Wednesday, January 19, 2011

NetHack: Enough for Now

Screaming, restarting.

Opening a session of NetHack is like going to a club for the evening, and each character is like the different people you approach. You're hoping to seal the deal with each of them, but you almost always go home alone. Some of them last longer than others. But whether you only make it to Level 1 (a smile), Level 4 (buying them a drink), or Level 12 (a quick snog in a corner), ultimately you usually do something stupid, or just suffer some bad luck, and you have to start over again. (Sod the lot of you at RPGCodex: I'm crafting a metaphor, not describing my own life.)

Here's the thing. Even though you rarely, if ever, "win," the game itself is still fun. But fun as it is, there are some times--maybe after your fifth loss in one evening--you can't bring yourself to keep trying. Level 7 (a "click" in your conversation) really rocks, but the idea of going through Levels 1-6 to get there is just exhausting. And there are some nights when, thinking about all of this, you can't bring yourself to go to the club at all.

This metaphor describes why I decided to start playing other games in the middle of NetHack. You can't go clubbing every night. And though I decided to hit the scene again this evening, I suspect it will be my last time for a while.

It turns out that the whole spinach-having-a-high-iron-content thing is a myth.

Tonight, playing Valerie the Valkyrie, I made it all the way to dungeon Level 15 and character Level 10. I had 71 hit points and, at one point, 18 strength (thanks in part to a tin of spinach). A series of good scroll finds had boosted my elven cloak to +3 and my long sword to +4. Thanks in part to a treasure chamber, I had an absurd amount of gold--more than 4,000--and I was hoping to find a shop to spend it. I had even figured out how to tame wild dogs by throwing food at them.

That's not right.

Not all was roses. I had eaten something called a "tengu" (apparently a supernatural Japanese dog) on Level 11 and was inflicted with teleportitis. This made owning a pet fairly impossible, but it did help out when I found myself in a room of ghosts I was unable to hit with any weapon or spell (how do you defeat these things?).

What the hell is this all about?

On Level 15, though, there was nothing but misfortune. First a scroll turned my +3 elven cloak to dust. Then I picked up a spellbook that turned out to be coated with poison, and it reduced my strength by 5.

This hurt.

Excited by what I first took to be some new armor, I approached it and was attacked by a mimic. When I killed the mimic, I thought I might get some benefit from its corpse, so I ate it. Instead of a benefit, the game told me that I could not resist the temptation to mimic a treasure chest, and it made me go inert while I was stung to death by bees.

These guys universally suck, especially in Ultima V.

To add insult to injury, I had a ton of unidentified stuff.

Still not sure what scrolls of "blank paper" do.

I was so sure Valerie was going to be "the one." I halfheartedly tried to pick up a tourist, a wizard, and a ninja, but it was no good. Having gotten to Level 15 once tonight, it's going to be a hard time getting back there again.

I'm not sure if any of you expected that I would "ascend" in NetHack in this first round of playing. If you did, I'm sorry to disappoint you. I'm going to knock off this version for now, and revisit it in 1989 with version 3.0.

I need your opinion as to whether I played enough to GIMLET this one. I know later versions have side quests and such, but I don't think this version does. Did I discover enough about the game that I can effectively rate it, or at Level 15 am I still missing a lot of the game's surprises?


  1. I think both statements are true, not one or the other. There are a lot of surprises left in the game, but the way Nethack is designed, you'll come across them bit by bit over many more games. I'd suggest you have enough experience to GIMLET this version. In general, the surprises that await you will still be waiting in the next version you try- along with lots of other new stuff to reinvigorate the entire experience.

  2. Modern versions of nethack have a lot more varied types of stuff below level 15, but I don't know how much of that, if any, exists in the version you're playing.

    As for the scrolls of blank paper, yes, they're useful. If you have the appropriate other things, then it's possible to write on them.

  3. Tengu are actually a Japanese bird-man spirit, usually portrayed as trickster types. The Wikipedia article says as much if you read further than the translation of the name.

  4. I agree with Archivist. While there are a lot of fiddly bits, you know enough to rate the game. I'd recommend reading the spoilers for *this* version after rating it.

  5. I recommend against it: a lot of them are applicable to later versions.

    To me, a large part of Nethack's attraction were the times when an adventurer made it through the first few levels, where the great majority died, and suddenly the sky was the limit. I suspect that this fits the clubbing metaphor.

    Some people take the first few levels slowly and carefully, and get through with almost every adventurer. Those people are freaky, which may also fit the metaphor.

    Valerie should be of great help to you in any later games. Players take off their best armor before reading scrolls. Abnormal ability loss is infuriating, but there is a way to fix it. Do keep eating monsters, you're going to need the resistances.

    Is there a reason why you're hanging onto the dead lizard?

  6. I'd play the more contemporary version. It looks a lot nicer, if you ask me (ascii version of course), the color palette is less ... eye blasting. Seems silly to play an old version, it's like playing an unpatched version of darklands because the patch didn't come out until a year later than the game is scheduled for.

  7. I'm easily bored, and in ordinary CRPGs, I'm always starting new characters. But I want to do that when I make that decision, not through some accident.

    With rogues, playing the first part of the game over and over again just bores me to death. Sometimes, if there's a way to cheat and backup my saved game, I'll do that. But usually, I just skip them.

    It would be different if they gave me the OPTION of permanent death. But all too often, people want to force me to play the game THEIR way. Why in the heck it matters to them, I'll never know. But it bugs the hell out of me when anyone tries to force me to follow a certain path, instead of letting me decide for myself.

  8. Please disregard my comment above, I see you have done your research more thoroughly than I have, heh. One of the dangers of reading the blog backwards.

