Friday, February 20, 2015

Moria: Fly, You Fools (with Final Rating)

Braving traps and locked doors to get a piece of armor.

United States
Robert Alan Koeneke and Jimmey Wayne Todd Jr. (developers); open distribution 
Released 1983 on VMS systems; ported by various developers over the years to multiple platforms, including DOS, in 1988, by Don Kneller
Date Started: 23 December 2013
Date Ended: 18 February 2015
Total Hours: 74
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)*
Final Rating: 38
Ranking at Time of Posting: 77% (136/177)
Ranking at Game #458: 365/458 (80%)

*I originally rated the game as "very hard" (5/5), thinking only of my ability to find the balrog and end the game. I later reflected that in terms of general mechanics, improving the character, and staying alive, Moria is relatively easy (for a roguelike), so the new rating is a compromise between the two.

I'm giving up on Moria, version 4.873, as ported to DOS by Don Kneller of San Francisco in 1988, because I'm not convinced that it's winnable. Even if it is, it would have taken me longer than I was willing to invest, even with save-scumming.

After the last post, I slowly made my way down to Level 50, returning to the surface every 5 or so levels to spend my hard-earned gold, usually on Scrolls of Identification. (I eventually got the spell itself, but it failed so often, it was still worth the money to buy the scrolls.) During my explorations, the spell that did me the most good was "Teleport." Basically, every time I got into an untenable fight--particularly on the lower levels with dragons, liches, and vampires--I simply teleported myself away. If a level just seemed irredeemable because of too many of these foes, I used a staircase or a Scroll of Recall to get out of there permanently.

One thing I like about the game is that the dungeon level seems to adjust the maximum (or perhaps average) difficulty of the foes, not the minimum difficulty. Even on Levels 50-60, I'd still encounter creatures that I was capable of defeating, and thus continue to level up. I managed to make it to Level 30 legitimately.

Eventually, when I reached dungeon levels beyond 50, I settled into a pattern by which I would explore the level as much as possible. When I got to the point that I'd explored the whole thing, or as much as I could without rousing dragons, liches, and vampires, I'd go up or down at the nearest staircase and start a new one. Every so often, I'd use a Scroll of Recall to get to the surface, spend my money, figure out my items, and then use another Scroll to go back to a regenerated level.

Just after I used "Teleport" to escape a lich.
I was save-scumming quite liberally throughout this process, of course. I had to reload about once per level. I sometimes (shamefully) reloaded if a creature drained my experience too much, although I tried to keep potions to negate this. I never got to the point where I was able to defeat some enemies--primarily ancient dragons and liches--in a stand-up fight, despite being ranked "Superb" in fighting.

Towards the end of my playing, there were interesting dungeon constructs like this, but none of them ever held the treasure I was seeking.
Despite all my efforts, there were a number of things I expected to encounter on these lower levels and never did:

  • The Balrog. Sites based on later versions suggest that there's a 50% chance that he'll be generated on any level below 50. In almost 30 visits to levels below 50, I never found him. Granted, I was unable to exhaustively explore the levels, but still--you'd think I'd have run into him once. Even though I was probably incapable of defeating him, I at least wanted to know that he was there

I cast "Locate Monsters" frequently and found everything but the capital "B" I was hoping for.
  • Any item that conferred permanent speed or "haste." Every site says these items are vital, but I never found one, and I'm not convinced they exist in this version. When I finally hex-edited my character up to Level 33 so he could cast "Haste," there was no indication on-screen that he was faster, although I did notice that he seemed to get a few more attacks in combat. There's no mention of the word "speed" in the manual for this edition, if that provides any evidence one way or the other.
  • Any item that conferred permanent "see invisibility." I had to rely on scrolls and staves for this, and sometimes they just didn't seem to work, especially against ninjas--good candidates for the most annoying RPG enemies ever--who show up, poke you, laugh, steal items from your backpack, and then take off with a "poof!"
  • Artifact weapons. Moria sites talk about weapons called "Holy Avenger" and "Defender" and "Slay Dragon" and such, but I never found any of these.

On the other hand, this famous beast did eventually show up. I did not last long against him.
The slowness of leveling has also quenched my desire to keep playing. In about 38 hours spent on the character, I made it to Level 30. When I quit, he had 122,242 experience points and I was earning about 2,500 points for each foray to the lower levels, which took me maybe 30 minutes per visit. In order to get to Level 33 to test "haste," I had to hex-edit my character to 350,000 experience points, which would have taken me another 140 visits at 70 hours.

