Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Game 358: Hydlide

Emulator antialiasing makes a world of difference.


1984 was a big year for Japanese proto-RPGs, with The Black Onyx one of the first releases of the year, Hydlide one of the last, and Tower of Druaga and Dragon Slayer in between. All of these are important milestones, but I didn't have much luck in terms of enjoyment - of the three so far, Black Onyx was the most playable but too simplistic and grindy, Tower of Druaga was too cruel even by arcade game standards, and Dragon Slayer an over-engineered confusion of ideas without any direction or vision.

Hydlide, an overhead, open-world action/adventure game with RPG trappings, is certainly the most famous of these games outside of Japan, owing to its NES port. Perhaps the most infamous too - attitudes toward Hydlide seem middling at best, though I have seen the occasional critic blame this on the NES port's delayed localization. By the time of its U.S. release in 1989, we'd already seen Dragon Quest and The Legend of Zelda, as well as Ys on the Sega Master System, and the likes of Final Fantasy and Crystalis were just around the corner. Hydlide, so they say, looked hopelessly outdated.

I do original versions when possible, and thankfully, Hydlide, like Dragon Slayer, is completely in English, with ingame backstory and instructions. Both are simple - in the world of Fairyland, the three magic jewels that protect the kingdom were stolen and the land overrun with monsters. Even worse, the demon Varalys woke up and transformed the princess Ann into a fairy. Or maybe multiple fairies. You play "Jim," just some guy fed up with the situation, and must restore peace and order, or die trying.

Your only controls are the cardinal direction keys (mapped to the number pad as typical of early PC-88 games) and a single action button which, when used outside of context-sensitive zones, switches between a defensive stance and an attack stance, much like in Tower of Druaga except it is instantaneous and is not reflected by your walking animation. There's also a dedicated seppuku button for some reason.

As in Dragon Slayer and the later Ys series, there is no discrete button for attacking - you deal damage by running into enemies while in attack stance, preferably from behind or the sides, as they'll return damage should you face them head-on. Against the weak slime monsters that spawn on the first screen, you'll need to reckon which end is the "head" base on the direction of movement, but most of the other monsters have discernible heads that indicate orientation, but their movement is so erratic and your own movement so maddeningly imprecise that this can feel more based on luck than skill. Slimes aren't terribly threatening, doing little damage which will automatically heal as long as you stay in easy terrain, but if you go just one screen north, far more dangerous kobolds lurk about. Fighting them is worth more experience, but you can't survive too many hits from them. Anything else is suicide until you level up.

Special mention needs to be given to the quicksave/quickload function, which you can use pretty much any time, records/recalls the precise state of the game almost instantly, and supports ten slots, one per numerical digit on the keyboard. I can't think of any other game from the era that works this way, and you'd think this is emulator functionality, but no, it's built into this game from 1984.

Default M88 settings

I initially found Hydlide to be unplayably fast and twitchy. This wasn't the first PC-88 game that presented speed problems, but this time it was so bad that I just had to do something to fix it. Thankfully, by enabling a setting referred to as "wait" the speed became much more manageable, and if I'm not mistaken, the "Sub CPU" setting above it makes the action a bit less jerky. PC-88 emulation is still more than a bit mysterious to me, so I don't really know what these setting actually do or if these are the best way to accurately simulate the timings of period hardware. I couldn't ever make it feel great, but these settings did improve the experience.

"Sub CPU" and "wait" enabled



I began my playthrough by mapping out the immediately accessible world. You're pretty safe in the defensive stance as long as you keep moving and stay out of the danger zones.

Hydlide's overworld is pretty small, consisting of 25 screens in a 5x5 grid. They wrap around on both dimensions, but the central area is enclosed by a moat, preventing you from warping across the meridians yourself. At best, you can see the other side of the world from across the moat.

Some points of interest:

  • An easily retrieved treasure chest on the west end of the map contains a holy cross. I can't yet tell what it does.
  • A maze area just west of the center contains some nasty monsters guarding a chest.
  • Two caves lead to darkened areas.
  • A ruined castle on the east end of the map can be entered. Inside is a small maze, where I found several bats and one very powerful vampire but nothing valuable.
  • The graveyard in the southwest corner is teeming with very deadly zombies, and a treasure chest.
  • Up in the north area, a rock mysteriously moves on its own. Engaging it kills you.


I started off by grabbing the cross, and then returned to the starting area to farm slimes until I leveled up for the first time, which took about six minutes. Then I went into the woods to fight kobolds for another level up, which owing to their higher damage, and the more difficult terrain in which you do not regenerate, took me about seven minutes despite getting twice as much XP per kill.

Throughout the game, I found that at any given level, there was generally only one type of enemy that made sense to farm for experience, and with the sole exception of fighting kobolds at level 2, these enemies would always grant just one pixel's worth of it. 100 are needed to level up, and I found it could take up to fifteen minutes to gain a level, depending on how much time was spent waiting for my health to regenerate. At certain levels, low-level monsters stop giving experience altogether, but some of them remain hazardous even after you've reached that point.

After reaching level 3, slimes and kobolds ceased to award anything, but it became feasible, albeit dangerous, thanks to the narrow corridors, to engage "ropers" in the maze area. Zombies in the cemetery were worth twice as much XP but also even deadlier, and a passage to the treasure chest there eluded me. The one in the maze, though, contained a magic lamp, and upon its retrieval one of the maze passages became highlighted in red and a passage beyond revealed itself, but the area inside was dark like the others. 

What does the red passage mean?


Unable to proceed otherwise, I farmed ropers near the maze's entrance for another two levels, at which point the ropers stopped giving any experience, and then began to spawn in the overworld, along with goblins, who likewise awarded no XP. The zombies were possible to fight, but still too dangerous to be worth the grind, and the graveyard treasure wouldn't open.

The castle vampire, however, went down with some tricky maneuvering and a bit of luck.


His death yielded a magic lantern to allow exploration of the various dark caves.

Inspired by the Tower of Druaga? You don't say.

