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§ I hate NetHack

Yesterday, I got a craving for playing Hack-style games again. By "Hack-style" games, I mean old tile-based, turn-based, Un*x-heritage games that are loosely based on D&D rules and simulate battling through hordes of monsters. The king of these, of course, is NetHack. I've played NetHack before, and it's a very deep and well thought out game. The main problem is that I hate NetHack. The reason is that the game continually finds creative and interesting ways to kill my poor @ avatar, like having me starve while in the middle of a room of killer bees, or levitating me up into the previous level where I accidentally left a very large dog behind, or putting a shop in the level where I'm practicing kicking doors down. So I went in search of other games.

I used to play Larn on my Amiga, but I it's a rather simplistic game in comparison and I finished it already. Angband looked interesting, since it has ways to jump back to town temporarily, but I was disappointed to find that it too has permanent death and food, two things I find annoying. (These don't exist in Diablo II, but I can only play so much D2X, even with mods. I already conquered Zy-El.) What really turned me off from Angband was that a stupid cat kept scratching me and some elf kept stealing my stuff, even though I hadn't even left town yet! Next I tried Crossfire, which appeared to be a promising Hack-style game, especially since it's multiplayer (!). Unfortunately, the game's first 5min. experience is terrible — I accidentally dropped one of my essential starting scrolls, which immediately vanished, found that the programmers decided to use the same command for everything (apply), and then discovered that the game is virtually unplayable without a middle mouse button. Then I tried Slash'em, which turned out to be a modified version of NetHack.

Finally, I just gritted my teeth, and launched the latest version of NetHack again.

Any role-play gamer — paper/pencil/argue-with-DM type, not Final Fantasy type — will be at home with the world of NetHack. Your character has base stats, such as strength, dexterity, and intelligence; armor class, experience, and current level; hit points (HP) and magic points (MP); weapons, armor, wands, scrolls, potions, gems, and various other kinds junk in the inventory. You hit monster, monster hit you, whoever hits harder and more often (or does something stupid) dies first. Pretty simple, right? However, before you can truly hate NetHack, you must understand the depth of NetHack. Take the following bug fix comment, for instance:

/* Fixed crash when attempting to remove blindfold by applying cursed towel. */

My biggest problem with NetHack used to be food; you have to eat food, or you get weak and start to faint — and if the monsters don't finish you off while you are unconscious, starvation will. You can eat mundane comestibles such as food rations, tins (cans), eggs, fruit, and fortune cookies, or you can eat corpses of slain monsters. Problem is, lots of things can go wrong with eating, such as the corpses going bad, or getting interrupted while trying to eat, or worst of all, the monster having an intrinsic that causes a problem. I lost several characters to accidentally eating corpses from kobolds (poisonous), or zombies (always rotten). Once I was killed because I ate a tin that turned out to contain greasy fried food, and I kept dropping my sword while trying to attack a monster. I've since realized that part of the reason I've had so much trouble with starvation is that I spent too much time in the early levels where little happens, and charging quickly down to LV5 or lower seems to help.

Another problem I have is keeping my pet alive. You start with a pet, either a small puppy or kitten. They follow you, attack monsters that are nearby, eat occasionally (I didn't like tripe anyway), and generally help keep you alive. If you keep them alive, fed, and active, they eventually grow into large dogs or cats and can do major damage. If you don't make sure they're next to you when you go up or down stairs, however, you leave them behind, and if you don't go back really quickly, the next time you see your pet it will punish you severely. My problem yesterday, though, was that the game had it in for my pet. The first game I started, my dog got squished by a falling boulder trap around LV4. The second game, I took two steps and an arrow trap took out my cat. I gave up trying to keep a pet at that point.

I never saw too many of the interesting monsters in NetHack. Back when I started with NetHack 2.4, acid blobs used to be very common; you'd hit them, they'd splash you with acid, and your armor or weapon would corrode. Now I see a lot more lichens. Floating eyes are notorious — if you melee-attack them without being blinded, you are frozen by their gaze for a while and usually end up being the lucky person who has a tombstone entry on the server that says "killed by a newt on dungeon level 1." However, they also have the valuable property that if you eat a floating eye corpse, you gain the ability to see monsters when blinded. Nowadays I throw darts and arrows at them instead.

