An In-Depth Understanding of Roguelikes 1: The Brief History

Rogue: Too deep and retro for you, because if you don’t find enjoyment for randomly generated dungeons and primitively-coded imagery, you are never truly a gamer.

The roguelike is a subgenre of video games, specifically of the dungeon crawler and RPG genres, that utilizes game elements that are randomly generated. The name comes from the 1980 game Rogue, which popularized the genre as a whole. While neither being a staple nor a progenitor hotbed for game development, it played a significant role in making the games we knew in the past, as well as the games we know today.

Beneath Apple Manor is actually the progenitor roguelike that Rogue was based on, even though both games don’t have much of a difference with each other.

In truth, the roguelike was created, due to the dominance of commercial consoles in the video game ecosystem, as part of the process to minimize repetitiveness while integrating ambiguity in the play style, which in turn gives the game variety and replayability. During the Golden Era of Videogames[1], most game genres have linear goals and objectives; the spawning of enemies may give a sense of variety with their limited but random behavior, however the usual coding is merely an easy-to-expect sequence that can be memorized and beaten in time. The only parameters that really determine the game’s value is its length or its difficulty, and these may even be jeopardized by the bugs that can be exploited, as well as the usual sense of boredom that gradually increases for every repetitive stage. The roguelike was the antithesis for this kind of casual gaming, as it reveled in the idea of gamers exploring an infinitely changing maze in search of danger and adventure for a unique experience.

Torneko_no_Daibōken_Fushigi_no_Dungeon_CoverFushiginoDungeonHighLevelMonsterChase

Torneko no Daibōken: Fushigi no Dungeon for the SNES not only helped introduce the roguelike for the commercial consoles, but also used individual element behavior for its monsters[2].

The outlook for roguelikes began to change when consoles with higher memory capacity came out, along with the acceptance of dungeon crawlers as an actual genre and the increased interest to video games by a larger age demographic. The idea and appearance of roguelike games, however, did not gain much attention as perceived because most dungeon crawlers at the time don’t use randomly defined elements, instead using simple, tried-and-tested formats that highly prioritize plot, like the very first Legend of Zelda game and its Gameboy counterparts. Another reason was because the commercial consoles at the time still don’t have the proper computing power to be able to generate random elements for a dungeon crawler game. Ultimately, the idea of a game that permanently deletes a hard-earned player character or its progress, more commonly known as Permanent Death, was a surefire way for a lot of casual gamers to dislike such game because the concept of saving game progress was nonexistent at the time. Thus, the genre still remained in the shadows, played only by hardened gamers of yore and limited only for the personal computer.

Chocobo no Fushigina Dungeon for the Playstation offered different gameplay elements aside from the traditional feel for its roguelike games; it allows players to “dig” or “excavate” the dungeon walls for rare items and allows a variety of AI-controlled companions to help players on their quests.

The first major advancement to roguelikes won’t happen until further into the 1990′s[3] which, aside from being the period that spawned Fifth-Era groundbreaking consoles such as the Playstation and further advancement of the videogame industry for the PC, was also the time when Japan felt love at first sight with the genre. By this time, dungeon crawling has become stale, and commercial console game developers are looking for new ways to entice gamers. The usual plot-based elements have already bored the general demographic, so they started mishmashing these elements with others found on other genres in order to produce a marketable title that people will never get tired of playing. It was then that they turned to the roguelike, which boasted to give the same satisfaction as RPG games, the enduring genre in demand. They thought, “A game that generates a dungeon with randomly unique floors every time you enter it? Who wouldn’t want that?” Compared to the random encounters utilized by most RPG games to a repetitive degree, the roguelike was an ideal means for adventure and endless amounts of recorded game time.

As expected, the Japanese game developers loved it, giving birth to sleeper hits such as the Fushigi no Dungeon series and the much more prominent Final Fantasy subtitle series, Chocobo no Fushigina Dungeon. The Western game developers followed suit, as evidenced by Diablo‘s first title and its sequels, which was the best example of a real-time dungeon crawler that uses roguelike elements to challenge its players. With these titles, the 1990′s was known as the time when the roguelike genre and its elements started influencing the general gaming market, though the genre also started to gradually lose its traditional roots in order to keep up with the subsequent console eras after the year 2000.

