Tuesday, March 15, 2022

BRIEF: AtariROGUE (1987)

 
At least they tried a bit with the font and background.
        
AtariROGUE
United States
Independently developed and published as type-in code for the Atari 800 in the May 1987 Antic magazine
       
"As far as Antic knows," Robert Jung's article begins, "this is the first 8-bit Atari version of Rogue--one of the famed early graphic adventure games on mainframe computers." There are a couple of interesting things about that sentence. First, both the article and a video I watched make it sound as if producing a version of Rogue for the Atari 800 was a difficult feat. And yet not only did Mastertronic do that very thing in 1988, an independent game called Talisman (1988; link to my review) did the same thing in the same year.
   
Antic may have been more excited about this game than the project merited.
    
Still, replicating Rogue in BASIC would still be an accomplishment worth talking about---except that AtariROGUE is confused about its own sub-genre. It has very little in common with Rogue, and a lot in common with the DND line, as created on the PLATO system and passed down to others (including the microcomputer) via Daniel Lawrence. At best, it's a fusion of the two games.
    
Character creation consists only of a name. Every character starts with a hand axe, leather armor, 12 hit points, and 2 units of food. The player begins to explore a small, one-screen dungeon level that admittedly looks a bit roguelikeish. The DND line never had much of a graphical distinction between rooms and corridors; nor did it have a map that slowly revealed itself as you explored. AtariROGUE has both of those.
    
One of the only mechanisms of "character development" in the game.
    
After that, the similarity mostly ends. The most important distinction between Rogue and this game (but not DND) is that monsters and treasures have no permanence. The game rolls for a random encounter every time you change positions. There's no point in exploring an entire level; just find the stairs down and shuffle back and forth between two squares and you'll get a ceaseless parade of gold, items, spells, potions, and monsters.
   
The nature of these encounters is again much more like DND than Rogue. In combat, you're given options to attack, cast, or flee. You and your enemy take turns until one of you is dead. If you flee, the enemy disappears permanently. If you find a weapon or armor, the game reminds you what you already have and asks if you want to pick up the new item; if you do, it automatically replaces the old. There are only three spells--"Fireball," "Teleport," and "Heal"--and you collect them on scrolls. There are no rings, wands, staves, amulets, missile weapons, or other types of armor other than the main suit; the game thus has nothing of Rogue's combat tactics or inventory mechanics. Potions exist, but you have to drink them immediately when you find them. The game also follows DND's tradition of giving you better items as you go lower in the dungeon rather than offering an equal chance of any item found anywhere as in Rogue.
   
The game admittedly has a food system inherited from Rogue and also doesn't let you go back up stairways until you've found the object of your quest--the Jewel of Taldra. At least that doesn't spell anything backwards.
     
Combat with a goblin.
  
The author clearly also has experience with classic adventure titles. One of the enemies is a grue, and when you kill enemies, they frequently "die in a cloud of greasy black smoke," a death message that goes back to Will Crowther's Colossal Cave Adventure (1976).
   
But whether the game's source is Rogue or DND, the biggest simplification from both games is a lack of character development. The author removed combat-based experience and leveling and replaced it with an automatic bump of 3 maximum hit points every time you go downstairs (you also get fully healed when you go downstairs). Enemies get harder in lock-step, though. The author also removed permadeath, instead offering a save option in every square.  
       
Checking my inventory and status.
     
As my Patreon subscribers know I've been tinkering with a new definition for what constitutes an RPG. One of the reasons for this re-working is to avoid this very thing: "character development" that occurs at fixed, scripted intervals with no player agency. In this case, it wouldn't even meet my old definition, since I've never regarded improvements in maximum health alone as "character development."
   
Nonetheless, since each dungeon level in AtariROGUE takes only about five minutes, I was prepared to spend a couple of hours descending to Level 20 and finding the Jewel of Taldra. Alas, I got this trying to leave Level 11:
    
     
And thus my journey ends and this remains a BRIEF. If it hasn't already become clear, I've been using a couple of weeks to pick some low-hanging fruit on my backlog as I try to decide how I'm going to approach my master list from now on. This may continue for a while longer.
  

44 comments:

  1. I am curious what games involve scripted pseudo-development that you want to skip? Well there's the Mystara D&D arcade games, but those don't have a PC release anyway (except by emulation).

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    1. I wonder where Metroidvanias fit in in all this. You gain new abilities by finding certain items, so it's pre-determined spots, but the games are non-linear in structure.

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    2. I suspect those are excluded because character development needs to include "leveling" and combat needs to be based on "attribute-derived statistics" and so the mere accumulation of equipment isn't enough.

      Now when we get to a metroidvania that has leveling and attributes, I'm not sure, but the current rules exclude most of them.

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    3. Castlevania: Symphony of the Night is probably the ur-example of the genre, and there is leveling, with multiple stats. Physical and magical attacks get more powerful as you level; it's not just based on equipment. So 1997, but only if Chet wants to cover a PS1 game. Don't know about the first one that would be on PC, though.

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    4. Metroidvanias almost always include leveling and stats, as well as accumulation of equipment. By any reasonable definition that isn't specifically tuned to exclude them, they are action-adventure-RPGs or something of the sort.

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    5. I came into contact with the genre on Newgrounds in the late 00s and early 10s, where some people uploaded Metroid-style platformers made in Flash. Later I played Super Metroid on an emulator.

      None of these have leveling, you just pick up items and gain new abilities from them. But there is no separate term for "Metroid-like", they are also referred to as Metroidvanias.

      So I'm somewhat confused about the term. Does a game NEED Castlevania SotN elements to be a Metroidvania, or is being a Super Metroid clone enough?

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    6. As far as I'm aware, Super Metroid clone is the minimum, but a lot of more modern examples added the RPG elements from Castlevania. Personally, I feel like the major defining features of a Metroidvania are being a sidescrolling action adventure, with exploration and item based progression. RPG elements are optional, but nice to have.

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    7. I was using the term literally, the "Metroid-like Castlevanias". If folks are talking about Metroid-like games in general, yeah, it's a mixed bag between games that are like Metroid (no RPG elements) and games that are like SotN (RPG elements).

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    8. "Metroidvania" does not mean "Metroid-like Castlevania", though. It's a fairly well-codified genre name that means, broadly speaking, an action platformer with a large, interconnected world, gated at least somewhat nonlinearly by access to various utility and combat items.

      It's even got its own Wikipedia page: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Metroidvania

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    9. Before the rise of indie Metroid-like games, it did mean "Metroid-like Castlevania". People talked about "the Metroidvanias" and meant, exclusively, the handheld Castlevania games; there were so few games in the genre outside of Metroid and Castlevania that the genre didn't really have a name. The term expanded later to be the name of the genre, but it has only been that for about a decade.

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    10. It seems a common problem on this blog that, like the post just above, people insist on using terms literally instead of for what they mean.

      Chet's glossary even spells out that not every game where you "play a role" is an RPG. Going "but literally..." or "but technically..." on that isn't helping the discussion any.

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    11. Sorry for being old and using the term the way I learned it, I guess. I went out of my way to explain myself after I realized it was confusing, so what's the problem?

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  2. To be a pedantic nerd, the Mystara games do have a PC release: https://store.steampowered.com/app/229480/Dungeons__Dragons_Chronicles_of_Mystara/ which I don't think is emulation (or at least, uses a very highly modified emulator) because it adds tons of features around the games.

    But it didn't come out until 2013, and it still doesn't really qualify as an RPG in any case. They're great games, though, so I wanted to make sure people know you can still buy and play them. I fed so many quarters into those machines...

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    1. I was actually just about to post the same thing (just clicked into another tab to confirm the pc release date, and your comment had played by the time I checked back) so if you’re a pedantic nerd, you’re not alone!

      I’d second the opinion that they’re very fun, and given their deeper-than-you’d think implementation of DnD rules and tropes I think they’re definitely interesting to check out even for folks who are primarily into CRPGs.

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  3. Given the programming platforms available in 1987, it strikes me that BASIC back then was actually one of the EASIER ones to program a roguelike in.

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    1. Do roguelikes require anything "real timish" or are they can they be turn based? The latter is easy (ish) on 1980s interpreted BASIC because performance is not a problem. The former is effectively impossible as far as I can tell.

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    2. Pretty much all classic roguelikes are turn-based.

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  4. I remember typing in these games from magazines of the day. The write-up would get me all excited about the epic adventure I was about to undertake. Then I'd type "Run" and get...this. Oh well. At least it kept me from getting fresh air and exercise, so it wasn't a total loss.

    I think you're right about redefining your criteria for playing these games. Almost any game can be classed as an RPG if you really stretch the definition, so it pays to focus on the games that you really want to examine, rather than just playing anything with "hit points."

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    1. Same here. I had a rough metric of one hour/page (my typing speed has since improved), and I had to decide if I would get enough enjoyment from the game to justify the amount of time I spent typing in the listing. Sadly, I was disappointed more often then not.

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  5. '...as I try to decide how I'm going to approach my master list from now on.'

    Sorry, not a Patreon yet, but this can only mean that you reconsider jumping in between years instead of following chronology? Not that many ways to approach a master list.

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    1. I haven't announced anything along those lines on Patreon either but yes, basically, I'm toying with relaxing the chronological approach. I'm not ready to have a big discussion about it, though, so there's no point in this thread turning into a thing.

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  6. Blazing through those briefs recently! Makes the list shrink pretty quickly

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    1. Nice to see so many different little oddities though!

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  7. Someone gonna get the program listing and fix the bug? :D

    This is one reason I frown on the whole Patreon discussion thing. It creates an "ingroup" and an "outgroup" where none existed before.

    Good to see all these obscure games getting entries. These are the best.

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    1. The error code is the string length is too long; so should be an easy fix

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    2. That's kinda the point of the Patreon discussion. It gives people access to stuff if they pay for it. Welcome to the "creator economy".

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    3. A buck a month is SUCH a hurdle for anyone wanting to join that conversation? If anything it's probably a relief to Chet that he can float ideas to a smaller group before introducing them to the larger one that contains at least a couple bad faith anons or trolls.

