I first came across Rogue in 1988 or 1989, when someone at a company in Colorado I worked for gave it to me on a floppy disk. It ran on DOS, and used ASCII characters to draw mazelike dungeons and populate them with monsters, spells, potions, weapons, and armor. It was very primitive, but the gameplay was tremendously exciting. I never made it all the way down to the lowest level of the dungeon, but sometimes I would get pretty deep before a nymph or other powerful foe would smite me.
I played the game off and on for years, obsessing over it for weeks at a time, then cooling off for a number of months before returning to it.
After I started using Windows (and later a Macintosh) I stopped playing Rogue, except for the version I had on my PalmPilot. When I got rid of the PalmPilot, Rogue just became a fond memory, and my sister and I would fondly reminisce over it (she was a fan of the game, too, and I think it was the only computer game she played).
Then I read Brownlee's essay, in which he mentioned a game called the Sword of Fargoal, a remake of a 1982 Commodore C-64 roguelike dungeon crawler that's available for the iPhone, iPad, and OS X. I bought the iPhone and iPad versions a few weeks ago and have been playing them an awful lot ever since. The graphics are gorgeous, with a nod to its retro-origins. The soundtrack by Daniel Pemberton is spooky. Wisely, the creators kept things pretty simple. Earlier this year I tried World of Warcraft and its lush 3D world didn't hook me, not like the Sword of Fargoal has.
I like to play the iPad version of Fargoal while I ride a stationary recumbent bike every morning. It makes the time fly. In fact, I usually ride 10 minutes longer than planned, just because I want to fully explore a level before calling it quits for the day.
What makes roguelikes much fun for me? Part of it is finding potions and spells inside treasure chests -- a popular phrase with people who fish is, "the tug is the drug" --and there is a similar surge of euphoria when I happen upon a Detect Traps spell, a Restore potion, or a Reflective shield. The sense of discovery as I crawl through a dungeon level, pushing away the fog as I do so, compels me to keep exploring, and killing a nasty monster whets my bloodlust. The difficulty level of the game is perfect -- my character has died at least a dozen times, requiring me to restart at the beginning each time. But it's not so difficult that it's discouraging. As soon as I start a new game (the levels, monsters, and goodies are randomly generated so that no two games are the same), my level 1 character is faced with challenges and rewards suited to his experience.
If and when I finally retrieve the titular sword and bring it to the top level of the dungeon, I wonder if I will want to play the game again?
Mark Frauenfelder is the founder of Boing Boing and the editor-in-chief of MAKE and Cool Tools. Twitter: @frauenfelder. Come and hear Mark speak at the ALA conference in Chicago on July 1.