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Never Say Roguelike
by Tanya X Short on 11/19/13 02:16:00 pm   Expert Blogs   Featured Blogs

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.

 

Tanya X. Short is the captain of Kitfox Games. They're developing a survival-strategy RPG for tablet and PC called Shattered Planet. It may or may not be a roguelike.

 

It’s pretty clear we have a problem.

Developers and players alike use the word Roguelike as if it were a perfectly valid genre of gameplay. We even use the term sometimes to describe our own games we are trying to sell to people.

Stop to think – how do we describe those games where you jump around on platforms, often die from falling on pits, and sometimes you kill enemies by jumping on them? It’s not a “Mario-like”. It’s a “platformer”.

Why?

The short answer: Platformer is more accurate, easier to understand/remember for people who have perhaps never played a Mario game, and doesn't imply a thematic genre.

Imagine an alternate universe in which all "jumper games" felt obligated to include plumbers and mushrooms as thematic elements. Loosening the label up into “Mario-likelike” or “Mario-lite” might make it less limiting, but actually more vague and potentially confusing. 

Behold, a Mario-like.

As game developers, we are responsible for how we describe the games we make, yet continually trap ourselves in a loop of calling our own game essentially a clone of someone else’s, with lengthy footnotes explaining why that isn’t actually the case.

In the indie game space, design and marketing are often so tightly linked that we may forget the power we have over our product’s message. We aren’t used to the idea that we’re shaping the player’s narrative about our game – that the terms we use on our websites, in our Kickstarters, or elsewhere in our marketing might skew the attitudes of our fans, and our industry.

In fact, the idea of changing our fanbase’s vocabulary about our game can seem terrifying, if not downright impossible. Some, such as the good folks at Roguelike Radio, would say these are simply traits that all modern games should aspire to, and is part of why we're seeing them pop up in every genre and platform. And really, it’s culture. How do you change culture? 

Fortunately, it’s not a new problem. 

 

This Isn’t the First Time, or Even the Second

1. Sandbox/Open World games.

If you don’t remember, Grand Theft Auto III’s release in 2001 was a major event in our industry. For some years afterwards, it seemed every game had to have some element of wandering around aimlessly, destroying your surroundings and causing chaos, or else it wasn’t considered AAA. Most of these “heavily inspired” products (to put it kindly) also included similar themes of guns, crime, and dense urban environments. Unsurprisingly, it was natural to call these games “Grand Theft Auto clones”, because they were, in fact, trying to replicate the success of the GTA series and doing their best to improve on it.

 

However, journalists liked some of these so-called clones, and many of them had new mechanics or themes that didn’t quite fit the bill. Some struggled, toying with terms mostly focused on themes, like “crime games”, “crime-based action games”, or even “gangsta genre” (thanks CNN). By fall 2006, however, Wikipedia records the term “sandbox games” coming into vogue, capturing the spirit of free play and pointless chaos embodied in the sandbox of our childhoods.

It's worth noting that the term Grand Theft Auto Clone is still useful -- when specifically talking about games that have the same theme, marketing, and feature set.

 

2. First Person Shooters

Remember even further back, to the days of Wolfenstein? Here’s a hint to get your research started:

 

But What's Wrong with "Roguelike"? It's True!

Well, maybe, but as both an experienced designer and as a newbie marketer, there are a few problems here.

  • Imprecise – Describes too many kinds of games! Impossible to know what exactly someone means when they say it’s Roguelike. You probably think by now that it means “procedural content and strong death penalty”, according to the Berlin Interpretation, but that’s not all you’re encapsulating there! 
  • Misleading – People can hear what they want to hear. Enthusiasts of a particular Rogue-like will be excited to hear that another upcoming similar game... but how similar is it really? Will someone who likes Binding of Isaac find a similar affection for FTL? Should a fan of Rogue Legacy be excited about a ZAngband remake?
  • Limiting – strongly implies a theme, when often it's only intended to restrict mechanics. Why are roguelikes so often in dungeons instead of similarly popular settings like castles, WW2 battlefields, or space-ships? On the other hand, are castles and spaceships really the best settings for a Metroidvania? We may never know.
  • Clubby – inaccessible, requires lots of explanation. Makes you feel like a cool insider when you use jargon, but hopefully by now, as developers, we can all agree that not making potential future players feel stupid is better for business in the long-run.

