Author Topic: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes  (Read 28108 times)

guest509

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A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« on: December 25, 2011, 06:21:31 PM »
  As promised over in the comments section of the Roguelike of the Year poll at Ascii Dreams I will give my quasi academic market analysis of the Roguelike community. This is an attempt to open a dialog about what the different player types are in our community as opposed to the different game types. Hopefully this will increase a developers ability to market their game to the different player types. I will not claim to be the final authority on this topic. But it is interesting to think about and talk about.

  I am aware that many (most?) Roguelikes are hobby projects not done to appeal to any sort of market other than the creator. But if that were truly the case one would probably not release the game publicly.


A More Useful Categorization

Modern market research techniques have shown us very interesting things. First there is no best taste or type of any product. There are only multiple bests. A significantly wide customer base is going to fall into a variety of different customer types. Each type favoring a different variety of a product. Further one cannot discover the different customer types by asking the customers what they like. Or what is best. This is how market research was done in the "good ol' days". But it yielded bad results. One must ask a customer to rate the taste of an item after tasting/testing it. Only then will you get good results.

For example if you ask a group of people what sort of coffee they like the response will be most likely something about strong dark blends. But if you were to do a taste test of that same group of people and ask them to rate several different coffees most of them would prefer a weaker milkier type coffee while only a few would choose the strong dark coffee.

This is not to say that milkier coffee is best. Because there is no best coffee. There only only best coffees. Note the plural here. There are an infinite number of coffee customers each with a unique taste preference profile. Statistically they start to fall into several broad types. These types can be seen on the menu board at every Starbucks in the world. Modern market researchers have discovered the various bests of many types of products (coffee, sauces, chewing gum) and now there is a variety of different flavors for just about everything.

The result of finding out what the different groups of people like created a huge variety of choices in the product lines. It's a choice explosion!

Applying this to roguelikes can be fun. This year we have some obvious cliques in the roguelike community. It is not as simple as DoD lovers and DoD haters. Though it was this very obvious fan-type split amongst the greater Roguelike community that got me interested in doing a player study to begin with.

As a start to a good discussion I propose that the greater roguelike community falls into the following categories. Note that some categories have a much lower cross over than others. For example there is probably not a lot of DF players that also play Binding of Isaac. Those that do are Indie lovers more than they are Roguelike lovers. But everything here is debatable.

So without further a due here are the theoretical player types the Roguelike community falls into. They are defined but what game attributes appeal to them.

1. Smooth Operators - The dreaded DoD player type. These types LOVE the ease of a good interface. The nerd credit gained by mastering the interface of OMEGA or Nethack does not appeal to this group. It is a very popular class. These players will be into Cardinal Quest as well. If they play Crawl they'll do it with tiles and with the mouse. This fan-type is not so happy with text. I nearly called this the 'eye candy' class but that's not what truly defines this group. It's the UI. Some of this group might crossover with the Super Complex player group should the UI pass muster. These players value ease of use.

2. Classic Diehards - The classic roguelike player. Games like ToME, Nethack, Angband and Crawl appeal to these players. A very common player type but no longer as dominant. These guys (yes mostly all men) have been playing for years, maybe decades. Definitely the dominant player type in this Forum. I'll use Krice as a good example of this player type. Strict adherence to the tried and true Roguelike tropes brightens the day of this player. These players will cross over pretty well to other categories, especially the Quick Fix category when they burn out a bit on their favorite major and need a little experimental distraction. Note this is the oldest and most hardcore of Roguelike player types. Black and white text with hundreds of commands? Not required but also not a problem. These players value complexity.

3. Sandboxers - DF is the main game of these players. Goblin Camp, Ascii Sector, Flatspace and maybe x@com(?) could appeal to this category but probably not. The appeal of DF is so distinct and noteworthy. This group more than any other is defined by love of the mechanics of a single game. I theorize that there is not a lot of cross over from this category to the others because DF ends up being Roguelike mostly in presentation and procedural generation and not so much in gameplay. Unless we are talking about DF adventure mode? Do people play that? And for those that do, do they cross over much with the Super Complex player type? I think not. I think this is a very distinct type of player that does not like other roguelikes much. These player value freedom.

