Whilst waxing nostalgic on a recent crisp and beautiful fall day, I listed all the video games I could remember playing. It was a long list, long enough that I moved to a spreadsheet in order to enter them each according to individual consoles. It was a really interesting exercise in memory. The first games entered were the ones I had played most recently, then I entered a big chunk of Mario games, and then a bunch of Atari games, and then some more games, and then a few more. And then I came to the final column – computer games. Hm. This was most perplexing. See, I don’t do online gaming, console or computer; but there was a time, in the ancient heydays before the internet, when I did play games on a computer. Yet, not a one came to mind. And then, yes…wait, ok, there was Doom and Doom 2 (we’ll save those for a later discussion). And next…? Well damn. Give me a sec. ~~~~~~~~ There were cassettes, 5.25 discs, 3.5 discs….yessssss………Brain on!
And then the flood gates kinda opened up. I started listing game after game after game: Frogger, Centipede, Space Invaders, Chess, Checkers, Breakout, some game where you had to shoot down little parachuting men, Donkey Kong – the one with the vines not the barrels, Prince of Persia, Sam and Max (Hells yesss! Another time though), some strange “3D” scroller that I never understood (we had lots of odd games, like those 100 Games on One Disc! sets), and then…..oops, crap….the well dried up. I looked at my list and thought, I may have played these games, but I never really played most of them. With the exceptions of DOOM and Sam and Max, these games were time killers, something to do when I probably should have been doing my homework but they weren’t games at which to excel. (No offense to the games themselves as I know most of them have mad followings.) I couldn’t really imagine writing a whole post about Breakout, though I did get pretty good at it. So I started deleting a bunch of games from that column.
But then, in that moment purging, one word burst out of my cobweb-addled memory and into a hissing whisper…
Holy bejesus, have mercy in heaven on high, no effin way….Rogue. Wow. It was like, all of a sudden, I felt ten times more awesome for remembering that game, for unconsciously pulling it out of the depths of my tired mind and bringing with it the strange and uncommon joy of a DOS game. That was a game, though at it I did not excel, I played. It’s also the game in which I learned about Orcs and Wraiths and experience points. So it was educational as well.
Rogue: The Adventure Game was an early dungeon crawler. It wormed its way into our game stash probably in the late 1980s; though as I’ve now learned the game was much older than that. I’ve also learned that people compared it to D&D and called it the pioneer of dungeon crawlers. As a young gamer, I just knew it was fun. The best and most frustrating thing about it was that the game seemed to be different each time you played it, so it wasn’t like you could memorize the levels and play by rote. Again, old school games = challenging, especially when all you have to look at are keyboard characters and wingdings – or whatever passed for wingdings in those days. I never played the ASCII version of the game. You started each level with a blank screen and a line of text at the bottom showing your progress, health, XP, gold, and such; and you had to move your character – a little face (☺) – around to make the walls and doorways appear. From the doorways you traveled to different rooms through corridors. Text also appeared at the top of the screen in the game telling you what was going on. In some rooms there was nothing. In some rooms you found money or food; in others there were weapons, armor, and/or enemies.
And there were numerous enemies. Oh, how many “enemies” can a silly ol’ DOS game have anyway, you ask? I’ve already mentioned the Orcs and Wraiths, but there were also Vampires, Zombies, Gnomes, Bats, and others; and each enemy was represented by the capital first letter of it’s name. And since there are 26 letters in the alphabet, there were 26 different enemies that ranged from the ridiculous (Rust monster) to the sublime (Medusa. Perseus, Perseus, wherefore art thou Perseus?). If I remember correctly, some monsters moved around the rooms in pursuit; and I always felt particularly brave moving my character right up into a monster’s face, er, letter. (Take that capital H!) In addition to gold, and there were also traps, potions, weapons, and other things to find/avoid. During the game you progressed to lower and lower levels, and faced harder and harder monsters, to retrieve an amulet. Yes, an amulet. It sounds a lot less dramatic in print, but the game was all about the drama.
Yes, draaaah-ma. While in most newer games players can predict, to a certain degree, upcoming obstacles/enemies/battles, in Rogue you honestly had no idea what you might face. There was now way to predict how big the rooms, how many rooms were on a level, or what was in them until you entered/found them. Now, if there was a way to predict or learn the levels, please don’t tell me; I don’t want to know. Another bit of drama was me just trying to get through the damn thing. I had a hard time not getting frustrated and being unable to progress as fast as I wanted. Plus, when I had to quit the game to do homework, I don’t remember being able to save. I do remember starting the game game over and over…and over..and over yet another goddamned time. Again, if there was a way to save, no use telling me now.
Long story long, I never got that stupid amulet, but somehow, in some mysterious way, life moved on.