There’s an HTML5 Flash port of Rogue that you should play. Give it a go. It’s fine if you don’t get far. I’ll wait.

(Here’s me waiting).

So, did you play it? Did you find it kind of inscrutable? So did I. So do most people. But you may have noticed that it has something, or rather five things, peculiar to a certain small-but-growing corner of videogames:

1. When your character dies, that’s that. Dead, dead, dead. Permadeath.
2. The environments are randomly generated, different each time you play.
3. It’s generally not clear what a given item does until you’ve actually used it.
4. This procedurally-generated world can hum and cohere on its own.
5. The game uses the above to be frequently difficult and sometimes cruel.

Games that share at least a few of these qualities with Rogue are generally called “roguelikes,” though the really hardcore people will tell you that a true roguelike needs all of the above qualities, and has to be turn-based rather than realtime, and needs to be viewed top-down, and more or less needs to deviate from Rogue itself as little as possible. The desire to sidestep such semantics has given rise to looser, sillier terms such as “roguelike-like” and “roguelite.”

Rogue on Unix

Roguelikes have been a known commercial quantity in Japan at least since the SNES era. There’re reasonably mainstream over there, to the point that there are roguelikes with pokémon in them, for goodness’ sake. And they’ve got a well-established niche in the West, dating back to Hack in 1982 and echoing through the semi-random dungeons in Diablo and its many imitators.

But lately, roguelike(-alike)s have sprung up simply everywhere, and especially among the ranks of indie developers. There’s Brogue, Cardinal Quest, and Dungeons of Dredmor (which hew reasonably close to the old Rogue formula), and then there are games like Kickstarter success story FTL: Faster Than Light that narrativize the setup a bit more by way of taking it, say, into space.

Then there’s Spelunky, the fiercely loved marriage of roguelike principles with Mario-style plaftforming (as well as the themes and aesthetics of La-Mulana, one of those games that, like Dark Souls, shares the spirit and appeal of roguelike-alikes without really being one). As I’ve talked about previously, Spelunky is in some ways as important a point of departure as Rogue itself. After this one came the flood of roguelikes-except-not-that-they’re-not-exactly-like-Rogue.

The original, still-free version has its own HTML5 port, curtesy of Darius Kazemi, who also made some incredibly neat tools for visualizing how Spelunky generates its levels—and it’s been the basis for a whole generation of twitchier roguelikesque fare as diverse as Rogue Legacy and The Binding of Isaac.

Screen Shot 2013-10-20 at 9.31.20 PM

And oh my, The Binding of Isaac. I’ve talked quite bit about The Binding of Isaac, with its shifting, hallucinatory Zelda dungeons and its brutal, disquieting combat and character growth. Despite its scattershot cruelty, and also because of it, the game has spawned a dedicated eSports following—as has the Daily Challenge mode in the new, souped-up PC version of Spelunky.

Literoguelikelikealikes being played competitively. In videogames, that’s the mark of a genre that’s here to stay. It’s a bright new day for arcane procedural worlds and scattershot cruelty, my friends.

So over the next two weeks, I’ll explore some gamesthataresortoflikeroguelikes, present and near-future. The work being released under this ever-widening umbrella is as remarkable in its quality as it is daunting in its quantity.

Let me show you around a bit. There’s likely to be something you’ll like.


    1. You… are completely right. Shows what I know. Fixing that descriptor now.

      Thanks for the correction!

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