The Twelve Years Of Nethack: Version 3.6.0 Out Now

How many games that you’re playing today are likely to be on your hard drive twelve years from now? I’m not going to pretend that I’ve kept a copy of Nethack [official site] installed at all times for the last twelve years but I did reinstall as soon as I saw the news this morning. That’s the news that the venerable roguelike, which has been in development for almost thirty years, received its first update for more than a decade yesterday. Excitingly, this may be the start of a new development cycle, with frequent updates.

If you’re looking for radical changes, Nethack 3.6.0 might disappoint. There are some new features and tweaks to the existing design, but they’re focused around functionality. You can find full details in the update notes.

More important than any visible changes are the behind the scenes developments. The team, which has three new members, have been working on stability and bug testing, as well as preparing the ground for future updates: “…the focus of this release was to get the foundation established so that we can build on it going forward.”

Given the twelve-year wait for this update, perhaps it’d be unreasonable to expect frequent releases now but I do hope we hear something from the team before 2027.

If you don’t know Nethack, it’s the traditional ASCII dungeoncrawling roguelike that’s packed full of stuff. It takes place in the kind of rats ‘n’ kobolds dungeon you’d expect to find in a thousand other fantasy RPGs but Nethack’s world contains some oddities and pop culture references. The tourist class is one of the most obvious examples and the new version contains some touching elaboration on the inclusion of that class:

“As some may know, Terry Pratchett was a fan of NetHack, dating back to the time that we introduced the Tourist class which was openly based on the Discworld novels he penned.

“At the time of his passing this year, the DevTeam decided that it would be a fitting tribute to take a number of our favourite quotes from the various Discworld novels and incorporate them into the game. Being the way we are, we did a little more than that. There are now a huge number of quotes from many of the Discworld novels in the tribute file, but this doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t accept new submissions from other Pratchett fans.

“The complete list can be found in dat/tribute and special thanks to Michael Allison who took the lead on this one.

“Here, by the way, is a quote from “Guards! Guards!” which has meanings on more than one level – I think that Sir Terry would have appreciated its use in this context:

“‘Never build a dungeon you wouldn’t be happy to spend the night in yourself. The world would be a happier place if more people remembered that.'”

That’s about as perfect a quote as you could find to summarise the beauty of dungeoncrawling and the dedication of those who work on these games for the love of the genre. For all things Nethack, including further update notes and previous versions, this is the only page you need.


  1. chunkynut says:

    Probably Dwarf Fortress, another ASCII tile game and with a roguelike game type.

    • Rotekian says:

      Speaking of which it updated recently. Taverns, temples and libraries are looking like interesting features.

  2. Risingson says:

    “How many games that you’re playing today are likely to be on your hard drive twelve years from now? ”

    Well, games that have been in my hard drive for more than 12 years:

    – Another world, Monkey Island and Flashback. I ALWAYS have a copy of these three in all the devices I’ve got: mobile, psp, ds, windows pc, linux laptop.
    – Microprose’s F19.
    – Master of Magic&Orion
    – Cool Croc Twins (personal favourite)
    – And some kind of Mame copy with Aero Fighters.

    Nethack? I gave up on the game many years ago, thanks.

  3. Skeletor68 says:

    I never delete this game. I’m absolutely horrible at it though. Great memories.

  4. damaki says:

    Raw Nethack remains one of my favorite games of all times. While it is quite hard to learn (you got to go through faqs and guides, or you will not have fun), it is really cool. The main selling point is the variety of what happens. So many things can go wrong, so many ways to die!

  5. El Mariachi says:

    Hard drive? I always play on a public server (, because I’d feel pretty bad if I managed to finally ascend and there was no record of it. And the server keeps interesting stats and leaderboards so you can see just how terrible a player you are.

    The server runs an annual tournament all during November, but that’s geared towards more advanced players than me (results here: a speedrun ascension in 7087 turns, another in 2:41, 7 ascensions in a best-of-13 challenge… Those are superhuman to me, as I’m just happy I don’t starve to death any more.)

