Developer Salute – Infocom - Features - www.GameInformer.com
Switch Lights

The lights are on

What's Happening

Developer Salute – Infocom

You are sitting in front of your computer. The desk is cluttered. The soft thrum of music comes from the cassette deck in the northeast corner. There are doors to the south and west.
> /verbose


It is with a passage similar to this that many of Infocom's titles began. Players were dropped into a world of imagination shaped only by words on the screen and a blinking cursor.

If you walk backward from Telltale's 2012 masterpiece The Walking Dead, you'll pass through the history of point-and-click adventures from LucasArts and Sierra. Push back a bit further and even the VGA graphics fade away to the scan lines of an Apple II home computer.

It's on that platform that Infocom first enchanted gamers, crafting detailed worlds of interactive fictions ripe for exploration. Space, catacombs, mystical lands, and haunted mansions were all explored through keystrokes.

We can't begin this journey by sitting still, though.

> look at desk

On the desk is a mug with some of yesterday's coffee. You really should clean your desk more often.


Simple commands like these helped players fill in the picture and get an understanding of their surroundings. Interacting with the environment was just as simple.

> drink coffee

You sip the coffee, which tastes like spoiled milk and self-loathing. You feel a little queasy.


Navigating through the world of Infocom titles used a combination of physical reference points and cardinal directions.

> Open south door

You stand up from your beat up desk chair and open the door to the bathroom. Good timing. The stale coffee isn't sitting well.


The inventory system was just as friendly.

> Look

You see a shower, a sink, a toilet, and a medicine cabinet. It's a pretty standard bathroom.

> Oepn medicine cabinet

I do not understand that command

> Open medicine cabinet

You see a bottle of pink stomach medicine.

> Take medicine

You are holding the pink stomach medicine


Infocom titles often allowed for shorthand, especially with regard to inventory management. Having to type "pink stomach medicine" would have bogged down the game.

> Drink medicine

It tastes terrible, but you can feel your stomach soothing. The bottle is empty, so you throw it away.

Of course, these games wouldn't be fun if everything was as it seemed. Infocom titles often threw curveballs, forcing players to think creatively. This was also the downfall of many puzzles, as the rigid programming often required very precise answers.

> Open door

Which door?

> Open west door

You open the door to the west in front of you is a reflection of yourself. It's not a mirror, though.

> Enter door

You step through the door and enter the office you just left. Behind you, the door has closed.


Ah, the mystery. What is wrong with this door? Why can't I leave my office? Do I need to find another exit, or do I need to do something to the door. Is this a prison? Is it hell?

Without graphics, players were forced to imagine their surroundings and investigate even the most insignificant objects. Where haven't we looked?

> Look

You are standing in an office. There is a desk with a computer on it. The soft thrum of music comes from the cassette deck in the northeast corner. There is a bathroom to the south and a strange door to the west.

> Examine cassette player

Music comes from the cassette player, but it's like none you've ever heard. The design of the device is strange, as it has only two buttons.

> Press button

Which button?

> Look at buttons

There is a button with a square and a button with a triangle.

> Press square button

The music fades away, and so does the office. You are in a barren room. There is a door to the west.

Puzzles required players to interact with the environment, occasionally using inventory items in combination with something fixed. Of course, what's a good game without a fail state?

> Open door

You open the door. It is pitch black in front of you.

> Walk west

You are engulfed in darkness. The only light comes from the barren room behind you.

> Walk west

It is pitch black. You feel like you are not alone. You should turn back.

> Walk west

It is too late when you feel the hot breath on your neck followed quickly by the stab of sharp fangs. You have been eaten by a grue, and you are dead.


I hope you saved your game.

Infocom might be dead and gone, but Activision owns the developer's properties. The publisher has released an iOS app called Lost Treasures of Infocom, which is a free shell that enables purchases of 25 text adventures. Zork I: The Great Underground Empire is free with download, and Zork: The Undiscovered Underground is a bonus for purchasing all 25 titles.

The complete collection runs $9.99, with five bundles of five games each at $2.99.

Infocom was one of my earliest forays into gaming, forcing me to puzzle through witty scenarios and contend with a rigid structure for interacting with the world. I'll still go back and play these from time to time, because the content is still engaging.

Text adventures should be part of any gamer's background, because so much of what we take for granted in contemporary experiences comes from the genre. With 27 titles to choose from, you're likely to find a theme to fit your mood.

Just be sure to carry a flashlight with you. You never know where a grue might be lurking.

Email the author , or follow on , , and .

comments