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...that she might be a sufficient reason for young Candide

and he for her


August 15th, 2001

Nethack @ 01:32 am

Current Mood: ecstatic

I've been playing a lot of Nethack, lately, and it finally occurred to me why I love it so much. In the past I've tried to talk many of you into trying it at one time or another, and so far only Hillen has really succumbed. This post isn't to try to lure you into playing, per se, though I of course still think you all should develop this particular addiction. The reason I'm posting yet again on Nethack is that I just had an epiphany today about why Nethack keeps pulling me back for more. I've tried, in the past, to explain the draw of a game that has only ascii for graphics (for a while I played with tiles, but I play the way Huan Ti intended, now: color ASCII), and I never quite managed to put it into words. But today I think I can frame it correctly.

There are two things that make Nethack truly special (well, okay, roguelikes in general, but Nethack is the best of the lot...ADOM would be a contender if it were actively maintained...but it's not).

1) The first point is the one I've always been able to express. Namely, every game of Nethack is different. Since I've said this before, I won't belabor the point, but just in case there are people reading this who've never even heard of the game before, I'll elaborate enough to be clear.

Every time you play, every level, and even which levels appear in what order, or even appear at all, is hugely randomized. There are some consistencies in how various parts of the dungeon are structured, but all that does is prevent the game from feeling totally chaotic. No two games are alike. The items and creatures you encounter, the locations of exits, altars, kitchen sinks, and hidden closets, number of rooms, paths between them, hidden vaults, and even gold and gems embedded deep in the walls of the caves are totally random. On top of all that, the character you start with changes the game dramatically, and there are ~20 character classes, several races, three alignments, and two (count 'em) genders, all of which have a non-trivial effect on the play of the game. I randomize my character selection, so even THAT is never the same twice*. So Nethack never gets old. Fine. Who cares? Why is it so exciting that meals, friends, and ::gasp:: work become casualties in its wake? It's ASCII, for The Lady's sake. The answer brings us to my revelation:

2) Nethack is a constant walk along the tension of the fine line between life and death. Might sound like I'm being melodramatic, but I'm quite serious. You are always living on the edge. The thing about Nethack is that there is always at least one major thing going wrong. Even if you are in perfect health, and making good progress, you are constantly forced to think ahead to how you're going to get the next piece of equipment towards the "ascension kit" you'll need to win the game. And in solving one problem, you invariably create two more problems, often just as serious as the first. For example you suddenly realize those boots you just tried on hoping they'd be speed boots were actually fumbling boots, and they were cursed, so they don't come off. You finally find a fountain to dip them in to remove the curse, and dipping finally uncurses them...just as it produces a stream of poisonous water moccasins. Desperately reading scrolls hoping for a teleportation out of the mound of shit you're now under, you accidentally discover a scroll of earth, which crushes you, and each of the surrounding snakes, under your own personal boulder. You barely survive intact, but now you can't get out of the room, and your god is still angry with you for accidentally sacrificing a werewolf (forgetting that werewolfs are people too, and lawful gods are unamused), and with no pick axe and no rations, you're in a whole new kind of doo doo. And so it goes...

But as you're getting constantly shit upon by fate, your own stupidity, and the fact that it's just a damn hard game, you're also constantly gaining levels, finding artifacts of glorious power, and generally becoming so much of a badass that you really want this one to live to see another sunset at ground level. So every minute of the game is tense and exciting, trying to prepare for everything, because you don't know if the next bend in the passage will reveal the Vorpal Blade or the Jabberwock. (Yeah, they're in there.)

These aren't the only reasons this game kicks ass, and some would claim that there ought to be a "3) the dev team thought of everything", but these two are the two that keep me coming back for more. I'll die a loyal Nethack fan.

*kids don't try this at home. Play one class for a while until you know it, then move on to a new one. I know them all, so I'm in the clear.
 
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From:kvance
Date:August 14th, 2001 10:45 pm (UTC)
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Yes indeed. Nethack is definitely on my favorite games list. I've gone a month or two without nethack, and I'm probably going to start up again soon. Just in time for my first year of college :)
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From:hawk
Date:August 14th, 2001 11:02 pm (UTC)
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link's broken
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From:kvance
Date:August 14th, 2001 11:10 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, that's the downside of pointing www.tekktonik.net to my 56k. www.tekktonik.net == tekktonik.yi.org == 208.248.1.97, for at least the next 8 hours anyway.
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From:chyee
Date:August 14th, 2001 11:03 pm (UTC)
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You're alive!!
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From:mrwiz
Date:August 15th, 2001 08:22 am (UTC)

heh heh heh

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yeah, i've played my fair share of nethack too... always questing for that next piece of equipment, or trying to round out your intrinsics... good stuff. Problem is that when I'm doing well, it's invariably late at night. and since im doing good, i dont' wanna quit... but then i start to get tired.... so i get sloppy.... and once i get sloppy, i always manage to do something dumb and get killed.... so because i'm doing good i stay up late, get sloppy, then die. bah! =) and ADOM 1.0 was released last week btw =) so it's still being maintained. :P Still, NetHack has a full dev team while ADOM is a 1 man show... I like both of em a lot, however.
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From:hawk
Date:August 15th, 2001 09:02 am (UTC)

Re: heh heh heh

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kick ass! I didn't know biskup had finally gotten off his ass! very cool. Well that's two addictive wastes of time for me, then. ;)
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From:mrwiz
Date:August 15th, 2001 10:55 am (UTC)

Re: heh heh heh

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heh, i hear ya... another good thing about NetHack. you can play from any terminal on campus. =) I've gotten pretty far a couple of times... usually as a barbarian or a valk. Completed my class quest and got down to some of the elemental planes before i got munched. for awhile i felt invincible with my GDSM, all those blessed magic markers, and a blessed rustproof mjollnir +5 which iwas tossing around =) hehe. ah well, i died eventually, as i always do :P

i need to install that new version of adom...
From:daligirl
Date:August 15th, 2001 07:52 pm (UTC)

"A walk along the tension of the fine line between life and death..."

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Right. So when are we going to get you to do this in real life? ::winks:: Bloody computer geeks. :)
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From:hawk
Date:August 15th, 2001 08:11 pm (UTC)

Re: "A walk along the tension of the fine line between life and death..."

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Well, considering the average lifespan of my nethack characters is maybe a day at the outside (generously speaking), um...I'm feelin' the love?...

(note: actually that's unfair. It's difficult to judge lifespan for a Nethack character because time works in very fucked up ways in Nethack. The only real similarity to real time is that it tends to go by in one direction only, except in very stylized and special circumstances. If one were, for example, to estimate the actual length of a turn based on the time necessary to slay a coyote with one's bare hands, divided by three, the lifespan of a character might rise dramatically, until even the saddest attempts to retrieve the amulet of Yendor would reach legendary status...)
From:daligirl
Date:August 15th, 2001 09:07 pm (UTC)

Re: "A walk along the tension of the fine line between life and death..."

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wimp. ;)

...that she might be a sufficient reason for young Candide

and he for her