You can find potions, scrolls, and spellbooks in the dungeons, but NetHack won't identify them for you. You have to do various tricks to identify the item, such as throwing potions at monsters, dipping items into them, or seeing how much shopkeepers will pay for them. Or, you can simply try quaffing or reading them. Having your armor or weapon turn to dust (scroll of destroy armor/weapon) is annoying, and all too often I ended up drinking valuable holy water, but the bane of my existence used to be potions of hallucination. Hallucination causes you to see random and constantly changing symbols or tiles for everything; this makes it difficult to tell what anything is, and more importantly, the game no longer prevents you from hitting your pet. I've since learned to write Elbereth on the ground and sit until the effect wears off.

In three attempts last night the farthest I managed to make it down was LV11:

 No  Points     Name                                                   Hp [max]
  1      12161  Foo-Bar-Orc-Mal-Cha died in The Dungeons of Doom on
                level 11.  Killed by a mumak.                           -  [97]
  2       7939  Foo-Bar-Hum-Fem-Cha died in The Dungeons of Doom on
                level 9 [max 10].  Killed by a wraith, while
                helpless.                                               -  [64]
  3       2716  Foo-Cav-Dwa-Fem-Law died in The Dungeons of Doom on
                level 6.  Killed by a giant beetle.                     -  [66]

The second death was due to trying to hack my way through a "zoo" level, which is basically a level with no walls and a bunch of monsters zeroing in on you; I'm not sure how you're supposed to survive those.

There are a bunch of interesting quests and side dungeons you can enter once you get down around LV15, such as Fort Ludios, but what I really wanted to try was the Sokoban quest. Sokoban is a crate-pushing game where you have to figure out the right pushing pattern to get all the crates to the target squares; the difficulty is in that you can only push, not pull, and you can only push one crate. Recent versions of NetHack have a couple of fixed levels with boulder-pushing puzzles with some goodies behind them, like a bag of holding. Unfortunately, I haven't been able to get down that far yet. Maybe someday, with some luck... or maybe I'll just use Explore Mode.

Oh, in VirtualDub news: I figured out a solution for the capture problems with Philips SAA713x-based capture devices and the DirectShow module. A couple of annoying problems in 1.6.3 will be fixed for 1.6.4, the most notorious ones being the audio resync filter going nuts at 35min. with the DirectShow driver, and the audio device list being in the wrong place. Finally, it turns out there is a semi-long-standing bug with VirtualDub misdetecting the drive type of UNC (network) paths; this can cause VirtualDub to abort a save to a remote NTFS drive at 4GB if the current directory is on a FAT/FAT32 drive. The workaround is to map the network drive onto a drive letter.


Comments posted:

Ever heard of ADOM? The best hack-style game, in my opinion.(the actual word to describe these games is rougelike) Some easy quests, some near impossible, and everything in between. It's on By the way, are you ever going to get around to implementing DV capture? I'd certainly want to be the first one to test it!

TechMage - 01 02 05 - 17:15

Have you seen ?

JavaJack - 01 02 05 - 22:31

Also, this:

JavaJack - 01 02 05 - 22:52

Omega is a damn good Roguelike game (not "rougelike" lol) - while it probably has food and permanent death (it's been so long since I've played it I don't remember) it also has lots of freedom to choose quests and stuff, and countryside to explore! I'm afraid I don't have a URL for it but a google for omega and roguelike should turn it up.

InsAnimal - 02 02 05 - 19:09

I´ll have to vote for Angband (get out of town really quick the first time, when you come back there´s not much problems anymore), and more specifically for the variant Animeband... Much fun, especially with the Magic Knights or Chi Warriors. Students also kick ass if you can get them past level 5... (that´s HARD)

TheFluff - 03 02 05 - 04:56
Falcon's Eye is a mouse-driven interface for NetHack that enhances the visuals, audio and accessibility of the game, yet retains all the original gameplay and game features.

P.S. Thankyou for VDub.

Lazarus - 03 02 05 - 05:56

Have you ever heard of the old Epic MegaGames classic "Castle of the Winds"? I don't like RPGs in general, but this game really has something.

It's not exactly Un*x style, rather Windows 3.1, but I think the concept is still the same.

