Robert Alan Koeneke, creator of the influential roguelike Moria, has died

Robert Alan Koeneke, who created the 1980s historical roguelike Dungeons of Moria, commonly referred to simply as Moria, has died. Koeneke’s death at the age of 64 was announced in an obituary on dignitymemorial.com.

Koeneke was inspired to create Moria, also known as The Dungeons of Moria, by Rogue, the game that roguelikes look like. He started working on it using VMS Basic in 1981, according to a history of the game on umoria.org, and first released it as Moria Beta 1.0. The title and setting are inspired by Tolkien’s Mines of Moria: the goal is to travel to the bottom of Moria and defeat the Balrog who lives there.

In 1983 Koeneke updated the game using VMS Pascal and gave Moria a full 1.0 release. In 1983 and 1984, he worked with his friend Jimmey Wayne Todd Jr. to further develop the game with specialized character generation options, save/load functionality, and other features. One of its most groundbreaking features was the addition of a town level at the top of the mine, where players can buy gear and sell loot.

The Umoria site notes that some information about the beginnings of Moria is “contradictory”, especially when he stopped working on it. The Dungeon Hacks Book (opens in a new tab), which includes an interview with Koeneke, says its final release was version 4.5 in 1986. But the source code for version 4.8 includes a bug fix with the initials “RAK” -Robert Alan Koeneke. In a message posted on rec.games.roguelike.angband in 1996 – Angband is another early roguelike, derived from Moria and released in 1990 – Koeneke stated that its last official release was version 4.7.

Koeneke was working on version 5.0, “a complete rewrite”, when he left the University of Oklahoma for a new job. His plan for students to complete 5.0 failed, but he made Moria open source and others took over the project and ran it.

“Since then, I’ve received thousands of letters from around the world from players recounting their exploits and from administrators cursing the day I was born,” Koeneke wrote in his 1996 post. “I’ve received mail from behind the curtain iron (while still up) talking about the game on VAX (which couldn’t be there due to export laws) I used to have a map with pins for each letter that I received, but I gave up!

“I’m very happy to hear that my creation continues… I plan to download it and Angband and play them… Maybe something has been added that will surprise me! That would be nice… I never got to play Moria and be surprised.”

Koeneke didn’t develop any other games, but it’s hard to overstate his influence on video games: you can draw a straight line from Moria to Diablo and the rise of the action-RPG genre as we know it today. today. In fact, Diablo co-creator David Brevik said in a 2006 interview with The Escapist that his first concept for the game “solidified” when he “got hooked on an ASCII game called Moria/ Angband” at the university.

If you want to sample Koeneke’s work in its original form, Moria remains playable as a standalone download and web versions at Umoria.org.

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