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Hardcore roguelikes scare players off, but Lost in Prayer is different

Lost in Prayer is an old-school roguelike game, and its creators tell PCGamesN how the traditional format can still find success today.

Lost in Prayer is a traditional roguelike game that wants to prove that frustration is fun - A knight with angel wings wields a glowing blue sword.

When you think of the best roguelikes on PC, you might consider action games like Dead Cells, Hades, or Risk of Rain. Or perhaps you lean towards the deckbuilders of the world such as Balatro and Slay the Spire. But all of these could arguably be considered ‘roguelites’ instead. The distinction between the definitions was once a hot topic, but over time it’s become less frequently discussed. Nevertheless, Lost In Prayer wants to prove to a wider audience that the traditional roguelike format still offers something unique and special. PCGamesN sits down with Nine Dots CEO Guillaume Boucher-Vidal to talk about what makes the genre tick.

Depending on who you ask, you’ll get a different answer about when a roguelike game becomes a roguelite. It comes down to how closely the game adheres to original design tenets of the genre’s progenitor, early ‘80s dungeon crawler Rogue. Back in 2008, a group of developers and players penned the ‘Berlin Interpretation’ – a list of features that could be used to determine how closely a game stays to the original roguelike format. Lost in Prayer lands very deliberately on the traditional side, and Boucher-Vidal tells me he wants “to make a genuine attempt of getting the root of the genre discovered.”

In Lost in Prayer, you control one from a broad selection of approximately 50 different angels or demons as you fight your way through either Heaven or Hell, choosing which path you wish to take on each run. Every playable character has their own design, and might only be able to incorporate certain items and gear into their build. Critically, when you die to a creature you also unlock it for use yourself, giving you yet another reason to return and try again – a system I discussed with Boucher-Vidal back during our Lost in Prayer reveal interview.

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Boucher-Vidal’s love for the genre began with Dungeons of Dredmor and Tale of Maj’Eyal, which remain two of the most well-regarded games in the traditional roguelike style. Like Lost in Prayer, they are top-down; they turn- and grid-based; they include permadeath; and each run places a focus on exploration and combat through randomly generated dungeons, each of which presents opportunities for creative decision making and build crafting.

“I didn’t plan on getting hooked. I was trying to understand what it was and, lo and behold, 70 hours had disappeared,” Boucher-Vidal remarks of Dredmor. “I was not even aware that it was essentially the best-looking roguelike – it is more accessible visually than most titles in the genre. I just got this initial curiosity of how a game can get you so engaged. As a game designer it stuck in my head. What would I do in that space?”

Lost in Prayer and roguelike design - Classic traditional roguelike Dungeons of Dredmor.

“I’ve played a lot of tactical RPGs, and there is a comparison between the two where every decision is very meticulous,” he continues. “But I really appreciate the immediacy [of roguelikes]. Every click is a decision – it just felt a bit more direct.” Having decided he wanted to turn his hand to creating a roguelike in that more traditional form, however, he notes: “I was always thinking about what makes a success. It’s my responsibility as a CEO to try and understand what it is that prevents roguelikes from reaching the level of success of roguelites. Some people would think that it is the meta progression that lowers the frustration of defeat.”

It’s certainly a sentiment you see quite often. Other additions, such as the gradual story progression that Hades offers between runs, even when they aren’t successful, may also be factors. But Boucher-Vidal sees it another way. “I think the friction of defeat is not necessarily as off-putting as people claim,” he says, “and that’s part of my bet [with Lost in Prayer].”

Boucher-Vidal notes how most traditional roguelikes have basically always been a little less polished on the presentation side, in part due to the sheer amount of things required to give the game sufficient depth. That’s a problem solved in part by Nine Dots sharing development resources across its other games including open-world game Outward 2. This lets the team focus on “making the game more ergonomic, more intuitive, more visually appealing. You don’t need to make the game less hard – the frustration is a positive. Every layer of frustration you add is just piling on to the gratification once you get that success, right?”

Lost in Prayer - The armies of Hell.

Boucher-Vidal’s desire to make the traditional roguelike work doesn’t mean he’s averse to the wider roguelite spectrum, however. “I played a ton of Dead Cells,” he says, “I had an intense stint with Hades, and I really like 20XX as a big Mega Man fan.” The team is considering adopting some elements that roguelite games excel at into Lost in Prayer, he notes. One such example, he suggests, are those “game-changing moments” where you’re presented three dramatic rewards to choose between, rather than the more granular upgrade incrementation of traditional roguelikes.

The rise of roguelikes and roguelites over the past decade or so has happened in parallel with the swell in popularity of FromSoftware – Demon’s and Dark Souls paved the way for Elden Ring and a whole genre of more challenging RPGs. So does Boucher-Vidal think there’s more of a craving for harder games now? “I don’t think the audience changed,” he responds, “I think that developers were too afraid. The players will always be smart enough, insistent enough, to pull through.”

The prevalence of focus testing, he says, led to “designers who got really afraid of friction, not realizing that friction is personality. When a game is too smooth, you don’t have those moments to stop and absorb what is going on.” A good roguelike – indeed, a good game – benefits from complexity. “Your game is only complex enough if you keep playing in your head once it’s shut down,” he remarks. “The game has to live in your head rent-free, and you only get there by having many moving parts to take into consideration.”

Lost in Prayer - Gameplay of the top-down, grid-based roguelike.

Boucher-Vidal is aware, however, that striving for more complexity might turn some people away. “Some players will not feel compelled to go through that challenge. And I’m okay with that, because I want to create that ‘eureka’ moment – those, ‘Ding, ding, ding, I get it now’ moments. And I can’t do it if I don’t ask [the player] to get there.

“I remember around 2008, 2009, there were huge conversations in the envelope of, ‘Only 20 percent of the players reached the end [of your game], so why bother?’ And I thought, ‘No, you don’t understand – those are the players we want to reward more.’ If I can do it all, it’s not a world of possibilities, I’ll have done everything. Roguelikes are freaking amazing in that regard. You will never try every build, you will never have made every decision. You’ve expressed yourself in making the choice of how you’re going to try and play the game.”

Lost in Prayer hopes to prove that – when presented correctly – the traditional roguelike can find its way to that wider audience. Boucher-Vidal remains grounded, however. “I’m not claiming that we will have that spotlight,” he says. “I’m claiming that I want to. Part of me is a bit worried. I don’t want to sound like we are looking down on other games.

Lost in Prayer - The armies of Heaven.

“I worry how pretentious we might sound by stating the weaknesses of a genre that I really love, of games that have been in development for 15 or 20 years and keep going, and here I am saying ‘people don’t play those because they don’t look good and the user experience is atrocious.

“But I’m ready to take the hit,” he concludes. “I stand by the things that we are saying. I hope it will be seen as someone who’s honestly trying to push things forward with the genre and is definitely not trying to drag anybody down in the process.”

Lost in Prayer is set to launch in the first quarter of 2025, but you can wishlist it right now on Steam to keep track of its development.

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