Hello, gentle readers, and welcome to the RPG Reload, the weekly feature where we need food badly. Each week, we dig into the archives to find an RPG from times past, all just for the little old purpose of seeing how it holds up today. It's a bit of reflection, a little revisiting, and a chance to dive deeper on a game than our usual reviews allow. As ever, I try to present a sensible spread of titles to represent this vast genre from week to week, but if you think I'm missing something cool, please let me know. You can make suggestions by commenting down below, posting in the Official RPG Reload Club thread in the forums, or by tweeting me at @RPGReload. We've only got one last regular reader's choice article coming up in August before starting the new format, so if there's something you want to see soon, let me know now.

I've covered a few roguelike games in this feature already, and I'll certainly be covering others in the future. As we close in on the end of the first year of this column, I thought it might be a good idea to go back to the earliest example of the genre available on iOS. Though it might seem odd, Rogue is not the first roguelike game. That honor goes to Beneath Apple Manor, a 1978 Apple II release. That said, as the genre isn't referred to as beneathapplemanorlikes, it's clear that Rogue had more of an impact in the greater scheme of things. That might have been circumstance, or it could have been the few significant things Rogue does differently from Beneath Apple Manor. The games were apparently developed without knowledge of one another, however, so I'll leave further Beneath Apple Manor talk for if and when it shows up on the App Store.

Photo 2015-07-16, 19 32 50That the name of the genre is still roguelike here in 2015 shows how big of a presence Rogue held in the category for so many years. We don't call Destiny a Doom [$4.99] clone, and even falling block puzzlers managed to shake off Tetris [$1.99]'s attachment. A great deal of why that is can be found in the game's roots. Initially developed by Michael Toy and Glen Wichman, with Ken Arnold and Jon Lane later joining the official team, it was the result of a pretty common motivation for game designers in the early days of gaming: the developers wanted to make a game that would be fun for they themselves to play. Toy and Wichman were big fans of both the 1976 text adventure Colossal Cave Adventure and Dungeons & Dragons. A new programming library for UNIX called curses allowed programmers to place text anywhere on the screen, and the two young men thought they could use that to make a graphical adventure game of their own.

Most (though not all) of the adventure games and RPGs released before Rogue had a bit of a flaw for the developer who wanted to enjoy playing their own games. Namely, once you knew the answers to all the puzzles and where to go on each map, the games became a lot less fun to experience. Toy and Wichman decided their game would have randomly-generated maps, items, and monsters, ensuring a different experience every time you play. That went all the way down to the items, whose effects were a mystery until you used them or found a way to identify them. If that didn't make things tricky enough, Rogue followed in the footsteps of many early computer games in that death was permanent. The latter point is the main thing that separates it from Beneath Apple Manor. Rogue was very, very hard. However, if things lined up nicely for you, it wasn't a terribly long game from start to finish. All you have to do is make your way down to the bottom level, grab the Amulet of Yendor, and climb back out. Easy-peasy!

Rogue was created for the UNIX operating system, used by many universities at the time. UNIX labs were intended for educational purposes, but that didn't stop students from making and playing games anyway. Toy and Lichman hammered out the basics of the game before Toy transferred from U.C. Santa Cruz to U.C. Berkeley. There, he continued work on the game with Ken Arnold, who had been responsible for the curses library that made the game possible in the first place. This may have been one of the circumstances that allowed the game to catch on the way it did. Berkeley was the source of the very popular BSD UNIX, and Rogue somehow ended up packaged in with version 4.2 of the software. As a result, Rogue was shared around university campuses pretty freely, and since the source code was open, anyone could make a fork and tweak the game as they saw fit. This resulted in near endless variations of the code that collectively became known as 'roguelikes'. The game proved tremendously popular, with the legendary computer scientist Dennis Ritchie remarking at one time that Rogue "wasted more CPU time than anything in history".

Photo 2015-07-16, 19 32 41After finishing university, Toy met up with Jon Lane, and the two of them decided to start a company called A.I. Design. They mostly just made ports of Rogue to various platforms, with IBM PC and Mac being the first ones on the list. They eventually hooked up with early computer software publisher Epyx, who helped them market the game. In spite of, or perhaps because of, its popularity on college campuses, the game never really went anywhere commercially. By this time, it was 1984, and humble old Rogue in all its ASCII glory was sitting at full-price on the shelf next to things like Ultima 3. The Amiga and Atari ST versions of Rogue would replace the symbols with sprites, but by the time those came around, we had things like The Bard's Tale [$2.99] and Might & Magic. That's not to say that people weren't playing it. They very likely were, but they probably didn't feel like paying full price for it after it had been free for so long. That's not even mentioning Rogue's spawn, as Hack and Moria were out and capturing people's attention with their more advanced rulesets.

