Planet Interactive Fiction

April 15, 2014

Too Much Free Time

Spring Thing 2014: The Adventures of a Hexagon

by Tracy Poff at April 15, 2014 05:00 PM

The Adventures of a Hexagon by Tyler Zahnke is an entry in the Spring Thing 2014. If you’re planning on playing and voting for games in this competition, you should probably stop reading now.

The Adventures of a Hexagon is a CYOA-style story, implemented as a set of HTML files, about a day in the life of a hexagon. Geometrical shapes, we learn, can escape from textbooks when no one is looking and go off to have their own adventures.

Hexagon is very short. There are only 38 pages, each containing at most a few short paragraphs of text, some of which are extremely similar. I completed every path in about five minutes.

The story is also extremely lacking. Essentially, the PC, a hexagon, can choose to go to either the Museum of Geometry of the Polygon Village, either with his friends, Pentagon, Heptagon, and Octagon, or, in the latter case, alone. Ultimately, if you choose any option other than joining with a group of other hexagons, the PC is killed. If you try visiting the village with your friends, the only path to a good ending is for the PC to abandon his friends to the tender mercies of a gang of polygons, and find a group of other hexagons to join with. If there is a theme to this story, it is that one must seek out others like oneself–that those who are different are not to be trusted, and one cannot be happy among them.

But I fear I’m giving the game too much credit, saying that. A sample of the game’s text should illustrate it better. If the PC goes to the museum and, through a series of pages which basically amount to ‘specify your path’, chooses to look at the triangle exhibit, you are presented with:

You take a closer look, and you realize that the triangle has a little needle point sticking out of it. But it’s too late! BLZZZT! It sticks the needle in you, leaving a great big hole in you. Game over! I guess you can never trust a triangle!

That’s it. The end. Pick the pentagon exhibit, and you get:

You get your six sides together and hop up on the ledge. The five pentagons say, “You have one side more than all of us! Har, har, har!” You hear a sound like that of a broken record as you are dragged to the wave-pool. Broken record sounds are always a bad sign in a dramatic scene. You are now being dragged underwater by the fierce five-siders. You have been drowned by the pentagons!

Other choices end with the hexagon killed similarly suddenly. Only choosing to view the hexagon exhibit doesn’t end in the PC’s death:

You approach the hexagons, and they all say, “Hello, Sixling!” The other five hexagons then open the door, and you enter the building just as they do. A late 1990s dance song starts to play as the hexagons hit the dance floor. You join them in a disco-style up-beat dance.
Congratulations! You got to dance with some polygons! You finally found a path that wouldn’t get you smashed to pieces by other polygons! You won!

The other ‘good’ endings are almost exactly the same, having the PC dancing with other hexagons.

The whole game is just a set of menus leading to the PC either being killed or joining other hexagons and dancing. It’s a story, generously speaking, but the non-ending parts of the story would probably fill less than half a page.

The Adventures of a Hexagon is not worth the few minutes it takes to complete.

Play time: about 5 minutes.


April 14, 2014

Too Much Free Time

Spring Thing 2014: The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost

by Tracy Poff at April 14, 2014 10:00 PM

The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost by Briar Rose is an entry in the Spring Thing 2014. If you’re planning on playing and voting for games in this competition, you should probably stop reading now.

Innocence Lost is the first part of the story of a Greek boy, Andreas, who, along with his brother, Alexius, is sold by his father to a Roman slaver. This part covers Andreas’s childhood, with later parts yet to be released.

The game is a browser-based CYOA-style story, hosted by ChooseYourStory, a site I was not previously familiar with. Three of the ten games in the Spring Thing use it, though, making it the single most popular ‘engine’–so I suppose it must be popular.

Here a brief digression: it troubles me to have games in competitions hosted externally and unavailable for download. When the host disappears–and it will, eventually–those games will simply be gone, unless the author has somehow archived them, or some enterprising player has done the same. This won’t affect my scoring of the games, but I hope that authors will keep this in mind when choosing a venue.

After the story begins, the plot proceeds in a frankly predictable fashion. The protagonist and his brother are put on a slave ship to be taken to Rome. There, they meet and befriend a young girl, Lula, who has been a slave for some time already. When they arrive in Rome, all three are purchased together, and it turns out that they are to be trained, along with other youths, as gladiators. The story briefly follows their training and culminates in a battle between six of them and six competing trainee gladiators.

The player’s choices throughout can impact Andreas’s strength, speed, or ‘approval’ with another character. The most substantial change the player can make is affecting which and how many (if any) of the children die in the battle at the end of the story, including possibly Andreas himself.

The mechanism of this change is the strength, speed, and approval scores mentioned earlier. During the battle, certain decisions will succeed or fail, based on Andreas’s strength or speed, and after the battle the other characters in the story will have (brief) conversations with Andreas that are impacted by his approval score with them.

When Andreas’s strength, speed, or approval score with another character changes, it’s displayed by the game in conspicuous colored text, inline with the story. This is a little distracting, but more importantly it had a strong influence on how I experienced the game. From the very beginning, because of these notifications, I was aware that the game was keeping tracking of the approval statistics, and I soon learned about strength and speed, so when making any choice, I could not help but think about how it might impact Andreas’s stats. It put me into a mindset to engage in metagaming, and made it more difficult to immerse myself in simply roleplaying as Andreas.

When first meeting Titus (the owner of the gladiatorial school) and Rhode (the trainer), for example, Andreas may either describe his education to Titus or attempt to bite Rhode’s finger. I, as the player, had a shrewd suspicion that doing this would impress Rhode with Andreas’s fierceness, but Andreas’s motivation wasn’t to impress her–he wanted to bite her because he disliked her. I’d have thought that, even without the approval scores being made explicit, but if they had any impact, it was only to widen the gap between player and player character.

This gap was especially noticeable on subsequent playthroughs. It became clear, at the end, that ‘winning’ the game meant keeping all six children alive through the final battle, and that doing this would involve having sufficiently high stats, so my replays quickly devolved into simply trying the different options to learn what impact they had on Andreas’s statistics, then finally going through the game making all of the ‘right’ choices, so as to preserve all of Andreas’s teammates. It took me an hour to play through the story once, but less than twenty minutes to play through it five more times, start to finish.

Innocence Lost‘s biggest weakness is its linearity. Your choices have literally no meaningful impact on anything but the final scene. Andreas can’t be bought by anyone other than Titus. He can’t be killed prior to the battle. Your choices incline the story in one direction for just a few paragraphs before it returns, unerringly, to the single path the author determined. This, combined with the very visible statistics, makes the game more about optimizing statistics than influencing a story.

The writing in Innocence Lost is reasonably solid, if unexceptional, and the characters are interesting enough for the brief time we know them. Unfortunately, Innocence Lost makes poor use of the medium. Of course, a degree of linearity is to be expected from a game that is the first part of a trilogy. Perhaps the later installments in the series will give the player more choice. If not, this story may be better suited to static fiction, abandoning the conceit of choice in favor of more strongly developed relationships between the characters.

I give The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost a rating of 6/10. Fun enough to read, but unexceptional as a work of interactive fiction.

Play time: 1:16 for six complete playthroughs.


Post Position

Console Yourself In Flight

by Nick Montfort at April 14, 2014 08:43 PM

If you, like Ian Bogost, manage to attain Titanium Medallion status on Delta, you too can influence the content of the company’s safety videos.

The Monk's Brew

Changelog 2014-04-14

by Rubes at April 14, 2014 06:00 PM

=========
CHANGELOG
=========

Two week period leading up to 2014-04-14:

- Fixed bug in first cutscene by creating separate Ignatius cutscene files same as other characters
- Began edits to sceneManager.cs to begin process of transitioning from first cutscene to Act 2
- Edited seatMap to allow for the usual single-key commands (E,X,etc) and right-mouse button commands while player is in bed or chair
- Prepared animation list for Cecilia Act 3
- Edited and spliced all sound files for Cecilia Act 3
- Set up script for first prayer (Devil)
- Modeled and animated first demon arm for devil prayer (NR)
- Incorporated demon arm into spell with existing zodiacs
- Began modeling/animating remaining demon arms for devil prayer (NR)
- Continued work on [More...] Read the rest

Emily Short

Spring Thing 2014 continued: The Price of Freedom, Surface, Through Time

by Emily Short at April 14, 2014 03:00 PM

Spring Thing 2014 continues, and you can play and vote here if you like. Brief reviews of The Price of Freedom, Surface, and Through Time follow.

Surface (Geoff Moore). Surface is a Twine piece, somewhere on the border between horror and science fiction. Like Hallowmoor, it captures many of the world model features of parser IF. There’s an inventory. Geography is consistent, with illustrated maps that highlight as you move around. There were a few points where I thought I might be stuck — parts of the story seem to involve randomized movement of creatures in the world space, and I looped through useless activities for a while before I figured out how to progress.

In content, Surface reminded me by turns of Changes and Coloratura. For me the effect wasn’t quite as powerful as the effect of Coloratura because I didn’t find the aliens as alien or the acclimation to their world view quite as startling. I also found the very opening sequence a bit off-putting, though I think this was a very subjective call and possibly I just wasn’t in the mood for something so biologically alien.

Overall, though, this is pretty solidly constructed. I would have liked to have dug a little bit deeper into the details of the protagonist’s past and relationships with other characters, but the story does grow in heft and emotional power as it goes on.


The Price of Freedom: Innocence Lost (Briar Rose). The Price of Freedom is a fairly substantial CYOA set in the Roman Empire. You play a young Greek boy who has been sold into slavery and has to train for the arena. The overall design feels somewhat reminiscent of Choice of Games pieces: the story adheres to a consistent central concept and doesn’t branch much in the early or midgame. Instead, you have stats including speed and strength, as well as affinity with many other characters, which depend on your choices. These in turn can apparently affect the outcome of later choices. Those stats are explicitly folded into the narration, though, and there’s a Go Back option that allows undoing a turn, which encourages play to maximize stats.

The story itself is fairly pulpy, with big melodramatic events; the writing serviceable and straightforward. It depicts a number of things that are horrific, but doesn’t really dwell on their nuances enough to make them unbearable. That, and the fact that the protagonists are all children, makes it feel like The Price of Freedom is written for a younger audience. While it does end with a “To be continued,” it also feels like a reasonably complete book 1 in itself, in contrast with Bear Creek.

There are a few flaws. It arguably introduces more characters than it really needs, given its length. By the end, we haven’t had an opportunity to get to know most of these people well, and perhaps have only had 1-3 occasions to change or test our affinity scores — not enough to make those stats really meaningful. The Price of Freedom also builds up the idea that the protagonist doesn’t want to have to murder anyone in the arena, but when my character finally does have to kill someone, the event passes with very little fanfare, quite casually. Moments like this made me think the author was trying for a level of emotional depth that the story doesn’t currently support.


Through Time (MC Book). Through Time advertises itself as a dating-sim-alike, and certainly it feels that way, complete with a girl with pink hair and characters who hint mysteriously at their feelings towards you while apparently being angry that you haven’t already guessed. I had the same difficulty with it that I have with some of the Ren’Py dating sims I’ve tried: it takes a long time for the story to get moving, and there’s a lot of rather inconsequential dialogue on the way, while early choices seem to have little or no effect on the path of the story, so that even if I’m initially interested in the premise, my interest peters out as I get frustrated that the story refuses to advance.

Through Time also suffers a bit from dodgy proofreading and odd formatting choices. There’s a lot of dialogue split from its attribution, like this:

“Done?”

You ask.

…which makes the long, conversation-heavy passages considerably slower to read. After twenty or so pages I gave up. It may be that I just have the wrong set of genre expectations here; I think this might be more appealing to someone thoroughly immersed in the dating-sim visual novel genre.

