Rogue (1980) (2013)

what idiot called it roguelike instead of roguehate
- @pillowfort (Mat Jones)

(What follows is some mostly unorganized thoughts about designing and playing the game, and then some unorganized explanation of the code changes. The title of this modified game, by the way, is Rogue (1980), to distinguish it from Rogue.)

This game was an experiment. Not in the usual sense of "experimental" game design as something mechanically unusual, but rather as a system designed to prod at a particular problem - abundance of violence / lack of romance - when played. It's not trying to be a "correct" implementation of dating in a roguelike setting. Rather I'm considering how "deep" our combat mechanics actually are (they're not, and most modern games are actually less so than Rogue), and what we demand of them vs. what we demand of dating mechanics.

I was trying to reverse-triangulate a game design for a universe in which e.g. Triad is unexceptional. If comfortable cuddling rather than explosion was the default theming of our puzzle games, what might that games industry have produced during its formative years?

I chose Rogue to start with because its core design can be traced up to many modern titles, often barely changed or even simplified. That's kind of bullshit, isn't it? Thirty years and we're still making games with the same kind of rules about the same kind of violence, then claiming we don't try emotion because it's "difficult" to mechanize. I also chose it because it's a game I enjoy and know well.

I don't want to unpack too much about my own game here because, who cares? I'm no expert at games criticism. But I do want to mention a few things.

Adding flirting to the game made the combat mechanics so much grosser. In roguelikes you kill a lot of stuff, usually unprompted and as an invader. But no one would call Rogue a violent game. Well, when you put in a flirt command, that ends. Just by having a non-violent choice the resort to combat mechanics, otherwise unmodified, becomes more disturbing. I'm convinced if we had made even token efforts towards including this stuff early on, there's no way we'd be looking at such gross shit like Far Cry 3 today. The dissonance would be too great.

Similarly the source code is still loaded with references to "kill", "enemy", "attack", etc., even for non-violent actions. Problematic units run through the architecture, content, and output of the program creating a structural, intersecting push back against my attempts to add non-violent options. The age of the code means it's fragile and creaky, and the changes required to fix this would be destabilizing beyond what I could deal with given the time I had to make it.

Although you can attract multiple monsters, at the end of the game you can only leave with one. This is my least favorite decision - I'd rather you be able to leave with all nearby monsters when you quit. But again, the base game encodes a very specific (and inaccurate) notion of violence - one specific entity is the cause of killing you. Mapping that system into "non-violence" then forces monogamy.

Mechanical Stuff

Rogue (1980) adds two character attributes and three verbs to Rogue. The first attribute is orientation. It's a set of six on/off flags. Every monster has a randomly-generated orientation. The player also has an orientation attribute, which would maybe better be called presentation - the degree to which the monster's orientation mixes with the player's determines the probability of a successful flirt. There's no notion of gender or sex beyond this representation; that may mean there's no notion of gender or sex at all depending on how you interpret it.

Successful flirting raises the other new attribute, interest. When interest gets high enough, the monster stops attacking the player and starts accepting given gifts.

Orientation also determines how a monster reacts to gifts, as the item ID is hashed to produce an "item presentation". Gifts raise interest much faster than flirting.

Once interest is high enough, you can Embrace the monster to end the game. You get a score bonus proportional to the experience points the monster would have given for a kill. An optimum score is now reliant on getting the amulet and then dating a D or P on the way back up. Dating them is not actually harder than dating any given B or K.

At one point during development embracing enemies was an alternate method to get rid of them rather than another endgame state. If you succeeded they disappeared and dropped a new kind of food item, a date. It was too goofy, and too much "romance-as-conquest". At another point when I was frustrated with debugging the pre-ANSI C, I was just going to write a much longer false context and release Rogue unmodified, but I'm not a good enough writer and that was too lazy even for me.

The source code alternates between calling @ and the player "he" and "she" with a preference for the masculine. There's only one instance of a neutral "him/her". Interestingly it's in the context of Wearing, which is the action most closely associated with real-world gender roles, even though Rogue has no gendered clothing. (Wichmann also says armor was a late addition to the game, so maybe it's just because it's from a different developer than the other comments.) This is years before e.g. the D&D manuals would do the same. In roguelike communities today, I don't think I've ever seen anyone call the original @ a woman.

Do you have a problem with any of this stuff? Cool! I'm just a mostly-conventional cis man who spent my formative years playing Rogue, the real one. Which is to say, I'm sure I'm blinded to a lot of things going on here. Roguelike culture has always been big on remixing and reinterpreting. I would love to see reconstructions of Hack (1985) and Angband (1990) and so on, even just descriptions of what they might be like. Or any feedback / reactions really.

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