|Again with the Amulet of Yendor|
Playing NetHack almost a year after I started this blog feels like coming full circle. Exactly one year ago, although I hadn't thought about blogging yet, I was deep in the throes of Rogue, probably on my 50th or 60th character, wondering why I was still playing the game and yet--for some impenetrable psychological reason probably rooted in my relationship with my father--I was still playing.
I'm not spending four months on this one, but I'll spend at least long enough to learn how it's different from Rogue, since I keep hearing all kinds of promising things about it. So here's how we're going to do this: the NetHack wiki has a nice summary history of the different versions in the series. My general policy has been to play the latest version of the game; hence, my 1985 version of Rogue despite its original 1980 release date. The latest NetHack release, however, is from 2003, which seems a little unfair to the spirit of the blog.
The Wiki divides NetHack into several "series": "early NetHack" and then separate series for versions 3.0 (1989), 3.1 (1993), 3.2 (1996), 3.3 (1999), and 3.4 (2002). Since each update adds a lot of material to the game, I'm going to regard each "series" as a separate game and dip back into NetHack every few years to see what's new. But when I do, I'll play the last version of that "series." This means that for my first NetHack outing, I'll be playing version 2.3e, released in April 1988 but still close enough to the 1987 version that I don't feel like I'm jumping the queue. I got the compiled version from an FTP site that was kindly sent to me by Ryan ("Pipecleaner Productions") Jones. It took some work editing the configuration so that it would run in DOSBox, but I think I finally got it.
So with all of that out of the way, let's get into the game. The back story, such as it is, is that you've just graduated from the local adventurer's guild, and now you have to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor from the Dungeons of Doom in order to achieve full membership. While you're at it, you're also trying to grab as much gold as you can.
In a notable departure from Rogue, your character is not a rogue. Instead, you select from a list of (in this edition) 12 character classes, some of them standard CRPG fare (barbarian, knight, priest, elf, wizard), some a little more exotic (ninja, valkyrie, healer), and some very odd (archaeologist, tourist, caveman). The choice of character class affects your starting statistics and equipment; I don't know if it affects anything else later in the game. If you choose "tourist"--I just had to--your starting equipment includes a Hawaiian shirt and a camera(!).
|"This doesn't look like the brochure."|
For those readers unfamiliar with "roguelike" games at all, I would refer you to my original review of Rogue to get a sense of the unique challenges and conventions. Suffice to say that they're all present here: permanent death, dungeons that slowly reveal themselves as you explore, constantly-respawning monsters, unidentified (and often unidentifiable) magic items, turn-based movement, and hunger. Your only stats, just as in Rogue, are hit points, armor class, and strength, and your hit points slowly regenerate as you move around. However, already NetHack has introduced lots of new elements:
- When you start the game, you have a dog. God knows why. It does help a little by attacking monsters. The help file suggests that you can train the dog to "do all sorts of things," but I have no idea how. I've noticed the dog has a habit of wandering off and "fetching" items from other rooms.
- When monsters die, they leave bodies, which you can pick up and carry around. At first, I couldn't figure out why you'd want to do that, but I soon realized it was possible to eat them--yuck, but I hope this means food isn't quite the problem it was in Rogue. I also note that if you don't pick up a body, your dog generally eats it.
|You have to wonder: who's the real monster here?|
- There seem to be a lot more secret doors in this version, and they're no quicker to reveal themselves than in Rogue. You have to hold down the (s)earch key for a while.
- Occasionally, rocks block the passageway. You can try to move them, but only so far.
- There are a lot more game features listed in the help file (I haven't found most of them yet), including pools of water, fountains, and thrones (homage to Telengard?) along with the usual weapons, armor, potions, scrolls, and gold.
- You can name monsters and items, just as in Beyond Zork. We were just talking about this (see comments).
- Your character's name is hard-coded in the configuration file, at least in this version.
- You can go back up to previous levels at any time, not just when you have the Amulet of Yendor.
- When you die, the game offers to identify your possessions so you know how much cool stuff you were unknowingly toting about. I understand that serious NetHackers use DYWYPI ("Do you want your possessions identified?") as a codeword for death ("then I came across a floating eye, and before I knew it, DYWYPI").
|I don't know why it's not "DYWTHYPI." Probably a version thing.|
When Chet the Tourist began his adventure, he was so laden with stuff--including a lot of food and, for some reason, a dead lizard--he couldn't even pick up the first scroll he came across. Almost immediately, he accidentally destroyed his camera by trying to use it as a melee weapon against an acid blob, but he finally finished off the creature with some darts. A few minutes later, he ran into a hobgoblin and DYWYPI.
|Note that NetHack didn't suffer from a Y2K bug.|
Shortly on his heels was Chet the Caveman, who upon entry immediately found himself and his dog in battle against a floating eye, to which he gave a "caveman" style name. While he was taking time to name the floating eye, it was killed by his dog, and then eaten.
|That's some serious role-playing there.|
In swift order, Chet killed a gnome and a jackal with a combination of his club and arrows, and he managed to hoist the jackal's body over his shoulders before his mangy mutt could get to it. He found a fountain and drank from it, but to uncertain effect. The dog disappeared for a while and came back with a scroll labeled LEP GEX VEN ZEA, which Chet--being somewhat dumb--couldn't stop himself from reading. The game asked rhetorically "Who was that Maude person anyway?" and the game map disappeared; it was apparently a scroll of forgetting--could have been worse. An acid blob came along and corroded his club so that instead of a +1 it was a -1. He killed a rat and found a blue gem. Things seemed to be going well for Chet, but the fates played a cruel joke: his god had neglected to set the configuration settings in his universe properly, and he could not save his progress. He died a death of ignominy.
Bruce the Barbarian began bewildered, descending the stairs to find a room with no exits, but ultimately a secret door revealed itself. He found a fountain, too, but instead of refreshing him it spewed forth a trio of snakes. When he had explored every crevice of the level, he beat his mighty barbarian fists against the walls, knowing that he was missing secret doors but unable to find them. Despondent, he descended to Level 2--but not before gnashing his barbarian teeth into the corpse of a jackal and getting what should have been in hindsight an entirely predictable result.
|The USDA needs to do something about substandard jackal meat.|
The result of the bad food made Bruce woozy, and while stumbling about, he accidentally killed his dog. Shortly thereafter, on Level 3, he fainted from hunger and was killed by the joint assault of a gnome and a bat.
Time for Victoria the Valkyrie to make a name for herself.
Okay, so having played for a little while, these are my questions. I don't want to look up the answers online because I'm afraid of finding other major spoilers, but I'd appreciate your answers if it won't ruin the gameplay experience for me to know this soon:
- What are gems for?
- Why is there a command called "pay bill"? Dare I hope there are places to spend my gold in this game, unlike Rogue?
- As we've seen, the player can accidentally kill the dog. Can monsters? (It hasn't happened yet.) If they do, can you get another one?
- Is there a way to permanently deal with the boulders?
- In the lower right-hand corner, next to the number of moves in the game so far, is a value preceded by an "S" (e.g., "S:440"). It went up when I drank from a fountain, but I otherwise have no idea what it is.
- Does the choice of character class have role-playing ramifications later? Or does it just matter at the beginning?
Of course, the real question is: Why am I up at four o'clock in the morning still playing this game?! The answer, of course, is in the title of my blog. If no one before has said that this game ought to be called NetCrack, consider me the first.