The ultimate proof? In order to talk intelligently about the range of gameplay encompassed by “Roguelike,” fans and independent developers have attempted to classify the genre into sub-categories, but these are, themselves, full of specific references (Hacklike, Bandlikes, ADOMlikes, ZAngbandlike).

Less strictly, I think we can all agree that words mean things. They matter. They change how we think, how we behave, and how we express ourselves. Why would we settle for calling our games part of a genre essentially named "almost-clones of this other game you like"?

 

But It's So Tempting...

Even on the Shattered Planet game page, horror of horrors, the word "roguelike" appears!? Why?

  • It’s natural, and contagious. When you’re strongly inspired by a game, it’s natural (especially for humble independent developers) to want to give credit to your predecessor, while also gaining prestige subtly by association. Similarly, if your predecessor describes themselves as being in a particular genre, it is natural to use that genre label yourself. You fool yourself into thinking it adds clarity and association, without questioning the quality of the label – if your favorite game in the world used it, clearly it functions well enough, right?
  • Accuracy. This is less and less true, but some games are truly Rogue-clones. I adore Brogue (is there any better way to spend 15 minutes?), and it might as well be called ClickRogue. For these, all right, I wave the white flag. You guys are making Roguelikes. I accept that... but everyone else should cut it out! Including me!
  • Fans. This is the “other side” of the Clubby coin. When used to market a game, roguelike can attract instant interest, as it was an underserved niche for decades in the West. The closer your game is to Rogue, the less this feels like a con; but being similar to a beloved game is a less desirable tactic than marketing your game based on its own unique merits. 
  • Stickiness. The longer a term is used, the more insidious it becomes, with all of its problems and benefits increasing. At this point, Roguelike has been used for 30+ years... it may be with us for a long time. However, I believe that just as soon as a big studio gets in on the roguelike action, complete with a AAA marketing budget, we'll start hearing better, more accurate terms come into use (I'm looking at you, Ubisoft/Activision/EA).
  • Evolutions. Due to the discomfort caused by the problems discussed earlier, Rogue-like-like and Rogue-lite have come into vogue (see FTL or Rogue Legacy). These try to bypass direct association with Rogue itself, but this is a false solution. In the end, they are even more vague, just as clubby, and even less explanatory.

 

And, ultimately, any press is good press. It can be more difficult to control the narrative if you are an indie developer, because your “marketing spend” is often about community building and encouraging your fans to create their own conversations about your game... and who are we to tell them what terms to use and not use? We don’t sell boxes from a TV commercial tagline, a magazine spread, or often even Steam banners or any other “top-down” forms of communication. We're just scraping by. So, when your fans, or the media, call your game a “roguelike”, you thank your lucky stars for any attention at all.

But the truth is that we can't let our players dictate how we talk about games, game design, and genre direction. At the very least, it needs to be a dialogue, and as designers, developers, and marketers, we have the responsibility to strive to present our creations accurately and courageously. 

 

Summary

"Hey!" you might be thinking, "You can't summarise this article yet! You haven't told me how to fix the problem! What word am I SUPPOSED to be using, tyrannical smartypants?!"

Here's a few ideas:

  • Mastery: a game about learning a particular skill extremely well. Guitar Hero is, in this way, a mastery simulation, and Rogue is a mastery RPG.
  • Improvisation: a game about decisions made on the fly, adjusting dynamically as the game evolves. Werewolf is then an improvisation card game, and Rogue is an improvisation RPG.
  • Evergreen: a game that is intended to be played in hobby-like habits over years, allowing players to express themselves at their own pace. Sudoku is an evergreen puzzle game; Rogue is an evergreen RPG. Credit goes to Daniel Cook for this one.
  • Mystery: a game primarily about discovering unknowns and revealing procedurally generated secrets? Perhaps the first 20 turns of Civilisation are a mystery simulator. Taken from the Japanese term for Roguelikes, "Mystery Dungeon".
  • Shuffled: a game that uses procedural generation to fluff up and add replayability to standard genre content. Used in opposition to bespoke hand-crafted content. Spelunky could be described as the pinnacle of the shuffled platformer, while Rogue is a shuffled RPG.
  • Uncompromising: a game with high stakes and heavy loss. Taken directly from the Don't Starve tagline, one of the few examples of a procedurally generated game with permadeath that doesn't use roguelike anywhere in its marketing.

