Rogue (video game)

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This article is about the 1980s video game. For the 2014 game by Ubisoft, see Assassin's Creed Rogue.
Platform(s) Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Commodore 64, DOS, Macintosh, TOPS-20, TRS-80 CoCo, Unix, ZX Spectrum
Release date(s) 1980
Genre(s) Roguelike
Mode(s) Single-player

Rogue is a dungeon crawling video game first developed by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman around 1980. It was a favorite on college Unix systems in the early to mid-1980s,[1] in part due to the procedural generation of game content.[2] Rogue popularized dungeon crawling as a video game trope, leading others to develop a class of derivatives known collectively as "roguelikes".[3] For example, it directly inspired Hack,[4][5] which in turn led to NetHack.[6] Roguelikes have since influenced commercial games outside the genre, such as Diablo.[7]


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 treasures. The goal is to fight one's way to the bottom level, retrieve the Amulet of Yendor (Rodney spelled backwards), then ascend to the surface.[8] Monsters in the levels become progressively more difficult to defeat. Until the Amulet is retrieved, the player cannot return to earlier levels.

The game's setting was influenced by the text game Colossal Cave Adventure as well as by Dungeons & Dragons, from which most of the monsters were, initially, closely modeled. Wichman has stated the monsters were soon altered "to avoid getting in trouble" with the creators of Dungeons & Dragons.[8] The 8-bit version of Rogue produced by Mastertronic, however, has some of the same monsters as in D&D, such as kobolds and rust monsters.

User interface[edit]

The "dungeon" as it looked on an IBM Color PC
The "dungeon" as it looked on an ASCII Terminal

In the original version, all aspects of the game, including the dungeon, the player character, and monsters, are represented by letters and symbols. Monsters are represented by capital letters (such as Z for zombie), and accordingly there are twenty-six varieties. This type of display makes it appropriate for a non-graphical terminal. Rogue was one of the first widely used applications of the curses screen control library. Like most 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; u, up; and k, right) are the same as the cursor control keys in the vi editor. Other game actions also use single keystrokes—q to quaff a potion, w to wield a weapon, e to eat some food, etc. In the DOS version, the cursor keys specify movement, and the fast-move keys (H, J, K, and L) are supplanted by use of the scroll lock key.

Each dungeon level consists of a grid of three rooms by three rooms (potentially); dead end hallways sometimes appear where rooms would be expected. Lower levels can also include a maze in the place of a room. Unlike most adventure games of the time of the original design, the dungeon layout and the placement of objects within are randomly generated.


The original authors of Rogue were Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, and then Ken Arnold.[9][10] The earliest versions were written on the Unix system at UC Santa Cruz and later coding moved, along with Michael Toy, to UC Berkeley.[11] The game became popular enough to be distributed with Version 4.2 of BSD (Berkeley Software Distribution) UNIX, in August 1983.[11] Rogue was ported by Michael Toy and Jon Lane to the IBM PC in 1984,[8] and then by Michael Toy to the Macintosh.[11] Toy and Lane formed the company A.I. Design, which marketed these versions.[11] According to Lane, Dennis Ritchie was quoted as saying that Rogue "wasted more CPU time than anything in history."[8]

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 the TRS-80 Color personal computers.[11]

"After returning from Italy, Michael & Jon started their own company called A.I.Design. One of their first projects was to "port" Rogue from UNIX to the IBM PC. For awhile, they packaged & sold this game on their own. I was not really involved during this period. " - Glenn Wichman

In 1988, the budget software publisher Mastertronic released a commercial port of Rogue for the Amstrad CPC, Commodore 64, Atari 8-bit,[12] and ZX Spectrum computers.[13]

Numerous clones exist for modern operating systems such as Microsoft Windows,[14] Mac OS X,[15] Palm OS,[16] Linux,[17] BSD OSs,[17] and iOS.[18] It is even included in the base distribution of NetBSD and DragonflyBSD.

