I’ve had a real love/hate relationship with Roguelikes. (Quick definition if you don’t want to follow that link: a Roguelike is a turn-based RPG with a map that is usually constructed from the ASCII character set. They derive their name from Rogue, the first game of this type on record.) The thing is, now that I’ve thought about it, most of the advantages of a Roguelike are inherent, and most of the things I don’t like about them are a part of how they’ve been constructed.

The main advantage of Roguelikes is that while they do have a map, they are not rigorously representational. They inherit this from text adventures. If you want the player to be attacked by a gorgeous bird with a six-foot wingspan, a pearl beak, feathers that shift colors as it moves, and glowing white eyes, you can simply put a B on the screen (or whatever letter or symbol you decide represents “birds”) and say, “You see a gorgeous bird with a six-foot wingspan, a pearl beak, feathers that shift colors as it moves, and glowing white eyes.” This takes all of 30 seconds, unlike the two weeks actually creating such a bird in a 3D game would take.

This also means that you can code tons of interactions that can only exist in text. Sure, let the player wield lockpicks or dead monster bodies as weapons! Let the player drink from fountains, fill canteens from fountains, dip swords from fountains, kick fountains! Let them wear hats on their feet! It’s all just text! You’re not required for it to make any visual sense!

Another way Roguelikes aren’t rigorously representational is that the player is not bound to any sort of normal walking speed. A square on a Roguelike map typically represents six to ten square feet, and you move by jumping from one square to another (and typically you can move as fast as you can press a key). Thus, it doesn’t take long to get places in a Roguelike.

So Roguelikes can avoid lots of the annoyances of modern RPGs and stimulate the imagination, at the cost of a lack of visual…impact. What are the downsides?

Like I said, most of the downsides of Roguelikes I’ve played stem from how they are implemented, not the style itself. Roguelikes are typically arbitrary, difficult and frustrating, but that’s only because that’s how they’ve been programmed. One true downside of Roguelikes is that the user will have to constantly refer back to the manual or a cheatsheet to figure out exactly what symbol means what on the screen, but this can, perhaps, be minimized.

So why exactly am I analyzing Roguelikes? Ah, see the next post.