I like roguelikes.
I don’t love them, but when you have half an hour to kill and a laptop close at hand they’re a pretty nifty diversion. Well, it’s either that or annoy the shit out of my Facebook friends with Farmville updates.
If you’re still staring at the third word of this post, wondering what the hell I’m talking about, then listen up. Roguelikes are (traditionally) minimalist, turn-based RPGs that offer a fresh, randomized gaming experience each time you play them. They’re also (traditionally) presented in ASCII graphics/characters. They’re about as retro as anything else you’re ever likely to play this side of of the Magnavox Odyssey. (The term “roguelike” is derived from Rogue, one of the earliest and most fondly remembered games of its type.)
On the surface it all sounds rather dull, but if there’s one thing roguelikes have going for them it’s this: they are as addictive as chocolate-coated Hobnobs. Go on, just try one. Give it a superficial, half-hearted play through and you’re unlikely to see what all the fuss is about. But take time to learn its mechanics and its scope may surprise you. Once everything clicks you’ll be in “just one more go” territory, burning the midnight oil like there’s no tomorrow.
If there’s just one problem with roguelikes it’s that there’s just too damn many of them. If you’re anything like me you’ll find it hard to settle on just one roguelike and fully explore everything it has to offer. I really should, but each time I suddenly get a roguelike craving (it seems to happen about once a year), I have to download dozens of the fuckers and give them all a try. This time round I seem to be gravitating towards Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup, although DoomRL is proving to be a worthy distraction.
Also worth checking out is Dwarf Fortress, which takes the basic roguelike template and adds elements of city building, resource management and tower defense. Be warned: it’s not for the faint of heart and has a learning curve so steep it’s almost vertical. However, if you persevere through the early learning stages (perhaps with the aid of various wikis and online tutorials) you’ll come to appreciate just how deep and rewarding the game is. If you still have any doubt as to game’s awesomeness, check out this amazing Let’s Play Dwarf Fortress thread that originally appeared on the Something Awful forums.
But let’s not get too carried away. If you’ve yet to delve into the world of roguelikes, it’s best to start with one of the simpler ones. The aforementioned Stone Soup is an ideal starting point. It has a built-in tutorial that’s genuinely useful and its internal mechanics are lot more focused than some of the older roguelikes. You also get a graphical tile set thrown in with the main package. If you’re familiar with Doom (and, let’s face it, who isn’t?), then DoomRL may also be a good starting point.
If you want to go for something with a little bit more depth then NetHack is where it’s at. If you find the ASCII graphics to be a little too retro for your liking, you might want to check out one of the many tile sets; Falcon’s Eye and Vulture’s Eye are very easy on the eye. Once you’re familiar with the basics of how these games work, just experiment with some of the other roguelikes. Play around with whatever else sounds interesting. The chronology of roguelike video games on Wikipedia is a good place to start, although just Googling for “roguelike” will turn up no end of resources.
Meanwhile, for all you roguelike veterans out there: which one is your favorite?