In the beginning there was Rogue.
Created by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman, to streamline fantasy computer gaming and bring it to the masses, it was a hit with college students who had access to the text-only terminals it was written to exploit.
From the beginning, Rogue was a paradox. For its authors, it was an attempt to make a more graphical fantasy game -- and on platforms that supported proper tilesets, they made them -- but the players already had access to games, even to dungeon crawlers, with real graphics. But there was something about playing in that environment that resonates with some people, and the idea spread.
When Rogue was included with the Berkeley Standard Distribution, its fate was sealed as the standard game of UNIX admins. And as its descendants grew and diversified, so too did the notoriety of the genre it spawned.
Listen to the Roguelike Radio Interview with Glenn Wichman.
Brian Walker, Brogue's developer, grew up playing Rogue. He set about porting it to Mac OS, adapting it as he went, but when his laptop was stolen he had to start over -- and the game he created, with the support of his family and friends, was Brian's Rogue, or Brogue. It was a total rewrite, incorporating no code (although many ideas) from the original Rogue.
Listen to the Roguelike Radio Interview with Brian Walker.
The early history of Brogue's development is also paralleled by a sequence of usenet posts predating the first release, including: