Terminology: Why roguelikes can be difficult to define

Whenever one wants to talk in detail about something, terminology is important.

One of the terms I will use a lot when discussing my game Lenurian is “Roguelike”, which is a term that means different things to different people making it imprecise.  Many have tried to remedy that by defining what is or is not a roguelike.

In this series I intend to talk about why roguelike can be difficult to define, analyse a few common definitions of Roguelike, Roguelite, Roguelike-Like, and Procedural Death Labyrinth, before Presenting my own interpretation of what a roguelike means to me, so when I say that X or Y mechanic makes the game more “roguelikey” everyone will know what I am talking about.
If you find terminology talk boring you should skip these posts.
Why can roguelikes be hard to define?

In short, because “Roguelike” in it´s simplest and oldest meaning, means a game that is “like rogue”. However, this begs the question: like rogue in which way?  Games have multiple aspects, and players are varied, which means that different players latch to different aspects of the game depending on how they experience it.

(Mark Brown has an excellent video about the problems on defining genres based on a specific game, and Tania Fox has an article that touches on the same points, but I will give it a go, for the sake of helping me structure my thoughts on what makes a roguelike. Probably won´t add much to what they said though.)
One of the most influential computer games was “Colossal Cave Adventure ” which had a text interface through which the player interacted with rooms, gathered items and used them to solve puzzles(This is fom where the genre name “adventure game” comes from). It inspired many other text based games, of which the most famous are probably the Zork series, which were for years, the undisputed champions of text parser games. However the same game also inspired the Atari game “Adventure” , which despite having very different presentation and gameplay, came about from it´s creator desire to recreate, the feeling of exploring a virtual space experienced when he first played “Colossal Cave Adventure ”.

Likewise, one very interesting game, revolutionary at the time, was “Ultima Underworld” which brought an unprecedented sense of place and coherency to it´s virtual world and inspired Bethesda to make the “The Elder Scrolls: Arena” John Carmack, to create a better first person engine, creating Catacomb 3-D which evolved into Wolfenstein 3D, and eventually DOOM.

Doom inspired many other shooters, called “Doom Clones”, which began experimenting with the formula until eventually the modern FPS genre was born.

Doom´s maps are very well designed, but they are extremely “gamey” the rooms have no discernible purpose other than gameplay.

Duke Nukem 3D, differentiated itself from other doom clones, by  making the maps look like real places:  The spaces have purposes:cinemas, bathrooms, pools, a bar It with a Playable pool table, etc…   This level design paradigm made easy for the player to imagine people living and using those spaces in a time before the game started.  This means that despite being farther from Underworld then Doom lineage-wise, Duke Nukem Is actually closer to underworld and later  games by it´s creator in terms of having a more believable world.

So, would doom be a Underworld-like? Would Arena? Would Duke Nukem?

Is any game inspired by rogue a roguelike? If no, why not? Where do we draw the line? Is there a line?

Different people answered these questions in different ways. We will see some of those answers in the next part.


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