About the Gold Machine Project

>examine gold machine

The Gold Machine is a project to play all 35 text adventure games–or interactive fiction–published by a company called Infocom between 1979 and 1989.

Front cover of a fold-out poster/catalog for Infocom games, circa 1985. Consists of lettering on a black background: "You are about to see the fantastic worlds of Infocom unfold before your very eyes. Infocom"
Front cover of an Infocom catalog/fold-out poster from 1985. Retrieved from MoCAGH.

>what is a gold machine?

The gold machine is a time machine found in Zork III, one of the Infocom games I’ll be talking about. Since this project requires frequent trips to the 1980’s, it seemed fitting to think of it as a form of time travel.

>what is a golmac?

Golmac is a magical spell found in Sorcerer, another Infocom game. It allows the caster to “travel temporally.” It is a contraction of “gold machine.”

>what is a text adventure game?

A text adventure game is a hybrid genre that blends the experiences of decision-making and reading–agentic reading. These come in a variety of formats and media, and the balance between choice and text can vary. The Choose Your Own Adventure Books, which rose to popularity in the 1980’s, offer relatively few choices, but more elaborate and traditional storytelling. Infocom, on the other hand, made computer software that featured extremely granular choices but more limited storytelling.

>who was Infocom?

Infocom was a company made up of wildly intelligent and creative people. Its founders were all affiliated with MIT in one way or another. They created what was, for its time, the world’s most advanced text adventure technology: a full sentence “parser.” Their QA processes were extensive. The writing for their games ranged from highly competent to excellent, and their in-house and external marketing teams were among the best in the business. In other words: Infocom was the most commercially and artistically successful publisher of interactive fiction, a title they still hold.

>examine sample of Infocom’s interactive fiction

In Infocom games, the software describes the game world in text–locations, objects, and events. Locations are places in the imagined world of the game. Objects are people and things found within those locations. Events are things that happen in the game world–whether the result of player action or not. The player makes decisions–communicated by typing text commands–that result in events great and small. The software interprets player input via parser technology. The following is a brief transcript from Infocom’s most successful game, Zork I. Player choices/commands are preceded by the “>” character:

West of House
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.

>open mailbox
Opening the small mailbox reveals a leaflet.

>get it
Taken.

>read it
"WELCOME TO ZORK!

ZORK is a game of adventure, danger, and low cunning. In it you will explore some of the most amazing territory ever seen by mortals. No computer should be without one!"


>drop it
Dropped.

>w
Forest
This is a forest, with trees in all directions. To the east, there appears to be sunlight.

>n
Clearing
You are in a clearing, with a forest surrounding you on all sides. A path leads south.
On the ground is a pile of leaves.

>s
Forest Path
This is a path winding through a dimly lit forest. The path heads north-south here. One particularly large tree with some low branches stands at the edge of the path.

>u
Up a Tree
You are about 10 feet above the ground nestled among some large branches. The nearest branch above you is above your reach.
Beside you on the branch is a small bird's nest.
In the bird's nest is a large egg encrusted with precious jewels, apparently scavenged by a childless songbird. The egg is covered with fine gold inlay, and ornamented in lapis lazuli and mother-of-pearl. Unlike most eggs, this one is hinged and closed with a delicate looking clasp. The egg appears extremely fragile.

>get egg
Taken.

>examine critical approach

You might wonder: “these games are between 30 and 40 years old. Is there anything new to say?” My answer is yes. People still write about texts that are centuries old. There is no reason why Infocom’s published works would be any different. Most examinations of Infocom games focus heavily on gameplay–puzzles–and push toward a recommendation for the audience to play or not play. Such pieces also tend to heavily ground themselves in company/author history. While Gold Machine will occasionally do the same, its main focus will be the text itself. It will do so both in terms of Infocom’s original 1980’s consumer audience as well as literary and cultural concerns for today’s audience. Readers can expect examinations of post-colonial issues, materialism, etc. etc.

>reader, participate in this project

Gold Machine hopes to foster conversation. I, its author, would love to field comments, disagreements, affirmations, and questions from you, the reader. Please use the comment feature built into WordPress or @ me on Twitter. Since these games will be analyzed in chronological order, feel free to play along and comment as you go!

Image of box covers of all 35 Infocom games. The pictures are very small and are intended to have a cumulative effect.
All 35 Infocom box covers. Retrieved from Digital Trends.

>navigate site

Use the pinned links at top of page to quickly find content.