Exhuming An Ancient Game From A Government Warehouse

Many readers will be familiar with the final scene of Raiders Of The Lost Ark, in which the Ark of the Covenant, having been retrieved by Indiana Jones, is placed in a crate and wheeled off to be lost in the seemingly infinite depths of a dusty Government warehouse. Who knows what treasures lurk in such fabled taxpayer-funded repositories, and as if to prove their vast potential, [Arthur O’Dwyer] relates a tale of digital archaeology in which the entire source code of a game thought long-lost was regurgitated with the help of a civil servant.

The game in question is Castlequest, which he had played in the 1980s on the now-defunct GEnie online service. One of very few online references to it came via an entry in the copyright catalog of the US Copyright Office, where copyright holders can choose to register their works. Eventually after some detective work and a conversation with one of the game’s authors, he received copies of the entry. But instead of the expected summary, he was pleasantly surprised to find the full Fortran code of the game. The snag was that it came as a PDF scan of printed pages rather than as code itself, so there followed a tedious process of transcription before it could be published in a GitHub repository and eventually made compilable. The code remains copyrighted as an important part of its story, but should you be interested you can transport yourself back four decades and try your luck at text adventuring.

Maybe there’s more to be found in those dusty copyright warehouses, and searching for it has to be more pleasant than digging up landfills.

Slaying Dragons In Notepad

We all have our favorite text editor, and are willing to defend its superiority above all other editors by any means necessary. And then there’s Notepad. But what Notepad may lack in text manipulation features, it compensates with its inconspicuous qualities as a gaming platform. Yes, you read that correctly, and [Sheepolution] delivers the proof with a text-based adventure game running within Notepad.

What started out with [Sheepolution] jokingly wondering what such a game may look like, ended up as an actual implementation as answer to it. Behind the scenes, a script written in Lua using the LÖVE framework — for which he also created an extensive tutorial — monitors the state of several text files that make up the game world. Each location is a separate text file to open in Notepad, showing the current state of the game, telling the story with text and ASCII art, and offering choices to the player. The game is played by modifying and saving those text files, which the script then processes to push the gameplay forward by simply updating the content of those files with the new state. Check out the game’s trailer after the break to get a feel of what that looks like.

Unfortunately, Notepad itself doesn’t automatically reload the file when its content changes, so to provide a smoother gaming experience, [Sheepolution] modified the open source implementation Notepad2 to work around this, and bundled it as part of the game’s executable. Initially, he even added animations to the ASCII graphics, but in the end decided against most of them to avoid constant disk writes and race conditions caused by them.

Sure, this is no Game Boy emulator in a text editor, and it may not be as groundbreaking as Notepad’s latest feature, but it’s always amusing to see alternative uses for well-established tools.

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The Hacker Hotel 2020 Badge

The art of the electronic conference badge has evolved over the last decade or more, such that for an individual example to be of note it now has to include some exceptional features. Perhaps a function that might previously have been considered impossible in a badge, or maybe an unusually beautiful design, an entertaining and compelling functionality, or it simply pushes the capabilities of an otherwise limited device in an unusually ingenious way. The badge from the recent Hacker Hotel 2020 comes from the same badge team that created the software platform derived from the SHA 2017 badge, and it ticks many of these boxes by combining a genuine work of art with a set of delightfully intricate puzzles at enough levels to interest all participants in the event.

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Upgrade The Graphics On A Sega Game Gear To Mental

[Nino K] built a portable game player for text adventures. He decided he had spent enough time with the ATmega328 kit from NerdKits to build a more advanced project.

To start with, he built a prototype PCB and tested out the concept. It worked so he began on the real thing. He tore out the guts from a broken Game Gear, saving some parts like those responsible for supplying power. Impressively, he etched his own replacement boards for the Game Gear’s control pads; surprising himself at how simple it ended up being. He fit a 16×4 LCD into the space previously occupied by the Game Gear’s screen.

The program itself is a simple text adventure of his own creation. He even added little 8-bit sprites. The story is classic, a princess has gotten herself in some trouble and a brave hero has been coerced into saving her. Last, he added some music and sound effects from Zelda with a piezo buzzer.

This project is guaranteed to disappoint a visiting younger cousin or relative, but we like to think of that as a feature and not a bug. Great work!

The Zork Virtual Machine Implemented In Hardware

ZorkHitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, and all the other Infocom text adventures are much more clever than the appear at first glance. They actually run on a virtual machine, with all the code for the game files squirreled away in the Z-machine format. This is great if you’re writing a game for a dozen platforms; once you have an interpreter running on one system, the entire library of games can be shipped out the door.

While the Z-machine has been ported to all the retrocomputers you can imagine and a few different brands of microcontrollers, no one has yet implemented the Z-machine in hardware. There’s a reason for this: it’s crazy. Nevertheless, [Charlie] managed to implement the Z-machine in an FPGA, using only a few extra commands for driving a display.

zork2The circuit is constructed with a $10 eBay special FPGA, the Cyclone II EP2C5. Other than that, it’s just some Flash, some RAM, a display, and a whole lot of wire. The standard Z-machine spec is followed, version 3 specifically, meaning this text adventure on a chip can run nearly every Infocom game ever written. The most popular ones, at least.

This isn’t [Charlie]’s first time in the ring with the Infocom Z-machine. He ported the Z-machine to a freakin’ pen a few years ago.

You can check out [Charlie]’s video demo below. Because there was a bit of extra space in the FPGA, [Charlie] managed to put a Mandelbrot implementation and Space Invaders in as an easter egg.

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