Ohhh NetHack… One of the most important and influential (it inspired Diablo, and countless spin offs) PC games of all time. It is basically Dungeons & Dragons for the PC. Yet despite being so influential, it is itself a variant of Hack, which is a variant of Rogue. But it was the variant that kicked ass enough to stick around for over 20 years.
How I love you, NetHack. How I hate you, NetHack. The only PC game from the 1980s that I still occasionally play today, over 22 years later. The only game I ever played where every letter of the alphabet did something different — for both capital and lowercase. And then some.
The only game I ever opened the EXE file up with with a hex editor and manually paged through the entire binary, reading all the strings of game events, and realizing that I would never, ever experience everything the game had to offer. It was just too much.
You may change your appearance — from ASCII, to extended 8-bit ASCII, to VGA tiles, to isometric 3-D to proper 3-D renderings — but you are still the same Nethack. The same damned, frustratingly impossible-for-me-to-win Nethack.
Now, beyond the fact that NetHack is an incredibly complex that fills one with a sense of wonder, one has to also consider that this game came to its existence in the great information blackout known as “BEFORE THE INTERNET”.
Well, there was an internet back then, but the common man did not use it, or even have access to it. I began playing in 1987 or 1988, when the 600K binary file – smaller than a 1 megapixel camera image – took up 6% of the family’s 20-meg harddrive. There was NO INFORMATION back then. You heard things from TV (and they didn’t talk about computer games), word of mouth (nobody cared about computers back then), or BBSes. And BBSes were, of course, a wild west for information seekers. The internet is tame by comparison. You’d fight to get a tiny bit of information, then you’d hold onto it as tight as you can.
So Nethack was quite mysterious. There were no forums. There was no way to reach the internet. And calling local BBSes, one at a time, dealing with busy signals, leaving messages for the next caller — didn’t exactly yield a lot of info.
So it was this mysterious game. I never knew that you COULD win until the internet came along. I never really ran into other people who knew about it, or played. Not unless I talked to someone who was as similarly ahead of the tech curve as I was, and those people were few, far between, and had a wide array of interests. Even today, according to WikiPedia, “fans of NetHack consider an ascension without having read spoilers very prestigious; the achievement is so difficult that some question whether it has been or can be accomplished.”
When I finally got on the internet, I was the only human being I personally knew to use it until I went to Virginia Tech to study Computer Science. (And no, I wont say how. There weren’t ISPs back then, and I used a modem. People back then used programs to call WarDialers to call every phone number sequentially. I WarDialed for an hour a night some months.)
I looked hard for the “net” in nethack. I poured over newsgroups, but there still wasn’t much talk about the NET in it. I knew what networking was, and wanted to play a networked D&D game with someone. Obviously NetHack had to be multi-player — it has the word NET in it, for chrissakes!
VGA tile Nethack.
I eventually found out there were telnet servers that hosted NetHack. You could telnet to an address (this was way before the web was invented) and play Nethack there. I must have telnet’ed to every NetHack server on the planet. I was positive I would find another person in one of them. It had NET in the fucking name!
Even once the web came around, I would, every few years, google around to see if anyone had perhaps developed a port that would let multiple people play at once. I’d think the game much more winnable if Carolyn could be at my side, instead of my cat. But still… IT NEVER EXISTS! NO MATTER HOW MUCH I WANT IT TO EXIST, IT NEVER WOULD!!!! GODDAMNIT I WANT TO PLAY!!!
3-D isometric Nethack (Vulture’s Eye). 3-D, but stuck at the same angle, causing things to be blocked from view, even though they wouldn’t be blocked from view in the original version.
Oh, if only I could go back, and tell young Clint, “This is Future Clint! Don’t look for the ‘net’ in NetHack! It’s a waste of your time!” Or if only I could go back and encourage some of the hardcore developers in the 1980s and 1990s to actually make a multi-player version of this!
Alas, I doubt this will ever happen. But at least Nethack continues to be played, even today. There’s Android and iPhone versions, but the Android has got to be better. Since every letter capital and lower does something different, it simply would be faster to play it with a real phone.
Anyway, that’s my sad childhood computer game fantasy story :) It was a FAIL.
“Proper” (rotatable, can see everything properly) 3-D Noegnut Nethack.
You can also read people’s Nethack experiences in the Nethack newsgroup, rec.games.roguelike.nethack — especially the official faq. Even today, people will post about seeing things they’ve never seen in the game. That’s just how awesome Nethack is!
Very large Nethack – “I said wallet sized, not wall-sized!”
Very small Nethack – Better phone implementation.
Harder-to-read Nethack humor (click for larger image).
Nethack humor more people can understand than usual.
Music: NoMeansNo – Almost Like Home