I don't think any of those are quite ready for the back of the AAA box, but may inspire someone better at this whole "tagline" thing than I am, maybe even someone with millions of dollars and focus groups behind them. Elegance is usually deceptively expensive. The mental leap between "GTA-clone" (invoking violence, immature sexualisation, and driving) and "sandbox" (invoking experimentation, childlike glee and impermanence) is longer than it seems, after the fact. I look forward to seeing who chimes in in the comments.

For now, as an opening to the conversation, my suggestion is this: ask yourself why you want to use the word. For me, I intend to take a long look at my game, at my community, and shape gaming culture carefully. What is it about Rogue or its progeny that you want to compare yourself to? Why are you using procedural generation or permadeath in the first place, beyond getting a few extra hits from /r/roguelikes? Within that explanation somewhere, is there a word we should be using? 

 

Special thanks to my ex-colleague and good friend David Fathers for originally spurring debate on this topic.

 

References


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Comments


RJ Volosky
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I couldn't agree more. It's frustrating to see the dilution of words, terms, and classifications as they become over-used in an echo chamber of marketing, media, and message boards. It's something that's irked me as I've seen the use of the term "trope" in instances where "archetype," "paradigm," or "motif" would be better suited. And I'll spare this comment section my rant on the misuse of the term "meme."

That said, I must admit that even I had fallen into the "roguelike" pit. My brain had so intrinsically associated that term with procedural content and permadeath that I never gave a second thought to the fact that Rogue was actually just a dungeon crawler doing the best it could to simulate a DnD like experience with the memory available at a time when memory just couldn't store massive pre-created dungeon maps.

Thank you for this. It's a reminder that even the most pedantic of linguistic nit-pickers need to practice what they preach.

Lars Doucet
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I expected this to be a pedantic argument but was pleasantly surprised to see that it's the exact opposite. Consider me converted!

It makes sense to move towards definitions that are a little more explicit and take a more "just the facts ma'am" approach rather than depend heavily on referencing other works. "Doom Clone" --> "First Person Shooter"

CHASE DE LANGUILLETTE
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I'd have no problem calling every first person shooter a Doomlike.

Lars Doucet
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My two submissions:

1) Procedural Dungeon Crawler, or PDC

2) RGLK, "Randomly Generated Labyrinth Killer" -- suggests procedural generation, dungeon/maze, and permadeath. All Roguelikes are RGLK's, but not all RGLK's are Roguelikes.

"Dota clone" was the dominant name of the genre for a long time, but as soon as we came up with a better alternative (MOBA - Multiplayer Online Battle Arena) it stuck pretty quickly. I think it all comes down to finding something catchy, descriptive, and easy to say.

EDIT:

Thinking further, the three pillars of "Rogue-lites" seem to be:
--Procedural/Random generation
--Permadeath/strong death penalty
--Some sort of dungeon/maze/labyrinth-like space

PLD or PLOD, for "Procedural Labyrinth of Death"
GLD or GLOD, for "Generative Labyrinth of Death"

Some variant on that might result in a not-terrible acronym.



Andrew Quesenberry
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I like RGLK, if only because it manages to be a decent Backronym of roguelike. Did you intend it to be?

Paul Speed
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From the edit, twitter, and the weakly roll-up, I love "Procedural Death Labyrinth"... it's both accurate and a bit in your face. Like "first person shooter" before it. The brain can pick out parts like "person shooter" or "procedural death" which are unintended and yet still accurate. They give a little extra weight.

Just great.

Timothy Pew
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And when a better better alternative (LOMA - LOrds MAnagement) came along it stuck even quicker.

Christian Kulenkampff
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Great article, thank you!

I always thought the main point of Roguelikes is turn-based RPG gameplay with automatic turn taking triggered by player actions that are controlled in a way you control realtime action games...
An alternative name for this kind of gameplay might be "Tip-Top RPG"? The name is from the game "Tip-Top race" (see http://www.youthwork-
practice.com/games/feets-toes-legs-games.html, is there another more common name for this game type?). We often played this in elementary school and it reminds me a lot of the situations you often encounter in Roguelikes.

Paul Speed
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I've long wished for a better name but none has been forthcoming. I'm not even really sure it's about the permadeath and randomly generated content, either. I mean, that's what I expect from a roguelike but I'm not sure it's the 'essence'. When you break it down, it's a game where the point is to play many times instead of one heavily invested time. To see how far you can make it this time. It's a game where you learn to adapt to what you are dealt.

I actually find it similar to Klondike solitaire. You often know early on in the deal whether this deck will work out or not... but you tend to play through anyway. Then you sweep up the cards, shuffle, and deal again. I play rogue the same way. Play through a few guys until you get one good run or run out of play-time.

