The Many Faces Of Roguelikes: Seven Days Of Rogue

By Adam Smith on March 20th, 2012 at 6:45 pm.

The bloody sword is the player character. Seriously.

Preamble alert! The 7-day Roguelike Challenge is not new but this year it has drawn a record number of entries. More than seventy roguelikes were created, by individuals or teams, in the seven days allotted. Back in 2008, when the excellent Fatherhood was an entry, there were only nine successful submissions. I deeply regret that I don’t have time to play seventy roguelikes but that is the truth of it, so I am grateful to Andrew Doull of the stirring Roguelike Radio for providing me with a shortlist. It didn’t stop me playing a few others but it’s always good to know where to start.

Sword in Hand

War! That’s a bit different already. Usually it’s a case of preventing war by finding the artifact that might begin the war, or that might skip the war and cut straight to the millions of dead. At least that’s my understanding, although my grasp of the actual plots is often lacking. There’s got to be a reason all those amulets and orbs are so important though and I choose to think of my kobold tourist as a sort of Hans Blix with a +8 mace of smiting, seeking the WMDs in whatever dark corner they’re hidden in and clobbering anyone who stands in the way.

Sword in Hand takes place during a war though, one which you can influence even though you’re a sword rather than a person. I probably should have mentioned that already actually. You’re a sword, not just any sword but the most effective slicer and dicer in the world. You are The Freyblade and, as the game itself points out, “you do deserve the definite article”.

I’m not going to say too much more because discovering how much is possible is part of the fun. There is plenty to see though, nifty use of blood and some clever reworkings of the familiar. It’s also worth pointing out that this was made by the dashing Jeff Lait who also made Fatherhood back in the ancient time of 2008, when roguelikes were considered to be at the cutting edge of computer visuals.

Fuel

Fuel is a bit different too. For starters, it’s sci-fi. Whenever I stumble across a sci-fi roguelike I’m reminded of Alphaman, which was probably the first non-fantasy effort I played and I absolutely loved it. Even though so much of what was involved was probably renaming, so that abilities were mutations and magic items were unidentified tech, it felt incredibly fresh. Actually, I take that back, it wasn’t just renaming, there was plenty to like about Alphaman. It had a better grasp of theme than most of what I play and even if I didn’t fully enjoy some of the sillier moments, I look back on it fondly.

Fuel is a different kettle of petrol though, being a sidescrolling affair. Say sidescrolling and roguelike in close proximity and I tend to think spelunky but this isn’t Spelunky. It’s Fuel. The major difference is that it’s turn-based, with everything moving along with the player, even falling rock formations.

A stranded space miner who must discover the necessaries to repair his/her ship, the main character has an anti-gravity belt and a blaster. Exploring randomly generated caves to find power for your devices as well as the monopoles that will allow escape, it’s a game that becomes a case of conserving power, only using the anti-grav and blaster when necessary. I struggled to make progress but you may think it’s the best thing since carefully partitioned bread.

Fictional Roguelike

Although there’s a lot less game here than in the previous two downloads, Fictional Roguelike fills me with glee. I harp on and on about the fact that roguelikes are one of the most efficient storytelling engines around, packed with narratives that are waiting for any chance to emerge from the shadows, pouncing, bristling with subplots. Tritax has recognised that and therefore adds layers of flavour text to a stripped back, standard roguelike structure.

It’s incredibly basic, with monsters (not of various types), bosses and controls that allow movement, combat and little else. But it’s onto something. Walking through these maps, which look like the ones I used to doodle on the graph paper in science classes as a kid, there’s a sense that stories are waiting in the wings. The simple act of giving names to rooms helps and it’s a project I’d like to see taken further.

There are fleshed out roguelikes doing similar things, most notably, in my experience, Incursion and Brogue, both of which have dungeons with a little more life and local colour. However, a roguelike built around the creation of a flexible narrative vocabulary and grammar is something I could become very excited about.

I Rule, You Rule, We All Rule Old-School Hryule

I was talking to a gathering of games folk the other week and they were shocked to discover that I’ve never finished a Zelda game. I actually undermined my own argument because I was suggesting that once you’ve finished one you’ve finished them all. How would I know that? Guesswork.

I rule, you rule, we all rule old-school Hyrule may well be the first Zelda game I do finish because it’s a roguelike, see, and that’s where I’m comfortable. Not that I ever finish roguelikes either because they are generally hard and I am, as a rule, extremely soft.

What’s different about this one then, the Hyrule theme aside? Well, it’s a competitive roguelike, with heroes scattered around the land all aiming to gain enough fame to become rulers. They do this by discovering stuff, killing particularly tough monsters and doing all the other things that are expected of adventuresome sorts. Reports flash up telling you what your rivals are up to and when you find out Link, of all people, has discovered some mystical MacGuffin, it’s hard not to throw up your hands in despair. Of course he has. Why wouldn’t he, the little do-gooder.

