Part of the appeal for me is the idea of “playing for keeps.”

Now, I don’t like gambling — this is a different desire. I want for there for be stakes in the game — but for the purpose of consequence, not merely the possibility of loss. I want to be able to build something in a game.

This is part of what drives me to simulation games, and to a lesser extent — to strategy games and war games. There’s something very satisfying about plunking down farms and town halls in Warcraft, and ordering peasants to work.

But at the end of the mission, the slate is wiped clean. Rarely if ever, do you carry units over from one map to the next. Despite any metaplot in place, there is a continuity disconnect. Where are the soldiers I just recruited? The grunts and footmen I led to victory over my enemy… only minutes ago?

Homeworld let you carry ships from one mission to the next — in the Cataclysm expansion, it was because you were on the run and every ship had to last.

I want choices put before me, so that I might exercise my own decision-making abilities — in game design, this is referred to as expression. Sometimes expression is as simple as picking clothes or hairstyles for your avatar.

Sometimes it involves stats, like D&D.

Some of the best expression I’ve found in games hasn’t come from RPGs — but from strategy games. When you plan out your base, build units, and march on an enemy base — it’s your decision every step of the way. When. Where. How.

And when you fail a particular map or mission, it’s because the decision you made — or one of a dozen just like it — didn’t advance your goals, didn’t make your timeline match with what was required of you. You have to try again.

Building without context is hard though — when I would play Rome: Total War, I often quit a campaign within a decade (20 turns) of having seized Rome, simply because there was no one to offer and/or annoy me with missions.

It’s why the Sims is difficult for me to maintain without some kind of self-imposed challenge. There’s little to play for, since you hardly have to work to maintain your houses. I like Pets for how they force you to replace furniture.


So, what do I want from a Roguelike?

I want choices — that matter. Not a moral choice system, that’s dumb. And not just a pile of numbers (“stats”) for me to increment. In fact, it might be for the best if my stats never change in my character’s lifespan.

Then I have to live with them.

Other stuff ought to be flexible though, things that aren’t determined during character creation. Like, I could live with being stuck as a dwarf wizard — but I think I should be able to change my prepared spells around. You know?

I want consequences for actions. They don’t need to be consequences for my choices since I choose when to perform one action or another. Like dragons appearing in Skyrim, based on your story progress. But, less linear perhaps.

And I want a dynamic world — perhaps not always moving when or where or because I touched something, but reacting to my existence. Like the Senate sending me orders to follow on pain of economic sanctions.