Monday, 7 July 2014

The Real Roguelike Renaissance

There has been a mini-spate of 'explainer' articles aimed at easing the neophyte gamer into the world of roguelikes: both on Gamasutra ('Roguelikes': Getting to the heart of the it-genre), and IGN (Roguelikes: The Rebirth of the Counterculture). Both simultaneously praise the old school nature of high difficulty levels, permadeath, procedural generation, and point towards the emergence of the genre into the mainstream as a fresh new trend, with interviews with well known indie game developers such as Edmund McMillen (The Binding of Isaac) and Daniel Cook (Road Not Taken) as well as up and comers like Teddy Lee (Rogue Legacy), Paul Morse and Duncan Drummond (Risk of Rain) and Keith Burgun (100 Rogues, Auro).

But by pointing at successful examples of commercial roguelikes and focusing on pull quotes from current developers, both articles miss the real roguelike renaissance which predates the examples given by a number of years. Listeners of Roguelike Radio and members of the close knit roguelike community will be aware of the much more titanic shifts in roguelike development in the noncommercial space from a long spanning tradition of the big four roguelikes (NetHack, Angband, ADOM and Dungeon Crawl), through to the relative stasis of the early to mid 2000s followed by the explosive reinvention of the genre inspired by the 7DRL competition, and coffee break roguelikes in general.

I would like to trace a through line from this early roguelike Renaissance to the antecedent of almost all recent commercial roguelikes, Spelunky, which in its freeware form was a huge influence on the early successes of the Binding of Isaac and FTL, but I'm not sure whether such a path can be followed. If it is, Derek Yu would be the person to talk to, but neither explainer article includes an interview with Derek, and I don't recall him talking about whether any of the more recent games influenced Spelunky. There is a direct connection between Derek Yu and DoomRL, but I suspect Spelunky was much more fashioned by the general rise of the indie game and Derek's fondness for NetHack than his participation or awareness of early 7DRL efforts.

But even if there is no connection, it is an important part of the story that the community should be telling and a narrative that is far more interesting than the 'difficulty is in again' message that the mainstream press is perpetuating. It is also a way of including the unsung heroes of the rise of the roguelike - the authors of countless freeware roguelikes who influenced and built the platforms upon which we stand, as well as the original authors of Rogue who founded the genre.

6 comments:

Darren Grey said...

Derek went on to make Spelunky after getting frustrated that Kornel was taking ages to implement his tiles ;-) DoomRL itself I would credit as being an early part of the renaissance, along with Powder.

There is the other renaissance aspect which is simply making roguelikes with better UIs. Dungeonmans and ToME both are good examples. Yet we still stand embarrassed by Dwarf Fortress which shows that you don't need this sort of polish to be popular...

RobotAcid said...

The most depressing thing about those articles is that I skip through them wondering if they have anything new to say and no, they don't. A list of games I've already heard of and know all about tells me absolutely nothing I didn't already know. And yet that's what most Roguelike Articles end up being.

It's shockingly lazy.

Darren Grey said...

That's journalism for you :) You have to remember that there is a very big section of gamers that have never heard the term "roguelike" before, even now. It gets seen as a niche indie thing at best.

Rock, Paper, Shotgun normally have better quality articles on this - their staff are much better informed.

Patrick said...

No mention of Chunsoft quietly (or not so quietly) crafting well-made commercial roguelikes from the 90s up through the present?

And even getting one or two of those into the hands of western RL fans?

http://www.neogaf.com/forum/showthread.php?t=248958

cyberklown28 said...

Procedural Death Labyrinth Renaissance

Andrew Doull said...

It is a 4 paragraph article...