This is as opposed to other solitaire games like Mah Jongg Solitaire where often you are guaranteed a solvable board if you just figure out the right plays to make. (no matter how many hours that may take to sort out)

Of course, unlike Solitaire, in Rogue I expect to die. I may die right away, I may die at level 20. I never expect to "win", really. Just like solitaire, a skilled player will make more out of what they are dealt... but also just like solitaire, if the aces are buried deep (or the dungeon sees fit to deny you weapons/loot) then you are destined to do poorly.

Ozzie Smith
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I like this comment a lot. I think if rogue-like just meant permadeath and random content, then Tetris and Civilization and a ton of other games that have existed for decades could fit that definition, and I think most people would not consider those games to be rogue-likes at all.

I think we as an community just need better ways to define what types of games we are making. Even something as straight-forward as first-person shooter leaves a lot left to the imagination still: is it single-player or multi-player? Is it scripted or sandbox? Linear level progression or open-world? Tactical, run-and-gun, stealth, or a mix? What about the theme and narrative of the game?

I wish there was a way to universalize the whole thing but that seems somewhat impossible, especially since there are still a lot of games that don't quite fit any particular description anyway. But it's becoming more and more frustrating that it takes so long for me to figure out what sort of game something is because the person describing it to me (sometimes the creators of the game in a trailer or website) are using totally different vocabulary than I'm used to.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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I don't understand why every discussion of taxonomy attracts the "pedantic" and "nitpick" comments, as if these things were unimportant.

Lars Doucet
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For what it's worth, the two people who used those terms in this comments section (myself and RJ) both agree whole-heartedly with the article's conclusion, thus suggesting that we *do* think this discussion of taxonomy actually *is* important. :)

You bring up a good point, however. Here's why I think discussion of taxonomy can sometimes irk people. There's three basic categories an article on taxonomy can fit into:

------

1) Enforcing linguistic purity

This is basically where the author insists on a preferred dialect, but the variant they're attacking is arguably just as clear as the one they support, thus inviting lots of bickering. The preferred system is elevated principally because it is more "correct" rather than on more objective bases such as clarity, economy, etc.

2) Vocabulary land-grab

In academia, getting to set the official terms is like the first phase in a 4X game - it's all about planting your flag down and keeping the other losers out. Naturally, this invites hostility and accusations of bad faith/exclusion from all sides. You see this anytime someone tries to strictly define once and for all what vaguely-defined terms like "game" mean, or how western-developed menu-driven turn-based RPG's aren't "real" JRPGs, etc.

3) Hey term X is vague and unclear, let's maybe use a better one

This is where this article is clearly situated. This is the "On Writing Well"[1] approach, where you don't really care about whether the language is "correct," you're interested in whether it is useful and clear. To use JRPG's as an example, rather than arguing about why the term is or isn't appropriate for western game X, we perhaps raise the issue about how JRPG is a pretty ambiguous term in the first place and maybe we should use a better one instead.

[1] http://www.amazon.com/Writing-Well-30th-Anniversary-Edition/dp/00
60891548

In my humble opinion, the first two categories are pedantic and nit-picky, and the third is useful and awesome. We tend to see much more of the first two, so all I meant to say is that I'm happy to see an instance of the third category pop up for once.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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http://lesswrong.com/lw/od/37_ways_that_words_can_be_wrong/

I agree to a certain extent, unfortunately it seems any critique of a term always invites people to perceive it as 1) and 2) no matter the merit.

For example I had multiple discussions about the word "game" trying to argue that the exclusion of certain aspects that are nowadays popularly considered as "genres" inside games would be of benefit to the medium and by extension to the other media created by it. Nevertheless I was accused of 2).

Personally I find the taxonomy and language in the industry absolutely insufficient, vague and confusing on many levels for both professionals and consumers. The push-back I experience every time I bring up a discussion of "semantics" is deeply saddening because it shows an unwillingness to communicate.

Lars Doucet
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Yeah, it's a good point. There's a lot of us (myself included) who are a bit defensive on the topic, and we'd probably benefit by lightening up a bit.

I think the reason that you see a lot of accusations of 2) any time you try to take an existing word, especially one as all-encompassing and sacred to our industry as "game", is because if you take that label away from someone it kind of marks them as 'invalid' in the eyes of others and kicks them out of the club, even if that wasn't your intention.

