Developers of 10 famous roguelikes talk about the details behind their creations.
The best thing about roguelikes is their replayability – something not many games can say they have. The procedural nature of the genre makes games last for a very long time and always surprise players with unique runs.
Today, we are going to find out how some of the more popular roguelikes (and roguelites!) were created and see the design decisions their creators made. Hopefully, it will not only entertain you but also help you make your own games.
The Binding of Isaac
Let's start with my personal favorite – The Binding of Isaac, a tragic tale of a crying boy and his crazy mom. In this interview with Rolling Stone, Edmund McMillen, the designer of the game and co-creator of Super Meat Boy, is talking about his interests before he started making games, the emotions behind his projects, and how certain expansions became what they are now.
"When Isaac’s mother starts hearing the voice of God demanding a sacrifice be made to prove her faith, Isaac escapes into the basement facing droves of deranged enemies, lost brothers and sisters, his fears, and eventually his mother.
The Binding of Isaac is a randomly generated action RPG shooter with heavy Rogue-like elements. Following Isaac on his journey players will find bizarre treasures that change Isaac’s form giving him superhuman abilities and enabling him to fight off droves of mysterious creatures, discover secrets and fight his way to safety."
Here is another iconic game familiar to everyone who knows at least something about this genre. In this awesome documentary from Noclip, Spelunky creators discuss the game's history, talk about how mechanics interact with each other, and share what the game means for them personally.
"Spelunky is a unique platformer with randomized levels that offer a challenging new experience each time you play. Journey deep underground and explore fantastic places filled with all manner of monsters, traps, and treasure. You'll have complete freedom while you navigate the fully-destructible environments and master their many secrets. To stay or flee, to kill or rescue, to shop or steal... in Spelunky, the choice is yours and so are the consequences!"
Hades took the world by storm with its unique concept, beautiful art, and god-like voice acting. But this video was released before the game's launch and it covers the development process. Developers from Supergiant Games talk about the changes they had to make and show exclusive footage of them working on the game in the office.
"As the immortal Prince of the Underworld, you'll wield the powers and mythic weapons of Olympus to break free from the clutches of the god of the dead himself, while growing stronger and unraveling more of the story with each unique escape attempt.
The Olympians have your back! Meet Zeus, Athena, Poseidon, and many more, and choose from their dozens of powerful Boons that enhance your abilities. There are thousands of viable character builds to discover as you go."
Slay the Spire
Next on our list is this great card game. Developed by Mega Crit Games, it will capture your attention for hours. In the interview with Ars Technica, the developers recall how Slay the Spire was created and show the models and mechanics of the first builds. As they talk about the challenges they had to overcome while dragging the game to the result you see now, you might find some useful insights to try in your project.
"We fused card games and roguelikes together to make the best single player deckbuilder we could. Craft a unique deck, encounter bizarre creatures, discover relics of immense power, and Slay the Spire!"
In this video, Dead Cells developer Sébastien Benard reveals incredible details about the game and demonstrates some great design decisions that every creator needs to think about when making a roguelike or a platformer. You will learn how they save you from death and make gameplay clean and smooth.
"Dead Cells is a rogue-lite, metroidvania-inspired, action-platformer. You'll explore a sprawling, ever-changing castle... assuming you’re able to fight your way past its keepers in 2D souls-lite combat. No checkpoints. Kill, die, learn, repeat."
Do you remember Darkest Dungeon? Of course, you do and maybe even have nightmares still! This unique experience created plenty of clones, which to me is a sign of success. However, not everything went right in the development, and Tyler Sigman, the co-founder of Red Hook Studios, is here to tell you all about it. He breaks down the game systems and shares the studio's good and bad choices.
"Darkest Dungeon is a challenging gothic roguelike turn-based RPG about the psychological stresses of adventuring. Recruit, train, and lead a team of flawed heroes against unimaginable horrors, stress, disease, and the ever-encroaching dark. Can you keep your heroes together when all hope is lost?"
Naturally, we couldn't avoid mentioning Dwarf Fortress, a truly genre-defining gem complicated in so many ways. While the Steam version makes it a lot more understandable, hardcore fans will always remember their crazy ASCII adventures. In this interview, Bay 12 Games co-founder Tarn Adams covers the origins of the simulator, goes into detail discussing its design, and shares how dwarves used to be forever euphoric after one sip of beer.
"Prepare for the deepest, most intricate simulation of a world that has ever been created. Build a fortress and try to help your dwarves survive against a deeply generated world."
And remember: Losing is fun!
If you haven't played Noita yet, what are you waiting for? This magical action roguelite is unique in its own way, mostly because of its particle simulation. Everything is made of tiny pixels, and setting one on fire, for example, can lead to... a lot of fun. In this GDC talk, Nolla Games' Petri Purho talks about the technical details of Noita's physics engine, including scaling up the falling sand simulation to support large worlds and integrating destructible rigid body physics.
"Noita is a magical action roguelite set in a world where every pixel is physically simulated. Fight, explore, melt, burn, freeze and evaporate your way through the procedurally generated world using spells you've created yourself. Explore a variety of environments ranging from coal mines to freezing wastelands while delving deeper in search for unknown mysteries."
Let's move on to one more popular card game that overtook YouTube in 2021. This interview with Game Designer Daniel Mullins can be especially helpful for game developers, as he recalls his creative journey with Inscryption, talks about the challenges of developing your own game, and shares personal inspirations and advice on career development.
"From the creator of Pony Island and The Hex comes the latest mind melting, self-destructing love letter to video games. Inscryption is an inky black card-based odyssey that blends the deckbuilding roguelike, escape-room style puzzles, and psychological horror into a blood-laced smoothie. Darker still are the secrets inscrybed upon the cards."
FTL: Faster Than Light
Last but not least, we have FTL – a 2012 spaceship simulator. This talk is pretty old, but it's nice to hear what the developers had to go through in order to deliver the game. Matthew Davis and Justin Ma discuss its early development, how crowdfunding changed FTL's designs, and the features that had been cut.
"In FTL you experience the atmosphere of running a spaceship trying to save the galaxy. It's a dangerous mission, with every encounter presenting a unique challenge with multiple solutions. What will you do if a heavy missile barrage shuts down your shields? Reroute all power to the engines in an attempt to escape, power up additional weapons to blow your enemy out of the sky, or take the fight to them with a boarding party? This "spaceship simulation roguelike-like" allows you to take your ship and crew on an adventure through a randomly generated galaxy filled with glory and bitter defeat."
We hope these developers' experiences helped you shape a vision for your own game or at least inspired you. Of course, this is just a small selection of roguelikes, and we're sure you have your favorites, which you can tell us about in the comments.