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Backbone of an interesting roguelike

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Me and my artist/designer have babbled about it long enough -- a roguelike is to be born under our hands! So far we've always made small games that are arcade-esque such as Meteorites and Gundown, and lack anysort of deeper gameplay or content. I'm a reasonable fellow, I like content. In fact, nothing makes my day brighter than writing up the stats and scripts for a Greater Longsword of Demonslaying. :)

For those of you squinting at the foreign word 'roguelike', allow it to become unveiled. A brief exerpt that I feel illustrates an important point about the misunderstood genre:

Though they may seem like trivial games at a first glance because of their simple graphics and interface, roguelikes usually provide a much greater gameplay detail depth than average commercial games. Instead of spending a lot of time on the graphics and 3D engines roguelike developers focus on advancing gameplay.

After reading a lot of newsgroups and playing lots of roguelikes (both tonight and over the years), I'm reasonably satisfied on the keypoints that I've identified as what make roguelikes the most fun:

  • Random generation

  • Entity reactions

  • Content quantity

  • Permadeath & difficulty

  • Turn-based

Random Generation
Playing a dungeon as a different level every time you create a new character is just a blast. It makes your character progress differently every time, and you discover new treasure through every session. It also allows for some very interesting situations to occur through chance via the RNG, such as a room completely filled with traps, or a greater ice dragon appearing in an only level 5 dungeon. This is what gives roguelikes their replayability.

Entity Reactions
By 'entity' I'm referring to objects, spells, monsters and the player itself. Not all roguelikes make significant use of entity reactions, but note that all of the popular roguelikes (ADOM, Nethack, Angband, etc) all make heavy use of this. An example of entity reactions is a sword being dipped into a potion of poison to induce poison damage on attacks with the sword, or throwing an oil-lamp at a locked wooden door to burn it down and pass through. Or using a magic mirror to reflect lightning bolts back at their caster. Or using a wand of flooding to fill a room with orcs with water, and casting chain lightning on the water to sizzle all of the foes. Or eating the corpse of an eyeball creature to gain infravision! The more interesting ways you can interact with items and the items with eachother, the more interesting the game can get for the player. Even funny things like a wizard casting a Sentience spell on your pants, so that they come to life and try to eat you. :)

Content Quantity
All of the successful roguelikes are huge. Tons of items, monsters, levels, and challenges. Enough said.

Permadeath & Difficulty
Ideally, the game should be the designed so that it's very near impossible to beat the game. It's just part of the enigma around roguelikes that they are sinisterly hard to beat. Hundreds if not thousands of characters must fall to the hands of various fatalities before the final level 580 boss creature is vanquished and peace is restored to the land. ;) This ties in with permadeath, which means that your character only lives once. If he dies once, he is deleted from your harddrive. Players become very attached to their character, will be careful in their actions (usually :P), and will generally appreciate the details of the game more. Not to mention it makes those close escapes from out-of-depth inferno demons via a scroll of instant freezing all the more exciting. :D

Roguelikes are traditionally turn-based. That means you can sit there as long as you'd like contemplating your next action while your health dwindles at 12/161, or rush through a crowd of lesser kobolds wishout hesitation. Players won't feel rushed and cornered into making foolish decisions when permadeath is at stake.

There's other nice little things too, like a decent backstory helps give the gameworld some more kick, and being intentionally vague ("You feel peculiar") with game messages add more mystique to the game. Roguelikes are definitely the most interesting genre out there, wouldn't you say? :)
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