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…and it only took me 24 years…


I bought my first computer in 1985. It was completely retarded. It could do nothing. But I didn’t know that; I thought I was Buck Fucking Rogers. After several months of booting it up and staring at the C:> prompt, though, even I got a little restless. Then I went to my first computer fair (goodness, I was impressed by the smell and, for some reason, the fact there were several nuns attending) and bought a fistful of shareware programs on floppy disk.

One of which was a game called Hack — thereafter known as The Game That Ate A Year Of My Life. I still have that original floppy, by the way, which may be the world’s only surviving copy of the original IBM port. Wish I could read it.

Anyhow, Hack (later Nethack) was an astonishingly complex game. I won’t even say “for the time” — it’s still one of the richest gameplay universes ever hacked together (which is why, incidentally, it was called Hack). It’s the familiar Rogue formula — you go into a dungeon, fight monsters, retrieve an amulet and skedaddle. But the wands, potions, magic scrolls, traps, monsters, characters, weapons, armor, food and everything else you encounter along the way are designed to interact with each other in all sorts of ways, planned and not planned.

Nethack is one of my all-time favorite games, one I’ve been playing since 1200 baud was smokin’ fast. — Actor Wil Wheaton

Because Hack was different every time. It wasn’t played on a fixed layout; the program had a formula for generating random dungeons. It could do things that surprised its own programmers (though the development team was famous for anticipating just about every weird-ass thing that might happen in gameplay).

Because it was essentially a game of text messages, it could be HUGE and hugely complex, even on the most primitive PC’s. But your character was a letter that you moved around with the arrow keys, so it was easy to learn and visual enough to kick your imagination in the ass.

In short, NetHack 3.1.3 is the most elaborate role-playing environment you are ever likely to explore. This is a place to return again and again, each time for a different experience. You’re really going to have to play it for a year or two and see for yourself. — “Fatal Distractions” by David Gerrold

The journey was so much fun, I happily played it for 24 years without ever winning a game. Oh, I got close. I once escaped the dungeon with a cheap plastic imitation of the Amulet of Yendor. Several times I got the amulet but did something incredibly stupid on the way out — stepped on a dead cockatrice and turned to stone, or ate one too many food rations and choked to death. This is a phenomenon known on Usenet as YASD — Yet Another Stupid Death. And every new incarnation of the game was more complex and added sidequests and pitfalls.

Thank you for the latest release of gradewrecker. My GPA just went in the corner and shot itself. — USENET posting, author unknown

Meanwhile, Berkeley began to ship its version of Linux with Hack on — my old friend, the simple original version that ate my 1986. I discovered it by accident on one of my shell accounts. And a mere two years and several hundred games later — this Sunday, specially for the solstice — I finally escaped the dungeon with the Amulet of Yendor!

It was…a howling letdown. After all the late nights, the YASDs, the near misses, the little dogs and shopkeepers and orcs and killer bees and demons and dragons, it all boils down to this:


Now what? Trying to beat the newest (and last) version, of course.


Comment from Allen
Time: June 24, 2009, 8:33 pm

It reminds me of a computer game I played in the late 70’s called Adventure

Which further reminds me of when I crashed the DEC mainframe running a solid state diffusion program I wrote. Yeah, when you create an element out of nothing the system should crash. I was not popular.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 24, 2009, 8:44 pm

Adventure was all text though. And it was linear. I used to get ALLLLL screwed up playing those games where you’d “go north” and “pick up key.” The maps in my head weren’t good enough.

A photographer friend of mine once blew up a $100K mainframe trying to take a shot of a drop of water on the housing. He turned his head for a moment and it snuck in a vent.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 24, 2009, 9:20 pm

“You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.” Adventure.

Comment from Anonymous
Time: June 24, 2009, 10:32 pm

I remember playing Zork on my fathers Tandy computer. I did make it to the river once, but then I kept getting lost in the underground caverns.

I still remember the warning to turn on my lantern…
“It is dark. You could get eaten by a grue.”

Comment from Oldcat
Time: June 24, 2009, 11:55 pm

I loved that game — played a lot in Grad school. Eating a leprechaun to get teleporting, engraving Elbereth… The worst-was the ghost levels it you died, the level could be saved with your ghost as the monster. If the ghost killed You, the level would have two ghosts, and so on…

I had a friend who played Warp to the end… the screen was crammed full of enemy ships there was only about 5 empty spaces on the entire monitor

Comment from Michael
Time: June 25, 2009, 12:14 am

I love this blog. Mostly I just lurk, but I love this blog.

Comment from Guido Gonzalles
Time: June 25, 2009, 12:25 am

Wanna exchanges links muthafucka?

Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: June 25, 2009, 1:42 am

I remember playing this game (the Rogue version) on my Amiga 1000 for hours on end. The graphics were updated but everything else was the same. I won the game at some point but it sure didn’t take 24 years!

