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NetHack


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Rating: 4.8/5 (68 votes)
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EliNetHackNethack is one of the oldest games still being developed, and some consider it to be the greatest game ever made. And no, you don't have to know how to hack. It was based on its predecessor, Hack—named after the hack-and-slash genre of role playing games—and collaborated on over the (Inter)net, and hence: Nethack. It is not, however, a Web-based game.

Nethack is a classic single-player (randomly generated) dungeon exploration game that runs on a wide variety of platforms, and yet each implementation uses the same game engine. But whether graphics or text-based, emphasis is on discovering dungeon detail rather than just killing everything in sight.

Your goal in this massive dungeon crawl is to find the Amulet of Yendor, at the bottom of the dungeon, and sacrifice it to your deity. You will then ascend to demi-god status.

The graphics, or rather lack thereof, are surprising and may turn-off new players. The game's origin was text-based, with @ representing your character and various other symbols representing monsters and items on the ground. Of course, if you can't handle the heat of the sometimes confusing text-based graphics, you can always download the tiled version, with real graphics.

However, if you can look past the primitive graphics the gameplay is exceptionally rich and deep, and the development team seems to have thought of everything. For example, if you are burdened and attempt to go down stairs, the game will likely inform you that you just fell down the stairs. Another (more famous) example involves the many uses of the deadly monster, the Cockatrice. Its touch can turn the player to stone, so attacking it using the player's bare hands is not recommended. If the player does manage to kill one, the corpse may wielded as a weapon to turn other monsters to stone, if, of course, the player wears gloves. Furthermore, if the player-character is female and is poly-morphed into a cockatrice, the player can lay cockatrice eggs, which have several interesting applications. Of the most commonly cited stupid ways to die—and, in my opinion, the most funny—is wielding a cockatrice corpse while burdened, then fall down a staircase and land on one's own cockatrice corpse.

If you haven't played this game yet, give it a try. After the first confusing minutes, this game can occupy many enjoyable hours of play time. Click.

Graphical versions also available for both Mac and PC, though you may need the skills of a hacker to compile them.

Cheers to Nate for first suggesting this one several months ago. =)

60 Comments

Cool, it looks kind of like Super Serif Brothers.

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Over ten years old, and it only just now gets a mention. This is one of the most well known games on the entirety of the internet...

I'm almost expectin' Subspace/Continuum next.

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Hooray! I suggested a game and it made it to the infamous "jayisgames" site.

Nethack is an amazing game. I hope you all enjoy. Yes, the non-graphics version lacks, well, um: graphics... hope you can hang with it. It's pretty impressive. There are tons of spoiler sites out there with tips and tricks; a simple google search will dig them up.

Here's a reference to one useful site:
http://www.spod-central.org/~psmith/nh/

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"infamous"??! Inconceivable!

I do not think it means what you think it means. =p

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I was just poking fun at what may be the nerdiest game ever, Jay.

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No worries, Madulin. Yes, there are a lot of great games out there, many of which we haven't reviewed (yet).

That is why I warmly welcome review contributions from readers and visitors. Just use the Suggest a game link to submit a link or an entire review(!) =)

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Replace "hardest" with "greatest" and you'll have a much more accurate review.

Nethack is frequently acclaimed by players as one of the finest games ever designed, not so much for its casual look, but for its incredibly intricate gameplay, clever sense of humor and epic scope. Its complexity is easily the peer of many commercial games, which gives the fact that it was developed and released for free entirely by volunteers on the internet added luster (as one of the first programs marked open source). The persistence and popularity of this game since the 1980s despite its minimalist, ASCII-based graphics are a testament to its brilliant design.

At its core, Nethack is simply a turn-based RPG. You pick a class, an alignment, and a name, and you're dropped into the top floor of the dungeon with a pet and an assortment of items and magical skills specific to your character. The rest is up to you, and after getting past the stiff learning curve you'll be engaging in the process of discovery that makes this game so alluring.