As a side point, it intrigues me that the three ChooseYourStory games I’ve tried in this competition are so different in their design and style. I suppose it’s still possible that ChooseYourStory has a “house” style the way Twine, ChoiceScript, and StoryNexus all seem to — it’s possible that there’s a common flavor of CYS work and this competition just happens to feature some outliers — but at a first glance it looks as though that’s not the case.


April 13, 2014

Too Much Free Time

Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure

by Tracy Poff at April 13, 2014 08:00 PM

Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure is a 1978 text adventure by Greg Hassett (who was, as I understand it, only 12 years old at the time) for the TRS-80. I played the Commodore PET version, ported by S. Prenzel.

When the game begins, you find yourself in a ship which has crashed. A computer screen informs us that ship’s “fribulating gonkulator is burned out.” I hate it when that happens.

What follows is a rather standard exercise in exploration and treasure-gathering. The game’s map contains about three dozen rooms, including two–thankfully very small–mazes (with a reference to the Colossal Cave Adventure: “I’m in a maze of twisty little passages.”). The game uses a two word parser, with only the first three letters of a word being significant.

Wandering randomly around in the game are bugs. If you encounter one before you have found the sword (which is very likely), you’ll be killed, and have to load a saved game. Bad luck for you if you saved in a place where you’ll inevitably be killed.

The game is completed when you have found both a replacement fribulating gonkulator and the tools with which to install, but there are over a dozen treasure to collect, some of which are necessary to progress, and others which only add to your final score. I managed 170/175 points, and I cannot imagine what I must do to get the last five points.

The world is a bit incoherent. You’re apparently deep underground, so rooms like the ice cavern or cobblestone hallway make sense, but others, like the Arabian Room or Al’s diner (!) just don’t fit. In addition, the game is very poorly written, with many spelling and usage errors (“I can here chirping nearby.”, “and fall into the lava ??? Fat chanche !”). On the positive side, the game does include some unique responses for flavor. For example, attempting to eat ruby results in “I think that a large ruby would give me indigestion, and I don’t have any Pepto-Bismol.”

Journey to the Center of the Earth Adventure doesn’t measure up to many of its contemporaries, and it certainly can’t compare to modern interactive fiction, but it’s still an interesting part of the history of interactive fiction.


Peter's Ranting Outlet

Puzzle solutions that the authors didn't intend

by Peter Pears (noreply@blogger.com) at April 13, 2014 07:15 PM

I'm currently on a MythBusters spree. I'm quite enjoying it, it's fun, entertaining, educational, and fun.

The 100th episode, the MacGyver special, ends with a cool stunt. The Build Team give Jamie and Adam four tasks that they have to pass in true MacGyver style. Simple-ish tasks, like developing a film with "chemicals" of the sort usually found in households or picking a lock with a lightbulb filament.

What struck me, and what gave me the urge to come here and verbalise what's got me really excited, is the gap between what the Build Team intended them to do... and what they actually did.

Test number one: escape a locked room. They were supposed to use a lightbulb filament to pick a lock. What the Build Team didn't expect is that the lightbulb they supplied the "heroes" with had a rather thick filament that wouldn't fit.

So consider the Build Team as the author, and you could imagine that maybe the author had intended the player used something else to pick that lock, something that would actually fit. But what Adam did was, he used his steel-toe capped shoes to hammer and anvil the filament into something flatter that would fit the lockpick.

Tests number two and three were so mundane in terms of the guys' performance being completely expected by the "villains" that I won't go into it. The author laid out puzzles; the player resolved them. End of story.

Test number four is what's really got me going. They were supposed to improvise a signalling device they could use to draw the attention of a flying aircraft, using only components they found in a makeshift "villain's camp" (MythBusters are entertainingly theatrical). The Build Team - the author - devised a crafty puzzle where they had all the means to construct a potato cannon - they had the PVC tubing, ignition, fuel, potatoes.

The player - Adam and Jamie - went on another tangent altogether. They only went and built a kite.

This has me severely excited the same way that a transcript for Infocom's "Sherlock" has me excited. You might, or might not, know that in that transcript there's a fictious scenario where the PC misses the train... but not to worry, taking a hansom cab and a few shortcuts they can take the train at the NEXT stop, and board it from there. But this never happens in the game, AFAIK, and happens in almost no IF that I know of: if the PM missed the train and there won't be another train along, they're stranded, the game ends or the PC is a walking dead.

The latter example is about the freedom of IF, and making it possible for some puzzles to be failed without the harsh penalty of losing the game. Off the top of my head I can only remember Christminster actually doing this in a few scenes. I'm not talking about choosing to do or not do something and then deal with the consequences, like Anchorhead does with the library card - I'm talking about transparently the player FAILING to solve a puzzle, or to turn up in time for a timed event... and having a second shot at repairing it later.

It was when I realised that this would never happen that I started collecting saved games. Old school games take too much glee in punishing the player. New school games hold the player's hand so much that the player wouldn't fail, not without ample warning and leeway. I'm sure everyone prefers the middleground (old school stereotype = too much frustration, and new school stereotype = no challenge at all), and this middleground would benefit tremendously from this sort of design. In Sherlock, it would have emerged (emergent gameplay, anyone? I guess maybe that's the point of this post...) from a time/transportation system that made it possible for you to catch up, maybe, to a train that's just left the station you haven't arrived to yet; in Christminster, it simply happened because the author made sure the player had that second chance.

Going back to the MythBusters, though, this would of course be the Holy Grail of simulation-based IF - an IF world where physics are so emulated (or simply where the author underwent such massive beta-testing that he kept adding alternative solutions... which is another good thing!) that, Last Express style, situations can occur that the author didn't predict, and a puzzle can be solved in a very different way to what the author expected.

I understand the upcoming Hadean Lands is crazy with physics and/or chemistry, and I have an inkling that Metamorphoses might come close to it too (I haven't played it yet; but I have played Fractured Metamorphoses). Considering that Counterfeit Monkey does more or less the same thing, except that it uses word manipulation instead of heavily simulated physics... the result is a comparable piece with multiple solutions, an incredible amount of possibilities, and the perfect playground for a Wordsmith MacGyver. As opposed to, say, Nord and Bert, or Ad Verbum, or Earl Grey, where the same manipulation exists as a gimmick or central mechanism and is limited to being the correct tool for the job at hand.

It's not quite like the infamous spells, either. In all the Enchanter trilogy, most spells had very specific use. There was an effect if you used them on something they weren't supposed to be used on, and in Sorcerer that was the source of a few easter eggs or amusing situations, but it was just icing - the puzzle would be solved exactly as the authors predicted, and that's that. Similarly, the wishes in Wishbringer are, if you'll notice, carefully constructed to be useful in only a few key very specific situations.

Chris Crawford's emphasis on emergent storytelling always seemed hollow to me, because I always felt that if you remove the auhor and the authorial process from the equation, you lose the appeal; you might as well give the player a word processor and go "Write your own story". I'm frequently confronted by clear examples of me being possibly wrong in this assessment, and the most immediate example I can think of right now is Kerkerkruip, where clear, definite storylines and strategies arise where none is intended (after all, what you have is a specific set of enemies, objects and rooms. But they come together during gameplay to create a definite narrative). Possibly Crawford dares to go the limit - his Storytron certainly failed to provoke any reaction in me precisely because there wasn't an author, there wasn't a narrative, and I felt I might as well just go off and write my own game.

(A parenthesis here would be necessary for 18 Cadence. It's not my cup of tea at all, but from what I understand, it's sort of an environment with a few pre-fabricated rooms and characters where you can create any sort of narrative you fancy. It is, in fact, a word processor with an amazing lot of inspirational material that, by itself, already tells a story of a sort, so you are by turns creating and subverting. I would not classify this as emergent gameplay, mostly because I find it hard to call it gameplay at all, but it's certainly in the neighbourhood)

My point with this Crawford/Emergent branch of the discussion: it doesn't have to be taken to extremes, or we risk losing something special. But in the correct circumstances, in the right game, this could be brilliant. The ability to use objects in way they weren't intended and that, because of their simulated physics, works perfectly.

Now, this is all not very practical stuff. In practical terms, a game will be designed to direct the players towards the items they'll need to solve the puzzle. Often, an author will be approached by a player who'll say "Hey, why can't I do this instead? It should work". And the author will hopefully incorporate that. But always within tight authorial limit. This is what happens.

But I can't help but feeling that there's something fundamentally precious in this freedom (Christminster is one of the best games of its time I've played. I seriously loved the heck out of it). A), the freedom to screw up a tight-limit puzzle and then being given the chance to make amends. B), the ability to look at the tools in hand, and start constructing a puzzle solution that may or may not be what the author intended - but that works!

Payoff would be limited. It's like alternate solutions - how does a player know there are alternate paths/solutions? He normally won't, unless they are spelled out, because every player has their own mental processes and they tend towards doing things a certain way, and once it works THAT way, a player is unlikely to come back and try another way. So as in many, many "alternate paths/solutions" games, the player would be unaware of the complexity of the situation.

But on the flip side, the player would definitely be satisfied, because his mental process came up with a working solution (even if trial and error is necessary, and even if the original solution wasn't all that good after all and needed tweaking or re-thinking). And you would have MORE of your players feeling this way, not just the ones that happen to think the same way that you, the author, think.

Ok, I'm mentally tired after writing all this down, I seriosly did NOT mean for this to grow this big. :P

kerkerkruip

Kerkerkruip 9 released

by Victor Gijsbers at April 13, 2014 09:01 AM

The Kerkerkruip team is happy to announce the release of Kerkerkruip 9, by far the most extensive update of the game ever made. Kerkerkruip is a short-form roguelike in the interactive fiction medium, featuring meaningful tactical and strategic depth, innovative game play, zero grinding, and a sword & sorcery setting that does not rehash tired clichés.

With over 700 commits to the code repository, the changes made in Kerkerkruip 9 are far too numerous to mention here. But the highlights are:

  • Original theme music for the main menu, composed and produced by Wade Clarke.
  • An entirely reworked reaction system allows you to dodge, block, parry and roll away from incoming attacks. Successful reactions increase your offensive or defensive flow, adding a new layer of tactical depth to combat.
  • An entirely reworked religion system allows you to sacrifice absorbed powers to the gods. Worshipping gods grants lasting benefits, including divine interventions on your behalf; but losing absorbed powers makes you weaker in the short term. Religion thus becomes an important aspect of the player’s overall strategy.
  • Grenades can now be thrown into adjacent rooms, opening up new tactical options. However, your enemies may sometimes manage to throw them back to you!
  • A powerful new grenade is the Morphean grenade, which puts people to sleep. If you become its victim, you’ll find yourself drawn into one of several dream sequences: weird and dangerous adventures that have an effect on the real world.
  • The hiding system has been streamlined, boosted and made far more transparent. Stealth has now become a viable option.
  • The player now starts out with one of several starting kits, necessitating different approaches to the dungeon.
  • New content includes the angel of compassion, a radiant being that loses its lustre as people die around it; Israfel, a terrible angel that can split into two smaller beings for increased combat effectiveness before reuniting to heal; and the Arena of the Gods, where you can defend your god’s honour against other divine champions.
  • A new Menu implementation which is both screen reader friendly and hyperlink enabled.

We are now also offering stand-alone installers for specific operating systems. While it’s still possible to download the game file and run it in your favourite Glulx interpreter, there are also installers for Windows and Debian/Ubuntu. We will be supporting OS X in the near future. Go to the downloads page immediately!

Kerkerkruip is presented to you by the Kerkerkruip team: Victor Gijsbers, Mike Ciul, Dannii Willis, Erik Temple and Remko van der Pluijm. We hope you enjoy the new version. If you’ve got any comments, or if you’d like to contribute to this free software project, please go the website for details and contact us!


