The Rogue Traders

Rogue Like Article header

It’s no secret that I love rogue-likes. I genuinely believe that it is an incredibly fun subgenre with some amazing titles. I have lost countless hours to many of them, on all systems I have owned. From my 3DS to my Vita, my Xbox One to my PC and Switch. If I own a system, it’s a safe bet that you will find quite a few rogue-likes on it. I adore the challenge. The risk. Knowing that one mistake will cost you all of your progress as most of them feature permadeath to some extent. I’m in awe of not knowing what the level will hold. The feeling of loading a fresh save in a procedurally generated map, knowing you’re the only one who has played the game in this world or level is addicting to me. It’s why I have many worlds on the various editions of Minecraft I own. I love to explore every square block, knowing it’s mine and mine alone. It’s a love and admiration I’ve always had for the genre, ever since I played Diablo and Rogue in the days of yore.

With all this talk about rogue-likes, what is this glorious subgenre? Well, in layman’s terms, a rogue-like is an RPG title that shares and utilises fundamental features popularised by the now infamous Rogue. Traditionally they were often procedurally generated dungeon crawlers with a heavy focus on permadeath and were usually turnbased.  With the growing popularity of gaming in the mainstream and other genres adopting these qualities, allowing for a richer choice for fans of rogue-likes to find a niche that resonates with them on a greater level. This in turn allowed the rise of such titles as: Diablo, Enter the Gungeon, Path of Exile, FTL, The Binding of Isaac, and Sky Rogue to name but a few. All of these titles share common elements that can trace their roots back to Rogue and its predecessors. Some of them are more evident, but it is clear that Rogue has had a phenomenal impact of the RPG genre and now, gaming as a whole. With the introduction of rogue-lites acting almost like a more forgiving entry point to the rogue-like subgenre. Consider it like this: rogue-lites are effectively the gateway drug to a lifelong addiction to rogue-likes.  But what is it about rogue-likes that makes them so popular? Why are so many games now taking influence from rogue-likes? As an avid history buff I believe the best way to understand why is to look back, and cast our minds back to as early as 1978.

There is a lot that can be said about the history of rogue-likes; it has a rich and interesting history, and one that has a certain charm to it. Not to mention how it has managed to captivate so many fans for 40 years. Many people agree that 1980’s Rogue kickstarted it all, however this isn’t strictly true. Rogue is arguably responsible for thrusting the genre into the limelight. To this day, it is considered one of the greatest in the genre, being hailed as number six on PCWorld’s “Ten Greatest PC Games Ever” list in 2009. Beneath Apple Manor has the privilege of being one of (if not the first) to make use of procedural generation, making it one of the earliest rogue-likes in existence, and two years before the release of Rogue! Although, admittedly “beneath-apple-manor-likes doesn’t roll off the tongue easily. Your goal in Beneath Apple Manor is deceptively simple: to retrieve a Golden Apple on the bottom floor of the dungeon. Depending on whether you’re playing the low-res or high-res version, each level will have five or ten rooms in it, respectively. These are all randomly generated at the beginning of the level; a feature that would be inherent in all future rogue-likes. A special edition was released in 1983 to high praise, with Softline Magazine “BAM is not a game that you will tire of easily. It is for any adventurer, beginner to expert”. Whilst BAM was indeed released two years earlier, Creator Don Worth and Rogue’s creators, Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman all claim that none of them knew about the other game. A similar situation happened with the release of Antz and A Bug’s Life in 1998, but that’s a story for another website.

The impact that Rogue and BAM had on the RPG genre is undeniable, paving the way for a whole subgenre that has grown with each generation and has gone from strength to strength. Each generation has seemingly had more and more rogue-like games released, with many genres implementing features traditionally found in rogue-likes. Titles such as Sky Rogue – an arcade flight combat rogue-lite with procedurally generated maps and missions, FTL – a top-down RTS set in space that features permadeath and procedurally generated missions, events and star systems, Nuclear Throne – a top-down shooter with randomly generated levels and the infamous and near-insurmountable Dwarf Fortress – a construction and resource management title with procedurally generated worlds. If you take a look at a list of modern rogue-likes, you will notice that one thing is clear; rogue-likes are enormous in the indie scene. As with all genres, there are inevitably a few indie devs who have jumped on the growing bandwagon in order to take advantage of the growing and ever popular subgenre. However, the vast majority are charming titles on their own merits. Go through a list of rogue-likes on the dreaded Wikipedia and you’ll see many a title there that deserves their spot in the limelight; and by extension, a few notable examples that have broken through into the mainstream. So with that, why are they so prevalent? What about rogue-likes is it that makes them so appealing to indie devs? You could argue that it’s the risk involved. Will a AAA studio target a game towards such a narrow niche? It’s a safe bet that they won’t. In order to make a return on the multi-million dollar investments, they have to market to as wide a market as they can. Indie devs on the other hand, don’t have that kind of budget. It isn’t such a risk for them. Whilst there is certainly risk involved, especially for a larger indie dev who is banking on their new title; they know their market. In most cases, they are their market. Many indie devs adore playing indie games as much as they enjoy creating them. They know what they’re looking for. They know what they want from a game, and for the most part, they know how to deliver.

If I were to take an educated guess towards the future, I would love to see more genres implementing rogue-like elements. Perhaps a racing game that have procedurally generated tracks, and a career mode where if you lose a race, you’re out. You’ve lost your vehicle and all of your progression I would love to see a battle-royale on a procedurally generated map and weapons. But most importantly, I would love to see indie devs continue to cut their teeth in the subgenre. It is now such a veritable smorgasbord of genres wrapped up into one glorious subgenre, taking elements from one or two genres with a dash of rogue-like elements and unleashing it into the world. I sincerely hope they continue, and the rogue-like indie community continues to grow. I hope more players discover rogue-like titles and explore the subgenres past and play the titles that helped to form the basis for such an incredible range of titles.


If you have any interest in playing Rogue, or Beneath Apple Manor, you can play them online here:

Beneath Apple Manor is also available from Don Worth’s own website which can be found here:

Gaming is an integral part of my life. Ever since I can remember I have been obsessed. From playing Sonic on my Megadrive at the tender age of 4 to opening a Gameboy Pocket on Christmas morning of '99, gaming has been at the centre of many happy memories. I love indie games. The majority emanate passion and if I don't have my hands on one of my various handhelds, or my Xbox One controller, you can guarantee my fingers will be ready on the WASD keys.

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