While its original creators seem to have not gotten their financial due for Rogue, the game itself would eventually have its day once more. With the massive spike in popularity the genre has enjoyed in the last decade or so, Rogue's profile has increased to the point where it sits comfortably with other important genre-defining games, a spot it more than deserves to occupy. Oh, to be sure, it's not likely the roguelike of choice for many genre fans these days, having passed the torch long ago to games like Nethack and Angband, but it's perhaps never been so well-known as it is today. You can't swing a dead kobold without hitting one of Rogue's progeny. And unlike many other historically important RPGs, Rogue isn't owned by anyone in particular, so anyone can make it available on any platform. These days you can play the game almost anywhere. Heck, right now you can find at least two versions of the game on the App Store. The first version, simply titled Rogue [Free], released in November of 2008, and hasn't seen a single update since. The other, coming only a few months later, was titled Rogue Touch [$2.99]. It has seen many updates and is the subject of today's article.

Rogue Touch comes from developer Kevin Hill and his company Chronosoft, who built the game from scratch as a learning experience. He chose to develop Rogue Touch based on his happy memories of playing the Atari ST version of the original. Rogue Touch isn't afraid to rethink the way certain things work to make a better play experience, however. Sensible and easy-to-use controls fill in for keyboard controls, there are some new magical items that can convey new effects to your gear, the list of monsters has a couple of new additions, and there are even a bunch of secret characters to find. It's also a bit more lenient, being more generous with food, improving the chances of the search command succeeding, and so on. At its core, though, it's just plain old Rogue, ready to fire up and play anytime you need it. I don't know about you, friends, but I don't need much more from a Rogue release than that.

Photo 2015-07-16, 19 32 36You start the game by naming your hero. Don't get attached. Depending on the name you chose, you'll start with different inventory and stats. Some of the game's interesting secrets are hidden here, with certain names giving you special results. Whatever name you choose, you'll head into the dungeon's first floor immediately. Your main goal is to find the stairs on each floor, with the aim of descending to the 26th floor where the Amulet of Yendor awaits. Once you've got it, you just have to bring it back up. That's one of the few ways Rogue Touch is harder than the original, actually. The hard part of the original was in reaching the Amulet, with ascending being pretty easy. Here, things get tougher in the home stretch, which helps address the anti-climactic feeling of the original game. Of course, while getting to the Amulet is easily described as descending two dozen or so staircases, actually doing it is pretty hard.

It's vital to balance hanging around a floor leveling up with moving forward in search of new items and food. If you descend too quickly, you won't be strong enough to survive encounters with enemies. Go too slowly, and you'll likely starve to death. This same kind of risk vs. reward set-up can be found with the items. You'll find potions, scrolls, rings, and so on laying around, but you'll have no idea what any of them do until you either use them or identify them. There's a good chance they'll do harm to you, but you won't be able to make it to the bottom without the positive effects they could grant. Use them when you're in a place safe enough to recover, or save them for a pinch and hope for a miracle, it's up to you. Since they'll change with every new game, it won't do you much good to keep track of what does what. Instead, focus your memory on the enemies. One of the keys to survival is in learning how to handle each enemy and their particular behaviors. For example, if you see an Aquator or a Rattlesnake, throw everything you've got at them to avoid their touch.

This is a tough game, but particularly in this form, Rogue is not quite as tough as some of its successors. It's also nowhere near as easy as many modern roguelikes that try to hit a broader audience. You'll start off losing most of the time. Eventually you'll win, and after that it'll happen more and more often. Even after you clear the game, you can always try for a higher score or just take another trip to enjoy going through a different dungeon layout. Rogue is still a fun challenge even in 2015, and when you consider its vintage, that's truly astounding. Other than a few tweaks and a set of sprites, this game is 35 years old. More RPGs have released on iOS this month than the total number in history released prior to Rogue, and people still play it and enjoy it today.

Photo 2015-07-16, 19 32 25Rogue Touch is a pretty good way to play it, too. The interface isn't perfect, but it's surprisingly easy to play given what needed to be packed in. Updates have, in addition to adding new content, ensured the app has stayed up to date with most major upgrades to iOS and accompanying iPhone hardware. Retina display, multitasking, and iPhone 5 family screen size support were all added as things moved along, and as a result of this hard work, the game seems like it was built recently rather than six years ago. Sadly, it's an iPhone-only app, but it looks and plays decently on an iPad, so you can still take a go at it on your tablet if you like. The developer is working on other projects now, so it's hard to say if Rogue Touch will get any further updates beyond fixing it if it breaks, but you never know.