Tagged: Kerkerkruip 9

The Gaming Philosopher

Kerkerkruip 9 released

by Victor Gijsbers (noreply@blogger.com) at April 13, 2014 08:30 AM

The Kerkerkruip team is happy to announce the release of Kerkerkruip 9, by far the most extensive update of the game ever made. Kerkerkruip is a short-form roguelike in the interactive fiction medium, featuring meaningful tactical and strategic depth, innovative game play, zero grinding, and a sword & sorcery setting that does not rehash tired clichés. With over 700 commits to the code

April 12, 2014

kerkerkruip

Eu versus Malygris

by Victor Gijsbers at April 12, 2014 10:01 PM

I’m very pleased to present a play report by eu, player of and occasional contributor to Kerkerkruip. Enjoy!


 

The past few weeks I’ve been taking Kerkerkruip’s billing as a “coffee-break roguelike” to heart and dungeon diving over lunch.  Victor asked me if I would share one of my play reports from the upcoming release, which is nearing the end of its beta phase.

In this particular session I was coming in at the “apprentice” level, the easiest that Kerkerkruip’s adaptive difficulty will assign a player who’s defeated the big bad, Malygris.  The difficulty names go at least ten levels higher, though I’m usually evenly matched at the next notch up, “adept”. Still, I don’t mind playing as an apprentice on occasion since that gives me a little room for cinematic recklessness.

As in prior versions, the game started out with my character’s drunken boasting getting the better of them, landing me in a ruby-lined hall deep underground. But unlike in prior versions, I wasn’t toting that trusty gilded rapier—it was a Yahvinnean dagger at my side, and there was a scroll of shadows stashed in one of my pockets.  Non-standard starting kits like this might be my favorite addition in version 9, as, even before the first move, they encourage significant variation in strategy.  That, and it’s somehow particularly satisfying to see Chekhov’s gun go off when the author has left that to your own mettle.

Case in point regarding strategy, my usual policy is to scout as much of the dungeon as I can before choosing a first target.  But when I stumbled on a jumping bomb made of flesh, for which a dagger is an excellent choice, I couldn’t resist.  I soon had it drained and deflated.  That gave me a second level ability and the associated stat boosts.  Some voracious sounds alerted me to a nearby giant armadillo, and, conveniently, a dagger is also useful for nailing weak points in armadillo armor.  Its death added a first level skill and more boosts to the mix.

At that point I felt ready to take on the level 4 monster.  A tentacle of Tooloo (merely level 3) turned up first in my search, and I decided to save it for later.  Nonetheless, it was guarding a Morphean grenade, another version 9 addition and a tempting prize, so I tried my hand at burglary.  Anyone who’s faced a Toolooean appendage before knows how risky this was; they’re very good at detaining adventurers who hang around too long.  But my luck held.

Further exploration covered all but an exit leading to the Angel of Compassion (level 2) on a Bridge of Doom.  The angel is also new, and poses an unwelcome dilemma when encountered like this.  It’s sympathetic to other beings in the dungeon, and its sorrow as they perish enfeebles it.  Had I killed it immediately, I could have collected its powers in their only partly diminished state, but I would have lost everything of equal or lesser level from the shock of absorption, i.e., every special ability I already had.  Save the angel for later though, and the powers might fully wither.  After a bit of hemming and hawing, I concluded that I didn’t want to dispatch it just yet.

Instead, I turned again to my starting kit.  Thinking that the level 4 would be on the other side of the bridge, I read my scroll, which let me blend into the shadows.  Then, for some reason, a bout of prudence struck me.  I knew that the scroll would get me past the angel, but walking the bridge like that would also up the tension.  If I let it get too high, I might give myself away at the other end.  So I threw the precious Morphean (from a safe distance, since that’s now possible in version 9) and put the angel to sleep.  And, of course, all I found on the other side were uninhabited ruins; I had spent my grenade for naught.

Still, as luck would have it, the ruins held a teleportation grenade, a periapt of prophecy, and an adamantine shield; I donned the latter two and crept south to find the druidess Bodmall.  One pack of ment (the game’s combat drug) while hidden activated the predictive powers of my periapt, which, in combination with the armadillo’s scales taking up my defense, let me stage a formidable assault. But the ment ran out, and withdrawal kicked in right after Bodmall reached 2 health, and only by retreating to recharge my scales could I concentrate enough for a finishing blow.

Because my maximum health was down, I ran past the (no longer sleeping) angel to collect the tentacle, who couldn’t get by both Bodmall’s brambles spell and my shield.  The despairing angel fell easily after that.  Then, in walking back, I realized that Bodmall’s room was a grenade-manufacturing lab, so I used several unidentified scrolls I had picked up on the way as raw materials.  The results were three: another Morphean grenade, a frag, and a flashbang that immediately blew up in my face.  Thankfully, I wasn’t in combat and could just wait for the afterimages to disappear.

At another guess, I threw the frag and the Morphean into the adjacent room, where I figured Malygris would be.  This time my hunch was correct, and I caught him dozing among the shrapnel.  Trying to recreate my technique against Bodmall, I snorted a second pack of ment, but I hit maximum concentration and had brambles summoned without ever seeing a favorable periapt read-out.  The tension had climbed high enough that I attacked anyway.

That got his attention, but I had hoped to follow up with a second blow. Unfortunately for me, we were in the Hall of Mirrors, and I had put all my points into the body statistic, not the mind statistic I needed to figure out which of the Malygrises darting around me wasn’t a reflection.  So I called the angel’s sorrow into the room to buy time for a little concentration; grieving, Malygris could only slash at me halfheartedly.  The concentration just did the job, and a clonk on his head diffused the mounting tension about who would land a hit first.

In the meantime, the brambles I had planted sprouted hidden fruit, which I commanded them to launch.  Had this gambit worked out, the fruit would have imparted their concealment to me.  Malygris was too perceptive though.  Between the spent turn and my next attack not disrupting his mental preparations, he was able to get to maximum concentration and come after me.

It ended with me throwing the teleportation grenade knowing that a teleportation beacon was active in the portal room.  Him disoriented, and his concentration broken, I hammered on Malygris with the druidess’s staff.  All he could do was desperately try to teleport away.

— eu


Emily Short

Spring Thing 2014

by Emily Short at April 12, 2014 05:00 PM

Spring Thing 2014 games are now available: 10 entries, with a mix of parser-based, Twine, and other formats. Capsule reviews follow for the entries The Adventures of a Hexagon, Bear Creek, and A Game of Life and Death.

The Adventures of a Hexagon (Tyler Zahnke): This works from the premise that polygons are able to move around as sentient beings, but it doesn’t go very far with this. It’s a CYOA HTML piece; most of the text nodes are very brief, and it’s hard to guess from the available evidence which choices will lead to sudden death and which to survival. It took me less than five minutes to reach a positive ending, but there wasn’t very much to the experience.

Bear Creek (Wes Modes): This is a period piece set in childhood in 1975. It’s a bit reminiscent of She’s Got a Thing For a Spring, and also a little of Six: the action is mostly innocent childhood activity like picking berries and looking at insects, set in an idyllic natural space that has been implemented with considerable care. It does manage to avoid being too saccharine, and it does a good job of creating spaces that you want to explore in a childlike way. The setting is strong: we get smells, sounds, temperature fluctuations, as well as sights. NPCs wander around and pursue their own concerns. The world state gradually shifts around you. There are some clues about Bad Stuff from the adult world, but they remain largely on the sidelines, not well understood by the main character and not a primary concern, either.

That said, this is unfinished — you hit a big old TO BE CONTINUED sign after a while — and it’s unfinished in a way that doesn’t deliver on the primary narrative drive of the chapter so far. It’s not even exactly a cliff-hanger, it’s just a stop that happens at a point where we’re expecting much more development. So that was frustrating. I also ran into a few implementation hiccups, but I’m inclined to be forgiving about that because the world model is a pretty ambitious one. I just wish it were more done!

A Game of Life and Death (Kiel Farren): This is a ChooseYourStory piece, one of several submitted to Spring Thing. I’ve played just a handful of things from this site in the past, and this is the first time I’ve noticed one in an IF competition. I played to several endings, so I can’t claim to have fully mapped the thing out, but it has a very time-cave-like approach to CYOA: different arbitrary choices you make at the beginning can direct the story towards being about very different things; though much of the content I encountered was at least loosely horror-themed, it wasn’t always based around the same premise. There are also quite a number of sudden death options, and at least one sequence that felt to me like a bug, where critical information I’d received turned out not to be reflected in subsequent narrations.

I have the feeling that this piece is most likely to appeal to people interested in reproducing the feel of classic CYOA books, including their unpredictability and arbitrariness, low player agency, and large chunks of text between choice nodes. I found it a little bit frustrating and after a few playthroughs was ready to set it aside; it wasn’t clear to me that replaying would solve the parts of the story I had actually developed an interest in.


Too Much Free Time

All Quiet on the Library Front

by Tracy Poff at April 12, 2014 03:00 PM

All Quiet on the Library Front by Michael S. Phillips is a 1995 interactive fiction game, entered in the first annual interactive fiction competition. The premise is that the PC is a student enrolled in CS 441 – Interactive Fiction who has been slacking off for the entire term. To save his grade, the PC must navigate the university library to acquire a biography of Graham Nelson, to use as a source for a term paper.

Phillips’s first (and, to date, only) contribution to interactive fiction, Library has the hallmarks of a first game: it is set in a fictionalized version of the author’s workplace; it contains many references to the IF community; it has a rather thin premise. That said, it’s competently implemented and reasonably well written.

Library‘s main sin is that it’s too simple. Its puzzles are very straightforward, its NPCs don’t seem to do anything but serve their very limited purposes, and there’s little else to do but what’s required. I only finished with 26/30 points, and I have no idea what the other points could be for, but I don’t have any particular urge to get the rest.

Most of Library‘s scenery is implemented, though some actions, like x me, give default responses. On the other hand, you can kiss alan for a response that’s both humorous and useful as a hint–well done.

Overall, Library is just mediocre, and there are too many better works of interactive fiction for me to recommend it. If I were rating it for the ifcomp, I’d give it about a 4/10.

Play time: 30 minutes to win, plus about 10 more of exploration.

This review is based on Release 2.


Emily Short

Transcript up from April 5 Discussion Club

by Emily Short at April 12, 2014 01:00 PM

Sorry for the delay in posting this, but the transcript from our April 5 meeting is now up. The next meeting will be on CYOA structures and is set for 8 PM British time, May 10. Suggested reading and other information can be found here.

Note also that at the end of the transcript, zarf proposes a speed-IF about time and action-scale modeling:

zarf says, “mess with these ideas we’ve been talking about for two weeks”
eu says (to zarf), “Good idea.”
zarf says, “post a link in the intfiction.org forum post about this chat”
zarf says, “and we can (on the forum) discuss in two weeks what we’ve come up with”


April 11, 2014

Post Position

Transcendance

by Nick Montfort at April 11, 2014 07:18 PM

The premiere of the film Transcendance, directed by Wally Pfister and starring Johnny Depp as AI researcher Dr. Will Caster, was last night in Westwood. I got to go since my spouse produced and co-wrote the iOS and Android game that accompanies this movie. Johnny Depp and other cast members were there, but, alas, I did not get to hang with them; there were many interesting conversations nevertheless and I was glad to get to see the film for the first time. (Those involved with it had often seen very many cuts already, of course.) The general theatrical release of the film is April 18.

It’s an idea-packed film with a good bit of action, explosions, and so on, as well as innumerable nanites. Much can and will be said of it. One thing I was pleasantly surprised to note, though, was that the film expressed a bit how AI researchers (and by extension academic researchers more generally) have different motivations for what they do. Some are mainly interested in the challenges that problems present, because those problems are beautiful or inherently interesting. Some want to learn and understand things about the world. Some want to produce benefits in the world. And (although this group is not represented among the top researchers in the world) for some it’s just a job to make a living. It was nice to see the nuance of these different motivations in the way AI research was portrayed in Transcendance.