So, whether it's fair or not, I find it's usually easier and more productive to suggest new terminology based on narrow terms with inherent clarity rather than trying to 'redefine' existing ones that people have formed strong emotional attachments to.

Basically, it's a pragmatic rhetorical approach to working around the problem rather than facing it head-on and getting trampled.

Aleksander Adamkiewicz
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"I think the reason that you see a lot of accusations of 2) any time you try to take an existing word, especially one as all-encompassing and sacred to our industry as "game", is because if you take that label away from someone it kind of marks them as 'invalid' in the eyes of others and kicks them out of the club, even if that wasn't your intention."

Its an assumption of bad faith in my argument.
Yes making "visual novels" doesn't really sound as cool as saying you make "video games".

"So, whether it's fair or not, I find it's usually easier and more productive to suggest new terminology based on narrow terms with inherent clarity rather than trying to 'redefine' existing ones that people have formed strong emotional attachments to."

The problem is that its not always possible or sometimes even desirable, especially with a word like "game" that already has not only a broad definition but also multiple uses (product, medium, a set of rules and their interplay, entertainment).

I have since started every discussion or text with a definition of terms I'm going to use, which is incredibly annoying. For example I differentiate between "game" (product) and "game" (rules, systems and their interplay) because words like "gameplay" or "mechanics" are in of themselves extremely vague and insufficient. I would need to invent from whole cloth a new word to describe "game" (rules, systems and their interplay) to differentiate it from the product/medium.

This isn't even unique to discussing -video- games but traditional games as well.

[User Banned]
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This user violated Gamasutra’s Comment Guidelines and has been banned.

Esteban Desbois
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Hm, in my vision it just shows lack of knowledge.

Intelligent article btw, thank you.

nicholas ralabate
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I think it's important to note the defensive use of case two: when a term is invented (MOBA/ARTS) in order to clone a game without drawing attention to the original (DOTA-clone).

Luis Guimaraes
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Title (product), Mechanics (rules), Dynamics (systems and their interplay), Game (anything that can be gamed). Medium (medium), tho I personally think reducing videogames to mere medium is a disservice.

Jonathan Martinez
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Since the article didn't offer any...

The best I could come up with for an alternative to the "roguelike" wording for the genre would have to be "dungeon crawler".

The elements that show up in such games:
-RPG style items and leveling
-Exploration of procedurally generated dungeons
-Turn-based action where the world acts when you do.

There have already been several games that incorporate all or some of those elements.
-Pokemon Mystery Dungeon
-The Binding of Isaac
-FTL
-Hack Slash Loot
-Rogue Legacy

"Dungeon Crawler" seems to be the a possible banner to give these games, even if the word "dungeon" doesn't have to be an actual dungeon in the strictest sense (looking at you FTL).

Roberta Davies
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"Dungeon crawler" is already used to signify an RPG in which the player's goal is essentially to defeat enemies and collect loot, with minimal storyline.

Roguelike games are dungeon crawlers, but not all dungeon crawlers are roguelike.

Sam Derboo
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"Dungeon Crawler" actually would be even less precise and at the same time more virtually limiting than Roguelike, because it "dictates" the setting much more explicitly and is widely used for a wide range of RPGs that don't even fall under the "Roguelike" umbrella.

... That said, in my book "Metroidvania" is the much more urgent term to get rid of.

Jonathan Martinez
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You've probably never played much Dungeons and Dragons.

A "dungeon" can be a tower, a forest, a space colony, an underground sewer system, a castle, an abandoned factory, and just about anything else.

"Dungeon" is the placeholder term used to talk about a chain of encounters the player is to come across between breaks of rest. It's nothing more than a setting that has a defined entrance, with many encounters inside to be dealt with, and a possible exit.

So "dungeon" can actually be the least precise word in the phrase. It's the "crawler" part that's meant to indicate that the progression through the dungeon is often slow, with many encounters to deal with.

While this generic description certainly could be applied to almost any game with even a modicum of exploration, if it were used properly as a convention, it would stick.

We wouldn't call Ookami a "platformer" just because it has a few scattered platforming sections. And we wouldn't call Resident Evil 4 a dungeon crawler just because it takes place in what could be argued to be a dungeon. There's clearly several elements that tie together the "RogueLike" genre and they will only ever adopt a new label if we start agreeing to use it.


And I do agree that the word "Metroidvania" could certainly use a makeover.

Masaru Wada
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"You've probably never played much Dungeons and Dragons."

