American Greetings Hackathon Followup

Last weekend was the American Greetings Hackathon, and it was one of the most successful yet. We got more than 70 people attending and working on projects, and most of those projects had at least something working by the end of the 24 hours.

I worked with Ross Delinger, with occasional contributions from Ryan S. Brown on a project eventually called netHUD. The idea was to take the new NetHack 4 network protocol and try to make something more than just another interface to NetHack.

Originally, we set out simply to connect to the NetHack server and have a second channel of information. Ideally, we would make calls to the server and have it update us about games in progress. This turned out to be problematic for a number of reasons, but the most immediate was that we could not get two simultaneous connections to the server.

This meant we had to redesign our service. Instead of being a second stream, we would need to piggyback on the initial connection, which meant writing a server proxy. This may not have been the only way to do it, or even the best way to do it, but that's just how we roll. The eventual structure (all written in delicious twisted protocols) looked something like this:

Module diagram acted as the proxy and sent any messages received from the NetHack server to the controller, which cached the current state of all the games and sent updates to any listening netHUD instances. This way, you connect to NetHack as usual and log in, and then in a second window, you connect to the server again on the netHUD port and get a slew of information about your current inventory, nearby points of interest (eg. monsters, items, traps), and other information. There's a lot more we could add to this over time; one of the ideas thrown around at the beginning was integration with the NetHack wiki, providing additional information about items, monsters, even entire levels.

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