What exactly defines a Roguelike game and what is the difference between them and Roguelite games?
A roguelite is not-quite-a-roguelike. It’s a fuzzy definition, but it’s a starting place. (I’ve also heard the term roguelikelike.)
Back in 2008, some guys at the International Roguelike Development Conference 2008 in Berlin were annoyed about how some games were claiming to be roguelikes, but they weren’t enough like Rogue. So they nailed down a fairly-solid definition of what was allowed to call itself a “roguelike.” Not everyone subscribes to this definition, but it’s a definition, and so it gets used. Here are the “high-value” points that a game should have to be called a roguelike by the Berlin Interpretation:
- Turn-based action.
- Tile-based movement.
- Randomly-generated map.
- Movement, battle and other actions take place in the same mode. Every action should be available at any point of the game. (Overland maps, dialogue trees or cut scenes, shopping screens, and other such interfaces violate this rule.)
- Complexity. There’s more than one solution for various common goals.
- Resource management.
- Most of the game is hack ‘n’ slash.
- Exploration and discovery.
There’s also a half-dozen “low-value” factors that are often part of a roguelike, but aren’t required. I’m ignoring these, because they don’t help us find the line between a roguelike and a roguelite.
Not every formally-approved roguelike follows every one of those tenets: #5, “only one game mode”, gets violated on a regular basis in small ways: Ancient Domains of Mystery (ADOM), Iter Vehemens Ad Necem (IVAN), and Alphaman each have an overland map of some sort. So even roguelikes aren’t always roguelikes. (#5 should really get moved to the “low-value factors” section of the Berlin Interpretation, or modified to add “usually”. And it really needs an exception for inventory management or some such, because a too-strict reading could exclude Rogue itself from being a roguelike!)
The line between roguelike an roguelite is fuzzy; it resembles the definition of pornography a bit: “I’ll know it when I see it.” (SFW) A roguelite is missing one or more of those high-value characteristics, but missing one or more of those traits doesn’t automatically make it a roguelite. And it might be possible to make a game that hits all of the high-value characteristics and yet isn’t a roguelike. Here’s a few examples of roguelites:
- Rogue Legacy is a real-time platformer game that resembles Castlevania more than Rogue. It has permadeath and random maps and all the rest, but it’s a very different kind of game.
- Sunless Sea is even further out: it’s a real-time game about sailing a ship, and a large fraction of the game is played as a sort of Choose Your Own Adventure as you pick actions in a dialogue tree. It still has permadeath, random maps, resource management, and the game centers around exploration.
- Out There is a roguelite in a different way: there’s no combat at all, but the map is still (somewhat) random, the game is turn-based, all of the threats come from resource management, and it focuses on exploration.
- FTL: Faster Than Light has exploration, randomness, permadeath, and resource management, but there are three different game modes: real-time combat, the turn-based sector map, and the dialogue tree.
- Diablo and its sequels predate the term “roguelite”, but they fit it quite nicely if you’d like to apply it: real-time combat in a randomly-generated dungeon.
There are also some alternate definitions of roguelike. I’ve used the Berlin Interpretation here because it’s the most strongly-defined term, but even among people who create roguelikes, there’s no consensus. Each of the definitions strongly resemble each other, but different people pick different traits to be “most important,” and different traits that are “common among roguelikes, but not mandatory.”
It’s hard to nail down what a roguelite is because all you can really say is “See that? It’s not that. But it’s kinda close.” There’s a number of them now, and they all diverge from a classic roguelike in different ways.