Roguelike Universe: Visualising Influence

by Xavier Ho

Roguelike games have a long history as one of the earliest computer video games in the mid 1970's. Distributed with Unix systems, Rogue was created with curses, a programming library that allowed developers to display any ASCII characters anywhere on the terminal. It was unlike any other games that were available for home computers, which were more text-based adventure games. Rogue painted a world with letters and symbols, full of mystery and danger, and it quickly gained attention of many. The name, roguelike, was adopted on Usenet since 1993 as we know it today.

What exactly makes a game roguelike was debated throughout the next decade. In 2008, the first International Roguelike Development Conference, held in Berlin, came to an agreement: ASCII graphics, turn-based, grid-based dungeon crawl hack and slash, with randomly generated environments that changes at every level, and permadeath, you only get one life. Failure in a roguelike game means a shiny tombstone enshrined in your savefile, and a complete restart with a new, random dungeon level. To beat roguelike games, you die trying.

In the 2000s and 2010s, the games industry saw the rise of indie games. With Spelunky, The Binding of Isaac, and many more again popularised random environment generation in mainstream games market. They deviated away from ASCII graphics and turn-based actions, and provided a more forgiving gameplay. They were not quite roguelikes, but roguelites. Other names such as roguelike-like also describe them, which we use in this webpage.

Roguelike games are important today not only because of their historical values, but also because they have the longest development and update release in modern games history. NetHack, more than 30 years later since its initial release in 1987, still have updates to the core distribution. This gargantuan life cycle has no match from other game genres. The runner up, Ultima Online, has so far only seen updates just over 20 years. Roguelike and other roguelike-like games continue to influence game design with each new title release, and updates to existing beloved titles. This webpage is dedicated to enshrine their influence in the form of data visualisation, drawing a design history of over 40 years.

Visualising the Roguelike Influence

We collected data from RogueBasin, an editable wikipage mainly collaborated by roguelike game developers. On each game entry, there is a field called Influence that documented sources of inspiration for these roguelike games. We refer to them as known influences, drawn with thick arcs.

However, many entries are incomplete, and we have not seen any documentation on the influence of roguelike-like games. We saught after influence of more roguelike games by ways of web scraping, filtering websites via keywords and looked for articles about history, post-mortem, developer interviews, and player discussions around these games. Our algorithm counted the number of times two games were frequently mentioned together, and weighted them with a manually chosen cutoff. This derives the inferred influence, drawn with thin arcs.

Arcs above the horizon are influences between two roguelike games, and arcs below the horizon are influences between a roguelike and a non-roguelike game.

Missing data? You can contribute to the "Influences" field on RogueBasin. Here is the .

Figure 1: Roguelike influence arcs | Share link | Feedback | Download data

Which games are more representative or influential?

Rogue, Moria, and Hack have many influences into other games that came after them. We describe these games as influential. Other games, like Slash'EM Extended and Darkfire RPG are influenced from more games of their past. We call these games representative of their own kind. Relatively speaking, they borrowed more ideas than there are ideas that were borrowed from them.

We also make a distinction for influences connecting non-roguelike games. Games like Shiny Gauntlet have more inferred influences with non-roguelike games. The gameplay itself also shows the level of deviation from the traditional roguelike gameplay and feel. For instance, We can use these connections to estimate the level of similarity between different games, and provide another venue of games discussion beyond genre labels.

Figure 2: Genre-Influence Matrix
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Can we map out their influences by time and genre?

We take each number of influences and draw a circle for each game. The further they are away from the origin, the more distinct their influences are. For instance, influences mostly in roguelike games will result in above the horizon line.

You can click on a circle to see which games are at that location.

Figure 3: Roguelike Influence Map | Feedback | Download data

Which games have influenced other games, exactly?

This is where scatter plot comes in handy. We plot every roguelike, and roguelike-like games in our dataset. More will be added over time. Influences are drawn as links between the dots.

The horizontal axis is the release year (or the exact date as available), and the vertical, stacked axis is the total number of influences each game has to other games.

Figure 4: Roguelike Influence Timeline | Share link | Feedback | Download data

Click on one of the known or inferred influences, and see where it leads you.

Missing data? You can contribute to the "Influences" field on RogueBasin. Here is the .