Then I realised I can find him and murder him, so that’s good.

It’s yet another twist on the formula and this one’s aided by map generation that looks like an old-fashioned top-down Zelda world, separated into distinct areas that often have paths running through them rather than large open spaces. Excellent.

“>GatewayRL

Finally, I couldn’t ignore GatewayRL because it’s as close to a S.T.A.L.K.E.R. roguelike as anything I’ve ever played. Far too complex for me to make a dent in during the short time I’ve been playing, it dumps the player and a group of companions in a hub that contains a bar and shuttles to a zone full of anomalies to be procured. Sometimes crew members will refuse to join a mission, presumably because missions involve having their brains assaulted by gases and their bodies broken into pieces by horrible incidents.

Again, it could be the start of something fantastic and I hope development continues. The inspiration, Roadside Picnic aside, is Frederik Pohl’s Gateway, which I haven’t read. Now I want to.

Read about many more entries, including the noble failures, in the event blog. If you find anything fascinating pop it in a comment below. Also, for more, the Roguelike Radio team have episodes on the event, past and present, here. They’re always worth a listen. A judging committee of braver men than me will be looking at every entry; I’ll look at their findings as well once they’re available.

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32 Comments »

  1. pkdawson says:

    I’ve done some work on random generation of “dungeons” that make some kind of sense, so Fictional Roguelike piqued my interest. Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem to have taken that idea beyond simply randomly naming the rooms – one I see is a “Mess hall” furnished with nothing more than a bed and a pillar.

    I do like the graph paper style, though.

  2. Wubbles says:

    Obviously, this comment section should be about Dwarf Fortress.

    • mopajiuw says:

      I’ve played quite a bit of brogue, which is excellent at weaving a good yarn.
      Wow!This stuff is really cool!

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    • The Army of None says:

      Yaaay, Dwarf Fortress! Games like it aren’t the sort you’d likely see in a 7-day jam, though :(

      (Spam bots aside)

  3. BurningPet says:

    Great article Adam!,
    i have been following 7drl since it started but this year i somehow missed it, so thanks for this list.

    Btw Fuel was developed by Ido yehieli who also made “Cardinal Quest” – a nice graphical roguelike.

  4. LTK says:

    I might check some of these out, but I don’t think it’s likely I’ll become an avid player. In most roguelikes, my reaction to my first death is “Well, that was fun.” In the unlikely event of a subsequent round of play that becomes “Well, that was a waste of time.” Let’s see if these are any different.

  5. PleasingFungus says:

    Sword in Hand is really interesting, and I want to spend more time with it!

    Fuel, on the other hand, just feels really unplayable. That control scheme! The sheer unforgivingness of the fall damage!

    Ah, well.

  6. noom says:

    I’ve been neglecting roguelikes of late. Might give some of these a look.

    And Gateway is a good read, though it depressed the hell out of me. Just don’t expect it to be like Roadside Picnic, because it’s not what I’d call similar.

  7. Levanon says:

    Speaking of Gateway, once upon a time, it was made into a lovely pair of text adventures, with really charming illustrations and animations for every room. I’m not sure whether they’re considered great or not, but they have generally well designed puzzles, an awesome setting, and beautiful illustrations, which make them probably my favourite of the text adventures I’ve played.

    Now to go download all those roguelikes, though, cause they all look brilliant.

    • Ralphomon says:

      I really enjoyed the Gateway games! They’re the kind of thing I go back and play both in an afternoon pretty much once a year. Generating an infinite number of banana daiquiris has never been so rewarding.

      • dreadguacamole says:

        Good old Legend Entertainment. The gateway games were really good, but they batted it out of the park with Mission Critical – Absolutely loved that game. Their take on Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon was really fun, too.

  8. caddyB says:

    Dammit, got hooked to Dwarf Fortress again and lost the whole weekend to it, don’t make me go back to Roguelikes as well or I’ll never get anything done.

  9. Ninja Foodstuff says:

    Is it relatively easy to create a roguelike? Is there a codebase or something that people use to create new ones?

    I only ask because it seems like there are loads of these now (not that I’m complaining).

  10. Coccyx says:

    I’ve played quite a bit of brogue, which is excellent at weaving a good yarn.

  11. B1A4 says:

    Also, not part of 7DRL I found out interesting roguelike – http://infraarcana.wikispaces.com/ – Call of Cthulhu meets Blood. Flare guns and Tesla guns are in. Even pitchforks. And it has minimalistic but great graphics.