I'm pretty confident that a save-scumming player could win Rogue in less than 10 hours and NetHack in less than 20. But I found this version of Moria unwinnable, even with save-scumming and hex-editing in almost 40 hours. And before you ask, hex-editing to godlike levels wasn't an option because this version caps you at some level between 30 and 40 depending on class.

Some comments in a 1996 Usenet post by creator Robert Koeneke may shed some light on my difficulty:

[Between 1983 and 1985], I listened a lot to my players and kept making enhancements to the game to fix problems, to challenge them, and to keep them going.  If anyone managed to win, I immediately found out how, and "enhanced" the game to make it harder.  I once vowed it was "unbeatable," and a week later a friend of mine beat it!  His character, "Iggy," was placed into the game as "The Evil Iggy," and immortalized...And of course, I went in and plugged up the trick he used to win.

Koeneke's last official version was 4.7 or 4.8 at which point he provided the source code to the world. At least one history of Moria page indicates that the next released version, "based on Moria 4.8 sources" and developed at the University of Buffalo, had false Balrogs starting on Level 50, but the real Balrog not showing up until Level 1200! While I never encountered any Balrogs, real or false, is it possible that Balrog not showing up until Level 1200 is a carry-over from Koeneke's 4.8? Based on his comments, I wouldn't put it past him.

Most of my commenters, as well as various Internet sites, seem to be familiar with the various UMoria versions that were developed after 1990, plus Angband, an expansion of the game. It's tough to find sources specific to 4.8 or earlier. Even the manual that came with the DOS version of Moria 4.873 was written in 1994, well after these variants, and mentions features (being able to type a number followed by a command to indicate executing that command that many times; the need to manually (G)ain new spells; the use of a tilde to specify an action until something changes; the implementation of "monster memory") that don't actually exist in the 1988 DOS version.

It's possible that I just got extremely unlucky with the Balrog's generation and with my artifact finds, and that this version is entirely winnable, but until I see some confirmation or get any hints specific to this version, I'm going to move on and instead trust my luck against the Balrog in Angband, coming up on my 1990 list.

A few things I didn't otherwise mention in the previous posts:

  • Encumbrance is fairly generous in this version. I never got a message that my load was too heavy. Instead, you're limited by the number of different types of items.
  • I also like that you don't have to equip wands and staves before shooting with them.
  • For most of the game, I kept a pick as my secondary weapon, so I could quickly swap it in with the "x" key when I wanted to tunnel into a wall. But I kept forgetting to swap it out again afterwards, and some hours later, I'd notice I was attacking a golem with a pick.
  • Unlike in NetHack, if a thief steals your items in Moria, there doesn't seem to be any way to get them back.
  • You get a small amount of experience for disarming traps. I can't remember a previous game that does this.

All right. Based on my experience so far, here's my GIMLET. I mention the year 1983 a lot of times below. I'm aware that this version is technically from 1988, and I don't know for sure what features were available in the original version, but I'm assuming that in all areas, the core elements, at least, were present in 1983.

  • 1 point for game world. Roguelikes hardly ever do well in this category. There just isn't enough of a backstory or consistent theme.
  • 5 points for character creation and development. This category is more advanced in Moria than any other game of the era. There's an extensive creation process (including the cute backgrounds), the choice of race and class really matters, and there's an original skill system. Leveling up is very rewarding and occurs at a reasonably good clip until about Level 20.
My final character sheet.
  • 1 point for NPC interaction. The only NPCs are annoying beggars and rogues who accost you on the town level.
  • 5 points for a nice mix of standard D&D derivatives and original inclusions for foes. Again, we have to remember that in 1983, there weren't many CRPGs that did a good job implementing all the strengths, weaknesses, special attacks, and defenses inherent in tabletop RPGs. Moria and Ultima III are standouts in the year.
  • 6 points for magic and combat. Again, a category in which roguelikes exceed most other RPGs until the late 1980s. Only Wizardry and Ultima III come close in this era. You have melee and missile weapons, spells, magic items, and a variety of tactics to help you overcome foes, including highly-original features like spiking doors.
  • 7 points for equipment. There isn't a single game, roguelike or otherwise, that had such a complex approach to equipment in 1983, and very few afterwards. NetHack does it better with the ability to use so many items in conjunction with each other, but Moria does it pretty damned well. A solid equipment system is really the backbone of any roguelike.
  • 6 points for the economy. This is the first roguelike I've played to do the economy well. With so many useful things to buy back in town, I never felt that I had too much money. I just wish that some of the higher-order magic items had been available for obscene costs.

