Wednesday, May 13, 2009


At the other end of the technical spectrum from Adventure 2600 (but largely on par in the graphics department) is the 1987 classic NetHack. The latest version, 3.4.3. was released December 8, 2003, and it is still under development. There is a story about an amulet, but before you can even hope to win the game, you've got to learn how to play it. This is something like learning an instrument (perhaps a plastic one) and requires at least a week of constant playing to progress decently far.

NetHack is the ultimate randomized dungeon crawler. There are thousands of items, dungeon features, and possibilities all extremely impressive and complicated. It's basically Dungeons and Dragons boiled down to pure combat. You proceed floor by floor down into this hellish dungeon, with side dungeons, secrets, treasure, monsters, cities, priests, altars, dragons, kobolds, traps and overpowered monsters ready to kill you. The slightest misstep, walking in a seemingly harmless direction can easily spell instant doom.

Each level is generated completely randomly, but all are beatable provided you can take out the monsters. If you can't, you can run, or try to use one of your many items in a creative way. Maybe you get lucky and escape, maybe the monster kills you. The game constantly puts you in life or death situations with a difficult monster about to kill you in 1 or 2 hits, and it's far faster. As a last-ditch effort you can read a scroll and hope for some life-saving spell. Victories like that are very rewarding. Deaths are more common.

What I love about the graphics is that the game was created (and continues to be) developed in ASCII. That said, I prefer the tile version, which uses non-moving icon tiles and is much easier on the eye. Still, switching between modes in the Windows version is only a single button push to toggle between ASCII and tiles, making it easy to learn the ASCII code. You'll probably want to read the documentation first, here are the links you need to get started with NetHack.

First, read the guidebook. It's very long. I printed out most parts of it, but you'll be constantly referring to information when playing NetHack until you become very good. Eventually you won't need to do any fancy commands and you'll be able to play the game for a while without dying on your own. But the documentation hides many options and secrets that mean the difference between life and death.

Also check out the official page,

Or go straight to the download page.

The same game of NetHack can never be played twice.


Del_Duio said...

I'm not a big fan of Rogue-likes but I did try this long ago and it wasn't too awful. I picked up one by accident once (a DS game called Shiren the Wanderer) and that was pretty fun. I'm not a fan of the whole "reset your guy to level 1". Losing all of your hard-earned gear to some ridiculous trap like a rice ball morph doesn't sit well either.

Anonymous said...


Matt Dickinson said...

I didn't understand the appeal of this game, but I tried to because I wanted to be cool.

I also bought Shiren on DS and a gameboy Japan-only version of Shiren too. What is wrong with me??