Don't you see the irony in that though? One of the problems with "Roguelike" is that those unfamiliar with Rogue or even video games in general would have difficulty understanding what "Roguelike" means. In the same sense, using dungeon the way it's defined in Dungeons and Dragons or other traditional RPGs would be likewise confused, hence Sam's opinion above.

I'd vote against dungeon crawler for the same reasons mentioned.

Ernest Adams
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I agree completely, and the collection of attributes that people use to decide that something is "Roguelike" is weird. Like not being able to save, or a randomly generated world. Super Star Trek has both those properties, but it's nothing like Rogue.

NetHack is the only Roguelike I've ever seen because... IT'S ACTUALLY LIKE ROGUE.

Jonathan Martinez
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Very true.
Whenever I am about to use the term "roguelike" to describe a game, (I have not played Rogue)
I always first compare it to NetHack to and consider how much in common it has (I have played Nethack).

Patrick Casey
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Ernest, have you ever looked into Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer? It's a fantastic game that's essentially Rogue and NetHack with a graphical overhaul and controls honed down to work on a controller.

John Harris wrote some great articles about it in his @Play column on GameSetWatch a few years back.

Masem Jay
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As one of the editors for Wikipedia's video game pages, we've had a lot of discussion on the nature of roguelikes in light of games like FTL, Rogue Legacy, etc.

We have the well-established Berlin Convention, but for all these modern ones, even ones like Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, the "roguelike" term is thrown around very easily and there's been arguments if they should be called roguelikes even with the game press using the term all the time.

There was a recent review of Risk of Rain from Destructoid that captured the nature perfectly: short games, involving permadeath and some RNG. But I've yet to see a better term than the awkward "roguelike-like" to describe these games otherwise.

Patrick Casey
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I wonder when the term "roguelike" started causing confusion. Could it be around the release of The Binding of Isaac (late 2011), when reviewers started shortening "with elements from roguelike games" into just "roguelike"?

I'm not sure if this means anything (likely not), but date restricted Google searches for "roguelike" yielded these numbers (in results): 2009 - 26K, 2010 - 34K, 2011 - 60K, 2012 - 111K, 2013 (to date) - 170K

Those numbers could well be cumulative, with pages created in 2009 showing up in 2010 if they were edited?? No idea. Also they don't include "rougelike". ;)

R. Hunter Gough
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2009 = Spelunky. So this is all Derek Yu's fault. :)

2009 also = Brogue

and I remember first hearing about other, older rogue-ish games like Dwarf Fortress, Elona, DoomRL, and Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup for the first time around then.

Also the first NA release of Shiren (on DS) was in 2008.

Patrick Casey
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Good info. I personally first heard the term in 2007 - buying the Japanese release of Shiren DS a bit late.

I did a bit of research a while back for the purposes of assigning blame :) and it appeared Derek Yu was more careful with his language about Spelunky than Edmund McMillen was with BoI, but but both hinted at "roguelike elements". Then the indie game press got hold of them and shortened it to "roguelike".

So now there's a generation of gamers that think roguelikes can be real-time platformers or dual-stick shooters.

John Flush
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hum... unfortunately the people that will cause change are the high profile media outlets and they are fine with whatever term gets them hits and ad dollars. We can talk about it all you want, but the industry isn't changing around the nouns we want to use until it generates hits and the media picks it up.

Evan Combs
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Better descriptors would be nice, but really isn't all that important. What is important is if people understand the term. If people do it doesn't matter what the term actually is. Take for example "platformer". What about the word platformer is actually descriptive of the genre? Very little, just one small aspect that doesn't tell you anything about what you will actually do. If you didn't know what it meant you would have no idea that it is talking about a game where you are running through an obstacle course that usually involves jumping on platforms. The genre doesn't really even require platforms. So why do you think it is a good description? Because it has become synonymous for that genre within our culture. As it became more and more common to be used people started to understand what it meant, and began to associate it with that genre. Calling it a platformer really is not much different than calling it a mariolike.

Rougelike really isn't a genre though, it is a sub-genre. It is actually 3 or 4 layers down. So it is a very specific type of game. If the term rougelike becomes so synonymous with that sub-genre that everyone understands what it means that is ok. There is nothing wrong with that. In life, especially when dealing with other humans, sometimes the best answer isn't always the correct answer.


@Ozzie Smith
You are trying to define every little aspect of the game into a single term. A genre name isn't supposed to do that. It is supposed to be a sort sweet little term that embodies the essence of what the genre is about. As you dig deeper into sub-genres you start pulling out more of the details, but there is a reason why after thousands of years we still need sub-genres for stories (on any medium).

Kyle Phillips
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I respect the point you're making Evan, but getting people to an understanding of what a "genre title" means *is* affected by the title itself. I agree with you that 'platformer' is nearly as dubious as 'Roguelike' but there are a wealth of genres that are descriptive of at least some core aspect of the games they label:

First Person Shooter
Turn Based Strategy
Simulation
etc.

Those are all names that give insight into a genre with minimal need for explanation. While they don't completely encapsulate what an individual game is about, there is a fair amount that can be gleaned from the name alone.

If we need to describe a genre to someone who has never heard of it, its helpful for their retention if we can get the basic idea across in a succinct, simple terms. I would challenge someone to try to succinctly describe "Roguelike" without referencing other games. Which, I believe, is the point of this post. Roguelike is being called out as a bad definition precisely because people will have a harder time grokking it than they would something that requires little or no explanation.

Ultimately, genres are just up-jumped tags. Rogue Legacy is a 'platformer' in terms of mode of play, but its more widely billed as a Roguelike because Roguelikes are en vogue right now. If we think of genres as tags I think we can parse Roguelike down to a finite set of terms that, when combined, are equivalent to Roguelike. Which is exactly what the author did. I don't think the terms even need to be snazzy. If genre labels were supposed to sell rather than inform then the movie 'comedy' genre might instead be called 'hilariously funny'.

All we need are sets of practical tags to inform consumers. And for those cases where the game is relatively unique or breaks the mold? That's where the marketers earn their keep.

Evan Combs
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I agree that the term roguelike is not a very good term for the sub-genre, I just don't think it is a problem. Overtime things will work itself out. Either it will become common knowledge as to what a roguelike is, or another term will come about. Our language will evolve organically over time, and I don't see much point in worry about something like this.

Josh Neff
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One of the problems I have with this OP is that the term "Roguelike" was created at a time when there were few to no classifications for video games. The people who were interested in the style of game created a succinct list of requirements for what qualified to be defined within the genre.

So to try to say that the term "roguelike" is too vague ignores that it was a term that wasn't relevant except to a smallish community for many years. This isn't to say that more refined descriptors couldn't be created and/or applied, but to try to say that the term shouldn't be used is like saying we should all ignore the roots out what made many modern games what they are.

For my part, I'd argue the answer here is not to ignore definitions such as “Roguelike”... but to instead expand possible definitions that may supplant the term “Roguelike” Frankly, like it or hate it, the term “Roguelike” isn't going anywhere anytime soon... and it shouldn't. It is part of our history as an industry.

Francois Verret
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Thanks to this post, I now understand what Roguelike means! It might be clear to the people who played Rogue, but for those of us who had no idea the game even existed, it is quite opaque, especially when the games using the term all seem so different.

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John Gordon
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I would probably call it "Dungeon Survivor", because that's what a Roguelike is really about. The longer you survive, the better you feel you've done.

Paul Speed
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The 'survivor' bit is nice... with as loose a definition of "dungeon" as possible.

...because to me, the permadeath aspect is one of the defining characteristics. Otherwise, it's a Diablo clone... which itself was just a 3D Gauntlet clone... :)

I'm probably dating myself, now, though.

nicholas ralabate
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I've noticed if I refer to a modern FPS as a "DOOM-clone" people look at me like I'm some kind of jerk.

Benjamin Quintero
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It because they dont know what doom is, or they cant look past the next gen explosions to see that not much has changed in that space. Admittedly though demons have been replaced with terrorist so its technically not a doom clone (ie point of the article), even if you still are mowing countless numbers with a shotgun. Also doom had exploration and modern shooters are a fun-house shooting gallery... see... now im sad...

David Lin
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This is one of the blog posts that I can really relate to. I am still relative new to the indie game dev community and before that, I am a gamer.

And before I really got involved with the indie game dev community, I have not heard of the term 'Roguelike'. This brings me to the next point.

When I started making games as an indie, I realized that terms such as 'Roguelike' doesn't make any sense to most gamers. It is a term that's for game devs and by game devs. So instead of saying 'Roguelike', what about thinking from the gamers' perspective?

I am sure most of them will understand better if game descriptions used common terms such as 'open world', 'Role-Playing Game' and 'Turn-based'.

