I liked roguelikes ever since I discovered the genre, possibly in 2002
or 2003 — around the same time I stumbled into the modern IF
community. But while my involvement with the latter was significant,
the former remained a marginal interest at best, despite attempts to
Wait, what are roguelikes? For younger gamers, they are the ancestors
of Diablo, although that might seem hard to believe when you see the
latter next to, say, Nethack. Connoisseurs will tell you it's
one of the oldest computer game genres, along with text adventures,
and with the same timeless appeal due to the use of text as a medium.
They can also be some of the most frustrating computer games out there.
The first roguelike I remember playing was Tyrant, a Java
game with graphical tiles and some balancing issues. Specifically,
most of it was too easy, right until the endgame when it became
essentially impossible. It did have a simple command set and a good
tutorial, as well as a vast (if fixed) surface world that nicely tied
together the various dungeons.
Tyrant is still maintained, I believe by a fan who took over at some
point, but progress is slow. After seeing the source code, I know why,
too. Hint: when creating a complex game such as this, make sure to use
a real scripting language, instead of an improvised configuration
format that doesn't even sit in its own file.
Wait, did I say graphical tiles? Why, yes. Call me spoiled, but I have
a hard time picturing the terrain when I stare at the ASCII display of
a traditional roguelike. Not that it's the main issue; I find Nethack's
absurd number of commands much more daunting.
Anyway, my next favorite was Lost Labyrinth, a highly
polished game designed to be played in 20-minute sessions (hence the
term "coffeebreak roguelike". It also came with original skill-based
rules and hugely flexible gameplay. Too bad that when I returned to it
after a few years, it seemed punishingly difficult. Either it was
rebalanced in the mean time, or else I forgot how to play and didn't
have the patience to re-learn.
Not that the other extreme is any better. My experience with trying
out Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup — an otherwise polished
and much-praised game — was that I waltzed through the first level,
finding it too large and mostly empty, only to run into a way out of
depth monster on level two, at which point neither running nor the
various scrolls did me any good. Needless to say, I stopped there.
And this is my gripe with the genre as a whole: it's all too arbitrary.
That's especially noticeable in POWDER (pictured), the only roguelike I
return to again and again. Randomness is one thing, but when a monster
below your level can get lucky and kill you like you weren't there,
cutting short a playthrough that was just getting good, it's anything
but fun. And yes, you can do that in turn to a more powerful monster...
except when you can't. "Arbitrary" may be too mild a word.
Look, life may not be fair, but this is a game. Different expectations,
Making my own
And now, for the point of this rant. Much like with text adventures,
any roguelike fan will want to make their own at some point. And much
like with text adventures, they probably can, too!
Of course, the big difference is that the replayability of a good text
adventure tends towards zero, while the replayability of a good
roguelike tends towards infinity. That may explain why I've played
dozens of the former over the years, but only a handful of the latter.
Anyway, I already tried twice. First time I wasted all my energy with
finding a set of tiles (there are some free-as-in-freedom tile packs
out there) and trying to set up a mouse-controlled DOM-based engine.
Yes, in a browser. Good idea in general, bad approach. The second time
it was with a clever vector-based tile system and an overengineered
graphics engine in Java. Notice a pattern here? Much as I would prefer
to make a game with graphical tiles, the simple truth is that going
back to the basics is the right approach.
But the most important thing for me is to make a game where success
depends on skill for a change, as opposed to getting magic resistance
by pure luck before running into the first basilisk or Medusa. Exactly
how I plan to do that is another story, which I will tell in due time.
P.S. You can find out more about roguelikes at Rogue Basin.
Everything you wanted to know, actually, and then some. Have fun!