Download it from: ( try to ignore the horrid page design )

someone - 04 02 05 - 21:04

Oh, yes... I spent some time beating Castle of the Winds. It's greatly simplified and fairly easy, but it's a fine game for min-maxing equipment. It's also a much nicer game for spells, which I almost never use in NetHack (for fear of having spellbooks blow up in my face when I read them).

Phaeron - 05 02 05 - 04:04

I second the comments about Omega.
Still one of my all-time favorite games.

It appears to be available at the following URL.

Mike Kienenberger (link) - 05 02 05 - 11:27

And just in case you're still not convinced, take a look at the advertisement from version 0.75 :)

Mike Kienenberger (link) - 05 02 05 - 11:45

What about Rogue? I still like it.

mikesum32 - 11 02 05 - 05:33

On the topic of pets, my favorite thing to do with pets is find a polymorph trap and upgrade them :)

Dan Nelson - 11 02 05 - 15:26

I'm a huge Nethack fan, and can answer a few questions you seem to have. The Sokoban level is found by going up, not down, on the 2nd up staircase on the level just below the Oracle. You've been going down too far. What you called the 'zoo' level sounds more like the "Big" level, as zoos in NH (formally, "David's Treasure Zoo") are simply rooms like throne rooms, but with a wider variety of monsters. Most of the problems you've listed have solutions you didn't list, like #pray'ing when hungry or drinking a potion of sickness when hallucinating (though most such solutions can cause problems of their own). I've tried ADOM (very difficult; permanent death; backup, i.e., cheat saves are almost necessary; also, it's too random), Angband (good game, but nearly impossible to survive at level 45+), and Castle of the Winds (very vanilla Nethack with graphics and better spell-aiming). Never got very far with Omega, but I don't remember why. And the tip about pets above is very good.

Astro - 18 02 05 - 11:30

NetHack is good, but it has too many out-of-place stuff like kitchen sinks (dont get near them with rings on). Open levels (huge rooms, lots of monsters, high monster generation) are hard, try to avoid fighting if you're not strong enough, if the monster dont let you use the following tips:
- Use wands and spells to cleanse your path
- Write Elbereth on the floor and rest for a while if youre dying, also you can use a wand of fire to whire the message permanently
- If you're gonna die, pray

Also, you should try adom, is REALLY hard at the beggining (specialy for a spellcaster or and elf), just avoid spending too much time in the wilderness and you will be fine

Blank - 14 08 05 - 14:01

Commenting super-late here.

Angband (my longtime favourite) is tarred unfairly by your brief experience. Food isn't really a major issue. There's some early game provisioning requirements, which are really just a matter of money management, and it's one of the limiters as to how long you can stay in the dungeon. But there's a shop that sells food, 3gp or so for a food ration which should last you a few thousand turns. Every class but the Warrior eventually will acquire a way to feed themselves from spellpoints, and warriors have enough free slots and strength that you can just carry 100 food rations. In short, you won't run out.

Food is probably vestigial in terms of the original author of Moria (angband's antecedent) aping rogue without actually playing it much.

It doesn't have the puzzle-like depth of nethack, nor the brutal challenge of Crawl, but if you want a relatively fair and interesting long challenge, a cautious player can easily make it through a quarter to half the game. Of the roguelikes I have played (larn, omega, nethack, crawl, adom) I would say it is the closest to a commercial game like Diablo or BG: Dark Alliance in that there is a lot of progression and not much random instant death. You generally die because you make several errors in a row.

Joshua Rodman (link) - 04 10 05 - 16:48

Nothing beats Nethack, you just gotta suck it up and not make the same mistake twice. Pets die, its a shame but don't worry.. by the end of the game you'll have had some wicked pets (Master Mind Flayer anyone?)

Elbereth for hallucination is good idea! Ive died a few times under the effects eheh

And food isnt really a problem unless you're a wizard. Just remember wearing amulets and rings makes you hungry faster, as does being burdened. Don't carry around stuff you're not using, set up a bit of a base and keep your stuff in a chest or box. Use a wand of fire, or digging and Engrave Elbereth under the chest n it'll be completely safe... although at worst usually u come back to find a blob sitting where your box was with all your gear inside it!

Nethack forever! :)

ZeffriN - 16 10 05 - 04:27

Ahh... I googled "I hate Nethack" after choking on a tin of elf meat after killing Medusa. I was a +2 GDSM-wearing, +2 Excaliber-wielding knight of pwnage atop my warhorse named Squiggles. ;___; I was doing so well. God dammit.