I loved those Infocom text adventures too. Anybody remember the “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy”? I almost wept with relief when I finally got a babel fish in my ear.

Comment from David Gillies
Time: June 25, 2009, 2:29 am

Hack was a bit after my time. For coolness points, though, I have played xtank over JANET with combatants several hundred miles away long before most of you plebs could spell ‘Internet’.

I played ADVENTURE (the VAX/PDP-11 port of Colossal Cave Adventure) for the first time in 1978 on the mini-mainframe cluster at the University of Sussex in Lewes. Somewhere, mouldering in my parents’ attic, is a dump on fan-fold paper of the entire text segment I had ran off on the drum printer. That was a fun time. It was during the transition from batch to online (multi-user) processing. Bales of blank punch cards were there for the taking as scrap paper (mapping was crucial – the topology of the ADVENTURE universe was decidedly not simply connected: the maze of twisty passages didn’t even commute). I Wrote my first computer program. In ALGOL 68, no less. Toyed around with a quite sophisticated version of ELIZA. Had some fun with Winograd’s SHRDLU. Saw my first colour computer graphics (ZOMGWTFBBQ – I subsequently dragged my poor father to see Tron three times). You should have seen a Winchester disk drive system. IBM 3350s. The size of a tumble dryer in a laundrette and attended by white-coated acolytes. Three hundred (count ’em!) Mb though, and capable of busting through a concrete curtain wall if the axle bearing failed (this actually happened).

Now I feel positively ancient.

Comment from tawny
Time: June 25, 2009, 7:19 am

Enas – I remember Hitchhiker’s Guide, I was rubbish at it and never got past trying to make a cup of tea. One day I will find a copy and finish it.

Comment from Joan of Argghh!
Time: June 25, 2009, 8:18 am

“Don’t Panic!”

I still have the button.


Comment from surly ermine
Time: June 25, 2009, 8:56 am

Never had Hack, but waiting for Fort Apocalypse (1982) to load on the C64 tape drive wasted some serious youth. Ahh Commodore. Had my first drawing tablet on the Commodore, the Koala Pad. 32 colors baby! In your face Wacom!

How about the Microscopic Space Fleet?

Comment from Mrs. Peel
Time: June 25, 2009, 9:26 am

It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

I still fear topiaries to this day because of Zork II…

Comment from dfbaskwill
Time: June 25, 2009, 10:17 am

Congrats on he amulet retrieval! I assume the smell you referred to was of the other computer aficionados! BO is roughly proportional to Computer IQ. I too had a Tandy computer that did nothing. Though it never crashed either!

Comment from Enas Yorl
Time: June 25, 2009, 11:18 am

Tawny, you’re wish is my command: play Hitchhiker’s Guide online for free!

Good grief, I can’t even get out of the bedroom. Ah, I died. I didn’t stop the bulldozer in time. Well that was fun!

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 25, 2009, 11:31 am

Bureaucracy was another title in the Infocom text adventure series (not sure I got past the login screen on that one) as was The Leather Goddesses of Phobos.

Man, I sucked at those.

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 25, 2009, 11:38 am

You’re axing me, Guido? I give link to anyone who asks, because that’s the kind of easy-going party girl I am. However, you should know this blog started life as a right-wing political site, and I do still occasionally cut loose with a juicy ‘winger rant. You may or may not wish to be associated with such things.

I’d like to have Sarah Palin’s babies, if that weren’t biologically impossible, morally wrong and nearly pornographic in every way. M’kay?

Comment from apotheosis
Time: June 25, 2009, 11:55 am



Comment from Grizzly
Time: June 25, 2009, 12:53 pm

Ok. I’ve lurked on here forever (and had a fine time watching the insanity), but this is such a blast from my past I HAD to comment. I never got into Hack, but I do remember “Hitchhikers Guide..” and “Leather goddesses of Phobos.” I also remember one called “Bedlam”, I think, where you were trying to escape from an asylum. I remember one of the other inmates kept painting fake doors on the walls (one of these was the ultimate exit), and, if you got caught, they hauled you away for electro-shock. Ahh, the memories….

Comment from Allen
Time: June 25, 2009, 1:27 pm

Ah those early days of raw computational power. Kilobytes of memory. Yeah Adventure was linear Weasel, but it could still be a massive time suck.

Two guys in the Comp. Sci. program wrote a computer game. You used rheostats to move around and it had sound effects. You ran over little stick figures (arrgghh! was their sound,) with cars (vrrooomm! was their sound.) I wonder if those guys ever made any money off that game.

On another note, I went to a computer fair in Albuquerque in 1978, and met this one really geeky guy. His idea you might ask? Everyone will have their own system. Sure I says, that’s crazy no one could afford it. Bill was his name I think.

