The CJ Interpretation of “Roguelike”

Part 1, part 2, part 3


3: the CJ Interpretation of “Roguelike”

Part 1, part 2, part 3

Roguelike is a term that will be used in this blog, and since it´s meaning can be nebulous I feel I should define what it means in the context of this blog so when I say that X or Y mechanic helps the game feels more like a roguelike, readers can understand what I am talking about. I have always seem this definition as more fuzzy, then binary and will probably be tweaked and improved as Lenurian´s development advances. This is not meant to define a hard line on what is or isn´t a roguelike, nor is it meant to supplant any other roguelike definition.

The idea is to focus on general principles rather then specific mechanics as mentioned in the previous article, and according to the below quote:


“We need a different name from ‘permadeath,’” Rogue co-creator Glenn Wichman said. “When people talk about permadeath, they talk about us three being mean. ‘Oh, they wanted to make it extra hard, so they threw in permadeath.’ [But] permadeath is [just] an example of ‘consequence persistence.’” 


The principles I currently settled on are: Variable Worlds and Exploration, Rules Consistency,Consequence Persistence, Clear Communication with the player, Wide and Meaningful range of choices

They are detailed below, and after each principle´s description is a list of common roguelike characteristics that help enable it.

Variable Worlds and Exploration:

The maps, items, NPCs, are not fixed, they change from playtrough to playtrough, this increases replay value and enables exploration, since the player cannot remember the map from a previous playtrough. Note that for thsi to actually work well, the maps need to not only be diferent but to FEEL different. Some game use procedural maps to make diferent layouts that still feel same-y and repetitive(e.g.: Hellgate London) As far as I know, the only current feasible way of enabling this is procedural generation, but if some hypothetical studio were able to handcraft a gazillion worlds that are randomly selected on each playtrough without the player ever getting the same one twice unintentionally (maybe with mod support and a random selector), I would consider this condition satisfied. (Update: “The castle Doctrine” seem to have done basically that, it is a home-invasion game where all the maps were hand-crafted by players)

Related Features: Procedural Generation, Discovery mechanics (e.g.:Item identifying), Non-linear Maps, line of sight mechanics.


Rules Consistency:

The player should be able to learn how the rules of the game work, and to use that knowledge to predict the possible results of his action. If a bomb explodes when touched by fire, it should not care if the fire came from an expected or unexpected source, this would allow the players to experiment and get creative making their own strategies. The game should not care if a given unit is being controlled by a player or not, the rules of the game should apply based on the characteristics of the character. This principle is heavily related to the fairness in “Harsh but Fair” and “If you die it is your fault” kind of game.

Related Features: “Monsters are players”, Procedural Generation, physics engines, traps that harm both players and enemies, non-modal gameplay.

Consequence Persistence:

The player should have to deal with the consequences of his actions. Note that without the previous principle of rules consistency this could be extremely frustrating. This helps make even minor decisions meaningful, and is related to the harshness in “Harsh but Fair” games, but it is important to note that this applies not only to bad outcomes but also to good ones too. This features encourages planning and tends to be hampered by too heavy influence of RNG, since too much randomness tends to make decisions inconsequential.

Related Features: Permadeath, Resource management, save slot restriction, Game-wide unlocks non-modal gameplay.


Clear Communication with the player:

The player should be able to find the information he needs. Graphics should be unambiguous. The exceptions should be by design. If the player didn´t realize a goblin was there because he didn´t pay attention that is ok. If the player didn´t see the gobling because the gobbling was purposefully trying to hide/invisible/camouflaged, that is ok. If the player didn´t see the gobbling because the graphics were cluttered, that is bad. Diametrically opposed to this principle are those games that have areas that seem perfectly reachable and yet are kill zones for the player because they were arbitrarily “out of bonds”(my most frustrating deaths in FPSs have been because of this).

Related Features: Character based display, Grid Maps, Character Sheets, Text descriptions, visual representation of equipped items.


Wide and Meaningful range of choices:

At any given moment the player should have a range of available valid options without a single “right option”. If they arrive at a position where they are locked to an outcome, they should have arrived there by their own fault (Consequence Persistence  and rules consistency)

Related Features: Turn Based Combat, Grid Maps, Front-loaded Commands, RNG, Permadeath, multiple uses for a single item.

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