Play Zork on your typewriter

Typewriters that can type by themselves are one thing. Typewriters that can type by themselves and play Zork are totally different – the stuff that dreams are made of (at least the dreams of little girls who spent hours in front of a Commodore 64 telling the machine to GO NORTH and such).

…and now, in the 21st century, we have arrived. The Automatypewriter can type by itself, can recognise what’s being typed on it, and can be used as a platform for interactive fiction games (like Zork and a myriad of others). It’s being developed by Jonathan M. Guberman, specifically to play custom software by Jim Munroe, and it’s a work in progress – but a very, very cool one indeed.


A new way to interact with fiction from Jonathan M. Guberman on Vimeo.

My jaw hit the ground and I was giggling like an idiot as I watched the video. Then I proceeded to confuse myself royally by the “Hows” of the project, which are explained in far better detail on the Automatypewriter website.

Typing detection uses a series of resistors, placed to make contact when a key is pressed. To actually type, each key is attached to fishing line to a solenoid, which pulls down as electric current passes through it. It’s pretty simple, and the ridiculously cool part is that no permanent modifications have been made to the typewriter (a detail Jonathan is unduly proud of, and rightly so). The project currently uses a Smith Corona, but – in theory – you could set it up on your old Underwood, or tip your cap to William Gibson with an auto-typing Hermes 2000.

Everything is run through an Arduino, connected to a PC via USB. If you really want, Jonathan is making the schematics available so you can knock up your own version.

In this world where everything is made to be slicker, faster, more shiny, it’s wonderful to see that some people are taking a step back and making things that are just plain cool. Thank you, Jonathan.

(Psst: If you don’t happen to have an old typewriter lying about the place and still want to get in some retro text-only action, Zork is also available for the Kindle, if you’re that way inclined…)


This story was featured in Episode 8 of playerattack News:

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