There's always cool stuff to buy. Here, I'm loading up on Potions of Cure Critical Wounds.

  • 2 points for the quest. It has one; that's about all you can say.
  • 3 points for graphics, sound, and interface--all going, of course, to the interface. I like nothing better than a bunch of keyboard commands, easily referenced with the ? key, that make logical sense.
  • 2 points for gameplay, the most disappointing category. Moria is punishing even by the standards of roguelikes, requiring far too much effort and time even for a successful character. It gets points for replayability, since different classes experience very different challenges, but in length and difficulty, I just found it exasperating.

The final score of 38 is extremely high for the era. It is the second-highest score I've awarded any game before 1985 (the highest was the 51 I gave Ultima III), and it shows, once again, that roguelikes generally outstrip other CRPGs in mechanical and logistical categories. (I'm still waiting for one with a great story, NPCs, and a solid quest system.) If only Robert Koeneke hadn't been so determined to defeat his players, this early version might have been truly outstanding by my standards. I look forward to seeing how it got adapted in Angband, which is coming up on my 1990 list.


  1. If you felt like playing a roguelike, would you ever play this one?

    Even ignoring the missing (or preposterous) end game, 1983 moria seems significantly less compelling than omega or NH3

    1. It's a tough question when you have multiple games that improve on each other while offering a similar experience. Some games do entirely eclipse others, making it difficult to imagine playing the first game, even if it's relatively good.

      However, based on the roguelikes I've played so far, Moria does offer a different experience than either Omega or NetHack. The town level, and the relatively easy method of returning to it, offer more of a classic RPG experience than NH, for instance. Aside from the impossibility of finding the endgame (in this one version), the mechanics make Moria a bit easier than other roguelikes. You can dither on early levels essentially forever, and the game offers multiple avenues of warning and escape from tough foes.

  2. Shame this version isn't winnable. I did not realize that, though my characters tended to peter out much earlier than yours. I found the first hours to be so rewarding that I played those far too many times to ever be bothered by actually trying to WIN. Of course, I did have more free time at the time. I am looking forward to seeing your experiences with Angband.

    Would you consider returning to Moria in 1994? The terminal release of the game (5.5.2) was released then and while it has been eclipsed by Angband, I see online that THAT version is winnable and has some improvements. It might be worth a quick post in a few years, even if not another playthrough.

    (Speaking of 1994, that is also the year that I believe that the "variants" started showing up for the various open source roguelikes, Moria/Angband/NetHack. I would never suggest you play them all, but might be an interesting topic for a special post in a few years time. The one I was obsessed with in high school was "NetHack: The Next Generation" which I remember as being NetHack with humor added, though given my level of humor at the time, it is probably not funny at all.)

    1. And Moria is on the "must play" list! Haven't seen a game added there in a while!

    2. Moria's mechanics are so good--far better than Rogue--that I felt it had to go on the "must play" list for anyone who wants to understand the development of roguelikes.

      Yes, I'll revisit it in 1994. How's this for a policy: If less than 3 years separate the first edition of a game from the last edition, I'll just play the last edition (but in the first edition's year); otherwise, I'll play both the first (or earliest findable) edition and last editions in their appropriate years.

  3. Surprising that you never saw a Balrog. Is Moria 5.2.2 or later on your list? Those versions are definitely winnable. For more info on the version of Moria, see:

    1. Generally speaking, I'm only playing multiple versions of NetHack, but it seems unfair to judge a roguelike like Moria based on its earliest editions. I guess I could be bothered to check out both the earliest and final versions of most roguelikes.

  4. Yeah, those special rooms came along far too seldom. And IIRC the armor in the 'treasure chamber' might just be a +0 helmet. Moria was just too windswept and empty to be any real fun. Despite being procedurally generated, the levels felt all the same. It wouldn't have been so bad if the game wasn't so long. The length really lets the emptiness hit hard. According to the interview with the author, the length of the game was giving the middle finger to players and desiring that they should not win. If anyone won he took it as a personal insult and modified his game accordingly. Well, his idea worked, in 2015 we still can't beat his game. Congratulations are in order.

