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My musings on video games
I have played -- as El Guapo would say -- a plethora of games in the past couple of years. For whatever reason I didn't feel like writing about some of the awesome games like Dead Space, The Witcher, Prototype and Sins of a Solar Empire. For whatever reason I could not get up the energy to properly pan one of THE worst games I have ever played: Silent Hill Shattered Memories. (How in the Living Llama that game got such great reviews is beyond my comprehension)
Simply put, Borderlands is a fun romp. It is a fun goddamn game and it doesn't bother apologizing for making itself a fun game. There are boxes of guns in the middle of the desert because it's fucking fun to find boxes of guns in the middle of the desert. When you shoot a flying bat for all you know a super-powered rocket launcher might shoot out of its exploding body. Why? BECAUSE IT'S FUN!
The world in Borderlands is impressively large, but the designers understand that nobody (other than my insane brother) enjoys randomly wandering around in a featureless world trying to figure out what in the hell to do. They understand that when you sit down to play a game, you want to Do Some Shit. That's why they always make sure there's a nice marker on your map telling you exactly where your current mission leads. (See: Dead Space. Game designers are now realizing what I have been saying for years: FUCK BEING LOST **EVER**)
Also: No Fucking Lava. And only minimal falling. True, there are one or two spots in Borderlands where falling is insta-death, but they are extremely rare. Falling isn't fun. Falling sucks. In three dimensions it is a farce to even build into the game the concept of falling to your death. Borderlands understands this. In addition, the Borderlands designers understand that lava is fucking stupid and didn't put any fucking lava in the game.
While this game is basically a shoot-em-up, there are role-playing elements to the game. There are character levels, a fairly robust inventory, and skill points allocated to different skills in a Diablo-style "tree." But you know what? The Borderlands programmers once again understand what fun is and said, "You know what? If you spent your skill points on useless bullshit, you can totally reallocate them at any time with very little effort."
"But no!" The hardcore gamers shout, "There must be consequences to your choices!"
Fuck you. I work my nuts off every day. I get calls all weekend long about my job. I don't want another fucking job. If I put 5 skill points in "Nerf Herding" and this a a shit skill, I want the opportunity to reallocate those fucking points without having to restart the game and grinding. Go play WoW you douchebag.
In most games the level gain is initially very rapid, but it quickly approaches an asymptote where further level gain requires exponentially more effort. Not in this game. Level gain is essentially linear, and at all times you are pretty much leveling up and distributing points, getting fucked up and doing fucked up shit.
There is loot everywhere. As I said before, there are caches of guns in the middle of the desert. There are boxes of ammo randomly placed everywhere. It makes no sense and it is awesome. Awesome guns are in boxes on the top of cliffs for no reason. And when you walk 40 feet there is an even more rad gun.
But of course nothing is perfect. The rocket launcher is total freaking shit for the first 80% of the game. I picked a character whose supposed weapons proficiency was the rocket launcher, but the rocket launcher literally did less damage per hit than my fruity rifle. As always, I obsessed over the shotgun and built my character up to level 14 with the boomstick. (The skill levels with the specific weapons are not swappable, but I did not find that it really affected gameplay) Even toward the end of the game when I found a truly epic rocket launcher, it was only of limited usefulness.
And the vehicle combat in the game is horrendous. I groaned every time there was a mission that required piloting a car. (Thankfully, there were only two or three.) My character was a nigh-unstoppable tank. I could take damage upon damage, and when I was about to die, I'd use my (flipping awesome) bezerker ability and gain health and become an unstoppable war machine. However, when I was in my car my hit points were pretty much that of the car -- pussy HP. Once my car took a few hits, my character was vaulted from the car and I was essentially dead. The game would be better if vehicles were simply not in the game at all.
And the scavenger hunt missions. There were several missions to find pieces of a weapon, or find cans of fish, or whatever, that required you to walk around and find special items. For whatever reason the game designers thought that this would be a swell time to make your auto-homing diamond icon lie and tell you that your mission goal was somewhere that it wasn't. This is the one decision that the game designers made that was wholly un-fun and in complete contradiction with the rest of their obvious fun-focused design philosophy. OK, fine, make the diamond slightly inaccurate so I have to search to find the piece. Fine. OK. But for fuck's sake don't hide it in the front of a car on the edge of the cliff that is hard to get to and totally impossible to find without doing a Google search for "Borderlands Walkthrough."
Anyway, enough of the bad. To end on a high note, there are tons and tons of fun mini-missions. The voice acting of Scooter is freaking hilarious, "Whut? You think I was born in a barn? Well, actually I was, but that's not the point!" The difficulty curve was fun, the weapon selection was epic, the level gain was great, the mini-missions were helluva fun, and the stylized rendering was just what the doctor ordered.
