Zaga-33

As enthusiasts, we naturally seek out simple descriptions to encapsulate, as shorthand, a shared set of aesthetic qualities. While this tendency has led to bizarre and convoluted acronyms like "MOBA" and "MMORPG," it has also unearthed charming descriptions like "roguelike," a term that I have come to appreciate for its terseness and its accuracy. In two syllables, the term directly communicates its meaning — the game is like Rogue! — and you immediately understand what's being described, so long as you're familiar with that seminal 1980 dungeon crawl.

Of course, that description provides very little value if you aren't familiar with Rogue, so I wouldn't blame you if you were to hold me at gunpoint and ask me, through gritted teeth, to provide a more concrete definition for "roguelike" or else. After a deep breath and, perhaps, a silent prayer, I would provide the following list of characteristics, each of which was popularized by Rogue:

  • Level designs are prodedurally generated (to provide unpredictability).
  • All player death is "permadeath" (to provide tension).
  • Players can find items with effects that may or may not be known to the player before their usage (to provide risk/reward).
  • Movement is turn-based, with players and enemies moving simultaneously on each turn (to provide opportunity for tactical consideration).

(Okay, you can put the gun down now. Seriously.)

Most roguelikes decorate those core concepts with other mechanical flourishes, such as a broader set of character abilities (e.g., magic spells, techniques) or a character advancement system that allows characters to grow stronger over time. Zaga-33, a freeware roguelike by Michael Brough, says to hell with all of that and cuts as close to the bone as possible, limiting players to two verbs — "move" and "use (item)" — and providing context-sensitive variations on their application. If you move into an enemy's space in Zaga-33, you attack that enemy; if you use an unidentified item, all other instances of that item in the world are identified.

By providing the player with a concise set of homonymic interactions to navigate the challenging dynamics of its world, Zaga-33 is easy to learn, satisfying to play, but difficult to master. Though it's not my favorite roguelike, it effectively and immediately captures the key characteristics of the genre, just like the term that often describes it.

Some further questions for discussion:

  • How far were you able to make it into the planet?
  • How does the Intellivision-esque presentation relate to the underlying mechanics of the game?
  • Is this the first roguelike you've ever played? If not, how do you feel Zaga reflects the characteristics of the genre?

(Screenshots taken from the iOS version of the game.)

IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/IMG_0709.png)IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/IMG_0708.png)IMAGE(http://www.gamerswithjobs.com/files/IMG_0710.png)

Comments

Somebody did the gun-to-head thing in 2008 at the International Roguelike Development Conference. I'm partial to their "Berlin Interpretation" as a definition for the genre. The way that it breaks it down into factors with high value or low value is particularly appealing to me. Game Set Watch (RIP) had a great column called @Play that devoted an entire article to the Berlin Interpretation and rated several popular games along the roguelike spectrum by each criterion to test the definition and illustrate it to readers.

Link to the article for those interested.

Is this Ozymandias' first time on the Front Page? If so, awesome! One less Goodjer eligible for donation drive prizes!

Gravey wrote:

Is this Ozymandias' first time on the Front Page? If so, awesome! One less Goodjer eligible for donation drive prizes! ;)

It is! We dragged him into the writers guild a while ago, and I finally tricked him into submitting something.

Mwa ha ha ha!

Also, I am excited to check out this game.

cosmonaut.zero wrote:

Somebody did the gun-to-head thing in 2008 at the International Roguelike Development Conference. I'm partial to their "Berlin Interpretation" as a definition for the genre. The way that it breaks it down into factors with high value or low value is particularly appealing to me. Game Set Watch (RIP) had a great column called @Play that devoted an entire article to the Berlin Interpretation and rated several popular games along the roguelike spectrum by each criterion to test the definition and illustrate it to readers.

Link to the article for those interested.

Actually, I hadn't heard this interpretation before, so thanks for posting it. (And I miss GameSetWatch too. RIP, indeed.)

I tend to agree that using these characteristics as indicators, rather than hard rules, is a preferable approach. For example, I wouldn't really hesitate to call The Binding of Isaac a roguelike, even though it's not turn-based or grid-based, because it features those other "core" characteristics so prominently. Plus, Isaac's real-time environment still emphasizes dynamics of movement and positioning that's similar to more traditional, turn-based fare. When I consider all of those factors, the "roguelike" descriptor doesn't seem too far out of bounds to me.

Gravey wrote:

One less Goodjer eligible for donation drive prizes! ;)

Whoa, whoa, whoa. Nobody said anything about this.

Yay for fringe busters! I always love seeing what's on the experimental side of gaming.

I love the basic concepts. It seems like a cool survival game. But, I am a graphics whore and most games older than a couple of years never work for me. If a game with those core concepts came with a modern photorealistic interface, I would play it day one. Especially if it had no HUD.

"Roguelike" has long been one of my favorite genre labels for how honest and direct it is. It's far more gracious to developers and their ideas than the similar "Doom clone" (and now "DOTA clone") but still reflects the way people talk about games: as broad mechanical categories usually popularized by a single title. I wish more genre names were so expressive.

ClockworkHouse wrote:

"Roguelike" has long been one of my favorite genre labels for how honest and direct it is. It's far more gracious to developers and their ideas than the similar "Doom clone" (and now "DOTA clone") but still reflects the way people talk about games: as broad mechanical categories usually popularized by a single title. I wish more genre names were so expressive.

And as fertile: The (partial) list of games in more-or-less active development has over 500 entries.

Not to mention there are now things that can be best described as roguelike-likes, games that don't owe much to Rogue directly, but owe a lot to roguelikes as a whole.

"Unexpected Harvest" is my favorite Depression-Era novel.