The Ghost of Fun Times Past

Marcel writes about text-based games.

Bonjour, mes amis! Welcome back to Chez Marcel, where we dabble in fine Linux cuisine with a French touch and, of course, provide our wonderful clients with healthy servings of the proud and noble fruit of the grape vine.

Allow me to show you to your tables. Yes, I know that François normally seats you, but he is currently indisposed. What do I mean by that? Let me pour you a little wine and I shall explain. I have a wonderful Châteauneuf-du-Pape that I guarantee you will absolutely love. It is wonderful, is it not?

François? Ah, well, at the moment he is in the wine cellar. The air is cool and dry...something else, too: the faint odor of magic. To his right, a corridor leads into the dark. Turning to his left, François sees a wooden doorway with an old, large padlock. Directly in front of him are several rows of wine racks with several hundred fine vintages. A few steps behind him are the stairs that led him down into the cellar. What do you think he should do, mes amis? Should he walk into the dark corridor, or see what is behind the locked door?

The classic UNIX/Linux adventure game is simply called “adventure”, a search for fame, power and wealth as you enter “Colossal cave”. Something must be deep beneath the stream that runs next to the old farmhouse. You can tell, because all the water from the stream pours into the ground through a two-inch slit in the rockbed. Here's a quick reminder for those who might have forgotten.

You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully.go stream

You are in a valley in the forest beside a stream tumbling along a rocky bed.

Go on. Admit your guilty pleasure. There are times, mes amis, when I long for the days of simple command-line entertainment: back to the days when an entire word-processing package would fit on a 128K diskette. I won't bother you with the details of my 12-mile walk to school through flurry of snow (uphill in both directions), but I will take you on a tour down memory lane, courtesy of your Linux system.

When I upgraded my system to Red Hat 6.1 (and even 6.2), I was devastated that my old friend, the “bsd-games” package, was no longer included on the CD (I understand some of the games had licensing questions, but certainly not all). KDE and GNOME came with a handful of great games, and the classic X games such as “xbill” were there as well. Unfortunately, the command-line classics were conspicuously absent. If any of the fine folks at Red Hat (or Caldera, or Corel) are reading, I might humbly suggest that they consider putting the text games back when they next produce a release. There are some wonderful pastimes which take up very little in space or system resources. People resources are another matter. I should point out, however, that a text adventure game looks a lot more like work than Doom, but don't quote me on that.

One of the classics that is still around, and included with most Linux distributions, is the venerable fortune program (as in fortune cookie). Displaying a fortune is as simple as typing in the path name to the command itself, usually /usr/games/fortune. Speaking for myself, I have spent a great deal of time with this little diversion. A common practice is to have the program execute each time you log in, thus giving you a different fortune each time. This is done by adding the command to your .bash_profile file. You can even specify the type of fortune. Have a look at the fortunes directory by doing an ls /usr/share/games/fortunes. You'll notice names like startrek, kids, zippy and linuxcookie (which sounds interesting). Let's try to call up a linuxcookie-specific fortune.

$ /usr/games/fortune linuxcookie
I've run DOOM more in the last few days
than I have the last few months. I
just love debugging ;-)
(Linus Torvalds)

Interesting. You can also specify long or short fortunes by adding the flags -l or -s. For instance, to generate Star Trek one-liners, try /usr/games/fortune -s startrek. Speaking of Star Trek, the famous text-mode Star Trek game is part of this package. Remember, though, you cannot fire phasers with your shields up. To start, just type: /usr/games/trek.

Before I go further, I should clarify something. As I mentioned, a number of the classics were now missing from my system. Merci Dieu for the Internet, non? The bsd-games collection is still available, even if it is not on my Red Hat disc. When you get hungry, as I did, for the days of old (or new) when games were lighter and healthier but no less filling, visit the Metalab Linux archive at UNC Chapel-Hill (you'll find the link in the Resources section at the end). This excellent group of individuals “never sleeps” (or so they claim), making sure Linux users never run out of things to do. In fact, if you haven't found what you are looking for elsewhere, check it out.