But reading this made me feel a bit better =D

Cassie - 15 08 07 - 12:52

Last night I had a wizard with 98HPs, 270 mana, and loads of really good spells and equipment (including the eye of the Aethiopica). I'd been playing the game for several hours. I'd explored the mines, completed sokoban, completed my quest, and was next about to take on medusa. Then I accidentally attacked a floating eye...damn damn damn...why can't there be a "Are you sure you want to do something incredibly stupid?"

I hate nethack.

Axiom255 - 10 12 07 - 11:42

I have two problems with Nethack. The first is that they took all the fun out of Hack by removing my favorite strategy: eating a Leprechaun & robbing stores. (It was sort of ridiculous to remove this, as Hack is still pretty near impossible to beat as well.)

The second is that Nethack is impossible. Five times now, I've gotten all the items (candles, candlebra bell, etc.) and stood on the magic square... only to find out that something had been, somehow, in some way impossible for me to determine, cursed.

My favorite TDTTOE story: I had a magic marker, but not-cursed blank paper was few and far between- especially once I'd found the spell for genocide. Suddenly, it hit me what I had to do. I took a scroll of cursed blank paper & wrote a scroll of genocide- which was cursed. I then tried to un-genocide (surround myself with) Paper Golems so I could slay them & use their bodies for paper, when a voice boomed from the heavens, "No mortal, THAT shall not be done!" DAMN IT!

Tony LaRocca (link) - 18 01 08 - 09:21

The Sokoban level is always the level after the Oracle level - just find the other staircase UP. Also, hallucination can be cured by applying a non-cursed unicorn horn.

Stevo - 11 08 09 - 07:36

I don't think you gave Crossfire enough credit. The interface is admittedly a bit clunkly, you can simply hit 'a' to apply things (although a three button mouse does make it easier than using the command line to type 'apply foo'). It's a harder game to get into, but if you do, the reward is an MMORPG far better than other games, due to the fast paced combat, and player-built world. The player built word does kill you sometimes if someone's put an uber monster or trap into what appears at first glance a newbie map, but the learning curve is really only a bit steeper than a typical roguelike.

blah - 13 02 10 - 10:05

Wow, I know this was written fecking yonks ago, so that the author has either completely moved on or gotten better, but just I have to say anyway:

The reason you do so badly is because you suck at NetHack =D

There are roles that really should use a pet, but that's not all of them, so set OPTIONS=pettype:none and play one of those. (I set this option to be true no matter what role I'm playing.)

Engrave Elbereth, and do it often. If you don't need it at least ten or twenty times by the time you reach dungeon level 5, you're either a tank or ridiculously lucky.

I'll accept that the first time you eat a kobold corpse it's Yet Another Annoying Death, but how do you manage to do it AGAIN after that? Key to playing NetHack is the ability to learn from your mistakes.

One thing you ARE right about is the lack of interesting monsters- namely, all of them. Once you know the "trick" to beating a particularly unique type, or if you have a sufficiently powerful method of attack, it quickly becomes a little boring. (That's when you start playing "conduct" games. And whining on IRC that the game sucks.)

And... randomized appearance, hunger and permadeath are part of what define roguelikes. (Along with randomly-generated levels and absolutely unforgiving cruelty by the Random Number God.) If you don't like them, play Final Fantasy. It's that simple.

Asm0deus - 20 05 10 - 07:03

@Tony LaRocca: It's actually that since they are created not born, golems are extremely hard to genocide even for a deity and cursed-genocide follows the same restrictions.

That other guy - 04 06 10 - 16:52

Oh, if you think it's out for your character normally, try getting turned into a were-rat.

As it turning in to a weaker than kitten rat for 400 or so odd turns is not bad enough, try having a were-wolf chasing you around mine town to chew on your butt. Furthermore; you god is pissed at you for some reason and the ONLY alter you have found in 12 levels is a lawful not chaotic one like you need. With that and the constantly starving to death all the time. OH and by the way that fscking werewolf DOES NOT respect Elbereth either. And to top it all a cursed ring of aggravate monster on ya, with no holy water in sight

Just TRY and survive THAT without a separate cheat system no polymorph potions and no wolfsbane and no silver weapons or skeleton keys.

Wyld_One - 24 03 12 - 14:10

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