Hack [v. 1.0.3]
Independently developed on Unix systems from 1982-1984; ported to DOS in 1984
Date Started: 20 April 2015
Date Ended: 24 April 2015
Total Hours: 7
Reload Count: 6 characters; 16 reloads on final character
Difficulty: Hard (4/5)
Final Rating: 30
Final Rating: 30
Ranking at Time of Posting: 101/184 (55%)
Here's one reason that roguelikes are awesome: while anyone reading this post could identify a roguelike in an instant, to the uninitiated (which, let's face it, is most people), they don't look anything like games. They look like work. An average person glancing at my monitor thinks I'm using some kind of retro graphing calculator or an early DOS version of AutoCAD. He thinks, "Man, I always knew Chet was smart, but whatever that is is hard core."
All week, I've been in a series of meetings and events that didn't exactly require my full concentration but had people hovering around my computer frequently. The Savage Empire was definitely out, as were most of the other games on my upcoming list. I needed a roguelike. Since I kicked Angband to 1993, the next obvious choice was the original Hack.
I can't remember why I missed Hack when I first passed through 1984. I probably looked for it but couldn't find it or didn't try very hard. Having already played Rogue and the first generation of NetHack, I rather expected that Hack would be an obvious evolutionary step, perhaps halfway between the two. (Reading the posts on both will greatly assist roguelike novices in understanding this one.) Instead, I was surprised to find a game that was almost indistinguishable from the first versions of NetHack. By the time of its DOS release, Hack had left Rogue far behind, and the improvements made between this game and early NetHack are few and subtle.
|The opening screen from an early version of NetHack. Note how similar it is to the screenshot at the top of this post.|
Some history is in order. Rogue was created by Michael Toy, Glenn Wichman, and Ken Arnold on Unix systems at a couple of University of California campuses in 1980. My understanding is that they didn't intend for it to be open-source software; in fact, they eventually marketed it through several companies, with varying degrees of success. But other programmers found it easy enough to knock off, and they generally made their creations open-source. This led to the entire roguelike genre.
|A fortune cookie message hits a little close to home.|
A game known as Hack was first programmed in 1982 by Jay Fenlason and other students at Lincoln-Sudbury Regional High School in Massachusetts. By most accounts, the game was essentially identical to Rogue except that it featured more monsters. (Some sources say that it had shops and pets, but Andries Brouwer says those were his additions.) In any event, Fenlason et. al. released Hack with an open-source license. It somehow found its way to Andries Brouwer, a mathematician, computer scientist, and professor at the Mathematisch Centrum in Amesterdam. Brouwer greatly improved the game from its Rogue roots and introduced most of the elements that distinguish it from earlier incarnations, including:
- Multiple classes that start with their own inventories
- Intrinsic attributes gained by eating corpses
- Complex interactions between monsters, items, and the character, such as a dragon's breath hitting other enemies in your path or destroying your scrolls
- Ability to backtrack to previously-visited levels
- Special rooms like vaults and "treasure zoos"
- Ability to write on the floor
- "Bones" files
- Fortune cookies with associated "rumor" messages
- A special set of levels on which the Amulet of Yendor is found
|The adventurer stumbles into a killer bee hive.|
There's still plenty of opportunity for later development by Mike Stephenson and the rest of the NetHack development team. The item and monster lists are about half of what modern NetHack aficionados are used to; there's only one way up and down; you don't get the option to identify your possessions or see your intrinsics when you die; there's no "blessed" status or altars; there are no spells or spellbooks (making the wizard class a dubious choice); and while "pray" exists as an option, the manual is quite frank that it doesn't do anything. But the basic structure of NetHack is here, and it's clear we need to credit Andries Brouwer as the most important founder of the game.
|Shops are a particularly welcome addition.|
Brouwer released the game on Usenet in December 1984. He offered a patch a month later, an updated version (1.0.2) in April 1985, and a third version (1.0.3) in July 1985. The three versions show as much evolution as we see from Hack to the first NetHack. Adjustment of luck based on phases of the moon first appeared in 1.0.2. Designation of the lower levels as "Hell" (and the need for fire resistance) also appeared in 1.0.2, as did the Wizard of Yendor in a special square in the middle of a level (in the first version, the Amulet of Yendor was found under a rock). Version 1.0.3 first required players to reach Hell via teleportation, and it also introduced "wizard mode" for the first time.
In October 1985, Hack 1.0.3 was ported to DOS by Don Kneller, who would later port Moria. Kneller didn't seem to know Brouwer by name, crediting the development of the game only to "several people at the Stichting Mathematisch Centrum in Amsterdam." Reading his notes on the game, we come across this shocking paragraph:
Saved games have no special protection, so you can save a game and make a copy of the save file. Then, if you die trying something risky, you can use the copy to restart your game from the same place.
Folks, this is the author of the first PC port of Hack telling us that it's okay to save-scum. Imagine the time I could have saved myself with NetHack a couple years ago.