This opened up a few new adventures:

  • The cave north of the maze took me to the desert, where fightable but deadly scorpions roamed. A castle in the desert took me into the moat, where dangerous eels lurked, and an immobile octopus at one spot could kill me in one shot. Eventually I found a route to a previously unexplored forest island, where wizards with projectile magic wandered around, and a dragon could be seen flying around an unreachable castle, spitting flames. All of these enemies were too difficult to grind experience on, and I saw no immediate benefit to exploring these areas. Still, my overworld map was now complete.
  • The cave in the east took me to a one-screen maze full of wisps that freely moved through walls, making it supremely annoying to retrieve the treasure - a better sword - and escape alive. When a wisp goes through a wall of these narrow corridors and starts moving in your direction, there's not much you can do except retreat and pray. The twitchy and sometimes unresponsive controls don't help either.
  • The cave in the overworld maze leads to a dungeon maze full of chests - one containing a key and the others empty - and roaming monsters. An exit here leads to another part of the scorpion desert.

The key unlocked the graveyard chest, where Varalys had stashed one of the jewels! I stayed there for awhile to farm zombies, which was much more doable thanks to the sword upgrade. Even though you can't reliably flank them with all the gravestones in the way, a head-on attack usually landed the first hit, which killed them in one shot now, and even when it didn't, I still had enough health to tank a few hits myself before retreating to a safe spot just west of the cemetery to heal, and reached level 7 this way.

After this, I found the magic shield in the northern cave. I don't know what triggered its appearance - this is just one of those things you stumble into after being conditioned to re-search every single place whenever you accomplish anything. In the desert area beyond, I noticed a bunch of moving trees, and found that they deal massive damage when searched, but one yielded a fairy. This discovery prompted me to go back and search every tree in the main area, where I remembered seeing wasps emerge when I bumped into some of them. Sure enough, I found a second fairy inside one.


I also saw a treasure chest appear in one of the caves, but not in a place where I could reach it without leaving the screen, and vanished when I returned from the correct passage to reach it from. Going back, I managed to get it - I think the rule is that killing a knight while offscreen from the chest's location has a chance of spawning the it, but killing one after it spawns will remove it. It contained the second jewel.

I needed a hint after this. No more puzzles or challenges were evident, no enemies earned me XP any more except for the eels swimming in the moat, who could still kill me in one hit, and I just couldn't see a path forward.

What you have to do is brave the moat to return to the forest island where the wizards patrol and get hit by their projectiles exactly five times without killing anything or leaving the screen. Then you kill a wizard, which gets you the third fairy and teleports you to the final castle, guarded by a dragon.

If anyone could explain to me how one figures this sequence out naturally, that would be great. I'd stumbled onto some obscure puzzle solutions, but I can't see how you could do that one by accident.

I felled the dragon by attacking in "defend" mode (it one-shots you otherwise) to do scant amounts of damage, then backing off until my health refilled and repeated until it went down. This had a profound effect on the world, as the entire moat drained, revealing the third jewel in the immediate vicinity and the magic potion elsewhere.

The unguarded castle can be entered with the spacebar, but thanks to the lack of any visible entrance as seen with other passages, this wasn't immediately obvious. That said, the lack of obvious entrances is also why I wandered and located the magic potion instead of just going inside right away.


Black knights wander the final maze, and with a bit of patience, can be killed while turning corners for a smidgen bit of XP, up until level 9. Take them on face-to-face by accident and you die, or at least forfeit your potion, which you don't want to happen either.

Skeletons patrol the next part, and they are so over the concept of rewarding you for fighting them by now, but they'll still slice away half your health with a single hit. Health regenerates so slowly in the dungeon that you might as well just use quicksaves that the game so generously provides to ensure you get past them without taking a scratch.

Varalys lurks in his inner lair, teleporting around and launching fireballs, while black knights and skeletons wander around.

You're not going to do any damage to him until you grab the cross in the south chamber guarded by an encircling black knight and skeleton - easier said than done unscathed. Then, you engage Varalys with the same tactics used to fight his dragon - approach in defense mode, trade blows, and disengage before your health runs out so you can heal - you regenerate, he doesn't, and once healed you can whittle his health away a bit more. Only now it takes a good ten minutes of disengagement to heal up, and there's no safe spot to wait it out - you've got to run around avoiding his minions the whole time. Do not be ashamed to quicksave/quickload nonstop - it's almost over.

Once Varalys is down to just under 50% health, you can finish him off in one last charge, as long as you've still got the magic potion. Switch to attack mode and close right in - he'll kill you in one hit, causing the potion to automatically revive you, but after that you should get in that finishing blow before he can kill you again. And then the game's over.

GAB rating: Below average. This game is badly flawed even without consciously comparing it to Zelda. And yet, I feel there are positives.

The biggest problem is the combat system which governs the moment-to-moment gameplay. It just plain sucks. Putting aside the absurd imagery of Jim running circles around enemies as they lurch around the forest aimlessly while he hits them from behind, nothing about the system feels reliable or inconsistent. Enemies move in random directions, making it a matter of luck that you don't run headlong into their business end, and game speed fluctuates with how many monsters are onscreen, making your grid-based movements imprecise and prone to input drops. Grinding is boring and unavoidable - it's not great when you spend most of the game farming XP at the minimum rate possible simply because any enemy strong enough to be worth more than that will destroy you. And when you're not grinding for the next level, you're probably wondering where you need to go so that you can grind for the next level. There weren't many parts of my playthrough that I found fun.

But credit is due in one big way - Hydlide takes the concept of an open world action/RPG-lite and fully commits to it. Its world, though small, is cohesively and efficiently designed, with memorable landmarks and geography, and an increasing amount of freedom and power with every task you accomplish. The lantern found in the vampire's castle lets you explore the dark caves, the levels gained fighting kobolds let you have a chance of surviving the maze, the cave in the maze lets you explore the kingdom's outskirts by way of waterway, etc. Nearly every screen serves a purpose, which can't be said about any of the other proto-JRPGs of 1984, nor can it be said about any of the Ultimas.

So there's a sense of design and craft here that I haven't seen in its Japanese contemporaries. Is it well designed or well crafted? Hell no. But I get what it's trying to be, which is more than I can say for Tower of Druaga or Dragon Slayer. This is a borderline bad game, but I respect its vision and innovation just enough to rate it higher than that.

And its short duration - it probably took me just over 3 hours to finish - works to its benefit, because six hours of this would have been intolerable.

