Rogue (video game)

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Rogue - DOS - USA - Epyx.jpg

MS-DOS - USA - Epyx release.

Developer Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman
Publisher Artificial Intelligence Design Systems, Epyx
Published 1980-??-??
Platforms Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, BSD, Commodore 64, CP/M, DOS, Macintosh Classic, PC-8800, PC-9800, PDP-10, TRS-80 Color Computer, ZX Spectrum
Genres Dungeon crawler, Role-playing game, Turn-based strategy
Themes Action, Fantasy
Series Rogue
Distribution Commercial, Freeware, Open source

Rogue is a dungeon crawler role-playing video game initially developed and published by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman for UNIX based minicomputers in 1980. It was first written in C and distributed as free open source on BSD. Additions were made to the game by Ken Arnold and Jon Lane and the game was commercialized for several different platforms.

Rogue uses procedural generation to create its maps, items, and monsters, uses permadeath, and has a text interface. The game was very influential and saw a number of imitators like Hack, The Dungeons of Moria, Nethack, and many others and has become the titular game in the game-genres Rogue-like and Rogue-lite.

In the game, the player controls a rogue who has entered the Dungeons of Doom to find and retrieve the Amulet of Yendor. However, the dungeon is extremely dangerous and controlled by powerful magic so that every time a new person enters it, all the monsters, items, and even the very rooms themselves are different.



Like so many other gamers, I heard about Rogue from many later games being described as "Rogue-like." Although I was aware of the game, and several imitators, I never made any attempt to actually play it. I booted it up once and found its interface so abysmal, I had little interest in playing it. However, wanting to learn more about pioneering games, I decided to try and give it a chance. I spent several hours learning the controls, creating my own database of the various items and monsters, and dying many, many times. I eventually had enough of the game and gave up. On my best run, I made it down to level 17. While these many failures increased my appreciation for the game, it also allowed me to see how severely flawed it is.


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— This section contains spoilers! —


  • The procedurally generated dungeons, for the time, were very impressive. I would have preferred more than rectangular rooms, but there are still some unique rooms like treasure rooms, dark rooms, and the occasional corridor maze.
  • Because each session is usually pretty short, around 15-20 minutes, and the hope for getting a better outcome the next time around is quite high, it really entices the player to keep trying just one more game.
  • Having to experiment with items to try and figure out what they are was a clever idea, and, being able to name them to help keep track is an interesting mechanic.
  • Being able to use the space in the rooms for ranged combat is a nice mechanic.


  • The manuals leave out a lot of important information which prevents you from being able to make good choices. For example, which is better, a mace +4, a long sword +2, or two handed sword? What does a "staff of cancellation" actually do?
  • The hotkey interface is pretty difficult to work with until you get it memorized, and, even then, unnecessarily hard. For example, equipping armor, weapons, and rings each use different keys, but could have easily used the same key. Similarly, quaff potion, zap wand, and read scroll could have all been a single key.
  • The lack of a full interface makes it very easy to forget what's going on. For example, I would occasionally switch to a ranged weapon, but something would cause me to forget to re-equip my melee weapon, and I would get smashed in combat. This is fixed in the ports which have a GUI.
  • I wish there was a notification for when a new monster becomes visible. It's very easy to miss a monster and have it close into melee distance while you're resting, searching, or using fast travel. The only way to alleviate this is to very carefully check around you every time to make a single movement, which slows the game to a crawl.
  • Dark rooms and corridors mean you're frequently surprised by monsters which not only makes ranged weapons pretty useless, but gives the monsters a combat advantage, which is especially bad for those which permanently hurt you. This wouldn't be such a problem if darkrooms were rare or there were several ways to light them, but, by the time you're about a third of the way down, nearly every room is dark.
  • I don't like that you "forget" everything in a room when you exit them. You can avoid this by making notes, but that's pretty tedious.
  • A lot of monsters are silly and hurt immersion. This was partially the result of restricting monsters to letters of the alphabet, and partially just silliness. Quaggas, kestrels, and emus have no business in a dungeon.
  • Gold is just for pointless scoring.
  • I feel like the designer missed an opportunity with scroll names by making them random rather than making a word puzzle to decode them.
  • Recognizing the repetitiveness of game play, later revisions built in features to expedite game play like fast travel, repeat actions, and even programmable macros to lessen the tedium. This is not a good sign of captivating game play.
  • I wish there were a way to walk over a trap that you've already sprung. When there is a teleporter trap at the entrance to the room with something really nice inside it, or worse, the stairs, you either have to give it up, or hope that you'll eventually be teleported into it.


  • The biggest problem with the game is how unbalanced the difficulty is. The designers calibrated the game so that even if the player has really good luck with the random generation of items, monsters, and dungeon layout, the game will still be challenging. However, this means, anything less than really good luck results in an obscenely difficult game. A person could easily play the game 100 times, learn all the apparent information about the items, monsters, and game play elements, and still never win simply because it takes ridiculous luck to even be possible. If the difficulty was more dynamic (for example, spawning fewer hard monsters if the items were bad), it would be more playable.
  • A lot of the monsters are extremely annoying instead of challenging. Aquator's for example, permanently weaken your armor each time they attack you, and they frequently get two hits on you as you first bump into them in a dark room then struggle to remove your armor. Similarly, if nymphs get a good attack on you, they will steal magical items from your pack and disappear causing you to permanently lose it. A good hit from a rattlesnake lowers your strength which won't recover on its own, a hit from a wraith permanently drains your experience, and so on. Also, since you can't outrun monsters without a special item, you're usually forced to fight them and incur the huge penalties.
  • So much of the game is just bookkeeping. Nearly every item is randomized, and you won't know what it does until you experiment with it, and you won't the outcomes unless you write them all down. After a couple dozen attempts, I had about 7 KB of plaintext notes and still lacked a lot of important information about the game. I realize that this is part of the way the game works, but it's not very fun.
  • With all the random game elements that are reset with each game, it would be nice if identify scrolls were far more plentiful, but they're few and far between. You can test the unknown items as you get them, but you run the risk of equipping a cursed item which often leads to your death, but, even if they're useful, they're often wasted. Since cursed items are often far too dangerous to risk using, and identify scrolls are too rare, you're often stuck with a lot of unknown items taking up space in your pack.
  • If you run out of food, which is quite common when trying to rest and restore your health or search for hidden doors, you will become weak and faint every few steps which is -really- annoying. You can avoid this by not resting, but this makes you far more likely to get killed.
  • The game is very media challenged. All the early ports lack graphics and sound, and most of the ports which either still look and sound pretty awful.


Box Art



Longplay - MS-DOS.

Play Online

Browser, MS-DOS


Strong female character?FailThe only women are the medusa monsters.
Bechdel test?FailNo women ever speak.
Strong person of color character?FailThere are no explicit people of color.
Queer character?FailThere are no clear queer characters.


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