Roguelike game

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According to Wikipedia, “The roguelike is a sub-genre of role-playing video games, characterized by level randomization and permanent death. [...] The family of roguelike games are based on the video game Rogue, programmed for Unix-based systems in 1980.[1] Rogue was loosely based on the fantasy settings of the tabletop Dungeons & Dragons role-playing games, and cast the player as an adventurer exploring a multi-leveled dungeon that was procedurally generated, where the player fought creatures and gained equipment and treasure. With early computers, the dungeon was represented using ASCII characterization, where each character space on the screen represented a tile, and different symbols corresponded to the player, items, monsters, and the dungeons' wall and floors. Rogue is a turn-based game; in a turn-based game, a player executes one action, such as moving or attacking a monster, after which the game updates all the other elements in the game.” (retrieved 17:56, 2 December 2013 (CET)).

The original Rogue and the definition of roguelike

What is Roguelike ?

According to the Berlin Interpretation article at roguebasin (retrieved nov 2013), “a definition of "Roguelike" was created at the International Roguelike Development Conference 2008 [in Berlin] and is the product of a discussion between all who attended. The definition at was used as the starting point for the discussions. Most factors are newly phrased, new factors have been added, some factors have been removed.”. This Berlin interpretation identifies nine high value factors and 6 low value factors.

The essential must-have features could be the following:

Kill monsters, grow and find treasures to kill more powerful ones
Time stands still and moves on when you move the character or when you perform some other action. For each event (except simple moves), the game gives a short feedback.
Randomly-generated environments
Each time you play the world is different and so can be the situations you encounter
Permanent failure and death
Games cannot be saved. However items you carried could appear in "graveyards" you encounter in a new game
Command set
Have a single, unified command set (no different menus). Some roguelikes don't follow this rule.
No story line, no linear path.
There is little plot (except for the general goal that you probably never will reach). This ensures re-playability. In the same way there if no linear path. The player can decide what to do.
Discover the nature of any items you find
The nature of items you find (scrolls, potions, etc.) must be identified the first time you find one. Other artifacts (e.g. weapons and armour) can be cursed.
Grid-based motion
All objects (terrain, monsters, player) are restricted to a grid.
Tactical orientation
Roguelikes are not strategical (like Civilization) or twitch-oriented (like Quake). At each turn, you will have to think but planning can be restricted to survival and gains in a fairly local context.

Critique and impact


Nethack was originally released in 1987. As of Nov 2013, the latest revision is 3.4.3 and was released on Dec 2003. Nethack is often hailed as one of the best video games ever, e.g. in Time Magazine's ALL-TIME 100 Video Games (2012).

According to Lev Grossman (Time), “Nethack is the most celebrated member of the ancient and honorable family of games descended from Rogue [...] The character classes alone give you a sense of the game’s depth: you can play as an archeologist, a barbarian, a caveman, a knight, a samurai, a valkyrie, a tourist, or half a dozen other options. Nethack is a demanding game — its difficulty and quirkiness have kept it a cult phenomenon — but it’s more compelling than most of the chip-melting, big-budget graphical RPGs being released now.”

In an influentical Gamasutra article on Game Design Essentials, John Harris states that “the biggest thing that pen-and-paper RPGs had, and still have, over CRPGs is lack of flexibility. (1) The player characters cannot do everything they could in a real situation because the computer cannot generalize the environment to the degree that this could be done, and (2) doesn't have the creativity to improvise things in response to player actions.”.

With respect to (1), “Nethack has dozens of commands. Players can sit down, throw or wield anything they can carry, dip objects into potions, fountains or standing water, write on the floor, play musical instruments, disarm and reset traps, make offerings to the gods, and many other things. Not all of the commands are needed to play through the game, but Nethack's game universe is complex enough that the best players know them all, and know when they're useful.”

With respect to (2), “it uses a lot of knock-on monster and item properties. Every item has a composition; things made of paper could be burnt by fire attacks, those made of metal rusted by water. [For example], Monsters which are orcs automatically take extra damage from the sword Orcrist. Monsters with sight can be blinded by expensive cameras. These incidental properties provide a fair amount of Nethack's depth.”

Free roguelike game links


  • JavaRogue. Original Rogue running as Java applet. No registration needed, but Java must be installed on your computer.


Slash'EM (un des nombreux dérivés de Nethack)
Somewhat roguelike
Ubuntu/Debian installation: sudo apt-get install crossfire-client-images crossfire-client
  • Dliantra. Free MMORPG. Either just download the client or also install a server.

Bibliography and links


Important Wikipedia articles

Wikipedia includes a series of very well researched articles.

Overview and concepts

Major early variants (early 1980s)

Major Roguelikes (Late 1980s, 1990s)

Classic games using some roguelike elements

Modern games with rogue elements



Technical literature

  • Melissa M. Simmons, Pam Vercellone-Smith, Phillip A. Laplante, "Understanding Open Source Software through Software Archaeology: The Case of Nethack," 2012 35th Annual IEEE Software Engineering Workshop, pp. 47-58, 30th Annual IEEE/NASA Software Engineering Workshop SEW-30 (SEW'06), 2006
  • Phil Laplante, George Hurlburt, Keith Miller, Jeffrey Voas, "Certainty through Uncertainty?," Computer, vol. 44, no. 2, pp. 79-81, Feb. 2011, doi:10.1109/MC.2011.41