I loved this game.
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I clocked about 120 hours into this game. That should tell you a couple of things right there, both good and bad. The good is that it's a rock-solid and fun game. The bad is that it is structured around the level-grind paradigm. In its defense, though, the level grinding is damn fun.
The game style is very similar to other tactical strategy games such as Final Fantasy Tactics, Vandal Hearts, and their grand-daddy Shining Force. You assemble a combination of "storyline" characters (think FF7) and your own custom created characters (think FF1), and battle them on a turn-based grid against ever more powerful enemies. At its core, it is pretty standard fare, but there are many interesting layers on top of its simple core that make it a very unique game.
The most obvious innovative game mechanic is the item world. In addition to the standard character leveling you can accomplish in this kind of game, Disgaea allows you to enter an "Item World" for any item in your inventory. The item world is comprised of a series of randomly generated dungeon levels that become increasingly difficult as you descend. For every dungeon level you complete, the item is increased by one level, and thus its applicable statictics are improved. In addition to this, you are able to defeat "Specialists" within the item world, thus freeing them and allowing you to move them from item to item. (Think materia from FF7). This Item World is one of the reasons that the "grind" is a lot of fun. Rather than being forced to kill the same spawn of womprat over and over, you can play randomly generated dungeons in any one of your items. As you find more powerful items, the types of monster you encounter in their item worlds become more powerful and varied. In fact, there are many items in the game that can only be acquired from enemies in the Item World of unique items.
Another interesting feature is the Dark Assembly. Rather than your weapon shop automatically stocking better items as you progress through the game, Disgaea requires that you petition the Dark Assembly for better items. In order to have any success at all in this petition, one of your party must succeed in a series of character rank trials which are completely independent of character level. After attaining sufficient character rank and "mana" (points earned for killing monsters), you can then call for a vote. Prior to the vote, you are allowed to strategically bribe senators to support your bill. Even if you ultimately lose the vote, you have the option of fighting the senate to the death to force your bill through, a very dangerous -- but often necessary -- proposition.
The characters in Disgaea follow the career-path paradigm common to a lot of these tactical strategy games. One interesting twist, however, is that rather than implementing the standard one or two branch mechanism, you are allowed to promote your characters to any other class you wish. One of my most powerful characters was a healer who I chose to promote up to an offensive mage. This leads me to another interesting mechanic: the pupil system. When you create new characters in this game, you choose their mentor. Whenever a mentor is within 1 tile of his pupil, he gains all of their abilities at level 1. When the mentor uses the ability enough times to reach level 2 with that ability, this ability becomes permanent. Using this I was able to build a quite eclectic fighting team.
The skill and magic system in this game are very interesting, with even your traditional combat characters having "spells" that allow them to do massive damage. The scale of the spells increases dramatically as the game progresses, and your characters go from doing simple sword swings and fireballs to summoning ice gods or literally throwing your enemies into the center of the sun! Although your melee characters do learn spells, it is really the mages who shine. In late game, the sheer range, area of effect, and damage of their high level spells is just staggering. My mages leveled much quicker than my other character types.
There is quite a bit of unlockable content in this game. Simply unlocking several character classes can be a fair amount of work. For example, unlocking the star mage class required that I level up a Fire, Wind, and Ice mage. Unlocking some of the "hidden" classes requires quite a lot more work, and there are many classes that I never unlocked. In addition, many of the game worlds are only unlockable after attaining a very high character rank in the Dark Assembly, and even then require you to kill a senate full of very high rank demons.
This leads me to one minor gripe with the game. It is relatively easy to beat this game, but many of the optional side areas are insanely hard to unlock. And the difference in character level necessary to reach each of these side areas is very stark. After unlocking a particular side level and beating it, you can be rest assured that it will take many (easily around 20) hours of grinding to reach the next interesting area. In fact, some of these grinds occur on successive levels in a side area, such that level 4 will be a cakewalk, but level 5 will require you to level to about 10x your current level.
Another minor gripe of mine is the item naming conventions. All of the items in the game are nonsensically named, and it is virtually impossible to know whether a given item of a particular type is more powerful than the one you have. The only way in-game to glean this is to put them both in your inventory and see which one has better stats. It is impossible to simply know by their names. I had to have the game FAQ in front of me at all times to know what items were. For example, all healing items are identical, and have nonsensical names like candy, cotton candy, eclair, chocolate. Hmm...Does chocolate recover more hit points or does cotton candy?
