Computer games have been with us since, well, computers. It may be hard for some of you young ‘uns to believe after seeing today’s virtual reality 3D game environments, but there was a time when we had nothing but alpha-numeric characters on a console screen for gaming – and we loved it!
So, a round-up of where to find the classics. Luckily, text-mode games are a no-brainer to port to any modern platform. Any first-year programming student could write one from scratch. So here’s some classics, for those seeking, for those who have forgotten, and those who have yet to discover their riches:
RPG (role-playing games)
THE Angband site – only one you need. Angband is ported to everything but a digital watch.
Oh, ho! Now we’re talking the top of the text-mode RPG food chain.
The official Nethack site. Nethack is still in active development.
A Nethack index. More information about the game than you could read in a lifetime, but some dead links and evident spambot activity near the bottom.
While we’re on the Nethack subject, there are two notable graphical front-ends for Nethack. One is GLHack, a simple 2D tile version, and the other is the awe-inspiring Falcon’s Eye (shown above), which puts the game well within touching distance of Blizzard’s Diablo! The platforms are limited here, however. GLHack is for Linux only, and Falcon’s Eye only Windows, Linux, and BeOS.
These are the text-only games where you have an adventure game without the graphics. Infocom was famous for these. We’re running out of space for this subject, so here’s a very complete Wiki which covers the whole subject thoroughly, including many ports and interpreters for projects going on today.
Unix Systems and Text Games
One place where interactive fiction and text-mode games of all kinds still thrives is the Unix-based systems such as Linux, BSD, GNU HURD, and Solaris. There’s two ways this can help you even if you don’t want to install a Unix-type system. One way is to get the source code in a zipped file and compile it for your system using one of the portable GNU compilers, such as DJGPP. Then you can play it, for instance, in DOS mode. The other way is to get a live Linux CD, which can run without installing or even touching your PC system. There are a couple of them to recommend:
GRML – described as “Linux Live-CD for sysadmins / texttool-users / geeks” It includes Nethack, Adventure, and Hunt the Wumpus along with several other text games and amusements. As a bonus (and as if we weren’t esoteric enough already) it comes with a dozen shells and emulators for very old machines, including Altair BASIC, the PDP series, and many others covered by the SIMH emulator system. Very handy if you were looking for a solution-in-a-box without installing everything one at a time.
Wolvix gaming edition – first the good news: this is a vintage gamers one-stop paradise, with many old game clones installed, plus emulators and interpreters DOSBox, ScummVM, MAME, and ZSNES. Now the bad news: please, if you didn’t try Linux before, don’t judge all of Linux by Wolvix. Its hardware detection… there’s no use being kind abut it… stinks. Give it a shot, and if it runs, OK, but if it doesn’t, and you aren’t handy with entering your monitor’s vertical and horizontal refresh rate in vi into xorg.conf in the console, look elsewhere. Wolvix appears to have dropped development of this version. Linux fans are disappointed in this distro, because it was a great idea murdered by bad execution.
Damn Small Linux – the CD itself doesn’t have much for games on it. What it does have is it’s own package system (open the dialog, click ‘install’, done), and the packages have every vintage game and emulator of the previous two examples. So what you can do, is burn the distro to CD, get a USB thumb-drive (128 megabytes should be fine) and install the packages on that. Damn Small Linux is a slick performing distro, with excellent hardware detection and it boots in less than a minute flat. It can also install on a USB drive itself, and then if you have a larger thumb drive you can just keep the whole system in your pocket to go!
Aaaaand in Closing
I hope this has given you some useful information, stirred some happy memories, and even helped you renew your love affair with the classic games of yesterday. Drop by a couple of fan sites devoted to vintage gaming:
And, in the words of the sign-off to “Beneath a Steel Sky”… Be Vigilant!
- Vintage Gaming – part one: The Least You Need to Know
- RPG Video Game Cliches I’d Like To See Broken
- An Overview of Wine for Linux
- Vintage Gaming – part three: other Adventure Games, ScummVM, and ID Software
- Kinds of Gaming Blogs I’d Like To See (more of, anyway)