The latest Game Maker’s Toolkit just dropped, and addresses whether roguelikes should have persistent upgrades:
I’m usually in agreement with most of Mark Brown’s videos in regards to game design, but I couldn’t help but disagree with several of the points made here. It’s still a good video with the usual level of analysis you’d expect from the channel, so I’d recommend watching it. In any case, if you choose not to, these are the big takeaways from the video as I understood it.
- Roguelikes are defined by two key concepts; they must have randomly generated levels, and there’s permadeath.
- Roguelikes are about practicing your skills, becoming more familiar with the game’s world, and learning new tactics.
- Successful roguelikes are ones that make the player raise their skills to meet the difficulty level, not ones that lower the difficulty to match the player’s skill.
Now, assuming those axioms are what Brown actually posits, I really have no quarrel with points 1 and 2. I do think permadeath and repetition are hallmarks of the genre, and often a good source of appeal for these types of games. I could see myself considering a game with static levels to be roguelike, but I understand why people view random levels as something roguelikes do. But point 3 just strikes me as overly dogmatic.
I think what raised my ire was Brown’s use of Rogue Legacy as an example of what not to do in the genre. I find the critique a bit alienating because Rogue Legacy is one of the few roguelikes that I actively enjoyed, and I’d love to see more games riff on its model for progression. I feel that it is a successful roguelike precisely because its progression system kept me playing so that I can enjoy the other aspects of the genre, such as getting better at the game and getting more familiar with the game world. Though I fully admit that my final run was easier than my first run, I was also a significantly better player by the end as well. My skill rose while the difficulty dropped, but from my view it was an accomplishment. It still felt like a well-earned roguelike victory, progression system or not.
I guess the larger point I’m trying to make is that the latest crop of “hard” genres, like retro platformers, roguelikes, and soulslikes, feel stifled by an insistence on high level play as the price of entry. That’s not to say that there shouldn’t be difficult games in those genres. I’m more that happy to walk away from Bloodborne and let others enjoy it. But I can’t truck with the insistence that games without their forebears’ level of difficulty are somehow failing the genre. There’s a place for less punishing games which still provide challenge to players of all skill levels. All while exposing new players to the appeal of the genre.
Before anyone asks, I don’t think the other side of the argument is necessarily gatekeeping by insisting a certain level of difficulty be inherent to these genres. I fully admit that I’m not the most patient player. As I use gaming to relax from the stresses of life, I’m less inclined to enjoy games that contribute to stress. So perhaps traditionally difficult genres aren’t for me. But I’ve definitely enjoyed games that Mark Brown might consider “failures” of the genre, so I’m not sure where that puts me. In any case, what do you folks think? Is difficulty a fair metric for rating successfully in “hard” genres?