    It was games like this and Faery Tale Adventure that soured me on RPGs for a long time. You go in blind, trusting the game to be interesting, invest tons of hours...and then what? It turns out the entire game environment is an uninhabited, barren wasteland. Of course, you couldn't know this until you had invested tons of hours.

    I still to this day am reluctant to play RPGs unless I know they won't peter out into mindless tedium. Last year I played an old favorite from back in the day, Phantasy Star on Sega Master System, and it petered out, too. I got into the game, it was cool, did some dungeons and got all the characters and went to other planets, and finally just got fed up with it. Looked up a walkthrough and sure enough, I wasn't even halfway through the game. A company re-released Baldur's Gate as the Enhanced Edition and that's been rather nice. I always liked that one because there are no meaningless areas. Even the wilderness areas far from the plot have scripted encounters and unique NPCs.

    1. I think Harland makes a great point here. There definitely seems to be an antagonistic game design philosophy at work here, where the underlying assumption is that if a player wins then the designer must have lost, as if it's a zero-sum proposition.

      I think this also existed in tabletop RPGs in their infancy (perhaps as a holdover from their wargaming roots?). I'm just glad that developers moved away from this paradigm since I don't find it particularly enjoyable.

    2. I don't think most developers have this philosophy, and it strikes me that when Moria was taken over by developers other than Koeneke, they made it more fun and victory more achievable--not that this should take away from Koeneke's remarkable achievements in the game mechanics.

      "I still to this day am reluctant to play RPGs unless I know they won't peter out into mindless tedium." Imagine that you have a list of a thousand of them, and a good third of them are mostly empty and boring! This is why I react with despair to games like Faery Tale Adventure, Bloodwych, and Captive.

    3. (For Harland) The original Phantasy Star was beloved because it was amazing for its time, in spite of the strict technical limits of the Sega Master System. By today's standards, it's grindy and the story is thin; there is relatively little text.

      If you want RPGs that don't devolve into endless boring grinds, I strongly recommend that you focus on modern games, which at least have the available technology to be more story-driven, or have more interesting areas and mechanics.

      But do check the reviews, first, always.

    4. I think it was Gary Gygax himself that once said that the only good player character was a dead player character.

    5. The mindset still exists in tabletop RPGs. Victory for the players is something that must be earned by out-thinking the DM. Of course, since tabletop games don't play the same module over and over again (generally anyway) the target for a good DM is not to kill everybody all at once (that's too easy). It's much more challenging to try and set a level of difficulty where there's a way to survive, but it requires sacrificing a character or two and watch them figure out who it's going to be.

    6. Victar - I thought Phantasy Star was well received because it was the only one RPG then that gave a certain Star Wars vibe that all other RPGs couldn't.

  5. Attacking golems with pick seems oddly appropiate.
    Only 'classic' roguelike with focus on story that I can remember is ADOM. No Baldur's Gate stuff, of course, but game is full of little tastes like monster descriptions, unique responses when you chat to monsters, atmospheric world... You'll like it.

    One of my friends finished Moria by playing it over weeks, constantly exploring 'boring' levels, plugging holes in his resistances etc. He had a monochrome monitor and no internet, so it's understandable :)

    About the difficulty: remember Omega? I've tried winning it, but reading the source code (which is small) was easier than that. What I discovered was how many ways there were to screw the player, reflected even in comments (attacking a statue has a chance to 'suck in' your weapon, and Laurence Brothers was overjoyed with it :)). There's a wizard mode (go to the most NW corner in Rampant (the starting city) and kick the NW wall). Even then, some quests were literally impossible - the legion mercenary's final dungeon, with monsters capable of destroying your equipment on sight and killing my synthol-abusing PC in 1 turn. Some areas (dragon cave) I wasn't even able to explore, the things there killed me instantly.

    Becoming the adept of omega - the 'win' in this game, was so convoluted I still don't know how to start. And the final tests & battle with grim reaper still terrify me :).

    Hey, you won Rogue and Nethack without spoilers, so who I am to judge. Tried playing Nethack, but don't have the soul to spend on another game where reading it's source is more fun than actually playing it.