Nethack draws on its roots in pen-and-paper RPGs to give the player a surprising amount of freedom at each step, which is perhaps part of its appeal. Each key on your keyboard corresponds to a separate and unique action your character can take. When matched with dozens of magical items, a vast spell library, hundreds of monster types, at least sixty long and randomly-generated levels, and an unbelievably large number of special dungeon features, you'll be finding that playing Nethack gives a good approximation to what you might be able to pull off if you were really there in the dungeon. This kind of freedom both rewards and requires creativity when faced with tricky in-game situations. Shoplifting from stores, training your pet to fetch, appeasing your religious deity of choice, outfoxing theiving leprechauns and demons, and interpreting prophecies are all the norm in a typical session of Nethack. And getting cornered by tough monsters can force tricky decisions -- do you drink a mysterious potion from your pack without knowing the consequences, make a break for it, or pray for help?

It should be noted to the novice that Nethack is remarkably unforgiving -- and satisfying, for the successful player -- in large part due to its "save" feature. Players must quit if they want to save their game, and the saved game is destroyed once reloaded. There's no replaying incidents over and over to complete the game, and weeks of hard work can be destroyed by a stroke of bad luck. A "discovery mode" feature lets you experiment for free without worrying about dying. A vast library of spoilers are available on the web, although it's more fun to discover things on your own, and the game is still incredibly challenging even after you fully understand the game's mechanics.

Nethack is a worthwhile and challenging adventure game that, once you pass the initial learning curve and get over the graphics, leads to one of the best gaming experiences around. Veteran players will attest to the game's addictive and intensive nature, so new players beware: with the several days of continuous gameplay required to complete the game even for the best players, I'm not sure if it can quite qualify as a "casual" :)

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An excellent review, Anand! =)

Based on your excellent assessment of the game, I've made the edit as suggested. I'm sure Eli won't mind. ;)

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Not at all! I agree with you, but you seem to have said hardest without saying it in your review. Still, you are right: Greatest should definitly come first!

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the_hoodie Author Profile Page July 16, 2006 9:28 PM

This is surely one of the greatest games ever, and I completely forgot about it. Thanks for reminding me.

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rec > games > roguelike > nethack is always there for folks who need help or would like to meet a quite remarkable group of folks who have done an awful lot of time in the dungeons...

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So, granted NetHack is more about dungeon-crawling than immersive world but I personally prefer ADOM (Ancient Domains Of Mystery) much more than this game. I noticed you mentioned ADOM breifly in a review of Triglav but I think ADOM deserves this review more than Net Hack. :X There I said it... :P

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This looks like a great game, and by the sound of what you guys are saying it really is, but i cant really figure out what to do or how to do it, im just really confused. if anyone would be helpful enough to point me in the right direction id be glad.

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In a very similar vein, but one that I prefer more, is Ancient Domains of Mystery (aka ADOM) by Thomas Biskup.

The systems in ADOM are a bit more fleshed out than in NetHack, plus there's a much more intuitive character creation system.

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Hehe, I knew you would eventually review Nethack. Now I feel like playing again. :D

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Chris, where are you having trouble?

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My guess is that since this review didn't really go into much detail, and since this is not a Web game, I'll bet Chris is unsure where best to download the game and on how to actually get the game up and running.

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lavkian Author Profile Page July 17, 2006 2:04 AM

This isn't a game. It's not even an addiction. It's an obsession who's completion parallels Frodo's Quest for the ring, and (unfortunately unreferenced in the game, despite being around well before development) Roland's quest for the Tower.

I've been playing this game off and on for two years, and I've never gotten further than the lowest level of Gehennom. I've never laid hands on the Amulet.

And in past months, I can't even make it to the damn Castle.

The problem is that once you really know what you're doing, you realize that the game is an awful lot like Poker - there's a skill to it, but a *lot* of luck involved.

Reasoning is the fact that there are thousands of ways to die, and any of them can happen on just about any turn. One of my favorites is being caught with no poison resistance ("...the dagger/spikes/etc was/were poisoined! The poison was deadly..."), and another is being caught with no Amulet of Reflection in the face of a Wand of Death.

It amazes me how people can beat this game so many ways - pacifist, illiterate, athiest, etc - and I can't even beat it using every trick in the book.

Maybe I'm reducing the game too much to a science, but if I'm not a Valkyrie packing Excalibur and Mjollnr, I'm lost.

Anyway, just a warning; anyone who becomes more than a novice is more than likely to be sucked in. There's no two ways around it.

And whoever said it was peer to commercial games - it's superior to them, and then some. The only games that compare are games in similar veins, such as Fuurai no Shiren or Konami's Monster Gate.

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Also check out Falcon's Eye, an isometric front-end for Nethack. http://falconseye.sourceforge.net/

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In response to Maduin, I just suggested Continuum/Subspace yesterday :P. However, I'm probably not the first, and NetHack works on a multitude of platforms, but Continuum/SS only works on PC.

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As others have pointed, there are many different 'roguelike' games like Nethack out there. ADOM and Dungeon Crawl are my favorites. I can say that ADOM is my all-time favorite game.

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andy makely July 17, 2006 10:14 AM

There is a great, color, FREE NetHack clone for the PalmOS called iRogue. It is very well done and a lot of fun.

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NetHack was the subject of one of my all-time favorite posts over at Metafilter. I'm much more of an Angband (and sometimes Zangband) fan myself.

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I downloaded the graphical version of nethack and cant get it to run. The screen just turns black for 2 or 3 seconds then it goes right back to the desktop. if someone has any pointers on how to get the app. to startup please leave a comment. Jay ws right in his review that you need to be a hacker to install the game. Just a simple list of direction would be greatly appreciated.

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This kind of game is the only one that i have been playing for more than 10 years and every couple of month I return to it. I don't stay awake all night , like i used to when i first found it, but i still enjoy it.
the one I started playing was angband (try to kill sauron and morgoth and find the one ring) http://www.thangorodrim.net/
and I really like the pernangband variant
hope you enjoy month of play like I did

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Do we get XPilot also soon? For me it is *the* original graphical game.

(If you compare it to "multiplayer astroids" some days ago on JIG, xpilot was already 10 years ago far more advanced...)

And how about an entry for "netrek"? also *the* origonal multiplayer internet game.

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Dyslexic Q-Thief July 17, 2006 5:04 PM

Nethack is casual in the same way that being an world leader is a casual, part-time job. It is, however, playable online at nethack.alt.org, via telnet.

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Yeah, this game is truly awesome, but hard.

It's also quite hard to get into, with lots of memorization required, so if anybody knows a good introductory link that would be great for new players. Maybe try "Castle of the Winds" if Nethack is too inaccessible, it got me hooked on roguelikes at a young age.

I play nethack through PuTTY, connecting to
nethack.alt.org
like the guy above me. You can connect from anywhere, and I like the idea that I could get a high score recorded and be public verifiable, even if I never actually do. Plus there is the old school feel of playing through a terminal.

(Also: shouldn't nethack win a prize for the most misleading name ever?)

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iamprettyhip Author Profile Page July 17, 2006 6:18 PM

I'd like to play Nethack, but the text version is just too much for me. Where can I download the tiled version of the game? You know, the one on the Wikimedia page.

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Kyle: If you're running windows, just download the game, and the tiled version will be in the package. It's called - "nethackw.exe".
=)

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The single most important thing to do, for somebody who has never played the game before, is to read the instructions. Then read them again. Because there is so much you can do, just about every key on the keyboard does something. Add in the fact that uppercase and lowercase letters do different things, it's a VERY difficult game to learn.

Probably one of the most important commands for a beginner is #pray. That's a meta command; because there aren't enough keys on the keyboard, they started a menu of commands available that start with #. Praying will do just about anything - but if you pray too often, your God won't like it. He'll fill your belly, cure your stoning/poison/other painful status ailment.

Other important instructions for the complete beginner:
-If you aren't overly burdened, you can move in diagonals. For those without a numberpad, your number keys at the top will also work.
-If you're in a room that doesn't have a door, or in a seemingly dead end, you can search using 's'. That's lowercase 's'. You may need to search multiple times to find a door - if there IS a door to be found.
-If your pet will eat it, you can probably eat it. Just, y'know, don't try to eat the cockatrice corpse. [Been there, done that, got the statue].
-Most of the stuff in the dungeon is safe to wear. Most, but not ALL. If it's early enough, feel free to try to wear it. But knowing how to identify things is of paramount importance, especially the Cursed/Blessed/Unblessed status. For kicks, try dropping stuff on an altar. Watch the flash.
-Turn off autopickup of everything. When you're overburdened with 75 stones, you'll wonder why things aren't going your way. (There's a line in the configuration file that's commented out that you should uncomment that specifies which items to pick up. This should net you the good stuff without all the cruft)
-There's a chance to uncurse items by dipping them in a fountain. Just be careful, in that dipping can have many diverse (and not entirely beneficial) results.
-Do NOT kill a unicorn of your alignment. Unicorns are color-coded for your convenience. Take heed. However, all unicorns will accept gifts of gems - just toss them one.
-Once you're deep enough, you'll find a game of Sokobon. You know, push the boulders into the holes. It's a great place to find food, rings, and scrolls. Survive to the end, and there is guaranteed to be a VERY useful gift.
-Don't be afraid to run. The Dalek defense works wonders - monsters will only follow you up stairs if they're standing right next to you.
-Bring your pets with you. They need to be next to you when you go down stairs. When raised, they will serve you well.
-And finally, DON'T be afraid to ask for help. Everyone's a beginner at some time.

