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.