NetHack Cover
Platforms Linux, Windows, OSX, and many more
Genre Classic Permadeath Adventure
MtAMinutes to Action 8
Keep Playing? Yes, within reason

NetHack is a classic, Roguelike computer game infamous for its permanent death and complex gameplay. The free and open source game was released over 20 years ago in 1987 and the game is still in development. There's a huge community still playing NetHack, producing patches, and even forking the source to make new and wildly different games. The game has been ported to just about every platform known to man, and can be played online on any machine that has telnet. I could go on and on about the depth of its gameplay, challenging puzzles and enemies, or its ASCII graphics, but there are so many other resources which can do it better.

NetHack is not the first Roguelike I've played at the First Hour, that would be Mystery Dungeon: Shiren the Wanderer. Mystery Dungeon is a popular series in Japan that finally made it stateside last year. While death is not quite permanent, it's still a much bigger setback than in most games. Speaking of Roguelikes, if you've ever played Pokemon Mystery Dungeon or even ToeJam & Earl for the Sega Genesis, you've played a game in the genre. Being Roguelike can mean a lot more than ASCII graphics with vi-like controls.

Note: While I played the first hour of NetHack on via telnet, I've since been playing with a simple tileset and QT interface. I can appreciate the ASCII interface but it's just a bit user-unfriendly when I don't know what anything is. Enjoy the "screenshots" either way! Oh, and I really should have gone with a black background!

By the way, since I started playing the game last Thursday, I've been "tweeting" my deaths. I actually lasted a pretty long time on my first game after the first hour, go read about them all if you're interested.

Minute by Minute

(minutes are in bold)
00 - I start a new game on and the game first asks me if it would like me to select the character race, role, gender, and alignment for me. Nah, I'd like to see the options. Wow, a whole bunch of classes to choose from, I'll try Samurai. A male... no options for race and alignment. Probably a good human. I get an excerpt from the Book of Amaterasu Omikami. Amaterasu wants the Amulet of Yendor, and it's my job to get it for her.

01 - "Konnichi wa First Hour, welcome to Nethack!" I am a lawful male human Samurai. I am lucky, it's a full moon tonight? Interesting!

02 - So I don't see much on the screen: a flashing @ symbol, the letter d, a percent sign, and what looks like walls.

03 - I press Up and it asks me what kind of things do I want to take off? Nothing? Ah, you actually move with HJKL, like vi. Fun. Does the numpad work? Yep.

05 - As I move around the room, I read some graffiti, and see two gunyoki... what's a gunyoki? Now there's a bunch of # signs surrounding me.

06 - I'm standing on 18 gold pieces, how do I pick them up? Hmm.. a dead end.

08 - Oh, I opened a door with the "o" key! I've killed a newt!

Nethack Killed A Newt

11 - I've exhausted all the passages and doors, so I decide to look at all the game's controls. There's a sword on the ground, I'd like to know how to pick it up.

13 - Okay, finally, comma! I pick up and wield the sword, but it looks like my katana is better. Well, at least it's a better samurai weapon.

16 - I discover that open curly brace is a fountain, what can you do with a fountain?

18 - Never figured it out, though I did go pick up the 18 gold pieces. In my reading I found that the < and > characters are stairs. Oh, no return from the stairs, okay.

19 - Wait, I just escaped from the dungeon and ended the game. Whoops.

20 - I start another new game. Don't climb those stairs again. This time, I appear to be in a much smaller area, with just one room to explore? That doesn't seem right.

Nethack Escaped Dungeon

23 - After another new game, I appear immediately by a statue of a newt. Gritty reminder of my one and only battle so far. I find a chest, can I open it? I pick it up but it just weighs me down.

25 - Just read through all the commands again, no idea how to open the chest. Moving on.

26 - I head down my first set of stairs. As I walk around down here, I keep "hearing" a door open. Weird.

27 - Oh, whoops. I think I just pushed a boulder in exactly the wrong direction, blocking my path... What do I do?

30 - Stuck again I think. Another new game, without even a decent death! Hey, killed a newt right away! Then I pick up a scroll labeled YUM YUM. What's it do?

32 - I've now killed two newts and a jackal. There's a jackal corpse. Poor jackal. Ooh, orcish chain mail.

Nethack Killed By Kicking A Wall

34 - A grid bug gets the first attack in but I kill it my next turn. I now have 14/15 hit points.