>TILT AT WINDMILLS

Spring Thing '14 Games Released

by Aaron A. Reed (noreply@blogger.com) at April 11, 2014 12:20 AM

I'm happy to announce that ten new playable stories are now available to discover in this year's Spring Thing competition for interactive fiction.

The Spring Thing (or Fall Fooferall, depending on which hemisphere you're in) was started in 2002 by Adam Cadre as an alternative to the main annual IF Competition, held in the fall (or spring; see above). It was envisioned as a space where longer works could flourish (the main comp requires judges to stop playing after two hours) with a focus on more polished games (a small entry fee and the need to declare an entry intent well in advance discourage last-minute or unfinished entries).

This year's competition features ten entries in seven formats (including z-code, Glulx, Twine, Quest, Alan, the online platform ChooseYourStory.com, and HTML), attesting to the wide diversity of ways people are telling interactive stories with text these days.

Anyone can vote in the competition, although judges are required to play at least half of the entries. The voting period lasts until May 11th, giving you plenty of time to dig in.

Enjoy!

April 10, 2014

The Digital Antiquarian

Wishbringer

by Jimmy Maher at April 10, 2014 03:01 PM

Brian Moriarty, 1985

Brian Moriarty, 1985

Brian Moriarty was the first of a second wave of Infocom authors from very different and more diverse backgrounds than the original Imps. Their fresh perspectives would be a welcome addition during the latter half of the company’s history. Some of the second wave all but stumbled through the doors of Infocom, but not Moriarty — not at all Moriarty. His arrival as an Imp in September of 1984 marked the fruition of a calculated “assault on Infocom” — his words, not mine — that had taken over two years to bring off.

Moriarty’s personal history is perfect for an Imp, being marked by a mix of technical and literary interests right from his grade-school years. After taking a degree in English Literature from Southeastern Massachusetts University in 1978, he found a job in a Radio Shack store, where he spent hours many days playing with the TRS-80s. He didn’t buy a computer of his own, however, until after he had become a technical writer at Bose Corporation in Framingham, Massachusetts. It was there in 1981 that a colleague brought in his new Atari 800 to show off. Moriarty succumbed to the greatest Atari marketing weapon ever devised: the classic game Star Raiders. He soon headed out to buy an Atari system of his own.

Along with the computer and Star Raiders, Moriarty also brought home a copy of Scott Adams’s Strange Odyssey. He played it and the other Scott Adams games obsessively, thinking all the while of all the ways they could be better. Then one day he spotted Infocom’s Deadline on the shelf of his local Atari dealer. From its dossier-like packaging to its remarkable parser and its comparative reams of luxurious text, it did pretty much everything he had been dreaming about. Moriarty knew in an instant what he wanted to do, and where he wanted to do it. How great to learn that Infocom was located right there in the Boston area; that, anyway, was one problem less to deal with. Still, Infocom was a tiny, insular company at this point, and weren’t exactly accepting resumes from eager Atari enthusiasts who’d never designed an actual game before.

So Moriarty put Infocom in his long-range planning folder and went for the time being somewhere almost as cool. Back at Radio Shack, he’d worked with a fellow named Lee Papas, whom he’d been surprised to rediscover behind the counter of the local Atari dealer when he’d gone to buy his 800 system. Pappas and a friend had by then already started a little newsletter, A.N.A.L.O.G. (“Atari Newsletter and Lots of Games”). By the end of 1982 it had turned into a full-fledged glossy magazine. Pappas asked Moriarty, who’d already been a regular contributor for some months, if he’d like to come work full-time for him. Moriarty said yes, leaving his safe, comfortable job at Bose behind; it was “the best career move I ever made.”

A.N.A.L.O.G. was a special place, a beloved institution within and chronicler of the Atari 8-bit community in much the same way that Softalk was of the Apple II scene. Their articles were just a little bit more thoughtful, their type-in programs a little bit better, their reviews a little bit more honest than was the norm at other magazines. Moriarty, a graceful writer as well as a superb Atari hacker, contributed to all those aspects by writing articles and reviews and programs. Life there was pretty good: “It was a small group of nerdy guys in their 20s who loved computer games, ate the same junk foods, and went to see the same science-fiction movies together.”

Still, Moriarty didn’t forget his ultimate goal. Having advanced one step by getting himself employed in the same general industry as Infocom, he set about writing his first adventure game to prove his mettle to anyone — Infocom, perhaps? — who might be paying attention. Adventure in the Fifth Dimension appeared in A.N.A.L.O.G.‘s April/May 1983 issue. A necessarily primitive effort written mostly in BASIC and running in 16 K, it nevertheless demonstrated some traits of Moriarty’s later work by mixing a real place, Washington D.C., with fantastic and surreal elements: a group of aliens have stolen the Declaration of Independence, and it’s up to you to track down an entrance to their alternate universe and get it back. A year later, Moriarty continued his campaign with another, more refined adventure written entirely in assembly language. Crash Dive! pits the player against a mutineer aboard a nuclear submarine, a scenario much more complex and plot-heavy than the typical magazine-type-in treasure hunt. It even included a set of Infocom-style feelies, albeit only via a photograph in the magazine.

Crash Dive!'s "feelies"

With two games under his belt, Moriarty applied for a position as a game designer at Infocom, but his resume came right back to him. Then a colleague showed him a posting he’d spotted on the online service CompuServe. It was from Dan Horn, manager of Infocom’s Micro Group, looking for an expert 6502 hacker to work on Z-Machine interpreters. It took Moriarty about “45 seconds” to answer. Horn liked what he saw of Moriarty, and in early 1984 the latter started working for the former in the building where the magic happened. His first project involved, as chance would have it, another submarine-themed game: he modified the Atari 8-bit, Commodore 64, and Apple II interpreters to support the sonar display in Seastalker. Later he wrote complete new interpreters for the Radio Shack Color Computer and the ill-fated Commodore Plus/4.

He was tantalizingly close to his goal. Having broken through the outer gates, he just needed to find a way into the inner keep of the Imps themselves. He took to telling Berlyn, Blank, Lebling, and the rest about his ambition every chance he got, while also sharing with them his big idea for a game: a grand “historical fantasy” that would deal with no less weighty a subject than the history of atomic weapons and their implications for humanity. It seemed the perfect subject for the zeitgeist of 1984, when the Cold War was going through its last really dangerous phase and millions of schoolchildren were still walking around with souls seared by the previous year’s broadcast of The Day After.

Moriarty got his shot at the inner circle when a certain pop-science writer whom Infocom had hired to write a game was allegedly found curled up beneath his desk in a little ball of misery, undone by the thorny syntax of ZIL. This moment marks the end of Marc Blank’s dream of being able to hire professional writers off the street, set them down with a terminal and a stack of manuals, and wait for the games to come gushing forth. From now on the games would be written by people already immersed in Infocom’s technology; the few outside collaborations to come would be just that, collaborations, with established programmers inside Infocom doing the actual coding.

That new philosophy was great news for a fellow like Brian Moriarty, skilled coder that he was. The Imps decided to reward his persistence and passion and give him a shot. Only thing was, they weren’t so sure about the big historical fantasy, at least not for a first game. What they really had in mind was a made-to-order game to fill a glaring gap in their product matrix: a gentle, modestly sized game to introduce newcomers to interactive fiction — an “Introductory”-level work. And it should preferably be a Zorkian fantasy, because that’s what sold best and what most people still thought of when they thought of Infocom. None of the current Imps were all that excited about such a project. Would Moriarty be interested? He wasn’t about to split hairs over theme or genre or anything else after dreaming of reaching this point for so long; he answered with a resounding “Absolutely!” And so Brian Moriarty became an Imp at last — to no small consternation from Dan Horn, who’d thought Moriarty had come to Infocom to do “great work for me.”

It’s kind of surprising that it took Infocom this long to perceive the need for a game like the one that Moriarty would now be taking on as his first assignment. Their original matrix had offered only games for children — “Interactive Fiction Junior” — below the “Standard” level. Considering that even the hard-as-nails Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was labelled “Standard,” the leap from “Junior” to “Standard” could be a daunting one indeed. Clearly there was room for a work more suitable for adult novices, one that didn’t condescend in the way that Seastalker, solid as it is on its own terms, might be perceived to do. Infocom had now decided to make just such a game at last — although, oddly, the problematic conflations continued. Rather than simply add a fifth difficulty level to the matrix, they decided to dispense with the “Junior” category entirely, relabeling Seastalker an “Introductory” game. This might have made existing print materials easier to modify, but it lost track entirely of Seastalker‘s original target demographic. Infocom claimed in The New Zork Times that “adults didn’t want a kid’s game; in fact, kids didn’t want a kid’s game.” Which rather belied the claim in the same article that Seastalker had been a “success,” but there you go.

Moriarty was a thoughtful guy with a bit of a bookish demeanor, so much so that his inevitable nickname of “Professor” actually suited him really well. Now he started thinking about how he could make an introductory game that wouldn’t be too condescending or trivial to the Infocom faithful who would hopefully also buy it. He soon hit upon the idea of including a magic MacGuffin which would allow alternate, simpler solutions to many puzzles at a cost to the score — literally a Wishbringer. The hardcore could eschew its use from the start and have a pretty satisfying experience; beginners could, after the satisfaction and affirmation of solving the game the easy way, go back and play again the hard way to try to get a better score. It was brilliant, as was the choice not to make using the Wishbringer just a “solve this puzzle” button but rather an intriguing little puzzle nexus in its own right. First the player would have to find it; then she would have to apply it correctly by wishing for “rain,” “advice,” “flight,” “darkness,” “foresight,” “luck,” or “freedom” whilst having the proper material components for the spell on hand, a perfect primer for the spellcasting system in the Enchanter trilogy. The wishes would, like in any good fairy tale, be limited to one of each type. So, even this route to victory would be easier but still in its own way a challenge.

At first Moriarty thought of making Wishbringer a magic ring, but what with The Lord of the Rings and a thousand knock-offs thereof that felt too clichéd. Anyway, he wanted to include it in the box as a feelie, and, cost concerns being what they were, that meant the ring would have to be a gaudy plastic thing like those ones bubble-gum machines sometimes dispensed in lieu of a gumball. Then he hit upon the idea of making Wishbringer a stone — “The Magick Stone of Dreams.” Maybe they could make the one in the package glow in the dark to give it that proper aura and distract from its plasticness? Marketing said it was feasible, and so the die (or stone) was cast. Thus did Wishbringer become the first and only Infocom game to be literally designed around a feelie. Moriarty spent some nine months — amidst all of the Hitchhiker’s and Cornerstone excitement, the high-water mark that was Christmas 1984, an office move, and the dawning of the realization that the company was suddenly in big, big trouble — learning the vagaries of ZIL and writing Wishbringer.

Wishbringer

For all that it’s a much subtler work lacking the “Gee whiz!” quality of Seastalker, Wishbringer does feel like a classic piece of children’s literature. It casts you as a postal carrier in the quietly idyllic village of Festeron, which is apparently located in the same world as Zork and shares with that series an anachronistic mixing of modernity with fantasy. (I’m sure someone has figured out a detailed historical timeline for Wishbringer‘s relation to Zork as well as geography and all the rest, but as usual with that sort of thing I just can’t be bothered.) You dream of adventure — in fact, you’re interrupted in the middle of such a daydream as the game begins — but you’re just a mail carrier with a demanding boss. Said boss, Mr. Crisp, gives you a letter to deliver to the old woman who is proprietor of Ye Olde Magick Shoppe up in the hills north of town. On your way there you should explore the town and enjoy the lovely scenery, because once you make the delivery everything changes. The letter turns out to be a ransom note for the old woman from “The Evil One,” demanding Wishbringer itself in return for the safe return of her cat: “And now, now it claims my only companion.”

