“An Ancient Piece of Computer Lore in a Place You’d Never Expect” or “Dungeon (Zork) Map in Duplicity”

Back in March of 2012 I was watching Duplicity and I noticed something odd about 28 minutes in:

In the top right corner there’s an 11×17 paper with an image on it that’s really hard to make out. I recognized it instantly. I first saw the image in question over 30 years ago when my dad brought home from work the November 1982 issue of a magazine called “The DEC Professional” that had the image in it. The image is a hand drawn map of Dungeon.

For the uninitiated, Zork is Infocom’s classic text adventure game. They renamed it to Dungeon at some point, but changed the name back to Zork when they started selling it. My dad had a copy of the Fortran translated version of Dungeon on his PDP-11. My friends and I called “Dungeo” since the filesystem only allowed 7 letters in the name—I didn’t get that it was actually called Dungeon until I was much older [Ed. 2022-07-08: I recently created dungeo.org in homage to the name, check it out!]. So when he brought the magazine home, it was specifically because of the included map and because he knew I loved the game.

Here is a scan of that map (from Tom Almy’s Dungeon page):

Map of Dungeon

I must have stared at this map for days, cumulatively. My cousin traced it, enlarged it and hung it on his wall (and recently recreated and enhanced it). I currently have a black and white photocopy hanging in my computer room. I always thought it was a very good map (even though it lacked the “end game”). The point is, I’ve known and loved this image forever.

But it’s also obscure! How many people had PDP-11s and played Dungeon and happened to see the map in “The DEC Professional”? And how many of them had this map make an impact on their lives? To me it seems like that can’t be a very large number…

And so it was crazy to me that I’d happen to see that map that had made such an impact on me be in a movie that came out 27 years after the map’s publishing in an obscure computer magazine. Who was the set decorator that grabbed the map? Did he know what it was? Was it someone else’s and he just thought it looked cool? If so, whose was it? IMDB says the set decorator in Duplicity was George DeTitta Jr. But what it doesn’t say is, “why?”

22 thoughts on ““An Ancient Piece of Computer Lore in a Place You’d Never Expect” or “Dungeon (Zork) Map in Duplicity””

  1. Didn’t play that one on a Pdp-11. Did however play in the first Star Trek MMO at DEC on a pdp-11 ties into a Vax mainframe in Colorado in 1980 or so…

  2. Thanks to the internet, the world is now a small place. I wouldn’t be surprised if you got your question soon answered by whomever it was who put the map there.

  3. I’ve actually got frotz (Z-machine interpreter) running on my netbook and have been playing a lot of infocom’s in the last couple of months. Zork was one title that i was getting lost in. A map like this will really come in handy.

  4. I only got close to a pdp11 in a museum, and i know that map.. But regardless, this show up on Reddit all the time and 16yo exclaim how it’s the best game…

  5. Also 10yr ago there was a fad of having the java port of zork and other infocom game on 404 pages

  6. Well, if you do a google image search for ‘dungeon map’ it’s one of the first results…. maybe it’s as simple as that 😉

  7. In 1982, give or take a year, I played and mapped a version of Zork using a hacked account on the University of Pennsylvania Med school DEC-10. This map doesn’t seem familiar. I remember the hardest part being getting over the rainbow to get the pot of gold, and there was a leprechaun in the way.

  8. I also remember that map well, it was almost required reading in the late-night computer ops-rooms feet-on-table sessions in between the 2am – 8am shift. Get up, change the tape, pick up the next dox, and so on.

    Its an intriguing observation, though I haven’t seen the movie .. perhaps it is pertinent to one of the characters in the movie? Or, its just up because it looks like a “hand-drawn map of something”, which contextually is there for the looks, mostly, since its not really in focus in the shot .. and being “obscure”, serves a dressing purpose, if not one of plot.

    ‘Tis a wonderful thing, to discover the computer lore of old, and play it all again. For my part, I can’t get enough of the new stuff thats being written for old computers, and in that scene my particular roost is oriented around the Oric-1/ATMOS machines of the 80’s. To be now playing a newly-written bit of Elite, SPACE1999, and so on, with a machine that was long-ago abandoned to eternity, is a wilde thing indeed. I encourage any old-timer to review the dusty hardware in the closet, turn it on, and see how quickly you can hack something up on it, indeed .. if not for the FUN, then also for the PROFIT, of ones mind being sharpened on old stone.

