Wednesday, 11 April 2012


A couple of weeks ago, I talked about Angband, my introduction to Roguelikes and the iconic *band.  However, the most famous descendent of Rogue is probably NetHack, which is derived from Hack and is the iconic Hacklike.  It is renowned for the huge number of item interactions, powered by a flexible and powerful control system.  As a simple example, in Angband, the only things you can equip as weapons are actual weapons---swords, maces etc.  In NetHack, you can equip anything as a weapon; and there are times when you'll want to.

I'll be honest.  I'm not a huge fan.

A lot of this is simply due to the fact that NetHack hasn't been updated in almost a decade.  This has lead to a user interface that is noticeably inferior than its competitors; not just Angband, but other Hacklikes such as Crawl and ADOM.  Some of it, too, is that I am being somewhat stubborn and refusing to look up spoiler information online.  For example, one of the basic questions you might have is, given a selection of weapons, which one is best?  As far as I can tell, there is no way within NetHack to figure this out.  Even after fully identifying items, all you know is how they have been magically enhanced.  Compare that to the other games I have named, all of which give you some information about how much damage you do with different equipment.

The situation with armour is almost worse.  NetHack does tell you your current AC (armour class), so by wearing and removing armour you can figure out their values.  But, again, you need to note this as the game provides no simple way to find it out.  This sort of note taking may make the game harder, but it also makes it tedious.  The solution is either to look the information up online---which removes all difficulty---or to track every single piece of armour across games, so you know the effects of non-magical items.

Another problem I have is that the graphical interface is very similar to Rogue's:
Note that corridors are marked by being lit, but the corridor walls are not shown.  This makes it hard to tell when you've missed a branch point, and I really don't think there's any good reason to set things up this way.

One more complaint, based on a recent character I had.  I was caught in a bear trap, and I could not figure out how to get out.  I dug through the help files, tried every command I could think of but nothing seemed to work.  I was at the conclusion that this was a really annoying situation, where without some tool that I hadn't found the only hope was to wait to die of starvation.  Now, this is a roguelike so I'm used to death; but if I'm going to die, better to just kill me than set up something like that.  To check, I looked things up on line before giving up, and found the solution.  The problem is that it involves doing something several times with no clue that you're doing the correct thing anywhere within the game.  That's just irritating.

But, despite all of these complaints, I am warming up to the game.

A key moment came recently when I discovered how non-standard weapons and armour are organised in NetHack.  This is done differently to other roguelikes I have played, and, again, no clues in the game itself.  I found out when looking up how shops work, and I immediately got new insights to how to handle equipment in the early game.  Also, as I've played more and found more types of potions and scrolls, I've learnt more about how the dungeons are structured, key information towards the presence of hidden areas.  Lastly, with more games I've played more character classes, and this is an area where I think NetHack really does shine.

NetHack's character classes are, quite simply, fun.  You have the t-shirt wearing tourist, the Indiana Jones-style archaeologist, the scalpel-wielding (but rich) medic in addition to several of the usual choices.  All the classes that I have played feel really different, though this only applies to the early game as I still haven't dealt with the problem of death.

As a Hacklike, NetHack has no town level like Angband.  If you leave the dungeon, the game ends.  This doesn't mean there aren't any shops; they are just scattered through the dungeon.  NetHack also uses the 'drop items in the shop/pick up items' interface, compared to the list-based interface of Angband.  Angband's shops are clearer and easier to use, but NetHack allows various tricks to avoid paying for gear.

Another big difference with Angband is that in NetHack, the dungeon is fixed.  Levels are permanent, and it is always possible to return to one you have left.  This is more realistic, but means you have a lot less gear to play with.  Monsters continuously spawn, however, so you you'll never run out of things to fight.  Another difference with Angband is that the dungeon can branch, with only one path leading down to the Amulet; I think this normally only happens once, though.

Finally, here's my most recent death:

In my defence, I was blind when kitty clawed my guts out!

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