Nethack is a very old school roguelike, with a lineage that traces directly back to the 1980 classic Rogue. It was originally released in 1987, and went through various updates over the years, culminating in version 3.4.3, which came out in 2003 and is, for the record, fully Y2K-compliant. And that was it—until earlier this month, when Nethack 3.6 was released into the world.
The 3.6 update makes some gameplay changes, adds a new features, and performs various sorts of “clean-up activities” in order to streamline the code and do away with some of the digital detritus that’s accumulated over the years. The developers also worked in their own tribute to the late author Terry Pratchett, who died earlier this year, by incorporating a number of quotes from his Discworld novels into the game.
But the real focus of the update is to set things up for the future. “Unlike previous releases, which focused on the general game fixes, this release consists of a series of foundational changes in the team, underlying infrastructure and changes to the approach to game development,” the developers explained in the release notes. “Those of you expecting a huge raft of new features will probably be disappointed. Although we have included a number of new features, the focus of this release was to get the foundation established so that we can build on it going forward.”
That’s great news for Nethack fans, as it clearly implies that there’s a long-term plan for the game. Of course, there are all kinds of roguelikes available for those who enjoy that sort of thing, and so in practical terms the stagnation of one or two particular titles isn’t a great loss. But Nethack is one of the genre’s Big Daddies, and for some gamers—aficionados of top-down, ASCII graphics dungeon-crawlers that are designed to infuriate all who dare play them, maybe—that kind of authenticity really counts for something.