Those two points aside, this is an absolutely engrossing strategy RPG, and I think it represents the absolute best of the genre. I played it through to the end, and also played through several different ways to trigger alternate endings, unlocked many of the side areas and beat them, and went crazy in item world leveling up everything from my swords to my cotton candy.
Finally, the story in this game is actually pretty entertaining and funny. This game was the first that I can remember where I didn't mind that the cutscenes were not skippable (although you were able to rush through them by pressing X). The anime-style art is very pleasing on the eye, and the music box intro is a very calming and pretty little melody.
This game is difficult to get, as it is somewhat obscure and in very high demand (I got mine for 50 bucks used), but if you can find a copy, I highly recommend it.
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So, true to form, I wrote a scathing post about how I would never buy a Nintendo Wii, and later that week I bought a Wii.
2006-12-09: I love my Wii
I learned a very valuable lesson on this "next gen" hype...You really have to wait and see for yourself. The people writing articles on what's coming are apparently all smoking crack. My last rant about the Wii was based entirely on what I read about the console. After actually playing it, virtually all of my problems with the Wii are non-issues.
Accuracy. The controller is extremely accurate. I have no idea what people were talking about when they said otherwise. It is just about as good as a mouse. And the issue with there not being an exact 1:1 relationship between your movements and what's onscreen is crap. Imagine it like a mouse. It's not like you move your mouse 17 inches to move the cursor across the screen, and the same is true of the Wiimote. Trust me, it feels perfectly natural and accurate.
Batteries. Yeah, that still sucks.
Control Schemes. The Wii sports control schemes are a bit goofy in my opinion, and let's face it, Zelda is a regular console game shoehorned into the Wii. But Trauma Center and Rayman Raving Rabbids proved to me that great control schemes can be implemented with this controller.
Launch Titles. Yeah, there aren't a billion great launch titles, but I freaking love Trauma Center and Rayman Raving Rabbids.
Console Level Calibration The guy who wrote that was smoking crack. You don't need it. The controller worked perfectly for me out of the box.
So, with that out of the way, I'll tell you about the games I played.
I wasn't too thrilled with Wii sports. I think it is highly overrated. Well, honestly, I think it's crap. My biggest gripe is that half of the games force you to play right handed. I don't know if it's 100% necessary, but I can tell you that it's confusing to try to swing left handed when the guy on the screen is right handed.
Next up was Rayman Raving Rabbids. This is a minigame type game similar to Mario Party and Warioware. Like all games of this sort, it is somewhat hit and miss, but when they hit, these games are fun as hell. So far the plunger shooter has been my favorite. I have no idea what people are talking about when they say the Wiimote isn't accurate enough for a shooter. I think this thing is *extremely* good for shooting. Shit, it blows stupid console controllers out of the water! I won't say it's quite as good as a mouse, but damn close.
Once again, though, there were several minigames where you HAD to play right handed. On the rhythm game, if you were holding the controllers left handed, everything was inverted and virtually impossible to play. Given that a fair chunk of consumers are left handed (most importantly me!) I cannot believe that Nintendo did not include Mii-level handedness settings so that games knew to invert for you. One other minor point...It seems that the sensitivity of the Wiimote itself was greater than that of the Nunchuck. This could just be subjective based on the fact that they're different sizes and weights, but in the rhythm game where I had to flick my right and left controllers, I found that I had to flick the nunchuck a little harder for it to register. I don't know if this is programming, or hardware, or just my neurons misfiring, but I did find that I had to compensate on the nunchuck to play the game well.
Next stop: Zelda. Meh, I still don't really know what I think about it. It looks incredible (incredible in terms of art direction and style, not resolution and number of polygons, fanboys.) One thing that was kind of cool is seeing the realistic graphical style combined with Zelda elements like rupees bouncing out when you threw a rock...The cartoony nature of those elements did a lot to make this feel like a Zelda game to me. In looking at the screenshots, I just felt like I was looking at a Shadow of the Colossus type game.
As far as the control scheme...It's a standard console game. It even has the "press Z button to look around" crap, and the Wiimote does not enter into this at all. Every once in a while you run into a minigame or something that uses the Wiimote, but it is clear as a bell that this game was not written for the Wii. I think this is unfortunate, as it is pretty much the must-have launch title, and it is probably the most ignorant of the Wii paradigm.
Everyone that talks about Zelda says that it starts slow. Well, I honestly don't think it has started nearly as slowly as Windwaker. So, if you liked Windwaker, I wouldn't worry about this one at all. I am about an hour into the game, and I have already run into a few fun minigames and two pretty cool puzzles.
