TomeNET: Out of the console and onto the Internet

I have another roguelike that I wanted to point out today, and it’s another suggestion from Ander that I might have otherwise cast aside: TomeNET.

If you remember tome, you’ll have a good idea what TomeNET is … or at least how it plays. What I should mention though, is not only that it makes the leap to MMORPG, but also starts splitting off data windows for a less cramped UI.


This is another quasi-text based game, and another title that probably shouldn’t be listed here, especially since the installation notes for TomeNET make explicit reference to a need for Xorg as a dependency, and SDL.

So yes, by all rights, TomeNET is probably in that bracket with ASCIISector or the like. You can judge if I’ve broken the rules or not by including it here, and whether or not I should give goblinhack another chance. :roll:

I have to say that I find the breakaway arrangement of child windows for equipment, stats, system messages, etc., to be quite attractive. After all, rather than losing map space to a list of items carried, this allows the display of the same information simultaneously. And the addition of sound is enjoyable. I know those things are blasphemy for a text-based gamer to admit, but it’s the truth.

And until text-based roguelike games make a clean break from the game layout designed way back in 1982, I think TomeNET might be the only text-based roguelike I know of to actually allot extra space to static information panels. I’m sure there are others, I just don’t know about them yet.

(As a side note, I forced TomeNET to run in the framebuffer and got only mediocre results. The interface appeared to function, but I lost a lot of text due the color choices called by the program. That could be the fault of my framebuffer or my color set, but it made the game unplayable, unfortunately. :( )

TomeNET’s major claim to fame though, is to finally break the glass ceiling and join the ranks of online collaborative entertainment. It was a natural progression so I’m only partly enthusiastic about it, and as I understand it, it’s not a unique evolution. I don’t think TomeNET was first to clear the online hurdle, but it doesn’t surprise me that it happened.

And if I must be honest, I’m only lukewarm about the addition. Granted, the average TomeNET player is going to be head and shoulders above, for example, the mental midgets that pollute YouTube, but I’m still not sure I want strangers joining me in my quests to free the digital world from tyranny and oppression.

So again, picking a roguelike boils down to your preferences for theme — and now interface and online play. In other words, never let it be said that there is only one rogue game, and thousands of mimics. Fact is, there are thousands of roguelike games, each with its own identity.

avanor: A return to the roguelike genre

I wasn’t going to dredge up more roguelike titles, but I got quite a few suggestions after the last deluge, and some of them are worth noting.

avanor was Ander’s suggestion a month ago, and while its last news posting was in 2006, the precompiled binary in the SourceForge package worked fine for me in Arch Linux.


avanor takes its cue from adom, as I understand it, so not only is there a series of dungeons to explore, but a geographic element as well.

avanor also adopts quests and interactions between nonplayer characters, all of which is in the context of an overarching imperative to save your homeland. Color use is strong, the quests are fairly easy to track and follow (there’s a quest journal too, which helps a lot), and it makes good use of the screen space it is offered.

You have the freedom with roguelike games to pick and choose on the basis of plot and theme, and avanor does well on those categories. I get the impression that, before it stalled, the focus was shifting in the direction of character interaction and storyline, rather than just roguelike mechanics.

I have a few complaints that I must, of course, voice. Aside from minor screen artifacts (most likely due to the large expanse of terminal space I gave it), some of the interaction keys are frustrating. If more than one possible chat target exists, you indicate direction with the number keys (?!) as they might be laid out on a PC number pad or electronic calculator.

I’m surprised at that choice of keys, mostly because it is terrifically unintuitive. Not only do you have to mentally work out which direction is which (starting with south-west and number 1), or grab a cellphone and realize it’s backwards from that, but with all the 104 keys on a keyboard, why not ones that actually show direction? O_o

My only other observation was that my character was always hungry — I mean always. Before I ever ventured out of the city or into the castle, I was getting warnings about hunger. I like the concept of hunger in roguelikes, mostly because I think it adds a level of priority that runs along the same lines as things like encumbrance or sleep requirements.

But I think my character had a tapeworm, because she was always griping about food. Good grief.