"It's getting Dark outside," the old woman remarks, and you can almost hear the capital D. "Maybe you should be getting back to town."

The old woman hobbles over to the Magick Shoppe door and opens it. A concealed bell tinkles merrily.

"Keep a sharp eye out for my cat, won't you?" She speaks the words slowly and distinctly. "Bring her to me if you find her. She's black as night from head to tail, except for one little white spot... right HERE."

The old woman touches the middle of your forehead with her finger. The light outside dims suddenly, like a cloud passing over the sun.

So, Wishbringer is ultimately just a hunt for a lost cat, a quest I can heartily get behind. But as soon as you step outside you realize that everything has changed. The scenery becomes a darker, more surreal riot reminiscent in places of Mindwheel. Mailboxes have become sentient (and sometimes carnivorous); Mr. Crisp has turned into the town’s petty dictator; a pet poodle has turned into a vicious hellhound. The game flirts with vaguely fascistic imagery, as with the giant Boot Patrols that march around the town enforcing its nightly curfew. (This does lead to one glaring continuity flaw: why is the cinema still open if the whole city is under curfew?) There’s a creepy dread and a creepy allure to exploring the changed town, a reminder that, as the Brothers Grimm taught us long ago, ostensible children’s literature doesn’t necessarily mean all sunshine and lollypops.

Like so much of Roberta Williams’s work, Wishbringer plays with fairy-tale tropes. But Moriarty is a much better, more original writer than Williams, not to mention a more controlled one. (Witness the way that the opening text of Wishbringer foreshadows the climax, a literary technique unlikely to even occur to Williams.) Rather than appropriate characters and situations whole cloth, he nails the feeling, balancing sweetness and whimsy with an undercurrent of darkness and menace that soon becomes an overcurrent when day turns to night and the big Change happens. The closest analogue I can offer for the world of Wishbringer is indeed the Brothers Grimm — but perhaps also, crazy as this is going to sound, Mr. Rogers’s Neighborhood of Make-Believe. Wishbringer has that same mixing of playfulness with a certain gravitas. There’s even some talking platypuses, one of very few examples of direct borrowing from Moriarty’s inspirations.

The other examples almost all come from Zork, including a great cameo from the good old white house and mailbox. And of course every Zork game has to have grues somewhere. The grues’ refrigerator light is my favorite gag in the whole game; it still makes me chuckle every time I think about it.

You have stumbled into the nesting place of a family of grues. Congratulations. Few indeed are the adventurers who have entered a grue's nest and lived as long as you have.

Everything is littered with rusty swords of elvish workmanship, piles of bones and other debris. A closed refrigerator stands in one corner of the nest, and something... a small, dangerous-looking little beast... is curled up in the other corner.

The only exit is to the west. Hope you survive long enough to use it.

Snoring fitfully, the little beast turns away from the light of the small stone and faces the wall.

>open refrigerator
A light inside the refrigerator goes out as you open it.

Opening the refrigerator reveals a bottle and an earthworm.

The little beast is stirring restlessly. It looks as if it's about to wake up!

>close refrigerator
A light inside the refrigerator comes on as you close it.

Indeed, while Moriarty is generally thought of as Infocom’s “serious” author on the exclusive basis of his second game Trinity, Wishbringer is full of such funny bits.

Wishbringer is very solvable, but doing so is not trivial even if you let yourself use the stone; this is of course just as Moriarty intended it. You may not even find the stone until a good third or more of the way through the game, and it definitely won’t help you with everything thereafter. Played without using the stone, I’m not sure that Wishbringer is really all that much easier than the average mid-period Infocom game at all. The most objectionable aspects for the modern player as well as the most surprising to find in an “Introductory” game are the hard time limits; you’re almost certain to need to restart a few times to fully explore Festeron before the Change and still deliver the letter in time, and you may need a few restores to get everything you need to done after the Change. An inventory limit also sometimes complicates matters; Infocom had been slowly losing interest in this sort of purely logistical problem for years, but Wishbringer demonstrates that even in an introductory game they weren’t quite there yet. Still, those are designs sins worth forgiving in light of Wishbringer‘s charms — assuming you think them sins at all. Like the determination to make you work a bit for a solution even if you use the stone, they could be seen as a good thing. Wishbringer, we should remember, was meant to serve as an introduction to Infocom’s catalog as a whole, in which players would find plenty of other timers and inventory limits and puzzles that refuse to just disappear in a poof of magic. Wishbringer‘s refusal to trivialize its purpose is really quite admirable; there’s even a (thankfully painless) pseudo-maze.

Wishbringer was released in June of 1985, eight full months after Infocom’s previous game Suspect. That gap would turn out to be by far the longest of Infocom’s productive middle years, and had left many fans worried about the company’s future and whether Cornerstone meant the end of games. Infocom’s idea that there were people potentially interested in interactive fiction but eager for a gentler version of the form turned out to be correct. Wishbringer turned into one of Infocom’s last genuine hits; Billboard software charts from the second half of 1985 show it and Hitchhiker’s regularly ensconced together inside the Top 20 or even Top 10, marking the last time Infocom would have a significant presence there. It sold almost 75,000 copies in its first six months, with a lifetime total perhaps as high as 150,000. To the best of my reckoning it stands as about Infocom’s fourth best-selling game overall, and the first not to have Zork or Hitchhiker’s in its title.

Sales figures aside, Wishbringer‘s “Introductory” tag and its gentle, unassuming personality can make it an easy game amongst the Infocom canon to dismiss or overlook. That would be a shame to do, however; it’s one of the most likeable games Infocom ever did. While not one of Infocom’s more thematically or formally groundbreaking games and thus not one of their more discussed, it continues to be enjoyed by just about everyone who plays it. It’s the sort of game that may not come up that often when you ask people about their very favorites from Infocom, but mention it to any Infocom fan and you’ll almost always get back an “Oh, yes. I really liked that one.” Rather than bury its light charm under yet more leaden pontification, I’ll just suggest you play it if you haven’t already.

(Jason Scott’s interviews for Get Lamp informed much of this article. Interviews with Moriarty of various vintages can be found online at The IF Archive, 8bitfiles.net, Adventura CIA, Electron Dance, and Halcyon Days. Also useful was Moriarty’s “self-interview” in the January/February 1986 AmigaWorld; his picture above comes from that article. Adventure in the Fifth Dimension was published in the April/May 1983 A.N.A.L.O.G.; Crash Dive! in the May 1984 A.N.A.L.O.G., the last to which Moriarty contributed.)


Comments

Quest

How am I doing? The Quest and textadventures.co.uk Annual Review 2013/14

by Alex Warren at April 10, 2014 10:00 AM

I’ve done an “annual review” at around this time of year for the last few years, so it feels like a good idea to do it again, one last time. For reference:

This is the last time I’ll do an annual review because I am no longer working on Quest and textadventures.co.uk full-time. The good news is I’ve just started an absolutely awesome job at Stack Exchange, and for pretty much the first time ever I am thoroughly enjoying being employed.

Some stats

textadventures.co.uk has grown quite a lot over the last year:

  • It currently averages around 1500 unique visitors per day, up from about 800 a year ago.
  • Over the last week, there were on average 2150 game sessions per day, which is up from 480 per day. (That figure was the average over 2012/13, so is not exactly equivalent – the site grew over 2012/13 too, so the daily average by the end of 2012/13 would probably have been a bit higher).
  • There are currently 3693 games listed on the site, up from 980. Of these, 2536 are publicly available (the rest are private “unlisted” games only available to those who have been given the link).
  • Of the games on the site, 2752 are Quest games, of which 1671 are public. So, there are 941 non-Quest games – which is up from zero a year ago, as during this year support was added for all kinds of web-playable text games. 503 of these non-Quest games have been imported from IFDB (more will be added soon).
  • 24,548 games have now been created using the web version of the Quest editor since it was launched, up from 7300 last year. 1766 of these have been published, up from 331.
  • Of the 1751 Quest games added since 1st April 2013, 1334 were created with the web version of Quest – 76%. Last year it was more like 50%.

Some things that happened since the previous annual review

May 2013: Released Filbert and the Broccoli Escape – an interactive children’s book for iPad, and the beta of ActiveLit. I also spoke a bit about text adventures at GameCamp.

June 2013: Wrote up some thoughts from the Futurebook Innovation Workshop, and started accepting games built with Twine, Undum, Parchment etc.

July 2013: The first QuestComp competition finished. Open-sourced QuestJS, the Quest-to-JavaScript converter. Wrote up some initial thoughts about Quest 6, although my thinking has changed somewhat since then - carry on reading this post for my current thoughts.

August 2013: Added more games to the site by accepting external listings for web-playable text games.

September 2013: Wrote up some notes from the Publish 2013 conference. The IFComp games were released, including my very own first work of interactive fiction – a story set on the London Underground called Moquette.

October 2013: Enrolled on the 3-month Story Innovation Programme, experimenting with stories and technology with a whole bunch of interesting people.

November 2013: The IFComp results were in, and I wrote a two-part analysis of Moquette – part 1 and part 2. I also wrote a three-part series of blog posts looking back at 15 years of Quest – part 1, part 2, part 3. Meanwhile, as part of the Story Innovation Programme, I started work on an experimental interactive fiction project as part of a brief we had been given by book publisher 4th Estate, to come up with something to promote the forthcoming “Annihilation” by Jeff VanderMeer.

December 2013: After failing to get funding to continue with Quest and textadventures.co.uk full-time, it was time to start thinking about moving on. I didn’t let the knock-back stop me from released Quest 5.5 Beta though. The Story Innovation Programme came to an end, and we demonstrated our prototype to 4th Estate, who liked it enough to want to see it turned into an actual thing.

January 2014: Mostly job-hunting, really.

February 2014: After finally getting the go-ahead from 4th Estate, I spent most of the month working with Caroline Moran, Simon Mercer, Martha Henson and Sam Howey-Nunn to build our interactive experience Join The Southern Reach, which launched at the end of the month.

March: Released Quest 5.5 and started my new job.

Good, but not good enough

I think there are a lot of positive aspects to what’s happened over the last year, but ultimately none of the major projects were as successful as I’d hoped.

  • ActiveLit, the site I set up for schools using Quest in the classroom, has got off to a fairly slow start. It is getting signups, and there are other groups (presumably schools) which I can detect using the main site, but it seems like the energy has waned somehow – I used to see blog posts and tweets from teachers getting excited about the potential for text games in the classroom, but I don’t see this very often now. I haven’t been invited to an educational conference or asked to run a workshop for a while now either.
  • Moquette did OK in the IFComp – not terribly, which was a relief for my first game, but it hardly set the world alight. I still judge this a successful project though – it was my favourite thing I worked on all year and certainly the most challenging. It taught me a lot about writing interactive fiction, and I got to see Quest in a whole new light. It’s good to remember the importance of “eating your own dogfood“.
  • Join The Southern Reach is pretty good, I think, but it has attracted very few users. I had big hopes for this as it’s something I’ve wanted to do for a long time – a project with a traditional publisher. I got to focus on the coding, leaving other people to worry about the actual writing, the marketing, and so on. It got on to BoingBoing, yet it has had fewer players than Moquette. It shows that even if a project is backed by a publisher and an author with an existing fan base, that’s not enough.
  • I suppose “seeking money” was the other major project of the year. We came tantalisingly close with Emerge, but not close enough.

Where next?

What next for Quest and textadventures.co.uk, then? They are back to being spare-time projects, which is a relief in many ways as I no longer need to worry about how on earth I might make money from them – giving me a lot more freedom to just pursue the aspects I’m interested in.

textadventures.co.uk is growing, getting more visitors and receiving more submissions. Managing this is an interesting challenge. How should we highlight and encourage good games, how can we help people to post useful reviews and comments?