    1. He didn't win nethack without spoilers. I dont know anyone has verifiably done that.

      I get the feeling i've seen picks with crit bonus vs golems in some game or other. I know you get an anti golem hammer in NWN HOTU

    2. Interesting comments about Omega. I thought it was an excellent roguelike and an excellent CRPG, but i never went back to it after the bug-related false "win" I achieved even though I meant to. This is probably because I intuited some of what you say about the game's difficulty. Even with save-scumming, it was brutal.

      As Tristan says, I used spoilers for NetHack eventually. Once I did, I realized I never would have won otherwise. I don't remember that I used spoilers for Rogue, but I might have looked up some hints. I wasn't blogging yet at the time and I hadn't codified my rules against cheating yet.

  6. You are waiting for a roguelike with a great story, NPCs, and a solid quest system? You are waiting for ADOM!

    1. Glad to hear it. It's too bad it'll be 4 years before I get to it!

    2. I played Adom first on Amiga and unlike Nethack 3.1.1 it doesn't have a mouse menus and works very stiffly if you can believe that from a rogue like.
      So for Adom play the dos version it has no difference to Amiga version and works more smoothly.
      However earlier versions of Adom are completely different from the current version (more classes, abilities, dungeons and most of all several ways to win have been added to game over the years).

    3. I never played the early releases, but it wasn't till 1996 that ADOM got its overland map. Prior to that it was your traditional start at the top, get to the bottom roguelike, and without a lot of the features that differentiate it from the other games.

    4. Yeah, that too I had forgotten that very early versions didn't even had a world map, ) started with version 9.9.4 in -96 I think.

      Anyway it seems that the author has cleaned up the site a bit and we no longer have those ancient versions downloadable and change log only goes to 2012, what a shame.
      Also I'm not sure how I feel about this fad of making rogue likes graphical, it just seems so wrong to me.

    5. Yup, this is the version I started with as in -96 I still had my Amiga :P

      Version 0.9.4 (completed 11/29/1996)
      The Amiga version now finally is available!

      Didn't realise that the game had pretty much stopped development since 2002 but then again the last version was pretty much complete in terms of what can or should be added.

    6. ADOM began updating again last year, after Biskup launched a successful crowdfunding campaign and got added to Steam. The currently available version is 1.2.0 Prerelease 23 (prereleases up to 1.2.0 pr53 are available, but are behind a paywall unless you participated in the crowdfunding campaign). BIskup is also working on ADOM II (formerly known as J.A.D.E), which is at version 0.3.2.

    7. The old versions look downloadable to me.

      I think 1.1.1 would be acceptable even when you hit 1994. I know Nethack you've been breaking into multiple plays for different years, but ADOM's development seems like a a continuous thing until the 2002 break (plus, honestly, your list is long enough and doesn't need another instance of the same game multiple times).

      Recently development picked up again from the indiegogo campaign; maybe you would consider it different, but that's so far into the future we'll likely need futuristic life-extending technology for all of us before we should worry about it.

    8. Noman, Biskup has been working for JADE for something like 15 years now...

      He created a masterpiece, but I wonder if ADOM and certainly JADE wouldn't have benefited from him getting more hands involved, just to do the work.

      I got into ADOM in about 1998 or 1999, and I don't think there were too many changes after that.

      Addict, I'm curious to see what you give ADOM. I don't think any CRPG before or since compares with it, but it's not a game that you can wolf down. I think you'll be staggered by the amount of detail that Biskup put in there.

    9. JADE was in development limbo for nearly all of that time, it's only really in the past few years there's been any progress.

  7. I feel like there's something broken with the GIMLET system if a game that is literally unfinishable gets a 38.

    I realize, the rating isn't supposed to be like a standard review rating and just "how does it do as an RPG", and make it easy to make comparisons like "which games have as good an equipment system as Moria", Looking at the 2 for gameplay should be sufficiently dissuasive. Still! It still feels like something is wrong.

    1. I went back and forth on that. In the end, I decided that the game mechanics are fun enough by themselves that it deserves a "slightly recommended" rating even if the main quest is broken. After all, there are plenty of other games of the era that simply don't have a winning condition, and roguelikes have always been as much about character-building and ranking as the actual winning screen.

      For almost anything but the game world, main quest, and graphics, Moria outdoes any other game of the early 1980s, and I'm satisfied that the GIMLET score reflects that.

      Finally, I don't know for SURE that this version is unwinnable, just that it seemed that way to me.

