Dunnet (IF)

Ron Schnell. 1983. Written in Lisp. Ported in 1992 to being a default bit of some/most(?) Emacs.


When I began becoming a semi-serious hobbyist of IF last year, I mostly focused on Infocom, Adventures Unlimited, other Scott Adams based games, and freeware titles. I went on to buy some from Malinche. I picked up 1893 and Futureboy and (most recnetly) Treasures of a Slave Kingdom. I downloaded a lot of free games from various sites. With all of my research and playing, I never once read anything that talked about a game being bundled with Emacs.

Partially, this is because I am a Vim guy. But I used to use Emacs. Kind of a lot. For probably my first couple of years with Linux. About as long as I have been a diehard Vim fan, now. I just never explored, it seems.

I booted up Emacs tonight, and my fonts were hosed. Still do not know exactly why. I surfed some menus to find out what was going wrong and came across a menu option called "Adventure" under Games, which I assumed (I know, I know) meant the Crowther and Woods and 1977 variety. When I clicked it tonight, thinking that it has been a few months since I chased a bird around with a cage in a mine so I can fight off giant snakes or something, I was brought up text involving ends of roads and shovels. Trees, if shaken, that kill me with a coconut. This was not the game I thought it was.

I dug around (or, in purely technical terms, typed "help") and got directed to this website. Well, here was an IF I had never touched before. Brand spanking new to me. I had planned to play out some ToaSK tonight, but figured that could wait. Besides, I was not quite in the mood for the jocular fun of S. John Ross's commerical IF outing. I needed something a little more direct, and this apparently it.

Most of the game plays out just like the Colossal Cave Adventure cousins of the oldschool (generally commercial) IF days. There are items you pick. Each does a single task (well, there could be one exception to this, I guess). You collect treasures. Winning is a combination of getting to the end and turning in the treasures. The game slightly tweaks the formula by allowing multiple drop off points for the treasures. Since there is a weight limit, though, you usually have to drop them off at a particular time to avoid getting stuck. At several times, your "item cache" is flushed, so to speak, meaning you have to go back and replay earlier portions to find out how to bring things foward. Damage to items can occur to stop you from being able to play. Replaying is pretty much unavoidable, unless you guess outcomes just right.

It also inherits many problems from the era it came. There is a twisty maze. I'm not sure how big it is. I just cheated and looked up a walkthrough for the maze portion. I plan on going back and replaying up to the maze bit and mapping it out, though. I was just mentally and physically beat when I played and knew that I was going to have to call it quits on the game for the night or cheat through the maze. I'm glad I cheated, because there are some interesting things after the maze.

It also has the same sort of stilted syntax and variable levels of description that the original Adventure had. Looking at one item might give you "there is nothing special about that" while looking at another might give you a sentence of flavor text. Several things mentioned in the background do not exist to the parser, which some do. Part of game play is putting up with experimenting. This includes, in cases, a tendency of room descriptions to be written from the perspective of the first time you enter. I know that the Classroom found towards the end of the game does not mention the South exit, either. There are possibly other times this occured that I didn't notice.

It's final issue, again coming out of the era it was designed, is random death syndrome. This is not too common, but there are a few places where things that have no initially apparent fatal outcome lead to one anyhow. In some ways, this "fatal outcome" is just the game reaching an unwinnable state. For an example of the former, type "shake trees" in the first room. For an example of the latter, send either the lamp, the key, or the shovel through the ftp without switching ftp modes first. At least with the former, there is a sense of exploration in finding out new ways to die. In IF, creative deaths is a form of victory in their own right.

Dunnet has a couple of differences from most IF. The former difference is minor. There are little odd descriptions throughout the game. "This room is red" or "The towel has a picture of Snoopy one it" or "There is a cliff here" that do not seem to have an immediate effect on the game. Sure, you can jump over the cliff (and die, obviously) but but it still comes off as a bright spot in the standard description matrix. Towards the end, you will be forced to bring back these details. It makes a neat little diversion of looking around and exploring things. Most of the details are cute and/or add to the surreality of the game overall.

The other big difference, and the one that greatly increased both my annoyance with and my enjoyment of the game, revolves around the two-three computer oriented scenes in the game. You have to type commands into two different computers throughout. One is a VAX and the other is, um, something like a PC (I forget). In both cases, there are clues to be found by knowing your way around the interface. This is a game for computer folk, so most who play it will have a sense of how to type "ls" or "dir" depending on the OS. But not all, will. Beating the game requires a general sense of computer literacy. You must know what types are in ftp. You must know how to determine what type a file is. You must know how to read a text file on a DOS style prompt. You must know something about protocols and etiquette for logging into ftp servers. All this sort of thing. If you do, or are willing to learn (I looked up some of the stuff online) then you can get past this portion with no problem. But this can be like the maze to some people, requiring several replays to get things right.

The end result is a quirky but fun game that I wish I had known about before because now I have the feeling that my computer is hiding other secrets from me. Glad to have played. Will likely play again to see how many ways I can die.

Final Scores

(my ratings)

Interactive: Meh/Eh (former by today's standards, latter by the standards of the Zorks and other games of the 1983 era)

Fiction: Eh

Reviewer's Tilt: Good

Final Average: Eh, but memorable


How I Did

I beat it. Probably about 1.5 hours, though I did have to restart a couple of times before I started saving. Cheated through the maze, or would have taken another hour or so, probably. Got all the other points.

Hints, Suggestions and Mild Spoilers (for what they are worth)

Wikpedia article on list of DOS commands.

Type "ls" to see files on the VAX. "cd .." takes you up one directory."cd [directory name]" enters a directory. "cat [file]" enables to view certain types of files. "type" lets you change the type of file under FTP. Some clues are more subtle than others, when it comes to work with "Pokey".

Written by W Doug Bolden

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