In brief, Rogue is a game that has persisted longer than almost any other, and was so utterly instrumental in shaping the genre during its quiet decades that by the time other roguelike games started to get away from it completely, the genre name was well and truly stuck. It's simple to pick up the basic rules of play, aggravatingly tough to beat, and extremely hard to put down until you do. There's a reason other roguelike games don't wander off far from its core tenets, and Rogue Touch is a fine way to experience this monumental RPG.

That's just my take on Rogue Touch, though. What do you think? Is it still worth playing with all the other great roguelikes on iOS? I want to hear what you all think, so please leave your comments below, post in the Official RPG Reload Club thread, or tweet me at @RPGReload. Also, don't forget to send in any questions you'd like answered on the August RPG Reload Podcast to rpgreloadpodcast@gmail.com. The topic of that show will be Final Fantasy 5 [$14.99], but you can ask us any old thing you'd like. As for me, I'll be back next week with another well-known and influential RPG. Thanks for reading!

Next Week's Reload: Puzzle & Dragons [Free] (yes, really)

  • Matthew Johnston

    It was also one of the first games to have a tight knit user community on Toucharcade, with direct communication to the dev who took suggestions and implemented them. In a lot of important ways it set up the indie dev/player paradigm here for years.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Yeah, that's a really good point! Thanks for bringing it up.

      • Matthew Johnston

        My pleasure; the too-frequent graffiti was kind of my fault, but the time I had as a player that community was really special.

    • CommanderData

      Matthew, very flattering to hear you say that! I really enjoyed socializing / interacting with all the great people here as well as on my own forums, and so many great ideas were born that way... Definitely worked hard to integrate ideas and feedback from TA!

      A lot of factors have contributed to my going offline for a few years.... However, good news is the dragon is awakening!

      I'll bring more official info to the TA forums as well as my blog and forums in August 🙂

      • alduinslayer

        Will the next game be universal?

      • CommanderData

        Affirmative! Rogue Touch 2 and Spirit Hunter Mineko will be universal

  • squirpe

    Played this game oh so much way back when. A pure 'roguelike' experience which for me was both immersive and tough as nails. I'm sure the dev at one point said that he was working on a new version for modern devices. Could have been wrong though.

    • CommanderData

      Thanks for enjoying and playing back in the day!

      You actually did hear correctly- a modernized Rogue Touch is actively in development, actually have a meeting with the lead artist on it this weekend 🙂

      • http://www.googlepants.com/ Wizard of Odyssey

        That's awesome, and I remember you from the early days of the forum, too! I always liked this game and it was cool to be reminded of it. It definitely feels like a modern classic game.

  • NOEN

    Another great article Shaun. Keep up the good work man.

  • unexpect3rd

    It was one of the (maybe THE) earliest iOS premium game I bought for a iOS device, I think that was my iPod touch 2G. Oh I did spot And communicated with Kevin briefly after noticing he is one of TAs Patreon supporter also.

    • CommanderData

      Heh, yes that's right you recognized me from the Rogue Touch icon on the Patreon page... Thanks for supporting me and playing RT back in the early iOS days!

      Unfortunately I haven't been active here for a long while (only lurking as time allowed), but TA still holds a special place in my heart... I met much of the original crew for the first time at WWDC 2011 - Eli, Jared, Blake, and Arn. Hope to see them again someday.

      As mentioned in other comments- I have not actually been idle all this time, and will finally be sharing new info after my long silence in the deep dungeons 😛

      • gmattergames

        Years of silence, lurking when time allows = got married?

      • CommanderData

        You're close... I actually was married at the creation of Rogue Touch, but went through divorce! That combined with deaths of two close colleagues well before their time and my own financial and existential crisis made it nearly impossible to sit down and write code in my "spare time".

        As you can imagine it's been a hell of a ride! After several years of insanity I'm finally getting some stability again this month, and I'm getting ready to take advantage of it.

      • iosuser

        Good luck, hope it works out.

      • CommanderData

        Just wanted to take a moment to say thank you... I wasn't sure if I'd ever get my life back to normal, and I'm grateful for the support.

