Terminology: Common definitions of roguelike and not roguelikes

Part 1


Here I talk about different ways some people tried to define what is a roguelike, and why I decided to try my hand at it rather than using someone else´s approach ( If you are looking for story focused on the very fist definitions of the roguelike term, Slashie did a great one).

I will analise the  Berlin Interpretation, Temple of the roguelike´s Classic Roguelike Definition, and Roguebasin’s non-definition. (If you are looking for a discussion on the earliest origins of the term, Here is a good one)


Berlin Interpretation:

At the International Roguelike Development Conference 2008 some people decided to try and define what the roguelike community was all about by creating a definition of “Roguelike”. As a starting point they chose Temple of the roguelike´s Roguelikenes Factors. (Since then the Temple has abandoned that definition).

To me, the core of the Berlin Interpretation is made of 3 things:

1 it´s disclaimer : The purpose of the definition is for the roguelike community to better understand what the community is studying. It is not to place constraints on developers or games.” So the idea of this definition is not really to decide what a roguelike is, but to codify what the word “roguelike” was already being used as. It is descritive, not prescritive.

2  it´s idea that Roguelike” refers to a genre, not merely “like-Rogue”>The genre is represented by its canon>The canon for Roguelikes is ADOM, Angband, Crawl, Nethack, and Rogue. So it gives equal wait to Rogue, ADOM, Angband, Crawl, and Nethack.
3 The idea that what is or isn´t a roguelike is fuzzy. It took as it´s starting point the Roguelikenes Factors, and decided on 9 high-value, and 6 low-value factors.  IT does not say whether a given game is or not a roguelike, It merely says that a given game has x of 9 high values, and y of 6 low values.

I won´t go into details on each factor (I may make a full analysis if anyone expresses interest, but I doubt anyone wants to read that). But I want to pick on one factor as an example on why I won´t use this interpretation:

“ASCII display: The traditional display for roguelikes is to represent the tiled world by ASCII characters.”

I don´t think ASCII Characters are in any way important to whether a game is or not a roguelike, however, when someone mentioned roguelike, most people did think of games played in an ASCII display, so there was no way for them to possibly leave this out since it was an important component of what people thought of as roguelikes.

The berlin interpretation doesn´t really think too much on what the experience of playing a roguelike is like, it merely tries to formalize the mechanics/characteristics of what people already used the word for at the time, but time passes and this kind of informal definition can vary widely with time. Proof of this, is the many people who use roguelike for games that fans of traditional roguelikes call rogueLITE.


Temple of the roguelike´s Classic Roguelike Definition:

Eventually, the temple of the roguelike abandoned it´s aforementioned roguelikenes factors and substituted them with  7 characteristics  they consider essential for a “classic roguelike”.   It both narrowed and broadened the definition:

It abandoned the fuzziness of the previous definition in favour of a hard line making it narrower, on the other hand it stopped caring about roguelikes in general to focus on a subset considered “classic”. This means it implicitly admits the existence of games that are not CLASSIC roguelikes, but are still  full-fledged Roguelikes.

I am not trying to do a clasisc roguelike so I don´t really care about this definition too much, though the idea that a game may not be a CLASSIC roguelike, but still be a roguelike (not a roguelite, roguelike-like or PDL) is an important one, that I heartily concur. (Edit, the temple has now switched to using a definition for “Traditional roguelikes” which preserves the basic idea that a game can be a full-fledged roguelike but untraditional.)

Roguebasin´s non-definition:

Roguebasin actually does not try to define what a roguelike is , it freely admits that it is hard to conceive a roguelike definition with which everybody will agree as this is a gaming genre that has evolved over time” instead, it catalog a few features that are common to many roguelikes, and contrary to the berlin interpretation it does not try to arbitrary define which of this characteristics is more or less important, rather it classifies this characteristics according to which of 3 aspects it relates to: User-interface, Game World and Gameplay. This makes it not a controversial definition but a useful reference page on roguelikes, and contents itself with using the nebulous informal definition of roguelike.

I think this was a smart thing to do, since It is easy for me to argue why ASCII display is irrelevant to whether a game is or not a roguelike (As indeed I intend to do),  but it would be impossible for me to argue that ASCII display is not an element commonly found in many roguelikes.

Adendum – not-roguelikes :
Roguelikes have recently become more influential, with many games combining common roguelike mechanics with different gameplay types. Since, as I mentioned in part 1 of this series, terminology is important for accurate conversation, new terms naturally appeared to talk about these games, notably roguelike-like, and Roguelite.

Roguelike-like comes from the idea that if a rogue-LIKE is a game similar to rogue with some differences, a game similar to roguelikes with some differences would naturally be a rogue-like-like, where the number of “-likes” defines how far from the original rogue the game is (following this logic, a game inspired by Spelunky could become rogue-like-like-like).

Roguelite, on the other hand, comes from the idea that the games borrows roguelike mechanics but, substitute select aspects of roguelikes with aspects from other types of games. This frequently(though not necessarily always) means they are not as complex and tend to be bit less punishing, though they might be just as hard (or even more), the dificulty often comes from a difrent gameplay aspect then the one found in most roguelikes (e.g. A rogulite action-platformer might have it´s main obstacle come from the platforming or the need for quick reflexes, both things not usually found in roguelikes).
Procedural Death Labyrinth: I mentioned before that when one says roguelikes are games that are “like rogue”  it begs the question “in which way?” Lars Doucet  coined the term Procedural Death Labyrinth (PDL for short) to simplify the answer to this question to:


  1. Procedural
    Makes strong use of procedural/randomized generation, especially (but not necessarily) for level design.
  2. Death
    Makes use of character permadeath, and/or has a strong death penalty.
  3. Labyrinth
    Takes place in some sort of semi-contained environment, usually (but not always) procedurally generated.

So a game can be like rogue in many different ways, but a PDL is a very good definition for what many people think of when they are informed a game has “roguelike elements”

It is interesting to note that a game can be a “classic roguelike” according to the roguelike temple  and not be a PDL, as is the case with Dwarf Fortress Adventure mode, since the environment is an open world.

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