35 - "I hear someone counting money." Me in a moment. I pick up a spetum. What the heck is a spetum.

37 - I feel stuck again. It looks like there is a doorway, but I can't move in that direction. And where there is a door, it's locked! BOOM! I kick the locked door down! And... dead end.

38 - Stuck? I kick the wall in frustration and take damage. Well... this could be a fun way to die. I kick so much that my right leg is now in no shape for kicking! With only 4 HP left!

40 - Well, I die for the first time after much kicking. My scroll is identified and it turns out to be a blessed scroll of teleportation. I also had wounded legs, was lucky, and dead.

41 - Kind of a pathetic first death. I feel like I have a heckuva lot to learn. This time I'm going to play as a human, male, chaotic barbarian.

42 - My barbarian is accompanied by a kitten, who has a taste for flesh as I kill a newt, the kitten eats its flesh! I kick down a door (fun!) and kill a kobold zombie. Weird.

Nethack Kitten Eats A Corpse

45 - This game has already been quite varied! I killed a lichen, and then immediately after a grid bug. Then my kitten picked up the lichen corpse!

47 - Phew! I just got ambushed by some sewer rats and a newt. My kitten helped me fight but sometimes he would stop to eat their bodies. I only have 3/16 HP left.

50 - What the? A gush of water has attacked me, and rusts both my axe and armor. What's rust do? Well, at least I wasn't the only target, the gush of water hit my kitten in the head too.

51 - Oh, a boomerang, can't wait to throw that.

53 - Hey! Experience level 2! I see a jackal and meant to throw my boomerang at it, but instead threw my sword. Who knew that "b" is for sword and "g" is for boomerang?

54 - I get a message from somewhere, "You feel tough! You must be leading a healthy lifestyle."

56 - After more exploring I find a green gem and pick it up. Oh, I'm beginning to feel hungry. What do I do? I have an uncursed food ration, let's eat that. The food hit the spot.

58 - Oh no, a rolling boulder trap! I got hit by it and lost 18 HP. Luckily I have 7 left. Phew. Whoops, I walked onto a gaping hole and automatically fall down it. There's some gold down here but it appears to be a dead end. A real dead end!

60 - I mess around with the keys a bit but it seems to be a lost cause. Well, that's the end of Nethack's first hour! With my barbarian I end up killing an acid blob, a jackal, three goblins, two sewer rats, four grid bugs, a lichen, a kobold zombie, and five newts.

Nethack Message History

First Hour Summary

Minutes to Action: 8

What did I like: NetHack moves pretty fast when you're in a hurry, but the turn-based action let's you slow down and think about the problems you're facing. And problems there are! I guess I really like the potential NetHack presents. I can play as a heroic Samurai or as an orc Barbarian. I can explore quickly or methodically check out every nook and cranny. Plus the randomized dungeons mean no two games will ever be alike.

What didn't I like? I would say that NetHack has a mighty learning curve. Every letter on keyboard has a function, every item or monster on screen is also represented by a character, and you simply have no idea what to do in some early situations. This is, of course, one of NetHack's main draws: the world is a mystery, and you will be thrown into challenges and it is your job to get out alive. Or at least die and learn from your experience. This makes it tough for beginners. I ran into a lot of "dead ends" in my first hour of the game, honestly thinking I was really stuck. I only found out later that I could "search" the walls and find hidden doors and passageways.

Gameplay: People have been playing NetHack for two decades, and it's definitely not for the graphics, so it has to be the gameplay, right? If you can get over that initial huge hump, I believe this game is a real gem.

Fun Factor: Well, I've never read the in-game help in the first hour of a game before... let alone as often as I needed to. When my friend urged me to do a first hour of NetHack, he laughed that I would be dying left and right. I barely knew how to move around let alone die. I honestly didn't have a lot of fun in the first hour, but I will admit, I played for a couple hours straight later on and was really getting into it.

Graphics and Sound: What can I say here? No sound, no music, simple ASCII graphics. This game definitely requires an imagination though. If only I knew what all the letters on the screen meant, I might actually know how to imagine them.

Story: NetHack features a quick intro to your character and their god, and then you're on your own. Make up your own story already!

Would I keep playing? Yes, but within reason. I'm not going to devote my life to NetHack and ascending, but I will give it a good, solid try. I've heard really great things about the game, and I feel like I fit into that niche of gamer who could also enjoy it.

Nethack Qt Interface