A Common-Sense Assessment
What’s the difference between roguelikes and roguelites?
It’s an argument we’ve been having in the community for awhile now, and there are a lot strong of opinions out there about it. Roguelikes and lites generally attract a pretty analytical, brainy crowd, so of course multiple highly specific, often quite proud schools of thought on the terms have emerged. This page gives a general overview of the differences and similarities between the two taken from no particular authority but our own. Because the lines are not clear, this article is written primarily in the general case, and counter-examples do exist in both sections.
General Qualities of Roguelikes
Generally, strictly identified roguelike games are going to be more difficult than the roguelite variety, which is a newer, more approachable genre overall. In roguelikes like Angband, Nethack, Tales of Maj’ Eyal, and other classics, you’re going to find some hardcore common denominators. Roguelikes typically are displayed in ascii with few or no animations, contain little or no in-built audio, and feature permanent death, after which saves are deleted and the player starts over with a new character entirely. Notably, roguelikes involve starting with a “blank slate” each time a new character is generated.
This strict, blank-slate regeneration method, in which no unlocks, equipment, skills, etc. are kept between characters, is what defines a true roguelike in its purest form. There is no tangible benefit maintained between saves at all, making death a particularly nasty fate. All the player is left with is some lesson learned.
(Editor’s Note: Nethack does contain bones files that transfer items between characters, but the benefit isn’t always applied, isn’t always a benefit, and works in a mechanically different way than unlock and other carry-over systems.)
Roguelikes Are More Complex and Difficult to Pick Up
Because little time and energy is spent on building 3d worlds, 2d sprites, sounds of any kind, or other more modern creature comforts most of today’s gamers are accustomed to, almost all of roguelike developers’ time goes into creating and improving systems within the game. The result is a more detailed (and complicated!) game world. For instance, NetHack is known for its absolutely incredible depth of mechanics like item usage, skill leveling, and defense calculation that were developed over many years of opensource use – “The devs think of everything.”
Roguelikes are more likely to be open source, or developed by a community, and so are easily modified and freely passed around the internet. Often installation requires just a quick download, and then the game can be run by its operation file.
General Qualities of Roguelites
Roguelites have many of the same features as roguelikes, but they almost always carry some sort of unlock system or other to affect future created characters. In short, there is some amount of saved information between games. Perhaps a new character is made available, or new skills are available from start, or different items are available in shops. The popular roguelites like Binding of Isaac, Don’t Starve, FTL, and Invisible Inc. all carry important options between saves, so even on death you are starting with a different slate than the first time you picked up the game. Death is still a miserable fate, but at least you get to keep something tangible for the experience.
Roguelites Are Simpler, Easier to Approach, and More Commercial
They use modern graphics, making them far more comprehensible to newcomers. Though still considered a very hard genre, roguelites are much more recognizable as modern video games and enjoy a great deal more mainstream popularity. The increased focus on graphical development takes hours away from developing systems, so newer, graphically displayed games are usually less complicated to play. Sound is usually present, as well as a usable GUI. Controls are generally much, much more intuitive than all-keyboard controls, and as such are easy to learn.
Roguelites are much more likely to be closed-source, commercial products requiring purchase. Roguelites are still much cheaper than mainstream, box titles like CoD or Halo. Indie studios like Klei are famous for their creation of quality, affordable roguelites.
Roguelike and lites share much more than they differ, but the distinction is still often made. As a newer genre more tied to the mainstream, roguelites are easier to approach and more likely to use advanced GUIs, graphics, audio, and control schemes. They also allow certain benefits to carry over between characters. Roguelikes are usually represented by ASCII or tilesets and are characterized by high complexity and detail, little or no audio, and “clean slate” character creation.
Either way, you can’t go wrong.