Friday, February 24, 2023

Hack: Won!

I entered level 21 with 22 strength, good weapons and armor and a backpack full of magic, and most importantly, an anchor save on level 20. This would be the last save I needed.

My possessions:

  • 3 potions of extra healing
  • Potion of restore strength
  • Potion of healing
  • Lantern
  • Mirror
  • Tinderbox
  • Cross
  • 8 flasks of oil
  • 6 food rations
  • +3 bow
  • +4 long sword
  • 20 arrows
  • 2 wands of sleep
  • 2 wands of monster teleport
  • 2 wands of trap detection
  • Wand of light
  • Wand of cold
  • Wand of fire
  • Ring of protection
  • Ring of +2 stealth
  • 3 scrolls of resurrection
  • 3 scrolls of magic mapping
  • 2 scrolls of confuse monster
  • Scroll of light
  • Scroll of gold detection
  • Scroll of remove curse
  • Scroll of teleportation
  • +1 plate armor
  • +0 shield


I knew there was some good stuff in the shops above too, including a wand of slow monster and a wand of polymorph - both types I'd encountered in the late teen levels - but I just couldn't afford them.

Moving forward, I'd ritually use a wand of trap detection every time I entered a new level - it generously reveals all of the level's traps and not just the ones in the room.

I'd somewhat reluctantly also use the wand of light in nearly every room - getting jumped or eaten in the dark was something I wished to avoid, and when it ran out I'd have to deal with it, but I figured my best survival strategy was to use everything I'd got, and hope that more useful things would turn up as I delved deeper.

Enemies I found in the early 20's included:

  • Dragons eat you up close and shoot incinerating bolt from far away. The wand of sleep makes them harmless, but watch your angles - if it misses, it can bounce and potentially hit you!
  • Demons self-replicate, like quivering blobs. Unlike quivering blobs, they'll hurt you individually, and in groups will slaughter you. The wand of Teleport Monster helps split up the crowd, and make its victim a future problem instead of a current one.
  • Floor Fiends are invisible monsters that eat you when you get close, but drop lots of items - possessions of a less lucky adventurer, perhaps - when killed.
  • The Argus is a cowardly creature who will put you to sleep with its magic flute and run. Likely a problem if other creatures are around, though one situation this froze the game.
  • Energars will paralyze you if you touch them, and blast you with lightning if you stay distant. A wand of sleep is your friend, but even then, use arrows, not swords, to kill them.
  • Megaworms eat you, but at this point I can could my way out without taking too much digestion damage.


Ring shop! You will never have enough identify scrolls.

Screw. Energars. One turn ago I had 100% health and didn't see him!

Today I learned that floor fiends can randomly instakill you. Teleportation or luck can save you.

After a few false starts, I ran into a wand of digging, which allowed me to bypass much of the levels. By reading my scrolls of magic mapping, I could dig straight to the next stairs and minimize the risk of death or softlock.

Then, I entered level 26, traditionally the place where you find the Amulet of Yendor, and I read a mapping scroll.

This looks different.

One new type of enemy could be found here - Guards, who have bows and cast magic missile. Individually they were not threatening, and these narrow corridors meant I rarely got exposed to more than one enemy at a time, but each guard still blasted me with several magic missiles before they'd fall, forcing me to rest before proceeding, during which time more enemies certainly spawned, including more guards and sometimes worse things.

One dropped a potion of monster detection, which helped reduce the number of surprises, though it does not reveal monsters that spawn after you drink it.


I scoured every inch of the level, using the wand of digging's remain charges to bypass otherwise unavoidable traps, looking for the amulet. Or stairs going down. Or anything unusual, really. It just didn't seem to be anywhere. I even killed those obnoxious arguses!

And then, after finding and drinking a potion of object detection, and manually inspecting every single heap of junk on the ground, killing who knows how many guards in the meantime, I found a 'sphere of power,' hidden underneath the worthless bow and arrows of the guard who probably dropped it.


And with that object scooped up, I beat a quick retreat to the stairs going up and began my ascent to the surface, through well-charted territory. There was one close call on level 25, where I got caught between a dragon, an energar, and a small horde of demons, and drank a potion of invisibility to slip through, and still caught a blast of dragon flame on my butt running through, but after that, it was a long, straightforward run to the top. Guards continued to spawn a bit aggressively the entire time, but they remained nuisances, not threats.

Finally, I left the dungeon with big points but little fanfare.


I've got to ask, is that it? You can escape the dungeon any time - the stairs work whether you have a sphere of power or not. Even Rogue offered an actual ending - a lame one, but at least one that acknowledged you won. Examination of plaintext strings in the hack.exe binary suggests that, yes, this is it.

GAB rating: Good. It's Rogue with more stuff in it. Bigger mazes, more treasures, and by the endgame, more control, balanced out by scarier monsters. The essence of Rogue, with its finite resources that force you to make do with what you've got and sometimes roll with the punches, and ever-escalating threats that never quite allow you to feel safe is not lost, except in one regard - the food supply, though limited in theory, never came even close to running out.

Hack, even in this early incarnation (though who knows how much Fenlason changed it since its 1984 release), feels fairer than Rogue, but it still puts you at the mercy of an RNG which may or may not ever spawn the tools and powers you need to survive the early stages, or may allow its midgame monsters to land an unlucky stat-crippling blow from which you'll never recover, or in the late game, just instantly kill you with a surprise encounter in the dark. My victory still came from being able to roll the dice until a favorable outcome landed, and even then I still needed some privileged information - I still have no idea how you can reasonably avoid slow death by poisoned potion except by sheer luck of never encountering one. But for what it's worth, I think Rogue, with its more rapid pace, was more fun to replay, while Hack was more satisfying to finish.

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

Hack: Eat your greens

As of the last post, I had an save backup on level 9, which teems with creatures capable of permanently draining your strength, killing you instantly with a stoning gaze, or killing you very slowly with a venomous sting. 

I learned through testing that the scroll of resurrection protects you from death for a duration of no more than 40 turns after reading it, and the "resurrection" means teleporting somewhere random in the level with a scant amount of HP and dropping all of your stuff where you died, making the usefulness of this spell quite limited, suited only to a desperate escape. I didn't test to see if it can save you from slow poison, but my guess is you'd just still be poisoned when you resurrect.