No matter. avanor is not in Debian and the AUR version wouldn’t compile for me (nor would the svn version build), but like I said, the precompiled binary for i686 worked fine in spite of its age. If you want something similar to adom but with perhaps a little more focus on NPCs and quests (and hunger!), give it a spin.

nibbles: Considerably less taxing, mentally

After wading through empire and trying to grasp its many subtleties, you might regain a little self-confidence with nibbles:

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nibbles is a snake variant, and does well in the way of color and animation. Maneuver your creature with the IJKL keys, munch up the berry-like dots without colliding with a wall or your own elongating corpus. Earn points, increase levels.

Ordinarily another snake variant wouldn’t enthuse me enough to make a note of it here, but Toby Jaffey’s version is colorful, fast-paced and has some strong animations — particularly when your snake expires. I hope you appreciate the screenshot for that; I had to retake it about four times in a row before it snapped at the right moment. :roll:

By Toby’s own admission the game has shortcomings, and I won’t disagree with his analysis. Levels are in a separate folder, and are not manageable except perhaps by direct editing them. That does mean you could create your own and slip them in when nibbles isn’t looking though.

And there’s no speed adjustment, which in a game of this nature means there’s no way to accommodate new players or younger drivers. Unless you start editing the source code, that is.

All the same, I like the color, I like the animations, and for as simple a game as it is, it does a decent job. And after a few hours of empire, it feels quite good. ;)

empire: The self-proclaimed pinnacle of strategy games

A few weeks ago, I was haunted by references to a game called “empire,” that supposedly offered a terrifically complex online nation-building strategy game. I was familiar with empire, which I have seen off and on over the years, but I wasn’t aware that it had network play, or was more complicated than already shown.

Eventually I unraveled a second empire from that knot, tracked it down, and got it going.


I will share with you my exceedingly sparse knowledge of the game, and the way it works. You can thank me later. ;) Just keep in mind that any or all of this could be wrong. :???:

empire — in this site’s rendition, “Wolfpack blitz empire”, suggesting the group that hosts the games and their particular rendition of the rules — works and plays a lot like tabletop counter wargames that were prevalent in the days before home computers became powerful enough to handle high levels of detail.

You’ll start the game with a small territory on a very large map populated by other players. You’ll get a brief “sanctuary” period to make minor adjustments, and during that time, other players are prohibited from encroaching on your realm or assaulting your newborn nation.

Once you elect to drop that sanctuary, you need to scramble to explore your map, claim ground and immediately initiate resources and development. Over time, expect other players to test your boundaries, make forays into your homelands and perhaps even just crush you like a bug. That’s what the game is about. ;)

Development cycles occur at a rate determined by the server, and the servers I connected to seemed to have 10-minute updates, and were reset after an hour. So you roughly have 10 minutes between a replenishment of your resources or to see improvements complete.

That might sound like an awful lot of time to spend between the next allocation of fuel oil, but I get the feeling that might be just barely enough time to submit all your orders and commands.

What’s difficult to show here, and what isn’t portrayed in the screenshot, and what I found most intimidating, is the sheer intricacy involved. Commands are given to singular citizens or military units moving in explicit directions on a hexagonal map, which is only a small sector in an enormous world.

Just placing the units and roads you see in the screenshot took me about 20 minutes, and that included the time it took to refer to a manual, correct my mistakes, and learn a few tricks. :o I relish intricate detail, but I may have met my match with empire.

The SourceForge link above has tarballs for both the server component and the text-based client that you see in the screenshot. The vanilla 4.3.32 version built fine for me in Arch; Debian has the same packages in Wheezy as empire-hub and empire-lafe, I believe.

