Xavier Ho
2018 / 09 / 12
Visualise connections and influences for roguelike games between 1975 — 2018

Roguelike Universe is a living project by Xavier Ho about connecting the dots between roguelike games.

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 project is dedicated to enshrine their influence in the form of data visualisation, drawing a design history of over 40 years.

About the author

Xavier Ho

Xavier Ho is the creator of Roguelike Universe, Smoke and Fire, and other interactive data visualisations. He works at Monash Art, Design and Architecture, often pulling from the intersection of data visualisation, design, society, and systems thinking.

Profile art by Franpaccio.

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