The Great Campaign Ch. IV – Rogue (1980)

Part of the Great Campaign – A Playthrough of the Greatest RPGs Ever

Developer: A.I. Design
Release Year: 1980 (“Forerunner” title)

My Playthrough:

  • System: PC (DOS box)
  • Version: DOS (1984)
  • Hours Played: <5
  • Completion Status: Played

Legacy

Rogue was conceived by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman, and developed during Toy’s time at UC Santa Cruz and UC Berkeley. They were inspired by several games, especially the 1976 text-based game Colossal Cave Adventure, a predecessor to the Zork series. Players control an adventurer who delves into a series of caves in their search for the treasure, the Amulet of Yandor. As the player progresses through the randomly generated layouts of the caves, enemies become tougher and tougher and players must manage their inventory and carefully explore the labyrinth. If players can successfully attain the Amulet, they must then escape to the surface to win the game.

Rogue innovated in a number of areas. It introduced permadeath as a way of creating a more meaningful scenario for the player hero. It added the concept of temporary saves, where players could save their progress and quit but could not save scum because saves are deleted once the game is loaded up. And if not the first it was a major innovator in the procedural generation space, as the entire game more-or-less is procedurally generated.

Where’s the RPG?

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Rogue was not a Dungeons and Dragons implementation like some early RPGs were, nor was it a text-based adventure game like Colossal Cave Adventure or Zork. Instead it combined some foundational RPG mechanics like statistics, turn-based combat, and equipment progression with aforementioned innovations including permadeath and procedural generation.

The bits of narrative and lore involved come from the manual and brief intro, as there is little to no dialogue or explanation in the game itself. Instead, Rogue is focused on exploring and working through the labyrinth, while fighting monsters, gaining XP, and acquiring various equipment and items. It clearly has a sense of progression, but one that is fleeting as no progression sticks between runs. Again, this is emblematic of the genre that Rogue founded.

Roguelikes today are generally considered a separate genre from RPGs. This is likely mainly due to roguelikes being primarily about action today, whether it’s the hack-and-slash of Binding of Isaac to the platforming of Spelunky. However, Rogue shows those RPG roots very clearly, given that it uses a form of turn-based combat and has explicit XP gain and levels.

My thoughts

The general gameplay of Rogue involves moving square by square across an obscured map that is gradually uncovered as you explore it. The game is technically turn-based, as every move by the player moves the game one tick forward – that is, enemies move forward by one square every time you do. Combat generally involves “moving into” an enemies square which triggers an attack – a roll of the die with some text that explains who hit who, and for how much damage. The player can find various items, and there a bunch of hotkeys for using items, throwing weapons, equipping things, detecting passageways, eating to recover stamina, and more. You also need to identify weapons and food or you could for example accidentally equip a cursed sword or eat something that kills you.

I would say I was overall impressed on a technical level with Rogue given that the game originally came out in 1980. I played the 1984 DOS version (screenshot above) which had slightly better graphics than the original which used pure ASCII art. However, in 1980, the ASCII representation was a respectable graphical interface given that many games at the time were purely text-based. Additionally, even though the combat is technically turn-based, it feels more like a hybrid of action and strategy. One push of a key moves your character and/or attacks, so it feels quite dynamic.

Like many games of the time, Rogue is pretty hard. The mess of hotkeys required to play and all of the complexities involving item use (having to identify things, etc.) add to the game’s inherent difficulty. There is limited opportunity for grinding levels because there is a built-in stamina/hunger system based on how many times you move that prevents a player from meandering around without progressing for too long. I’ll admit I gave it a try for a few hours, made some progress, and understood that to properly progress would require a long-term investment that I generally don’t pursue for the 80’s games in the Great Campaign.

Nevertheless, I can understand how this game at the time probably sucked up a lot of people’s time. It would be quite addictive giving it “one more try” and eking out more and more progression every run. I’ve never been the biggest fan of roguelikes due to the lack of persistent progression, but some have enticed me (such as 2020’s Hades), and it’s always been a fairly popular genre for hardcore gamers. In the end, Rogue has had a huge influence, and I’m glad I got the chance to try it for myself.

Another influential roguelike, Nethack, is also later down this list, so I’m interested to see how it improves on Rogue.

Verdict

Retrospective Quality: 4/5
– An addictive classic that may have kicked off the “one more try” mentality in gaming
Timelessness: 1/5
– RPGs and roguelikes have seen massive improvements since 1980, both graphically and gameplay-wise
RPG Soul: 3/5
– Features a full-fledged turn-based battle system, and temporary progression in the form of XP and items to collect (all which is wiped away upon death)
Influence: 4/5
–  Spawned an entirely new genre named for the game itself – the Binding of Isaac, Spelunky, FTL, Darkest Dungeon; all of their roots are in the original Rogue

Great Campaign Level: Lv. 12

Thanks for reading!

-Brandon

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