And, once again, read the instructions. You can learn many, many excellent things from it.

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Another (slightly counterintuitive) suggestion for first time players is to play a Wizard. In contemporary gaming magic-users are often punishingly difficult to keep alive, and while this is true (somewhat) in NH they "curve" a lot faster and are truly insane by the time you reach the quest level. Add to this that the Wizard's quest is far and away the easiest, and you have a pretty easy time of it in the middle game. My first (and only, although I got very close with a Barbarian) ascension was Random, the Neutral Human Wizard.

Keep in mind also that NH is turn-based, so no monster can actually touch you unless it surprises you or you advance. Many things at early levels cannot open closed doors, so you should never be at a loss for safe havens. There's a look command of some sort (it's been a while) that lets you check out what that funny green j is BEFORE you blindly hack at it.

I have to strongly disagree with the folks who have chimed in and suggested ADOM as superior. It might just be me, but I find it extremely tiresome. I don't think the gameplay is as clean, and although it's probably got more stuff (I've never had the patience to find out) it still strikes me as a pretty bloated, bells-and-whistles type of endeavor. NetHack is a dry martini, ADOM is the latest fruity blue thing. Or something. Try 'em both, what the heck. Shoot, every roguelike in existence could fit into the disk space of a single 3D hack'n'slash...

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Hurrah for Nethack!

I have never ascended, but I hope to do so someday... I currently play Nethack: SLASH EM, which stands for Super Lotsa Added Stuff Hack: Extended Magic.

With every character I hope to find the incredibly useful Ring Of Slow Digestion, which would probably mark the end of food troubles... assuming, of course, that I can hold on to it.
Rings tend to fall off transformed bodies...

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Evilwumpus July 18, 2006 9:46 AM

/ is the command to look at something. It will prompt you, "Specify by cursor?" If you say yes, it will give you a little cursor to select something. If you say no, it will ask you for a name or symbol. It's very useful tool.
Another hint: On menus, you can hit a key (I think it's *) to display ALL the items you have, instead of just the one you can use at the moment. For example, with t (throw), you can press *, and them pick something to throw that's not a weapon. For example, a flaming bottle of oil.

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Thanks E.wumpus, that was the one. Forgot about flaming bottles of oil :) Good on jellies.

So I downloaded this last night and am back to insanely hooked. Pleased with the dev team's advances, as well. A little different on a laptop (been a long time since I used vi!), but good shtuff.

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Mmm.. Castle of the Winds. That game is very easy to get into, and yet keeps a lot of the same appeal as these dungeon-crawlers. It's not nearly as complete an experience as this game, but it's definitely not as hard to learn or as necessarily luck-based. I love getting extra description beyond "You killed a(n) X," for kills, and being able to do everything by mouse as well as by keyboard (though once you learn the shortcuts you'll probably do more keyboard) made life much simpler.

This game, on the other hand, is definitely high-quality, but of late I'm finding that whenever I run across games that specifically emphasize discovery that instead of being enthralled, I am instead perturbed and annoyed. I'm still trying to rationalize it out, but I think it has to do with the fact that usually, I know that the parts of the game that are real 'discoveries' beyond patterns and methods of destruction for the bad guys will be mostly the pre-planned storyline, which probably won't result in immediate destruction. In games like this, I feel like a fish out of water. Most commercial games give you all the tools you need to access all the content (as well as a basic understanding of those tools) right from the start (or whenever you need to have them) and then leaves it up to you to figure out the proper combination and advanced usage of those tools if you should want to access all the content. Games like this, on the other hand, make understanding the tools (as well as finding certain other tools, like how to train the dog to do things) part of the content. I get frustrated by this because I know that I am far from the perfect gamer and that even when I *do* understand the tools perfectly that I die quite a lot. When I don't understand my tools, I'll probably use them wrong and get myself killed, or simply waste time trying to understand them, since I've never seen them as really part of the content that I'm working through the game to see.