I did figure out, far later than I should have to be honest, that the cockatrice can be instantly killed with a mirror, so I began carrying one. It only works in rooms with non-magical light, though.

I carried this gear:

  • Tinderbox
  • Lantern
  • Mirror
  • +4 long sword
  • Bow
  • 23 arrows
  • Wand of light
  • Wand of magic missiles
  • Wand of trap detection
  • Scroll of resurrection
  • Scroll of confuse monster
  • +1 splint armor
  • +0 battered shield


This left essentially no room for extra torches, oil, or food, but I left a stockpile of things at level 9's entrance:

  • 3 rations
  • 32 torches
  • 2 scrolls of remove curse
  • 60 crossbow bolts
  • Cross
  • Potion of monster detection
  • Scroll of charge wand
  • Unidentified blackened ring


And a few useful-seeming things could be purchased at the store here (plus several unmentioned useless-seeming or redundant things):

  • 2 rations
  • 3 miscellaneous food items including steak and tripe
  • 2 torches
  • Potion of object detection
  • 2 scrolls of enchant weapon
  • Two-handed sword
  • 2 scrolls of resurrection


Level 11 is where I finally found a big store with multiple potions of gain strength. I made a save point here.

Three of them, to be exact.

Finally, I could wear my armor and carry some extra gear beyond a basic survival kit. I could also, and indeed did, go back to earlier levels to pick up the junk I had left behind and trade it at the level 9 store for some of their supplies. And when I ate the steak, it granted me another strength point, bringing me up to 18, and a 1350hg carrying capacity! Discounting the capacity reserved for the weight of my armor, this effectively doubled compared to the start.

The next several levels weren't much of a struggle. At this point, the majority of rooms were dark, so my wand of light helped avoid any unpleasant surprises, and I found a spare around level 14. The wand of trap detection got put to use at the start of each level, not only just revealing traps, but also indirectly revealing secret rooms. Purely muscular enemies like octopuses, minotaurs, and trolls were no problem against my +4 longsword, so long as I made sure to fight them one at a time. "Fakers" are just mimics, and posed no problem either, having no special abilities except disguise, and being no stronger up close than any other beefy opponent. "Xerps" can do some nasty damage with a bouncing magic missile attack, but engaging at an angle, if you can makes it less likely to hit you on the rebound.

I did have one setback when I stupidly removed my armor in the presence of an armor-rusting oxidizer and a wraith. Turns out removing armor costs several turns, and wraiths can level drain! Not only did the quick-moving oxidizer land an armor-damaging hit before I got it off, but the wraith drained me. Twice.

Level 17 is where my light magic expired, and also the level that did me in, when I entered a room that "smelled funny." Previously I'd been in rooms that were colorfully lit, or that made me feel "strangely happy," and assumed it to just be flavor text. Not here.

Should've remembered Zork.

My next handful of lives and deaths:

  • My armor got oxidized to the point of uselessness. I went back up to buy something new, but during the ascent got instakilled by a cockatrice in a dark corridor.
  • I bought a steak on the level 11 shop and ate it immediately for a strength boost. As I left the store, a cockatrice was waiting right outside and instakilled me.
  • I identified and donned a ring of stealth, which had been quite useful in Rogue but also the side-effect of making me get hungry faster. On the way back down from a food shopping trip, I ran headfirst into an 'unox' and oxidizer, so I removed my armor to fight. Turns out the 'unox' hits quite hard and had seen me. It leveled me as I took the armor off.
  • An 'energar' zapped me with a paralyzing electric blast followed by several rounds of lightning and more paralyzing blasts. I ran out of HP without even getting to make a move.

  • I drank a potion of blindness bought in a shop, and got chewed to death by various unseen nasties as I tried to skedaddle back to higher, safer ground. This one's honestly on me - I should have known better than to quaff strange potions this deep so late in the game.


I made a save on level 16, after finding a 'food mart' where I ate some strength-boosting spinach, and accumulating some cool stuff:


  • Potion of monster detection
  • Lantern
  • Mirror
  • Tinderbox
  • Cross
  • 7 flasks of oil
  • 13 food rations
  • +3 bow
  • +4 long sword
  • 20 arrows
  • Wand of trap detection
  • Ring of +2 protection
  • Ring of stealth
  • Scroll of resurrection
  • Scroll of light
  • Scroll of confuse monster
  • Scroll of teleportation
  • +1 plate armor
  • +0 shield

On the floor:

  • Short wand (unidentified)
  • +1 splint armor
  • 2 food rations
  • 38 torches
  • 2 scrolls of resurrection
  • Potion of restore strength
  • Scroll of remove curse
  • 62 arrows


Lots of stuff remained in the shops above, like scrolls of magic mapping, two more steaks, healing potions, and quite a few unidentified wands, and an unidentified ring and scroll, but cash was running out.


Exploring level 17, I found some gems and a multi-use scroll of identify, which helped me buy several wands, and to identify a few whose effects I couldn't determine from use. These wands, apart from the random effect conjuring Wand of Wonder which I didn't trust, proved quite handy in surviving the next few levels. There are enemies you just don't want to go toe-to-toe with, and sometimes using the bow isn't a good option either because the enemy is too fast or there's nowhere to retreat to.

  • A host of monsters represented by capital letters including Ugods, Zelomps, and Rock Lobsters are just dumb melee beasts who can barely harm me at this point.
  • Minotaurs, Land sharks, and Wumpuses can hurt me, but I'll kill them long before they kill me.
  • Phase shifters aren't especially strong, but annoying as they'll turn invisible when you hit them and only turn visible when they try to hit you, usually successfully.
  • Hydras are bad news up close, and have a nasty habit of appearing in places where you can't easily make distance. But they move slow and are susceptible to magic.
  • Vampires became my most feared enemy, because they're fast, strong, and drain levels on a hit, and I couldn't figure out a way to use crosses against them. Using a wand of slow monsters seems to even the odds.
  • Dragons are another 'eater' enemy, and the first one I encountered ate me in the dark. I cut my way out before the digestion killed me, but it was a close call.


My first of many post-save deaths came on level 21, when  I found a sleeping dragon in a bright room, and thought I could plink it to death with arrows as I had in Rogue. Big mistake.

