Play Zork on a Real Typewriter


A tinkerer modified a real functioning typewriter to allow you to play text adventure games like Zork.

Got a spare typewriter sitting around collecting dust? Many of us do, but Jonathan Guberman decided to take his and turn it into a game controller. Guberman has been “a biomedical engineer, a computer animator, a mathematician, a molecular biologist, and a computer programmer,” and he is a frequent contributor to the hacker community in Toronto. By adding a complex system including circuit boards, USB cables and solenoids (“an electromechanical device that pulls down when electric current is passed through it”), Guberman was able to allow a computer to detect what keys you depress, and then output text directly onto the page, all without permanently modifying or damaging the typewriter. Not only that, but he more than adequately explained how he did it to non-tech people. He calls his invention the Automatypewriter.

Here you can see the typewriter playing the opening from the one of the most beloved text adventure games Zork. Guberman types his commands into the contraption and it outputs the response from the game. I wonder if he’ll be eaten by a grue.

While right now, the Automatypewriter is only a neat invention, with the only practical advantage that I can see is that you can archive your play in Zork, but Guberman promises that a custom application is being written for the Automatypewriter by one of his colleagues, Jim Munroe, a Canadian science-fiction author.

Who knows exactly what that will entail, if it will be a game or an interactive novel, but it all sounds really exciting. Read more about how Guberman made the Automatypewriter at his blog Up, Not North.

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