And on that note of dying, I think I'll go into my rant on save games that disappear when you die (those who look at Triglav's comments will understand where this is coming from). As I said, I'm not the perfect gamer. I die, and die, and die. Games that last maybe an hour or two I don't mind dying and losing my progress on because I know I'll have the ability to come right back even if I die three more times, and that each time I'll learn more, and more, and more. Games that last up to a month or more, on the other hand, require a sizable investment of time. It's impossible for me to ignore the fact that I could easily lose a week by a single mistake, especially when it actually happens that way. I'm used to making mistakes. I'm used to being allowed to learn from them, come back close to where I started, and go back through smarter and readier than the time I died. When the game says "Sorry, but you died, so I have to set you back," it's frustrating. Ok, so I'm smarter and readier, but now I'm right back at the beginning, so I'm going to have to spend another week to get back to where I was when I died. I may not really learn anything new in that time, and I might not even survive the trip back, which means I'll have to spend even more time getting back to where I was. The only way to stop the madness is to stop dying, and while I can avoid death, I can't necessarily prevent it from happening by something that I don't foresee as killing me. Plus, due to the luck factor I can't predict whether I'll be able to get the kinds of things I need to survive, so even if everything else is fine, I might still be hard pressed to make what I have been conditioned to define as "progress".

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So, after writing this I decided to go ahead and try NetHack again as a Neutral Male Human Wizard.. and got myself killed in 4 moves (stupid polymorphing sink). How close is that to the world record for fastest death?

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I've done it in two. Play as a knight, and attempt to mount your horse twice.

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Aaaaaaaaaaa, I just started the game and it looks like a perfect copy of Ragnarok! Hmmm... 1985... I guess it's Ragnarok the copy, even though it's REALLY old too. But whatever, I enjoyed ragnarok pretty much, so I guess I will like this one too :) hehe

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Whew!! waiting a loooong time for this to come out on jayisgames!
i love this game! yeah, sure - it's really hard at first (the not-having-saved-games-omg-i'm-going-to-commit-hara-kiri syndrome which starts to kick in after you die at level 25 the first time) but its unbelieveable fun!
the best tip is to run.
Stock up as much food as you can, Do Not give the Gnomish Mines a miss, and remember - running away from 7 soldier ants and a gaggle of hill orcs does not mean you're a coward!
be very wary of stray items! i've always had terrible luck, and will invariably wind up with a cursed ring of hunger, or a loadstone or something like that, so i tend to avoid un-IDd objects tilll i can get my hands on some scrolls.
oh, and i second Bi - mounting your horse can be a pain!

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Of the rogue-likes I've always personally preferred ToME (Tales of Middle Earth) it has an implemented separated dungeon with several towns and quests. Nethack is fun, don't get me wrong, but ToME is better IMHO.

You can find it at http://www.t-o-m-e.net/ I'd suggest the 2.3.4 version as the 3.0.0 alpha is pretty broken presently.

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The first computer game I was ever addicted to was the original Rogue on a 5 1/4 DOS disk (Yes, I'm THAT old). This game is a beautiful homage to the spirit and fun of the original. It is what Rogue would have been had technology would have been more advanced, and floppy sizes were larger.

Kudos go to the designers. It's not as charming as the first one, when you could pe immersed within seconds of opening the game for the first time, but the immersion and character development more than make up for it.

This is an old-school game for people that just want to play an addicting, fun, and challenging quest.

(Personal note: I STILL play the original Rogue, and in 23 years have never, not once, beaten it. Yet I still play it. I strongly encourage everyone to try it out.)

