Return of the Roguelike

Anand Ramachandran        Print Edition: March 2012

Long after the rest of the videogame world emerged out of their dark, hidden corners and embraced the blinding lights of show business, one kind of game remained reclusive. While shooters, adventures, strategy games and sports games started appearing in book and toy store shelves, mainstream advertising and even Hollywood films during the 1980s and '90s, there was one genre that remained the preserve of the nerd, the geek, the hardcore.

It was the oddly named Roguelike - a role-playing subgenre in which players braved near - impossible odds to enter endless dangerous dungeons filled with fabulous treasure guarded by vicious beasts and deadly traps. A genre where (gasp!) graphics were less important than gameplay, where difficulty was welcome and n00bs were not. It was the nerd's own genre-born of the unholy union of Gary Gygax's legendary Dungeons and Dragons role-playing game and the ultimate geek activity: computer programming. A spoonful of C++, a dash of die-rolling, some stats and numbers to add a little crunch, some monsters here, some heroes there, and some high fantasy sauce to add the flavour-a recipe for hours of entertainment. And thus, Rogue was born.

Game Launches For Windows Phones

Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit (Rs 260)
Feel the rush of the escape and the thrill of the takedown! Outrun the law as a Racer in supercars such as the Pagani Zonda Cinque — or stop racers cold as a Cop in high-speed police interceptors such as the Lamborghini Reventon. Enabled for Xbox LIVE, experience pulse-pounding action as you make the escape or make the bust with Need for Speed: Hot Pursuit on Windows Phone. Drive up to 20 precision-performance cars in adrenaline-fueled showdown across 24 day-andnight tracks. Take it to the limit in 48 total Cop and Racer Career Events, collect bounty, and rise to the top of the ranks.

BulletAsylum (Rs 160)
Do you like bullets? How about explosions? Are you tired of having to wait entire seconds between seeing bullets explode things? Annihilate invaders with a wall of firepower in this insane arcade shooter. BulletAsylum delivers over-the-top action, melding classic gameplay with next-generation visuals and mechanics. With an insane amount of firepower at your fingertips, vibrant graphics and an all-you-can-shoot buffet of alien hordes to destroy.

Chickens Can't Fly (Rs 160)
Join the ranks of our scientists and see what chickens are capable of. Conduct experiments in four laboratories and answer questions such as: Is there life after the butcher? Are chickens afraid of ghosts? Does a frozen chicken get dizzy? Countless hours of fun await you: fall down an experimental pit, avoid obstacles, use powerups and power-downs, gather corn, and make it through to the end. Use the skills you learn to get a high score in Survival Mode and show off to your friends on the Xbox LIVE and global leaderboards.

Tom Clancy's Splinter Cell Conviction (Rs 260)

The benchmark of action stealth games on console is available for the first time on Windows Phone. Unleash the ferocious skills of renegade agent Sam Fisher, a highly skilled Special Forces operative, and fight a corrupted secret agency to get your daughter back. Follow a trail of intrigue that leads from Iraq to a high-security building in Washington, D.C. Run, jump, fight and shoot using a handgun, a shotgun, an AK-47 assault rifle and a bazooka, or maintain stealth by improvising with nearby objects. As a renegade spy agent. you don't follow orders except for your own rules of engagement.

Toy Soldiers: Boot Camp (Rs 160)
Wage war on a tiny scale in "Toy Soldiers: Boot Camp," which brings the fun and addictive shooting gallery mini-games from "Toy Soldiers: Cold War" for Xbox 360 to your Windows Phone. Defend house and home against swarms of houseflies when a flyswatter puts you in the role of a pint-sized anti-aircraft gunner. Thread the needle in the super-addicting game where you simply try to guide your missile through rotating holes. In addition, earn bragging rights in "Toy Soldiers: Cold War" for Xbox 360 through an integrated mobile leaderboard.