Here's something for the Linux distributors out there who may wish to take up my earlier suggestion. The team at Metalab has taken the time to separate out the games that were at issue from a licensing standpoint. From their site, I picked up the latest bsd-games bundle, bsd-games-2.11.tar.gz. Building the games is easy. Extract the files into a work directory, then run the configure script:

tar -xzvf bsd-games-2.11.tar.gz
cd bsd-games-2.11
 ./configure

It is now question-and-answer time. The configure script will ask you a number of questions about where you want to store all these things. It does give you the opportunity to exclude certain games from the build. For instance, if you already have the fortune program installed, you don't want to overwrite it. Next, type make, followed by make install. I must admit I found some of the builds a little buggy, but I could build individual games by specifying the game name suffixed with an _all. To finish and install the games, you do the same thing, but with an _install suffix, like this:

make monop_all make monop_install
Any guesses on what that game might be? Consider it an adventure in program building. Speaking of which...I started this discussion by alluding to Adventure, the D&D style of quest game where you find yourself in a strange place with no instructions. This package contains adventure, the Colossal Cave challenge, as well as battlestar, another adventure, this time aboard a “battlestar”. If you really like creepy caves and feel the thrill of the hunt calling, you might consider hunting the Wumpus with wump. If you feel particularly destructive, you might even learn a lesson from wargames.

One game I highly recommend can be found in Metalab's textrpg directory. It is called simply dungeon. This game was originally written at MIT and is the predecessor of the now-legendary Zork games from Infocom (a company whose brilliant games stole a great deal of Chef Marcel's early years). The current version of dungeon is dungeon-2.5.6.tar.gz and comes in a pre-compiled ELF format. Simply extract the file into a directory and run it.

tar -xzvf dungeon-2.5.6.tar.gz
cd dungeon-2.5.6
 ./dungeon

Figure 1. Are you ready to enter the dungeon?

These games challenge your mind as well. How about some speed arithmetic or a quiz? I may be French, but every once in a while, I feel the need to brush up on my Shakespeare. quiz lets me do that, as well as reminding me of Morse code, flowers and their meaning, and of course, Middle-Earth capitals. Type in the command /usr/games/quiz and you will get a menu of choices.

Subjects:
African capital
American capital
area-code state-region city
arithmetic answer
Asian capital
baby adult
Shakespeare-lines next work character
Chinese-year next
individuals collective
function ed-command
symbol number weight element
European capital
flowers meaning

This is just a sample of the selection. To start a quiz on Shakespeare-lines, you could choose to identify the character based on spoken line, or identify the work itself. Type /usr/games/quiz Shakespeare-lines character and you are on your way. Here's a sample for you to savor:

$ /usr/games/quiz Shakespeare-lines character
The quality of mercy is not strain'd?
Portia
Right!
My only love sprung from my only hate!?
Juliet
Right!
The better part of valour is discretion;?
Before the restaurant opened today, François and I were chatting on this subject and decided that there is something, how do you say, inherently geeky about deriving enjoyment from text-only games and diversions. This brings us to Chris Gushue's Geekcode generator. While this isn't a game per se, it is a way to proclaim your geekness to others who understand where you are and what space you occupy in this busy, multimedia world. Here is a sample geekcode block. Whose it is must remain a mystery.
-----BEGIN GEEK CODE BLOCK-----
Version: 3.12
GL d+ s+: a+ C++ UL++++ P+++ L++++ E--- W+++ N+ o-- K- w---
O M-- V PS++ PE Y++ PGP++ t++ 5+ X+ R tv-- b+++ DI++ D
G++ e* h--- r+++ y+++
------END GEEK CODE BLOCK------
Ah, with code like that, it can only be a sign that the day is getting on and that Chez Marcel must soon close. In this world of fast-paced multimedia games, it can be extremely satisfying to bury yourself in a text-based adventure, and letting your mind work in ways we don't do as often. After a few minutes (hours) of playing in this old-fashioned way, you may even find that the images you supply on the canvas of your imagination are far superior to those of today's noisier offerings. I submit to you, mes amis, that as a fine wine can improve with age, so can the experience of text over graphics.

Speaking of wine, let me refill your glass one more time. I fear I will be closing up the restaurant on my own tonight, since François has not returned. I do hope my adventurous waiter has not fallen into one of the open pits in the cellar. Do not worry about him, mes amis. I assure you, he is quite resourceful. Until next time, I invite you to explore and return safely to Chez Marcel. Your table will be waiting.

A votre santé! Bon appétit!

Resources

email: mggagne@salmar.com

Marcel Gagné (mggagne@salmar.com) lives in Mississauga, Ontario. In real life, he is president of Salmar Consulting Inc., a systems integration and network consulting firm. He is also a pilot, writes science fiction and fantasy and edits TransVersions, a science fiction, fantasy and horror magazine. He loves Linux and all flavors of UNIX and will even admit it in public. You can discover many things from his web site at http://www.salmar.com/.

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