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Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games

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In 1980, computers were instruments of science and mathematics, military secrets and academia. Stern administrators lorded over sterile university laboratories and stressed one point to the wide-eyed students privileged enough to set foot within them: Computers were not toys. Defying authority, hackers seized control of monolithic mainframes to create a new breed of compute In 1980, computers were instruments of science and mathematics, military secrets and academia. Stern administrators lorded over sterile university laboratories and stressed one point to the wide-eyed students privileged enough to set foot within them: Computers were not toys. Defying authority, hackers seized control of monolithic mainframes to create a new breed of computer game: the roguelike, cryptic and tough-as-nails adventures drawn from text-based symbols instead of state-of-the-art 3D graphics. Despite their visual simplicity, roguelike games captivate thousands of players around the world. From the author of the bestselling Stay Awhile and Listen series, Dungeon Hacks introduces you to the visionaries behind some of the most popular roguelikes of all time, and shows how their creations paved the way for the blockbuster video games of today—and beyond.


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In 1980, computers were instruments of science and mathematics, military secrets and academia. Stern administrators lorded over sterile university laboratories and stressed one point to the wide-eyed students privileged enough to set foot within them: Computers were not toys. Defying authority, hackers seized control of monolithic mainframes to create a new breed of compute In 1980, computers were instruments of science and mathematics, military secrets and academia. Stern administrators lorded over sterile university laboratories and stressed one point to the wide-eyed students privileged enough to set foot within them: Computers were not toys. Defying authority, hackers seized control of monolithic mainframes to create a new breed of computer game: the roguelike, cryptic and tough-as-nails adventures drawn from text-based symbols instead of state-of-the-art 3D graphics. Despite their visual simplicity, roguelike games captivate thousands of players around the world. From the author of the bestselling Stay Awhile and Listen series, Dungeon Hacks introduces you to the visionaries behind some of the most popular roguelikes of all time, and shows how their creations paved the way for the blockbuster video games of today—and beyond.

30 review for Dungeon Hacks: How NetHack, Angband, and Other Roguelikes Changed the Course of Video Games

  1. 4 out of 5

    David

    I wrote this book, so I won't cheat by leaving a star-rating or critique. Instead, I'll talk a bit about the process of writing it. (I'm counting it toward books read in 2016 because I spent this past weekend reading through and revising it.) DUNGEON HACKS chronicles the making of seminal roguelikes--RPGs with procedurally generated levels, monsters, and treasure. My interest in writing about them stemmed from interviews I did for STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN, wherein I explore the making of Diablo, wh I wrote this book, so I won't cheat by leaving a star-rating or critique. Instead, I'll talk a bit about the process of writing it. (I'm counting it toward books read in 2016 because I spent this past weekend reading through and revising it.) DUNGEON HACKS chronicles the making of seminal roguelikes--RPGs with procedurally generated levels, monsters, and treasure. My interest in writing about them stemmed from interviews I did for STAY AWHILE AND LISTEN, wherein I explore the making of Diablo, which was influenced by roguelike games. As is usually my approach when writing about game development, I wrote about the games covered in DUNGEON HACKS through the lens of the era in which they were made: the shared interests and factors that influenced their creators, and how the technology they used informed their designs. The end result is a collection of stories that are meant to be read in chronological order, but can be cherry-picked if, say, readers are more interested in Moria than they are NetHack. Also, I'll say that although roguelike fans will get the most out of this book, neophytes should enjoy it, too.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Kevin

    I was lucky enough to pick this up in a Humble Audiobook Bundle for $1 and boy was it worth it. I've been a fan of roguelikes since getting my first computer in the 1980's. It's really something that every game is completely different, and when I die, I'm dead, forced to start again. The book is also something of a history book of early computing. I'd highly recommend this to any videogamer looking for a good read or computer science student looking for a history of early game development.

  3. 5 out of 5

    Ryan

    The "roguelike" genre described in this book (for me, nethack, angband, and especially ADOM) are some of my favorite video games -- I first discovered them in the early 1990s on shared UNIX systems and have played off and on over the years. They're amazing because they somehow manage to tell great stories, and have high replay value, while being very simple in UI and in particular being largely procedurally generated (thus different every time). This book describes several of the most important g The "roguelike" genre described in this book (for me, nethack, angband, and especially ADOM) are some of my favorite video games -- I first discovered them in the early 1990s on shared UNIX systems and have played off and on over the years. They're amazing because they somehow manage to tell great stories, and have high replay value, while being very simple in UI and in particular being largely procedurally generated (thus different every time). This book describes several of the most important games, what makes them unique, and includes background/biography on the developers.

  4. 5 out of 5

    David Dinaburg

    Apex Legends released recently to roaring acclaim; a behemoth on twich, the hype got me to try it—I even scraped together a win—but I quickly gave up and went back to watching professionals play. It is the difference between me running some laps in the park against seeing Allyson Felix compete in the Olympics: sure, we’re both running, but only one of us elevates it to an artform. Watching others play creates a micronarrative, a communal experience like hearing about a Nethack ascension run, read Apex Legends released recently to roaring acclaim; a behemoth on twich, the hype got me to try it—I even scraped together a win—but I quickly gave up and went back to watching professionals play. It is the difference between me running some laps in the park against seeing Allyson Felix compete in the Olympics: sure, we’re both running, but only one of us elevates it to an artform. Watching others play creates a micronarrative, a communal experience like hearing about a Nethack ascension run, reading the touchstone Dwarf Fortress boatmurdered saga, or losing an afternoon deep in the intrigue of EVE Online: Although it’s not important to the game, some of the most fun you can have with roguelikes actually doesn’t involve playing them, but involves going into the Usenet groups and reading players’ stories about their games. ...One player started playing a character whose ambition in life was to be a dragon. She found the ring of polymorph and an amulet of polymorph control. She slips on the ring, drinks the potion of polymorph, specifies “black dragon,” then slips on the amulet. Dragons have lots of disadvantages, but she went on to win the game anyway. Dungeon Hacks is the definitive text on early roguelikes—a genre that hasn’t been generified like “xerox” to “copy”, “DOOM-clone” to “first-person shooter” [FPS], “Kleenex” to “tissue.” So the foundation—Rogue—is still in the name. But no one is preserving the link. No one except the author, who tracked down the creators of a handful of foundational games for an entire genre, interviewed them and spun the history into a cohesive narrative. That’s amazing. Don’t you wish someone had done that for, say, the creator of the umbrella? Not just the “when” and “where” but the “why” and “how.” That’s what you get here: “For Rogue to achieve Toy’s dream of an infinitely replayable game, every element had to be procedurally generated.” The dude that created Rogue wanted to play his own game and be surprised, and lo, procedurally generated dungeon crawls were born. That’s friggin’ nuts. Even the format of Dungeon Hacks hews closely to the open-source ethos that drove many of the early roguelikes: "I never would have written [Moria] if I hadn't run into Colossal Cave Adventure and Rogue, and those were free. What I did is I ended up releasing the source code to anyone who wanted to run the game, but also so people could learn the same things I had learned—about data structures, about how to write code efficiently. That was kind of my gift to the education world, I guess." A number of interviews the author personally conducted are accessible in the back of the book. Having the interviews at the end is nice in theory, but structurally puzzling. As I read through them, I kept flipping back to reference the chapters and noticed that direct quotes were inserted; you’ll read the same words more than once if you read the whole book (my first excerpt is from an interview with John Harris, and it appears twice in Dungeon Hacks). I like seeing the sources fleshed out, so the small complaint of reading the same sentence twice barely registers on the cosmic scale of things that could have gone wrong with what seems to be a self-published (self-funded?) endeavor. Amazing. If you’ve never heard of the Amulet of Yendor, I don’t know how or why you would search this out. But if you have even the smallest amount of interest in video game history—of uncovering the roots of the procedurally generated loot tables that underpin the gaming world’s new hotness—then Dungeon Hacks is required reading. Because while Apex Legends is about forty years too new to be in the book—a team-based battle royale where you drop into a Hunger Games-inspired arena where you must find gear, fight the 19 other squads, and survive to win—it wouldn’t be anywhere without Rogue.

  5. 5 out of 5

    elizabeth tobey

    Before I begin my review: I know David Craddock through the wild ties that bind via the interwebs, and through that relationship I got an early copy of this book. I'm not one to review books lightly (I'm actually pretty damned harsh) but I respect David quite a bit and, frankly, wanted to know about the genre that my husband obsessively plays. I'm not your average non-fiction reader, so one would think that Dungeon Hacks (being a history of sorts of roguelike games) would bore me to tears. The b Before I begin my review: I know David Craddock through the wild ties that bind via the interwebs, and through that relationship I got an early copy of this book. I'm not one to review books lightly (I'm actually pretty damned harsh) but I respect David quite a bit and, frankly, wanted to know about the genre that my husband obsessively plays. I'm not your average non-fiction reader, so one would think that Dungeon Hacks (being a history of sorts of roguelike games) would bore me to tears. The book is told as a story, though, with each chapter focusing on a different game and a different group of people. Over the course of the book, the stories build: after all, what came before surely influences what comes after, and the history of roguelikes is built on each game that is created. If you're already an aficionado of roguelike history (and if you are, who are you? That's weird) this book might be a bit boring to you, since it does go over the basics of the main players' lives and overviews of the games. It does delve deeper, though, into how things were built, distributed, and the community that enabled this genre to grow into the hugely successful (and commercial) enterprise it is today. While only a couple decades in the past, the world of video game design looked nothing then like it does today, and it's odd to look into an industry you are currently involved in and feel that, just a mere 15 years ago, it was essentially the stone age. In terms of the writing and structure of the book, I appreciate that Craddock decided to call his footnotes side quests (there are also proper foot notes but the longer diversions are elegantly interwoven through hyperlinks, making the book feel like a choose-your-own adventure.) In most cases, this would feel jarring, but he pulls it off and leads me through the book in a way that feels varied yet well structured.

  6. 4 out of 5

    Elías Alonso

    Evocative and well done This is not a book for everyone. Only those who feels the mysterious seduction of the roguelike will enjoy this book. It is a tour through the origins of some of the most important games of the genre, with interviews with the creators and enough context to understands how the genre was invented and evolved.

  7. 5 out of 5

    Trevor Bramble

    SO GOOD.

  8. 4 out of 5

    Andrew Bulthaupt

    I listened to the audiobook of this title. I really enjoyed David Craddock's Stay A While and Listen, a look into the development of Blizzard North's Diablo, a game I spent many hours playing. While I had never really gotten into Roguelikes, based on the justice Craddock did to Diablo I thought Dungeon Hacks would certainly be worth checking out. I wasn't wrong. The book goes right to the sources, containing in depth interviews with many of the people who were responsible for creating some of the I listened to the audiobook of this title. I really enjoyed David Craddock's Stay A While and Listen, a look into the development of Blizzard North's Diablo, a game I spent many hours playing. While I had never really gotten into Roguelikes, based on the justice Craddock did to Diablo I thought Dungeon Hacks would certainly be worth checking out. I wasn't wrong. The book goes right to the sources, containing in depth interviews with many of the people who were responsible for creating some of the most popular Roguelike games over the years. Between the firsthand accounts and Craddock's connecting of the dots and addition of context, you really get a good picture of how these titles sprang up, often independently of one another, and how they became such cult classics. It was very interesting to see how these games were entwined with the development of computers and the Internet, and how they probably could not have gotten their start at any other point in gaming history. As someone who unfortunately doesn't have as much time to play games these days as he does to read about them, I still found myself rather compelled to check out some of these classics, even knowing how quickly I'd die, again and again. Learning about their development and the systems created for such unique experiences definitely made me curious. Hopefully I'm able to follow through and play one or two. If you're interested in the history of computers, the Internet, and videogames, Dungeon Hacks is definitely worth the read. And who knows, you might find yourself with a new favorite genre of games!

  9. 4 out of 5

    Eric Mesa

    I got this book as part of a Humble Bundle. I chose to listen to it because Dan (one of my younger brothers) had roped me into Rogue-likes via FTL and Spelunky! The book was a fun, quick read of the history of these games. Two things were fascinating to me about the events of the book. One is remembering how primitive early computers were and how long it took them to get anywhere close to modern. This, of course, led to creativity in how to create games when disk space, RAM, or processing power I got this book as part of a Humble Bundle. I chose to listen to it because Dan (one of my younger brothers) had roped me into Rogue-likes via FTL and Spelunky! The book was a fun, quick read of the history of these games. Two things were fascinating to me about the events of the book. One is remembering how primitive early computers were and how long it took them to get anywhere close to modern. This, of course, led to creativity in how to create games when disk space, RAM, or processing power were extremely limited. What was more fascinating to me was to see that the legacy of Rogue, Rogue-likes, and Rogue-like-likes was not just in modern games like Vertical Drop Hero, Diablo, FTL, and Spelunky! Lots of these games are still actively developed! While my fondness for many of the modern Rogue-likes demonstrates that I'm not a slave to graphics or music, it was interesting to read that as late as 2012 there were people actively developing (and playing) the original games developed in the 70s and 80s - or at least the most recent releases of those old games.

  10. 5 out of 5

    Ben Nash

    Picked this up with a Humble Bundle and am glad I did. I started playing roguelikes in the early 90s and have kept up with them on and off since. This history runs through the classic, giving fun details, both personal and technical, about the games. I loved hearing how these games came from such an exuberant, creative place, regardless of the creators. There's a contagious sort of energy coming from these stories. My biggest beef is that there's not enough to them. I wish the author had gone dee Picked this up with a Humble Bundle and am glad I did. I started playing roguelikes in the early 90s and have kept up with them on and off since. This history runs through the classic, giving fun details, both personal and technical, about the games. I loved hearing how these games came from such an exuberant, creative place, regardless of the creators. There's a contagious sort of energy coming from these stories. My biggest beef is that there's not enough to them. I wish the author had gone deeper and included some of the roguelikes he left out (I know he mentions it, and why, but I really wanted to hear about T.o.M.E.). The narrator was good, for the most part. A couple of his pronunciations pulled me out of the book, but those were few and far between. Still very understandable. Didn't have the problem of droning on.

  11. 5 out of 5

    Jason Holliday

    I read Stay Awhile and Listen (another great book by same author based on the legendary game diablo) some time ago and now I just finished Dungeon Hacks. Actually, by read I mean I listened to the audiobook version in both cases. I played Diablo when it was originally released many years ago and was immediately hooked for life but only recently found out about rogue and rogue-like games and found them very appealing. Though I don’t have a long history with rogue or rogue-like games this book is I read Stay Awhile and Listen (another great book by same author based on the legendary game diablo) some time ago and now I just finished Dungeon Hacks. Actually, by read I mean I listened to the audiobook version in both cases. I played Diablo when it was originally released many years ago and was immediately hooked for life but only recently found out about rogue and rogue-like games and found them very appealing. Though I don’t have a long history with rogue or rogue-like games this book is still very much an entertaining read and I'd highly recommend to anyone who like myself is a life-long fan of this awesome fantasy/D&D-inspired genre whether it's games or books, I can't seem to get enough of it.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Christopher

    There's a special place in my heart for the roguelike. This was a fun little genealogy of some of the genre's forerunners. It strikes me how closely related developing the early games was to developing for the hardware, and to the limitations of the hardware. We don't really have that constraint any more, and I definitely get how it can be a real thing of beauty to be as perfectly expressive as you want to be within a clearly defined set of constraints. It's the whole point of haiku, and other r There's a special place in my heart for the roguelike. This was a fun little genealogy of some of the genre's forerunners. It strikes me how closely related developing the early games was to developing for the hardware, and to the limitations of the hardware. We don't really have that constraint any more, and I definitely get how it can be a real thing of beauty to be as perfectly expressive as you want to be within a clearly defined set of constraints. It's the whole point of haiku, and other rigid poetic constructs. I think that if I were to start writing such a game myself today, I'd start on a fantasy console like the TIC-80 in order to feel some of those same limitations.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Richard Eyres

    I have not played any of the main Rogue Like games that were described in this book. However, i have been a fan of Dungeons and Dragons for many years, and love adventure games and RPGs on the computer. No idea why i never got into them. Maybe it was my desire to have a nice graphical interface to make playing the games easier. The only Rogue like game mentioned in this book that i had played was Diablo. I enjoy these types of books, even if i had no real involvement in it. I like how people were I have not played any of the main Rogue Like games that were described in this book. However, i have been a fan of Dungeons and Dragons for many years, and love adventure games and RPGs on the computer. No idea why i never got into them. Maybe it was my desire to have a nice graphical interface to make playing the games easier. The only Rogue like game mentioned in this book that i had played was Diablo. I enjoy these types of books, even if i had no real involvement in it. I like how people were inspired to develop and build something that they not only wanted to play, but for other to play as well. Will i play one? Maybe. Will have to see if there is one that will grab me.

  14. 4 out of 5

    Heather

    I listened to this on Hoopla while doing yardwork. It definitely made me want to play Rogue again- my dad used to play the DOS version on our computer at home and I played it as well and made sure I copied it over to my college desktop when I moved out. I don't know if he ever knew I did that. I just loved Rogue so much. And I've never won it. I wish the history of Roguelikes had more women in it. Listening to this history about these teen and young men making their Roguelikes just emphasizes you I listened to this on Hoopla while doing yardwork. It definitely made me want to play Rogue again- my dad used to play the DOS version on our computer at home and I played it as well and made sure I copied it over to my college desktop when I moved out. I don't know if he ever knew I did that. I just loved Rogue so much. And I've never won it. I wish the history of Roguelikes had more women in it. Listening to this history about these teen and young men making their Roguelikes just emphasizes you don't need a ton of special knowledge to hack about on your computer and do stuff.

  15. 5 out of 5

    Charles

    I never played NetHack or Rogue or Angband, but I was curious about the roots of Diablo and similar hack and slash, procedurally generated roguelike games. The story itself is just ok for someone like me. I'd imagine if you're a fan of the specific games you'll love this book. There's some interesting topics of general game design of why these games are still followed today. But all in all, I didn't get much out of this book.

  16. 5 out of 5

    Sas

    I really enjoyed this book. I've slowly been exposed to Roguelike games by my cousin in recent years and initially, it wasn't something that quite struck my fancy, but now it's turning into a genre of games that I really enjoy. This book gives some insight into the challenges faced by the initial development of these games and how they've shaped the future for not only just the genre, but also influencing other games outside of it.

  17. 5 out of 5

    Paul

    This is a very niche book and has the feeling of an "oral history" of roguelikes. I'm not sure how interesting it would be to people who are not super into roguelikes, and it doesn't really inspire me to want to play roguelikes too much. That said, it is pretty boring and doesn't particularly sensationalize the topic, which is a plus in my book.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Gary Plowman

    Well, this was a nice slice of different. Brought me back to my Amiga Moria dungeon crawling days and also shed more light on the genre of roguelikes in general. In the 90s I owned PCs and so got to experience other roguelikes too. Fascinating and fun, I can highly recommend it to geeks and gamers.

  19. 4 out of 5

    David

    This was fun. I think there was some stuff about coding that I might not have appreciated as much as someone who does that. But if you're interested in game design and videogame history, this is a good read. Also, the audio version I listened to was well read and produced. So if you like listening to books, I'd recommend the audiobook on this one.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Joey

    Short but interesting. Each of the games featured are pretty similar so the chapters do start to get a little "samey" but the book doesn't overstay it's welcome. Goodreads really needs to let me have half stars. 3.5/5 would recommend if you're interested in the subject.

  21. 5 out of 5

    Laci

    Okay, that was also a good one. Craddock apparently knows what he's doing. I'd say this one was even better than Stay Awhile And Listen. (And it makes me wanna play Mines of Moria and Angband and ToME and FTL and... and... and I am installing D2 now, too. Whoops.)

  22. 4 out of 5

    John Hart

    I listened to the audio book version. It was a very informative listen that was well researched. While the source material was great, it was obvious that the narrator had no knowledge of it. There were numerous mispronunciations that were irritating.

  23. 4 out of 5

    Jonathan S. Harbour

    Fun book if you are an old cRPG player, but too much detail bogs it down and too much repetition and OT detracts from the core narrative.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Kim

    I’m a long-time Angband fan, but now I want to play all of the roguelikes!

  25. 5 out of 5

    Rob

    Really quite good overview of the development and post-release life of various Roguelike games. Significantly more professional seeming than many other books in the genre.

  26. 5 out of 5

    Murilo Queiroz

    A very entertaining book about the early days of game development in the 1970s and 1980s.

  27. 5 out of 5

    Jesse

    The most offensively-narrated audiobook I've ever heard.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Sotolf Flasskjegg

    I realty liked the information and the stories in the book, I really didn't enjoy the jump back and forth thing for extra snippets, but all in all a really great book #

  29. 5 out of 5

    Ryan Nims

    Overall a good book, though I think it could have been longer! I would have liked to have heard something about Japan's forays into the Roguelike genre, specifically the Mystery Dungeon series. The narration was a bit spotty on the Audible book... Narrator pronounced the same things different ways from one paragraph to the next, which is a bit jarring.

  30. 4 out of 5

    Eric

    I love roguelikes and this gives a great history of the genre.

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