Literal Roguelike

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This is a definition of "literal roguelike". It can be interpreted in two ways: either as an article focusing on one core aspect that is hard to define and mostly unique to roguelikes, or as an interpretation of "roguelike" that is different from the usual ones, but surprisingly accurate.


A literal roguelike is a game that literally plays like Rogue, in terms of interface, that is, the way the map is displayed, and the way the game is controlled. Other genres defined by interface include platformer and first-person shooter.

If you have never played Rogue (or another literal roguelike), the definition above is not clear. In this case, we strongly recommend playing one of the games in the Examples section, as you cannot learn a concept such as this only by reading. Typically, a literal roguelike is a game where you move your character in turns on a grid of tiles, which can be empty, or contain the player character, terrain features such as walls, and entities such as enemies. You issue commands to the character, usually by pressing a single key (or click or tap). For example, click a direction key to move in that direction if that location is free, attack if it contains an enemy. The character immediately performs the command and other entities perform their moves. More complex commands may exist that require multiple keypresses (such as cast spell or fire a missile).


All the games below are playable for free. We list free games not only because we want people to try new things without cost, but also because most of the best games in the genre are free.

  • Rogue (1980). While not the first game using this style of interface, it was the most influential one, inspiring thousands of games. An obligatory mention, but we recommend you to try something more modern.
  • Beneath Apple Manor (1978). Literal roguelikeness is not about being inspired by Rogue.
  • DoomRL (2003-2013). Since this game is a conversion of the canonical first-person shooter Doom into a literal roguelike, it shows the idea well.
  • Moonring (2023), a literal roguelike that is available on Steam and free. It is a literal roguelike, although it is not a roguelike according to some other roguelike interpretations. Recently released, and often recommended to newcomers to the genre.
  • Magpie (2023), a literal roguelike freely available on the web, in the "broughlike" subgenre.
  • Shattered Pixel Dungeon (2012-2023), a very good literal roguelike for mobile.
  • HyperRogue (2011-2023), showing how literal roguelikeness can lead to innovative games -- while the game makes use of most typical roguelike features, literal roguelikeness is the most interesting one due to the focus on geometry.
  • Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup (1995-2023), probably the most popular literal roguelike at the time of writing this article.


  • Desktop Dungeons. Enemies do not move when you move, making the map less relevant. Of course, this game is still likely to be interesting to literal roguelike fans.
  • Spelunky (or other platformers). It is "obvious" that this it is not a literal roguelike, but let us pinpoint why. In a platformer, whether you jump successfully depends on player's skills (timing, feel for distance, etc.), in a roguelike, you issue a "jump" command, and the game decides whether it is successful (possibly it is always successful or decided randomly).
  • XCOM. You issue commands to your squad, but since it is based on action points, the commands are much more complex. Games like XCOM are still likely to be interesting to literal roguelike fans, but they might consider it slow.


The following features are not necessary for being a literal roguelike, although they are important elements of the roguelike culture. Some are still considered important in roguelike circles, some are more of historical importance. Many fans of literal roguelikes love them. As such, while a game not heeding these values does not lose the literal roguelike status, it may be harder to market to fans of literal roguelikes. However, one of purposes of this definition is to promote innovation -- we are interested in literal roguelikes which creatively replace these elements with something different and fresh!

