“Is x a roguelike?”
A paraphrase of the (quite pompously named) Berlin Interpretation, with introduction
On the term ‘roguelike’
The term roguelike is used very loosely today. To each their own, but this might not make sense, because:
If everything’s called a roguelike, the term loses its meaning.
We already have the terms hack and slash and dungeon crawler. They are perfectly good, descriptive terms, and don’t refer to a overly specific thing.
The term roguelike refers to a certain type of game, such as NetHack, ADOM, Dungeon Crawl or Angband, to name but a few. These games have a lot in common with each other, and their core gameplay and appearance are reminiscent of Rogue.
If a game shares merely one or two features with these, it might not be a roguelike itself, but a game with some features found in roguelikes. Which, incidentally, is completely okay.
Still, this is an important distinction. Bad analogy:
An ornithologist might get quite annoyed if people started calling fish birds, because both have two eyes and require oxygen to survive, and are commonly eaten by humans.
What separates a roguelike from any old hack and slash, then?
A roguelike typically has most of the following high value factors. The factors are paraphrased from the Berlin Interpretation:
- Random environment generation
- Permanent death
- Non-modal (Every action available at any point, ie. no separate exploration and fight modes etc.)
- Complexity (Plenty of possible item/player/monster/world interactions at any given time)
- Resource management (Scarcity of items, limited inventory, possible item destruction)
- Exploration and discovery (Random environment and unidentified items for every new player character)
It would likely have some of the other factors as well:
- Enemies are similar to players (ie. have inventory, equipment, use items and cast spells)
- Tactical challenge (learning curve, trial and error, accumulated knowledge of the game world)
- ASCII display (traditional, but many roguelikes also have tile graphics available)
- Dungeons (rooms connected by corridors)
- Numbers (used to describe character etc, and are deliberately shown)
It’s good to remember that for many people a roguelike is a specific type of game, one still relevant today. When Binding of Isaac is called one on the basis that it has a degree of randomity and permanent death, it might well cause the occasional frown, even if both sides enjoy the game.
On the other hand, dismissing the previous generation of gamers as “butthurt dwellers” because they refuse to call a real-time 3D shooter a roguelike is just ignorant.
Note that appearance alone isn’t the key; Dungeons of Dredmor is blatantly graphical, and yet fulfills a large amount of the aforementioned factors, whereas Dwarf Fortress boasts nice ASCII graphics, but its gameplay is fulfills a precious few. (Save for the adventure mode, reportedly – haven’t tried it myself yet.)