Aaron Oostdijk
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Interesting read, and fully agree. The term roguelike has always confused me, and hasn't helped my introduction to games applying that label to themselves.

Mihai Cozma
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I was misled so many times by this description for a game I can't even remember how many. I wonder what younger players that never actually played a true roguelike thing of this description. Ten years 'roguelike' will mean a completely new thing, mostly permadeath.

Amir Barak
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I think the issue is less with the actual word 'roguelike' and more with the concept that a game needs to stand on familiar grounds in order to become marketable. Stuffing a host of meanings into a single symbol, ie. word, is hazardous.

On the other hand the meaning of words is determined by popular usage through the specific culture of its speakers at a specific time (Which is why languages mutate); not from a dictionary or what one person thinks it should be.

And on the third hand (hey, why not) our industry is both creative and very young, two things which lead to confusing, contradictory and sometimes downright bizarre nomenclature. For some correlation look at linguistics at the turn of the 20th century... Read the introduction of Ferdinand de Saussure's post-mortem published notes.

And finally (I guess fourth hand), there's nothing wrong with using words like "roguelike" to describe specific mechanics, think about where the term "Sandbox" comes from; lol.

Amir Barak
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"Platformer is more accurate, easier to understand/remember for people who have perhaps never played a Mario game, and doesn't imply a thematic genre."
That's not really true. Platformer doesn't carry any implicit meaning as to the mechanics of jumping (which you've agreed is the core reference), it only alludes to the concept of having "platforms" and even you a few sentences later us the term: "jumper games".

You'll notice that "Roguelike", much like "Metroidvania" is written and often used without a hyphen. It has lost the compound meaning of being "Like the game Rogue" and has become a single word/symbol. Words tend to do that over time. There are a lot of words in English (much like other languages) that are greater than the sum of their parts.
"Walkman" - used to be a brand name which became a way to describe certain objects and is now fairly obsolete.
"Smartphone" - It's not really a phone that is smart. No one calls it a ComputerPhone, right?

There are more examples (probably better ones) but I got a bad back today and I ca't type very fast :P

Tomasz Mazurek
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Roguelike is really a wrong term because it is currently used so widely it doesn't make sense anymore. For me a roguelike has always been something like Nethack or Adom (or, well, Rogue) - a hardcore RPG, with permadeath, tons of dungeons to explore (usually generated), minimalistic presentation and walking based on discrete steps, usually turn based. Being inspired by one of these features does not make a game a roguelike, especially if the feature is permadeath. Contra, Mario and a ton of other pre-save game era games had permadeath and no one called them roguelikes. Just call your game uncompromising or hardcore or oldschool and do not dilute a term your game has nothing to do with.

Paul Speed
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One small point, unlike a roguelike, the perma death in Contra, Mario, and games like it was not really permadeath. It simply sent you back to the beginning of the game.

In a roguelike, permadeath generally means that the game is completely different the next time you play it. You can't keep replaying the same dungeon over and over until you find a way through (there may in fact not even be a way through).

This is why terminology is hard. If you start picking a term apart into its component meanings then you risk losing one of the things that made the term specific in the first place. Rogue was a combination of a few traits and without any one of those traits it dilutes the impact of the others.

Troy Walker
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I always thought "Party Games" involve copious amounts of beer, cups, and a roll of quarters... apparently I was wrong.

narek gevorgian
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RSG = random survival game

PSG = procedural survival game

Darren Grey
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As the host of Roguelike Radio I really hope I don't have to change my show name! Thanks for the shout-out though :)

You said that the genre name will change when there's an AAA title from a major studio in it. Well, Diablo hasn't really done much to it... And the term has so much history now that it just isn't going to disappear. Personally I think the best we can do is add qualifiers to it - "platformer roguelike", "roguelike FPS", etc. We see this in other genres. Eventually "roguelike" will mean as much to do with Rogue as sandbox does to sand or RPG does to role-playing.

A big issue is that indie games are frequently very experimental, combining genres or exploring spaces no other games have gone. What genre is Proteus? What genre is Papers, Please? The marketeers just slap an "indie" on them. The fact is most genre names are stupidly restrictive, and the more we break away from them the more interesting games we will have. They're harder to label but much more original!

Permadeath to genres I say ;)

Keith Burgun
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>>Some, such as the good folks at Roguelike Radio, would say these are simply traits that all modern games should aspire to,

Just as a side note, I think it was I who said that, and I don't even think most of the others at RLR even agree with me on that.


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