Ever since my video card died, and I pseudo-permanently let my neighbor borrow my Wii, I’ve had to get my video game fixes from interesting sources.
Nethack, labeled by many as the best video game ever, is basically Diablo, circa 1987. It’s free, open-source, and available here.
Nethack lives comfortably on the top of a genre called “Roguelikes”. In short, there’s a dungeon of auto-generated rooms and monsters. Our hero (who can take on the role of barbarian, samurai, priest, or camera-toting tourist), takes the form of @. Enemies are represented by the remainder of the characters in the ASCII set. If the old-school visuals aren’t to your liking, the latest builds allow you to enable a graphical interface.
The game starts innocently enough – you even get a pet! But very soon you will perish in all sorts of nasty ways. And in this game, one death is all you get. If the monsters don’t bash you down, you can fall through a pit, set off a poison gas trap, or starve to death. Hunger is one of the most urgent matters confronting the player. The trick is to eat the corpses of slain foes. Of course, eat a corpse of the wrong type of monster and you’ll die from food poisoning.
Needless to say, Nethack is a very hard game. It takes people years, if ever, to properly beat it (ascend). The workaround is called “scumming”. It’s a deplorable term for a mostly innocent tactic. Simply save your game, make a copy of the save file and resume. If you die (your original save file is deleted by the game), copy the backup back into the appropriate directory and come back where you left off.
Scumming let me descend my Valkeryie, a sort of female Viking (no, not the Tom Cruise film!) beyond the valley of Medusa, through the trap doors of the Castle, beyond the Land of the Dead – to Gehennom. I killed the Wizard of Yendor, performed the invocation to enter the Sanctum of Moloch and retrieved the Amulet of Yendor. From there, however, things got really hard.
I’ve spent hours on the game and there’s still hours more (at least until I pick up an XBox 360…). I would like to legitimately ascend one day.