Rogue – THE original dungeon crawl
A game so deep it didn’t have any room left for graphics
Back in the early days of gaming history, developers worked hard to create games that were rich, complex and immersive. Unfortunately, the graphic capability of computers (let alone home consoles) was very poor, to say the least. One way to work around this problem was to use text descriptions to display the game world, and a parser to understand commands written by the player. This form of game is known as Interactive Fiction, an art perfected by the brilliant minds of Infocom, who gave birth to such classics as Zork, A Mind Forever Voyaging and Leather Goddesses of Phobos (games which I’ll address later). Another way, devised by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman, was to use a very minimalist approach to graphics, using ASCII characters. This was the way of Rogue.
Not very impressive, even by 1980 standards, but very effective in terms of gameplay. It’s really simple to understand the layout: bars and dashes represent walls, “+” signs represent doors, “#” represents tunnels or corridors, “.” represents the inside of a room. The image above shows a fully explored dungeon floor. When you begin the game, you only see the room you start in.
Still not impressive, right? Let’s continue. Your rogue is represented by the “@” and the enemies you encounter are represented by the initial letter of their name (e.g. “b” for bat, “Z” for zombie, “S” for snake, “D” for dragon). Each time you move, every other entity in the dungeon moves too, making it turned based. Here’s where the beauty of the game starts!
With everything you find in the game, you have the option to interact. Almost every letter on your keyboard stands for a certain command. “A” is attack with a melee weapon, “T” is throw a projectile weapon, “Z” is zap with a wand, “S” is search the floor around you (The full manual and game can be downloaded legally through the site Abandonia. I’ll add the link in the bottom of the post.)
A great aspect of this game is its random nature (random in a good way, mind you). Every game you start will have a completely different layout. Potions you find are still named by color (e.g. Blue potion, Yellow potion) but what it does is a mystery. Same with magic scrolls you find lying around. The only way you can discover what these items do is to find and use an Identify scroll, thus revealing the item’s properties.
Wands are also a fun part of the game, some of them just attack your enemies, but some have special powers, like the Staff of Transformation, which will transform any monster into any other monster (useful when confronting a deadly “D” into a harmless “b”, but also you can foolishly transforming a simple “S” into a hellish “Z”).
The object of the game is to find the amulet of Yendor, deep in the dephts of the Dungeon of Doom. Each dungeon map is a floor, and you must find a stairway leading down in order to advance. Exploration is encouraged by rewarding the player with food, gold and items. It’s quite hard (sometimes thought impossible) to beat, but some claim that it can be done with practice and a good measure of luck. Personally, I’ve only reached level 16.
The game constantly surprises me, making each adventure different from the rest, and keeping me hooked through the high score system, based on how deep into the dungeon you get and how much gold you acquired. It has a very special feel to it, when you can actually “see” what these simple characters are trying to represent. If you feel a cold tingle running down your spine when your @ is in a pitch black room (where you can only see the six “.” around you) suddenly surrounded by 2 fearsome “Z”, then Rogue has gotten to you.
Later games followed the footsteps of Rogue, and the dungeon crawling genre was born. Those who maintained Rogue’s visual style are called roguelikes and abound even today, thanks to a solid fanbase. The pinnacle of this style is believed to be a game called netHack, which included different character classes, decorations for the dungeons, among other things. A more modern looking version of netHack was released under the name Falcon’s Eye, for those who prefer a less archaic presentation.
And now, if you think about it, what other game has randomly generating dungeons, intensive dungeon crawling, an assortment of weapons, armor, items and bad guys? How about Blizzard’s own Diablo? Diablo is the perfect example of a roguelike game, just presented in a visually appealing way and with good measure of new features, like the town and its people’s quests.
To wrap up, Rogue is a great game, but not necessarily for everyone. It can be confusing and has a relatively steep learning curve (steep compared to a lot of braindead games out there). It defined a many aspects of adventure games, and is a pioneer of the gaming industry. I hope you liked the article, please feel free to comment.
You can get Rogue for free at: http://www.abandonia.com/games/982/download/RogueAdventureGame.htm
you can get netHack at: http://www.nethack.org/
You can get Falcon’s Eye at: http://users.tkk.fi/jtpelto2/nethack.html