Trace NetHack allll the way back, and it’s actually an evolution of Hack, circa 1984, itself a derivation of 1980’s Rogue. In 1987, a developer named Mike Stephenson wrote his own expanded version of Hack and released it under a new name: NetHack. This major update to the nascent roguelike added a bunch of new classes like Samurai, Valkyrie, and Priest, very basic IBM graphics support, the Excalibur, and much more. You can read old USENET discussions and actually see the origins of NetHack as they played out online in 1987, which is pretty incredible.
More incredible is that the latest update to this game was released in April 2018, and there’s no sign it will be the last one. The latest release is 3.6.1 and comes hot on the heels of 2015’s 3.6.0. Seriously though: prior to that, the last release was in 2003! Because NetHack is a game built so heavily around random generation, it doesn’t really need updates to remain interesting and playable. There’s no RPG-esque dialogue to get tired of and no need for new quests, like the MUDs on this list.
Still, there were a couple very important additions in 3.6.1:
- Blinded hero or monster who eats a nurse corpse will have blindness cured
- Allow taming monkeys and apes with bananas
The best place to play NetHack today is on the server nethack.alt.org, which maintains leaderboards, lets you spectate other active players, and encounter the “bones” of other failed adventurers in your own dungeons. They usually have some pretty good loot—just watch out for the monster that killed them, which will be lurking on the same floor, too.