It has been 30 years and there are still no game that has managed to surpass NetHack.

· 3 min read

I first played NetHack on my Amiga 500 around year 1992. It was the tiled "graphical" version. It's now the year 2020. It has been 30 years and there are still no game that has managed to surpass NetHack.

NetHack lets you move around in a world. It has ground, walls, ceiling, people, creatures and lots of objects. What really impressed me is that everything in the world is well defined. Everything you can do has a an effect on each and every object, defined by a number of systems and the type of object. It's a deeply systemic game. Every object interacts with every system.

Almost every other game includes stuff in the world that you can't interact with or that has very limited set of things you can do.

Here are a few of the systems in the games that will have a mostly logical effect on yourself, the environment, creatures and all the objects: water, booze, invisibility, blessing, levitation, polymorph, acid, oil, grease, light, fire, teleportation, stink, cold, lighting, sleep, poison, hunger. And lots more.

For example; a potion of oil has the risk of making your fingers slippery making you drop what you are holding. It can be used to silence squeaky boards so that you can walk across it without making noise. You can light it and use it as a lamp. You can use the flame to burn objects or throw it as a fire grenade. The oil can be applied to weapons to remove rust. Or you can use it to refill your oil lamp. Drinking the oil is not very pleasant unless you currently are a being that likes fire.

As another example. The cockatrice is a monster that can turn you into stone. I usually try to kill it at a distance. Eating certain monsters can give you new abilities. Eating a floating eye might give you the telepathy ability to sense monsters around you, but only if you are blind. I can use a blindfold or a towel around my eyes to see living monsters around me. But I can't see monsters without brains and I can't see walls or objects. But it's still very advantageous to be aware of dangerous monsters you want to avoid. Unless you have killed a cockatrice. When you are blind, you use your hands to feel what's lying on the floor. I have turned to stone more than once just from this. Having gloves will protect you. And if you have gloves, you can even pick up the cockatrice corpse and use it as a weapon turning other creatures to stone. You can, if you currently have hands. It's not to uncommon to be injured by a werewolf or otherwise transformed. The game will not let you pick up stuff if you don't have hands. Opening doors is also a problem.

With all the things you can do, and all the objects and systems and creatures and places, there are an immense number of situations that can occur. I almost always has the feeling that there was something I could have done better in situations that got me killed.

NetHack also has quests, allies, bosses and pets you can train. And more. Version 3.6.6 was released in mars 2020. I still haven't finished the game.


Dungeons & Dragons (1974) has been the inspiration for a lot of computer games. The Game Rogue (1980) was one of them. That game started the Roguelike genre, that includes the NetHack (1987) game.

The parts that I like from the Roguelikes are;

  • Systems. The complex systemic interactions that let's you find new ways to solve problems.
  • Turn-based. Gameplay that gives you time to think about how to handle each novel complex situation.
  • Goal. A big awesome goal that you have no idea how to achieve but feels possible.
  • Exploration. Finding your way in the world and learning to survive and prosper. Learning how to navigate and use all the systems in all situations.
  • Novelty. Not repeating stuff you already mastered, or stuff that has no part in the progression towards the goal. This usually means some sort of procedural generation.
  • Progression. Both in world knowledge through exploration, progression towards the goal, and in the abilities of the player avatar. It's part of the feeling of mastery towards being safe in the world.
  • Permadeath. High stakes. The sense of real danger that makes choices important. If you can solve problems by just trying stuff out without thinking and then just go back, it wouldn't require complex problem solving. There would be less sense of achievement.

I play a lot of real-time games also. But then I prefer the stealth gameplay that lets me hide and observe the situation, giving me time to think and make a plan. In Horizon Zero Dawn, I can climb up to an unreachable position or hide in tall grass and take my time sniping enemies from far away. I got a bit better at closer combat but I wish I could stop time and really take advantage of my knowledge of the different body parts and their functions and interactions.

Adventure simulator

I have thought a lot about how to make the ultimate adventure game.

To be continued.


Written by Jonas Liljegren
Building modern web components on reactive state semantic graphs. Passionate about exploring unconventional methods in technology development to shape a better future.