Posted by: Ben | January 13, 2010

Man vs Genre: Hack

The Facts

The Unix-based roguelike which was originally developed by Jay Fenlason circa 1982 and which later became Nethack. This is the uncredited DOS port, known as Hack121, obtained from There is no plot, just get in them dungeons and do your stuff.

Character Building

The game doesn’t know this, but I’m Keema Korma IV.
I have 12 hit points and 14 strength.

The Game

Starts the same as Akalabeth, funnily enough, in a shop. I have 90 gold pieces (the international currency of fantasy). I need weapons, armour and food. I decide to postpone death by getting expensive armour and cheap everything else. I buy “splint mail” for 80gp, a hand axe for 1gp and nine rations of food.

I find myself in a small room with what according to the documentation is some gold and a scroll. These I take. As in Rogue, the scrolls are labelled in gibberish. This one says “Kernod Wel.” I read it, and it makes my armour rust.

In the next room is a monster, represented by the letter j. j for jackal. It dies under my axe. Another room contains a pair of kobolds and a lizard. Dead now. I am down to 5 hit points. I check to see if eating food will increase my hit points. It doesn’t, but they seem to regenerate with time anyway. Then I meet a bat. Then a pickpocket. Then another jackal, and a goblin. And now I am Level 2. Fear me, creatures of darkness.

To celebrate, I head back to the shop with the 88gp I found in the dungeon, to buy better weapons. Or at least, I go back up the stairs thinking it will lead to the shop, and the game thinks I have wimped out and ends with a message that flickers onto the screen too fast to read. Running the game in Dosbox and turning the CPU speed down from 3000 cycles to 5 reveals that it was a high score table.

Time to break my own rule and play again.

This time I have 170gp to spend in the shop, so the starting amount of cash must be randomised. God knows what I’m supposed to do with any money I do find in the dungeon; perhaps there are more shops further down. Once again I want the most expensive armour. This time I notice the shop is selling light sources, so one of those might come in handy. I take the splint mail, a two-handed sword, a shield, twenty torches, twenty rations of food, and two random potions.

That sword I bought? Cursed. I’d take it back if I could without the game ending. (Actually I think Cursed just means it’s stuck to my hand, which is probably not going to be a major problem since that is very much where I want it.) The potions turn out to be speed and extra hit points. These should come in handy if I meet any tough monsters further down the dungeon.

Start in small room. Go to next room. Fight kobold. Cut down in my prime by a kobold. This isn’t how it was supposed to end.

Total play time:
10 minutes
Verdict: Unfair. Of course it’s unfair, it’s a roguelike.


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