Rogue was a game in which you entered a dungeon, with the single point objective of recovering the Amulet of Yendor (which ostensibly lay somewhere within its depths) and escaping. This, however, was next to impossible, thanks to slimes, trolls, goblins, bats, dragons and all other manner of beasts that lived in said dungeon. Not to mention booby-trapped doors, chests that blew up and other such devious devices of infinite devilry. Then why would you even bother? Because the dungeon was randomly generated and different every time you played. Because it was filled with treasures and loot. Because it was fun to kill things. Because, as you progressed through the dungeon, you constantly grew more powerful, gaining more skills and better weapons. And because the game recorded how well you did-so you had a high score to aspire to beat every time. These four simple design principles worked so well, and Rogue ended up being so much fun that it birthed an entire genre of games that hardcore gamers loved (and still love) to play. Rogue inspired hack, which in turn inspired the immortal NetHack, and there was no turning back.

In many ways, NetHack remains the consummate Roguelike. It is so complex and challenging that it takes even the most hardcore players years to master it completely. Yet it is so much fun that it offers an amazing experience even for new players. It has no graphics to speak of-everything in the game is represented by some ASCII character (although a program called Falcon's Eye attempted to give it a rudimentary graphical presentation). The randomness of the dungeons makes sure that no two playthroughs are the same and are usually remarkably different. It's a thing of unadulterated geekcore beauty; Salon magazine called it one of the greatest experiences in all of gaming, and it is regularly featured in "greatest game of all time" top lists.

Yet it is completely inaccessible to less hardcore players, such as those who play Counter-Strike or Call of Duty (that felt good!). And the game nerds and geeks who love it were perfectly happy that way; it was their own little secret treasure that nobody else could have. However, the mainstreaming of the genre was inevitable, really. The core design principles and structure of Roguelike games are so rock-solid that applying them to more accessible games with eye candy and better controls was bound to make for compelling games.

Perhaps the first game that successfully made the transition was Blizzard's classic hack and slash RPG Diablo. Although nowhere close to the depth and complexity of NetHack, Diablo featured a near perfect implementation of classic Roguelike design- randomly generated dungeons, interesting character classes, spells and weapons, a superby paced loot and levelup cycle and terrifying enemies that were satisying to kill. This mix made Diablo one of the most successful game titles of all time-and brought the enjoyment of Roguelikes to a mass market. Mainstream franchises soon caught on to the idea.

Pokemon Mystery Dungeon and Chocobo Dungeon were hugely successful Roguelike spin-offs from major RPG franchises (Pokemon and Final Fantasy respectively). They sold millions of copies and proved the fundamental strength of Roguelike design principles.

More recently, the rise of Indie game development (thanks to the emergence of digital distribution platforms like Steam, XBox Live and mobile App stores) has seen a surge in Roguelike games available on the market.

The excellent Dungeons of Dredmor from Gaslamp games is perhaps the closest modern equivalent of NetHack-and has even been called its spiritual sucessor. It features all the classic elements of Nethack- devious difficulty, enormous number of options, interesting enemies and traps, loot-and wraps it up in a humorous style (you can summon a disembodied moustache to fight for you, get killed by flying cutlery, and find coke machines in the depths of the dungeon) that makes for one of the most unique gaming experiences in years.

The addictive and compelling Desktop Dungeons takes the Roguelike formula and gives it a twist: it is made for short, 10-minute play sessions. Perfect for playing at work, or while waiting for your blood-test reports.

And its not just role-playing games that have found the Roguelike formula to be useful. Spelunky, a game in which you play an Indiana Jones type adventurer looking for treasure in caves, is a Roguelike platform game (it reminds me of the old PC platform classic, Dangerous Dave). The utterly bizarre and wonderful Binding of Isaac applies Roguelike principles to what is essentially a top-down shooter. It is a game in which you play a small boy on the run from his murderous mother, who needs to kill enemies such as turdcentipedes, disembodied hands and bees. She has to kill them using projectile tears. Don't ask.

When fundamentally sound design principles meet talented game developers and easy distribution systems, it can mean only one thing- lots of awesome Roguelike games. If you haven't played a Roguelike before, now is a good time to begin. Just stay away from NetHack-unless you are really brave. Oh, and did I mention NetHack is free? [Signs off with evil laugh].

Courtesy:Gadgets and Gizmos

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