A Brief History of Rogue
by Glenn R. Wichman
copyright  1997 Glenn R. Wichman

The classic computer game "Rogue" was developed over a a period of a few years 
by a number of people. I was one of those people, and this is my version of the 
story. This happened quite a while ago, and my memory is imperfect, but I'll do 
my best to give the facts clearly and correctly. There are some details I don't 
know or may have confused. The others might tell the story differently. 

I'm not going to describe the game itself here. There are plenty of other places 
where that information is available. 

For those of you who weren't involved with computers back in 1980, a little 
background is going to be necessary. Let me set the scene. The main home 
computers at this time were the Atari 400/800, the Commodore 64, and the Apple 
II (No Macintosh, and hardly any IBM PC's at the time). At computer labs in 
universities, most students used "dumb terminals" connected to some kind of 
mainframe or minicomputer. These terminals had no graphics capabilities. 
Programs would just output text, which would scroll off the screen and 
disappear. 

A popular game on college computers at the time was a text-only role playing 
game called "Adventure". The computer would print out a textual description of 
your surroundings, and you would respond by typing in a command telling what 
your character should do, e.g. "go west" or "pick up bird". 

Around this time at U.C.Berkeley, a student named Ken Arnold (I'm sure there 
were others involved as well) put together a library of routines which allowed 
programs to do "cursor addressing", which means the programs could put a 
character at a specific location on the computer screen. There were still no 
real "graphics", but now you could use letters, numbers, and symbols to simulate 
pictures. The library of software routines was called "curses". 

As this package began to make the rounds to other universities, it was picked up 
by a couple of students in Santa Cruz, California, Michael Toy & myself, Glenn 
Wichman. We both enjoyed playing "Adventure" (Michael had long ago mastered the 
program; I kept getting killed but enjoyed it anyway). 

Being a creative pair, we immediately set about seeing what kind of fun we could 
have with the new curses library. After fooling around with a couple simple 
games, we considered whether we could use this package to do a "graphical" 
adventure game. Once we decided it could be done, things moved forward pretty 
quickly. I was still a novice "C" programmer, so Michael did most of the actual 
programming of the original version (I pretty much learned "C" by looking over 
his shoulder as he wrote). The ideas in the game came from both of us. The name 
"Rogue" was my idea. 

One of the things we wanted to do was create a game we could enjoy playing 
ourselves. Most of the existing adventure-type games had "canned" adventures -- 
they were exactly the same every time you played, and of course the programmers 
had to invent all of the puzzles, and therefore would always know how to beat 
the game. We decided that with Rogue, the program itself should "build the 
dungeon", giving you a new adventure every time you played, and making it 
possible for even the creators to be surprised by the game. 

We had a playable game, without all the features yet (e.g., no armor), when 
Michael transferred to U.C. Berkeley, where he met up with Ken Arnold. For a 
while, we each moved forward with our own versions of the game, him in Berkeley 
and me in Santa Cruz. This proved to be too difficult to keep up logistically, 
so I just let Michael & Ken take over Rogue development completely. To this day, 
there are a lot of folks who think of it as Michael & Ken's game. 

Rogue's move to Berkeley was fortuitous. U.C. Berkeley was the home of a 
particularly popular version of UNIX called BSD (Berkeley Standard 
Distribution). Version 4.2 of BSD UNIX included Rogue -- suddenly, the game was 
available on university computers all over the world. At the time, there was no 
other game like it. Over the next 3 years, Rogue became the undisputed most 
popular game on college campuses. 

Soon, Michael & I each left school for the professional world. I was working at 
a Silicon Valley start-up, and Michael got a job working for Olivetti in Italy, 
where he met Jon Lane, who would become the fourth member of the Rogue Band. 

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. 

Michael Toy was one of the very first people to buy a Macintosh computer. Soon, 
a Mac version of Rogue was underway. I got back involved in the project -- I did 
the graphic design for Mac Rogue in exchange for a used Macintosh computer. 
Meanwhile, Michael & Jon tired of trying to market Rogue on their own, so they 
got together with an established computer game company called "Epyx", who took 
over the marketing & packaging of the game. At this point, I came to work for 
A.I.Design. 

Once Epyx was involved, we decided to do versions of the game for the Amiga and 
the Atari ST. Michael wrote the Amiga version, and I wrote the Atari ST version. 
Unfortunately, although Rogue had been wildly popular on college mainframes, 
commercial success eluded us. Epyx went bankrupt, Atari ST's and Amiga's faded 
away, and the computer gaming world became a much more sophisticated place, 
where a little game like Rogue no longer fit in. Still, although the versions of 
Rogue that we wrote are almost impossible to find anymore, Rogue and its 
decendants live on, and shareware versions of Roguelike games are available for 
just about every computer platform. 

Just like watching those old, black & white, silent movies can teach us about 
how Cinema got to where it is today, looking at old games like Adventure and 
Rogue can help us understand how computer gaming evolved. 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. But I 
think 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. 

As for the Rogue Band, we are all still in the computer industry, though none of 
us is doing professional game programming. Ken Arnold, last I knew, was at 
JavaSoft. Michael Toy recently retired from Netscape, where he worked since it 
began. Jon Lane continues to run his own small company, The Code Dogs. And 
myself? After 5 years at Intuit, I am at an intranet start-up called UpShot. 
Back when I had spare time, I worked on a couple of shareware games for the Mac. 
If you're a Mac person, check 'em out. 

Thanks for listening to my story. If you haven't played Rogue -- give it a try. 
You'll be surprised how enjoyable it is even after all these years. I would love 
to hear your comments, recollections, and stories about Rogue. Please send me 
e-mail, and please let me know if you'd be willing to have your comments 
published on this page. 

Glenn R. Wichman
glenn@wichman.org
http://www.wichman.org/glenn.html