Sword of Fargoal -- addictive dungeon crawler for iOS


A while back, Rob posted an essay by John Brownlee about "roguelikes," which are simple adventure games that take place in multilevel dungeons filled with monsters and treasures.

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?


  1. I used to play “Temple of Apshai” for hours on end from a ROM cartridge in my Atari 400 flat-keyboard computer back in 84. Killed by a vampire and a dragon at once!

  2. Fargoal is a lovely iThing game, certainly. There are also quite a few other Roguelikes out there though. (I have no affiliation with any of these of course.)

    There’s RogueTouch, which is a port of Rogue with some extra features.

    iNetHack is a (free) conversion of Nethack, which has a great deal more depth than Rogue – classes, quests, object interaction. There is an iPad version but I prefer to use the iPhone version double-sized, personally. Knowing the keyboard controls of desktop Nethack is a huge advantage here; otherwise they’re a bit baffling.

    Powder is a game that was developed as a roguelike for the DS, as homebrew software, but is available on iOS as well. It is free for pretty much any number of levels that you’re likely to get to, but costs if you want to progress past a certain point, which I haven’t yet hit. The controls are a bit friendlier than iNetHack’s.

    100 Rogues is a roguelike specifically developed for iOS. It’s fun and frequently updated, though the dungeon does follow a specific pattern in every game. The music isn’t as good as Fargoal’s but is still catchy.

    Or you could use a SSH client to log into a server to play roguelikes. The Dungeon Crawl server at http://crawl.akrasiac.org/ is my favourite.

    One of the signs of a classic roguelike is that you never achieve the goal before you’ve become bored of playing, so replay value after “winning” really is not an issue.

    1. Ordinal, I am in your debt. I tweeted just a couple of hours ago wondering if there was a shell provider that focussed on roguelikes in the same way that many do IRC. Not exactly the same thing, but close enough!

  3. Fargoal is great! A couple of annoying little bugs, and other than that I really enjoy it. So far I’m down to dungeon level 11 on my 3rd try… I found a shield that never breaks!

    On my second try. :(

    This time I’m making it through!

  4. Anyone recall Telengard on the C64? On the box there was a pseudo-screen-grab of a glorious treasure room. At around 11 years old it was my grail quest. Increasing frustration in the fruitless search for that final room in the seemingly endless dungeon finally led me to learn enough BASIC to search the code for any sign of it.

    It’s how I first learned any programming. Similar, I suppose, to the family story that they taught me to read by smearing peanut butter on the pages of The Very Hungry Caterpillar.

  5. What a timely article. I just downloaded this for my iPhone and Mac. I think I was around 7 or 8 when I first played Sword of Fargoal.

    Just hearing the sound effects in this re-make brought back all kinds of memories.

    It seems weird and appropriate that I’ve gotten my 6 and 3 year old daughters hooked on it.

  6. ah rogue. from first hearing about it in the 90s from a fan of the game in the 80s. i tried it on a few platforms before settling on the palmos version irogue. took me a year on and off to beat it.

    that moment of walking into a dungeon and seeing the amulet of yendor for the first time! the joy, the smugness, the falling through a trapdoor to the level below, the profanity after that moment!!

    beat it a few dozen times on the palm. not easy but doable.

    it’s the only proper game that i have installed on my olpc. haven’t put as much time into that version but will eventually beat it.

    and graphics for a roguelike game? blasphemy! if it isn’t a @ been chased by a bunch of D it’s just not the same :-)

    and the fan who introduced me to the game hates that i beat it and hasn’t. have only met one other person who has beaten it.

    last year when buying a mifi i noticed that the guy had mame installed on his sales computer. i asked what games he preferred and he said the 80s arcade classics. i told him to give rogue a try and explained its background. another victim was born that day.

    1. angryearthling: I have to ask, how’d you beat it? Was it persistence or dumb luck or a combination of both? I had Rogue on my first computer (640K, amber monitor) and played it for hours, and never got deeper than the tenth or eleventh level. I’ve since found it online and have continued playing, but haven’t been any more successful. Go figure.

  7. I loved Temple of Apshai as a child. I bought this game a month ago and have been addicted once again.
    I love the sound of the stairs going up or down (same as the original!) My boyfriend thinks I’ve gone crazy.
    I have had to resort to playing on the easier mode as I have been killed too many times in hero mode.
    Today I found the sword of Fargol in a maze defended by the Minotaur. This is after a month of playing!But can I get this sword? NO NO NO!
    Thou are slain.
    Argggggg. I need more regeneration already.
    Amazing game. Thank you Commadore 64 and then a reboot for the iphone. It’s made my month and this story about Sword of Fargol even more.

  8. As I remember, Fargoal used a character based interface, and the programmers just changed changed the bitmaps for the C64’s character set to make not just the fancy font, but also the walls, chests, and other glyphs. You could abort the game (or maybe it just crashed?) and the game would dump you back to BASIC. whatever sprites were on the screen would stay there, but you could clear the screen of everything else and then “paint” the screen with text using the Fargoal bitmaps that were still in memory.

    Too bad there was no screen capture capability that didn’t involve taking a photograph of your monitory.

  9. Mmm. That slime mold was yummy!
    Nethack was, IMHO, really the best. I got immortalized a little bit when I suggested a bunch of questions for one of the two nethack purity tests, and they got included. http://www.nicolaas.net/erebus/nhcode/purity/purity.mascardo.txt

    My sister (who still tries to play a foodless athiest character… perhaps the most difficult voluntary type of character) and I sent a recommendation to the dev team about wielding a cockatrice when being engulfed by a monster. Not sure if it made it into the code. I’ll have to check.

    (First time poster, long time lurker.)

  10. Hi Mark: I also played Rogue…and also Enchanter and some of the other early games. They were addictive and great … and exclusive (not Millions of players around like today).

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