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The History of Rogue: Have @ You, You Deadly Zs
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The History of Rogue: Have @ You, You Deadly Zs

May 5, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 4 Next

Although the text adventures Toy and Wichman played and developed were fun, they suffered from limited replayability. Once y

ou've solved all the puzzles in Zork, for instance, there's little reason to continue playing. What Toy and Wichman desired to make was a game that would be different each time, never offering the exact same gameplay twice.

Though the game would offer a basic story and goal (fetch the Amulet of Yendor from the bottom of the dungeon), the real fun was exploring the dungeons, vanquishing increasingly ferocious monsters, collecting valuable treasures and equipment, and strengthening one's character.

The control scheme was as intuitive as one might expect from the era before mice and pull-down menus. Besides the basic movement keys (h, j, k, and l), players also had to remember somewhat arbitrary commands like "q" to quaff a potion, or "e" to eat food.

Although the control scheme was relatively easy to master, the game itself was often quite challenging. Sudden death could occur at any moment, particularly if the character weren't well equipped and stocked with potions and scrolls.

Still, though death was common, starting over wasn't so tedious, as the dungeons would be randomized each time. "Every time you played," said Wichman, "you got a new adventure. That's really what made it so popular for all those years in the early eighties."[6]

Toy and Wichman's game was quite popular, but it didn't get its big break until it was added to Version 4.2 of BSD UNIX, the operating system of choice on university mainframes all over the world.

According to Wichman, "over the next three years, Rogue became the undisputed most popular game on college campuses."[7] The game's rousing success among the college crowd seemed to bode well for its commercial potential in the computer games market; after all, Zork's developers had followed a similar path and earned millions.

Front (left) and back (right) of the box for the Epyx version of Rogue, Atari ST version. Despite Epyx's strong distribution channel and advertising resources, Rogue was not considered a commercial success.

Wichman himself wasn't involved in the first effort to market the game commercially. Toy had teamed up with another programmer named Jon Lane, who was able to port the game to the IBM PC.

The two started their own company named A.I. Design and tried to sell the product themselves, but in 1983 called upon Epyx to help market and distribute it as Rogue.[8] It was soon ported to the Apple Macintosh, Atari ST, Commodore Amiga, and Radio Shack Color Computer 3, among others, with each version receiving its own set of enhancements and quirks.

A screenshot from the Atari ST version of Epyx's Rogue. Though far more graphically interesting than most other versions of the game, the Atari ST version was actually criticized for its visuals by some, because it made the viewable area much smaller.

[6] See Wichman's "A Brief History of Rogue" at

[7] See above note for source.

[8] The full official name is Rogue: The Adventure Game, which is something of a misnomer, as the game had little in common with what most people consider to be an "adventure game," though it does generate new "adventures" each time.

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