    2. If you can play a game for 40 hours without suffering too much, than that's an adequate rating, I'd say.

    3. If it were up to me, I would give a broken game a failing rating every time.

      However, it seems the Addict is being consistent with his handling of previous CRPGs that were unwinnable or virtually unwinnable due to game-breaking bugs (Drakkhen, Dragonflight, Legend of Faerghail, etc.)

      This blog is a great resource for learning whether an old CRPG is too buggy to bother with. :)

    4. Sometimes, heavily flawed games can still be very fun: The horrible pacing and controls of Shiny games are mitigated by their style and humor; the incredibly large number of crippling bugs in STALKER and Two Brothers are balanced by their unique settings and stories; the many annoying sequences in the Mother series are easy to overlook because they are the most insane games ever; the same is true for Metal Gear Solid, although it is not as weird as Mother; and the long, boring opening to Zelda: Twilight Princess eventually switches to a great game.

    5. The other problem is we don't know if the problem is due to this version of Moria, or someone screwing around with compile flags back in the day; I know the Nethack makefile suggests turning a lot of things off if you want to compile it on a DOS machine, since they so often didn't have very much RAM.

    6. (way long after the fact)..

      In a way, Moria wasn't about winning. You tried of course, but it was unlikely that you would spend the time investment required to get really good at it, and keep rolling the dice enough times to succeed.

      It's a game where making mistakes kills you, and you might have to die to find out that something is a mistake. It's also very long. So you have to learn skills to play well, and learn the enemy set, and be cautious around stuff you don't know. And because of the game length you're very likely to make a serious mistake at some point and die.

      When I played AMoria around 1990, I considered it more or less unwinnable as given. I savescummed a lot and never got all that far, maybe to around depth 30 or so.

      But one of my dorm-mates completed it. Around three of us cheered on his running battles with the Balrog, and when he finally won, it was a big moment. He'd been playing it for around 2 years fairly heavily. Sometimes our estimations of what's unwinnable turn out to be incorrect.

      But maybe this version was just broken, which would be a shame.

  8. Interesting point. The Addict could punish the game by taking away 1 or 2 points as he has occasionally done. On the other hand, if it was the intention of the game designer not to let the player win, then it's not faulty design, but "working as intended". And there are many games you cannot win, like most versions of Tetris or some early arcade games. They can be pretty addictive even though there's no end to them. But usually, one doesn't see this construction in CRPGs, mostly because as the player of a CRPG, one plays a certain character with a backstory. And these stories have an ending. Theoretically, a CRPG could let you level up infinitely while throwing stronger and stronger enemies at you while you go through endless procedurally generated levels.

    1. Din's curse doesn't really have an end that I know of. You save one town, it generates another one with tougher monsters. Repeat until you get bored or your defenses get overrun.

  9. I haven't been able to verify/Falsify the winability of this exact version. As you know it takes a long time...

    One thing to consider and pay attention to when you get to Angband (and the many *band variations) is that (if I recall correctly) they have a very distinct change in mechanics I think i the later 90'ies. So you should be careful to select a version with the old (same as Moria) speed system first if you want to sample the classic Angband style. I think a good choice for that is the early released version "2.4.frog.knows". A rather unique version number.

    And there are several later versions (of *band games) with quests, quest levels and lots of special rooms. With options (mostly for having fun with save scumming since lethality sky rockets) for turning on "always special levels" and other stuff to compress the playing time.

    1. There has got to be a story behind that version number...

  10. Why so many independent developers (from the age before indie games) designed their games specifically to make their customers' lives living hell?

    Were they bored with doing games? If so, why did they even bothered?

    1. It's not something limited to video game antiquity. Even today, people love to create fiendishly difficult games. Some of the more famous non-RPG examples would be "I Wanna Be The Guy" and "The Impossible Game".

      Also, every time I browse Kickstarter it seems like someone is creating a new roguelike.

      It may be that notoriously difficult games tend to stand out in people's minds more. We forget the easy games quickly.

    2. Early video game aesthetics were mostly informed by arcade video game machines. Those games were profitable to the extent players kept feeding them quarters. As a result, they were structured so that players could have a feeling of progress, but could not actually win (or winning took a very long time and many quarters).

