Roguelike games are a type of computer roleplaying game that takes its basic inspiration from Rogue, one of the true great originals.

Roguelike games are known for many unusual design ethics to which the general gaming public is not accustomed, and furthermore tend not to have much (or anything) in the way of graphics or sound, so they have not caught on with the general public until recently.

The outstanding features of a Roguelike game are usually, but not always, these:

  • Randomly generated dungeon levels.
    Every game of a typical Roguelike is different because so many elements are randomized. The most obvious example of this is that the dungeons the player explores are all generated anew during each game.

  • Monsters with personality, with the same “rights” as the player.
    Compared to other roleplaying games, monsters in Roguelikes tend to have more abilities and special features than in other games. In Rogue itself, for example, the bite of the Rattlesnake permanently drained a point of strength. The Aquator did no physical damage to the player character but rusted his armor by one armor class.

  • An “identification” item system.
    I would say this is the primary mark of a Roguelike game. Roguelikes tend to have a huge variety of magic items, but at the start of a game the player does not know what they are. Unknown items of the same type are all marked with a common description, such as “orange potion.” Once an item type is conclusively discovered, all the items of that type are automatically marked with the new title. The usual methods of discovery are trial and error, which is fraught with peril and doesn’t always work, and reading a scroll of Identify, which is infallible but in limited supply, and are themselves a random, unidentified item type at the start of the game.
    In my opinion, it is the absence of this feature that prevents the Diablo series from being considered true Roguelike games.

  • Multipurpose items.
    Roguelike games tend to have many uses for items, not all of which are obvious. In Rogue, a player can drink a potion to have its effects operate on himself. However, potions can also be thrown at monsters, which causes the monster to be affected if it hits.

  • Real character death.
    Many misunderstand the purpose of this feature, believing it to exist merely to add a greater sense of danger to the game. Because so much of the game involves a resource, knowledge, that is hard-won and risky in its gain and is held by the actual player himself rather than the computer, to prevent cheating Roguelike games tend to end the game upon character death, so the player is then forced to start a new game with freshly randomized dungeon levels and items. This is done by ending the current session when the player saves his game, then erasing the save file upon game restore. If this is not done, then there is nothing to prevent the player from using items and Scrolls of Identify with impunity to discover their purpose, then restoring to a previous save and avoiding all the risk.

  • A very difficult quest with a huge number of secret tricks to discover.
    A hallmark of Roguelike games is that they are almost always very hard. Rogue itself is almost impossible to win, even if the player plays perfectly. Usually the edge provided from knowing all the tricks is an essential contributing factor in a won game.

  • A high-score table.
    Roguelike games tend towards many short games rather than one long quest, and players very rarely win out in the end, so a high score table is usually provided to rank game progress and give the player a sense of accomplishment even if, this time, he didn’t actually find that damn Amulet of Yendor.

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