a strong build and engaging in a godlike powerhouse stomping of the entire game in Warm Snow, risk - reward mechanics are rooted in decision, the core of gameplay with differences lying in the scope and pacing of these decisions. Do I hide or run? Do I reload or shoot? Do I heal or attack? Flank or Storm the gates?
Roguelikes give grave consequence to each choice due to permadeath and roguelites, while having permadeath as well, also provide the promise of reaching a little further next time.
This dynamic blossoms in the best Rogue games of today like Neon Abyss, Risk of Rain 1 & 2 and Loop Hero to name a few.
Lastly, the rogue genres lend themselves beautifully to genre blending.
These mechanics are easily integrated into stories, tropes and different genres in various degrees so that it’s almost imperative to avoid them either in creation of tools or in gameplay and mechanics.
Games like Darkest Dungeon (Horror, dungeon exploration), FTL (Space exploration, management) and Dead Cells (Metroidvania) are all examples of different genres blending Rogue mechanics into their core to create magnificent gaming experiences.
It is hard to ignore the Roguelike and Roguelite genres, their relevance, appeal and benefits to production and development.
We believe that they are here to stay mainly due to the fact that they are the current epitome of the risk - reward dynamic in games and allow for it to shine in glory.
So, next time you’re either playing, developing or investing in a game, ask yourself if it uses the best that the video game industry has to offer to play to its strengths and is it truly a fun experience?