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MaximilianShade April 27, 2007 12:00 PM

I've managed to die in ONE move. I took a single step, triggered a dart trap, was hit by a poisoned dart, and the poison was deadly. =D

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kundragon July 10, 2007 9:28 AM

yeay! i loved hack, the original version back in the 80's and also enjoyed the nethack version not long ago.
i do have a question:
back in the 80's early 90's there was a whole set of text\ASCII based games.
in last years i have been searching for a game i loved and can't remember its name, all i remember is "j" was for digging and "o" for teleport.
does anyone know it or of some sort of ASCII games encyclopedia?

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I seem to recall in my first job (1985) playing an ASCII dungeon crawler that had some sort of fruit machine in the lower levels that you could bet negative gold on and come out seriously RICH! Now, was it Rogue? Hack? What was it?

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LOL, died at XP level 5 from eating a tainted corpse! (Where the heck do you get more food?!

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Sorry for double post.

1. Figured out what to eat.
2. Died by shooting lighting at wall, it bounced back and killed me, lol.
3. Was eaten by giant beetle while fainted.

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I too have managed a first-turn death:

Start as a Knight; if your horse is adjacent, use #ride to try and ride it. There's a chance you will fall off and take damage. The damage you take at level 1 might be too much.

But I've also managed to win once or twice as well. Here's a tip for beginners: if you see a blue lowercase e, just throw things at it. Do not attack it straight-up.

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I have played rogue like games from the very beginning of the genre. Yes, I am old...

There was a long break though until I found that there was a version of Nethack available for my Nokia 9300 communicator: http://www.modeemi.fi/~pekangas/nethack/

It actually works with older communicators as well.

Anyways, now I can - and I definitely do - play the game almost everywhere. At the train, but more so in a dull work meetings :) It looks like I am typing notes :)

Currently I have one of my best nethack sessions going on: Wizard (exp lev 13), ST 18/05 DX 18 Co 18 IN 18 WI 18 CH 10 HO 89 PW 141 AC -14 DLVL 14 with indentify spell and almost all the other gizmos too

When you are past the steep learning curve, you will find that this is the game of all games.

Prepare to die... ...a lot.

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A few days have passed and now my wizard looks like this:

ST:18/39 Dx:18 Co:18 In:21 Wi:21 Ch:15 Neutral
Hp:153 Pw:247 AC:-33 XP:19

Main weapon is +6 Magicbane

Wearing these as armory:

a blessed +3 Hawaiian shirt
a blessed +5 silver dragon scale mail
a blessed greased fireproof +3 cloak of magic resistance
a blessed fireproof +3 pair of gauntlets of dexterity
a blessed fireproof +3 pair of speed boots
a blessed rustproof +3 helm of brilliance

I am currently on dlvl 33, and although I know these might be the famous last words, I think I got pretty good chance of beating this game for the very first time.

I am trying to proceed carefully so it will take time.

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    Of the most commonly cited stupid ways to die-and, in my opinion, the most funny-is wielding a cockatrice corpse while burdened, then fall down a staircase and land on one's own cockatrice corpse.

I'd like to comment on this: There are 47 ways of dying with a footrice (ie, cockatrice or chickatrice). My personal favourite is throwing it up (t

Also, WizOfOz, nice going. You're doing better than I ever have ;) How did you get your int/wis above 18? Elf? Helm of brilliance?

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So are you guys saying that nethack is NOT a casual game?

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How do I quit watching someone's game?

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Oh yeah, and also, how do I use stairs?
(Sorry for posting twice.)

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Okay, so I found out how to use stairs, but I still need help.

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Oh yeah, and how do I move in diagonals
and equip weapons and armor?

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I played a game like this (that I no longer remember how or where I found) called Moria. How similar is this (if anyone knows about Moria)?

Seeing this reminded me of Moria and I pulled out the memory stick I'd saved it on and tried to play it again. Unfortunately, it didn't work. It said something about needing an "x86 (32 bit) or x64 (64 bit) version of the program." I don't know what that means, but it leaves my big-ol' wizard save file absolutely useless. :-( I guess I need to fix that (help would be appreciated) or find a replacement and start again. Can anyone here help/advise me?

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@Nonny: Try Angband or one of its many variants; It was built from modified Moria source.

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I'm playing the graphics version on the Mac. It's pretty fun... except I haven't gotten my character to level 5 yet, and I've already started about 6 sessions... I'll keep trying

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Awesome to see you put Nethack on here! You ought to do ADoM too, in my opinion.

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