An Interview With the Creators of Oubliette for the iPhone

Jim Schwaiger and John Gaby

Jim, can you give me a short history of the very beginning of Oubliette?

I saw the paper version of Dungeons & Dragons back in mid 70's, and while the style of the game and player interaction intrigued me, the record keeping and rolling of dice was just time consuming and tedious. You could literally spend a few hours getting ready to go into the dungeon, without meeting a single monster. The tiresome aspects of the game could easily be delegated to a computer, allowing the human players to focus on the fun.

A friend of mine, Bancherd “Mike” DeLong was play testing the original version of the game during the summer of 1977 with his friend, John Gaby. They were both working on their Ph.D. in Physics at the University of Illinois. They were fascinated by the style of the game and ultimately accepted my offer to become authors themselves. The original version of the game was released in November 1977, and was the first game of its kind to allow players from all over the world to meet and play together.

In those days, personal computers were a thing of the future and we did our computing on the college mainframe using PLATO terminals with very primitive black and orange graphics. Users’ gaming time was limited to nighttime on about 60 terminals used by all of the students there at the University of Illinois, in addition to 500 or so more scattered at various universities and government agencies around the world. Oubliette, as a multiuser dungeon game, became quite the rage and the reason that more than one student had to drop out of college due to bad grades. We had students staying up around the clock playing the game with each other, assembling parties for travels down into the dungeon, creating higher level characters, and even selling them to each other.

The three of us eventually scattered to the far reaches of the world - Mike to Thailand, John to the east coast and then California as a software developer, and I headed to medical school to become a radiologist. Oubliette was put on the back burner by the others but I have honed it periodically through the years. When John contacted me in mid-2010 to suggest putting Oubliette on the iPhone, I was skeptical, but it has been a lot of fun putting it together in a single user format.

John, if you could create one of your favorite characters, what would it be?

A Ranger is a very choice character to have in the game, although they are a very rare character to roll. They are a human combination of Fighter, Mage, and Priest. They can only wear leather but they can use any weapon and they get great hits. They have both magic and clerical spells at around 7 or 8. At a higher level, they are a Fighter, Mage, and Priest all rolled into one.

Jim, tell me about another favorite character that players could try to roll.

I focus on three basic food groups needed to survive in the first levels of the dungeon – fighting, magic (offensive) spells and priest (defensive) spells. My preference is to create them from somewhat less capable races (orcs, gnolls, kobolds) who have the advantage of advancing their levels more quickly than the more attractive races (elves, dwarves, ogres). Sure, it is easy to roll a good ogre fighter, or dwarf priest, or elf mage, but they are slower to advance than than the orcs.

Once you have those developed, you can think about adding some spice like thieves (for disarming trapped treasure boxes), paladins (for a blend of clerical and fighting skills) or samurai (fighting skills plus opening boxes and clerical skills at high levels). These characters are often weak when they are starting out, so you need a strong party around them to protect and nurture them until they can build up their skills.

Jim and John, tell us a little bit about the dungeon and its levels.

At this point, there are 10 dungeon levels, increasing in danger as you go lower. There are maps available for all, although, as in the real world, you may find that construction is on-going!

Although you can encounter monsters in all areas of the dungeon, treasure can only be found in the individual rooms, not in the hallways.

The strength, danger, and number of monsters encountered can increase the lower you go in the dungeon. Keep in mind that you will want to avoid pits that can do damage to your entire party. You could also run into a "chute" that will teleport you to another location. Keep an eye on the rolling text on your screen to let you know when these things happen.

Beware, there is one room on each level that harbors monsters from two levels below the level you are on – these are really tough, but can have very nice treasure too!

There are many things in the dungeon that players can find, trade, or carry. What are some of these and what can they do?

Cartographer's Scroll - this item can be used at any time by any player to create green arrows to show the way across the current level to the stairway up. One scroll can be used per level - i.e. if you are on Level 3 of the dungeon and need help finding your way back to the Castle, you would need 3 Cartographer's Scrolls if you didn't know your way through any of the levels.

Ring of Protection - - protects whomever is wearing it in the same way heavier armor would. This is particularly helpful for characters like mages, who can't wear heavier armor. Does not lose its power.

Users that are familiar with playing high level graphics games will find a different experience here. Can you address your approach?

We feel that we’ve created a classic dungeon in many senses of the word, and it does have some very nice graphics. We chose not to animate the monsters when they appear in order to focus on other qualities in the Oubliette iPhone game experience.

In addition, each monster group is represented by one monster when they appear. As time goes on and depending upon the success of the game, we may add more graphics and branch out a bit.

John, do you have a monster that you particularly like or dislike?

Time Lords - they are a level 35 monster found on Dungeon Level 10 - They are Magicians that throw Fireballs, Lightening Bolts, and Alito (Death).

Jim, you put considerable effort into creating a special ancient language called Varget for this game. Can we find its origin and spell guidelines anywhere?

One of the more purist players of the game, David Emigh, was a graduate physics student and also an amateur linguist. He created a language just for the game, including carefully deriving word roots, so the spells have a consistency and poetry you would not expect if you simply made up names. It is similar to what Tolkien did with his elven language, except that according to legend, Tolkien created the language first and then developed a story around the language, while David crafted the language to fit our game.

Yes, I've posted the derivations on our website www.gabysoft.com/oubliette. I believe there is also a Wikipedia entry for Oubliette that lists the Varget root words.

Tell us about some of the innate abilities of characters that don't require spells. These can be activated by simply pulling up the basic choices for each character.

Priest, Rangers, Paladins & Sages- Dispel - works only on the Undead if used as the first attack from the party.

Female Thieves - Seduce - Only works on Humanoid monsters when used as the first attack from the party.

Paladin - Touch - Heals, but can't be used in combat. Can only be used once per dungeon trip.

John, tell us about some common spells that are helpful to beginning players.

Nargor - Sleep - (Magical Level 1) - only affects low level monsters.

Geigor - Confusion - (Magical Level 2) - A good spell to use when faced with higher level monster characters in great numbers, it even works against multiple groups of monsters with a single spell.

Narpic - Not Light, Darkness (Magical Level 2)- allows escape when under attack at upper levels of the dungeon. Does not work with Undead or Demons. There will never be treasure found if you throw a Narpic spell.

Bonashef - Protect Party (Priest Level 2) is a good spell to call as you enter the dungeon each time to increase protection of your entire party.

Iptofeh - (Magic Level 3) is a good spell to call to pull up your location on the map with a red "X". This spell remains in effect throughout the current dungeon trip. Otherwise, you may look at the map at any time without your location noted. Obtain the map by pulling up any character's choices. You will find that each level becomes more familiar as time goes on and you won't necessarily need a map all the time.

What is the best tactic when finding a Treasure Chest?

It is always best to approach with caution. Although the chest can be inspected by anyone, those who have the power to do it properly are the Thief, Ninja, and the Samurai. The Thief is most likely to do a good job at this task. If he says the chest is untrapped, he could be wrong. However, if he says it is trapped, he is correct.

At this point, you need to once again call upon one of your three skilled characters to disarm and open the chest. And, once again, your Thief is your best choice to do so without damage to your entire party. Beware! An armed Level 10 Treasure Chest can do ten times more damage to your party than a Level 1 Treasure Chest, including subtracting 100's of hit points.

Fehtier (Priest Spell Level 2) can detect and disarm Treasure Chests with 100% accuracy.

John, is Oubliette available on any other platforms?

Not at the moment, although I would like to release it on PC and possibly in an Android version. It’s a great game and more people need to have access to it!