4. Quick Fixers - Isaac, Brogue, DoomRL, Hydra Slayer and other Coffee Break type games are of this type. There are a ton of players of this type. I fall into this category. These players cross over quite a bit with other types.  Mr. Doull of Ascii Dreams is a good example. His 2 best of the year candidates were Brogue and Isaac if I am not mistaken. But he is also a fan of more complex *band type games. Using myself as an example these players like an easy to get into experience with quick throw away characters. Variety is king here. These players value time.

5. Story Lovers - There is definitely a group of people that love this sort of game. It is an easily identifiable sub-group with strong opinions. Most roguelike players dig the design and mechanics of a good dungeon dive, but this group is into the story. The experience. They are most likely to love other types of RPGs. There is little cross over from other sub groups because the story elements turn a lot of people off. Story lovers, conversely, are generally tolerant of Roguelikes with little story. I theorize they have good imaginations and can create a good story in their minds even when it is absent. They need it. For example lovers of Legerdemain cannot fathom why so many of us dislike it. These players value narrative.

You don't have to agree with my division of the player types. But I think you can see the utility of doing so. It allows one to start thinking about what types of players are out there. Once you know this you can create and market your game with a certain existing player base in mind. Or you can go a completely different route and carve out your own niche. This is an indie community after all and part of being indie is experimentation.

No matter what do not listen to those that say the classic style of game play is dead. This was postulated by one of the commentators on Roguelike Radio. Was it Ido? It will only die when the players die. And by looking at the recent Roguelike of the Year poll we can see that the grand complex games that might be a bit hard to to get into because of the UI still have quite a crowd playing them. Jade will likely be the litmus test there.

Now let us delve into a little hypothetical absurdity. Some weeks (months?) back on Roguelike radio there was a joking mention of the perfect grand Roguelike so great the world basically stopped because everyone was playing it. I may be off on the specifics of what was said but the general notion is absurd. And fun!

There is no Roguelike that can appeal to all Roguelike players. Let alone all indie players or the greater gaming public. But hell it's possible because everyone is a gamer. Even your grandma will play some Yahtzee with you.

The perfect Roguelike. We'll call it A Rogue Of All Seasons. It will have a smooth interface. Able to be played by mouse exclusively if so desired. The graphics will be top notch but no need for 3-D. It will be massively complex. Hundreds and hundreds of monsters, items, artifacts and interactions. It may take years to see all the content. But the game will not be long. It can be played in short bursts. Beatable in about an hour. So no need to save the game really. It will be dripping with story but all story elements may be skipped at leisure without significantly impacting gameplay. And it's got dwarves. Tons and tons of stupid dwarves.

Yep. That should appeal to all player types. :-)

EDIT: If I'm going to write this much I should probably just start my own blog.
EDIT2: I added quick and dirty value statements in bold to the end of each player type description. Dunno why I forgot to do it before. Makes what I'm getting at so much clearer.

mariodonick

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #1 on: December 25, 2011, 06:35:22 PM »
Many thanks for the effort you put into this text. Somehow it's funny that the roguelike community takes itself and its products so seriously, despite simply talking about games, but I think this is something that can train the people for other situations in life as well, so I like your post very much :)

I think I am clearly a combination of "Smooth Operator" and "Story Lover" (the 2nd opposed to the game-mechanics lover category). :D

By the way, the scientific discipline which is concerned with computer games ("games studies" -- not "game theory", which is something different) are also divided in these kinds:

1. Ludologists don't care about story -- for them, a game is defined by it's mechanics and story is usually irrelevant.

2. Narratologists mainly care about the ability of games to tell a story -- only from this perspective they also care about mechanics. (They are like the guys who have a degree in literary theory (these are called "Literaturwissenschaftler" in German, but this can't be translated to English that easily, because in UK/US these are humanities, not sciences), but for games instead of books.

