A Note on Resources and Methods:

More about this project to play all 35 Infocom text adventures

I have already said that I would prefer focusing on the texts themselves. What did I mean by that, and what is a text, anyway? For the purposes of this project, a “text” can be thought of a cumulative unit of meaning: the contents of the disk, the manual and any other in-box items, and the box itself. Other, additional items may fall under this umbrella, too. Documents created by Infocom that are specifically about a given title are also fair game: product announcements, Invisiclues, and so forth. Ultimately, what I want to do is analyze all Infocom-created material specific to each game. I will specifically focus on the first Infocom/Activision-published version. So, as one example, when I write about Zork I, I will discuss the so-called “folio” release, its manual, packaging, and supplementary hint material.

An early, hand-drawn prototype corporate logo for Infocom. Composed of long, horizontal black lines with dark pink accents. Text along the bottome reads "infocom inc PERSONAL COMPUTER SOFTWARE"
Prototype Infocom logo. Image retrieved from The Dot Eaters

I have said that discussion of Infocom’s history would be redundant, and so it would. However, ignoring it altogether would require me to “play dumb” in a way that would not do a reader any favors. There will come a time, for instance, that I must blame the Bank of Zork puzzle on somebody. I may want to discuss Mike Berlyn’s presence at Infocom as a disruption (in a positive sense) of what must have seemed a very privileged and exclusive development culture. The reasoning behind packaging incongruously slapstick “browsies” with less ridiculous games: how can this and other decisions be accounted for within the text itself? Nowhere, as it turns out. So history and extra-textual factoids will be discussed as a matter of course.

I intend to proceed as follows:

  • I will write about each Infocom title in chronological order, starting with Zork I and ending with Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur
  • The following elements will be assessed in each game:
    • Packaging and pack-ins
    • Summary of the various narrative elements of the title: characters, setting, plot
    • “Reading” (playing) the text
    • Identification of various critical themes (the colonial nostalgia of Moonmist as one example)
    • A personal assessment: not so much a question of “is it a good game” but rather do I find it to be a worthwhile experience. You, the reader, are encouraged to take exception in the comments because I like talking about this stuff.
  • There will be occasional breaks to cover other topics. I may will, for instance, make a post about Graham Nelson’s “The Craft of Adventure,”
A hand-drawn map of Spellbreaker's game world as imagined by "creole ned."
A gorgeous, hand-drawn map retrieved from Infocom (creolened.com). There are several there, all from classic games. Check them out!

For readability, I plan to limit each post to ~1000-2000 words, and I expect to make multiple posts per title. Thus, the entire project should be approximately 150,000 words. That could be good or bad news, depending on your perspective.

Sources:
Over the course of this project, I will provide links to scans and photos of documentation for the games, so that you can review them as you read. If you choose to play any of the games discussed, you will find these links doubly useful. I will try, as best I can, to direct readers to useful, relevant sources. For now, though, I will provide some general pointers that may or may not interest:

  • “The Craft of Adventure” by Graham Nelson. While this collection of essays is directed at authors of Interactive Fiction, reviewers paraphrase the “Player’s Bill of Rights” so often that they no longer feel compelled to cite it.
  • The Museum of Computer Gaming History: the most comprehensive collection of Infocom manuals, feelies, and other documentation including, as it does, all the different releases for each title. Opening images is a bit wonky. For best results, right-click and select open image in new tab/window.
  • The Infocom Documentation Project: The feelie scans are sometimes incomplete, but each PDF contains most-to-all material and, in any case, all that is necessary to pass a copy protection check. Also has all invisiclues hints and maps in digital format.
  • The Obsessively Complete Infocom Catalog: here you can find source code for the games (openable with a text editor), and, erm, some other items of interest.
  • The Infocom Fact Sheet: fun facts, trivia, and technical specifications for the Infocom catalog, A great resource.
  • Jimmy Maher’s The Digital Antiquarian: an excellent blog containing criticism solidly grounded in historical research. Pieces on every Infocom text adventure are available.
The curious machines sit in a room. There is a black one, with many curved pipes, something that looks like an office chair in front of a radiator, and a possible washing machine. There is no explanation of their purpose or function.
Mysterious knick-knacks from the Zork Users Group’s hint booklet for Zork III

How do I play these games?

To play an Infocom game, you have a few options.

  • Play on original hardware
    • To do so, you will need original software (Lost Treasures of Infocom, etc) a compatible hardware platform (with a diskette drive or CD ROM in some cases).
    • Note that these games have been out of print for some time, and are collector’s items. Don’t expect to find much under $100 USD
  • Play with a z-code file and a modern interpreter.
    • The game (or story) files for Infocom games are called z-code files. You can open them with a z-machine interpreter, just as you would open any document.
      • Frotz: Although the scrollback is a bit clunky, I prefer Frotz thanks to granular color/font options (I like an old-school black window with green lettering, Apple II style)
      • Lectrote: Better scrollback capabilities. Can run new *GULX files but may have trouble with some late Infocom games (Journey, for instance). EDIT: There is a Lectrote release for Macintosh, too.
      • Gargoyle: Very good but custom settings require that one edit a text document, which, let’s face it, isn’t everybody’s thing.
    • You can get Z-code files from one of the links above, you are almost certainly resourceful enough to find them. Be aware of version numbers. Often the highest release number is an unreleased in-house version and can be buggy. I recommend playing the “Masterpieces” release in all cases.

Next up: the birth of a genre gives birth to Infocom. Join us for quick looks at ADVENT and Dungeon!

2 thoughts on “A Note on Resources and Methods:

  1. > Often the highest release number is an unreleased in-house version and can be buggy. I usually grab the second-to-last release number.

    I’ve updated the Infocom Collection page to note which version is found on the Classic Text Adventure Masterpieces of Infocom CD. This is the closest we have to a canonical version list. At least, it’s the list that Activision selected for their last big reprint collection.

    Thanks for starting this project! I look forward to more.

    1. That’s a really nice addition to the page. I got burned by a couple of games–Planetfall and Seastalker–and started walking back a version or two. I’ll work from the Masterpieces releases from here on.

      Thanks for the site BTW, it’s a fantastic resource.

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