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ASCII Games

In a slump of computer nostalgia, I started daydreaming about all those character-based games I played as a kid. Growing up with the Tandy 1000 (with additional external 5.25" drive!), I played and programmed myself silly with the following wonders of creativity.

Rogue

It all started with
Rogue, the first curses game. It sure doesn't look like much, but with some twisting those programmers made everyday characters into monsters. To this day, a lone L still ticks me off... give me that gold back you thieving bastards! Plus, it is most likely the largest influence on my vi addiction due to the hjkl movement scheme and the number-action repetition scheme.

Glenn Wichman, one of the culprits involved in this addictive toy, has a page explaining the deep, dark history of Rogue. He also maintains a list of testimonials to the healing powers of said game.

Start climbing down the Dungeons of Doom, seeking the amulet of Yendor, and having way more fun than should be allowed as a little smiley person at these pages:

  • Edwin's Rogue Pages - Nifty image for a opener.
  • Roguelike News - You certainly would not expect to find a news page this up to date for text-based games.
  • The Roguelike Games Rogue Page - You might be guessing by now that Rogue spawned more than a few games of its ilk. This page houses Rogue binaries for just about every major OS, and we will return to its mother page here in a bit.

ZZT

What on earth could be more fun than Rogue? The distant relative, ZZT, which is somewhat real-time instead of always pausing for input. Epic Megagames' ZZT was a DOS-only phenomenon as far as I know, but Linux folks should have little trouble running it in a DOS emu. In the height of the DOS shareware golden days, it was coded and promoted by Tim Sweeney, who admits the name is not a real acronym but was chosen so ZZT would come up last on every shareware listing. Yes, the same Tim Sweeney who kicked out the purdy Unreal engine that's powering everything from Notre Dame 3D simulators to Wheel of Time games. Here's a recent interview with the man that deals with how online followings affect a game's development and long term performance. Not relevant, but quite funny quote:

Wouter: ...What do you think the market is going to come up with in beating the Unreal engine? And who do you think is capable of doing that?

Tim: My two top fears are of John Carmack, and of the (hypothetical) unknown programmer who might come out of nowhere with an engine based on new assumptions that is far better than ours.

My pops had this shareware game on his CGA-capable Tandy laptop (I guess we were just a Tandy Family) which weighed something around fifty pounds. I used to pound the keys for hours figuring out the ingenious puzzles in the default .zzt files that came with the thing. Lions, tigers, and ...others, oh my!

Snag yourself a free copy from Epic; as mentioned, DOS only. Sorry Mac folk. There is a source project, but it's not as easy as one would think since Tim lost the original source long, long ago. Basically, the ZZT++ project hopes to reverse engineer the ZZT world specification and scripting language from scratch: a noble goal.

Even though the logically challenging action of the included worlds was great, the truly unique thing about ZZT was the editor. Using an simple yet powerful scripting language and a "graphical" editor, creating your own custom boards was easy as pie. It was my introduction to object-oriented programming, oddly enough; each "actor" in the game has its own methods and reactions. Years before Visual Basic crushed everything in its path, and oh so much better.

I find my commentary about this leaning towards describing ZZT as a thing of the past. This is patently untrue, and several ZZT (and customizable spinoff) game sites are constantly a source of incredibly interactive new character-based fun. Thanks to Bob Green for pointing me at this archive of 287 custom ZZT games. Also be sure to check out a few of the games of the month at ZZT.org. Sure, they're not professional outings, but some of them are durn fun.

MegaZeux

At the official page of this ZZT-inspired ultra hi-fi blast-o-matic text-mode game creation system is intriguing, I was unable to get into their FTP server to snag it. Until I went to mWorld, which also hosts a veritable avalanche of games for the system.

The smiley ratings seem to be fairly accurate. You should definitely check some of them out. Bernard the Bard steals some familiar mods and is very fun to play; I found a plunger, and when trying to use it on the wrong thing instead of just saying "Error", the Bard sticks it on his head and grins. In cute ASCII-mation, of course. The Snarfoogles episodes are nice and short, but full-screen ASCII movies of the happy smiley shooting itself are worth the price of admission. Strange humor. For a more serious, epic game look at the Honor Quest special edition; complete with nifty Celtic font hack and professional sounding tunes, I am impressed.

The scripting language for this game creation unit is called Robotic, and is much more powerful than what's allowed in ZZT. Most of the games cover a wide variety of view types and gameplay (Milk the Cow in Snarfoogle 2, anyone?) ...I think the programmers are just strutting their stuff. Amazing interactive ASCII.