Footnotes

  1. The 1970′s, which marked the Second Generation of Video Games more commonly known as the Early 8-bit Era. []
  2. Some monsters chase the player, and in mobs of three to ten, becoming very dangerous unless the player does something about them. []
  3. The Fifth Era of Video Games, known as the 3D Era. []

4 Responses to “An In-Depth Understanding of Roguelikes 1: The Brief History”


  • I like that you talk about console RLs, which don’t seem to get that much coverage from RL fans. There are tons of the things, not to mention the RL-inspired random dungeons in JRPGs (I think Lufia 2 had one?) and, er, Ehrgeiz. Japanese gamers did indeed seem to go crazy for the things in the 90s, though I’m betting they were there on PC before that — makes me wonder whether it was intrepid developers or popular demand that got them onto consoles.

    The PC roguelike lineage is also fascinating — the split into Hack-likes and Angband-likes (or Moria-likes? The Middle-Earth-based ones, anyway), and then the more recent emergence of streamlined, accessible, but still pretty traditional RLs (Brogue, Doom RL, even Desktop Dungeons) alongside the Spelunky-inspired explosion of “roguelike-likes.” Hell, the history of NetHack and its successors is an epic tale in itself.

    Hey, you’d probably be able to answer this — is there a Touhou roguelike? Bullet hell mechanics would be fantastic in an RL. I’m almost tempted to try making such a thing myself.

    • And I thought I was the only one who played and wanted to mention Ehrgeiz. Duuuuude!

      The first console RLs gained momentum slowly at first since, as I said, they were being introduced in an era where RPGs reigned supreme. But since RPGs can offer little variety when it comes to the usual character grinding, RLs showed their worth for their replayability; you don’t get bored when you’re grinding for your levels, the dungeon runs need not affect the main storyline of the game, the dungeons you visit are never the same, and the sky’s usually the limit on how you want to build your characters. Most of these titles weren’t really famous on their first years after being released, but they became the most sought after the RL elements clicked to the commercial console’s more mature market.

      Sadly, I was not able to savor the traditional RL era to the fullest because the only games I had at the time were Rogue, Beneath the Apple Manor, and later on, Castle of the Winds. A recent revisit to the era introduced me to more traditional RLs like Dungeons Revealed, which kind of had a bad aftertaste because of the chess-y feel of the dungeons. NetHack, which was an enhanced version, is the enduring title of Hack, which I would really like to try sometime because of its online play feature.

      As for your question: A resounding YES. The doujin game in question is titled Fushigi no Gensokyo by the famous Touhou doujin animation group AQUA STYLE. Most of its features are derived from the Fushigi no Dungeon/Mystery Dungeon series, however it does not have the danmaku you’re looking for. On the upside, the series currently has two titles, and is playable on your iPad or Android-capable Tablet

      The AQUA STYLE page for the game is here:

      http://www.aquastyle.org/

      For the trailer of the second game:

      http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GMeDKLc1KRc

      For further information about the game, as well updates and mods for it (the ongoing English patch, for example), you can go here:

      http://en.touhouwiki.net/wiki/Fushigi_no_Gensokyo

      Thanks for the comment!

      • Cool, a Mystery Dungeon’s fine too. And it looks like a whole lot of time and effort went into that one. I’m looking forward to checking it out.

        Now you’ve got me thinking of doing a bunch of quickie posts about the rogueish games I’ve been playing lately. They’re hard to deal with using my mostly narrative-centric toolset, but it might be worthwhile to look at play narrative. Games with random world generation are the only kinds I can ever watch let’s plays of, at any rate.

        • I never get tired watching Let’s Play videos of RLs, mostly because of the different approaches most players do on their dungeon runs. Maybe because I am actually concerned about how the game is played in various mindsets more than I can care about the narrative, even if it was an essential part of the game altogether. You can say I value gameplay of a title as much as its story and plot. Hardcore gamer mindset, point point.

          I also saw your post on PlasMono, and I’ll check that out in a bit.

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