Comment from JuliaM
Time: June 25, 2009, 2:51 pm

Oh, sounds like ‘The Hobbit’ on the ZX Spectrum:

“Thorin sits down and starts to sing about gold…”

Good times!

Or just incredibly frustrating times…

Comment from tawny
Time: June 25, 2009, 3:20 pm

Enas, thanks. 1980’s here I come.

Comment from MCPO Airdale
Time: June 25, 2009, 7:13 pm

Playing games on the TRS-80!

Comment from Uncle Badger
Time: June 25, 2009, 9:04 pm

Ah yes, JANET (Joint Academic NETwork)…. I seem to recall you could tunnel in to that via…. umm, the University of London, or Imperial College?

Jesus – we’ll be on to Prestel, next, we Brits!

The Internet? What new-fangled American nonsense is this?!

Comment from jwpaine
Time: June 26, 2009, 12:24 am


Your inventory included No Tea.

And yes, I too am a member of the Babelfish At Last Weeping Society.

Comment from jwpaine
Time: June 26, 2009, 12:40 am

Planetfall was great, too. In fact, all the Infocom text games were clever. Funny thing is, some of them I remember as having great graphics— they were that well-written.

update: You can actually play all the Infocom games here!

Comment from Sarah D.
Time: June 26, 2009, 8:26 am

Montezuma’s Revenge, on the C64. I was the Queen of MR, no one could beat me. No.One.

HGTTG had a glitch anyway, you’d get halfway through and it would crash.

Comment from apotheosis
Time: June 26, 2009, 8:57 am

HGTTG never crashed on my Apple IIc. Then again…I never got the !@#$&*@$%&*@$%* BABELFISH.

Hang robe on hook.

Comment from Schlippy
Time: June 26, 2009, 3:27 pm

Not quite as old as the Osbornes, I had the first IBM portable, had no hard drives, two low density 360K 5.25″ floppy drives, 8088 processor that ran at a chugging 4.77Mhz. Had a fold down 88 key keyboard much like that there that was also the bottom of the ‘suitcase’. Dad bought the thing at an IBM employee discount for I believe around $3600 including DOS 1.?, BASICA with manual, and some other stuff. It did have graphics. CGA graphics of maybe 640×480 resolution? Monitor was orange in hue. It could simulate color with difference shades; the standard RGB thing.

I remember thinking life was super when I paid several months allowance purchasing a modem for the thing and starting to dial local bulletin board systems. Some still exist. Learned to program in basic on that thing, made some of my own dorky little games and programs including a word processor, and downloaded my first porn off a bulletin board called A-2-Z Entrprises. It was a low resolution picture of Rachel Hunter in a swimsuit.

Later started pissing off the folks though clogging up their lines connecting to BBS’s and (gasp) Prodigy when it first came out and they banned me from using it, hiding it in the closet. I proceeded to take plywood, caulking and bricks and made a replica of it, stole it from the closet, zipped up the replica frame in the canvas bag it was kept in and proceeded to use aligator clips to attach the thing to the phone lines from outside in the middle of the night.

Some of the games I used to play: Tradewars 2002, The Pit (text based door game for Spitfire), made my own BBS that would only run at night (until I had it running illegally on a spare line in my high school computer lab, which I later was suspended for and banned forevermore from the computer lab). For non-online games there was Sun Tzu’s Ancient Art of War, Exodus Ultima III (something like a D&D remake) and EMPIRE… I loved those things! Rambled a bit, but I still have that old thing. Later on I even spent $80 upgrading the memory from 256K to 640K heheh. Wierd when you realize that wasn’t but 20ish years ago.

… fond memories (sorry for long comment)

Comment from S. Weasel
Time: June 26, 2009, 6:12 pm

Heh. Don’t apologize. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Comment from qrstuv
Time: June 30, 2009, 8:16 pm

Not only did I play Hack, but I was the first grad student in our department to win it. I usually played Valkyrie. You could just slash your way to success with that.

Hmm. Priorities.

One guy always named his dog Dipshit. He left a ghost level with that dog, who then killed another player at a high score. So the other guy was listed on the all-time scores as “being killed by a little dog named Dipshit.”

Anyway, our version would segfault unpredictably, so we had all these “the fish that got away” stories. There is still some pain, I am afraid.

Comment from Weasely
Time: June 30, 2009, 9:10 pm

Just now i’m catching up on your recent posts – and since it’s an achingly slow day at work and i missed the boat where Hack is concerned, I figured I’d fire up Nethack to pass the day…
What have you led me to? Where’s the day gone?

Comment from blake
Time: July 11, 2009, 1:44 am

I can’t believe I missed out on this.

My peeps!


*vanishes in a cloud of greasy black smoke*

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