I stand still in a dark corridor about two meters wide and three meters tall. It’s impossible to see much past an arm’s length. In the darkness, something is breathing very slowly and deeply. With each breath, I can almost feel air move through my sweaty face. I’m grasping my staff as hard as possible and trying not to make any sound.
Unmistakably, it’s an ogre. Creature of not quite the sharpest of senses, the single reason I’m still alive. There are a few options of getting past it. If I cast spell of haste on myself, I can land good four or five bolts of lightning out of my staff before the ogre has a chance of touching me. Hopefully, by then it would be dead.
Staff charges take a horribly long time to recover. Trying to avoid that, I go for a different option. In my pouch there’s a warm bottle with orange liquid. I take a step back and throw the bottle to the ground in front of me, where I imagine the ogre to be. Flash! The corridor gets flooded with a bright warm light and I instinctively cover my eyes, which don’t like the unexpected brightness after being in the dark for so long.
The whole corridor in front of me is burning furiuosly. I take a few more steps back to avoid burning my robe. The ogre is easy to see now - on fire and moaning in pain. However, still quite alive. It sees me and correctly identifies as the most likely culprit of the ongoing painful misdeed. I’m going back less carefully now, trying to keep my distance.
With ogre being much more lively than I hoped it would, my options must be reconsidered. Zap! I cast a bolt of lightning out of my staff. It hits him right on the chest, ogre stumbles and falls back. Hopefully this one will do, wouldn’t want to waste any more charges…
Being somewhat preoccupied, it takes me time to make another critical observation. The room which lead to the corridor, one I’m standing in right now, is fully ablaze on fire. Not too good. Quickly, I take another bottle out of my pouch. This one is much smaller and made out of glass that is fully black. Potion of descent. I bend my legs to prepare for landing and drop it on the floor. In a split second the floor vanishes and I fall down.
Landing is suprisingly soft. Shit. That can mean only one thing, I’m in a giant spider’s web. Such a lucky day! Glancing around, there’s no spider here yet. But it must have felt the vibrations and is coming. Web is sticking to my hands and feet, making movement very hard. I’m tearing it apart with some success and making slow progress outwards.
Here comes the spider. Not too happy with what I’ve done to its bedsheets. Now I’m dead. Still grasping the staff in my left hand, I zap lightning bolts a few times until the staff makes a dissapointing pshhhh sound, indicating that I’m out of charges. If anything, that made the spider more pissed off. Alright, I have one more option - it will either save me or kill me. That’s a gamble worth doing in current situation, I don’t plan to be alive much longer anyway. Last bottle in my pouch is short and round. No idea what potion it is, haven’t identified it yet. I throw it on the advancing spider and as it shatters, a pink cloud of caustic gas engulfs the six-legged creature. It loses its determination to go after me, twitching and wriggling instead. Obviously, in great pain, as the acid eats its eight eyes and gets under the furry coat.
Surprisingly, that means I won’t die from spiderbite. Doesn’t change the fact that I can’t move in this web. And the cloud of caustic gas is, in fact, expanding… Just few seconds later I start to experience all the great sensations that the spider must have felt. That’s how I die.
True story. All this happened in one of my brogue playthroughs. It is one of the better known roguelike genre gems. I have a strange relationship with roguelikes. Core principles are all solid, but so often my personal experience is not very positive due to lack of strong, focused gameplay. Nethack is ridiculously all over the place, simply incomprehensible to a new player. Understanding why and how it was developed gives useful context, but I absolutely don’t want to play it. Angband, another quintessential roguelike, is very different. It still has a huge scope - hundreds of enemies and items, but so much of what I did was grinding to get slightly better weapon and slightly better stats. I can do grinding when game has a story to follow, but here it was mindnumbingly boring.
I’m sure I could have fun in Nethack and Angband if I gave it more time and played it differently, not as a clueless beginner. And that’s my biggest problem with roguelikes. They need dedication from the player to show him the beauty. I also tried Dungeon Crawl, Dungeons of Dredmor and a few others. There was nothing offputting about them, I just didn’t know what the hell I’m doing and wasn’t ready to play long enough to understand.
Brogue was absolutely different. It has good interface so you don’t have to spend half an hour figuring out the controls. It doesn’t present you with ten races and fifteen classes to chose from when the game starts. You are thrown into a dungeon immediately, can walk around, pick up items and attack enemies with your dagger. That’s good enough to go through the first few floors! Then you learn a few more actions - how to throw things and consume potions/scrolls. That’s about all there is to do. It does become a different game once you gain some experience as a player, but it was fun for me even the first time I played it.
I love how the first dungeon levels are your character creation screen. Depending on what items you find there you decide what you’ll be - tough axe-wielder or a nimble spellcaster. That also means you don’t get the same choices every time you play, almost as if the game is suggesting you to try out different playstyles. Even near the beginning, there’s simple puzzles and traps, all inspired by Indiana Jones films. It adds a great flavour to the dungeoneering experience. I find it much more interesting to abuse environment in order to defeat the enemies. Also, it is more rewarding to get treasure by outsmarting a deadly trap than it is to pick it up as loot from monsters.
Brogue was made by a single person, Brian Walker. That might the biggest reason why it feels so different from other classic roguelikes. Brogue is very grounded and focused, every single mechanic interacts with all others like a clockwork. This sense of playing someone’s game, of there being an autheur behind it, it speaks to me very strongly. I noticed that most of my favourite games are actually made by a single person or have a voice of a strong designer behind them.