It began like any other workday. I woke up, brushed my teeth, and most likely took a shower. I drove to work, parked, and most likely grabbed a piping hot mug of tequila to start my day. No different from the previous thousand or so work days. But little did I suspect the turn my life was about to take on this ordinary day some twenty-five years ago.
Stephanie stopped by with a problem. “I’ve got this game here, but I can’t get it to work,” she said. “Game?” I replied. “What kind of game?” I don’t remember her exact reply but she definitely had a game and it definitely wasn’t working.
For context, it was a computer game. And for even more context, this game ran on a VAX/VMS system. In a world where we press a single, glossy button to install software, it’s strange to think of a world when games practically came on punch cards:
“I see the problem,” I said, looking it over and figuring out how the developers intended it to be run. “Tap, tap, tap, tap,” went my fingers and in a few minutes, the following screen greeted us:
What you’re looking at is the character-creation screen of Moria. It’s a text-based game. No fancy 3D graphics, or even color, for that matter. Just single, ASCII characters that make up the game world.
Moria began in the early 1980s when a fan of the similar Rogue lost access to it. Still wanting to play, he wrote his own from scratch. And he wasn’t alone. Moria was just one of many games inspired by Rogue:
For this reason, games in this genre are referred to as roguelikes. Roguelikes generally share the same basic characteristics:
- Hack-n-slash gameplay
- Potentially the most fun you’ll ever have with a keyboard and screen.
I found the game strange and somewhat confusing at first. If you’re used to controlling a game with a few buttons and a mouse, it may seem dizzying to have to learn dozens of single-letter keyboard commands to make it work. ‘q’ to quaff a potion, ‘a’ to fire a wand, ‘e’ to view your equipment, and so on. Oh, but once it clicks, it clicks. Like becoming fluent in a foreign language.
Heavily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, you begin by creating a character. Each character is defined by a number of attributes: Intelligence, Strength, Dexterity, which affect gameplay down the road. High intelligence benefits the Mage class, high strength benefits the Warriors.
Once the character is created, you land in the Town. This area contains six stores where you can buy and sell goods, haggling with shopkeepers over prices. At the very beginning, you buy supplies. Weapons, food, spellbooks: everything you’ll ll need to stay alive once you go down that first maze of down staircases and pass though a one-way door.
After that, the general idea is to hack and slash your way through randomly-generated dungeons, killing monsters and finding treasure. As you build experience, you go deeper and deeper underground until you ultimately meet the biggest bad guy in the world and attempt to defeat him.
On the other hand, if you get killed, you die and the game is over. Just like in real life. So if you’re used to games that let you respawn upon death and die many, many times during the course of playing, it can be difficult coming to grips with the concept of permadeath.
I’m not sure words can convey how addictive this can be to just the right type of brain. Discovering new dungeons, gaining experience, obtaining gold, and building up stats, to me, is about the greatest false sense of achievement ever.
I never did complete Moria. Before I got a chance Angband came along. Tune in next week for the story of what I like to call Rogue Two.