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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
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Posted Tue Jul 02, 2019 11:01 am

Sunday night was a night like so many others. I’d had a long fun day with the family and was too tired to really bear down on a new, deep game. I've been feeling a little burned out lately on deep dives. So I fired up my near-daily go-to game: Rogue.
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I always play with the moniker "Sir Graham" when I play Rogue.

Some of you have heard me talk about this game now probably to the point of annoyance. But I’m bringing it up again because I officially hit my highest score EVER last Sunday night. Have to share, as I learned several new things along the way (How damned deep is this game? Infinite, feels like.)

The dungeon is supposedly 26 levels down. On the 26th level is an amulet. If you find it, you are to return to the surface with it. So technically there are 52 levels.

In my most epic run, I've now made it down to 23! By the time I made it to level 20 I also achieved for the first time a new rank of Master Rogue which I didn’t even know was a thing. I have always thought Rogue was as high as you could go. Also, when you get to this character level - actually when you achieve Rogue, you regenerate your hit points much faster than when you are first starting out, which is awesome. It's almost like you're wearing a ring of regeneration.
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I never even knew Master Rogue was a thing. Super cool!

I knew something really special was happening as my score (accumulated gold) had crossed the 4K barrier. My final score after the “Death Tax” was a whopping 4,265 completely dwarfing my previous high scores in the 3,000 ranges by almost a thousand points.
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I so can't wait to find that amulet some day in my life! It will happen, dang it. It will! Now, charge the windmill!!! Tally ho!



In the Amiga version of the game it is possible to find Broad Swords and even Two-Handed swords, which can offer much greater potential To-Hit ability and Damage. On top of that, I’d cast several enchant weapon spells, so my To-Hit adjustment was +3. I could hit and kill many monsters in a single hit. For the first time I could stand toe-to-toe with F’ing Trolls! I even killed two vampires on my way down. I felt invincible!
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At this point I was a freaking glittering paladin! And I still had further to go. Sorry about blinding you with my shiny armor and dazzling smile.

If I ran into trouble, I had several potions of teleportation and paralysis. You can throw paralysis on a monster and just walk around it (and run like hell) when needed.

I fell a few levels down (trap doors in the floors). On level 20, I actually - luckily - teleported into a giant maze - RIGHT NEXT TO THE STAIRS DOWN. First time I’d ever seen stairs inside a maze before, and realize how lucky I was to have found them. Insane!
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How lucky was this shit?? Very lucky.

A demon whispered into my ear...

When I got to level 21 I suddenly had an idea that had not once occurred to me before. I decided to Save my game, which is a feature I’d never used before.

I thought:
“If I die, maybe I can restore my game from a previous Save and try a different strategy!”
My heart fluttered with this evil new plan. Why hadn't I ever done this before?!

I continued down.

On level 23 I encountered a Medusa. Even with my stacked Hit Points, Armor and Weapon, I fell in battle after 3 hits. She was just too powerful. My best bet would have been some sort of magic to allow me to run away.

I exhaled and stared at the screen as I waited for the game to write my score to the floppy disk.

Then I restarted Rogue and used the Restore function. Guess what? My save files had all been deleted! Rogue said, “Nope!”

I couldn’t believe it even though in fairness this was the right thing for the game to do.

So then I performed an experiment. I could see the save file I wrote to disk when I used the Save feature. What if I copied those files to a 2nd location? That way, if I died and my original Save was deleted, I could move it back to the disk after the fact! I nearly sprouted horns.

So I tried this approach with a character I'd taken down to Level 9.

To my horror, the game would start the game and load my character - but I could not hit any monsters anymore. I could walk around, but as soon as there was a battle I could only stand there and impotently whack at things to no avail. The game had thought of this, too! Amazing.

I did a second test with a much lower-level character, and for some reason that test actually worked. So I’m not sure what the threshold for stopping the cheat might be. But apparently if you are on level 9, the game will strip your ability to attack anything and allow you to be killed by a lowly bat just to shame you for attempting such a thing.

Resigned to my fate, I stopped trying to do all of that. I’m extremely proud of my score but of course all that did was fuel my obsession even more. It’s like being turned away from a girlfriend you’ve had for a long time and not being given a reason. It’s hard to let go, you know?

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intric8
Seattle, WA, USA
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Posted Sat Aug 10, 2019 5:24 pm

Recently I started teaching my 10-year old son to play Rogue. He’s watched me for a long time and been captivated by its rules, gameplay and tension.
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Say "Hi" to my 10-year old Amigan, friends. Amiga forever.

In his first real attempt, with only a little coaching from me in the distance, he managed to get all the way down to level 13. Very impressive! The fact that he appreciates this game at such a young age - especially with the Nintendo Switch in the other room - is pretty danged cool you guys. Say hello to our 10-year old Amigan!

It’s usually around this time when someone (including friends) tells me that the Atari ST version is better, full stop. I used to just nod and wonder, as I’d seen the graphics before but never played the game. And yes, from a graphical standpoint the ST version is very attractive and blows the Amiga away.

I believe I’m what I’d call an expert in this game on the Amiga. I really do know it backwards and forwards at this point. Well, at least forwards. And while I love the simple graphics, they pale in comparison to the ST version.

Rewind one week...

Last week at the August SEA-CCC meetup, one of the club members brought a cute little Mac Plus loaded with Rogue! He wanted me to walk him through the basics so he didn’t have to start from scratch.

