I mentioned the INN Revival Project in passing to Josh, my e-friend of over ten years, who, like me, had a Sierra Network account in the early- to mid-nineties. “Yeah,” he said of INN Revival, “too bad that never took off.”
Excuse me? This is a common misconception, I told him. “But they never got the INN software to work!” Josh protested. I let him know that the INN Revival is alive and well! And it isn’t a huge overhaul of the INN software—it’s actually the same software (mostly), emulated in DOSBox!
Getting Back to Our Roots
The ImagiNation Network, AKA the Sierra Network, was among the earliest virtual worlds and online multiplayer gathering spots. With the exception of LarryLand, which was densely packed with casinos and lewd talk, the virtual world was targeted at family values and wholesome, clean fun. In MedievaLand, you could hop into Shadow of Yserbius, a proto-MMORPG, or either of Yserbius’ sequels. Yserbius was an early graphical MUD that is, today, extremely clunky by WoW standards, but compared to the earliest text MUDs I telnetted into, was absolutely breathtaking.
In a way, Yserbius was INN’s downfall. AOL, who owned and operated Neverwinter Nights, purchased INN from AT&T, simply so they could shut the Yserbius operation down. Neverwinter Nights is credited on Wikipedia as being the first MMORPG to display graphics—this, I think, is absolutely debatable (not only because of Yserbius’ place in the canon, but also because of Mad Maze, the online Prodigy MMO).
Now that Josh knew INN was being played on PCs and laptops all over the world, he wanted in. But how?
“I assume you’re on a Mac,” I sighed. “It’s trickier than installing DOSbox for PC.”
Of course, the process isn’t that tricky; the real problem is, the steps are mostly undocumented.
What follows is the explanation I gave Josh. It’s tailored for Mac users like me, with OSX as your operating system. If you’re a PC user, these instructions might not do you much good—with a little extra reading, you’ll see that setting up DOSbox and INN for PC is actually easier. You can do it!
To begin, we’ll need two pieces of software. We need the original INN software, and we also need the right copy of DOSbox for your computer.
Be warned—we’re also going to be editing some things in a text editor. In the case of INN, we actually need to modify just one command. This way, instead of letting the program attempt to connect to an AT&T network that no longer exists, we change a line and tell it to instead dial into a server that is generously operated by the INN Revival project.
Then, in DOSbox, we’re going to edit a couple more lines in a config file. We’ll remind the DOS emulator that we’re using your network connection in lieu of an old-fashioned modem; we’re also going to tweak some lines in the autoexec so that, when DOS ‘loads,’ it knows that we’re going to load one of the file directories on your computer as if it were a DOS hard drive. If you’re feeling especially ballsy, you might also want to mount one (or all) of your old DOS CDs—I’ll show you how to do that, too, if you’re up for it.
Now let’s grab the appropriate files.
- Start by downloading the INN software (here’s a direct download link to INN.zip). You’ll need to unarchive it, too, so just unzip it to your desktop for now.
- You also want to download DOSbox. All of the different versions of DOSbox are available right here. Apple compatriots, see the “dmg Universal” version? Download that one!
Once you’ve unzipped that folder—this is where my instructions become Mac-specific—you should have an image file that you can ‘mount’ by double-clicking. You only really need two things out of here, and that’s DOSBox itself, as well as the folder called DOSBox Preferences. You can put DOSBox itself anywhere—probably your Applications folder, supposing that is how you roll. As for DOSBox Preferences, drag it onto your Desktop for now. Don’t forget where you put it! We’ll need it in awhile.
Creating Your Virtual ‘C’ Drive
Here’s where things get a little hairier. You want to put your INN file folder into another folder that you’ll use as a surrogate C drive. Mac users: I think it’s easiest to make a new folder in /Users/myname—mine is just called “DOS,” and it’s there among other folders like “Music” and “Movies.”
So create your DOS folder (if you created a DOSbox folder when you unzipped the .dmg, be sure not to confuse the two) there. Drag your INN folder into it. Now click into the INN folder so that you can see its insides—you should be in the directory /Users/yourname/DOS/INN. (Click the nearby thumbnail for a close-up, so you can see what my own MacBook’s file structure looks like!)
You should see a lot of files and directories cluttering your INN folder.
In the INN folder, find a file called LSCI.CFG. Double-click it, then click the Choose Application… context button—we want to edit this configuration file in a plain text editor like Notepad (PC) or TextEdit (Mac). Find TextEdit (use the spotlight bar if you must), and double-click to open LSCI.CFG as a plain-text file.
id you’ll see a
modem line that controls what server you dial into. It probably reads,
modem = ATDT127.0.0.1:4000
and you want to change it to say
modem = ATDTinnrevival.game-host.org:17
so that when INN launches, it is now configured to connect to our awesome INN Revival server. Once you’ve pasted in this little change, save your file and close it.
The ‘Hard’ Part
Let’s continue on to what might be the trickiest part. Earlier, I told you to unzip a file and ‘mount’ the subsequent disk image. I wanted you to move the DOSBox software itself from the mounted disk to a handy place; I also wanted you to drag a config file, called DOSBox Preferences, to your desktop. (If you’re on a Mac, this is the part that is less intuitive than it is for PC DOSBox users.) You actually need to now move this file called DOSBox Preferences from your desktop and into /Users/yourname/Library/Preferences. Drag and drop the file in now.
