Rogue came out in 1980. For 33 years now we have been using its name to describe a genre. This has gone on far too long. It’s time to stop using roguelike.
Whenever a game popularizes a new genre we use its name for a while until a better one comes along. Doom clone was used for several years before we ended up with First Person Shooter. GTA clone was another term that was used before open world started to come up. I even recall Warcraft 2 and Command & Conquer battling it out over which one got to be used to describe RTS games.
The reason this needs to stop is that no one even knows exactly what Roguelike means anymore. In the past few weeks I’ve seen Roguelike, Roguelite, Rogue clone, and Roguelike-like. This is just ridiculous.
Roguelike was defined in the “Berlin Interpretation” by many features such as random environment generation, permadeath, turn-based, grid-based, and many others, some with different levels of importance.
So let’s back up a moment and look at some of the games from the past few years that are labeled as roguelike. In this recent resurgence we have FTL: Faster Than Light, Splunkey, The Binding of Isaac, Rogue Legacy, Dungeons of Dredmore, Flotilla, Don’t Starve, Nuclear Throne, Teleglitch, Bionic Dues and many more. These types of games have suddenly become very popular and completely stray away from the definition of Roguelike.
We have 2D action platformers like Splunkey and Rogue Legacy. The Binding of Isaac, Nuclear Throne, and Teleglitch go for overhead shooter gameplay. FTL is about resource management, random events, and real time spaceship combat. Dungeons of Dredmore probably hews closer to the original spirit then most other games with this title.
So than what are we talking about when we call a game Roguelike? From what I can identify there are two main mechanics that hold all of these games together, random environment generation and permadeath. All of these games create new worlds when a game is started. Then when you die, that’s it you are permanently dead. When you start a new game, yet another world is created and you make your way through it until you win or die. These games all tend to be short but I think it’s more a byproduct of their nature then something that needs to be in the definition. Some of these games do contain a meta-progression structure which holds all the playthroughs together (Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer and Rogue Legacy) but this just adds a layer and doesn’t detract from the two basic mechanics.
Roguelike is a term that has become far too distant from its origins to be useful. It is used to describe too many things with too little focus. I would guess it has lasted this long because it was never that popular. Diablo certainly took a chunk of inspiration and created its own genre. The core concepts we are looking at today should finally get their own definition. The term I purpose is random-death. Random levels and permadeath, if nothing else it’s succinct. I welcome any suggestions and hope a dialog is started until we can figure this out and then move on.
We need to re-label this genre and separate it from Rogue. Identifying this thread and finding new ways to talk about it will enhance our understanding and also help the genre evolve. Random-death or otherwise, let’s hear it.