A couple other tips:

  • This guide is the only reason I know anything about the game at all. I saw a few other sites that had “guides,” but they didn’t offer enough starting detail to make any sense. Use that guide as a walkthrough, and you should be building structures and exploring before a half hour is up.
  • If you connect to the games offered through the Wolfpack servers above, the blitz games are the best places to learn the ropes. They’re relatively quiet, I saw only one other player who left before the first hour ended, and no one seems to care if you don’t know what the heck you’re doing with your country. And unless I’m mistaken, after an hour the games restart and the playing field is leveled again. Connect there, and pick a country numbered 1 to 8 (I think) and the name or password is the same number.
  • Be prepared to invest some time in a game. I get the impression games stretch over days, if not weeks, with nations trading commanders when the original leader is unavailable. On servers that reset after an hour that’s probably not necessary, but I remember notes and rules against sock puppet nations or running more than one nation at a time.
  • Believe it or not, you might want to run this game under X, even if the client you see there is strictly text-based. Reason being — and one of my minor complaints about the client — there’s no history feature, meaning you have to retype commands in their entirety each time. Since some of the commands get quite detailed (like the map command you see above), part of the challenge is somehow automating longer commands and movement sequences. One of the guides suggested it, but I had already realized that a text editor open in a terminal emulator with some of my more common commands could speed up retyping the same map command, or if I sent a unit along the same road over and over again. Ah, the magic of the middle mouse button. …
  • This is another game with a very steep learning curve, and very little in the way of gratification until you reach some considerable levels of proficiency. If you’re not interested in swarming teams of citizens over a map with hex coordinates, then finally building up roads and agricultural centers, all done line by line and command by command, you’ll be forgiven. This is obviously not a game for everyone.
  • I believe there are other clients available, and I believe some of them are graphical. (I only tried the text-based one though.) If you struggle with touch typing and counting out tiny characters arranged in hexagons, see if another client will work for you. And yes, there is a Windows client, so you can keep yourself occupied in your desk job without the need for a virtual machine. ;)

That being said though, this really is a game of unmatched detail and precision. From the earliest steps of commanding a citizen to wander outside the citadel walls, to tips on how to survive a nuclear bombardment by initiating a news blackout, this game takes all points and brings them into a singular experience on a scale I’m only beginning to appreciate.

It may not have color, but it definitely gets a gold star from me: :star: I am humbled.

matanza: What’s the opposite of ‘pretty from far, far from pretty’?

A second game intended for networked play today, and this time it’s an old-fashioned, no-quarter, duel-to-the-death in space.


matanza gets the “quite unusual” moniker from me today, not only for being another networked game that will require a few more players than just your lonely self, but also as a game that tries to incorporate the aa- and bb-style image rendering into its play.

First things first, let’s get the game going. The only source code I could find was, again, in the Debian repositories (yes, yes, all hail Debian, the savior of ancient software :roll: :| ), but wouldn’t compile in Arch.

If you extract the binary that matches your architecture though, the Debian executable will run just fine. Barbaric, yes, but I am not beneath stealing executables to get an ASCII game working. If it bothers your conscience, use deb2targz. Now don’t interrupt. ;)

Start that file, and nothing will happen. And that’s okay. It will provide you with a port number, and you connect through telnet. So if you just want to see what the game looks like, you can use telnet localhost 1234, or whatever port it gave you.

From there, the game title screen should start. Offer up a name, and you are thrown into the fray. Asteroids are a danger to you, and so are other players. You have missiles at your disposal, as well as a projectile gun you can trigger with the spacebar.

Navigate with the cursor keys, and keep in mind that matanza’s physics are simple, but accurate. Your ship will spin or cruise indefinitely until you correct it. And if you want to reverse directions, you better turn hard and blast forward in the opposite direction. Flying alone can be a challenge.

At its best, matanza’s graphical attempts are quite impressive. Asteroids are just asteroids, but up close, your ship’s graphics are distinct as it turns and shifts. The starfield grid flickers as it moves. Missiles and projectiles are a little less detailed, but still faithful.

You can zoom in and out with the plus and minus keys, and that will no doubt help in your battles. Unfortunately, it also means you lose a lot of detail as your ship is reduced in size, and that’s where things start to turn ugly. Zoom too far out, and the only way you’ll know which direction your ship it pointed will be to fire. Zoom too far in, and things will pounce on you from the edges of the screen.

So it’s a tradeoff. You can have a small measure of detail that’s necessary for navigation, and still enjoy some of the graphical effects if you get the zoom level just right. Work at it, it’s worth it.