    3. Easy games are kind of hollow and leave you with no sense of accomplishment. Hard games are more satisfying to beat: I was quite proud when I beat recent games like Shin Megami Tensei 4, Aliens Isolation, Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac, 1,001 Spikes, and knowing that I am almost finished with The Evil Within and Fenix Rage.

      I doubt the developers are bored with their games: I suspect they just want to remind us of the old days, when most games were very difficult and to see the satisfaction of players who beat their products.

      I Wanna be the Guy, The Impossible Quiz and Kaizo Mario World am poor examples because they are all challenge and no substance: Most of their ideas are copied far superior games, and there is very little beneath their extremely hard shells. Almost all of the games I mentioned had their own style.

    4. Customers? I don't think anyone paid for Moria.

      He wasn't an independent developer, he was a programmer. There's a big difference. You have to get your brain out of thinking like it's always been 2015.

      He was making the game, and he had a nest of players who played it. It was them vs. him, and when they won he'd change the game. It's a paradigm from the days of shared computing that doesn't exist any more. Rememeber the BOFH? You don't, do you?

    5. Yeah, these games were never coded with the intention of making money. It was simply a way to make something fun and cool with your programming skills which were generally considered to be a nerdy waste of time back then.

    6. Also, the difficulty in these earlier games is the only thing that gives them 20+ hours worth of gameplay. Rogue, Nethack, or anything else wouldn't be very interesting if you could just breeze through to the end in a couple hours. The permadeath tension adds a lot to the experience.

      Also, for the game's that DID have customers, I can't imagine anyone dropping forty dollars and feeling accomplished blasting through an easy game in two hours. Back in the day, there weren't obnoxiously long cutscenes and two hour long tutorial sections to pad out the game. Getting your butt beat was a definite part of the fun, whether it was a computer, arcade, or console title.

    7. Tough games? You guys ain't seen what the Japanese could come up with.

    8. Hard games aren't going out of style. They were less popular for a bit, then Dark Souls showed that hard games could look good, and all of a sudden you can't shake a stick without hitting a Super Meat Boy or a Bloodborn or whatnot.

  11. Sounds like you must be playing an earlier version with which I'm unfamiliar. But I think in the version I played the Balrog started showing up around 5000 feet (level 100). This should give you an idea of how relatively early in the game you actually are. Even getting to experience level 50 on your character is just the first step. Then you have to assemble your "ascension kit" (Balrog-fighting gear) and certainly being able to crush AMHDs fairly easily is a prerequisite.

    Overall, I think you made the right choice not to invest more time into Moria. Angband, on the other hand, will start giving you ego weapons and minor artifacts and quests at earlier levels which contributes to a real sense of every game being unique and each character having a story arc.

  12. I sunk a ton of time (likely 100s of hours) into Moria when I was going through school, but I never beat the game either. Eventually I drifted away from it for the better variant, Angband, and then further still to my favorite DOS rogue-like of all time, Zangband. My first rogue-like was the original, though: Rogue. It was my high school girlfriend that introduced me to it, as her father had it on their personal computer in 1990 and I was able to later download it from a BBS.

  13. Rogue (I played the MSDOS version, not the only one, but the one everyone knows, and probably the best) is badly flawed, but small enough to be winnable if you learn most of the tricks (I beat it twice despite missing one of the biggest tricks). The biggest issue really is that the food clock is so harsh. You practically need the Ring of Slow Digestion and lots of food to have a chance. If food wasn't an issue it would be an easier and probably somewhat better game.

  14. SPOILER!

    (The Balrog is invisible. This might be why you never saw him. Or her. or it.)

  15. G The ghost hits youJune 29, 2018 at 9:56 PM

    Moria is a great game. Played Baldur's Gate, Icewind Dale, Dragon Warrior 1,2,3,4, Zelda, Mount and Blade, Diablo 1,2,3 etc but I still come back to it every 10 years for a few weeks. It's the DnD stats, classes, equipment, spells and Monsters that make it so much fun. I only wish it had Druids, Bards, Psionics and possibly a second or third town to visit. Play as a monster mode would be fun too. What depth could an ogre mage reach or an Umber Hulk? Right now my half-troll cleric is pushing depth 1800ft. Still remember my first Dwarf fighter with +5/+4 axe, ring of teleportation(on purpose) and a pack full of food and ale...

    1. Have you played Angband of any of its dozens of variants? Angband is the descendant of Moria and some of its variants have play as a monster mechanic I think. Many of them also have multiple towns, Zangband tk which I play an awful lot has four towns for example.

