Making ASCII art both pleasing to look at and useful, say hello to the Daddy of Dungeon Crawlers.

That's the First Impression section already written then...

Here and there I come across the phrase 'rogue-like' to describe a game, but I've never bothered to find out what that really meant. It obviously referred to something back in the day, though how far back I couldn't tell you. Until now, of course, when I say that it means to be a bit like Rogue.

Rogue is a procedurally generated dungeon crawler and, once it clicked it my head that the Rogue I'd be playing was that one old game with the ASCII art to display objects and enemies and so on (I had come across such a look and feel for a game without ever knowing it was likely Rogue I was looking at), I frankly couldn't wait.

It has found its way to a number of systems and I wanted to go back as far as possible through that release history in order to play a classic, with the Internet Archive giving up the goods once more.

After naming my character I am dumped - with little fanfare - into the Dungeons of Doom. For a few seconds I wondered what the hell I was looking at, until I poked around the keyboard a bit and moved my smiley adventurer around the first level of the dungeon.

It was a joy. That sounds strange, but I'll try and get to the reason why.

Fun Times

This web based emulation allows for your Up/Down/Left/Right controls as well as the original HJKL. Now that confused me when first reading it. If we've not heard of WASD, we get the idea of what it means when we see it on a keyboard. Same for IJKL. But HJKL seems other-worldly, and takes a bit of time to get used to, before you remember that Y, U, B and N act as diagonals too.

The first few areas saw me moving around the place like I was drunk, fending off Emus with what I imagine were slaps and 'go aways' (I was holding a mace, so it was probably more dramatic than that). You remember you can move diagonally, then you remember you can switch up your weapons and armour, then you remember you can drink potions, read scrolls, eat food, and then you've got options to zap things and throw things... the keyboard is crammed full.

But it's not over the top. It's there to be used, after all. It's the only input this game has, so it better be fully functional for what the game intends to offer, and that's a long fetch quest full of monsters and traps.

And then this goes and happens. Dark rooms. That's all it is, a representation of this room being different to that room, and that you'll actually have to explore this room in order to progress and hopefully not be struck down by any foes.

It caught me off guard, and then I was surprised that such a thing existed, and then I said "of course dark rooms would exist, this is why this game is awesome", and from that point on I was hooked. Rogue may have gotten more of my attention and investment than an open world game of today. Perhaps I shouldn't compare it with an open world game at all, but the point is that I was suddenly in a dungeon, exploring, trying to achieve my goal and get out alive.

The goal, so I read, is to find the Amulet of Yendor and then find your way back. I also read that such a goal is rather difficult. I didn't see why.

The Snakes were annoying, the Hobgoblins and Orcs weren't quite up to the brutal creatures I thought them to be, and I only fell into one trap, which dumped me into the darkness for a bit.

It's like that bit in MGS3, only without the 'your eyes eventually adjust to the darkness' feature.


But then this room came out of nowhere.

Before this screenshot, I think I'd killed another Aquator, a Centaur, and something else that escapes my memory. No, I tell a lie, it was a Leprechaun, because the bastard stole some of my gold pieces.

Anyway, I'd stepped foot into some hideous monster orgy and they were not amused. That was the furthest I got into the room, and the furthest I got through the dungeon before being met with my tombstone.

It's not really a frustration though, because I had fun upon entering this room, enemy after enemy approaching me, my supplies dwindling... I was throwing out potions of confusion, I was quaffing potions of confusion, it was all a mess, one that got right in the way of all my progress - stopping it completely, in fact.

But it's not a frustration. I'm not irked. Rogue didn't appear to be at fault at all. Maybe I ran out of luck and, against the odds, found myself against 6 or 7 monsters at once. I hope it doesn't happen next time.

Fond Memories

And there will be a next time, because Rogue is a kind of charming game. It's not got all the all the looks, but it has enough looks to get you through. The likes of Eamon could be more descriptive than Rogue, allowing the player to picture, say, a library or cave, rather than square room, rectangular room, grey passage. But with a map on screen, rather than in your head or scribbled out (hopefully accurately) on a scrap of paper beside you, Rogue allows you to focus on the movement.

Of which there's a lot. Monsters like to follow you (some more than others of course - some just don't move), which means you've likely got to deal with them, which means you've got to run the risk of injury and worse. But it gives them a bit of character. A bat buzzed around my character until I finally managed to connect a hit on it, a hobgoblin stood his ground until I made a funny look in his direction (I'd imagine. Either way I think I started that fight).

Final Word

Now that I've been able to put a name to the face, so to speak, Rogue will find a place somewhere in my brain and stay there for a while. It offers choice for interaction and navigation within the world, and with its procedural design it'll offer surprises each time you play it.

If you've played it so much you're no longer surprised, you can at least make a good story out of your adventure, your journey through the Dungeons of Doom - probably your ill-fated attempts at retrieving the amulet, but perhaps a success story, you never know.

I said it was a joy, and it seems like a dumb reason why: I was in so much control over my character that it was like discovering how awesome it was to be able to move anything with any game controller. All I'm doing is picking one of 8 keys in order to move a smiley face from one part of the screen to another, but the responsiveness, the accuracy, that feeling of being in absolute control over your character - over yourself - was great.

Don't worry, I've calmed down now.

Does feel good though.

Play Rogue, and have fun with it.

Fun Facts

A bot by the name of Rog-O-Matic was made to play Rogue in 1981, and played it with more success than the top human players of the day.

Rogue, developed by Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, Ken Arnold, Jon Lane, first released in 1980.
Version played: MSDOS, 1983, via Internet Archive (DOSBox emulation)