As I was writing this Tracey found the fishing pole in Zelda. I was so jazzed about this, because I had seen these cool previews where there was a tutorial, and you used the Wiimote like a real fishing pole. Maybe at some point you find a special crystal that you can stick in your fishing pole, but as of right now there was no tutorial, and this thing makes no fucking sense. I have NO idea what in the hell it is supposed to be doing. All I know is that I move the Wiimote, and Link randomly spazzes, seeming to completely ignore what I'm doing. Given that there was no tutorial or information about what I'm supposed to be doing with the retard-stick, I can hardly be blamed if I'm doing something wrong. EDIT. Apparently the video I saw of the dude rotating the nunchuck and mimicking an actual fishing reel was for a DIFFERENT fishing pole. Of course. To reel in the fish, you...hold the Wiimote vertically. Would have been nice to have had this explained in-game instead of at Gamespot. According to Gamespot, later in the game there is the fancy Wiimote-based fishing...What I wonder is why in the hell the first fishing pole is about as interactive as Animal Crossing's fishing? Poor form, Nintendo.Edit 2 Tracey just got out of the town and into some actual fighting. It's starting to look pretty damn sweet. Cool little puzzles and plenty of stuff to fight. It's beginning to feel a lot like Zelda.
The final game on our list today is Trauma Center Second Opinion. This game is freaking awesome. If you are buying a Wii and are only going to get one game, get this one. This is one of the most unique and addictive games I have played in a long time. I found myself saying, "I'll turn it off after just one more surgery," and I coulnd't put it down! This game takes full advantage of the Wiimote. For the most part, you control surgical tools using the Wiimote in a very similar manner to a mouse cursor, but as the game progresses, you find yourself rotating, pushing, and pulling things with the Wiimote. The surgeries get extremely difficult and rapid-fire, and you reach a sort of Zen control over the interface. This game really made me "get" the Wii. I would go on, but I think I am going to write an entire post just on Trauma Center.
Ever since I started PC gaming I have felt that the keyboard/mouse input interface was the best interface for gaming. You have so many keys at your disposal, and you can configure them however you like. And the mouse is just about the most precise analog controller ever made. But there is something isolating about PC gaming. You have to have all of this stuff right in front of you, and if you want to play with a friend, he has to have his own machine that he's glued to. Playing a console is a different type of beast. They are designed to be played together, and the keyboard/mouse interface would just be unwieldy for three people. While the Wiimote isn't QUITE as smooth as a keyboard/mouse combo (damn close, though!), I think Nintendo has managed to finally bring to the console world the richness of input that PC gamers have had for years -- and without forcing the player to be glued down to a flat surface.
I think the Wii is wide open for some seriously cool games. People developing for the Wii no longer have to implement the clunkly "Press Z to look around" crap, and can now implement modern interface paradigms like drag and drop. I am excited to see what developers do with it. I am certain that it's going to be great. It's a no brainer. When you're faced with the soaring budgets hi-def titles demand, writing a quirky little Wii game starts to look like a profitable idea.
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I have finally beaten Nethack. After about 3 years of on and off playing, and about 3 months of heavy playing, I have finally beaten it. I have never felt such a sense of accomplishment after beating a game. I have never before been so relieved to be free of a game. Beating this game was grueling. The average console game has about 25-40 hours of playtime before you beat it. Bear in mind that this is with save games and continues etc. Nethack took me about 22 hours or so to beat. Bear in mind that dying meant that I had to start back at the beginning, restarting this clock.
Once I beat the Castle, I thought that there would be a good chance of me actually beating the game, so I figured I'd start to write a YAFAP (Yet Another First Ascension Post). (For the non-nethack kids here, an Ascension is when you beat Nethack). At that point, I could still lose, so I figured that even if I didn't have an ascension post, I would at least have a good YASD post (Yet Another Stupid Death).
After much anguish, I decided to stop playing as a chaotic monk. I liked the freedom of being able to kill and sacrifice whatever I liked, but the bottom line is that the artifacts just sucked. The Master Key of Thievery is really the only artifact that I liked, and it really wasn't that great. As a chaotic monk I never once had magic resistance. My #1 problem as a monk was hitting polymorph traps and losing my robe. Without my robe I couldn't really cast spells, and I ended up being just a weak warrior. I needed freaking resistance, and there weren't any chaotic artifacts that I could wish for that provided magic resistance. Even though the Monk Quest artifact grants magic resistance, the Monk Quest is so damn hard that you really can't beat it until after you complete the castle...And it's REALLY hard to get that far without magic resistance while keeping your robe.
I also decided this time that I would try to fight with a weapon. After reading the spoilers it seemed that fighting with a weapon, even at basic skill, was better than even grandmaster martial arts. Let me tell you, weaponless combat SUCKS. I have been playing as a Monk since my very first game of Nethack. I have only tried to play as other classes once or twice...I know what it's like to play as a Monk. The second I started fighting with Mjollnir I noticed the difference. Even at unskilled and +0 it was better than grandmaster unarmed.