Quest itself seems less interesting to me. The textadventures.co.uk site is now bigger than Quest, as it now accepts submissions from all web-playable systems. And it feels to me like I don’t have much more to contribute to Quest itself - I’ve pretty much reached the end of my mental list of things I’d like to do with it. Significantly, in writing Moquette I came to the realisation that Quest isn’t actually working for me as an author. It’s too big and complicated, it tries to do too much, and the HTML/JavaScript aspects of it are not as flexible as I’d hoped. (I had to do a lot of hacking around to make Moquette, which is largely why the 5.5 release of Quest exists).

It was with this in mind that I started work on Squiffy, which is pretty much the system that would have needed to exist for me to have been able to write Moquette as simply as possible. I haven’t really announced it much yet, and there’s still some way to go before it’s really usable.

I will continue to accept any pull requests that are sent my way for Quest, but I can’t see myself doing anything too major on it in the future.

The wider world of interactive fiction continues to grow and change. Inkle seem to be doing very well, people are still making stuff in Twine, the IFComp is changing, there are new meetups like the Oxford and London Interactive Fiction Group. This is all very encouraging, but maybe over the last year I’m just not seeing the acceleration of change that I was expecting. I used to be convinced that interactive fiction could grow to become much more mainstream than it currently is, but now I’m not so sure at all.

So it feels like the right time for me to be putting interactive fiction projects back into the time-slot marked “hobbies”.


April 09, 2014

Post Position

Microcodes and more Non-Object Art

by Nick Montfort at April 09, 2014 12:40 PM

In NOO ART, The Journal of Objectless Art, there’s a conversation between Páll Thayer and Daniel Temkin that was just posted. (Thayer recently collaborated with me to put up “Programs at an Exhibition,” the first software art show at the Boston Cyberarts Gallery.) The conversation covers Thayer’s code art, including his Perl Microcodes and antecedents, but also touches on free software, Windows, various esoteric languages by Temkin and others, painting and drawing, Christiane Paul’s CodeDOC project at the Whitney, “expert cultures,” and the future of code-based art.

It’s great reading, and objectless art might be just the thing to go with your object-oriented ontology.

April 08, 2014

Renga in Blue

Renga in Four Parts (Public release)

by Jason Dyer at April 08, 2014 06:00 AM

It’s done, or at least I’m calling it done, which is how all these things go, I suppose–

Download Renga in Four Parts here

You’ll need a Hugo interpreter: Hugo interpreters for various platforms. Alternately, you can use an interpreter which runs multiple formats, like Gargoyle.

What should I type? It’s up to you. You can type particular words that occur in the text, or words that are implied. You can be entirely experiential and use word-association. Keep in mind that what you type is much a part of the poem as the verse.

>kite
Hovering, unobtrusive
watching over
the grey-sanded beach

Enjoy!


The People's Republic of IF

April meetup

by zarf at April 08, 2014 04:00 AM

The Boston IF meetup for April will be Monday, April 14, 6:30 pm, MIT room 14N-233. (A week from now!)

April 07, 2014

IFComp News

New spring fashions at ifcomp.org

April 07, 2014 07:16 PM

We’ve got a ways to go before the IFComp’s summertime kickoff, but the website at ifcomp.org has a whole new look for spring this year.

Its front page summarizes and links to many new features under its “What’s here now?” heading. If we may expand a bit on these here:

  • The new Results Page is the website’s most significant new feature. It lets you browse IFComp entries and winners from 1995 through 2013, displaying each game’s cover art and text-blurb (when available), and linking to each game’s page on the iFDB, making it much easier to play, download, or learn more about that game.
  • The Rules have been revisited, revised, and in some cases rewritten. As that page itself points out, two rules in particular have seen more significant modification — both towards the goal of making the IFComp more open to types of entries that have been blocked in the past. We’ll examine these changes further in future blog posts.
  • The new History page expands on the text of the previous website’s version, summarizing the growth and changes that both the IF community and the larger independent-game-development movement have seen since the turn of the century — and how the IFComp has remained relevant through all this change.
  • An all-new Guidelines for Authors page distills two decades of observational wisdom from the IF community into a short list of suggestions to help make sure that one’s IFComp entry is as strong as it can be.
  • The inevitable "What is IF?" article reflects the last few years’ expansions of the IF tent, including a primer not just on the familiar parser-based IF, but also the choice-based and hypertext works whose presence has become increasingly prominent in the text-game landscape.

The website does not yet support logins by prospective 2014 entrants, or indeed anyone else; this is among the features we shall re-introduce over the next couple of months, per the schedule. Until then, we hope you’ll find the new features worth your time to explore, and we would most sincerely welcome your feedback.

Welcome to the IFComp blog.

April 07, 2014 07:16 PM

You appear to be here very early, before the redesigned comp site has had a chance to launch. That, or you’ve scrolled back all the way to the beginning of this blog. Either way, welcome.

We will use this blog to post news and links pertinent to the Interactive Fiction Competition. Like the competition itself, its post-traffic is likely to come in variably bursty annual patterns. We advise you to subscribe via RSS or Tumblr or whatnot.

You can also follow us on Twitter.

Emily Short

ULTRA BUSINESS TYCOON III (Porpentine)

by Emily Short at April 07, 2014 06:00 PM

Once at GDC I heard someone give a talk in which the speaker said, in essence, “Don’t show your audience anything that isn’t already a common trope in a movie or another video game of the same genre.” Which is amazing if you think about it. Invent nothing. Observe nothing. Bring no original truth to your piece. Do not teach your audience anything, and do not imbue your work with anything of yourself. This is probably the worst writing advice I have ever heard. If it has any even notional justification, it’s that it gives the audience what they want, assuming they don’t want to be challenged or think new thoughts (and the marketing department has concluded that they don’t).

The opposite failing is author-service work: stuff that’s so personal to the creator that it’s inaccessible or overwhelming. To tell someone your secrets can be an intensely manipulative act. Certain emotions may be required in exchange: pity, surprise, a suitable horror. This isn’t always a bad thing, but I brace myself when I come across a piece that seems primarily designed to make me feel something about the author, or to exorcise the author’s distress.

But it’s not as though the mean is an easy space to occupy. It demands both craft and heart, and the discipline to sit with something you feel deeply and keep working on it over and over until it is also comprehensible and valuable to someone else.

ULTRA BUSINESS TYCOON III both describes and exemplifies how art drifts back and forth in that huge space between creator and audience, occupying different positions, carrying different meanings. It shows how art can become a vessel for an intimacy that hasn’t otherwise been earned.

The following discussion contains spoilers, so be warned.

It begins as a Twine rendition of the experience of playing an old shareware tycoon game, which distills many hours of repetitive and unfair gameplay into raw experience. Some of the puzzles are still there, but the Twine refers to areas and events presumably present in the imagined graphical game that we never have an opportunity to experience.

In this regard it is a little reminiscent both of Endless, Nameless and of The King of Bees in Fantasy Land: all three present a kind of nostalgic interface to an in-game world that is obviously limited and broken, but also mysterious and alluring. All three capture that sense that everything in the game world is made for a purpose, no matter how odd it might seem when you first encounter it.

ULTRA BUSINESS TYCOON III is the most satirically exaggerated of the lot. It postulates a game world in which money is score and making a million dollars is winning. Capitalist ideas are embraced and worshipped, and the game itself is unwinnable unless you have at least notionally spent money on it. One of the missions in the game involves attempting to destroy “PorpCo”, an utterly unsubtle attack on the persona of Porpentine herself. The tycoon game is a reification and exaggeration of a system that Porpentine has written against several times.

And yet our experience with the game, as mediated by the Twine reminiscence of it, is an experience of the kind of addictive pleasure these old pieces often produced. The Twine makes explicit the option to go places that the internal game notionally doesn’t want you to go — to take a coracle out to sea and brush against the boundaries of the game world, to try to see what lies beyond the edge of the screen.

ULTRA BUSINESS TYCOON III also does something curious with the old triangle of identities: it starts with one apparent configuration of narrator and protagonist and ends with a completely different one. At the beginning, the Twine game asks for your name and gender, and feeds these into the personality created for you inside the tycoon game. So it’s easy to start out with the assumption that there is no protagonist beyond one’s literal self, that one is playing the tycoon game as oneself. Gradually, however, thoughts in italics begin to filter in:

You can only see the naked feet of this statue. The rest is offscreen. You jump up and down but the screen doesn’t rise enough to show more than a few extra inches of leg (female leg?).

You feel weird doing this.

The protagonist is sketched in at first in relation to the game, and then through events that happen outside the game: a child intrigued but confused by hints of sexuality, a child who needs to walk away from the monitor sometimes to go to the bathroom, a child who lives in an abusive household and who spends all day every day in front of the computer in order to ignore what’s beyond the bedroom door. The passages in-game, initially satirical, are more and more about the unknowability of the game world, the way there are places that the player can never reach and explanations she can never learn. It makes the tycoon game an object of beauty and surprise to the protagonist.

Then we reach a point where our will and the protagonist’s will peel apart entirely. The child’s older sister comes to the door and wants to talk. She hints, heavily, that she is about to leave home permanently and that she wants a little farewell time with the protagonist, but there are no options that will allow us to say yes. The trope of helplessness and limited choices is common in Twine games and is often used to express how few possibilities are open to protagonists at the mercy of a hostile system, but here we’re bound instead by the protagonist’s focused obsession with the game world.

The player can win the game — though the win screen turns out to be an utterly mundane experience compared with the blur of psychedelic strangeness that’s come before — but the sister is lost. The game was an escapist comfort that made the protagonist’s life livable, and then it became a distraction that stood in the way of personal connection.

Then the epilogue. It is in Porpentine’s own voice, but it is also about the story we have just played: a message from the sibling who left to the one who stayed behind, and a message from her actual younger sister to her. Though brief, this passage is powerful and startling. It acts as a seal of authenticity on what’s come before — as though to say, “yes, that was real if fictionalized; I lived it.” It is also effective in a way that that same passage of text would not have been if it had been posted as, say, a stand-alone blog post.

ULTRA BUSINESS TYCOON III charts the journey from market-driven player pandering to the intensely personal freeware form, starting as (an emulation of) one and ending as the other. The protagonist begins as You the Player, and then becomes A Fictional Character, and ends as Porpentine herself (or perhaps at the same time Porpentine’s little sister).


Post Position

Those Persistent Mainframes

by Nick Montfort at April 07, 2014 04:11 PM

Mickey Rooney is no longer with us, but the mainframe computer is. The Register writes up the 50th anniversary of IBM’s System 360, finishing by describing the current zEnterprise line of IBM mainframes. The line was updated just last year.

If this anniversary encourages you to hit the books about the System 360, I suggest IBM’s 360 and Early 370 Systems by Emerson W. Pugh, Lyle R. Johnson and John H. Palmer.

The XYZZY Awards

XYZZY Awards 2013 Results

by Sam Kabo Ashwell at April 07, 2014 03:01 AM

The Awards are over for this year, and here are the winners!

(And if you missed the ceremony, a transcript is available.)

Best Game: Coloratura (Lynnea Glasser)

Best Writing: their angelical understanding (Porpentine)

Best Story: Solarium (Alan DeNiro)

Best Setting: Robin & Orchid (Ryan Veeder and Emily Boegheim)

Best Puzzles: Coloratura (Lynnea Glasser)

Best NPCs: Ollie Ollie Oxen Free (Carolyn VanEseltine)

Best Individual Puzzle: creating the meat monster in Coloratura (Lynnea Glasser)

Best Individual NPC: Captain Verdeterre in Captain Verdeterre’s Plunder (Ryan Veeder)

Best Individual PC: The Aqueosity in Coloratura (Lynnea Glasser)

Best Implementation: Trapped in Time (Simon Christiansen)

Best Use of Innovation: 18 Cadence (Aaron A. Reed)

Best Technological Development: Twine 1.4

Best Supplemental Materials: Multimedia – Dominique Pamplemousse (Deirdra Kiai)

April 06, 2014

Post Position

Lance Olsen in Purple Blurb, Mon 5:30pm

by Nick Montfort at April 06, 2014 04:36 PM

“Lance Olsen is at the center of every discussion I have about the contemporary landscape of innovative and experimental writing.”