But the real pisser was an 'Argus' whose magic froze the game.

I saved just before level 21, now pumped full of brawn thanks to all the spinach, steak, and potions I'd been consuming and finally able to carry lots of stuff. I'll need it.

Saturday, February 18, 2023

Hack: Dubious actions

Shortly after I made my last post, I had an idea. One of the challenges you face in a Hacklike is identifying items when there aren't nearly enough scrolls of identify to go around. The most straightforward method is to just use the strange item and see what happens, but the effect isn't always obvious - what, for instance, does the scroll that turns your hands blue actually do?

The shop at the beginning of the game offers random magic stuff, mainly as a way of dumping your extra gold, but I realized, unlike items you buy in the dungeon's shops, these items all come identified. Would it be so egregious to use it repeatedly to gather data?

And so I did. I couldn't figure out the effects of all of the magic items, and these lists are probably not 100% complete, but I definitely made some findings that will be helpful in the future:



Item Message Effect
Potion of alcohol "This tastes like liquid fire!" Confusion for ~10 turns
Potion of blindness "The world goes dark." Long blindness
Potion of confusion "What? Where am I?" Confusion for ~20 turns
Potion of extra healing "You feel much better"
Potion of extra hit points "You feel unusually powerful" Heals 150% HP
Potion of forgetfulness "You feel very forgetful" Lose current map
Potion of fruit juice "This is fruit juice."
Potion of gain level "You feel more experienced." Level up
Potion of gain strength "You feel stronger!" Strength increases
Potion of healing "You begin to feel better"
Potion of invisibility "You turn invisible" Invisible for ~100 turns
Potion of monster detection "You sense monsters." Shows monsters on map
Potion of object detection "You sense objects." Shows items on map
Potion of paralysis "You are frozen!" Paralyzed briefly
Potion of poison "The potion was poisoned!" Gradual strength loss and death
Potion of restore strength "You feel great!"
Potion of second sight "Everything seems to glow for a second."
Potion of speed "You are moving faster" Speed for ~45 turns



Item Message Effect
Scroll of charge wand "You can charge a wand!" Add charges to a wand
Scroll of confuse monster "Your hands start glowing blue." Confuse monster on hit
Scroll of create monster
Creates a monster
Scroll of damage weapon "Your weapon glows black." Weapon degrades
Scroll of destroy monsters "You hear a distant scream." Destroy all monsters in the room
Scroll of enchant armor "Your armor glows purple." Armor upgrades
Scroll of enchant weapon "Your weapon glows green." Weapon upgrades
Scroll of fire "The scroll erupts in a tower of flame!"
Scroll of genocide "Behold, a scroll of genocide!" Pick a monster to genocide
Scroll of gold detection "You sense gold!" Shows gold on map
Scroll of identify "This is an identify scroll." Identify an item
Scroll of light "The room is lit." Illuminates dark rooms
Scroll of magic mapping "You found a map!" Shows level map
Scroll of remove curse "You feel like someone is helping you."
Scroll of resurrection "This scroll seems blank." Auto-resurrect on death once
Scroll of rust armor "Your armor rusts!" Armor downgrades (no effect on leather)
Scroll of scare monsters "You hear a strange warbling noise." Monsters flee
Scroll of teleportation
Teleport to a random room in the current level



Item Effect
Wand of cancellation
Wand of create monster Creates a monster
Wand of death Death ray bounces
Wand of digging Digs out a tunnel
Wand of fire Bolt of fire bounces
Wand of frighten monster Monster runs
Wand of light Illuminates dark rooms
Wand of magic missle Magic missile bounces
Wand of monster invisibility Invisible monster
Wand of sleep Sleep ray bounces
Wand of speed monster Faster monster
Wand of striking Damage monster
Wand of teleport monster Teleport monster randomly
Wand of trap detection Reveal all traps on the level
Wand of wonder Random effect



Item Effect
Ring of adornment
Ring of aggravate monster Cursed
Ring of another chance Auto-resurrect on death once
Ring of berserking Cursed
Ring of fire and cold resistance
Ring of gain strength Strength bonus
Ring of hunger Cursed
Ring of increase damage
Ring of increase hit points HP bonus
Ring of monster creation Cursed
Ring of poison resistance
Ring of protection AC bonus
Ring of protection from magic
Ring of regeneration
Ring of searching
Ring of stealth
Ring of teleportation Cursed, periodic random teleportation

Major note to self - never equip an unidentified ring.


With that task out of the way, I started anew, rolled until I got 180gp, and entered the dungeon with this gear:

  • +1 ring armor
  • Shield
  • Long sword
  • -1 crossbow, probably cursed
  • 60 crossbow bolts
  • Tinderbox
  • 20 torches
  • 7 rations
  • Scroll of enchant weapon, which I used to upgrade the longsword
  • Scroll of confuse monster


Significant events on the way to level 6:

  • A scroll shop on level 2 provided cash and another weapon enchantment scroll.
  • On level 3, I used an unorthodox approach to fighting acids - rather than use a crossbow and risk being stuck with a cursed weapon, I fought them up close, armor off, with a crossbow bolt in hand!
  • Later an orc dropped his bow and arrows, which I used on acid blobs for the rest of the level.
  • Two more scrolls of enchant weapon on level 4 boosted my sword to +4.


I'd like to say that my run through level 6, now with an anchor save backup on level 5, was particularly exciting, but I made it through mostly without real incident. I did get eaten by one grabber in the dark, but hacked my way out of its belly. I did get my strength sapped by an ant, but it came back. I even got robbed, but all the robber took was a few arrows. The biggest hiccup was that, while searching for secret doors at one point, I accidentally searched 1,010 times instead of 10 times, wasting a whole lot of time and two rations.

Level 7 is where I died, stupidly, yet agonizingly, from drinking a poisoned potion. Quaff one of these and you lose a point of strength every few hundred turns or so, and eventually die, all while being told "you are dying of slow poison." I tried seeing if I could purge myself by overeating rations, and vomit I did, but remove the poison it did not. I'm not sure what you're supposed to do to stop this or how you'd go about preventing this - are you just supposed to avoid potions altogether? There aren't nearly enough scrolls of identify to ensure you can identify poison (or that all-important potion of gain strength), and in this game I hadn't even found one yet! All I could think to do, moving forward, was avoid that particular potion color, which is hardly in the spirit of Roguelike play, but a reasonable alternative hadn't presented itself.