It's very funny :D
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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #2 on: December 25, 2011, 06:43:37 PM »
Also enjoyed the read and discourage your starting a blog---RogueTemple needs all the nice exclusive content/posts out there in the wilds.   :P

I comfortably enjoy my position on it as an outlier of an aberration/Ravenous/History's Greatest Monster.   8)
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guest509

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #3 on: December 25, 2011, 08:32:58 PM »
@Mario - I think using games as a narrative format ruins games. I think delving too far down that path is what is ruining a lot of big budget titles. But I do appreciate that there are other schools of thought.

I definitely fall into the quick fix camp. I give high value to being able to jump right in and game. But I can appreciate a smooth UI as well. Though I do not value this as highly. I also appreciate Sandbox elements as far as interactivity and freedom go but I do not really require a huge sprawling experience. For me tightness is of greater value. I do not value story or massive complexity hardly at all.

@Getter - I'll not be starting my own blog. I'm not that interesting. Plus my priorities are putting out my roguelike and writing a novel. Best not to deviate from that path. :-)

It is funny how high minded we can get about games. But we are a highly educated and experimental group. The design focus of even your average roguelike fan is unprecedented.

When I was thinking of the different varieties of Roguelike player I actually developed a pretty solid idea for a roguelike. So this was a pretty useful little writing project for me. I think I'll prototype it for the next 7DRL.

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #4 on: December 25, 2011, 09:09:48 PM »
You mention Super Complex twice but do not define it, is that the same as Die Hard?

What about the classical distinction between Hacks (NetHack, ADOM, Crawl) and Bands (Angband variants, also Legerdemain and LambdaRogue)? This was the major split several years ago, but does not correspond to any of your categorization.

Bands have non-permanent dungeons and limited inventories (as opposed to the permanent world in Hacks), which I hate, but there are apparently people who like it. There is also a third route: games where you can go only forwards (Rogue, DoomRL, Hydra Slayer). At a first glance it might be a bit like Band, but I have no problem with it, so I think it is actually different.

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #5 on: December 25, 2011, 09:57:59 PM »
There was an interesting article that Yahtzee Croshaw posted recently which I found raised some salient points:

http://www.escapistmagazine.com/articles/view/columns/extra-punctuation/9276-Context-Challenge-and-Gratification

Essentially it's saying a game is made of a mix of story/setting, gameplay and sheer fun.  Applying these archetypes to roguelikes and you can see some clear ways that the traditionals fit along these lines.  I might make a separate post on it some time since I think it raises some interesting points.  It's a little different from this discussion of gamer types, but is still a good read.

I don't like all of your groupings I must say.  There's no such thing as a "Smooth Operator" that plays a game purely for interface.  Instead there's the opposite, the person who is willing to go to pains to play a game in spite of a bad interface.  It's a commendable trait in a gamer, but a terrible trait in a developer to target that audience alone, since it inherently limits your audience immensely.  What you class as "Smooth Operator" is more merged in with "Quick Mixers", since a quick game with a complex interface is pretty much doomed to failure.  That's not to say bigger games can't have smooth interfaces; rather there are a few that can amass enough fans who don't care.  Those that have a good interface will innately have wider appeal.

On roguelike radio we rant on about UI a lot, and sometimes it feels a bit repetitive, but in the world if roguelikes I think it stands to be repeated.  Too many developers are complacent with the idea of sticking to a "traditional" bad UI.  If they're only coding for themselves and some die-hards then fine.  But it's ignoring a strata of gamers that could be enjoying and contributing to their game too.  I say a strata since it's not a separate group - plenty of people who like die-hard gameplay or sandbox or story or whatever mixture still demand an accessible interface.  To use the coffee example, UI is more the mug it comes in than the coffee itself, but if it's too difficult to grasp it inhibits the enjoyment.  For roguelikes it doesn't have to be pretty graphics, or graphics at all, it just means that if players get frustrated by the controls in the first few minutes they'll move on to another game that won't frustrate them.  In the modern roguelike scene they have plenty more accessible choices.