So here begins my story...
I started as usual, hanging around levels 1-4 beefing up my character until he was level 5 or so. Unfortunately, my pet died, so I couldn't do my cool pet-shoplifting. It's somewhat moot anyway, as there were only about 3 or 4 shops in this entire dungeon (including Minetown)
Once I got somewhat beefy, I descended into the Gnomish mines to get to minetown. My first priority is always to get a dwarvish iron helm and steel shoes. I managed to survive long enough to drop my collected armor onto the altar in minetown and beef my AC down to 0. Unfortunately, I had to upgrade my my unarmed skill, because I just wasn't punching hard enough to survive well. Also unfortunately, the altar in minetown wasn't neutral. I find that having a co-aligned altar in minetown makes a big difference in the game, but oh well.
After getting up to around character level 8 with AC 0 I go back up to Sokoban. This time I got really lucky, as a neutral altar was literally right outside of the staircase to Sokoban. I like to keep piles of gear inside of Sokoban for later polypiling because it can't run far, and of course it's good to have a camp by an altar. I had the best of both worlds.
To add luck onto luck, I found a wand of wishing in Sokoban. I decided to wait on the wishes until I found out what Sokoban gave me. I got an Amulet of Reflection from Sokoban. Of course my first wish was 2 blessed scrolls of charging. I used one of these to recharge the wand. Since I got an amulet from Sokoban, I wished for a blessed, greased bag of holding. I then made the best wish I've ever made in Nethack: The Eye of the Aethiopica. This is the single best item I have ever had in Nethack. Bear in mind that I've never had magic resistance before. Even without the ESP or level teleport, this thing is worth it. This one artifact, moreso than anything, is what helped me survive. I then wished for 2 blessed scrolls of Genocide, which I used to kill off all Liches and all Mind Flayers. I saved my last wish for a while, but I ended up getting a pair of blessed fireproof +2 speed boots.
I camped out at the neutral altar by Sokoban for quite a while. I wrote a cursed scroll of Genocide so I could Nurse Dance inside of Sokoban and get my hit points nice and high. I did a bunch of sacrifices and got Mjollnir. Like I said, I'll never play unarmed again. I spent a while writing enchant armor scrolls, got a small shield, donated to priests, and got my AC down to around -15. I found the quest teleporter on the big level, but after many many previous beatdowns from Master Kaen, I wasn't about to try that. I did, however, fight through the Quest filler levels and collect the wands and scrolls.
I fought my way down to Medusa, and thank God it was the easy Medusa. I read a couple of scrolls of earth and made a land bridge to Medusa's island since I didn't have any form of levitation. I walked into Medusa's room and she turned to stone because of my reflection.
I fought my way down to the castle. I hit the drawbridge with a wand of striking (from far away) and used my ice wand to make a bridge across the water. All hell broke loose and monsters swarmed at me. I ran to a choke point and killed them one at a time. I ate the first black dragon corpse I saw to attain the disintegration protection intrinsic. I then approached the barracks, and killed the bazillion soldiers who swarmed after me. I didn't know that there was a hawaiian shirt waiting in the storeroom, so I used my wand of polymorph on the gigantic pile of armor to produce one. I ran back up to my altar camp to enchant it up to get my AC up to around -30. Around this time I did the inevitable -- chambered a sleep spell or something similar around a priest and pressed escape to cancel it -- hitting the priest. He attacked me and I was forced to kill him, removing all of my priest protection, as well as my god's protection. I was back down to around -15.
Because of this, I had to take the gold that dropped from him and give it to an opposing priest on level 14. Somehow, later in the game, I lost my telepathy intrinsic, and accidentally punched THIS priest while blind. I managed not to kill him, and even though he remained pissed off at me for the rest of the game, I managed to avoid him and retain my protection.
After beefing back up, I finished the castle and got my second wand of wishing, noting with aggravation the T-Shirt sitting right there. I was still scared of Kaen, so I went into hell to see what was up. The Valley of the Dead was basically a cakewalk, and I set up a camp by the altar there. I drug all of my poly-fodder from Sokoban down to this altar. After a buch of work I ended up getting a ring of levitation and a ring of free action. I was ready for Kaen.
It was anticlimatic. After several horrid ass-whippings from Kaen, I learned the secret: Wear the ring of free action and the ring of levitation, levitate over the lava, and zap him from afar.