  9. Since you started on your time in Nethack, I decided to get the latest version, and it seems to be a massive improvement.

    The differences are not big enough to negate your current experience though.

    I've not got past dungeon level 7 yet, always finding new ways to die(or repeating old ones). It's amazing how you begin to remember the interface and learn from your mistakes after the 20+th death...

    In my latest attempt, I managed to gain a very powerful hammer after some sacrificial work. Other attempts where I haven't had an altar to work with have usually ended badly far sooner.

    Archaeologists though, are the best in my experience (and all experiences can vary!), the only other classes that have come close for me are the monk and wizard.

  10. On permadeath in NetHack: in explore mode (press X), death is optional. Playing in explore mode may encourage bad habits that negatively affect the chances of a 'real' ascension, and the game experience is obviously very different.

  11. [quote]. Some of them last longer than others. But whether you only make it to Level 1 (a smile), Level 4 (buying them a drink), or Level 12 (a quick snog in a corner), ultimately you usually do something stupid, or just suffer some bad luck, and you have to start over again. [/quote]

    Nice analogy - lol

  12. WCG, I get what you're saying, but it seems to me that without permanent death, the primary purpose of roguelikes would be lost. The games depend largely on the suspense generated by impending doom. If keeping saves was an option, then the developers would have to do different things to make the game challenging, and it would no longer be a roguelike.

    I fully understand why you'd want to skip them, though. I'm not a real big fan myself. I like NetHack for its variety of objects, creatures, and actions.

    Anon, I don't think there's an "explore" mode in this version. That must have been added later.

    1. I'm reading in order, so I don't know if you got tempted by explorer mode in later versions or not, but don't confuse "death is optional" with "impossible to lose". The fact that having your hitpoints reduced to zero doesn't end the game doesn't prevent you from getting all your equipment vaporized in the depths of the dungeon and ending up surrounded by monsters too tough to kill with your bare hands. Or having a trap polymorph you into a green slime or something similarly unplayable.

      Ultimately, explorer mode can be a good thing to fiddle around with if you're just not having a lot of luck. It'll let you try different strategies without necessarily having to go through a whole bunch of different characters until you figure out what actually works.

    2. I messed with it for a little while, but I didn't like the idea that I wasn't making any progress in the "real" game. Eventually, I collapsed and looked at online spoilers, which obviated the need to experiment.

  13. I'm not sure I get that. This would just be an option for those who wanted it. In fact, they could consider it a "cheat," if they wanted. Why would that affect anyone else's enjoyment of the game? After all, presumably existing fans of these games like it this way.

    Also, if I didn't enjoy the game without permanent death, I could always turn it back on. Since I don't play those games now, much, because of the permanent death, it's hard to see how the developer would lose by this.

  14. Wow, that version of nethack was ugly. Make sure you set IBM graphics to on when that vecomes avalible- it uses extended ASCII to make the game much prettier. I use the nethackw.exe build for the nice UI, but set to IBM Ascii graphics as i find them much more helpful than the tiles, as u need to know what symbol is what at some points. i saw a really nice UI for linux onxe (the Qt version I think) but I couldn't get the nice graphics to work. When you find a version with IBM graphics let me know and I can send you my custom character mappings- I found they were not using all the symbols they could, so I extended it. I have versions for both code pages 850 and 437 (or whatever the common english ones are).

    Also make sure to customize you defaults.nh file, if only to set your favouite type of fruit.

  15. WCG -- permadeath is part of the experience. Sure, you can scum save if you want, just like you can hex edit the save file of any game you want giving yourself godlike abilities... but to do so undermines the game itself, like playing cards face up. But yes, do as you will... but it's not the same experience, at all.

    The joy -- the absolute joy -- of Nethack is that death is around every corner. And yes, it's terrible to die. You have no idea how much I raged one day when, relatively close to ascending, I took off my gloves... and forgot to put them back on. Many reading this will know exactly what happened next, and probably know what weapon I was wielding.

    But that incredible, terrible, sense of despair is gone when you can just reload. And good riddance you say! (yes, i can hear you saying it) -- why would anyone want to despair?

    And the answer is that to have joy, once must know sadness. And Nethack, a game quite capable of destroying a fully upgraded, ascension-worthy character with one ill-fated key press... can also reward said player in beautiful ways. The times you spend 5 minutes thinking about your next move because you know you're going to die on your next hit, but figure out a way around it... be it a lucky scroll read, or other boon.

    Oh, Nethack, i love thee.

  16. >>You have no idea how much I raged one day when, relatively close to ascending, I took off my gloves... and forgot to put them back on. Many reading this will know exactly what happened next, and probably know what weapon I was wielding.

    I have a pretty good idea, heh.

  17. I've had worse than the cannibalistic dog :) My char was eating a corpse, it made him vomit so I stopped and dropped it. Next message I see : Floyd eats the partially digested (something) corpse. I do like how in ADOM things will get angry if they see you eating the corpses of their brethren :)

  18. When I tried Nethack, the interface defeated me and I went fleeing back to the arms of ADOM. While I'd love to read your thoughts on it, the earliest version I could find is from 2002, so...

    I take pride in the fact that I raised a mindcrafter - one of the most difficult classes - to level 31. Had great stats, artifact weapons and had completed the requirements for the best ending. But I was too scared to continue and he sits there still in Dwarftown, waiting for me to pick it up.

  19. I don't know if thei approach would be good for you, but when I'm into ADOM, I usually start out 6 different characters and play through the game in bites. Character 1 makes it to a certain point. OK, now I'm going to leave him there and take character 2 to that same point in his or her game.

    That stops the huge letdown when a character dies after going pretty far. It also helps me focus better because I have a much closer goal.


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