Everybody Loves Wishbringer

…and why shouldn’t they?

Wishbringer (May, 1985)
Implemented by Brian Moriarty

Packaging, DOcumentation, and Extras

Wishbringer, gray box (MoCAGH)
Wishbringer, gray box (IDP)
[For best results, open MoCAGH images in new tab]
Invisiclues Wishbringer map (IDP)
Wishbringer: The Obsessively Complete Infocom Catalog
Nathan Simpson’s list of Infocom Bugs: Wishbringer
My transcript [barebones/speedrun]
Gold Microphone Podcast: Wishbringer

A Critical Introduction to Wishbringer

Wishbringer, released in May of 1985, was likely the last Infocom game written before the full brunt of Cornerstone‘s failure began to be felt. According to The Digital Antiquarian, it took nine months to develop (author Brian Moriarty had to learn Zork Implementation Language for the project). Work likely began near the time of The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy‘s massively successful launch, the unwarranted opulence of Suspect‘s release celebration, and, of course, the fleeting belief that Cornerstone might make everyone rich.

It is only one of two games first released as “Introductory Interactive Fiction”—Infocom would additionally retrofit Seastalker‘s “Junior” designation—but it is in a league of its own. Only writers and conversationalists discussing the history of interactive fiction in very specific ways would mention Wishbringer in the same sentence/paragraph/page as Moonmist, let alone Seastalker. There is a difference between simplicity and innocence. Neither Seastalker nor Moonmist, with their respective sexual harasser and murderous lesbian, are innocent. They are merely simple. Wishbringer, on the other hand, is innocent in the same way that the films of Hayao Miyazaki are, and any who find themselves too adult for either are in danger of missing out on a host of fascinations.

I use “innocence” here to signify not an incomplete or immature understanding of life, but rather a capacity for wonder and openness. It characterizes a kind of relationship with the world. An “innocent” work is not necessarily a children’s work. Neil Gaiman, for instance, frequently appeals to a reader’s capacity for wonder or openness without necessarily appealing to children. The most timeless works of wonder, however, seem to speak to children and adults alike, and manage to meet both of them where they are. This is the case with Miyazaki’s Spirited Away and Ursula K. Le Guin’s A Wizard of Earthsea. It must be the case with Wishbringer, too, which was Infocom’s second-to-last “gold” game (selling 100K copies), placing it in a very elite group. Only five Infocom games outside of the Zork trilogy achieved gold status.

This is a detail crop from a map of Wishbringer's game world. It shows an old, tall house. The label reads: "Postal Zones Festeron, Antharia, & Vicinity."
Part of a map packaged with Wishbringer.

Introducing Brian Moriarty

Brian “Professor” Moriarty wrote his first text adventure games as type-in programs for Atari computers. He was on the staff of A.N.A.L.O.G., a well-loved magazine for Atari 8-bit computer owners and fans. If younger readers have not heard of “type-ins”: in the 1980s, computer magazines often included the code—verbatim—for various programs that the reader could then transcribe into their own computers. This was a common practice in those days, and many computer magazines featured such code. I believe he wrote two such adventures for Atari computers in between the regular magazine fare of news and reviews. Players familiar with Moriarty’s games will not be surprised that his articles were well-written and pleasant to read irrespective of their content. The Internet Archive has an impressive collection of A.N.A.L.O.G. publications, including many pieces by Moriarty. That material can be found here.

Moriarty, one of those rare talents who was equally capable as a writer of both text and code, leapt from a job writing to one creating and modifying Z-code interpreters. Ironically, that work would include updating interpreters to work with Seastalker‘s ASCIII display. By all reports, he was a highly capable programmer for Dan Horn’s Micro Group, but Moriarty had a long game in mind. He had taken the programming job as as way to—hopefully—get in the door, then become an Implementor.

Wishbringer was that chance, and its success led to more opportunities: first with a sequel to Infocom’s beloved Zork saga (Zork ISpellbreaker) and then Trinity, which is remembered by many as Infocom’s greatest game. He was also one of a relatively small number of former Infocom employees to continue in game development. His post-Infocom work, I am comfortable saying, is almost certainly the best-remembered among critics and fans. Only Marc Blank’s Syphon Filter games come close.

Brian “Professor” Moriarty, rather fittingly, became a Professor of Interactive Media and Game Development at Worcester Polytechnic Institute, where he still works and teaches today.

Detail banner from A.N.A.L.O.G. magazine featuring yellow "futuristic" letters (in 1984, anyway) on a black background.
Detail crop from Brian Moriarty’s pre-Infocom gig.

More on Wishbringer

Wishbringer, then, is the first game by Brian Moriarty, and additionally Infocom’s first game in the newly-christened “Introductory” oeuvre. In it, a daydreaming mail carrier is tasked with rescuing a cat in a world that becomes a nightmarish reflection of his own. While there will be more to say next week, part of its charm is its deep—rather than wide—implementation. While it features few rooms (52 compared with Zork I‘s 110), its vocabulary is an impressively large 1043 words. This reflects a very modern approach to IF storytelling, which tends to feature fewer—yet more interactive—locations.

Despite its winning personality, there is one odd twist: while the game is called Wishbringer, and although the cover art (more on this next time) intends to visually depict the wishing stone, it is impossible to get the best possible score if the player makes a wish. Even though a glow-in-the-dark Wishbringer stone is included in the box, wishing is penalized. It is a bit like Enchanter docking the player for, well, enchanting! This will be explored in greater detail in a future post.

Next

As always, Gold Machine will take a closer look at the packaging for Wishbringer. I’ll be able to include photos of my own copy. Next week’s post will also feature a deeper dive into the story of Wishbringer, focusing on its many memorable characters. How did you feel about recent Cornerstone footage? It was fun to research and write about. Let me know here, on Twitter, at the IF Community Forum, or via email (golmac @ golmac.org).

Thanks from Callie and me to our new patrons! I’ll begin uploading audio recordings for the two Cornerstone posts as well as this one. They’ll be up in the next couple of days.

4 thoughts on “Everybody Loves Wishbringer

  1. I always felt that the advertising and packaging material made it clear that the “ideal” Wishbringer playthrough would use no wishes, the wishes being an option to make things easier.
    I got a pirated copy circa 1987, so I didn’t know how the wishes worked. I might have solved it without wishes, but I was stumped by the arcade game (that bit of copy protection worked on me). I never finished Wishbringer until I got Classic Text Adventure Masterpieces of Infocom.

    1. That’s fair. “The Legend of Wishbringer” warns against wishing at the end. Still, 11-year-old me was very eager to make some wishes.

      In theory, the arcade puzzle could be brute-forced, but without knowing that there is a cross-shaped grid of Festeron, I don’t think anyone—not me, anyway—could manage. I was lucky enough to get a copy with the wishing stone—it was left out of later print runs.

  2. 1) “Sestalker” is a typo
    2) “…it is impossible to get the best possible score if the player uses it to make wishes” is a bit muddled due to all the asides about stones and names. Just change it to “…it is impossible to get a perfect score if the player makes a wish.”

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