After this I was emboldened. I punched my way past Juiblex and to the bottom of hell. As I said, somehow I lost my telepathy, and I kept nervously switching between my amulet of life saving and the eye of Aethiopica for the telepathy necessary to see the Kraken and eels. (I totally forgot that the eyes of the overworld would have worked WITH the amulet of life saving!) Oh, I forgot to mention my new wishes: I got the gauntlets of power, the amulet of lifesaving, a blessed scrollbook of identify, a ring of slow digestion, and a wand of death since I had not seen one at this point.
I went down and killed vlad, getting another amulet of lifesaving. I also found a third one while crawling around. I located the vibrating square, surrounding the square with gemstones, and went after Rodney. I put on the ring of free action and wielded a blessed potion of paralysis. This didn't work at all. I tried my wand of death, and that didn't work. Finally, I just smashed him with my hammer and took the Book of the Dead off his carcass.
I took the Book of the Dead, the candelabra, and the bell down to the vibrating square and did the invocation. I went into Moloch's sanctum and got the Amulet with relative ease. The trip back up to the surface was frustrating, but I was never in any real danger. At one point Rodney stole the Amulet and my Quest artifact, and I had to wander around for quite a while to find it, but that was the only real problem. As I ascended, I went to my different loot piles and took some last-ditch efforts at polypiling. I got another amulet of life saving for my trouble. I also took a bath in the castle moat while carrying only my excess goofy potions of restore ability etc. to produce about 15 potions of holy water.
I spent a good long time on the upstairs of level 1 preparing for the planes. I wrote some scrolls of gold detection, made sure I hadn't forgotten any of my necessary spells, and wrote about 15 scrolls of charging to charge both my wands and my energy points.
Rodney showed up as soon as I hit the planes and I killed him quickly. I waltzed through the plane of earth using the wands of digging. The plane of fire was a breeze. When I got to the plane of water I was very nervous about all the Kraken (they can insta-drown you), so I wrote a blessed scroll of genocide and killed all ";" (kraken's, eels, etc.) The plane of air was pretty simple...I don't know what all of the fuss is about, I find air elementals are pretty strong, but nothing to be too afraid of.
I was pretty nervous about famine on the etherial plane, but my wand of death kept him under control. I was very surprised to find that he kept coming back to life. It didn't even occur to me at the time to try to tin him...I never saw pestilence, and I was able to kill death (haha) pretty easily. The first altar I found was Chaotic, and the second one I tried was neutral. I sacrificed the amulet and the game was won.
So far as I can tell, noegnud-nethack does not keep a "proper" ascension log, so I laboriously took screenshots of all of the ascension messages. I can say, without a doubt, this is one of the hardest, if not the hardest game I have ever played. I have never had such a feeling of accomplishment upon beating a game. And the process this last time was so grueling, I honestly don't know if I have the energy to play it again. I know I won't for a good long while, at least.
So there it is, my YAFAP.
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Nethack is to video games what Vi is to text editors. The first time you boot it up, you are completely jolted by just how archaic and obscure its control scheme is, but after you get the hang of it, you realize it is the one of the richest pieces of software out there.
But this is sort of the problem with the entire "Unix Guy" thing. The user is assumed to be the Uber Geek - someone who is willing to dedicate hours and hours to digging through obscure commands before being capable of even opening a door in the game.
First of all, pure Nethack has no graphics at all. The entire game is represented as ascii characters moving around a screen. A while back I tried playing "pure" nethack on my old 486 laptop, and it was just too damn hard to keep track of what was going on. There are numerous graphical frontends for nethack, and the one I use is noegnud. After a quick Wiki search, it turns out that the author of noegnud is a left wing zealot. Oh well, at least he's not a Scientologist.
Nethack is not a real time game, meaning that it takes place in discrete "turns". Every time you enter an action such as move, attack, etc. one "turn" is executed in the game. Although this behavior may seem very archaic, it is part of what allows the game to be so complex. You are able to perform very complex and involved tasks that would be prohibitively confusing in a real time game. Aside from its somewhat clunky mechanics, Nethack is very similar to Diablo. Or rather, Diablo is very similar to Nethack (as Nethack has been around since 1987).
So, there's my quick and dirty Nethack intro. Below is a total noob's guide I wrote for playing the Monk character.
John's Nethack Monk Guide
OK, this is the stuff that I wish I would
have known when I first started playing. I like playing the Monk, and from what
I have read it seems to be one of the more challenging classes.
Anyhoo here we go:
Are there any online references?
Here's a good site:
A lot of the information I have here is originally from stuff I saw there.
Doors, what the hell?