  16. I've just beaten Moria, DOS version, but with quite a bit of savescumming. Crucially, I used saves to farm two Rings of Speed out of the dragons stomping around level 50, which let you rope-a-dope ANYONE except the Balrog, and an Amulet of the Magi, which reveals invisible monsters like the Balrog. Multiple Ego weapons are also capable of seeing invisible monsters, but I never found any that do this.

    Some ROT13 notes:

    Rnpu gvzr lbh tb gb yriry 50, lbh rvgure trg n Onyebt be na Rivy Vttl. Qrgrpg Zbafgre jvyy abg erirny gur Onyebt, abg rira vs lbh unir fbzrguvat gb erirny vaivfvoyr zbafgref.

    Gur Onyebt pna bar-fubg lbh jvgu uvf synzr oerngu. Ohg gur zber lbh qnzntr uvz, gur yrff qnzntr vg qbrf.

    Gur qebc engrf bs tbbq fghss vf evqvphybhfyl ybj, rira ba yriry 50. V'z yhpxl V sbhaq jung V qvq.

    Cbgvbaf bs fgng obbfgvat fgneg nccrnevat ba yriry 25. Gbc cynlref onfvpnyyl znk bhg gurve fgngf ol snezvat gurz orsber tbvat qrrcre.

    Gb trg gur znkvzhz orarsvg sebz VAG/PBA obbfgf, lbh'ir tbg gb yrg lbhefrys trg yriry qenvarq nyy gur jnl onpx gb 1, naq gura dhnss n cbgvba bs Erfgber Yvsr gb tnva gur bcgvzny yriryf bs UC & znan.

    Cbgvbaf bs Rkcrevrapr tvir hc gb 100,000 RKC, gur rdhvinyrag bs 40 Napvrag Oynpx Qentbaf. Guvf vf ubj lbh ERNYYL yriry hc.

    Raphzoenapr jnf n cerggl ovt qrny sbe zr. V fgnegrq jvgu bayl 8 fgeratgu, naq svavfurq jvgu 13. Vg jnf yrff bs n ceboyrz nf zl fgeratgu vapernfrq, ohg arire fgbccrq orvat na vffhr.

    Fgbar-gb-zhq znxrf cvpxf naq fubiryf haarprffnel.

    V qrsvavgryl sryg yvxr V unq gbb zhpu zbarl sbe zbfg bs gur tnzr. Ncneg sebz zntvp obbxf naq fpebyyf bs rapunag jrncba/nezbe V arire sbhaq nalguvat ernyyl pbby gb chepunfr, whfg pbafhznoyr fghss, naq rira gura gurer jrer pbafhznoyrf V bayl sbhaq va gur qhatrba yvxr cbgvbaf bs shyy urnyvat naq erfgber znan. Fgberf ehaavat bhg bs guvatf V jnagrq jnf n zhpu ovttre ceboyrz guna zr ehaavat bhg bs zbarl. Hygvzngryl V guvax n ybg bs gur ceboyrzf V unq jvgu gur tnzr pbhyq unir orra fbyirq vs gur fubcf unq zber fghss - yrg zr ercnve zl npvq-qnzntrq trne ng gur nezbere'f sbe n fgrrc srr, yrg zr ohl na npghny Ubyl Niratre, yrg zr ohl cbgvbaf bs creznarag fgng-obbfgvat ng gur nypurzvfgf, rgp.

    1. I just read your entry on beating the balrog. Wow. I'm glad to hear it wasn't easy, at least. One of these days, Moria is going to pop out of the random grab bag, tempting me to revisit and try to win it. Hopefully, your entry will discourage me. Congratulations on the win!

  17. All those recent lockdowns made me to revisit games I played as a kid and your blog was a great read I discovered along the way. I wanted to thank you cordialy for that little mania insisting on bringing order to the chaos, I appreciate this mania a lot. If you ever revisit band like roguelikes and Angband is first at hand as almost direct descendant of uMoria, you might like to check some other analythical lets plays, maybe like this one ( It takes a lot of time to get even acquainted with game conditions and it is usualy acompanied with of frustration, so some of external insight might be welcomed and could enhance gaming experience. My two cents and thanks for your thoughtful insights.

  18. RIP Robert Koeneke!


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