Automated play[edit]

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 in 1981 to play and win the game, by four graduate students in the Computer Science Department at Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh: Andrew Appel, Leonard Harney, Guy Jacobson and Michael Loren Mauldin.[19]

Ken Arnold said that he liked to make "sure that every subsequent version of rogue had a new feature in it that broke Rogue-O-Matic."[20] Nevertheless, it remains a noted 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.[21]


In March 1984, Jerry Pournelle named the version of Rogue for the IBM PC as his "game of the month", describing it as "a real time trap. I found myself thinking 'just one more try' far too often".[22] The game was reviewed in 1986 in Dragon #112 by Hartley and Pattie Lesser in the "Role of Computers" column.[23] In a subsequent column, the reviewers gave the IBM and Mac versions of the game 3½ out of 5 stars.[24] Compute! favorably reviewed Epyx's Amiga version as improving on the text-based original, stating that "the game will give you many hours of gaming fun".[25] In 2009, Rogue was named #6 on the "Ten Greatest PC Games Ever" list by PC World.[26]


  1. ^ Parish, Jeremy. "The Essential 50 – 12. Rogue". Ziff Davis. Retrieved 2007-12-23. 
  2. ^ Wichman, Glenn R. ""A Brief History of "Rogue"". 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. 
  3. ^ See, for example, I “Like-Like” Roguelikes (Because Love Should Never Be So Cruel)
  4. ^ Brouwer, Andries. "Hack". Retrieved 2008-07-05. Hack was originally written by Jay Fenlason ... with help from Kenny Woodland, Mike Thome and Jon Payne. Basically it was an implementation of Rogue, however, with 52+ instead of 26 monster types. 
  5. ^ Bresnick, Julie. "On the Train of Life with Nethack's Papa". Retrieved 2008-07-05. [Fenlason] was a junior at a high school in a small suburb outside of Boston when he went to visit UC Berkeley. There he was introduced to Rogue. Like any good hacker, his imagination went into the game before it went out. He was intrigued and went looking for the source. When he was denied that access he simply started experimenting. 
  6. ^ "The Best Game Ever". The basic framework for Nethack began with an earlier game called Rogue....Rogue became the basis for an offspring called Hack, and in acknowledgement of code fixes and additions passed back and forth via Usenet, the quickly evolving game was renamed Nethack. 
  7. ^ Pitts, Russ (2006-06-06). "Secret Sauce: The Rise of Blizzard". The Escapist. Retrieved 2009-04-13. [The idea for Diablo] was modified over and over until it solidified when [Dave Brevik] was in college and got hooked on ... Moria/Angband. 
  8. ^ a b c d Edge Staff (2009-07-03). "The Making Of: Rogue". Edge Online. Archived from the original on 2012-08-15. 
  9. ^ Wichmann, Glenn R. (1997). "A Brief History of Rogue". Retrieved August 7, 2013. 
  10. ^ Kuittinen, Petri (Jun 12, 2001). "Rogue – Exploring the Dungeons of Doom (1980)". Archived from the original on Dec 17, 2007. 
  11. ^ a b c d e Wichman, Glenn R. ""A Brief History of "Rogue"". 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. 
  12. ^ "Atari 8-bit Rogue". Retrieved 2010-09-02. 
  13. ^ Rogue by Mastertronic from World of Spectrum
  14. ^ Rogue for Windows from
  15. ^ Rogue for OS X from SourceForge
  16. ^ Roguelikes for PalmOS from SourceForge
  17. ^ a b "The Rogue Home Page". Archived from the original on Jul 15, 2008.  with various versions of Rogue
  18. ^ Classic Dungeon Crawler Rogue Comes to the iPhone from
  19. ^ A. K. Dewdney. "An expert system outperforms mere mortals as it conquers the feared Dungeons of Doom". "Scientific American", volume 252, issue 2, February 1985, pp. 18–21. Retrieved 2014-03-12. 
  20. ^ "The History of Rogue: Have @ You, You Deadly Zs". 
  21. ^ "Angband Borg". Thangorodrim – The Angband Page. Retrieved 2007-12-23. 
  22. ^ Pournelle, Jerry (March 1984). "New Machines, Networks, and Sundry Software". BYTE. p. 46. Retrieved 22 October 2013. 
  23. ^ Lesser, Hartley and Pattie (August 1986). "The Role of Computers". Dragon (112): 23–26. 
  24. ^ Lesser, Hartley and Patricia (October 1987). "The Role of Computers". The Dragon (126): 82–88. 
  25. ^ Stumpf, Robert J. (January 1987). "Rogue: A Dungeon Adventure". Compute!. p. 39. Retrieved 9 November 2013. 
  26. ^ Edwards, Benj (February 8, 2009). "The Ten Greatest PC Games Ever". PC World. Retrieved 2016-05-01. 

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