-Bookslut

Lance Olsen

Lance Olsen

April 7, 5:30pm

MIT’s Room 14E-310

Experimental writing & video

Including a reading from his recent book [[ there. ]] and video from his Theories of Forgetting project.

Lance Olsen is author of more than 20 books of and about innovative writing, including two appearing this spring: the novel based on Robert Smithson’s earthwork the Spiral Jetty, Theories of Forgetting (accompanied by a short experimental film made by one of its characters), and [[ there. ]], a trash-diary meditation on the confluence of travel, curiosity, and experimental writing practices. His short stories, essays, and reviews have appeared in hundreds of journals and anthologies. A Guggenheim, Berlin Prize, N.E.A. Fellowship, and Pushcart Prize recipient, as well as a Fulbright Scholar, he teaches experimental theory and practice at the University of Utah.

Read the Bookslut interview about Lance Olsen’s [[ there. ]].

More on the Purple Blurb series.

Purple Blurb takes place on MIT’s main campus in Building 14, the same building that is the home of the Hayden Library. 14E-310 in in the East Wing, third floor, across the courtyard from the library entrance (do not enter the library to get to 14E-310).

Purple Blurb is free and open to the public, no reservation required.

April 05, 2014

adv3Lite

Adv3Lite Version 1.1 Now Available

April 05, 2014 02:01 PM

A new release of adv3Lite (Version 1.1) is now available for download from https://dl.dropboxusercontent.com/u/58348218/adv3Lite/adv3Lite11.zip.

While there are no major new features, there are a number of bug-fixes and minor enhancements/additions to existing features. There is also a new extension for dynamic regions (i.e. Regions that can shrink and grow during the course of play). For a full list of changes, please refer to the Change Log.

On a vaguely related note, I presented an overview of adv3Lite a week ago to the Oxford Tools Meetup held at Harris Manchester College. At the same meeting fellow Oxonian Graham Nelson presented changes to Inform 7 due out in the new release at the end of this month. For an account of both presentations see Emily Short's blog.

April 03, 2014

The Digital Antiquarian

Down From the Top

by Jimmy Maher at April 03, 2014 04:00 PM

Infocom's display at the 1985 Winter CES.

Infocom’s display at the 1985 Winter CES.

Infocom entered 1985 filled with ebullient optimism. They had just released their fastest-selling game ever, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy; hosted two splashy Manhattan press conferences, just like the big boys, the first to announce Hitchhiker’s and the second to announce their debut business product, the Cornerstone database; signed a lease to leave the cramped environs of their offices on Wheeler Street and take over an entire floor of a modern, stylish office complex on CambridgePark Drive that had an atrium for God’s sake. That January’s Consumer Electronics Show saw Infocom put out the most lavish (and expensive) trade-show effort they would ever tackle, including a big show-floor display for the games as well as the soon-to-be-released Cornerstone and a memorable murder-mystery party with a cast of thousands to promote their latest game, Dave Lebling’s Suspect.

It was a heady time indeed. Infocom, who had been successful at everything they’d attempted thus far, were going to continue to pioneer a whole new form of interactive literature at the same time that they became the next Lotus-style sensation in business software. They were a smart bunch of people, and every decision they’d made so far had proved to be the correct one. Why should that change now?

Well, it was about to change in a hurry. By year’s end Infocom would be a shell of the company it had been less than twelve months before, in financial free fall and willing to give up all of their higher hopes of January in return for simple survival. It was, to say the least, a humbling experience, as suddenly this bunch who had never known failure seemed to experience little but. To understand that crazy year, understand how Infocom got from here to there, we have to step back again to 1984. Having already told the story of Infocom the Interactive-Fiction Pioneer in 1984, it’s time to tell the shadow history of Infocom the Would-Be Business-Software Company.

Brian Berkowitz shows off his baby at Winter CES.

Brian Berkowitz shows off his baby at Winter CES.

I’ve described already in an earlier article how Cornerstone — known until quite late in the game as the InfoBase — was first proposed by Brian Berkowitz and Richard Ilson, a pair of programmers the Imps knew well from MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab, when Infocom was enjoying the first rush of popular success that followed the Zork games and Deadline. I also told how the InfoBase graduated from research project to major strategic initiative during 1983. In January of 1984 Al Vezza took the title of CEO from Joel Berez, and started planning how to spend the $2 million loan he had just secured from the Bank of Boston to make the InfoBase, still just a bunch of ideas and code and prototypes, a real commercial product.

Vezza was determined to get only the best for his pet project. In March, he hired as head of Business Products John Brackett, yet another MIT alum who had already spent more than twenty years working in the computer industry. Brackett had a technical and, if you like, a philosophical background that seemed perfect for Infocom. His previous company SofTech had been, along with Apple, a licensee of the University of California San Diego’s Pascal-driven P-Machine, inspiration for Infocom’s own Z-Machine. SofTech and Bracket had done good business for several years selling and supporting the P-Machine to application developers, until the arrival of the IBM PC established MS-DOS as the standard for business computing and made cross-platform portability, at least for the time being, less of a priority there.

The InfoBase itself was being built using an expanded version of Infocom’s core Z-Machine technology. Like the game developers, InfoBase developers did their coding and initial testing on the company’s big DECSystem-20 minicomputer. Only occasionally would the code be moved to microcomputers for testing on the new interpreters that were also being developed. When it became clear that the DEC was getting overtaxed by so many users, Vezza signed a lease to bring in a complete new DECSystem-20 in May for the exclusive use of Business Products, a commitment of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Meanwhile he and Brackett kept hiring; soon Business Products people outnumbered Consumer Products (i.e., games) people, and the inevitable resentments started to fester in earnest.

The games people — even those who actively opposed or just weren’t much interested in the InfoBase itself — had few or no problems with the technical people who worked in Business Products. Those folks were largely in the mold of Berkowitz and Ilson, a couple of MIT hackers with much the same values and working habits as the Imps themselves; if things had gone slightly differently, people like Marc Blank and Dave Lebling must have realized, they could have been writing the database while the database people wrote the games. Both projects were, at their core, just Interesting Coding Projects, every hacker’s lifeblood. No, it was the suits who started to arrive en masse as the InfoBase got closer to release who really stirred up ire. Included in this group were the office managers and the HR directors and the financial planners and no fewer than fourteen well-scrubbed business-marketing experts. “They weren’t even on the same planet,” said Tim Anderson later. “These guys were showing up at work at nine in suits.” Steve Meretkzy became a ringleader of an ongoing subversion of Vezza and Brackett’s attempts to transform Infocom into just another buttoned-down corporation like their role models and everyone’s favorite business-software success story, Lotus. “Memo hacking” was one of his favorite strategies.

A certain HR manager, hired from DEC, arrived with a binder full of “memo templates” to be used for all intra-office communication. She loved memos so much that people were soon just calling her “Memos.” When she sent out a memo instructing everyone on the proper care of their office plants, Mereztky decided enough was enough. He and a few co-conspirators surreptitiously replaced the original memo in everyone’s in-box with another, which said that the company was now offering a service to take care of employees’ house plants; it seemed there was concern in management that, what with the long hours everyone was working, said plants were being neglected. An included multi-page questionnaire asked for the location of each plant as well as such essential information as the song it preferred to have sung to it while being watered. Some people took it seriously, mostly — and much to the Meretzky and company’s delight — the poor humorless souls in business marketing and the other more buttoned-down wings of the company. HR rushed around to put a cover sheet on each memo saying it was not to be taken seriously, whereupon Meretzky and company added a cover sheet of their own saying the cover sheet saying not to take the memo seriously should itself not be taken seriously. “Immense confusion” followed.

Not learning her lesson, Memos was soon distributing a “Flowers and Fruit Basket Request Form,” for sending out condolences to employees’ families who were experiencing a bereavement. Meretzky did her one better, creating a “Flowers and Fruit Basket Request Form Form”; the idea would later show up in Stationfall as the “Request for Stellar Patrol Issue Regulations Black Form Binders Request Form Form.”

Al Vezza

Al Vezza

While Memos took her lumps, Public Enemy #1 for much of Consumer Products was Al Vezza himself. The humor at Infocom was always irreverent but almost never cruel or crude. That related to Vezza, however, was often an exception; some of the more popular Vezza epithets, which we shan’t get into here, were both. One former employee, normally a model of good temper and equanimity, still says of Vezza today, “There are very few people in my life that I’ve really disliked — and Al is definitely one of them.”

I find with most who engender such negativity that, while it’s hard to argue that it’s not their fault, there’s also something a bit sad about the person in question. Vezza’s professional character was defined by a number of toxic combinations. He was a thoroughly conventional thinker, of the sort who sourced all of his wisdom from business self-help books, yet nevertheless believed himself to be a bold innovator. He was arrogant and dismissive of opinions of others, particularly of those younger than him, yet also deeply insecure. At risk of playing pop psychologist, I’ll posit that some of his attitudes may stem from his experience at the MIT AI Lab. Despite having no advanced degree himself, he had parlayed a role as essentially J.C.R. Licklider’s administrative assistant into one of considerable power and influence, even serving as an undergraduate thesis adviser. Perhaps he learned there that he had to in some sense fake surety and authority despite continuing to feel intimidated by his often brilliant charges. His insecurity manifested itself in a tendency to micromanage that drove everyone around him crazy, while the lack of faith in his people that it implied destroyed morale and created storms of negative feelings. For Vezza the business was all too personal. Infocom was “his” company, first proposed and organized by him, his way to make his mark on the world. He seemed to regard the games and the company’s current reputation, which had been built with little input from him, as a sort of hijacking of something rightfully his. Now he was determined to reclaim his original vision for Infocom.

He also seemed determined that his means to that end should be the original company he had founded in 1979, and under its original name. The Board had held serious debates already during the spring and summer of 1983 about whether it made sense to create both games and business applications under the Infocom banner. In one of his rare Board meeting appearances, even Licklider offered support for making the budding Business Products division a company unto itself. That way, “employees might feel they’re contributing to their own company rather than engaged in rivalry with the other division.” Marc Blank was still more ominously prescient: he was “afraid that [Business Products] division might sink the company unless it’s made more separate.” Vezza, however, was resistant, and the Board seemed reluctant to to directly challenge him on this as on many other subjects.

Immediately after Vezza’s ascendancy, Mike Dornbrook paid him a visit in his office to try again:

“Al, I really think it’s a mistake to have this product and the games business all under one umbrella,” I said. “I would honestly not put that out as Infocom. I think Infocom now means adventure games, and it will confuse the people who are buying adventure games as to what we’re all about. And I think it will actually be a detriment to any business product, that it’s coming from a games company.

“You can have the same shareholders. Just divide the company into two entities. We can share the building. We can share computers. But have two separate legal entities, and raise money for the business entity separately, and keep the [Business Products] books separately from the gaming business.”

His response to me was, “You don’t understand finance.” So I walked out of the room thinking, oh well, I tried.

Weeks later, with Brackett installed as head of Business Products and a whole associated bureaucracy falling into place, it would be too late to change course even had Vezza had a change of heart. The decision to do the InfoBase under the Infocom banner would prove to be perhaps the worst of many unwise choices made during Vezza’s reign. Dave Lebling describes the problems that resulted:

When they [Vezza and the Board] went out to look for capital to build [the InfoBase] into a real product or to continue to build the games into an even “realer” product or to move them forward, what they found was that investors who were interested in the business product would look at the other part of the ledger sheet and say, “Why are these games here? What is this about? Are you guys insane?” And the people who were looking at the games part would say, “Oh, wow! Cool ideas! You guys got a great business going here. But what is this stupid business thing?”

