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 http://www.roguelikedevelopment.org/archive/index.php. 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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