The First Roguelike* Gets A Patch After A Decade, Adds Tribute To Terry Pratchett

It’s the descendent of a game released in 1985. It’s an ASCII game that is basically responsible for creating an entire genre that has enjoyed an immense resurgence over the last several years. And now, more than ten years on, the development team who have been keeping the Mazes of Menace kicking have just released a key update.

An update for NetHack.

They’re called the DevTeam, the men and women responsible for developing the vanilla version of NetHack. There are many versions available online, but unless something is being pushed out by the DevTeam, it’s not the original. It’s not true NetHack.

The true version of NetHack hasn’t been updated for over a decade. 12 years to the day, to be precise: that was when NetHack 3.4.3 was published. A version of NetHack appeared last year, although it wasn’t officially released or sanctioned by the DevTeam. “It is unfinished, unpolished, and almost certainly very buggy,” the DevTeam said on September 21.

“It is best considered a partial and unfinished rough draft. We will not be supporting this code, nor will we be releasing binaries or bugfixes for it. It will not be available through our website.”

Official NetHack releases are a serious thing. And that’s how it should be: you don’t mess with the foundation of an entire genre, a game that has been going for almost 30 years. But now there’s a new, stable release: NetHack 3.6. It’s 3.6 because the developers wanted to distance themselves from the breach of 2014, honouring their pledge to “not now nor in the future release anything with a version number of 3.4.4, 3.5, or 3.5.0”.

There’s been a string of changes integrated from developments that have occurred within the NetHack community over the last decade, including:

  • Roderick Schertler’s pickup_thrown patch
  • Extensions of Malcolm Ryan’s Statue Glyphs patch for tty and tiles
  • Extensions of the Paranoid_Quit patch
  • Extensions of the Dungeon Overview
  • Aardvark Joe’s Extended Logfile
  • Michael Deutschmann’s use_darkgray patch
  • Clive Crous’ dark_room patch
  • Jeroen Demeyer and Jukka Lahtinen sortloot patch
  • Stefano Busti’s Auto open doors patch

And that’s not to mention the other bits and pieces inadvertently revealed in last year’s leak of NetHack 3.5. The menu colours, pickup thrown, statue glyphs, sort loot and dungeon overview community patches are now canon, as well, with the DevTeam rolling the community changes — or their takes on them, at any rate — into the main code.

But perhaps the nicest change in this release is the DevTeam’s tribute to the creator of Discworld, the legendary author Sir Terry Pratchett. Sir Terry was a long-time lover of NetHack, so much so that the Tourist class was “openly based on the Discworld novels” according to the DevTeam.

Updates to NetHack only further enshrined the love between the author and the brilliant roguelike, with Twoflower appearing in the game’s special quest level (if you’re playing as a Tourist). Offler, Blind Io and The Lady are the patron gods for the class, and Tourists experiencing hallucinations can even get a glimpse of the Luggage, Twoflower and Rincewind’s highly animated and amusing companion.

As a mark of respect, the developers have honoured Pratchett — and his appreciation for NetHack — by scattering “a huge number of quotes from many of the Discworld novels” in the game. “The complete list can be found in dat/tribute and special thanks to Michael Allison who took the lead on this one,” the DevTeam wrote.

I did a quick search of the nhdat file (it doesn’t have an extension) and opened it up in Notepad. Searching for Pratchett, the first line I found was from The Colour of Magic:

The twin city of Ankh-Morpork, foremost of all the cities bounding the Circle Sea, was as a matter of course the home of a large number of gangs, thieves’ guilds, syndicates and similar organisations.

You can find plenty more scattered throughout the game, or searching the nhdat file yourself. There are official downloads for PCs running Windows 7 or greater, as well as those playing on OSX, while those who want to play on Linux, the PSP, Atari and god knows what else can look at the unofficial links.

It’s only a few megabytes and, if you have the tolerance and patience — ala Dwarf Fortress — to parse thirty years of tradition, this might be one of the most special things you play all Christmas. Go treat yourself to some gaming history. Everyone should.

*Update: Was Rogue technically the first Roguelike? No, but you could easily argue that the honour belongs to Hack. Mind you, I’d give more credence to the game that was kept in development for all those years (NetHack), but I will happily concede to those of you in the comments and Twitter.

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