  • Gamer_Kev

    This is a fun game and also very nostalgic for those of us who were playing CRPGs in the early 80's. My first CRPG ever was kind of like a Rogue Like, but not quite because the dungeons weren't random, was The Atari 8-bit ver. of Temple of Asphai. That got me hooked and have been playing them every since. I still play it on my Commodore, as I have the Temple of Asphai trilogy. I think it was also released by Elite Systems for their C64 emulator on iOS though it's more fun if you have the descriptions of the rooms in the manual. I haven't played Touch Rogue since I stopped using an Apple phone, but after reading this article, I'm going to download it to my iPad. Wonder what ever happened to the promised improved version.

    • Shaun Musgrave

      Oh god, Temple of Asphai. Can't even count the hours I've sunk into those games.

    • CommanderData

      Gamer_Kev (great name BTW, haha!), my original thoughts were to just make a few gameplay tweaks and a whole new coat of paint to Rogue Touch and release it as a 2.0 update.

      While I'm sure some people would've been happy with that, it became clear to me that more was needed. Rogue Touch has a creaky foundation due to being written way back for iOS 2.0! Lots of things big and small get broken in each upgrade with Apple's ever advancing OS and hardware. I've managed to keep RT running each time, but get the feeling it's a sinking ship.

      I decided it's better to invest the time in a complete rewrite. Once I made that choice, it also freed me to take Rogue Touch in some new directions at the same time.

      Anyway, instead of a rickety 2.0 that might not survive to iOS 10, this full blown sequel will ensure some form of Rogue Touch is playing on iPhones and iPads (natively at last!) for years to come.

      PS- I, just like yourself and Shaun, put a ton of hours into Temple of Asphai back in the early 80s... before getting sucked into the 16-bit computing world and Rogue on the Atari ST

  • ValentiaLyra

    I love this game so much! And CommanderData is a cool dev--he really paid attention to what people were saying in the forum. I asked him if he'd consider adding a female character to play, because I'm a woman and I enjoy playing as "myself," and he did make that happen! I think that is so awesome.

    • CommanderData

      Yes! Those requests also helped me when forming the initial concept for Spirit Hunter Mineko, trying to create another recognizable female lead character in graphical Roguelikes... The only other that comes to mind right now (at 3:30am, stupid insomnia ) would be Izuna on the Nintendo DS. Mineko is a whole other topic of course- I'll just say she's not a dead project at all!

      On women in Roguelikes: Rogue Touch 2 has a fair amount of graphics being drawn that are devoted to gender choice in your character (providing multiple views and armor customizations for both males and females). I'm also trying to make some non-visual differences in gameplay between them, to make the choices more compelling.

      I hope that everyone will find something to enjoy in the improved visuals and new gameplay elements that are coming up in RT2 🙂

      • ValentiaLyra

        I am absolutely thrilled to learn RT2 is a thing!!! That's supermegaultrainstabuy for me. It's good to see you around, CommanderData. 🙂

  • stubbieoz

    I absolutely love these reload posts. Brings back a lot of memories and some actually make me open my wallet again. Thanks so much Shaun for your very informative articles.

  • BTA

    I played an absolute ton of Rogue Touch around when it came out, and it was neat to see how much of the feedback on the devs' forums was listened/responded to. They did a really great job with it, and I'm happy to hear that they've updated it recently enough that new devices can still play it comfortably.

  • Erick Watson

    I've also spent my fair share of time in Rogue Touch and really appreciate being able to shed all the trappings of modern touch gaming and just get back to basics.

    Having said that, if I had to make one suggestion for the upcoming Rogue Touch 2: with all the tweaks and improvements, please include a 'raw' or 'basic' option to play it as regular old-style Rogue. The controls still need to work on touch screens obviously, and you might have modern graphics, but an option to play the game with the same items, RNG, difficulty, and limitations would be really cool. An option to switch to the ASCII graphics set would be icing.

    Hopefully a feature that is basically subtractive like this wouldn't be too hard to implement. Thanks for your time!

    • CommanderData

      Erick, this is a very well thought out suggestion! Good news is I have been considering something very similar to what you describe as a "classic mode" within Rogue Touch 2.

      The final details remain in flux, but this gameplay mode may actually play closer to the original Rogue than RT does at present... I haven't decided yet whether it should be full "vanilla" Rogue. If it is, ASCII mode would be an awesome extra touch 🙂

  • tpianca

    After reading the article and comments, I'm happy to see that this Reload brought the developer back to interacting with the players as a "side effect".this kind of thing just happens in TA!

  • mickeymammoth

    I spent many hours playing the original commercial version of Rogue on our first PC back in the '80s. Rogue Touch is still the best version I've seen on iOS, although sorely in need of an iPad version to take advantage of the screen size. I love this game. I would be so thrilled if rogue touch 2 happens. Please make it happen!