Can you believe I had never heard of roguelikes before 2008?
A friend of mine got me into Spelunky (the same one who introduced me to Metroid, so she’s batting 1000 so far), and from there the two of us embarked on a years-long journey into the sea of roguelikes and roguelites and roguelike-likes.
For anyone in the class who’s scratching their head right now, roguelikes are a genre of RPGs that carry on the tradition of the 1980 game Rogue. They’re turn-based dungeon crawls so difficult that I’ve never actually beaten any of the countless roguelikes I’ve played. Roguelike elements — namely procedurally-generated levels, random enemy and item placement, and perma-death — have found their way into lots of other games. I would call Diablo a real-time roguelike. FTL and The Binding of Isaac incorporate the signature randomness and perma-death. Spelunky takes roguelike elements and brings them to the platformer genre.
More importantly, it was a gateway into this realm of videogames I hadn’t even been aware of, and in 2008 I think a lot of gamers weren’t aware of. Spelunky was the kickoff point for a craze of roguelike-inspired games. We were hungry at the time, but we didn’t know what for. Turns out it was a mix of things. Roguelikes have something for everyone, whether it’s the danger and thrill of losing everything when you fail or the replayability afforded by procedural generation.
Roguelikes tend to be fairly simple, mechanically-speaking, but they have a lot to teach us. I don’t know if Spelunky really made me a different person, but it was definitely a profound lesson in game design — in what real difficulty is, and what keeps people coming back to your game. Finding the game was like opening a door onto a whole new dimension of thinking. I can’t say that Spelunky directly inspires what I create now, but the sensibilities it embodied sure do.