  9. That map also had a huge impact in my life.

    In 1982, I was a freshman at Lawrenceville, a preparatory boarding school in New Jersey. The school had a mainframe DEC PDP-11 installed in the math center, and all of us nerds would gravitate there. I was enthralled with computers, computer games, and Dungeon in particular. I loved the game, and of course had made my own hand-drawn map. The publication of a Dungeon map in The DEC Professional caused a stir amongst us. I had to have my own copy. I got the address of the magazine and wrote them a letter on our high school stationery, explaining how we all loved the game. Surprisingly, they send me back 8 copies of the map, in color, printed on 11×17″ stock, as a gift. What a gold mine!! I gave copies to some of my friends in the Computer Center, and stuck my own copy on my dormroom wall.

    I wish I still had my copy! I lost it years ago, unfortunately, as life changes. This map has great sentimental value to me.

  10. The reason I saw this website is : I found this morning a very worn-out and yellowish set of computer papers loaded with scribbles in my archives : all gathered to help me solve the mysteries of this amazing maze :O) A tear in my eye, I remembered when I originally wrote “Geronimo!” for no reason, and ended up (or rather down) splashing in water with my barrel, or shoveling some guano because I felt forced into action by the discovered objects in some frightening tunnel full of drafts… Fantastic moments at the bank where I happenend to be a database consultant, and embarrassing too when I retrospectively calculate the hours spent facing that screen trying and trying again shaking a canary or kissing a brass bauble…

  11. Yes we played it on a PDP 11, the Fortran version, then got hold of the C version,
    which I have converted into Java.

    Now trying to make a dynamic map so when you play the game, bit like the
    Marauders Map in HP.

    When we played it on the PDP, we thought GDT was part of the game!!
    Solved it after a few months, but its very addictive!!

    Actually for a ‘real paper map’ , from an DEC (happy days) exhibition,
    they placed them down the end of a dark corridor!! (well they would wouldn’t they)

  12. Dungeon forever. I guess we’re all sort of same generation. I fondly remember doing nightly trouble shooting in pdp / vax land in the mid 80s and in between getting lost in the maze. Never got to the pot of gold.

    Only ended up in this blog as I just had a chat with a new colleague and we were horsing around and mentioned pdps abd dungeons.

  13. I solved Dungeon in 1983 on VAX/VMS whilst employed as an first year Intern at Ferranti Semiconductors in Hollinwood, Manchester, UK. I created my own map, which I still have, but it wasn’t as artistic as this one. It inspired me to get into command line parsing and natural language processing. I think there is an opportunity here for the smart speaker market. Alexa, hit Troll with sword…

  14. I worked for the author of that map from 1987-1989 at Wizard Software, and have a copy of the map in my possession now. It had been in storage in my grandparents’ attic. I also was a witness for the prosecution in State of NH v. Steven J. Roy, following which he was convicted of first degree murder.

    When it was published, he had a stack of them printed on card stock, my copy is one of those.

  15. Wow, Charlie—that was completely unexpected! I’d guess that map means something completely different to you than it did to me…

  16. We (several students of the Institute for Nuclear Physics University of Cologne) played Dungeon in the beginning 1980s during night shifts on a PDP 11/70, operating system RSX11/M.

  17. I was a college student spending as much time as I could on our PDP-11/45 with RSTS/E. Took us stepping through the program with a debugger to find and reset the GDT psssword! When that issue appeared, we rushed out and printed many color copies, at only $3.50 a page! Copies in color? That’s impossible! Now our beloved game lives on in the free standard brew.sh system. I installed it on my Mac last night, and now I feel like I’m 19 again. Even GDT works! Avoid the thief! I can study for the math final later! Hey! When did it get to be so late outside?

  18. I remember spending way too much time playing Dungeon on a PDP-11 that, at other times, was used for analyzing nuclear medicine images. I had a copy of that map and it was reasonably helpful except, of course, for the endgame. I don’t think I ever met “the Implementors”. I came close, though, if I remember.

  19. I remember playing Dungeon on my PDP11-20 in about 1979.
    There was, in effect, no user interface other than the keyboard and output device. The typical output device, then, was an ASR33 Teletype.

    A player would offer commands to which the ‘game’ might accept, ignore, make a helpful comment, or a wisecrack.

    Then, the game was available from the DECUS, the DEC User’s Group – wonder where my membership card is.

    That game was thought to have been designed and coded at the MIT Computer Labs, as best I recall.

    DEC, with its piles of documentation was a fascination and great learning opportunity.

  20. I recently found this map amongst my dad’s things. Along with a Dungeon solution. The solution is from a Bruce R. Mitchell from Machine Intelligence and Industrial Magic. Not sure of the connection there, maybe through the DEC Professional magazine. There is talk of a DECUS symposia in the letter that came with the solution!

    Any way, I’m going to play the game and hopefully, I can get through without using the solution!

    Think I’m gonna frame the map and hang it up!

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Last Modified on: Dec 31, 2014 18:59pm