    Crudux Cruo!

  12. hjd_uk says:

    Gateway boils down to : We can travel faster than light to far off destinations but its a crap-shoot as to where you end up or how long it takes or whats waiting for you on the other end. Its quite good – I have the edition with the funky curved edges on the book.

    Dwarf Fortress is kind of like creating a Rouge-Like’s dungeon but having to deal with the resident monsters wanting to move in early.

  13. Baf says:

    I recall reading somewhere about a person who played the role of an intelligent magic sword in Planescape. The pencil-and-paper RPG, that is, not Planescape: Torment, the computer game it inspired. Planescape is apparently very flexible about what sort of thing a player can be — there’s a reason PS:T put all those extraplanar weirdies like modrons and floating skulls in your party — and this fellow just took it to an extreme. None of the other players knew what he was; he apparently spent the entire session just passing notes to the DM.

    • Bluerps says:

      There is actually an entire Pen&Paper RPG based on this concept, called “Bloodlust” – you play sentient weapons, with the wielders being replaceable, secondary characters. It’s a pretty exotic game, though, because it’s french and has no english translation, as far as I know (there is only a german one, called “Hyperborea”).

  14. olpolpolpolp says:

    http://lnk.co/ILTHN
    this stuff is very cool

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  16. andrewdoull says:

    There’s easier to read list at http://peeksandpokes.blogspot.se/2012/03/2012-7drl-competition-summary.html and the 7drl community blog at http://7drl.org/ has screen shots and announcement of completed games.

    And of course, thanks for the fantastic roguelike coverage, Adam.

  17. Bluerps says:

    I hope I find the time to try some of those, especially Sword in Hand.

  18. Briggsy16 says:

    The guy that made I rule, you rule, we all rule old-school Hyrule has a fantastic set of tutorials on making your own roguelike in Java. A very good set of tutorials that sees you make a complete roguelike, I’d recommend it if you want to try and get into this kind of development:

    http://trystans.blogspot.co.uk/2011/08/roguelike-tutorial-01-java-eclipse.html

  19. CKScientist says:

    I don’t really understand Sword in the Hand. The “you kill a rat and drain its life!” text and the blood-on-sword graphics seem to indicate that killing any monsters restores health, but this isn’t the case – only killing the tougher monsters restores health, however they usually damage you more than the health you regain from them. I couldn’t get past the second level because the two-hit enemies did more damage to me that I could recover by killing them (and using ranged attacks also costs health.)

    Where am I going wrong here?

    • Twerty says:

      Sword in Hand is a wonderfully written game, with incredibly difficult gameplay. Your first couple playthroughs are intended to go horribly wrong, as you realize that it’s not intended to be played as your average “hack-and-slash” often is. The author himself stated that by making virtually all items useless, and to make statistics (other than health and blood) irrelevant were an intentional design decision to direct the player to the blood abilities — these are your saving grace, and utilizing them tactically and intelligently is THE ONLY way to win the game. You use them by pressing the corresponding key to the right. The red asterisks represent the area of effect, the red Os signify blood cost (directly translated to hitpoints) and the yellow Xs signify the amount of damage suffered by those in the area of the effect. Attacking weak enemies one-on-one will, in the best case, keep you at the exact same amount of health (they hit once, you kill them and regain the 1 hitpoint you lost), and in later dungeons you are not afforded such luxuries. Which means there is literally only one thing in the game you can possibly rely on: yes, again, the blood mechanics.

      Looking at Impale, for example, you’ll notice the the area of effect is 3 squares long, but the blood cost is 2. Which means that if you manage to maneuver 3 weak enemies into a straight line, you will actually net 1 hitpoint from the attack. Blade Wall, as another example, could theoretically net you 3 hitpoints, but your chances of convincing enemies to get in such a formation are incredibly low, and I have only been able to break even with it so far.

      Sword in Hand, ironically, is a game of attrition and careful calculation, not what you’d expect when the main character is an all-mighty artifact with a very large ego. You must very carefully select your battles, and even how and where you fight them. I have not been able to pass the third dungeon myself, however, I get the feeling that certain abilities are more useful in later dungeons. Leap attack, for example, at 4 blood cost and requiring the square in front of you clear is a pretty ridiculous proposition. And Flash doesn’t seem to have much purpose, costing 1 blood and doing no damage — perhaps to handicap ranged opponents, or confuse evasive ones like the Zombie Captain in the first dungeon?

  20. MistyMike says:

    My closed minded opinion:

    Afrer ADOM, Nethack and DoomRL there is little to be achieved in the roguelike genre. 7DRL are novelty items and excercises in programming.

    It is better to learn the lessons of rouguelikes and create something new, like the massively succesful Spelunky.