Oh, and I really resent the idea that there should be any distinction between diehard fans and those who like UIs.  This implies there is some elite rank, which is very false.  Plenty of diehard fans care very much about UI, and I see many start to care when they notice how other games have made leaps and bounds beyond the classics without sacrificing any complexity.  There are a few curmudgeony sorts, but these are rare, and are generally the sort of bitter elitist that hates everything.  These are found in many nerdy communities and are best ignored, since they are oft little more than pathetic trolls that desperately want to appear superior to others by clinging to their illogical ideals.  Uh, not that we have anyone around here like that... ;)

"Story Lovers" is a bit of a misnomer, since it's not necessarily about a linear story - well, not in this genre anyway.  Linear stories don't work well in roguelikes, and perhaps are a bad thing in games in general.  Atmosphere is important though, and this is what many crave in a game.  It doesn't need a lot of text to attain.  Nethack has more text in it than Frozen Depths, but the latter is far more engaging because it has a coherent theme and gameplay mechanics that support the atmosphere of the game.  Note that "humour" can also be a theme, which is one thing Dredmor uses to engage with players.  A good atmosphere can help one overlook other flaws in the game, as is evident in many AAA commercial games.  A game like Skyrim can have an epic feeling without a linear story, and I think it would be great to see a roguelike do the same.

If ignoring story/setting and any individual feel to the game then it's best to go with generic fantasy tropes as these have the benefit of familiarity to the player.  It'll be off-putting to some, but it'll require less focus on imaginative elements and long descriptions so you can instead put all effort into gameplay details.  Every player knows how goblins, orcs and trolls rank against each other, and how pyromancers will behave - it's an easy setting to get into and straight away offers many design opportunities.  The only downside is if you have some very individual design ideas, and you might need an individual setting to truly support your goals.

Some other elements to consider:

"Tight Tacticians" - ToME4 and DCSS are the best examples here.  No room for scumming, every decision can be important, spoilers are less useful.  Your actions mean a lot, and there is a high density of meaningful choices.  You can't blindly hold the direction key and win.  Some people misinterpret this as difficulty - it's not, it just demands care and attention, and a game appealing to this group should have a very high success rate amongst those who play perfectly.  The caveat is that no one is perfect.  Some players don't like this - they enjoy being able to scum, and they like getting their characters to invincible states.

"Gimme more"s - Tie in with sandbox a bit, but also with very complex games like Nethack.  These games are characterised by numerous item and enemy types (oft very similar) and a wealth of interaction opportunities, leading to innumerable possibilities in every playthrough.  This is one of the joys of roguelikes, but leads to the problem of being hard to maintain balance, coherence and of course a decent interface.  Also encourages the use of spoilers.  The historic games can get away with this by reputation (though many have now died or are dying) but very few new games can pull this off without some very careful thought and design.  Still, it's a big attraction for many roguelikes, so whether to appeal to this or not is an immensely important design decision.  It doesn't work well with Tight Tacticians due to balance issues.

"Simulationists" - Some players like games that represent real world mechanics very well, even to the point of including mechanics that others consider painful to play with.  They tend to like crafting systems, weapon modding, building in-game and very detailed combat mechanics.  This isn't just sandboxness, it's down to wanting exceptional detail in every area.  Can crossover with Gimme Mores a bit, but can also be wholly exclusive, and perhaps works best when separated from grander designs.  A very small but focused game can maybe do achieve this to best effect.

Quote
No matter what do not listen to those that say the classic style of game play is dead. This was postulated by one of the commentators on Roguelike Radio. Was it Ido? It will only die when the players die.

I think I said that some of the classics were doomed unless they get with the times.  To those that say the classics won't I die I ask, where are all the Moria players?  Moria is still a good game, but it no longer gets significantly played or discussed.  It is, in essence, a dead game.  Angband and Nethack run risk of following the same route.  New players would rather go to ToME4, DCSS or Brogue, and the existing communities are visibly dwindling.  There will be a few diehards for many years of course, but why should the great classics put up with this when they are open source and ripe for improvement?

Darren Grey

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #6 on: December 25, 2011, 10:01:43 PM »
What about the classical distinction between Hacks (NetHack, ADOM, Crawl) and Bands (Angband variants, also Legerdemain and LambdaRogue)? This was the major split several years ago, but does not correspond to any of your categorization.

