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

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.


  • I would’ve thought the first Roguelike would have been Rogue 😛

    Though now having said that I’m not so sure. Can something be like itself?

      • Another thought. Perhaps Rogue can only be the second Roguelike. It can’t have been a Roguelike to begin with, since it was just Rogue. So the first game like it created the term Roguelike, and became the first one, and only afterwards could Rogue have been one.

        • Accurate examples can predate the creation of the term.

          Debating genre definitions always ends up getting silly. Roguelikes are games like Rogue. What game is more like Rogue than Rogue?

          • You can’t say something is like something else if it IS that something else.
            So, Rogue is not like Rogue, Rogue is Rogue, and only games created like Rogue are Roguelike.

          • Genres are shorthand to describe something in broad strokes. A roguelike has permanent death, procedural generation etc. Rogue has those same qualities, so fits the definition of a roguelike.

            Pretend roguelikes were called misery simulators (or some other arbitrary designation). Would you object to Rogue being called a misery simulator? Most people wouldn’t. Why object to calling it a roguelike?

    • I guess something can be like itself in the same way that a person can not be themselves?

  • Naw, that’s touching. From memory, he played a bunch of old games at times, there’s explicit references to a bunch of stuff in his earlier books.

    Also, just to be picky, the first Roguelike was surely “Rogue” itself. or “Hack,” which NetHack was based on. Still, NetHack is probably the most well known

    • That’s entirely right. I’ve put a small update in the article above so people can appreciate my lack of pedantry.

      I think historically NetHack deserves to be upheld as the pillar of it all, despite the naming convention, given its continued development and the changes it wrought, but hey, debate for another time.

      • Pedantry about the prototypical Roguelike and talk of Pterry.

        I’m sure that there are internet discussions dating back 30 years that fit that description.

      • Oh, I think it’s absolutely a seminal work, and deserves celebration. It was just funny within a headline that said “the original roguelike”

      • Of course it possibly is the first Roguelike game. It’s the first game that was like Rogue. The fact it predates Rogue is just a matter of timing and being unlucky enough to not be as popular as Rogue during that same time.

  • Not the friendliest of games to newcomers, but has amazing depth. Learnt the ropes spending countless smoke-filled hours in friends’ uni rooms taking turns to see who could get the furthest. Silver dragon scale mail for the win.

  • I played a few randomised dungeon games in the early early 80s (before 85) which were entirely text based without the ascii maps.

    First ASCII randomised dungeon crawler I ever played was Moria. Didn’t even hear about rogue, hack or nethack until a decade or two later.

  • So never played this game… my boyfriends on the DevTeam though so I’m assuming it’s inevitable. Any tips for a newcomer?

    • You’ll need a guide, or a lot of advice from the BF (or anyone else with a lot of experience with the game). The biggest hurdle is getting used to the large number of keyboard commands that all do different things.

      And lots of little tricks that are hard to pick up without watching others play. Like praying at aligned alters after sacrificing to get a special weapon. Or poly-piling (dropping all your unwanted items in a pile and zapping them with a wand of polymorph to get a new bunch of items). Or knowing what to wish for when you manage to score a free wish. I’d recommend silver dragon scale mail, it’s magic resistant and if you zap yourself with a wand of polymorph while wearing it you become a silver dragon. Then if you’re a female character you can lay eggs and get silver dragons as pets. Or… I could go on for hours.

      It is intimidating at first, but it’s worth the investment.

      • Erm… maybe I’ll get Sean to just… show me and stuff. he helped make the thing and I’m hopeless at video games… ya I don’t feel like spending hours upon hours dying over and over again… it seams like a pretty good alternative option…

        (but how cool would it be to beat the game and than tell Sean “oh hey, i’ve never played this before” and than beat it on the first play through while he’s watching… It’s so tempting to spend the hours dying just to see his reaction to that…)

          • Oh, you’re right, I meant reflection. It’s handy to have wands bounce off you, I thought that was magic resistance. It’s been too long, gonna have to reinstall this. Never did ascend, although I did come close once.

            And nothing beats a fancy pair of silver duds.

          • Yes, although I tend to try and get either the amulet of reflection or even better the shield of reflection. The more I play though I find reflection secondary to magic resistance just based on number of things that can f*** you up that is protected from either. Both are important though.

            I also came close to ascending once, I had gotten the amulet and made my way back to the entrance. What I didn’t realise though was that the wizard can steal the amulet from you when he is fighting you, which he had and I hadn’t looted his corpse. So when I left it told me I didn’t have the amulet. ;-;

    • I have played Nethack for over twenty years, and at least five years seriously. My biggest tip: BEWARE THE CHICKATRICE! Seriously f*** that guy. Don’t touch it, don’t eat it, don’t stumble around in the dark just in case there’s a chickatrice corpse. Don’t pick it up. If I had a dollar for every chickatrice I died to…well I probably wouldn’t be sitting around playing Nethack that’s for sure. XD

      Also, get a helmet ASAP. Also gloves are really useful to prevent against chickatrice deaths. Make sure you drop everything on an altar to see if it’s cursed before using it. Try to get some mithril armour early on. Oh, and don’t pick up EVERYTHING. Just pick up all amulets, rings, potions, scrolls, and possibly wands, but other than that just pick up enough food as you need and don’t pick up every random item. You will almost definitely need to eat corpses to survive early on, although some cause you to become poisoned so be careful of that. Don’t eat kobold corpses, and don’t eat the corpses of the undead.

      Those tips should get you through at least the first 15 levels or so.

  • I wonder if I can still find my old saved game with the pet Jabberwocky. It started life as the pet kitten you start the game with which was almost immediately transformed it into an unstoppable killing machine when I tested a polymorph wand on it. Then threw a saddle on it so that I could ride it around.

    Best run ever.

  • The Discworld MUD was different. Running around with a Thieves’ Guild license trying to meet your quota was quite fun.

    “Oh, that necklace? Here’s my license, you can claim that on tax. Have a nice day!”

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