Play an 'old-school' adventure game

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Welcome to another installment of Geeky Friday. Today, unfortunately, it seems we’ve reached a …

Dead end.
You are at a dead end of a dirt road.  The road goes to
the east. In the distance you can see that it will
eventually fork off.  The trees here are very tall royal
palms, and they are spaced equidistant from each other.
There is a shovel here.
>get shovel

And so begins a few hours of wasted time. Well, at least for those of us who grew up in the “good old days” of computer gaming, it may. If the above doesn’t look familiar to you, it’s probably because you’re quite a bit younger than I am :). For those who aren’t familiar, before we had color screens, hard drives, or anything resembling OS X, we had text-based computer games.

As you can see from the quotes above, all you need to play a text-based game are a keyboard, a screen, and an active imagination! This particular game is called dunnet, and it’s included with every copy of OS X—I’ll tell you how to launch it in just a bit.

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In text-based games, you interact with the game through a simple language parser, using two-word commands like get shovel, dig rock, and attack bear. You can also move about by giving compass directions such as East (or just E). Based on what you tell the game to do, you’ll see a new output blurb appear, describing the result of your action, your new location, etc.

Over time, as you explore and solve puzzles, more and more of the world is revealed to you, and additional objectives become apparent. It may sound quaint and outdated in today’s world of ultra-3D high-res games such as Doom3 and Myst, but text-based games can be fun in their own way, given a chance.

To play dunnet, all you need is a Terminal window and an open mind—you’d be amazed at what kinds of images your mind can draw, given the basic descriptions provided by the game itself. Launch Terminal (in /Applications: Utilities) and type (or copy and paste!) this, followed by the Return key:

emacs -batch -l dunnet

That’s right; dunnet is sort of hiding inside of the emacs text editor. When the game starts up, you’ll see the output above (excluding the get shovel bit—consider that your first clue). From this point on, you’re really on your own, but here are a few basic commands to help get you started:

  • help - Some background on the game, as well as basic commands and objectives.
  • inventory - Tell you what you’re carrying.
  • save and restore - Saves and restores the game, so you can remember to go eat occasionally.
  • quit - Quit the game.

There’s no way this will replace modern gaming, but if you’re umm, of my vintage, or just want to know what we considered leading edge back in the day, give this a shot. If you find the concept of text-based gaming intriguing, then you might find A History of ‘Adventure’ interesting reading—it covers the history of Adventure, the first true ‘interactive fiction’ text-based game.

And if reading about Adventure whets your apetite to try the real thing, Lobotomo Software has a free OS X version available —happy exploring!

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