Once you’ve moved it, double-click on DOSBox Preferences—it should open right up as a text file in TextEdit. First locate a line that reads serial1. You should see it right above the ‘printer’ configuration. Make sure that this line reads
If it already says that, you’re golden; if not, change it now. Your serial1 should = modem. If it says “dummy,” change it.
Now continue to the autoexec toward the bottom of the text file. We’re going to let the DOS emulator know that, when it loads, it should use the DOS folder that contains the INN folder as the hard disk drive.
My autoexec reads:
echo Mounting ”/Users/myusername/DOS/ as harddisk drive C.
mount c /Users/myusername/DOS
What this means is, when it automatically executes my preliminary commands as DOS starts up, it first pauses so I can hit the enter key. Then it tells me that it is about to mount a C drive. Then it mounts the DOS folder I made as a C drive.
Save and exit! Then launch the actual DOSBox emulator.
Navigating Around DOS
If it’s working, it will tell you that it has mounted C, and give the correct directory. It will probably bring to a “Z” command prompt. We don’t want that! Do you remember DOS commands? I hope so, because you’ll do this each time (that’s the fun of it, anyway, although I guess I could tweak my autoexec configuration to start in C: instead).
To switch to your DOS folder, simply type
C: at the Z prompt. Your prompt should now be a C prompt. Now type
and press enter, so that your DOS prompt will move to the INN directory. Type INN one more time, and press enter again.
If the INN folder is in the right place, the software should begin and take you to the first avatar creation screen. Be sure to create an avatar that fully depicts you in your 1994 glory. I recommend wearing a pastel sweatband around your head.
Now hit “Play!” It’ll bring you to a Password dialogue box. Don’t panic! You don’t need one! Enter anything.
Why don’t we use passwords, you ask? Well, your avatar is on your computer, not on a server, and since we don’t have mailboxes, we don’t need passwords at INN Revival. Now, then. Type in 6+ characters and press enter. Your “modem” will “dial” the server and, if you remembered to set serial1 to modem and tweak the INN connection config, you should find yourself at the Main Map. If you try to go to “The Mall” or “Post Office,” your game might stall, so stay away from those. And that’s it! You’re online, 1994-style!
You might have noticed that, in windowed DOS mode, your cursor gets ‘caught’ in DOS. On a Mac—since I always forget the shortcut to releasing the cursor from the window—I just tap F12 on my laptop to go to my Dashboard. It’s a fast shortcut that works!
So now you’ve hacked ancient software, you’ve outwitted OSX, and you’re online! You, my friend, are a seasoned pro.
BONUS TUTORIAL: Learning to Love DOS
If you feel comfortable with DOS—and if I were you, I’d be feeling pretty confident—you might consider revisiting other DOS programs in addition to ImagiNation.
There are a ton of legacy titles that are totally OK to download. Let’s say, for instance, you want to play the beautiful Betrayal at Krondor in DOS, just as nature intended. You basically repeat everything you did with INN.zip—download the game, unzip it to a folder, and drop that folder into /Users/yourname/DOS/. But then, instead of typing cd/INN at the DOS command prompt, you might instead to something like,
Now you’re playing DOS games you’ve downloaded from the internet! Easy-peasy.
But let’s say you’re on an Apple computer, and like me, you have a bunch of ancient CD-ROM games that are only playable in DOS. As a Mac user, you don’t have the luxury of simply inserting the CD-ROM and having DOSBox ‘see’ the disc; now you want to learn how to ‘mount’ a CD-ROM game.
Rather than manually mounting my CD-ROMs at the command line, I actually tell my autoexec configuration in my DOSBox Preferences to automatically look for particular discs from my old game collection. If it finds one of these discs, DOS mounts that disc as my D: drive. If none of these discs is in my drive, nothing is mounted as the ‘D’ drive.
So, once DOSBox mounts “DOS” as my C drive, these commands come up next:
Here’s how to read these ‘autoexecute’ commands: The lines that begin with ’#’ are simply notes to myself, natch. Every CD-ROM has a “Volume ID”; you can find this label simply by inserting any disc, waiting for the disc to appear on your desktop, and taking note of the label beneath the disc icon. Then, add this line to your autoexec:
mount d /Volumes/VOLUME_ID/ -t cdrom -usecd 0 -ioctl -label VOLUME_ID
...where VOLUME_ID is the “Volume ID” you saw on your desktop earlier. One day, I did this with each of my CDs, one at a time, until I was happy with my DOSBox Preferences.
You can also enter this command ‘by hand’ every time, inside of DOSBox at the command line, but I prefer to automate the process. So anytime I get a new DOS CD-ROM, I just add its volume ID to my DOSBox Preferences! The only bad part about automating this process is, there’s no way to ‘unmount’ your D drive until you restart DOSBox with a different disc (or no disc) in the drive.
Leave ‘em in the comments! If I’m feeling game, I’ll try to answer whatever DOS questions you lob my way.
- Thanks to my piano teacher, Mrs. Barnum, who inexplicably knew her way around DOS and agreed to teach me DOS commands, even though I was a completely deficient piano student.
- The Artful Gamer – Sierra’s “The ImagiNation Network” Revived!