I’m willing to give matanza bonus points for just about everything I mentioned here, and still having the potential to be a rousing network free-for-all. If I had a friend to challenge, perhaps I could be more convincing in that assessment though. … :roll:

netships: You’ll need a friend for this one

I hold games that can properly handle networking in high regard. Probably because I don’t have much faith in my networking ability, and so it still seems like black magic when a program manages to connect to another machine across the room, let alone across the planet.

For a two-player console game to connect across a network for me, I am prepared to make grand sacrifices. Such was not necessary with netships.

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netships is essentially a rendition of the classic Battleships pen-and-paper game, with the necessary network element included. Fire salvos against your opponent, and with a little luck and a little logic, you’ll destroy them before they destroy you. If you need a refresher on how the game works, I’d recommend reinstalling bs and playing a few games.

I can give you a few tips for getting netships started. First, assuming that your network is up and functioning, one person starts netships with no flags. That we’ll call the “server,” and the other person starts netships with the IP address of the server. That person we can call the “client,” but it doesn’t really matter because if all went well, that will be the last networking lingo you’ll need to know.

Both players place their ships, and this part may be a little confusing. You actually have to “draw” the ships on the grid, using the arrow keys and spacebar. You also have to plot out the proper number of ships, and when you think you have it right, you press C.

netships will check to make sure you have the requisite number of each size, and if you’re off, it will tell you how many of each to adjust by. This is probably the most intricate part of netships, but once you have done it correctly, it will never be an issue for you again.

When both players have placed their ships, the battle begins, and follows a very simple turn arrangement. While the other player is selecting, you’ll see a “Wait” prompt in the lower right, and your enemy’s selector will pan across your fleet. If a hit is scored, the attacker gets another turn.

And so it goes, to the obvious conclusion.

netships has a nice interface, straightforward controls and I can hardly complain about its networking ability. I also like the fact that you can see your enemy taking aim at your ships. It adds a sense of … drama. :roll:

There’s no single-player game, which I suppose would be a drawback. But if you’re after a computer opponent, bs is the correct outlet for that.

The ship drawing stage is the only cumbersome moment, but that is quickly overcome and is never a problem after the first time. The game ends rather abruptly, and if either player quits, it’s a smash to black with no more information than the cursor prompt.

Other than that, I can’t find anything wrong with it. Grab a friend and set them down in front of your network, and start dueling. Oh, did I mention that you would need a friend for this one … ?

crafty: Still no relief in sight

I was thinking the other day, and I am thinking again now, that it’s partly amazing that after two years of sifting through text-based software titles, I still can’t come up with more than one or two chess games.

Maybe it’s just that gnuchess is that good. Or maybe it’s because proper chess players (and not rank amateurs like myself) demand a graphical environment. Or maybe it’s just that other chess projects haven’t reached maturity yet.

I have found another though — the aptly named crafty.


The link above is dead — I probably should have told you that before I let you click on it. But crafty is still in Debian, which means even if the home page is gone and the project has dissipated, crafty lives on. :mrgreen: :roll:

I must admit that I am not so terribly overjoyed at that. From my perspective, as someone looking for interesting and inspiring examples of text-based software, crafty suffers almost all of the same faults as gnuchess, almost to the letter.

You will probably want to know chess notation to work the board. You have to ask to see the board. There is a long list of commands, some of which take additional options, and some that don’t. Animation is really just the scrolling effect, which is marred by crafty’s thought processes and the screen output they create.

Most of these complaints stem from the fact that crafty, again like gnuchess, isn’t really meant to be a terminal program. It too is intended to act as a brain for xboard, and so playing it at the console is a bit like slicing bread with a hammer. You can do it, but you’ll make a mess and you won’t enjoy the final product.

I won’t be too harsh with crafty; after all, I’m a rotten chess player, and I’d be unlikely to play it anyway. So finding a proper, forgiving, attractive, fullscreen chess game for the console would only be a novelty for about 10 minutes, before I quit out of frustration.

Still, it seems with the plethora of board- and card-game remakes in bsd-games, or the plague of locusts that takes the form of Tetris remakes, or the endless stream of rogue knockoffs, shouldn’t there be at least one out there? :(

Don’t answer that. I have an answer, and it’s coming up, soon. Trust me, I’m a professional. … :twisted: