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17 May 2012 @ 12:29 am
Shadow Idol: @  
I forayed into Nethack for a little bit. I find, upon reflection, that Nethack (and other Roguelikes) are and are not games. They're games, in the sense that you play a character and interact with things according to certain rules to achieve a goal.

The grand majority of the content of Nethack, however, is not a game. It is a logic puzzle. Each character starts out with some of the squares of that puzzle filled in, depending on their race and class combination, but the rest of the puzzle has to be deduced, experimented, and otherwise determined, often through trying something and seeing if it kills you, or doing something desperately when you're about to die and finding out that it actually worked. And then having to figure out which rules are permanent and which one re-randomize every time you die. (For figuring out the permanent ones, there's Wizard Mode, where you can't die, and you have an infinite amount of wishes. The devs recommend using this. They also recommend reading the manual, because it contains one of the most useful permanent rules in it. RTFM is a rule of Nethack.)

One of the most basic permanent rules of Nethack is one that Gauntlet has made memetic - "Red [Character] Needs Food Badly." Take too many turns without sustenance, and you will die. Thus, your character must eat. This, however, must always be taken in context - the Calvinball rule of Nethack is "The Devs Have Thought of Everything." And therefore, after you die from eating zombie or mummy meat because it is rotten, after you die from eating any corpse of a creature that can turn others to stone, after you die and are turned into a slime because, apparently, it's a swiftly self-replicating organism that overwhelms your very cells and replaces them with its own, you learn that you have to choose what you eat. And then you find out that eating certain things confers beneficial effects, which adds complexity to your diet.

As you might guess, most people give up on Nethack long before they get anywhere in the game because there are so many permanent rules that have to be juggled, long before one gets to working out the random ones. Those who spend a lot of time with Nethack realize, like any any computer simulation, some rules can be bent, others broken, and still others manipulated to the player's benefit.

But let's just stay on food for the moment. You see, The Devs Have Thought of Everything. Which means that if you can die from the lack of something, you can also die from its excess. It is possible to consume so much food that the character chokes and dies. It is at this point that the player learns that there are some creatures and things that are too big to consume.

Lest one think this is simply a cruel game that delights in the multiple deaths of its players (which it is), Nethack does provide hints to the player that they have done well or poorly in their decisions. (With one notable but important exception. Which can screw you horribly if you don't know about it and have an artifact that will lock in the beneficial aspects, if it's beneficial, but will also lock in the detrimental effects, if it's detrimental.) The hints, however, are not always clear. For example, if you have gained the ability to sense the presence of other sentient beings, Nethack will cheerily tell you "You have gained a strange mental acuity." And then leave it up to you to figure out what that means.

When it comes to choking, the hint only suggests that you're doing well in finding and consuming food, and that's it.

And that's one of the reasons why I probably won't ascend - because I've had my fill of games that obliquely hint at what the next course of action is, and that require you to juggle the knowledge of multiple factors just to stay alive, and that make sure each turn brings you closer to death, possibly even by factors that they aren't going to say exist until it has killed you. Nethack certainly exercises INT and WIS, but it abuses HPY and especially SAN. I guess I like my games to be geared toward success and achieving the goal, rather than trying to find as many ways as possible to kill you.

Which probably means that, at least when it comes to games, you can count my fandom as HEA.

This has been a Shadow Idol Entry for Topic 26: Sated and Topic 27: Once Upon A Time

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Shenaliashenalia on May 19th, 2012 10:22 am (UTC)
TV Tropes - "The Devs Thought Of Everything" is a rather large & multii-aspected trope, and NetHack is the "Trope Namer".
Silver Adeptsilveradept on May 19th, 2012 02:04 pm (UTC)
Nethack has had twenty years of improvements on an open-source model - which means that The Devs are anybody willing to hack the code.