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    4. Imagine getting all the free content on this blog and then complaining about the people who want to tip the creator because they see like 3 extra discussion posts a month.

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    5. Well I hope someone fixes it!

      The three complaining posts confirm exactly what I said: there didn't used to be an ingroup and and outgroup. Now, there is. And the ingroup thinks they're the ingroup, which they are, and they look down on the outgroup, which ingroups always do.

      And that's why I frown on it.

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    6. Well you are either a Patreon supporter or not, so that's definitely two groups... But, I don't actually know which one anyone is in unless they out themselves (in themselves?). Just because you are complaining about there being groups doesn't mean you are in one or the other.

      RPG Codex people might see Addict patrons as the out group, even though some of them may secretly belong. Drama!

      So I agree with you that there are two groups and anytime there are groups there is inness and outness of those groups. But since membership in the groups is anonymous, I don't think it actually comes up that often, this being a notable exception.

      Whether I have the wherewithal to contribute financially or not, I clearly enjoy the content, which I think unites most of us more than the former divides us. And so I wouldn't want to begrudge Chet an attempt to accept money for his work. It's better than the alternatives:

      1. Ads
      2. Paywall
      3. Chet no money

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    7. Oh and to be clear, Harland, I don't think you are arguing over the tip jar existing, just over whether there is exclusive content for paying members of the exclusive group of amazingness. I would say a couple things to that point specifically:

      First, I also wouldn't want to begrudge Chet an attempt to incentivize giving him money, which having Patreon content does. I respect that Chet wants to keep this as minimal as possible without it being absolutely null.

      Second, it could be way, way worse. We could have badges that show each commenter's contribution level, with inflated titles, glowing Avatar frames, and moderation privileges.

      Third, and I know this won't sit well with you, but Chet may need a forum with a higher signal-to-noise ratio than his public blog, particularly when discussing controversial topics. Having that forum be self organizing and itself open to any member is better than him having an invite-only forum for only his favorites. Actually, I don't know that he doesn't have that, but I'd be mostly against it if he did.

      Oh, God. He may have real life friends who read his blog that he talks to. I mean, Irene is kind of in a very exclusive in-group, and I bet they talk in ways that we would never get to participate in. I have to think about this...

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    8. I have similar concerns as Harland, which is why I don’t really offer much exclusive content on Patreon (and also for tax reasons). I drop an occasional entry on how my week is going, or what I’m playing on the console, or when I want to test an idea. I know that not all of my truly invested readers subscribe through Patreon, which is fine, but I know that trolls and other troublemakers DONT’T subscribe to it.

      Anyways, I just want readers to know that I try my best to offer subscribers SOMETHING while not deliberately creating a division.

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    9. Oh, as for fixing the game: it's up to you, but having rejected it as an RPG, I'm not particularly interested in starting over and replaying several hours just to get the inevitable three-line congratulatory message when I find the jewel. Allowing these type-in games was probably a bad idea in the first place.

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    10. These type-in games are essentially "independent and shareware RPGs [that] are clearly amateur efforts", anyway, so by your own rules you can skip them.

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    11. Maybe the real game is the typing... that's the fun part, not the actual playing :p

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    12. As Chet notes... the Patreon messages are generally shorter and mainly for "this will be coming up" type thoughts. I'd enjoy the main blog just as much without them. Don't worry!

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    13. But I like the type-in games. They're fascinating. They're the really obscure ones that never got a chance. Who knows how many hidden gems - or at least shiny rocks - are out there. You can't find them if you don't try!

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  8. I hope the next game is Betrayal at Krondor

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  9. "the Jewel of Taldra. At least that doesn't spell anything backwards."

    Tss, tss, you obviously never heard of the famous early 80s game developer James "Arry" Ardlat and his best-selling 1982 CRPG "Dungeons of Ardlat"... ;-).

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  10. An interesting thing about the definition of RPG here is that it probably rules out the latest versions of Brogue, one of the best modern roguelikes (in my opinion). The only character development is increasing your strength and hit points, and those are both done through potions. But if you can find earlier versions, around 1.5 or 1.6, you level up by killing monsters and that increases you HP and I think your to-hit, so that might count. No economy though (gold is just for scoring, sometimes you have to choose among equipment).

    And it makes sense; one of the things that makes Brogue great is that it's streamlined, but the parts it streamlined away may be the parts Chester really enjoys.

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    1. Stone Soup is certainly streamlined (they did away with food entirely recently) but character development from experience is still a major part of the game.

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    2. The devs streamlined all the fun out of Stone Soup many years ago. I, for one, prefer the ancient Linley's Dungeon Crawl to the modern iterations.

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    3. Stone Soup is among my favorite roguelikes purely due to the ease of play. It has a very nice interface that allows full mouse control and a very readable tileset instead of ASCII.

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    4. DCSS is fun to play, but I don't think I could ever loose myself in it as I did with Nethack. The reason might be simply me getting old, but I think it is because the experience is so smooth, I play it a lot faster and with less thought.

      Which is sort of strange because DCSS removes almost everything from the game except impactful choices. But the amount of autopilot means I sort of disengage.

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