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

Nethack is the most brutal RPG I’ve ever played. One of my best games involved getting murdered while shopping. My buff Level 6 Elven Ranger who had just finished clearing out a room full of orcs encountered two small mimics and one large mimic hiding among the shop items. He barely escaped — only to be killed by my pet dog who went feral. Seriously.

Nethack has been around since the 80’s. It’s essentially a text-based game meant for play in a terminal window. I’ve been trying to get my head around this game for ten years but gave up each time. I didn’t understand the controls and the lack of graphics was hard to get my head around. There are graphic–enhanced versions but the last graphic port for the Mac was for Power PC processors — OS X Lion won’t run it. At first I found the iOS port iNethack (and iNethack HD) to be indispensable but I grew sick of the menu–based navigation.

There is so much going on with this game. It’s a Rogue–like so if you die it’s permanent and need to start over. The dungeon generates randomly each time you play through, as does the function of each type of potion, scroll, ring, and spell book. Some items are cursed, some are blessed. In addition to your typical fantasy character classes you can also play through as an Archeologist, Caveman, Samurai, or Tourist (they start with a credit card, camera, and sometimes a towel). You can try to domesticate nearly any monster in the game. There are genies who grant wishes. And a surprising amount of eating raw whatever it is you just killed, like hobbits and dwarves.

As with all command–line applications there are no mouse controls, just the keyboard. It seems like nearly every key on the keyboard is used, including SHIFT + Key combinations and some CTRL + Key combinations. On top of that there are some actions that you type out after hitting the # key. It’s crazy, but after a while you get used to it. Typing on a keyboard is direct and only limited by your typing speed though you should not go through this game quickly as you will die. You’re meant to take a step back and assess your situation more often than most games.

After I grew adjusted to the interface I went back to the ASCII version seen above. Then I discovered – a Nethack server that you can telnet to by visiting It’s great. You can see a record of all of your games (here’s mine), see high scores, see what other people name their pets, and even watch other people play live. Obviously this also means you can play from any computer that has a command line as well.

I’ve barely scratched the surface of this game. Nethack was actively developed for 16 years and the depth and variety of gameplay shows it. I hear there are towns, puzzles, and even the Amulet of Yendor, the item that you are there to retrieve. I’m probably one Level 25 permadeath away from throwing in the towel, but I can say with certainty that I’ll pick this game up from time to time for the rest of my life.

I played The President is Missing as a kid. It’s a sleuthing sim game, but the kicker – there is no end to the game. The game instructed you to write a report and physically mail it to Cosmi Corporation and they would tell you whether you were correct.

The kicker? The solution was never publicly revealed and the company is out of business. There is a forum with a good spoiler, if you are interested, but it’s still not the official response from the defunct company.

Read more about The President is Missing at Wikipedia.

Long Live The Queen looks like a game for kids but it’s a pretty engaging SIM. In it you are a princess who’s mother, the Queen, has just passed away. The Princess is next in line for the throne, a throne that no one else wants you to have.

You must decide which classes to take in your journey to becoming queen. Should you learn Court Manners and avoid a social faux pax? Or should you take Reflexes and maybe that snake someone tries to poison you with will miss?

All of the skill improvements you make are altered by your mood. If you are Afraid and Depressed you’ll not make any progress on Royal Training, but Agility and Faith skills will be boosted. On the weekends and through dialogue your mood will change and events happen that test your skills.

I think it’s a pretty light, fun SIM. I’ve only played through the demo (perhaps ½ an hour of play) and it reminds me of games I cannot remember that I played in the late 90’s. It provides enough to grab you without getting too technical and tells a story.

Long Live The Queen is available from Hanako Games for Mac, Linux, and Windows. $12.95

Avernum: Escape from the Pit is a terrific old school¹ computer RPG. There are a lot of missions to go forth on, many of which are not related to the story. It can be brutally difficult at times - there isn’t anything stopping the player from walking into a combat situation that is meant for higher level characters. That’s one of the reasons the game is terrific - a feeling like anything could be around the corner. Compare this to Pokémon, another RPG that is about the same age… In Pokémon you have a very linear world - the wild Pokémon around your hometown are feeble compared to every Pokémon you encounter afterward.

The graphics are a bit too realistic and plain for my taste ² and there are some user interface issues that bother me a bit. I searched the web for hours looking for a list of magic spell levels, only to find there is a list tucked into the character sheet. Boats often get stuck on land terrain while the same click going the same distance doesn’t typically hang up the party on land.

Inventory management is a hassle. I constantly have a full inventory and moving one item at a time gets irritating. I was 20 hours into the game before I realized there was a “junk bag” shared by the entire party because it’s just a text link inside the inventory screen. And there is a lot of junk. The entire game achieves this level of realness because there is useless crap everywhere. Buckets, spoons, pants, even froody towels. At first it was hard to tell what was crap and what wasn’t. To confuse this more, there are missions involving the accumulation of these junk goods. It does give the world of Avernum a lived in feel to an extent. Want to sneak into the generals chamber and loot his room? Well he probably doesn’t keep his magic sword in there but you are welcome to his 8 copper pieces, pants, and pipe.

The terrific writing, atypical fantasy setting and often strategic gameplay keep those annoyances at bay. I’m looking forward to Avernum 2 and 3 being updated and rereleased. I’m still rabidly playing this one and loving it.

Avernum: Escape from the Pit is available for Mac, iPad, and Windows.

  1. It’s a ground-up rewrite of 1995’s Exile: Escape from the Pit. It’s actually the third rewrite. So it is old school, but revamped a bit. Wikipedia has [screenshots of the original series.](
  2. I love the [artwork for skills]( (hover over each skill to see it). I wish the entire game had artwork in that comic book style.

Interactive Fiction falls in between pen and paper RPGs and modern video games. It’s a useful tool to describe the imagination and free thinking necessary for both pen and paper RPGs and Interactive Fiction, without investing in character creation or rules.

In Interactive Fiction a player is presented a world with rules designed by a story-creator at a chronologically different time, in RPGs the player sits in the same room; offering both the GM and the player an opportunity to break those world rules for the sake of story. These world rules are still more open to imagination without visual references to tie down the rules of the world created by graphically driven video games.

Interactive Fiction could be a useful format to introduce new players and gamers who have been raised on graphically driven games to pen and paper RPGs.

Point and Click games can get tedious - the main game mechanic is often taking items from somewhere else and using them in unexpected ways to push the plot through. The Dream Machine (at least the first chapter) manages to balance well - I never felt like it was too tedious of an errand, that it was too difficult, all while the creepy and interesting story kept moving along.

I was hooked by the story perhaps more than others might be, it involves a couple who move to a new apartment. There is insinuation that it’s difficult for the main character to adjust to being away from his slacker friends and dreams of a rockstar life. Having just moved and had a baby last November (ON THE SAME DAY) I can really grok the story.

The first chapter is available for play on the website (Flash), Chapter 2 and future chapters are available on Steam.

DLC Quest is funny satire on downloadable content perverting the games industry. The first few jokes were the funniest, such as sound and animation being DLC content, and it started to trail off afterward.

I stuck with it long enough to unlock all of the achievements, about 30 minutes. I wasn’t expecting much and I probably would have not played this game much longer so it is good that it is short. Available on many platforms. It’s good to see games that are short and sweet and not too serious. It reminds me of the c64 era.