First things first. To open a door type 'o' and then the direction that the
door is in. That was my first big problem. If the door is locked, type
CTRL-d and then the direction to kick it in. Warning: if you kick in a
shopkeepers door he will kick your ass. Be careful in the first few levels
when you're near the corners of the map. If you have a credit card or
lockpick you can 'a'pply it to unlock the door. The spell knock will also do
this if you have it.
Autopickup is driving me nuts!!!!!
Well, you can turn autopickup off by pressing '@', and then use ',' to pick up
individual items. On Linux systems you can have a .nethackrc file in your
home directory. Below are the options I set:
OPTIONS=showexp,checkpoint, lit_corridor, safe_pet, noautopickup
Eating corpses is poisoning me!
One thing that got me using the Monk in the first place is I hate having to
worry about food. The Monk starts out with a fair amount of food so I didn't
have to resort to eating corpses. The Monk is supposed to be a vegetarian
anyway, so stay away from corpses in general.
If you do get poisoned, you can 'p'ray to your god for help.
What's up with praying?
Praying is basically a way to get yourself out of various sticky situations.
You can only do it rather infrequently, and when your god isn't pissed.
Basically, killing lots of stuff and sacrificing makes your god happy. Be
sure not to kill anything peaceful, or any co-aligned unicorns. (Black for
chaotic, grey for neutral, white for lawful)
I don't know what any of these items are!?!
One initially confusing aspect of the game is that you don't know what
anything is. I was used to games like Diablo, where a quick 100 gp identified
anything. This game isn't like that. An integral part of the game is simply
finding out what in the hell is in your inventory. Hundreds of pages have
been written on this alone.
First of all, a large percentage of generated items are cursed. This also
threw me off initially. I mean a LOT of items are cursed in this game. Aside
from finding an Identify scroll (which itself you usually have to identify),
there are two basic ways of determining cursed status. Either drop the item
on an altar (it will then be tagged as cursed or uncursed) or drop it on the
ground for your pet to pick up. If your pet either picks it up or stands over
it, it is not cursed. Note that with the pet ID trick it will not be marked
and you'll just have to remember its cursed status.
If an item is cursed, generally you don't want it around. There are some
exceptions, but if you are n00b enough to read this, you probably don't need
that sort of advanced info.
Generally speaking, don't wear or 'a'pply anything if you are unaware of its
When in a shop if you drop an item in your inventory the shopkeeper may ask if
you want to sell it. If you say yes you get money and he gets the item.
Sometimes you can drop an item and he won't want it. You can then pick it
back up, no harm no foul.
If you pick up an item in his shop, he will tell you how much it costs. If
you don't want to pay that, drop the item. If you are willing to pay that,
press then 'p'ay the shopkeeper. NOTE: the shopkeeper will NOT let you leave
with an item you have not paid for. He will block your exit. Also note that
he won't let you into the shop if you're invisible or carrying a pickaxe.
There are a lot of things that you 'a'pply to use. I couldn't figure out how
to use bags for the longest time. I'd stick them on the ground and 'l'oot
them. Finally I read that you 'a'pply them. If you don't know exactly what
to do with a basic item, try 'a'pplying it. Don't do this with wands, as
it'll snap them.
Random starting tips
Here are some thing I wish I would have known sooner:
WATCH OUT FOR FLOATING EYES! If you attack them hand to hand they can
paralyze you. They paralyze you for a long time and you usually die.
Either 't'hrow stuff at them, 'a'pply a blindfold and attack them hand to hand,
or 'P'ut on a towel.
Watch out for light spheres and black spheres. If they hit you they will
blind you or hallucinate you, respectively. It is very hard to play in this
condition, and you often make very bad mistakes. Blindfold yourself whenever
you see one of these coming.
To open a box you use the extended command option (referred to as '#' from
this point on) and 'l'oot it. If it is locked, you can 'a'pply a credit card
or lockpick, or 'w'eild a weapon and '#''f'orce it. To specify the spot where
you're standing you press '.'
Pace. No matter how annoying, play the game slowly, at least at first. Don't
just run around like it's Quake. You WILL kill yourself running around fast.
Most of my deaths are due to me getting impatient and cramming down a movement
Pets. Initially you may think the pet is pointless, but it is not.
Initially, they level up much faster than you do, and especially for a puny
monk they are quite helpful early on, and their ability to spot cursed items
is very helpful. If you get annoyed at constantly losing your pet, you can
'a'pply a whistle to call them, or 'a'pply a leash on the pet when they are
adjacent to you to keep them near you. Finally, you can 't'hrow a tripe
ration to them to increase their affection for you.
Don't take off your robe. It will drastically reduce your odds of
successfully casting a spell.
Drop any potions you find on an altar to determine if they are cursed.
