December 8, 2015 2:00 PM | John Bridgman
There are times when games truly earn the title of classic. Franchises that have been around seemingly forever, or individual games that are still played and loved today, held together by strong, devoted communities. One such true classic, and one of the original games inspired by Rogue, Nethack has recently received an new official update after over a decade.
It is without exaggeration to say that NetHack is an important game. The plethora of Roguelikes that exist now owe a lot to the freeware title's existence. That makes it getting a new release even more significant, as the genre is more loved and widespread than ever before.
The ASCII art game dates back to 1987, inspired by 1985's Hack. Taking the Rogue formula and expanding on it greatly, it serves as the foundation that a lot of roguelike games in modern gaming have built upon. With its wide expanse of actions, humour, and pop culture reference, there's a little bit of this classic title in everything from FTL to Dungeons of Dredmor.
For those who aren't familiar with the game, it is a dungeon crawling RPG controlled through an immense assortment of keyboard commands. In addition to directional movement and inventory management, there are commands for eating, drinking, different ways to use magic, various NPC interactions, and more. There are very few things you can't try, and the game itself rewards you, in fashion, for this experimentation, either through new ways to solve encounters or through an amusing death.
The update itself involves mostly official implementation of various community-created mods that have been helpful in keeping the game thriving despite not having a proper new release over the course of 10+ years. In addition they've cleaned up the code itself, and focused on trying to improve stability of the game while still keeping it compatible with old hardware. The inclusion of mods and the cleaned up code does mean old save files won't be compatible with 3.6.0, however. Also they have migrated their internal source repository to Git and bug tracking to Bugzilla, after the outage on SourceForge in the summer.
This release also includes a tribute to the late Sir Terry Pratchett, who became a fan of NetHack after being introduced to the camera and credit card carrying "Tourist" class which was inspired by his works. The development team, upon hearing of Sir Pratchett's passing, decided to include various quotes from Discworld into the release and tribute file. The release notes themselves, in fact, include the quote: "Never build a dungeon you wouldn't be happy to spend the night in yourself. The world would be a happier place if more people remembered that.", which they say is appropriate on multiple levels.
If you are a fan of Roguelike games, there is a very good chance you've played NetHack already, but if you haven't, this new release is an excellent opportunity to give it a try. There are very few games I consider to be "must-plays", and NetHack is without question one of them. If you're not into the genre, I still recommend trying it, as it's one of the genuine classics of gaming.