- This is the page on the culture, development, and historic aspects of NetHack. For information on how to play the game and a start to the game mechanics, see Guidebook.
NetHack is a roguelike computer game, and the most famous and popular of its kind. The latest version is 3.4.3, released on 8 December 2003. NetHack can be downloaded at the official NetHack download page. It is also available in other languages.
Why do people like NetHack?
NetHack enjoys popularity in niches. Mathematicians, programmers, physicists, engineers, linguists and writers all feel a strong pull, though anyone with an eye for detail, a sense of completeness, a respect for complexity, and a head for numbers will be at home.
On the surface, the game is a hack'n'slash Dungeons and Dragons clone, but its subtle sense of humor and intellectual rigor elevate it from the faintly nerdy to the sharply geeky.
Just as a mathematician seeks elegant expressions over fuzzy generalities, NetHack eschews graphics in favor of perfectly crafted, well-defined ASCII characters. While other games are dated by their interfaces, NetHack is preserved in aesthetic purity.
The programmer is drawn to NetHack as an extension of the operating system. Its culture is deeply intertwined with that of the Unix systems, and indeed is a staple fixture on any good Unix system - a known quantity, ageless, familiar, and soothing; whatever hairy command-line tasks are required, nethack(6) is always there.
NetHack is hard: while other games can be completed in an afternoon, you may go years without finishing NetHack. NetHack is unforgiving: if you die, you stay dead. There is no save-and-reload crutch here. Put simply, NetHack is a harsh mistress, whose respect you must earn. In time, you learn to respect it back.
NetHack is deep: in your first game, you will die quickly, and come back worrying about how to survive. You will learn, eventually, and move onto higher concerns. You will stop worrying about your score, and start considering questions of optimality, efficiency, and elegance. You will consult tables and guides in search of an edge because everyone knows the best way to have fun in a game is to take 20 until you beat an impossible DC, rather than try to actually succeed at something hard yet possible. You may dive into the very source code, looking to explain that one-in-a-thousand shot you just pulled off. You will probably learn some C, and possibly get into heated debates about the merits of pseudorandom number generators, expected returns, inconsistencies between competing mythologies, and the ethics of exploiting bugs.
NetHack is history: Descending from Rogue, NetHack has 26 years of development behind it. It is one of the few computer games widely played by people who are younger than it. From this history arises a kind of authority.
Graphical user interfaces
As well as the standard ASCII interface, many official and unofficial graphical user interfaces are available. The best known are Falcon's Eye and Vulture's Eye. Vulture's (includes Vulture's Eye) is actually a continuation of the Falcon's Eye project, but some players still prefer Falcon's Eye.
The title is properly spelled "NetHack", with two capital letters. "nethack" is also correct when used to refer to the name of the game binary. "Nethack" is a common misspelling, even having been used by members of the DevTeam in comments in the source code. See also Spelling.
In its legacy, NetHack has directly and indirectly been referenced in many sources.
- Dudley's Dungeon, a webcomic set in NetHack.
- The Screen terminal emulator has idiosyncratic messages from NetHack, such as "Suddenly, the dungeon collapses." when the program crashes.
- NetHack quotes, on the Bash Quote Database.