Hack offers six character classes: tourist, speleologist (later replaced by the more common term "archaeologist"), fighter, knight, cave-man, and wizard. Version 1.02 introduces the ability to specify sex. There are no attributes other than strength. I played a little with each class and finally settled on a knight to go for the win. Having already won NetHack 2.3e and NetHack 3.0.9 legitimately, I didn't feel any particular compulsion to do this one the hard way. I backed up my save file before each new level and ended up reloading 16 times.
|If my adventurer is killed in Hell, where does he go?|
I didn't find it very difficult to survive within the first 15 levels as long as I took my time. Beyond Level 15, as the monsters get harder, the game becomes a lot deadlier--particularly since the game caps the character at Level 14 (a liability that continues through the early versions of NetHack). It's important to improve strength as much as possible through Potions of Gain Strength and eating Royal Jelly (from killer bee hives) or spinach, as well as weapons and armor through Scrolls of Enchant Weapon and Scrolls of Enchant Armor. Eating the right creatures conveys fire resistance, frost resistance, regeneration, invisibility, and other intrinsics. I was never able to get poison resistance, and I'm not sure what other intrinsics are available since you can never see them and never get confirmation of their acquisition.
|Strength increases a point.|
There are fewer options for getting yourself out of tight situations than in NetHack, and I learned to prize various wands and scrolls, including Wands of Teleportation--which send monsters off to a random location--and Scrolls of Teleportation, which do the same thing for the character. While you can get ESP by eating floating eyes, there are no blindfolds in this version, so the ESP only helps when you get temporary blindness from eating rotten food or getting blinded by yellow lights. As with later versions, teleportitis and a Ring of Teleport Control are the most important intrinsic/item pair in the game.
Below Level 25, the levels become a series of mazes. Paradoxically, the game becomes a little easier in the maze section because each level has a dead-end in which a Wand of Wishing lies beneath a boulder. You have to have a pick-axe or a Wand of Teleportation to get rid of the boulder (there might be other ways), but a couple of those wands goes a long way towards finishing your ascension kit. Unfortunately, there are no Scrolls of Recharge in this version.
After Level 30, the maze levels are designated "Hell," and you need fire resistance (either a ring, or by eating a dragon) to survive. You also have to find a way to teleport into it. There are no down staircases after Level 29, so the only way to reach Hell (and the Amulet of Yendor) is via level teleportation. Later versions of NetHack give you several ways to accomplish this, including Cursed Scrolls of Teleportation and level teleportation traps, but in this version, the only way I could find to reach Hell was to read a regular Scroll of Teleportation while confused and in possession of a Ring of Teleport Control.
The Wizard of Yendor and the Amulet of Yendor supposedly appear at a random level between 30 and 40, but I found him right away on 40. He's surrounded by a wall, which is surrounded by a moat, so you need some mechanism of getting past the water and the walls. I found that a Wand of Fire evaporates the water and a Potion of Levitation lets you cross over it. As for the wall, a Wand of Digging or a pick-axe do the trick.
The Wizard is a pushover in this version, since there's no real magic or magic resistance. I killed him quickly with my sword, and grabbed the Amulet from his body. This version's Wizard doesn't resurrect and harass you all the way to the exit.
Once you have the Amulet, the rest of the game--just as in the first versions of NetHack--is a breeze. All of the up staircases are in the same location in the maze levels, so once you find it on the Wizard's level, you just have to keep hitting CTRL-period to quickly pass through all the other Hell and maze levels. Once you get to Level 25, you have to navigate from staircase to staircase, but the game remembers the maps from previous visits, and if you have teleportitis, it's a simple matter to just teleport yourself from the down staircase to the up staircase.
When you go up the staircase from Level 1, the game tells you your score and number of moves.
For someone who has played a later version of NetHack, Hack feels fairly primitive. But just as I noted with Moria in the previous year, Hack was undoubtedly the most complex, tactical game of 1984. It's not until 1985-1986 that regular RPGs start to rival roguelikes in the complexity of their mechanics, and as late as 1990, no commercial RPG has come close to the Hack/NetHack line in the complexity of inventory and inventory interactions.
On a GIMLET, this game gets:
- 0 points for not even the slightest description of the game world in the manual.
- 3 points for character creation and development. The selection is limited and the level cap is a huge turn-off.
- 2 points for NPCs. You know what gets those two points? The pet. I forgot to reward other versions for this addition. I typically abandon the pet because I find it annoying to constantly maneuver around him, but it's still a unique and interesting element of the game.
- 5 points for foes: a terrific variety of monsters with special attacks and resistances.
|I wouldn't have minded if this had waited for a later version.|
- 4 points for magic and combat. The combat system is deceptively sophisticated with all the item-based tactics you can use, but there's no magic system to speak of.
- 6 points one of the best varieties of equipment that we've seen to date, and the ability to use items in complex (but logical) ways to solve puzzles.
|A mid-game inventory shot.|
- 2 points for the economy. You might get a store on an early level, might not. If you don't get one, there really is nothing to do with the money you find except score extra points.
- 2 points for a main quest with no decisions or branches
- 2 points for graphics, sound, and interface, all for the interface, which is intuitive and well-documented.
- 4 points for challenging gameplay that, while linear for each game, offers a lot of replayability.
The final score of 30 is better than anything else in 1984 so far, but a little lower than the 36 I gave to the first edition of NetHack. The variance actually surprises me a little because I feel like it played about the same, but looking through my notes, I see that NetHack offered enough features to get an extra point here, an extra point there. In any event, it's hard to recommend Hack for modern players with more advanced versions of NetHack available, but I'm glad I played it for its historical value.
I hope to get back onto a regular schedule next week and continue on with The Savage Empire. I have no idea why I have this kind of lull every single April.
For further reading: Check out my posts on Rogue, this game's antecedent, and my posts on NetHack v. 2.3e (which followed Hack) and NetHack v. 3.0.9.