Author: Maecenus | Twitter
Years ago, probably sometime in the early 80's, my parents bought an IBM PC. I still remember those extra large 8 inch and eventually 5.25 inch floppy disks and the booting sounds that were made trying to read the contents. This was probably a glimpse of the early home computing revolution which grew to become what we now use today. Back then, I just absorbed it all. Especially all the early PC games.
Besides Zork and Castle and a few other titles that I played, nothing captured my attention more than a game called Rogue for DOS. This was the game that popularized the style we now know as "Rogue-Like Games". It was a fun adventure game with influence from table-top games like D&D. This may have been part of what drew me to Dungeons and Dragons and other pen and paper rpgs of the time come to think of it. That or reading through the AD&D Monster Manual as a kid, wondering what the hell a Lich was or a Xorn for that matter.
Something that instantly drew me to it was the procedurally generated dungeons which basically created an entirely new, entirely random experience each time you played, and subsequently died while searching for the legendary artifact known as the Amulet of Yendor. The graphics at that time were not necessarily exciting, just the basic ASCII characters, which some remarkable games still use to this day. You were represented by an @ sign which worked just fine as you arrow keyed your way through tunnels and monster infested chambers, picking up items needed to survive the depths of the dungeon. This style was seemingly copied and expanded upon in several other games like Larn, Hack and Angband. They call these type of games Hacklike games, and include one of my all time favorites: Nethack.
Ah, Nethack. Yes its been well over 25 years and I still play this game. It's basically the direct evolution from that previous game I mentioned earlier called Hack, and also bears a lot of similarity to Rogue. This game follows the same premise in that you are seeking out the Amulet of Yendor for your chosen deity and returning to the surface with it, at which point you ascend.
This game lets you create a somewhat custom character, starting with "Who are you?", followed by a Race that you choose (typical D&D races like dwarf, elf, human, etc.) and a Class. Some of the classes differ from the typical D&D style classes and instead use their own flavor like Valkyrie, Caveman, Archaeologist, Knight but also include some of the core classes you've always played like Rogue and Wizard. No matter which class you choose it will be a different game, you will need a different strategy to survive and eventually ascend. One thing is certain, that the deeper into the depths you go, the more dangerous the inhabitants you will find.
One of my favorite features of the game are the Easter Eggs as well as some of the silly situations you can find yourself in. Fortune Cookies are often a source of a useful bit of information as well as the occasional reference to popular books in the pantheon of sci-fi / fantasy nerd-dom, like Douglas Adams "Hitchhiker's Guide" or Tolkien's works. The cool thing about Nethack is that it's still heavily played, with many side-versions or forks (like Slash 'Em and dNethack). The developers even released version 3.6 in 2015. If you want to give it a shot you can download it directly from their site or check out the online version at alt.org/nethack. The alt.org site logs your game and produces a scoring system for players, it even lets you watch active games live!
Brogue has taken the old Rogue game into an entirely new direction, in the same style as Nethack (ASCII characters) but using color and a better design as well as simplicity of gameplay, no character classes or any of that. You just head into the depths this time with a dagger and some light armor. The story is also a bit similar to its predecessor: again...the Amulet of Yendor, but alas these games are less about the goal and more about the process, in my humble opinion.
Let me stress that this game is beautiful yet simple, and very, very hard. Part of the draw for me is the mystery of what I will encounter as I go down. How do I survive this? What is a good survival strategy given the items I have? The upper levels remind me of a large, mossy cavern filled with life, an underground lake, floors that open up to large sink holes (watch your step) and filled with wandering hostile creatures (though not always hostile).
If you want to check it out, its available on a multitude of different platforms: Mac, Windows, Linux and even iOS. Like Nethack theres also a web-based version that scores your progress and allows for chat and interaction with other Brogue players.
To break from the whole ASCII style, Hacklike games and into other types, one game that comes to mind, and that I recommend, is called Rogue Legacy. This takes a platformer style of gameplay and combines some rogue-like features. It's relatively new (2013) compared to some of the previous games I mentioned and features some great, fun platformer-style Graphics!
The premise here is that you play as a knight-hero that sets out to explore and reclaim your property, a randomly generated dungeon full of puzzles and enemies. Each time you die you then create a new type of hero that is considered a descendent of the original. Each unique hero can advance depending on what purchases you make, like having a more powerful magic attack, or stronger melee attacks, or even unlocking new hero types. Its a fun game, but becomes quite difficult. It's available on most platforms including Steam, Xbox One, and PS4.