Rogue is an influential dungeon-crawling Role-Playing Game originally created by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman (with later contributions by Ken Arnold) for Unix-based mainframes in 1980.
The original version of Rogue used the ASCII character set (text symbols) to create the world, and that is what you can see here in this first commercial version of game, published by Epyx in 1985.
The basic premise of Rogue is to explore a series of procedurally-generated dungeons, fighting monsters, collecting treasures, and making your way deeper and deeper into the lower levels via stairs that you uncover by exploring. The ultimate aim being: to recover the Amulet of Yendor, which can be found somewhere around level 23.
Movement in Rogue is turn-based, with your character moving or attacking before the monsters do, and your character’s health (ie. “Hits”) slowly being whittled down as they take more and more damage. Thankfully your hit points do recover as you walk around – provided that you’re able to find a safe place to wander without being attacked, which is not easy as monsters do re-spawn over time. Death in Rogue is permanent (aka “Permadeath“), which means that you cannot save your game and re-load if your character dies.
If you want to play Rogue for the first time I’m not sure if I’d recommend playing this version of the game. While it is the most authentic – relative to the Unix original version – it does have a number of shortcomings that might dampen its entertainment value for modern gamers. For starters: there are those graphics… Then there are lots of keys to press to do things (like swapping weapons or armour, or searching for hidden doors), and unless you’ve memorised them all then you’ll constantly be referring to the list of commands (by pressing F1), which can become tiresome. And also: the game is quite difficult for beginners, and dying will dump you back to a DOS prompt unceremoniously (with a list of current high scores). Monsters can chase you through corridors (which isn’t the case in most of the later interpretations) and this can turn games into a procession of hasty retreats, not to mention quick deaths. The key to survival is to find a balance between grinding your way up a few levels and pushing ahead, because exploration is the only way you’ll find new food to eat. If you spend too much time wandering around the upper levels then you’ll no doubt starve to death.
That said: when you get into the swing of it, Rogue is a very compelling game. It definitely has an addictive element to it, even though it is archaic and difficult. There are a few surprises that will make life difficult for you, like traps and cursed items (which cannot be removed once worn or wielded), but with experience you can learn to spot these and avoid them. The same goes for potions and magic scrolls – over time you can learn which are the useful ones and which are the harmful ones.
If you want to play a more modern interpretation of Rogue you have a number of options: the Atari ST version is my favourite from the 16-bit era, then there are games like Chunsoft‘s “Mystery Dungeon” series, or countless other ‘Roguelikes‘. I’d avoid the 8-bit conversions, though, as they’re mostly rubbish.
While the original Rogue didn’t set the world on fire initially (mostly due to it only really being played on university campuses on mainframe systems), it did create a whole new sub-genre of Role-Playing Game – one that persists to this day. Search for ‘Roguelike‘ on Steam or GOG.com and see what comes up. All the games that feature randomly-generated mazes and dungeons, and “Permadeath“, were all influenced by this game.
More: Rogue on Wikipedia