  6. pepperfez says:

    I really hope Nethack doesn’t start streamlining and modernizing like Dungeon Crawl has. So much of the game’s character is in its hilarious jankiness.

    • Harlander says:

      I wouldn’t be too offended if it picked up some of DCSS’s interface enhancements, though.

  7. Alex says:

    Transport Tycoon, I’ve been playing that on and off since I was 2 and doubt I’ll be stopping anytime soon…

  8. Mario Figueiredo says:

    I have a love/hate relationship with Nethack. I admire its roguelike complexity and mechanics and respect its influence and almost seminal status, being largely responsible for keeping one of my favorite genres alive. But while I give its humour a green card, I can’t stand how it isn’t afraid of being utterly silly.

    I don’t play Nethack for a decade. And probably never will again. Since Angband and a host of other “more serious” roguelikes surfaced, I have my fix of exactly the type of game I wish to play. Angband, Stone Soup and Brogue are my usual trio these days.

  9. Replikant says:

    Which map is that? Some quest map (I haven’t tried all roles)? I can’t seem to recognize it (and here I thought I had already died in most places open to the general public).

  10. ansionnach says:

    Good while since I’ve played Nethack. Always preferred Rogue. Used to love that!

    The game I’d be most likely to always have installed and still occasionally empty buckets of time into?

    Civilisation II – too bad the classic 16-bit version is, well 16-bit. Needs an update urgently! Would love to get a 32-bit+ version of Civ2 2.42.

  11. dethtoll says:

    I’ve never NOT had a copy of at least Doom 2 installed somewhere on my HD. Though I only ever need the .wad file as I mostly play via GZDoom these days.

  12. wu wei says:

    Angband and its offspring have always been my kryptonite.

    • Traipse says:

      Not to be pedantic, but it’s the other way around; if anything, Angband is the offspring of Nethack. (Came out three years later.)

      Personally, I’m so excited about this I could plotz.

      • Tekrunner says:

        By offspring I think they meant the multitude of *band variants out there.

        • wu wei says:

          Bingo: Sangband & Zangband primarily. Cthangband & Unangband are also both worth checking out.

  13. vectrex83 says:

    I have had a version of Hack on my computers for 32 years. My first version was connected to the mainframe of Purdue Univ. by a Imsai 8080. The second was on the Amiga 1000 with an expansion device to bump the memory to 2meg. For 20 years now I have been on quite a few computers that used to be called “IBM’s” but are now called “PCs”. I was a close friend to the man who wrote the first of these which was called “Telengard”. His name was Daniel Lawrence and he wrote one of the first of these programs in the mid ’70s called “DND” for mainframes. He then went on to market Telengard for the Apple II, TRS-80, Commodore Pet, and Atari 800. I met him at Origins ’82 and became his beta tester for the Atari 800 release.

  14. Mr Coot says:

    Fantastic game that I come back to. I had Hack until 1989 and Nethack thereafter. Makes one philosophical to think one has been playing a game for longer than some of the readership has been alive. o.O Its delights are still here and still ready to lure the susceptible of any age.

  15. Layabout says:

    System Shock 2 – I’ve been chipping away at completing it since it was released.

  16. corinoco says:

    12 years you say? Well, how about 30 years for Elite? I still have the C64 version installed (and have had pretty much forever) as well as Elite+, Elite 2 & Frontier First Encounters. Now I have Elite Dangerous.

    I also have Nethack, but for me it’s 8 years younger than Elite. Oddly also Microprose F19 (it was good!), variants of Civilisation (for me older than Nethack) and Impossible Mission.

  17. syllopsium says:

    Nethack is awesome!

    As to long term games – I’ve been playing Icewind Dale 2 on and off since its release in 2002, and the most recent game since about 2008. Infrequently of course, currently about half way through and a bit cheesed off with it, but surrounded by Drow.