Level 9 introduced some new baddies:

  • Jaguars move fast and hit faster. The first one destroyed my shield and brought my HP down from 60 to 20.
  • Centaurs are bow-users who can hit you twice per turn. Alone they're not so tough, but they make a bad situation worse, and they can do some hurt sniping you in the dark.
  • Killer bees are quick, poisonous multihitters.
  • Vipers occasionally hit you with poison, only this time poison means permanently losing 3 strength points over the next 300 turns. Crap.
  • Ghosts move about randomly and paralyze you with their screams. But they aren't invisible.
  • Neptos are pretty rare, and I can't tell if they have special properties. They hit moderately hard and aren't particularly fast.
  • Cockatrices' hits produce scary messages like "you feel real drugged out," and might kill you instantly with a random stoning effect! Even after surviving a fight, you may still get an ominous "you are slowing down" message sometime later - I'm not sure what it means, which if anything makes it more ominous.


Needless to say, I lost a life fighting a cockatrice here. And another as I ran into a jaguar and cockatrice in a dark room, with a viper having followed closely behind. Yet another death happened deeper down from "slow poison" - I'm not even quite sure which enemy was the source of it, but the situation had been looking pretty hopeless as repeated strength-sapping stings and bites forced me to abandon my armor as well as a good amount of helpful tools well before its course turned fatal.

I made my next save just before level 9, and went in with a few items intended to get me out of jams - namely, a scroll of resurrection, which I am not completely sure of how it works or what its limitations are, and a scroll of monster confusion. Within level 9, I found multiple useful things - a scroll of teleportation, a wand of light, a wand of trap detection, and a wand of magic missile, which became my best friend for quickly eliminating cockatrices and vipers. All these things, though, left me with little room for food, or spare torches, or capacity to carry junk back to the store. God I missed all those strength potions from the last run.

At some point, the swaths of poisonous creatures gave way to more conventionally strong ones, most of which I could beat pretty easily with my +4 long sword. Giant bears can 'hug' you and keep you from moving, sort of like the grabbers. Snowmen do multi-hitting ice attacks, like queevolts and their electric attacks from earlier. Wraiths and "teleporters" have properties unknown to me yet, but are hard to hit. An oxidizer was the one enemy that did anything permanently bad; rusting my armor before I had a chance to remove it. But nothing really compelled me to use my emergency consumables.

And then, an exploding ice ball enemy didn't just freeze me. It froze the actual game!

As in, keystrokes stopped doing things.

If I felt even a little bad about backing up a save before, I sure don't now.

Thursday, February 16, 2023

Hack: Another new beginning

I've made a few more Hack runs, and thought I'd post about my most successful run yet in some detail. Before I do that, though I thought I'd share some data - a chart I made of the shop screen at the start of the game:

Key Name Price Weight / unit Notes
a Splint mail 80 400 6 AC
b Chain mail 75 300 5 AC
c Scale mail 45 400 4 AC
d Ring mail 30 250 3 AC
e Leather armor 5 150 2 AC
f Shield 10 50 2 AC, becomes battered with use
g Sling 1 15
h Sling bullets x30 1 1
i Bow 15 60
j Arrows x12 1 2
k Crossbow 20 50
l Crossbow bolts x10 1 2
m Darts x4 1 5
n Dagger 2 10
o Hand axe 1 50
p Mace 8 100
q Flail 3 150
r Long sword 15 60
s Spear 3 50
t Two-handed sword 30 250 Inaccurate if using shield
u Tinderbox 1 2 Lights oil and torches
v Lantern 7 60 2 oil flasks fills, worth 3500 turns of light filled
w Torches x20 1 25 Worth 1050 turns of light each
x Flask of oil 1 15 Can be lit and thrown like moltov cocktails
y Mirror 10 5
z Cross 2 5
A Food ration 1 40
B Random food 5 2-10 Spinach boosts strength
C Random potion 18 25
D Random scroll 36 25
E Random staff 75 30
F Random ring 100 2

You need light to get anywhere in Hack. You're blind in tunnels without it. You're blind in dark rooms without it. You don't want to be blind in a Roguelike! There are two options for light - torches and lanterns, and both require a tinderbox. Neither requires a spare hand.

You can't beat the torches for cost efficiency. 1 gold for a 20 pack is insane - I haven't yet needed that much. At 25hg (hectograms are not the official weight unit, but make sense to me) per torch and an initial carrying capacity of 850hg, you're going to have to drop most of them, but you can always go back and pick them up as needed.

The lantern is more weight efficient - a full lantern weighs no more than an empty one, and a full lantern plus a spare oil flask weighs 75hg, the same as three torches, while providing 4550 turns of light compared to 3150. But it's hard to ignore the massive cost difference.

I haven't savescummed yet, but I have begun startscumming, because forcing myself to roll with runs doomed by having a cursed weapon was getting tiresome. Don't start with enough gold? Just leave the shop, turn right around and leave the dungeon alive, and try again. Begin with a cursed sword or crossbow welded to your hand? Leave and try again. You could even startscum to ensure that you begin with a useful random item or an enchanted piece of armor, but I haven't.

This run started me with 170gp, which I spent on the following gear:

  • Splint armor
  • Shield
  • Crossbow
  • 40 bolts
  • Longsword
  • Tinderbox
  • 20 torches
  • 3 food rations
  • Random scroll



The scroll turned out to be a somewhat pointless spell of gold detection, which can be of some use in revealing hidden room locations, but wasn't needed this time, and I had to drop all but 3 of my torches to travel unencumbered.

The only points of interest on this level were a monster generating trap, which I used to reach level x, and a trap which caused a boulder to bonk me on the head doing surprisingly little damage.

