Roguelike – A Quick and Simple Guide for Parents

If you have an older kiddo – particularly one that loves more “indie” games or plays mostly on the computer, rather than on a gaming console, there’s a pretty good chance they’ve played – or at least talked about – Roguelike games.

They may not use that term — But there’s a pretty large volume of games that fall in this category. So, while you may not have heard them use this term Roguelike, they probably have talked about the games. Though, as I touched on above, the chances of this are greater if you’ve got a teenager rather than a youngling. Not that there’s anything particularly teenagery about them, they just tend to skew a little older cause… well… permadeath. We’ll get to that in a second.

With all that in mind, let’s jump to it.

Anyway, what’s a Roguelike?  

Roguelike games aren’t really a genre as much as a set of rules put on a game.  So, you could see Roguelike RPGs or Roguelike Platforming Games or Roguelike First Person Shooters.

Roguelikes take cues and design decisions from a game originally built and published in the early 1980’s named… you guessed it… Rogue.  That game was actually played out in with  ASCII (think letters, numbers, and the like) instead of actual graphics, and was built upon a set of ideas that Rogue-like games still use today.

A Roguelike game, regardless of genre, features a few key elements.

  • Randomized (or Procedurally Generated) gamespace
  • Randomize Items (usually called loot… because pirates)
  • Rapid (but regular) increase in challenge
  • Permadeath. This is the big one.

So, generally, when a player fires up a Roguelike game they’ll get a randomly built level (or area, or whatever makes sense for that particular game).  As they play they’ll find randomly placed items, and as they progress the game will get more and more challenging in a pretty linear form – So, Level 2 is going to be a little harder than Level 1, Level 3 a little harder than level 2 and Level 10 significantly harder than 1, 2 or 3.

The most important thing, though.  The single biggest defining factor in a Roguelike game is when the player inevitably bites it (and they will) that character is gone. Wiped.  Lost.  Start over.

Um… Okay, Why would anyone ever play that then?

It’s surprisingly fun.  It’s more bite-sized than many other games, and it provides a more tangible metric to measure yourself against others.  If one person made it to level 8 and another made it to level 10, they’re likely about the same in skill level when you factor out the randomness.  If one person made it to level 10 and another made it to level 50, there’s either a clear difference in skill OR someone was incredibly lucky.  Either way, it’s a great story.

This set up and interaction of game mechanics also lends itself well to streaming, so your kiddos have probably seen some really interesting runs online in either youtube or twitch.

So, where did the word Roguelike come from?

One of the earliest (and most famous) game of this type was… and I know this will utterly shock you… Rogue.

The game is old.  Like seriously ancient.  It displayed the game world with text.  It was distributed around on BBS’s (think early internet, pre-AOL), and was largely relegated to the nerd underground.

As mentioned above, it came out around 1980, developed by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman and Ken Arnold.  In the game, you’re seeking out the Amulet of Yendor – evidently locked away in the deepest levels of the randomly generated dungeon (I say evidently because I had to look it up, because I know I’ve never actually gotten said Amulet of Yendor).  

The gameplay is presented on primitive (by today’s standards) graphics with letters, numbers and symbols used to form the dungeons, items, player, and creatures.

Behold and tremble at the glory of these graphics

The game is in the public domain, and if you want to amuse yourself for about 38 seconds, you can play it here: Internet Archive

Note: Arrow keys and Space Bar are your friends

Lately, with the explosion of indie games – many developed by nerds familiar with the aforementioned nerd underground (I count myself among them) – took the core concepts of the game and started applying them to other genres.  This allowed them to create big exciting games with smaller amounts of content – a very good thing for indie developers on a small budget.

The challenge level and easy comparison metrics make it easy to talk about, giving these games a bit of a viral component, getting them to spread, and… well.  Here we are.

So these games are hard?

Some of them are harder than others.  Some actually do have an end-game, they can be beaten, but generally these games are meant to be played not conquered.  Your kiddo may still sit down for two hours, but in that time they may actually make 10 runs.  There’s a very large “just one more try” driver in these games.

What are some big Roguelike Games?

  • Rogue Legacy
  • Dead Cells
  • Everspace
  • Darkest Dungeon
  • Spelunky
  • Don’t Starve
  • FTL

How Should I Talk To My Kid About Them?

Well, engaging them in how far they got is always a good opener, but these games tend to leave their players with great stories – generally falling into two camps.  The best runs and the worst runs.  Asking them about either will generally open up a good discussion and give you lots to build on.

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