In my opinion there is no such thing as "Hacklikes".  Bands are their own family branch, but these days it's minor amongst the diverse tree of roguelikes.  Bands have their own individual traits - all other roguelikes have their own traits too.  There's nothing else one could label as its own group, except perhaps coffeebreaks, and even with those there's no clear definition of how long a cup of coffee should last.

mariodonick

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #7 on: December 25, 2011, 10:05:25 PM »
even with those there's no clear definition of how long a cup of coffee should last.

In my case: Minimum 2 minutes, maximum 6 minutes ;-)
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Z

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #8 on: December 26, 2011, 02:26:32 AM »
In my opinion there is no such thing as "Hacklikes".

I think Hacklikes appeared as a result of my Roguelike Alphabet. It was intended a list of interlocking features found in many roguelikes, but not in many non-roguelikes. Some people have noticed that this list defines a hacklike rather than a roguelike... Even though this is not a list of features I have taken from Hack or any of its variants. Rather from ADOM or Ragnarok...

I think it is a family branch, even though lack of direct source relationship makes it not as clear as for Bands. As with other families, distinct hacklike features get mixed with ideas taken from other sources. Hacklike blood is clear in NetHack and Slash'EM, Zap'M and PRIME. Ragnarok and ADOM mix in a bit of overworld and story, but permanent dungeon, fortune cookies, style of shops, b/u/c statuses of items, screen-sized levels, ability to wield anything as a weapon... well, I can understand why they say these are hacklike features, not roguelike (except screen-sized levels, which was true for Rogue). Bands don't have any of these features (not sure about fortune cookies), but Hack, ADOM and Ragnarok all do. Too many features to be a coincidence. A bit more mutations in JADE and IVAN, even more in Crawl or POWDER. I suppose further crossing will reduce hacklikeness in the future roguelikes to a negligible level. Thus, this term won't be very useful, except maybe for future roguelike historians who will recognize the times where there were "major roguelikes", with Rogue as a ancient grandfather, NetHack and ADOM on one side, Moria and Angband on the other side.

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #9 on: December 26, 2011, 04:48:58 AM »
(Seems I have destroyed the list by editting it instead of replying to it.)

mariodonick

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #10 on: December 26, 2011, 04:58:16 AM »
In short:

2, 3, 4, 12, 15, 16, 18, 19 (options), 21, 22, 24, 25, 26

I mainly selected interface options in your poll (but you mainly list interface options anyway). This does, of course, not say much about the game itself, but more of the application of the game.
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itkachev

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #11 on: December 26, 2011, 08:41:27 AM »
On roguelike radio we rant on about UI a lot, and sometimes it feels a bit repetitive, but in the world if roguelikes I think it stands to be repeated.  Too many developers are complacent with the idea of sticking to a "traditional" bad UI.  

Untrue. The traditional UI is not bad. In fact, it's the opposite of bad -- it's a quintessential digest of everything that is useful and stood the test of time versus the unneeded cruft that's only there to draw attention but doesn't provide any real value.

Yes, the vast majority of players will be turned off by a "traditional UI", but that isn't because it is a bad UI, it's because the vast majority of players have a tiny attention span and will only play a game that gratifies their "shiny reflex".

Not that I have a problem with that, I like shiny things too, like all people. I just want y'all to understand the difference between 'useful' and 'shiny, attention-grabbing'.

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #12 on: December 26, 2011, 09:43:50 AM »
Untrue. The traditional UI is not bad. In fact, it's the opposite of bad

I think a large number of keyboard commands is not bad if they are well designed and don't have any double commands (like Remove/Take off). In good UI there are also modern alternatives like mouse commands, generic (u)se command and stuff like that. Trying to minimize number of keyboard commands is good, but only if it doesn't lead to ultra-modern menu driven UI which is also bad. I'm always surprised how difficult it seems to be to design good UI. I guess one of the reasons is that developers have their own ideas about good UI and sometimes it's traditional and sometimes maybe too modern, and sometimes it's just really weird.

eclectocrat

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #13 on: December 26, 2011, 11:47:35 AM »
@Krice

UI's can be rated along different dimensions, here is one what to organize it:

1: Ability to learn (perhaps through experimentation, or in-game scenarios)
2: Ability to do what you want
3: Efficiency of use, how much mental/physical effort goes into doing something (cognetics)

Classic RL interfaces fail mostly at 1, and this in turn can sometimes lead to a degradation of number 3, because it takes a lot of effort to figure out how to do what you want. Number 2 is usually executed to perfection.