Highlights from level 2:

  • A scroll in the first room turned out to be a scroll of identify. This was a waste since I wasn't carrying anything unidentified at the time.
  • I found a strength potion which increased my carrying capacity to 975hg. With it, I went back to level 1 and picked up as much stuff as I could carry.
  • Two new scrolls were found - a blank one, and one which when read declared "you feel like someone is helping you," but to no obvious effect. It did not vanish when read.
  • Greg's Gem Store, which paid me well over a thousand GP for my blank scroll, hundreds more for the mysterious helping scroll, and hundreds more for various bits gathered including a few gems.
  • A pickpocket pinched a big chunk of my gold and vanished, but I'm pretty sure I found him skulking about later as I beat it back out of him.
  • A room "painted in strange colors" informed me "you feel strangely happy" as I left it.



Level 3:

  • A yellow light monster blinds you for about 25 turns when struck.
  • I found a scroll of enchant weapon.
  • Paralyzing hurkles and evil eyes thankfully do little to no damage, but can be deadly if something stronger is in the room.
  • Acid blobs corrode your gear when you exchange blows. Better to outrun them and shoot them with projectiles.
  • Arrow-shooting orcs aren't much of a threat, and drop bows and arrows which can be sold for cash if you found a store.
  • Between the bows and arrows and the rest of the saleable junk I found on level 3, Greg on level 2 actually ran out of cash!


Nothing interesting happened on level 4.

Level 5's big highlight was the random shop, finally offering me a place to unload more junk and put some of that gold to use.

I bought:

  • A lantern and some oil
  • Plate armor
  • Two surprisingly cheap potions of gain strength, which brought me up to 17 and a carrying capacity of 1225hg.
  • Several rations, as I was starting to run low.
  • An assortment of scrolls and potions which I tested for various effects, none of them permanently useful.
    • A scroll of magic mapping, with multiple uses and resellable for a profit.
    • A very nasty potion of blindness! This one compelled me to flee to higher grounds until the effect subsided.
    • A potion that froze me in place for one turn
    • A scroll that temporarily turned my hands blue, for some unknown effect.
    • A scroll of monster detection was the most obviously useful of these things.
    • A scroll that erupted into flames when read.
  • A steel wand with a bouncing magic missile effect
  • A strange jade ring and copper wand, whose effects I couldn't determine.


 Level 6:

  • Quivering blobs reproduce, and quickly! But they seemed weak individually, and the big crowds were worth some decent experience.
  • Giant ants return from Rogue to sap your strength. Mercifully, the effect is temporary in Hack.
  • Queevolts hit you with an armor-bypassing (I assume) electric shock attack.
  • Grabbers can eat you whole, doing digestion damage each round until you cut your way out or die.
  • Robbers will steal your stuff and vanish. Sometimes you can catch them elsewhere and get it back, sometimes you won't. But if you kill them first, they tend to drop valuables like gems.
  • Stalactoids fall from the ceiling and do some major damage if they hit! After that they're much less harmful.
  • Fog clouds are just difficult to hit and do non-negligible damage in return, but one-on-one will eventually fall


Another random shop was found here, where I bought:

  • Another potion of gain strength, increasing my capacity to 1350hg.
  • A potion of sense objects
  • Two expensive scrolls of identify, which I used to determine I had a wand of cancellation - still  not sure what that does - and a cursed ring of monster creation. Oops!
  • A scroll that let me recharge my staffs
  • A poisoned potion
  • A potion that made my objects momentarily glow

Alas, this run came to a sudden end when I opened a door and a grabber directly behind it swallowed me before I could even see it.


On one hand, I am learning more about how things work with each death, but on the other hand, a run can last an hour or two and only teach me a few data points. And I'm really not sure how I could have avoided this last one - is there a better way out of a grabber's stomach than flailing around and hoping it dies first? The risk of dying and losing everything doesn't make me want to experiment with random actions like, say, dropping a poison vial or dead lizard in its guts, which might not do anything at all when I already know fighting could work. Experience farming on level 5 doesn't really appeal either when you have all of these acid blobs roaming around.

At this point, I'm prepared to savescum a little. Levels 1-5 feel "solved" to me, and I don't want to have to keep repeating them each time I fail on level 6, so next time I play, I'm backing up a save before descending to 6.

Tuesday, February 14, 2023

Game 357: Hack (Fenlason)

As I understand it, the world of Roguelikes is mostly divided into two families; the big, grind-heavy, mechanically transparent *bands which derive from 1983's Moria, and the more compactly designed, more complex Hacklikes, which if course derive from Hack.

I'd already played and been disappointed by Moria, which started off fun but quickly turned into a repetitive skinner box of massive, deadly levels that you have no choice but to farm for days on end in the hopes that a good item or stat-boosting potion eventually spawns, because you have no hope of surviving the invisible, stat-draining horrors that lurk past certain levels without the right gear to see them and the stats to beat them quickly. Angband, I hear, is even worse, but that's some ways off. Just as Moria begat the more famous Angband, Hack begat the more famous Nethack, and according to the Nethack Wiki, Hack was most likely first played by the public in 1984.

Roguebasin states that the Hacklike is defined by five characteristics, and then proceeds to list nine of them:

  • Persistent levels. In Moria, every time you go up or down the stairs, or cast Word of Recall, a new level is generated, with new monsters and (possibly) items. The potential for grinding/farming is both unlimited and expected. In a Hacklike, levels that you return to stay just the way you left them.
  • Complex interactions. Items in Moria aren't complicated. That Battle Axe of Slaying Evil +5 is for killing stuff and is somewhat better at it than your Wooden Club of Slaying Dragons +2, but you might want to hold onto the latter for when you fight dragons. Nethack lets you wield a cockatrice corpse as an instantly petrifying weapon, but be sure you're wearing gloves first, and don't become encumbered or you might stumble and touch the cockatrice by accident.
  • Small levels. Moria's levels spanned multiple screens. Hacklike's span one each, like Rogue.
  • Inventory size. Hacklikes just give you more stuff to lug around.
  • Short Equipment Upgrade Path. What Moria lacks in item complexity, it makes up for in breadth of upgrades. A Hacklike could give you game-winning gear from the start, if you can figure out what it does.
  • Identification by Use. In Moria you can just buy scrolls of identify to find out what that new ring does. These are finite in a Hacklike, so you'll need experimentation and logic to figure most of your stuff out.
  • Shallow power curve. Admittedly I didn't feel very powerful when I beat Moria, so maybe this is more in contrast to Angband.
  • No surface level town. Moria had a town level where you started the game and where all the shops were located, along with the entrance to the dungeon and some annoying NPCs that harass you.
  • Consumable spellbooks. Moria had four spellbooks of incrementing expertise and several spells of corresponding power, which can be cast repeatedly until you run out of mana. Nethack uses more of a Vancian approach, with one-spell books that fade when read, and fade from memory when cast.


