The roguelike game Moria had one problem: it was written in a programming language and for an operating system that wasn’t exactly popular. I mean, how many people are going to set up one of these babies in their basement just to push an “@” symbol around a screen to collect fake gold? I mean, besides me?
Note of Irony: the only places that have computer systems like that are universities and big businesses. Which means exactly 100% of the people playing Moria, probably shouldn’t be. You do have to admire the human spirit, though.
This changed in 1987 when the Moria source code was rebuild from the ground up using a more commonplace language and on a more widely available operating system. Specifically, C and Unix. This change allowed the game to be more easily expanded, enhanced, and ported to other systems.
Which is where Angband comes in. It vastly improved the scope and depth of its predecessor and, more importantly, was now available on the PC. Even today, Angband one of the more popular Rogue descendants. Angband was (and is) my “Rogue Two.”
Basic game play didn’t change. You create a character, run it around randomly-generated dungeons, kill monsters in your way, find treasure, gain experience, and ultimately lose touch with reality. But in a good way.
Most of my best playing took place over my lunch hour (back when such a thing actually existed in my life). And most of my best lunch hours took place on Tuesday. This is because Tuesday was “double stamp” day at Subway (back when such a program actually existed). Once a week, a small band of my coworkers and I would walk the half mile or so to Subway, order sammies, chips, and drink, then walk back to work. At that point, I would hunker down with my Angband character and spend the rest of my time working on the critical task of taking my XP from 274,397 to 279,113. I mean, you can see how really important that is.
I will admit, I never did come to grips with the concept of permadeath. Roguelike games are complex and represent a huge commitment of time. To build up a character over two months only to die by accidentally eating a poisoned mushroom is a bit infuriating. Yeah, yeah. “It’s all part of the game,” they say. But to me, a game is supposed to be fun. And this isn’t exactly governed by the International Olympic Committee.
To that end, I figured out how to cheat permadeath and just kept plowing ahead. I even made it easier by creating my own software which I called the Angband Companion. It ran only for the PC version, but it would automatically backup and restore characters. If http://altair.cnchost.com still existed today, you could get your own copy.
I finished the game exactly once. It took me about a year and a half to accomplish, but I finally did it. Sure, I didn’t play every single day during that long period, but that wasn’t because I didn’t want to. I also want to eat a pound of peanut butter every day, but sometimes moderation is a good thing.
It was an amazing feeling, though, to reach that goal after such a long time but I will admit it was also a relief. My interest in the game dropped to zero in an instant, having no desire to start back at Level 1 and do the same thing all over again.
One More Time
Around seven years ago or so, I went looking for it again. Yep, still out there. More variants than ever. I grabbed one and began playing and . . . it was hard. I mean, like really hard. And slow. Was it always like this? I mean, yeah, a year and a half to finish a game. But I suddenly felt like at this pace it would take me upwards of a decade to finish.
“I have an idea!”
Being the technically-minded person that I am, I figured out how to edit the weapons inventory of the game and created a hammer. Mjolner had nothing on my creation. It increased my armor class, bumped my stats, gave me all sorts of abilities, and best of all, dealt out damage the likes of which Angband had never seen. I called it the “One Hit Wonder.”
Picking up new new weapon, I approached my first monster and true to its name, my weapon dispatched the vile creature with a single swipe. “Ha ha!” I shouted. “This is going to be fun!” My new strategy: win as quickly as possible. Basically, descend every time I hit a down staircase, clear out any monsters in my way, pick up any treasure, and repeat.
In no time at all, I found myself about one hundred levels down and facing the Big Baddie at the End of the Game. A single WHOMP. An explosion of gold, objects, and treasure. And I had won.
Did I cheat? Of course I did. But again, this is a game. A game isn’t supposed to be frustrating and take years and end in misery. Ain’t nobody got time for that.