To recap what I'm doing with NetHack: the game poses a bit of a chronology problem since it was under continuous development from 1987 to 2003. As reader Ryan ("Pipecleaner Creations") put it in early 2011: "To play NetHack 3.4 is to play a 2003 game, not a 1987 game." Thus, I decided to follow the lead of the NetHack wiki and regard the game as occurring in six "versions": early NetHack (culminating in 2.3e), the 3.0 series, the 3.1 series, the 3.2 series, the 3.3 series and the 3.4 series. These were released between two and six years apart between 1987 and 2002, and I thought approaching it this way would allow me to periodically check in on the development this seminal roguelike.
I had originally determined to play the last version of each "series," but it turns out that it's harder to find the older versions than I would have thought. Instead of 3.0.10, I'm playing 3.0.9, which is last version I could find somewhere whose instructions that I could understand. This particular version was released in June 1990, and it appears that 3.0.10 didn't offer any substantive changes, so I don't feel like I'm missing anything.
I'm starting 1989 with NetHack because I expect I'll be playing it all year. My big goals are to a) get through all of 1989's games by this time in 2013; and b) "ascend" in NetHack by the same date. And I'm determined to do it clean, and without spoilers (unlike my Wizardry V fiasco). To that end, I'm preparing to create exhaustive documentation about every monster, object, effect, and encounter that I find in the game. I'll play it amidst and in between the other games from 1989, posting when I have something new or interesting to report--or when I need a slight hint.
If you're new to the blog or the concept of roguelike games, the genre was spawned by Rogue, a 1980 game that was the first game I blogged about in detail. Most roguelikes feature:
- Graphic minimalism (as you see in this posting, all of the graphics are simple ASCII characters)
- Randomly-generated dungeon levels
- Gameplay that is turn-based but nonetheless quite rapid
- A quest involving the retrieval of some kind of treasure from the depths of a dungeon
- Permanent death (you can save, but the game erases your save file when you die)
Because of their unique challenge, I think roguelikes tend to be played by a different sort of gamer than many other types of CRPGs. They also tend to be developed independently, rather than commercially, although some people think of action CRPGs like Diablo as roguelikes with better graphics. I'm not convinced. Permadeath is such a key feature of the roguelike genre that I have to regard any game that avoids it as fundamentally different.
Early in my gaming career, I made the mistake of equating graphical primitiveness with gameplay primitiveness. I regret my ignorance but I find it understandable: the roguelikes I had played before NetHack--Rogue, Larn, Wizard's Castle, Amulet of Yendor, Mission: Mainframe--didn't exactly push the envelope when it came to plot and roleplaying opportunities. In the middle of Mission: Mainframe, I stopped to complain that: "Roguelikes don't reveal new bits of story as you play. They don't offer NPCs. They don't do anything different that [what you experience on the first level] except get harder." Helm chided me in the comments, and within a couple of weeks, I was playing NetHack and realizing that everything I had said about "roguelikes" was wrong. A few months after that, I was absolutely floored by Omega, an independently-developed, shareware roguelike that offered a staggeringly unique character-creation process, the first join-able factions, the first complex use of alignments, and the first multiple endings in CRPG history [Edit: this last part wasn't true. Wizardry IV did it earlier than Omega, and there were probably some others, too]. Threadbare graphics do not mean threadbare gameplay.
Since the beginning, NetHack has been developed by a team and, I believe, has always been offered for free. Beyond that, I'm not going to try to get too much into the development history of the series. (Wikipedia's summary is here.) The game has such a fervent community and so many fan pages online that I doubt I'll be able to contribute significantly on my own blog. I suspect that if you're reading my NetHack entries, you're not so much interested in learning about the game as learning about my particular perspective on the game. It would probably make sense to review my January 2011 postings on version 2.3e first. My understanding is that the 3.0 series introduced over three times as many monsters, new objects and dungeon encounters, new levels, an alignment and religious system, and new classes. I think it would be nice if food poisons you less often, but I don't see anything about that in the release notes.
The complexity of the game is evidence in its vast command list. You can call up the list quickly with the ? key, but I made myself retype it just so I would increase my chances of remembering. Almost all the letters--both upper and lower case--and all the special characters trigger some action: equipping and unequipping weapons, armor, and rings; picking up and dropping things; opening and closing doors; eating; renaming monsters and objects; drinking potions; reading scrolls; casting spells; searching for secret doors and traps; paying your bill in a store; throwing and using objects. You can even write notes to yourself on the floor. The game is complex enough that if you don't have any writing implement and just write with your fingers in the dust, the letters actually degrade over time. Wow.
Beyond the standard commands, there are a host of special commands, and I'm almost afraid to find out where they come into play. Forcing locks and turning undead make sense, but when am I going to have to "dip an object into something" or wipe off my face?
One of the most significant aspects of NetHack gameplay is figuring out the nature of the various objects that you find. Weapons, armor, potions, scrolls, rings, wands, and other objects are given generic names when you find them; except for the occasional scroll of identification (which you first have to identify!), only wielding, wearing, reading, and drinking them reveal their true natures (and sometimes not even then). Each time you play, you have to decide how cautious to be in your use of unknown and potentially-deadly items.
|Each type of character starts with a different set of equipment. The "archaeologist" starts with a fedora and bullwhip.|
The overall mysteries of the game come in several forms:
- The strengths and weaknesses of various monsters
- What happens when you eat the corpses of various monsters
- What certain objects do
- How to use various objects and commands together with the environment
I understand that these aspects of the game have been exhaustively documented on various fan sites, and people are still discovering them today. Many readers have encouraged me to read these "spoilers." I might eventually. For now, though, I intend to try it clean, which means I'd ask you not to give me any spoilers in the comments, save perhaps some light hints, unless I specifically ask for them. In all cases, please comment only on things that I specifically mention in my postings. My biggest mystery right now is what I'm supposed to do with a kitten--but I'm not asking for help yet.
Just to keep things interesting, I decided to let the game choose my class each time I play. My first character of this session, Chet, was a "tourist." He showed up in the dungeon wearing a Hawaiian shirt, wielding darts, and overloaded with a variety of food, scrolls, and potions, along with (of course) a camera and a credit card. Already we have some mystery, as I don't know if those latter two items actually have any use. Chet was accompanied by a little cat, who I named "Bix" after my second-favorite jazz trumpeter.
The opening room contained a sink, but I wasn't quite sure what to do with it. As I explored the surrounding area, I was killed by a newt. I hope Bix got out okay.
|I just hope it was a big newt.|
Not an auspicious beginning, but I have a whole year.