I like to play original versions when possible, and while the most widely played versions of Hack, of which Nethack is based on, are the ones released by Andries Brouwer from 1984 to 1985, the Nethack Wiki claims "extensive modifications" from the original by Jay Fenlason. The page says of a "hack121" build:

[...]it is probably the closest to the original that is known to be extant. 

Hack121 it is, then.

For whatever it's worth, CRPG Addict played Brouwer's "final" v1.03 release and found it "almost indistinguishable" from early Nethack. We'll see how this one compares. Or at least I will once I get to 1987 and play Nethack. I may or may not play a Brouwer version or two in the interim years.

Hack121 runs just fine in DOSBox, which is nice, though the VI-style movement keys ("HJKL" for cardinal directions) is not so nice.

Woah, what's this? A surface-level store? RogueBasin said there wouldn't be anything like this.

I start off with ring mail, shield, and a long sword, tinderbox and lantern, and spend the rest on oil and rations. Then I go straight into the dungeon.

A pickpocket waited in the starting room, but I killed him easily and took his ill-gotten money.

So far, this seemed to differ little from Rogue, apart from the store and the wider variety of items. Items are so commonplace, in fact, that I frequently found myself running out of space, abandoning mysterious objects like keys and jewels, and even useful things like extra rations. At least, unlike in Rogue, you can go back to previous levels and collect things you dropped there.

I did find that without a light source - a thing I'll note was present in Moria but not Rogue (and implemented here in a manner very similar to how Moria does it), the winding passages between rooms would often not reveal themselves, making navigation nearly impossible. Furthermore, without a light source, monsters will sometimes be invisible, and you don't want that. I am not sure what the difference is between torches and lanterns as far as light effectiveness goes, but torches are cheap, at 1GP for 20, but that many torches take up a lot of inventory space.

Level 1 mapped out. I had to stash a few rations in a sideroom owing to lack of space.

Descending to level 2, I found a spare mirror and cross, which are sold in the store and I assume are used to defeat medusas and vampires. Then I found a special room called "Warren's Weapon Shop."


Unfortunately, my attempt to speak to him was understood by the game as "attack." He got pissed off and killed me to death with his magic death ray of death.

Also featured sometimes are 'random' shops with big assortments of random crap, which will also buy stuff from you! Sometimes at seemingly arbitrary prices - once time I sold arrows for hundreds of gold pieces, which can be attained seemingly for free by fighting orcs.

I learned to be very careful about stepping around the shopkeepers, but these are still nightmares to navigate in other ways. You have to turn off auto-take in the options menu, or else you grab any items that you step on and have to tediously drop anything you don't want to buy. Stacks of items are taken all at once, and if an item you want is in a stack, and you can't carry the whole stack due to the weight, then you've got to shuffle items from one tile to another until you can get at the one you want. Items are usually not identified, not even after you buy them, and prices aren't listed until you pick something up and use the 'pay' key, and then only if you have enough cash. I know this goes against modern Hacklike design, but I'd prefer a menu system.


Some of the other deaths I suffered over the subsequent games:

  • I found I could equip a two-handed sword and shield simultaneously! And then got killed by a giant rat on level 1 which for some strange reason I couldn't seem to hit.
  • An acid blob on level 3 corroded my weapon, and after that a 'neevil' finished me off.
  • I bought a crossbow from the starting shop along with a longsword. The crossbow was cursed and impossible to unequip! So I quickly ran out of bolts and, reduced to whacking enemies overhead with the crossbow, died to a goblin on level 1.
  • A magic staff turned out to be a wand of death, and when I tried using it to kill a difficult 'queevolt' enemy, the death ray tore right through, bounced off a wall, and killed me.
  • While leaving a random shop on level 1, I got confused about which smiley face icon represented me and bumped into the shopkeeper, attacking and angering him. Another time, this happened while entering the shop - I stupidly barged into a closed door, not knowing what was on the other side, bumping into a shopkeeper!.
  • A deadly team of paralyzing hurkle and brain-eating zombie waited in ambush in a darkened room. Nothing too awful if you retreat into a narrow corridor and fight them one at a time. But a sneaky neevil had been following me through that corridor and blocked my egress just long enough for me to get paralyzed and subsequently brain-munched.
  • A 'grabber' enemy on level 6 swallowed me whole, inflicting digestion damage each round with unerring accuracy even as I hacked it from the inside, and I died first.


It's hard to say whether this game is more or less difficult than Rogue. My first run at Rogue ended twelve levels below the surface, and I haven't made it nearly that deep yet. But Hack's dungeons are much more complex than Rogue's 3x3 layouts and slower to thoroughly explore, and I don't know how deep they go. So far, most of my deaths have either felt like they were my fault for carelessness or incorrect judgement, or they taught me something about how the world works so that I might avoid it in the future, but it remains to be seen if the deeper levels still play "fair" or not, compared to Rogue's hidden strength-sapping dart traps and lethal-at-any-experience-level Umber Hulks.

One mercy, seemingly unique to this version, is the ability to buy food at the start, and quite cheaply too. Rogue forced you to keep moving or starve, but here, it seems you could, with enough starting cash, stock up on extra food and take your time farming experience from the endlessly respawning monsters. A "monster trap" could actually be a good thing, letting you farm more efficiently on low-risk baddies, though once you get a few levels down, where monsters like acid blobs can do permanently nasty things to you, you might want to not do that.

Inventory management is pretty annoying, with the stuff you find well outpacing the rate that you need to use it. Given that you can always return to previous levels to retrieve, I think you're supposed to take notes on items left behind, but it's hard to be motivated to do this when you know death is basically inevitable and will render your notes moot.

Overall this version of Hack is pretty fun so far, and still feels like Rogue with more stuff in it. For the time being, I don't feel tempted to savescum, and I'm interested to see if I can win without it, or if not, how far I can get.

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