Rogue (computer game)

Rogue popularized the dungeon crawling computer game dating back from 1980. A favorite on college Unix systems in the early to mid-1980s and created a class of derivatives known collectively as "roguelikes". Rogue inspired Hack, which in turn led to NetHack, Hack's modern-day descendant. Some of the more notable roguelikes include Moria, Angband, and ADOM. The roguelike genre influenced numerous later games, such as Diablo.
"Rogue is generally credited with being the first "graphical" adventure game, and it probably was at least one of the first (Wizardry could probably also make the claim). And its graphics have since been far surpassed by everything from Myst to Doom. But I think Rogue's biggest contribution, and one that still stands out to this day, is that the computer itself generated the adventure in Rogue. Every time you played, you got a new adventure. That's really what made it so popular for all those years in the early eighties."-Glenn Wichman


In Rogue, the player assumes the typical role of an adventurer of early fantasy role-playing games. The game starts at the uppermost level of an unmapped dungeon with myriad monsters and treasure. The goal is to fight one's way to the bottom, retrieve the Amulet of Yendor, then ascend to the surface. Until the Amulet is retrieved, the player cannot return to earlier levels. Monsters in the levels become progressively more difficult to defeat. Rare is the adventurer who will again see the light of day.

User interface

In the original, all aspects of the dungeon, including the character and the monsters, are represented by letters and symbols. Monsters are represented by capital letters (such as Z for zombie), and as such there are 26 types. This type of display makes it appropriate for a dumb terminal. Rogue was one of the first widely used applications of the curses screen control library. Like all programs using this library, the game uses the termcap database to adapt to the capabilities of terminals made by different vendors. Later ports of Rogue apply extended character sets to the text user interface or replace it with graphical tiles.

The basic movement keys (h, left; j, down; k, up; and l, right) are the same as the cursor control keys in the vi editor. Other game actions also use a single keystroke — q to quaff a potion, w to wield a weapon, e to eat some food, etc. In the DOS version, the cursor keys worked, and the fast move keys (HJKL) were replaced by using the scroll lock key.

Each dungeon level has a grid of 3 rooms by 3 rooms, or dead end hallways where rooms would be expected. Later levels included "mazes" in the place of rooms as well. Unlike most adventure games of the time, the dungeon layout and the placement of objects within are randomly generated. Every time it is played, exploration is equally risky. With an assortment of potions, scrolls, wands, weapons, armor, and food, there are many ways to succeed, and many more ways to die. Maximizing the character's survival potential is always a challenge. While the graphics are archaic by today's gaming standards, the strategy necessary to play and succeed is no less than that required by modern games.


The original authors of Rogue are Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, and then Ken Arnold. The earliest versions were written on the UNIX system at UC Santa Cruz and later coding moved, along with Michael Toy, to UC Berkeley. The game became popular enough to be distributed with Version 4.2 of BSD (Berkeley Standard Distribution) UNIX. Rogue was ported by Michael Toy and Jon Lane to the IBM PC, and then by Michael Toy to the Macintosh. Toy and Lane formed the company A.I. Design, which marketed these versions.

Later, marketing was handed over to established video game publisher Epyx, who contracted A.I. Design to port the game to Amiga, Atari ST and CoCo personal computers.

In 1988, the budget software publisher Mastertronic released a commercial port of Rogue for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, and ZX Spectrum computers.

Numerous clones exist for modern operating systems such as Microsoft Windows, Mac OS X, Palm OS, Linux, and BSD OSs.

Automated play

Because the input and output of the original game is over a terminal interface, it is relatively easy in Unix to redirect output to another program. One such program, Rog-O-Matic, was developed to play and win the game. It remains an interesting study in expert system design and led to the development of other game-playing programs, typically called "borgs" or "bots". Some target roguelikes, in particular Angband.


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