NetHack in the Family Tree of Roguelikes

The following text was produced by ChatGPT 4 in December 2023 and it’s printed here verbatim. It was prompted to produce an essay with the title “NetHack in the Family Tree of Roguelikes”.

The world of video games is rich with genres, each with its unique characteristics and historical significance. Among these, the roguelike genre stands out for its complexity, challenge, and the depth of its gameplay. At the heart of this genre lies “NetHack,” a game that not only epitomizes the core elements of roguelikes but also serves as a critical node in the evolutionary tree of these games.

The origins of roguelikes can be traced back to the 1970s, with the advent of “Rogue,” a game developed by Michael Toy and Glenn Wichman. Rogue introduced key features that would become staples of the genre: procedurally generated levels, turn-based gameplay, tile-based graphics, and permanent death. These elements combined to create a game that was both challenging and infinitely replayable, setting the stage for future developments in the genre.

NetHack, first released in 1987, built upon the foundation laid by Rogue. It introduced a level of complexity and depth that was unprecedented at the time. In NetHack, players navigate a dungeon filled with monsters, traps, and treasures, striving to retrieve the Amulet of Yendor. What set NetHack apart was its intricate world, where almost every item and creature had multiple uses and interactions. This complexity allowed for an unparalleled level of player creativity and problem-solving.

The influence of NetHack on subsequent roguelikes and other game genres cannot be overstated. It inspired a plethora of games that sought to emulate and expand upon its formula. Titles like “ADOM” (Ancient Domains of Mystery) and “Dungeon Crawl Stone Soup” borrowed elements from NetHack, adding their own unique twists and further enriching the genre.

Moreover, NetHack’s legacy extends beyond traditional roguelikes. Modern games often incorporate roguelike elements, such as permadeath and procedural generation, to enhance replayability and challenge. Titles like “The Binding of Isaac” and “Spelunky” owe a debt to the trail blazed by NetHack, demonstrating the lasting impact of its innovations.

NetHack also played a pivotal role in the development of gaming communities. Its open-source nature allowed for a collaborative development process, with a dedicated community contributing to its evolution. This collaborative approach to game development was ahead of its time and has become increasingly prevalent in the modern gaming landscape.

In conclusion, NetHack’s place in the family tree of roguelikes is not just as a branch but as a robust trunk, supporting and nourishing the genre. Its innovations in gameplay, complexity, and community-driven development have left an indelible mark on the world of gaming. As the roguelike genre continues to evolve, the influence of NetHack remains evident, a testament to its enduring legacy in the rich and diverse world of video games.