Nethack

Despite the name, it has nothing to do with the net. Playing like an expanded, dadaist Rogue, this is an odd experience. Although it seems less random and more linear in having an actual plot with quests, there's plenty to discover about the irrational ranting of reason in this direct Rogue descendant. Those dang eyeballs always keeps me on my toes.

Visit the
Nethack home page for more information, nab the source or a relevant binary, and get hacking.

Then, attempt to laugh along with the mistake-proen Murphy's Laws of Nethack, which details: "At some point in time, you'll see an orc pick up a lamp, rub it, release the djinni, and waste your wish." And yes, that's happened to me. Once you've died a few horrendously strange deaths, you can laugh along with the even geekier humor at the Yet Another Stupid Death archive.

Angband

Most likely to be the popular choice for King of Roguelike Games, Angband and its variants follow the same method of gameplay as Rogue but toss in a lot of the mythology of your pal and mine, J.R.R. Tolkien. Start at the official Angband Home Page, thanks to Mr. Jacobs at Genehack. Mosey on over to the framed Thangorodrim for a very nifty, informative site. [Wow, nice source art!]

I must admit, I haven't sunk much time into the original Angband. I have wasted my life playing plenty of the ZAngband variant, though, so give me some nerd credit. This one munges the Tolkien mythology together with Zelazny's Amber series for a truly epic feel. It plays back and forth between the two author's ideas smoothly, so at points you feel part of a vast narrative; but it also whips up the mixture with some bizarro items, like Nethack. Look out for Bull Gates and Barney the Dinosaur, boy...

Mangband isn't your simple different text, same game variant. It's multiplayer, with its own client server structure, and it follows a twisted new real-time ruleset to allow players to coexist in the random worlds of the game. Unfortunately, lag to the servers makes it much too easy to die, since the monsters move constantly and the player can't always react due to congestion. An interesting concept that would work better on a LAN.

Other

There are a zillion variations on the original Rogue theme. See the Roguelike Games page for endless piles of 'em!

Not to mention, one could probably spend another week researching interactive fiction, but I have never been able to manage most of that stuff. I always get in a jam at some point early in the game where every action I dream up doesn't seem to get interpreted correctly by the engine. Probably haven't played enough to understand the pattern.

The only text adventure I've spent much time blorting around with would be Douglas Adams' Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, linked here in a Java format.

You can find that and more at the interactive fiction archive. [via Bovine Inversus... very timely, go to this link after October 1999]

Coda

This page will eventually live at asciigames.html, but it is not there yet because of the limitations of the Pitas system.

Updates will be highlighted as I add material.

I had difficulty locating a place to find the frenetic shareware Kroz adventures, a ZZT competitor, even as abandonware. The fount of knowledge, Bob Green, weighs in again with an FTP link to the first adventure. Unlike the other games listed above, this one doesn't scale well to today's processor speeds; things fly by much too quickly, making it impossible to play. I know there's some way to slow things down in software, but I didn't want to waste valuable Megazeux experimenting time.

Here's the Apogee/3DRealms FAQ on the Kroz subject. Apparently, Apogee was still selling it in 1999, but has since ceased distribution. Odd fact: This is the company behind the overhyped Duke Nukem 3D games. So, two major text-based shareware game competitors are still going head to head in the realm of 3d. Coincidence, or conspiracy??

[original: 10/29/1999 - last edit: 10/31/1999]

When?
all archives
eigenspace
bach and tone
voicemail

Why?
Everyone should know what Rogue is. And though you may not like it, now you'll know.

Todo:

  • Experiment with Mangband
  • Find a guest-login telnet server for any of the listed games

Listening to:

  • Trans Am - Futureworld
  • Stavesacre - Absolutes
  • Low - The Curtain Hits the Cast
  • Unwound - Fake Train
  • Mogwai - Come On Die Young
  • J.S. Bach - Art of Fugue
  • Walt Mink - El Producto
  • Starflyer 59 - Americana

Reading stack:

  • C.S. Lewis - Till We Have Faces
  • Samuel Beckett - Endgame
  • Franz Kafka - Everyman's Library: Collected Stories
  • Shawn Wallace - Programming Web Graphics (O'Reilly monkey book)
  • Franz Kafka - The Trial, on loop
  • Neal Stephenson - Cryptonomicon, again

Dan Fitch dgfitch@yahoo.com
Thanks to the wonder-full folk of Pitas.com for hosting my old-fashioned link-list!


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