Jan 29, 2020
Rogue is, arguably, one of the most influential video game ever written. It was the first game to make significant use of procedurally generated content. And there is a good chance that most people have never played it. Despite it's important and far-reaching legacy Rogue was never a commercial success. However, games heavily influenced on the 1980 original are still published and played today. Some games like Diablo, Pokemon Mystery Dungeon, Faster Than Light, or Darkest Dungeon borrow heavily from Rogue's design. Still others like Minecraft or No Man's Sky have core gameplay elements such as procedural generation. Even with the plethora of options for modern roguelike games, I think it's worth tracking down the original and giving it a spin. There are a lot of ways to play Rogue today, so I'll go over some of the options at your disposal.
The easiest way to get into the Dungeon of Doom is probably via the Internet Archive. It really is amazing just everything that the Archive, well, archives. Anyway, thanks to their in-browser emulator you can play Rogue for a number of platforms very easily. The best ports to get started with are probably the MS-DOS version or the Macintosh release. DOS Rogue is the closest to the original since it's graphics are all rendered using text characters. The major change between the 1980 version and the DOS release is the addition of color and an increased character set, both thanks to the IBM PC. Controls are relatively simple, relying on arrow keys for movement and hotkeys for actions.
The Macintosh version is quite a bit different, it has the same gameplay as the original but the graphics and controls are another story. As with most Mac software the game is rendered in black and white graphics. Everything is represented by small sprites on screen, from items to monsters to the dungeon map. It retains the same gameplay as all versions do, but the control scheme is a lot different. The entire game is driven by the mouse, a series of menus, and sub-windows. It's reasonably easy to get used to, but navigating dungeons with a mouse just doesn't feel quite the same.
Another option outside of emulation is to find a copy of rogue for your platform of choice. Luckily, there are plenty to choose from over at the Roguelike Archive. This site hosts a collection of versions of Rogue and early roguelike games. This includes copies of the aforementioned DOS and Mac ports, as well as many other ports, beta releases, and source code. The real draw for me here are the early versions of Rogue, the earliest on this page being version 3.6 from 1981. There are compiled binaries for various platforms with matching source code for the curious. These archives are from the (seemingly defunct) Roguelike Restoration Project.
Beyond being an interesting relic to explore Rogue still holds up as a fun game today. It presents a stripped down experience, presenting just what's needed to have an engaging RPG with none of the frills. In an era flooded with fancy AAA titles I think Rogue and it's close relatives still have a place. But if the graphics and controls are still a little daunting, if you'd like to just have more options, then there are! I'd also recommend checking out Slash'Em or NetHack. Both of these games are descendants of Rogue but with many, many, many more features. Each have expanded and new mechanics, character classes, more stats, and optional graphics.
If you want to learn more about the history of Rogue, then you can listen to my episode on the matter here: