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Entry updated 20 December 2021. Tagged: Game, Theme.

Roguelikes or Rogue-likes are a type of Computer Role Playing Game or CRPG with a number of common gameplay features. The player must move their character, or party of characters through a dungeon or map with a series of levels, fighting Monsters of increasing difficulty. Most typically, the player is subject to "permadeath"; if a character or member of a party dies, then they are lost permanently. If all characters die, then the player loses all progress and must begin the game afresh. Roguelikes are therefore known for their difficulty, and often require in-depth knowledge of the game or high levels of forethought in strategy and planning.

The name originates from the early Videogame Rogue (1980 Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman); however, roguelikes existed prior to this title. Earlier examples include Beneath Apple Manor (1978 Moby Games) and Telengard (1977), which was originally designed as a digital version of Dungeons & Dragons and thus has many similarities to the genre. Owing to a lack of available computer memory, earlier games favoured elements which have come to be regarded as essential to roguelikes, such as the loss of all progress on death and the inability to continue from a saved position; however, they did not often contain the randomizing element to rooms that Rogue pioneered.

Roguelike dungeons are procedurally generated, meaning that each level is randomly created from a series of video game "assets", and is thus unique to each playing session. Most Roguelikes also involve turn-based movement and combat, whereby players and enemies move in a set order; either one after the other, or, if the player is commanding multiple characters, in an order determined by the relative attributes that each player avatar possesses (for example, their speed, perceptiveness or initiative). Useful objects found during roguelikes, such as armour or Weapons, are often also procedurally generated, increasing or sometimes decreasing the player's strength and abilities in various ways. For example, in Darkest Dungeon (2015 Red Hook), which borrows heavily from the Cthulhu Mythos, the characters the player controls are adversely affected by the dungeons themselves and become gradually more insane if they are selected as members of the party. If they reach the end of their tether, their "resolve" is tested, resulting in a new negative or positive attribute that affects their character.

Roguelikes often have a strong background narrative, mainly connoted through the world and "flavour text" (short pieces of text used in games to describe elements such as characters, abilities or items). In the Sword and Sorcery- and Steampunk-themed game Dungeons of Dredmor (2011), the player draws narrative elements from descriptions of individual skills, short speech bubbles generated by each monster, and from the text provided in the brief introduction to the game, items and abilities available.

Although roguelikes are primarily Fantasy-based videogames, there are several which cross over and either contain sf elements or are entirely sf-themed. In FTL: Faster Than Light (2012), players must assemble a Spaceship and pilot it through the game whilst hoping that their craft will not fall apart, and will not be overwhelmed by other enemy ships – this first part is very similar to the board game Galaxy Trucker (2007). Warhammer Quest (2013 Rodeo Quest), based on the 1995 Wargame by Games Workshop, and Shadowrun Returns (2013) (see Shadowrun) both take the idea of steadily progressing through a Role Playing Game, and convert it to a turn-based roguelike format. These three games also demonstrate the close affinity of roguelikes with their RPG and board game counterparts.

Roguelikes, popular ever since Rogue was published, appear to have experienced a revival as a result of the proliferation of Android phone apps and Digital Download Platforms such as Steam. Since the gameplay of a roguelike is fairly repetitive, these games are often made by indie companies with smaller budgets, via crowdfunding on websites such as Kickstarter, or as apps for the Android, which need to accommodate less memory than other games. Games created using one or more of these aspects are often more simplistic than their Triple A counterparts, and roguelikes fit well into these criteria. Roguelikes also support the idea that games should be difficult to complete, and developers such as Red Hook's and Edmund McMillen and Florian Himsl of The Binding of Isaac (2011) have all said that the difficulty of this particular videogame genre is important to its popularity, for developers and players alike. Overall, while roguelikes may only appeal to a specific type of gamer, this is not necessarily a bad thing in a medium that continues to expand exponentially.

A one-off Hugo award category for best videogame was instituted by the 2021 worldcon; the winner was Hades (2020) from Supergiant Games, a roguelike fantasy adventure set in the underworld of Greek Mythology. [EMS]

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