Going Rogue: Why “roguelike” should be your new word for the day.

Date:22 September 2013

If you’ve never played a proper roguelike before, you’re in for a treat – as long as you’ve got the grit.

By Rogan Louwrens

Roguelikes are unto RPGs what Genghis Khan was unto a narcoleptic kitten. Most RPGs hand you a painstakingly crafted slice of world; roguelikes just dunk you in a cranky, knife-edged gauntlet randomly brewed each time you start.

Most have hundreds of items, monsters and skills that intertwine to make every play through different. Want to make dragon-scale armour after slaying the creature with the ball and chain that was clapped to your ankle by an angry god when you kicked the altar of chaos? Live that dream.

At the heart of this complexity is an armada of cunning algorithms. The usual trade-off is graphics: though this is changing, most roguelikes paint their vistas with fields of ASCII – where you might see babble like “@+D”, veterans see nothing but a flimsy door between them and the aforementioned dragon’s mother.

Classical roguelikes aren’t your friends: they’re sprawling, illegible creatures in which every key on your keyboard has a use. They’re also nefariously hard, offering countless cruel ways to bite the pavement permanently – no backsies.

Why bother? Because these are among the most epic and creative games you’ll ever play. Sticklers for graphics might want to try that outrageously sophisticated graphics card that came free with their brains. Try on the following if you’re interested in scratching the surface.

Rogue:

This old codger literally puts the “rogue” in “roguelike”. Made back in the mists of the late Triassic (1980), Rogue asked adventurers to find the Amulet of Yendor in the depths of a randomly generated dungeon. It’s one of the most important pieces of gaming history.

Dwarf Fortress:

Equal parts roguelike, dwarf management sim and plain platypus crazy, Dwarf Fortress is one of those feats that makes you stand back and grip your chest in sheer good-golly.It’s fiercely inaccessible, and models everything from weather systems to the individualorgans of your dwarven citizens. Somebody built a working computer in the game using pressure plates and water pumps, okay? No, we don’t know either.

Dungeons of Dredmor:

This intolerably excellent comedy crawl was the first truegrit roguelike to breach the mainstream. If you’re looking for a softish landing when you dive into the unforgiving waters of hardcore, try this light-hearted but excruciating game in which “fleshsmithing” and “necronomiconomics” are actual things.

 

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