By Jeff Miller
Moria didn’t arrive until 1981. Koeneke had played Rogue for the first time in 1980, but when his network administrator deleted all games from the university computer in an attempt to improve productivity (yeah, right), Koeneke took matters into his own hands. In a valiant effort to stave off withdrawal, Koeneke decided to write his own version of Rogue from scratch ... with improvements. From 1981 to 1986, Koeneke developed his game, adding a town, allowing the character to buy items with gold, providing the player with an end goal (killing the Balrog at the bottom of the dungeon), increasing the size of the levels, and giving the player the option to ascend as well as descend. All levels are randomly generated and, once you leave a level, it disappears -- a new level will be generated when you revisit. Koeneke developed the notion of species, allowing a letter to stand for an entire class of monster rather than an individual type, and the use of color-coding to differentiate variants of a species. There were more traps, the addition of spells, a random character generator -- in short, Moria was a computer literate D&D addict’s wet dream.
Once he started distributing Moria among his friends and acquaintances, it quickly became a hit on bulletin boards and network systems all over the world. Koeneke even received mail from behind the Iron Curtain asking for copies. In 1985, Koeneke finally graduated and, after entering the work force, left Moria behind him.
Moria took on a life of its own, however. Koeneke had released the source code and, as a result, development on the game has continued up until today. But though Moria still has a committed group of players, its successor, Angband, has a far more active fan base, and has carried the torch lit by Koeneke into the nineties.
Ironically enough, for a period of ten years, Koeneke was completely out of the loop concerning his game, only learning of its immense popularity when he got an ISP account in ‘95. He was astonished to discover a number of Moria newsgroups. After picking his jaw up off of the terminal, he typed the following post:
He subsequently received a lot of email.
The first version was written by Alex Cutler and Andy Astrand at the University of Warwick in England. Based on the code from Umoria 5.2.1, a Moria variant, these two gamers set out to add features without losing Moria’s Tolkeinesque roots. Development of Angband has been passed down through several hands, finally landing on the doorstep of Ben Harrison, who now faithfully maintains and improves the code. Surviving the 100 level descent to face Morgoth presents a challenge (to say the least) that can provide the fantasy gamer with years of happy distraction.
Like Moria, Angband’s levels are all randomly generated and do not persist throughout the game. Leaving a level means that it and everything in it has vanished into the ether. Unlike Moria, however, Angband introduces unique creatures such as Farmer Maggot, Wormtongue, and Smeagol, as well as several quests.
Angband also adds a vast array of new creatures and magical items (most based on Tolkien lore), a black market where one can buy powerful equipment, rooms full of monsters (called vaults, a mix of monsters, or pits, all of a single species), and "feelings" for items and levels that let the player know whether they’re worth fooling around with. But perhaps the best feature of Angband is its variants: Zangband, Kangband, Pziband, Oangband, Sangband, along with dozens of others that add features and adjust the difficulty of the game. If Angband doesn’t suit your taste, chances are there’s a variant that will.
Probably the most popular of all Roguelikes (at least until the advent of ADOM, which has given Nethack quite a run for its money), Nethack takes a less "serious" approach to gaming. Just take a gander at the available character classes: knight, wizard, rogue, samurai, barbarian, elf, priest, healer, valkyrie (?), caveman (??), archeologist (???), and tourist (???!). Hallucinations caused by ingesting certain ... substances may cause you to see the Great Bugblatter Beast of Traal or a Giant Purple People Eater, and, if you’re caught stealing from a shop (conveniently located right in the middle of the dungeon -- unlike Angband, Nethack has no surface town level), the Keystone Kops chase you with billy clubs and cream pies. Borrowing liberally from sources as diverse as Dune (you can make a crysknife), Star Trek (the most valuable gem in the game is a dilithium crystal), AD&D, and Tolkien (never underestimate the power of Elbereth), Nethack creates a world all to its own. Don’t let the silliness fool you, however -- Nethack is a richly complex and satisfying game.
Nethack originated from Hack, a hacked up version of Rogue. The original was written by Jay Fenalson and was subsequently developed by others. At version 1.03, the current maintainer, Andrei Brouwer, decided he didn’t want to continue with the project. As a result, the Dev Team was born.
Credits: Illustration © 1999 Jason Bergman. Adventures in ASCII is © 1999 Jeff Miller. All other content is © 1999 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited, so don't try it...or we'll force you to play NetHack for six years straight. Oh wait...that's not a very good punishment. Don't worry...we'll think of something especially evil. Muhahahahahaha. Really. Try it. I dare you.