Going Rogue: Inherent Rewards

8-28-2012 Posted by: RobotAdventure

I am pretty sure my coworkers have had enough of me talking about roguelikes. Something about the ever changing gameplay keeps me interested a lot longer than most other games I play. For those of you who have played a roguelike, you know what I’m talking about. As for the rest, let me run you through how a roguelike works.

A roguelike, named after the first game of the genre called Rogue, is a dungeon crawler. However, the catch is that everytime you play the game, the dungeon is randomly generated making each game a new experience. And unlike other games, roguelikes are meant to be started over many times: the games are made to be difficult and the player character peremently dies upon death.

To be honest, this description makes roguelikes sound like a frustrating electronic hell. High difficulty and a lack of save points seems to go against a lot of the design principles we hold dear today. But roguelikes carry something that other games do not. Don’t believe me? Go play spelunky, its free. I’ll see you back  here in a couple days.

Ah, welcome back! Nice beard (or abnormally long hair), I see you enjoyed spelunky!

As I was saying, In the saturated market we have today, the amount of hand-holding tutorials, monetized reward systems, and copied and repeated mechanics can leave some wanting. I feel like that “something” comes down to the very difference in design approaches between roguelikes and non roguelikes.

In a roguelike, there is no guarantee on what the player will experience since it is different every time. So instead of designing specific moments in a game, the designer makes a system that can generate great moments regularly. These moments come from interactions between the game mechanics and world generations rather than crafted cutscenes and quicktime events. This gives the player the feeling as though they discovered these fantastic moments. And from my experience, these fantastic moments happen more often in roguelikes.

Additionally, since roguelikes encourage players to learn by trying instead of an in depth tutorial, the player is taught to experiment with what they are given.This can lead to some deep strategies or secrets within the game that are left for the player to find. These feel like accomplishments the players have done themselves without the game’s help. In some ways, the player feels like they are besting the game. (In Spelunky XBLA, Has anyone tried placing the maiden on the red sticky orb things in the jungle levels?).

This all leads to the reason why I play roguelikes: to play roguelikes. Sure, unlockables can be scattered throughout the game and there is usually a winstate/boss in roguelikes, but more often than not, once you beat the boss you just start over again to a whole new game. Thats because the reward for the game is inherent  This is a notion that I feel like all games can focus a little more on. Experiencing what the game  has to offer should be a larger draw to playing games – not unlocking everything in an endless grind. Some popular games do this well such as Fallout 3 or Infamous. But others, most notably casual games, do not.

So, when you’re working on your next game, give the mechanics room to interact with each other and give the player some high quality hidden experiences that they can find for themselves. They will feel like they have just discovered something wonderful and it is something they did all by themselves.

Oh, and next time you make a game, go make a roguelike. The world needs more of those.


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