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First Infocom Z-machine implemented in hardware (github.com)
111 points by georgeoliver on Nov 30, 2014 | hide | past | web | favorite | 21 comments

Predictably from my username I love text adventures, and looking back they were a big influence on me gaining skills in programming and such. I think it may have been just learning the paradigm of working with a console more than anything else.

There's still a lot of interactive fiction being made today, and you can find a lot of old and new games on the IF Archive[0]and IFDB [1]. New tools like Twine[2] are also allowing new forms of interactive fiction - "The Uncle Who Works For Nintendo"[3] recently showed up on the HN frontpage and was built in Twine.

Finally, I'll point out Inform 7[4] - a language designed for creating text adventures. It's all natural English grammar, and is really interesting in terms of design and parsing. I would highly suggest learning a bit of Inform and writing a small game in it, it's a very weird process. Also it will help you understand some of the jokes in _why's printer spools.

[0] http://www.ifarchive.org/

[1] http://ifdb.tads.org/

[2] http://twinery.org/

[3] http://correlatedcontents.com/misc/UWWFN/UWWFN.html

[4] http://inform7.com/

I'm a bit sad that Undum [0] didn't receive attention [1] that Twine did. I think it's more (arguably the most, to date) modern and user-friendly take on interactive fiction, which should have long since moved to the web, like these two platforms show us.

[0] http://undum.com/

[1] Here are all three interactive pieces made with Undum:

* The Play, A dress rehearsal gone horribly wrong, by Deirdra Kiai http://squinky.me/theplay/

* Almost Goodbye, by Aaron A. Reed http://almostgoodbye.textories.com/

* The Matter of the Monster, by Andrew Plotkin http://eblong.com/zarf/zweb/matter/

I don't know, I think these projects just reduce interactive fiction to the level of a Choose Your Own Adventure, and are often even less interactive than that. There is a lot more room for complex puzzles and interactivity with true interactive fiction games.

As for moving to the Web, Parchment has done a pretty good job of doing that with the Z-Machine:


You know, I love inform 7 and was incredibly inspired when I first saw it and played with it. I DID try to create a simple game but was stymied by the documentation. There's a tutorial with the most basic game, and then there's in-depth documentation. There's not a lot of in-between. Syntax examples of how to do a handful of common things would have been wonderful.

I can recommend the book "Creating Interactive Fiction with Inform 7" - http://www.amazon.co.uk/Creating-Interactive-Fiction-Inform-... - it walks through the process of creating a quite complex game and has some useful recipes and examples.

I've had the exact same experience. Sometime I need to get around to reading source for a bunch of Inform games to get how larger programs are structured.

Inform 7 is an great thing to be exposed to simply to see what a natural English programming language looks like. Some complex things are simple, some simple things are incredibly complex. Having to remember precise incantations in an imprecise language like English is an interesting experience, especially when you want to represent something that is not explicitly established in the language (for example, adding RPG elements to an adventure).

I love text adventures too. I wish they would be more popular, and I always wonder if it would be possible to create something like MMORPG based on text adventures.

Also, I think that using a programming language with English grammar is not the best idea. If anyone is interested in writing text adventures, there's a book called "Land of Lisp", that teaches you the basics of lisp on the example of creating a simple text adventure.

I think it's a very fun way to learn lisp, and to write the game, right now I'm working on my own and it's really cool =)

When you say an MMORPG based on text adventures, do you mean something like MUD and its variants? I spent a good deal of time building areas and scripted events on a few MUD-type platforms back in the 90s but attention gradually shifted to more graphical environments for the most part and I lost track.

MU* (MUD, MUCK, MUSH, MOO, ...) are text-based worlds that predate the modern MMORPG and many are still running and still interesting to explore.

I'm surely not the hardware-hack as most guys around these realms, but I do sure love Infocom and the old textadventures and… you didn't really build a Infocom-CPU, did you? You, sire, are my hero.

The Space Invaders clone at the end of the video blew me away when he explained that it was running on the Z-machine. That is something I never would've thought I'd see.

Many Infocom employees are present in the documentary Get Lamp:


Recommended if text games are of interest to you.


Sounds a bit crazy, but the bill of materials is very cheap, e.g. $10 FPGA, $4 for Flash and SRAM, not much else for I/O, runs fast (and is the author's first Verilog project, so no doubt speedups are possible).

I wonder where he got that FPGA from. I can't find it nearly that cheap, and just looking at the FPGA chip itself, without the board, it costs $15. Am I missing something?


Or you could just use a $2 micro-controller and run the vm in software.

Yeah, or you could just play candy crush on your phone. There's always going to be a cool level of dorky absorption that's great as a learning opportunity and obsession for people so inclined.

In order to run multiple games, you need quite a bit of memory, either, say, a bare minimum of 32KiB to load into, or several times that in flash for them. RAM requirements aren't tiny, e.g. I'd guess more 1KiB, although I don't know this architecture (my "Infocom" experience is mostly with original Zork running on MIT-DM, a KA10 PDP-10, using a general purpose MDL language, although I only looked at code, didn't try to write any).

Does that bump the price of the required micro-controller up beyond $2?

It that a silly question in almost 2014 with Moore's Law still in effect ^_^?

This'll easily do it for $2.13 -- 256 KB FLASH + 32 KB RAM on a 40 MHz 32-bit ARM processor. http://www.digikey.com/product-detail/en/MB9AF314LAPMC1-G-JN...

Microcontroller RAM is expensive, but FPGA RAM is even more-so.

> Disclaimer: This is my first Verilog project so might not be written all that well


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