A Rogue kestrel

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Retro Gamer magazine is so densely packed with fascinating content that, despite issue #79 having just hit store shelves, I’m still reading issue #76. It’s there that I found a four-page article on Rogue, one of my favorite computer RPGs. Rogue was first published for Unix in 1980 and was eventually ported to practically every platform, including the Apple IIGS, made possible by its graphically simple interface. The top-down display is drawn entirely in ASCII, leaving a vast space in which players could imagine themselves and the dungeon.

The game is mercilessly difficult, with the the Rog-O-Matic, a program that plays Rogue, is reported to have played 10,000 games in four hours and have won only six times. The challenge arises despite the presence of food, magic, weapons, and armor, as the monsters (all represented by letters, remember!) stalk and assault you well before you make it to the dungeon’s last level.

Although I cannot at this time remember what ASCII character represents the kestrel — it wasn’t ‘K’, those were kobolds — I do remember them being common foes, especially early in the game, where most adventurers meet an early demise. So imagine my shock to find myself being threatened by such a creature on a recent trip to the Omaha Zoo:

A kestrel is a bird. Nothing else. Not a fantastical monster or a ravaging beast. Just a plain old bird. I guess your imagination supplies the rest.

Besides Retro Gamer, the book Vintage Games by Bill Loguidice and Matt Barton (the latter whose book Dungeons and Desktops Andy Molloy reviewed for Juiced.GS) also delves into the history of Rogue. That particular chapter is available for free online at Gamasutra.

To play the game for yourself, download the Apple IIGS version as a GZIPped BINSCIIed file.