What is the difference between Roguelike and Roguelite?

  • Roguelites are run-based games, i.e., designed to be played in (usually short) runs; after you end a run, you play again from the beginning (so-called permadeath); every run will be in a new map and thus a fresh experience. In roguelikes permadeath is different in nature. It does not define the experience, you can still enjoy roguelikes even if you do not like permadeath, many roguelikes make it optional.
  • Roguelikes are often classified as a subgenre of RPGs, but they can be seen as closer to strategy games, like Chess but where you play a single hero against a randomized dungeon. Randomness and permadeath are not typical to RPGs, but they are quite natural when you think of roguelikes as strategy games. It is obvious that reloading your save game after a failed battle in Civilization is cheating, isn’t it? Serious Civ players would not do that. Major roguelikes are similar. They have long runs (10–100 hours). Casual players reload their saved games but serious players embrace permadeath. Roguelites have short runs (<1h) so permadeath the only reasonable way to play. (Some roguelikes have short runs too.)
  • Older roguelikes have displays made of letters. Not caring about graphics let roguelike developers create extremely complex games, and the players to use their own imagination. Some older definitions include this kind of display as a requirement, but most people today think that the genre is defined by its gameplay. Most good roguelikes have graphics today. Roguelites and basically almost no other game approach this kind of complexity hidden in a simple looking game.
  • Roguelikes are distinctive in that most of the best games in the genre are free. The devs created them for themselves and to share them with others. It has no commercial sense to create such complex games. On the other hand, roguelites are rarely free, even though they have started with free Spelunky.
  • The term Roguelike has been coined to group NetHack and Angband together. The genre is named Roguelike because both of these games took inspiration from Rogue. (Actually there were roguelikes before Rogue, such as Beneath Apple Manor.) The most influential roguelite is Spelunky. It took inspiration from roguelikes (take their permadeath and randomness but make it a platformer, not a chess-like RPG), and since people did not know what roguelike meant, they started to call games like Spelunky roguelikes, while the OG roguelike community used other words such as roguelike-like and eventually settled on roguelite.
  • There is a common misconception that in roguelikes you start from the beginning, while in roguelites you keep some things for the next run (aka metaprogression). Apparently someone who has never played a roguelike got confused by why the two words are used and that matched their limited knowledge. It is true that most roguelike fans prefer the game not to get easier — nothing matches beating DCSS after a few months when you know it happened because you got that good, not because the game got easier. However, many newer roguelikes have metaprogression, and even in NetHack you can find the items of your previous characters (guarded by their ghosts and whatever killed them). Traditional roguelikes have amazingly detailed highscore lists, so your best characters won’t be forgotten.
  • Roguelike fans sometimes say: X is a roguelite, not a roguelike, because it is not turn-based, but what they really mean is that turn-based is the most obvious difference. It is like saying Checkers is not a platformer because it is not an action game, what you mean is that it is a very different thing and not an action game was just the first thing came to your mind. Card games (Slay the Spire) and games with JRPG-style combat (Darkest Dungeon) are not roguelikes because they do not have this chess-like gameplay. Roguelikes are different from most other turn-based games in that they are extremely fast-paced: easy parts can be played extremely quickly, but you can always slow down when you need to think.

Why should we care?

  • Roguelikes may be a life-changing experience; they show that a game can be free, have no graphics, look very simple, and be relatively unknown, and still provide way more depth and fun than any other game. People with such experience find it very unfortunate that some journalists and developers are attempting to further hide their existence by calling roguelites roguelikes, and that the discussions in roguelike communities are sidetracked by people thinking that these communities are about something else (and sometimes arguing that they are right…).
  • Some people consider roguelike to be an umbrella term including both traditional roguelikes (called “roguelikes” in the OG communities) and roguelites. This is not a very good compromise, as it overemphasizes permadeath, and people still don’t know what “traditional roguelikes” means and refer to classic roguelites such as Spelunky, and it could be argued whether puzzle roguelikes (those which reduce the RPG elements) or innovative ones such as HyperRogue should be called traditional. Games taking inspiration from roguelikes also include Diablo and Minecraft, while run-based games that are definitely not roguelikes include Tetris and Minesweeper.
  • It seems the reason why people are confused/argue is simply that they have never played a roguelike. They associate the term with superficial features, sometimes ones which caused them to avoid the game (using character display, permadeath, being turn-based) while the overwhelming majority of roguelike fans associate it with what made it special for them. Try free, short and sweet DRL (Doom the Roguelike), which takes the popular first-person shooter but changes its genre to roguelike. But the most popular game in the roguelike community is probably DCSS (Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup), also free and with very traditional gameplay but feeling modern. HyperRogue shows that it is possible to have innovative games in the traditional genre. Some people try to start with Rogue, NetHack or Angband —unless you are interested in history or their particular features, I would not recommend this as they are very dated. You can find more recommendations in the roguelike subreddit.
  • On the other hand, a big majority of people who have played classic roguelikes agrees with this distinction, and it is an obvious thing for them (maybe not with every tiny detail but at least the spirit). Unfortunately, our expertise seems to be drowned by articles written by confused game journalists; and sometimes OGs don’t explain the issue well (things that are obvious to us sound nonsensical to others and people interpret it as pedantry, purism or gatekeeping). Hence this article to help people outside of the roguelike community to understand us.
  • Some more information: Wikipedia, this, this.

--

--

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store
Zeno Rogue

Zeno Rogue

Mathematics, game development, art, roguelikes, hyperbolic geometry. Sometimes all at once.