Since number 1 is the first thing any player will face, it's often the highest barrier to adoption for new RL players. Number 3 is the bane of 'modern', million-menu systems, and number 2 suffers from any UI that requires physical dexterity to operate (mis-clicks and so on).

When looked at systematically, it's precisely because developers have their 'own ideas' about UI's that things are in such a state. Few people take the time to minimize cognitive load (reducing clicks/button presses, showing tooltips at appropriate times, etc), but rather chase some kind of cool factor. Good UI designers take an inventory of inputs and actions, and try to map those inputs to actions in a way that common tasks take little mental and physical effort, and related groups of inputs have some loose isomorphism with the resulting tasks (ie, if left click is move, right click could map to look, rather than bringing up character status).

Look at nintendo games, there are only enough actions available to map to the controllers buttons. Even if you could make the game world 'better' by adding another feature, the difficulty in using it would only end up backfiring. In my own game (WIP), I have a radically different approach to UI because I follow nintendo's lead. I've made loads of features that I easily could've stuffed into submenus, but I held back and tried to find other ways of representing those actions. In a few cases I decided NOT to add a feature because I didn't have a clear way of presenting an interface to it.

Sorry for the rant. UI is a measurable property. See how long it takes you to do an action, what is the rate of failure due to input error, and how long does it take to 'prime' the action. Then you can make a great interface.

In the interest of fair disclosure, some people HATE my games interface and others have praised it highly...

guest509

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Re: A Fan Type Analysis of Roguelikes
« Reply #14 on: December 26, 2011, 01:40:51 PM »

I don't like all of your groupings I must say.  There's no such thing as a "Smooth Operator" that plays a game purely for interface.  

***Yeah i think it's pretty obvious that all gamers value a UI. But for many it is an absolute deal breaker. I suppose a better line of thinking would have been to create a values list. But the paradigm I layed out is food for thought. And that was my intent.


Oh, and I really resent the idea that there should be any distinction between diehard fans and those who like UIs.  This implies there is some elite rank, which is very false.  

***My intent was to convey that some people can handle a UI that is very difficult to use. Some will not. Those I called the diehards are very much crappy interface tolerant compared to your average gamer.

"Story Lovers" is a bit of a misnomer, since it's not necessarily about a linear story - well, not in this genre anyway.  Linear stories don't work well in roguelikes... A game like Skyrim can have an epic feeling without a linear story, and I think it would be great to see a roguelike do the same.

***Definitely agree. I think people that really value a good story are under served by the Roguelike genre.


If ignoring story/setting and any individual feel to the game then it's best to go with generic fantasy tropes as these have the benefit of familiarity to the player.  It'll be off-putting to some, but it'll require less focus on imaginative elements and long descriptions so you can instead put all effort into gameplay details.  Every player knows how goblins, orcs and trolls rank against each other, and how pyromancers will behave - it's an easy setting to get into and straight away offers many design opportunities.  The only downside is if you have some very individual design ideas, and you might need an individual setting to truly support your goals.

***Yeah theme is fun. I might not be big on the narrative. Just give me an over arching goal and let me slay. But a cool thematic take and an engine to go with it can work wonders. DoomRL, AliensRL and the various post apocalypse and zombie themed games really gain a lot from this aspect.

Some other elements to consider:

"Tight Tacticians" -  "Gimme more"s - "Simulationists" -

***I like these. But I'm not sure how defining the are. As in I'm not sure there would be much differentiation between Roguelike players. I think these are high value traits to all Roguelikes. But good food for thought.


I think I said that some of the classics were doomed unless they get with the times.  To those that say the classics won't I die I ask, where are all the Moria players?...

***I am forced to agree. Evolve of die, eventually. But classic difficult UI, obscure interactions and other Nethacky type things have persevered for quite awhile. I figured those things would persist until the death of the players. But with all these new options you are likely correct.