'q'uaff all uncursed, unidentified potions to determine what they are. Most
potions are not too harmful, and it is safe to ID them this way.
'E'ngrave a random word on the floor with your finger '-'. Then 'E'ngrave the
word 'Elbereth' on the floor to try to ID the wand. There is a good wand
spoiler linked from the page mentioned at the beginning of this document.
Here is my system for scrolls:
Drop all scrolls on an altar to determine cursed status. Find a shop that
sells scrolls. Drop each of your scrolls individually in the shop to see how
much the shopkeeper is willing to pay for it. Then '#''n'ame that whole class
of scrolls with the price he offered. If he has scrolls in his shop, pick
them up to see how much they cost, and then '#''n'ame that class as well.
Here is my naming scheme:
If I can buy it from his shop for 150 gold I name the class:
If I can sell it to a shop for 150 gold I name the class:
I consider anything below 150 and uncursed essentially safe for reading.
NOTE: when reading one of these unknown scrolls take off your robe and
gloves, because there is a possibility that they will be destroyed if you find
a destroy armor scroll.
At early game my #1 scroll priority is finding an enchant armor scroll. They
are, by far, the most important scroll at this point. Enchanting your armor
further lowers your AC, which is important to a weak monk.
Monks incur a penalty if they eat meat. This includes corpses. Try to avoid
meat. Monks essentially cannot wear any form of body armor. You can put it
on, but you won't be able to fight for crap. Therefore you
are essentially limited to:
Robe, Boots, Helmet, Gloves and shirt.
If you are willing to accept a small attack and spellcasting penalty, you can also equip
a SMALL shield. Other shields are out of the question.
Early Map layout
I haven't really gotten too far in the game at this point. I haven't gotten
past dungeon level 20. I haven't completeled a quest etc. So the basic layout
1) Regular dungeon. Where you start. You can keep going down at least till
2) Somewhere in levels 1-5 you will find a SECOND down staircase which leads
you to the gnomish mines. The mines looks different than the regular dungeon and goes
down roughly 9 or so levels. At one point you will reach "minetown" which is
a series of shops, and there will always be an altar with a priest in
3) Somewhere in levels 5-10 you will find a second UP staircase which leads to
the Sokoban levels. Sokoban is a puzzle game where you push a series of
boulders into holes to get to the next level. NOTE: if you "cheat" by
breaking a rock, squeezing past a rock, or anything like that you will
decrease your luck. Don't do this. There is a good Sokoban spoiler linked on
the page mentioned above.
You will start out with one of three spells. Heal, sleep, or protection. You
cast these spells by pressing 'Z' (capital Z) and then selecting a spell, and
possibly a direction. The heal spell heals your hitpoints, the sleep spell is
a ray that you can shoot and essentially paralyze monsters for several turns (some stronger ones
are immune) and protection which lowers your AC by a few points. You can cast
protection multiple times in a row for a greater effect.
I consider protection to be the most useful starting spell, as the Monk tends to be weak and
that AC boost really makes a difference. One note about AC: the lower it is
the better. You start out with 4, which is actually pretty good.
Unfortunately since we can't wear body armor, it is hard to get a good low AC.
Sleep is a good starting spell also because it can get you out of a lot of
trouble and enable you to fight monsters that otherwise would eat your lunch.
I consider healing to be a fairly weak starting spell because it will still
allow a stronger opponent to really wail on you. Healing doesn't do so much
good when an opponent is hitting you for 30 HP per shot. Healing is, however,
a great support spell if you already have one of the other two.
Here is my initial priority list:
1) Get a helmet and shoes (Preferably iron shoes and dwarven iron helm)
2) Find some sort of blindfold (blindfold, towel)
3) Try to find an altar
4) Try to find shops to price ID scrolls. Try to find Enchant Armor!
5) If my character is level 5 or above, go into the Gnomish mines and reach
minetown. Find a chest to put by the altar in minetown to store junk in
(otherwise monsters will run off with my stuff)
6) Go back up to the regular dungeon, then down and try to find Sokoban
7) Complete Sokoban and receive either a) bag of holding or b) amulet of magic
reflection (You also find lots of rings, wands, and food in Sokoban)
8) If I started with a magic marker and at any point found an enchant armor
scroll, '#''d'ip unneeded scrolls in fountains to blank them and then 'a'pply
the magic marker to make more enchant armor scrolls. Beef up the AC on my
armor. NOTE: you can fireproof,corrodeproof etc. your armor by reading an
enchant armor scroll while confused.
The Nethack game is HUGE, and I've barely even gotten 1/4 of the way through it. This little guide should at least help you get over the initial hump of "WTF This game suxxorz!"
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