I love the old Macs (it’s true!) and couldn’t wait to see this version first hand. It was made by the same folks who made the Atari and Amiga versions: A.I. Design.

We fired it up.
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Ain't she cute? Yes, yes she is.


Now right off the bat I could see the graphics, while black and white, were indeed very cool. They might minimal but the resolution of the old Macs is exceptional: 512×342 on a 9” screen makes those dots look like they were drawn with needles, and there are so many of them! It produces a very cool stippling effect.
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The problem though is with the game itself and its user interface. Back in those days, likely via a mandate from Apple, software was forced to be nearly entirely mouse driven even if it made no sense at all for the game or application at hand. Rogue really does play better with two hands on a keyboard in most cases. But the Mac version is 99% mouse driven, including movement.

Now to be fair the early Mac keyboards did not come with a number pad. Apple sold a separate one but most folks never bought it for their home systems.

In the Mac version, the screen is divided into 4 windows: a large map view where you walk around, your inventory, a tiny mini-map that shows you the entire level you’ve discovered so far, and a text window that tells you important game updates (what you find, combat sequences, scroll effects when you use them, etc.).
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Noooooooooo!

But that doesn’t excuse the decision to make moving your character on the screen entirely with a mouse. It’s beyond painful. And the PCjr didn't have a built-in number pad, either, yet it's version of Rogue had support for keyboard-based movements.
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PCjr got keyboard support for movement. There's really no excuse, Apple.

The whole thing is a brutal mess.

In the Amiga version, you can see the entire map all at once. This is crucial for finding your way through the game and not waste any steps (which eats up energy). Not to mention if you find the staircase down, in the Amiga version you can always see it no matter where you go. In the Mac version, it’s represented as a single white pixel in the mini-map. I could barely see it even when I got my face really close to the monitor. Just so necessary and awful.

On the Amiga, I can tap “i” to see my entire inventory all on one screen. In the mac version, I have to scroll around to find things and double-click on them to use them. In one brief session I actually started to think about carpal tunnel syndrome as I was clicking like mad just to play this game.

And what the Mac version reminded me of - visually - is the often heralded Atari ST version. I have some friends who always remind me (in a nice way) that the ST version “is the best version”. And graphically, I don’t think there’s any argument from me about that at all. The ST version really is beautiful to look at.

After seeing the Mac version though, I asked one of my Atari friends very specific questions about his beloved version.

1. Can the ST version switch out of that zoomed in view for your character as you explore the Dungeon of Doom, and play truer to the original (like the Amiga)? Answer: Yes. You can click a “diamond” in the user interface and switch between views. So, I thought, I’d be clicking that every single time at the beginning of each session. A little annoying but not a deal breaker.
2. Can the ST version use the keyboard? Are you forced to use the mouse like in the Mac version? Answer: Yes, you can use keyboard or mouse for all commands in the ST version, which is interesting. It’s like it provides both worlds (even though the fact is going keyboard-only, like the Amiga, is a much more efficient a fluid way to play).
3. The Mac version of the game - as well as the ST version - don’t show you your explicit Hit Points, Strength and Armor scores. They just show you bar graph “health meters” that you have to try and get a hand-wavy feeling about how you’re doing. Can you switch to numbers? Answer: No. You just get bar graphs. The explicit numbers - for me - are HUGE in how I employ my strategies. I could get by with just health meters, but I would count that as a disadvantage for sure.

With all of this floating around in my head, I fired up Rogue for the billionth time this afternoon.

I sat down and started to fly across the keyboard. It’s almost a form of meditation for me at this point. I soon made it to level 10, and had found a very interesting combination of scrolls, equipment and rings. I started to sit up straight and focus more.

Within a few more minutes I was on Level 20. I get here a few times a week. It’s always interesting. But this felt different. My equipment combo started to feel… not unbeatable, but damned close. Could this be it?

21…22…23…

At this point I called Graham to come and look. “I’ve matched my highest level. And I’m almost to my high score.” He sat down. I showed him my inventory and explained what was happening, and why. He pulled his chair closer.

24…25…

He said, “This is getting really scary.” I know. We’ll just take each step nice and easy.

I just had to find the stairs down to the final level. And there it was! We both gasped! I went down.

In the 2nd room I found, there it was. THE F'ING AMULET OF YENDOR!
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Spoiler: this is what the amulet looks like.

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I quickly took photos of my screen, as this was the first time either of us had ever laid eyes on the thing. I picked it up and kept walking.

Now we just had to find the stairs that led back up! Only 26 more levels to go. Within minutes, I was dead at the hands of a Jabberwock - a huge chaotic evil dragon. It was standing in front of the door I needed to get through to continue forward so combat was my only option. It did not end well (and I hit him several times with a very powerful weapon).
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My new all-time high score is at the top there.

Whew. What a game. In a few moments I shot photos of the amulet and my final score who has been playing Rogue for many years and never seen the amulet before. He couldn’t believe it!

It’s not quite winning, but it’s almost as good. Best gaming experience ever (on the Amiga).

P.S.
Now I'm going to go copy that disk so my score table is preserved!

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morningstar

Posted Fri Sep 20, 2019 4:09 am

That's a cool perspective, Rogue is one of my favorite games ever, since all these years.

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Lorfarius
UK
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Posted Mon Sep 23, 2019 12:02 am

Brilliant. This is tempting me to do a full retrospective for a show, weirdly its such a general concept that not many places have focused on the history of single games. Not sure how I'll tie it all together but I'll give it a crack so thanks intric8.





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