  • Quick reaction. The game should be very responsive, reacting to player's actions immediately. Unskippable, slow, and non-adaptative animation gets in the way of this.
  • Unlimited time. You can take as much time to make your decisions as you want. Roguelike players generally dislike time limits, but there are reasons to break this rule. The usual reason is making the game fun in multiplayer (MAngband, Crossfire, Crypt of the NecroDancer) -- roguelikes would feel slow if players were allowed to think for as much as they want.
  • RPG elements. Literal roguelikes are often compared to Chess, however, contrary to Chess, you control a single character (the "king"). This does not make the game less interesting than Chess, because that single character is modeled in great detail, provided by RPG elements such as gaining experience, skills, equipment, spells. However, we care more about the gameplay itself being fun, than typical RPG features such as plot. Unskippable plot gets in the way of good gameplay. DCSS uses its RPG elements well, while Magpie or HyperRogue have no RPG elements.
  • Developers are players. The defining properties of literal roguelikes make them easy to create and interesting to programmers. Thus, they are created primarily because the developer wants to create a game that is interesting to themselves. They also want to share their work with other people sharing similar tastes. Some of these people are also creative, and may improve the game either by suggesting ideas to the original developers, or by implementing them in their own variants (which can then be pulled into the original, or remain separate forks). For example, the name "Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup" refers to players helping to improve the game when the original developer of Linley's Dungeon Crawl stopped working on it.
  • Replayability. The game is designed to be interesting to play again, and interesting to the developers themselves. You can play the game as multiple RPG classes. The layouts and enemies are randomly generated, so another game will be different. The player should want, not be forced, to play again. Even games like Legerdemain or Moonring have some randomization. There are some authored CRPGs such as the Eschalon series.
  • Resource and risk management. The player may collect resources to use in difficult situations. These resources are important: if you do not use them, you will likely lose the game. On the other hand, if you use them incorrectly (e.g., in situations that are not actually difficult), you will not have them when needed, so you will also lose the game. To emphasize the importance of risk management, literal roguelikes typically feature permanent consequence and permanent failure: if you use up a resource or lose the game, the only way to change your decision is to start a new game. DCSS is a good example of meaningful risk management.
  • Complexity and Immersive Simulation. The player can use many tools to solve the challenges posed by the game. For example, you can throw potions at enemies to affect them.
  • Exploration and non-modality. The heart of a good literal roguelike is grid-tactical gameplay. However, while in most tactical games and block puzzles, challenging battles or puzzles form most of the game, roguelikes also put a focus on exploration. Between battles, the player uses the same interface to explore the map. However, exploration and combat are not separate modes: the character may find the "safe" areas and use them to fight or escape from the more dangerous enemies. For players who find exploration and easy battles that happen during exploration less exciting, literal roguelikes not only can be played very quickly, but also often support auto-explore and/or auto-fight. Such easy battles are still an important element -- one important skill is to realize that the current (usually randomly generated) situation needs more careful handling. For example, in HyperRogue, we have one huge map not separated into levels; after entering a new area, you usually are attacked by easy monsters first; there are some puzzles about exploration. On the other hand, broughlikes tend to have no exploration.
  • Clear graphics. Literal roguelike fans want the graphics to be easily recognizable, to help with quick decision making. Furthermore, large maps are often used, so they need to be recognizable while being small; and graphics should be easy to make, to help new developers to contribute. Older literal roguelikes use ASCII symbols (# for walls, @ for player, etc.) -- they have all these properties, while having an advantage of letting the players to use their own imagination.


This definition is intended to define a genre in the same way as platformer or first-person shooter are genres.

  • The definition may feel vague. This is intentional. To compare, the Wikipedia definition of "platformer", at the moment of writing this article, says: "A platformer is a sub-genre of action video games in which the core objective is to move the player character between points in an environment." This definition seems to include lots of games that have nothing to do with platformers. Which is not a problem, because most gamers know what a platformer is.
  • We prefer our readers to actually play a literal roguelike instead of reading our definition. It seems that one reason why the word became much less specific after the formulation of Berlin Interpretation is that readers read the definition, found two first points (procgen and permadeath) and assumed these two are the most important. Attempts to define an obvious thing are doomed to mislead, like in the famous story about Plato's definition of a man as a featherless biped and Diogenes' plucked chicken.
  • The core definition not attempt to say why roguelikes are cool. Just like a definition of a platformer would not say why jumping makes platformers cooler than top-down games. These things are put in values.

While this definition focuses on a single aspect, it seems to be surprisingly close to how roguelike fans interpret roguelike.

  • The earliest text I could found that could be considered a definition of roguelike is Eric S. Raymond's NetHack guidebook (1987). The first part is basically "literal roguelike", when we take both parts, it is "traditional roguelike".
              Nethack differs from most computer fantasy games (other than
         its  ancestors  hack and rogue and its cousin larn) in that it is
         screen oriented.  Commands are all one or two keystrokes (as  op-
         posed to sentences in some losing parser's notion of English) and
         the results of your commands are  displayed  graphically  on  the
         screen  rather  than  being  explained in words (a minimum screen
         size of 24 lines by  80  columns is required; if  the  screen  is
         larger, only a 24x80 section will be used for the map).
              Another major difference between nethack and other  computer
         fantasy  games  is that once you have solved all the puzzles in a
         standard fantasy game, it has lost most of its excitement and  it
         ceases  to  be  fun.  Nethack, on the other hand, generates a new
         dungeon every time you play it and even the authors still find it
         an entertaining and exciting game.
  • The definition is consistent with my interpretation of the discussions in 1993 which lead to the coining of the "roguelike" term. In particular, the word "interface" is chosen because it appeared in these discussions. They put focus on the development model, but this literal definition does not.
  • I never considered Desktop Dungeons a roguelike, which seems consistent with what traditional roguelike fans think, even though it seems to satisfy more traditional definitions. Good games which are "literal roguelikes" but not considered roguelikes, such as Moonring, are still likely to be recommended to roguelike fans.
  • Focusing on a single aspect (interface, progression, theme, aesthetics, development model) promotes clarity and innovation. Other aspects are moved to values. This let us put ASCII and development as historically important values even though most modern roguelike fans think that these are irrelevant for defining roguelikes.
  • We list randomness as a value, because it is not a part of interface. The definition of "stepping game" (e.g. Deadly Rooms of Death) is basically the same, but focusing on predesigned puzzles with no RPG elements. We do not see this as a drawback, fans of literal roguelikes should be interested in stepping games and vice versa.