TOPS-10 in a Box

20 May

Especially since Dennis Jerz’s discovery of the original Adventure source code, there’s been some interest expressed around the IF community and even in academic circles in experiencing PDP-10 software in its original form. The good news is that, thanks to projects like SIMH and archives like, the tools are out there to recreate history on an everyday PC. The bad news, though, is that getting everything working can be tricky for anyone who didn’t administrate these systems back in the day. Having recently navigated these waters and finally come out with a working system I’m happy with, I thought maybe I could help some others out by offering as close to a one-click installation of a PDP-10 running TOPS-10 as I could manage. So, here it is: TOPS-10 in a Box, being a typical installation circa 1976-1983.

In addition to a complete and healthy TOPS-10 operating system, this distribution also includes FORTRAN and BASIC compilers and — probably of most interest to readers of this blog — Crowther’s original and Woods’s completed Adventure, both in source and executable form. Now you can experience these relics in their original incarnations. The completed 1977 Adventure is particularly interesting to experience on the “real thing,” what with its implementation of “cave hours” and “magic mode” and its strange save system.

In addition, this should serve as a solid TOPS-10 “starter system” onto which you can install games and even other programs. (There’s a nasty rumor that entertainment was not the PDP-10’s prime purpose, although I’m not sure I believe it.) To do that, you’ll have to get to know SIMH and TOPS-10 a bit better, but this system should still give you a leg up in getting started.

The readme file included with the download should tell you everything you need to know to get up and running. Do be aware that you need to acquire one other piece of software, the SIMH emulator itself, and also that this distribution is not small: it’s a 60 MB download in compressed form, and will expand to about 300 MB on your hard drive. So, it’s one for the hardcore time traveler only — but perhaps a few of you who find this sort of window into the past as fascinating as I do can make good use of it.



16 Responses to TOPS-10 in a Box

  1. Mantas

    June 2, 2011 at 5:43 am

    Since websites tend to disappear, could this script be included with ADVENT?

    • Jimmy Maher

      June 2, 2011 at 11:25 am

      Wow, thanks! I’ve added the script to the download package.

  2. Jayson Smith

    June 2, 2011 at 7:30 am

    Any chance of a similar emulation of TOPS-20 on a DECsystem-20? That way we could play Zork!

    • Jimmy Maher

      June 2, 2011 at 11:35 am

      Hmm, not sure that will happen, at least not in the immediate future. Getting a working TOPS-10 installation together with the appropriate tools packages for running and compiling Adventure took quite a bit of experimentation. I’m sure TOPS-20 and Zork would be a similar challenge. If my explorations should take me down TOPS-20 way, though, I’ll certainly put something similar together.

    • Rich Alderson

      June 3, 2011 at 7:45 pm

      ZORK binaries will run just fine on TOPS-20 v4.1, which is all that will run on the KS-10 processor (“DECSYSTEM-2020”) simulated by SimH. If you want to run a later release of TOPS-20, you will need to run the KLH10 simulator instead. That will also run Tops-10, of course.

      There is no working MDL (Muddle) environment under which to compile the ZORK sources which can be found on the Internet (although at the Living Computer Museum we have hopes of putting up an ITS system with MDL on it), so you will have to be satisfied with the TOPS-20 binaries available from our Toad-1 system via FTP.

      Or you could just open an account on our systems and play ZORK and Adventure to your heart’s content! :-)

  3. Gene Buckle

    June 3, 2011 at 4:23 pm

    FYI, you might want to check out this site:


    • Jimmy Maher

      June 3, 2011 at 7:23 pm

      Already knew about that one. :) It was hugely useful in getting everything together for this little distribution. There are some other pre-built system on there, but none were quite what I was looking for, so I ended up building my own.

  4. Rick Murphy

    June 4, 2011 at 2:12 am

    Why is Adventure on such a comparatively huge system so interesting? How about on OS/8 on a DEC 12 bit system with 32K of memory?
    There’s an OS/8 disk image at that’ll run Adventure in a really tiny system. :-)

    • John Francini

      December 29, 2011 at 11:21 pm

      Because Adventure was originally written to run on “such a comparatively huge system”. The original target was the DECsystem-10, using either the Fortran-IV (F40) or Fortran-10 compiler. So not only is it the original Adventure, but also the original computing environment.

  5. Mr. Scott J. Stockwell, Pres. - Σ²ci

    March 15, 2019 at 4:01 am

    Hi Y’all,
    Does anyone know of BASIC-PLUS and BASIC-PLUS-2 source-code and executable for a
    DECsystem-10 PDP-10 TOPS-10 SimH v4.0-0? Also, how ’bout a TOPS-10 v5.07, v6.01, v6.03
    and v7.04 source-code and executable .DSK image? Thanks!

  6. Bob Rodriguez

    March 23, 2022 at 8:13 pm

    Anyone know where to get a working TCP/IP implementation for TOPS-10? I remember that some universities had them back in the day.

  7. Quentin

    April 29, 2022 at 2:43 pm

    There is a GitHub set of 55 repositories of PDP10 software:

    This includes the worlds first and original Multi User Dungeon, which was developed at Essex University in 1977. This is the first multi-player adventure type game by Roy Trubshaw and Richard Bartle.

    To compile and run it you also need the BCPL language:

    Also the Zork fortran source is available to compile:


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