In retrospect, with that wonderful 20/20 hindsight we all have, it would have been better to have two companies.

Due to the issues Lebling describes as well as a general closing of the financial spigots in a maturing industry, Vezza and company found venture capitalists much less positively disposed to give Infocom their money than they had anticipated. In the end they would manage to secure only $500,000 in free-and-clear capital, from the state-run Massachusetts Capital Resource Company. Despite the Board’s having given lip service to maintaining at least a modicum of a financial firewall between Business Products and Consumer Products, the former ended up sucking up virtually all of the profits of the latter, leaving precious little funding for a whole range of projects that Blank and Berez felt were essential for Infocom to maintain their position as leading lights in games. Projects to expand the size and complexity of the stories they could tell; to dramatically improve their already industry-leading parser; to build a cross-platform graphics system that would let them add pictures to their games; to experiment with multi-player networked interactive fiction; to expand into entirely new genres beyond adventure gaming — all were starved for funds, forced to be dramatically scaled back or cancelled entirely. Seeing this essential work go so neglected, Berez and particularly Blank argued with the other, business-centric members of the Board with less and less civility, all but paralyzing the company as a whole at times. The newest Board member, Ray Stata, threw his hands up in despair at the June 6, 1984 meeting: “I won’t be polite anymore — company management is terrible!”

Infocom is Hiring

When there was no more money lying around for them in Consumer Products, the ever-expanding Business Products division — full-time employees at Infocom would peak at 110 by June of 1985, up from 20 two years before — began financing itself through a series of loans, putting the whole company under a cloud of increasingly dangerous financial obligations and further raising the ire of Berez and Blank.

Cornerstone

The InfoBase, now called Cornerstone, shipped at last on January 31, 1985, at a suggested retail price of $500. For all the culture clashes it had engendered, there was more than a little of the Infocom game DNA in its presentation and packaging as well as the DEC-authored, Z-Machine-derived software on the disks themselves. Infocom, with the aid of the invaluable folks at G/R Copy, was really good at putting their best foot forward in presenting their products, and Cornerstone was no exception; just the name alone was a great, classy choice. The packaging was an elaborate affair, a glossy slipcover over a solid plastic box that popped open accordion-style to reveal no fewer than three spiral-bound, 200-plus-page manuals. There was even a feelie, a “Don’t Panic!” button that varied only in color from the one found in the Hitchhiker’s package.

Having never seriously used a relational database in my life, I’m eminently unqualified to offer a through review of Cornerstone from personal experience here. However, I feel confident in saying based on my dabblings and the reviews it received in the contemporary press that it’s a somewhat peculiar mixture of the innovative and the misguided, sometimes in combination with one another. Cornerstone’s mantra, claim to fame, and primary selling point was to be “the database system for the non-programmer.” This rhetoric was quite clearly directed against the leading PC database of the era, Ashton-Tate’s dBase III, an application so quirky and fiddly that it can come off almost like a satire of user-hostile DOS-era application software. Doing virtually anything with dBase III required learning its esoteric, proprietary command language, a process as complicated as that of learning to program in any other language. While it had been in development just a bit too long to embrace the new paradigm of the full-fledged mouse-driven GUI, Cornerstone nevertheless strained to be a friendlier experience than dBase III, with features like automatic command completion, extensive in-program help, menus, even a system of what would later come to be called “Wizards” to walk users through common tasks via prompts and questions.

A certain sort of user fell in love with Cornerstone, in some cases continuing to use it for years after it went out of print. Marc Blank has told of going to his dentist well after his tenure with Infocom finished and realizing that the receptionist was using it to take down his billing information. Andrew Kaluzniacki, who worked in Infocom’s Micro Group during Cornerstone’s development, noticed four years after leaving that his aunt, a veterinarian, was running it in her office. She said “she loved it. It was easy and she was able to do the database work herself without ever really knowing she was using a database.”

Yet for other sorts of users Cornerstone had at least two huge failings. The first was a byproduct of Infocom’s decision to make it an interpreted product, running through a Z-Machine-like interpreter, rather than writing native code. It was a decision that had made a certain amount of sense back when the project had first been conceived in 1982, when the business-computing market was still comparatively wide open, a mixture of CP/M machines and the new IBM PCs and even still a fair number of Apple IIs, Radio Shack TRS-80s, and Commodore PETs. By 1985, however, that had all changed; much as Apple might have liked to see the young Macintosh as a viable challenger, the business market was owned by IBM PCs and clones running MS-DOS. Anyone serious enough about a database to be willing to spend $500 on it was virtually guaranteed to have this setup. On these machines, especially the many lower-end models still using the original 4.77 MHz 8088 CPU, Cornerstone ran noticeably slowly in comparison to the competition. Sometimes more than noticeably: a PC Magazine reviewer simply gave up trying to run their longest benchmark test when their next-to-longest took 3.5 hours to complete. John Brackett had left his previous company SofTech precisely because demand for their own portable P-Machine system had flagged due to the IBM PC’s adoption as the universal business standard. That no one at Infocom, including Brackett himself, made the obvious connection here almost beggars belief. The DECSystem-20 and virtual machines seemed to be so ingrained in Infocom’s culture that no one could imagine an alternative. In the end Cornerstone was never released for a single platform other than the IBM PC. All that money spent on the DEC, all that programming time and energy sunk into designing the virtual machine and writing its interpreters, all that speed lost in the final product — all were for naught. Cornerstone wasn’t poorly designed on a technical level; most everyone involved with Infocom agrees that it was technically rather brilliant. But much of that brilliance was unnecessary, costly brilliance.

Cornerstone’s other crippling flaw was, ironically given its tagline, its lack of programmability. Ease of use is a wonderful thing, but there comes a time when you need to just write a script to get something more complicated done. In Cornerstone, this was impossible. Just months after its release a company called Ansa Software debuted Paradox, a database which for $700 offered similar ease of use along with a built-in programming language for more complicated tasks and the speed benefits of native execution. If there was a final nail in Cornerstone’s coffin, this was it.

Given Cornerstone’s strengths and weaknesses, Infocom might have done much better to position it as a consumer-level application, sort of a “database for the rest of us” for lighter users like the aforementioned dentist and veterinarian, and even for home users who just wanted to keep track of a stamp or record collection. With the home market still divided among at least half a dozen commercially viable but incompatible platforms, its cross-platform portability could have been a real asset here. Infocom did make a last desperate gesture in that direction long after it became clear that Cornerstone would not be challenging dBase III, reducing the price to $100 and promoting it in The New Zork Times as a way for writers to keep track of their sources, for a church to keep track of its congregation (pull out all single members aged between 21 and 30 and invite them to a Young Singles dance!), for a softball league to keep track of its schedule and teams and players — or, yes, for a stamp collector to keep tabs on her collection. As Infocom at last admitted, “Many of the people who would most benefit from Cornerstone just couldn’t afford it [at the original price].” But by then Vezza and the rest of Business Products was gone, Infocom just trying to get something — anything — out of a failed product. To the list of Vezza’s mistakes must be added his lack of flexibility and his determination to compete only head-to-head with the big boys rather than seeking out the cracks and seams in the market.

Another one for the list: Infocom signed the lease for their new digs on CambridgePark Drive, which carried with them a rent of more than $600,000 per year, six weeks before releasing Cornerstone, and months before they’d have any clear idea of how much of a success it would be. As the Smiths once sang, “You Just Haven’t Earned It Yet, Baby.” They were simply assuming it would be a hit, and, what with the rent and all the debt, essentially betting the company on that assumption.

125 CambridgePark Drive today. Infocom occupied much of the fifth floor.

125 CambridgePark Drive today. Infocom occupied much of the fifth floor.

For most of the old timers, those days in March of 1985 when Infocom packed up everything inside the Wheeler Street offices and moved it all to CambridgePark Drive were sad ones indeed, in their way even sadder than the final closure of Infocom more than four years later (the latter came almost as a relief for many). Wheeler Street had been a “funky” place that felt right for a small creative company, full of interesting little nooks and crannies and a sense of “artisanship.” It even had a pool, where many office parties ended up. The adjectives the former employees use to describe CambridgePark, however, are all of a very different kind. “Soulless” comes up a lot; “buttoned-down”; “light, but not in a good way”; “colorless”; “not as fun.” Infocom lost something with the move that they would never regain.

Infocom’s expansion and contraction happened so quickly that the two actually intersect with one another. Already within weeks of the move to CambridgePark disappointing sales forced the adoption of what Consumer Products came to cheekily label the “InfoAusterity Program,” which first meant only the loss of such perks as the $400-per-week office-party budget. If those of you working in offices today aren’t exactly bubbling over with sympathy for such a loss, never fear; it would get much, much worse.

Infocom was still hiring as the InfoAusterity measures were put in place, bringing in a last few programmers to work on Cornerstone interpreters for other platforms. Mike Morton, the last person hired by Infocom — ever — started in June of 1985 as a 68000-programming expert, tasked with bringing Cornerstone to platforms like the Macintosh and the new Atari ST. The day before his first day of work, he got a phone call from HR: “We’re all taking a 15% pay deferral for the next six months. Do you still want to start tomorrow?” Morton came in anyway, to work for a bare few months before the 68000 project and all other Cornerstone-related work was cancelled amidst three waves of layoffs that wracked the company through the fall. (An Atari ST version of Cornerstone was apparently largely completed, and was sneaked out of the company by persons unknown to wind up on pirate BBSs. However, it was never officially sold and doesn’t appear to have survived to the present day.) In three months Infocom’s employee rolls went from 110 to 40. To all the other objections about CambridgePark was now added another: the place was suddenly, depressingly half empty. It would remain that way — in fact, increasingly emptier — for the rest of Infocom’s life.

Softball, summer 1985. In six months six of the eight people here would be gone.

Softball, summer 1985. In six months six of the eight people here would be gone.

As most anyone who’s been through the experience can attest, layoffs are an incredibly painful thing for a company — especially a small, closely knit company like Infocom — to go through. Yes, it was mostly Cornerstone people rather than games people who were let go, but even some of them, like the original parents of Cornerstone Berkowitz and Ilson themselves, had been around for literally years and were liked by everyone. As Marc Blank puts it, there’s “nothing worse, nothing more horrible” inside a company than a layoff. Andrew Kaluzniacki:

At the point you start talking about who isn’t going to make it, who do we really need to succeed… that takes a lot of the fun out of it. There wasn’t anybody at Infocom that I didn’t want to have around. These were all great people.

John Brackett made his exit during this period when the whole Business Products division was essentially shuttered. But the most jarring loss of all was that of Marc Blank, the man who had arguably done more than anyone else to make Infocom what it was by implementing the company’s legendary parser, co-designing Zork and the Z-Machine, writing the landmark Deadline that changed all the rules about what a text adventure could do and be, and, articulate and personable fellow that he was, serving as Infocom’s de facto spokesman and face to the world.

Blank wasn’t actually the first of the old guard to leave. Early in the year Mike Berlyn had quit. It seems he desperately wanted to work with his wife Muffy as his official co-designer, but was prevented from doing so by Infocom’s bar against employing spouses or family. When management refused to bend the rules, he and Muffy decided to start their own design studio, Brainwave Creations. In a sense it was perfect timing; Berlyn got to experience most of the happiest days at Infocom with none of the later, more painful ones. From the standpoint of Infocom’s fans, it may also have been a good move. Berlyn, who could be difficult and stubborn whilst still remaining well-liked, had approached the final two of his three interactive-fiction projects at Infocom with less than complete enthusiasm, and the results had sometimes shown it. His departure opened up opportunities for others who were more excited about the work, while giving Berlyn the chance to do interesting work in his own right with other approaches to adventure games.

Blank’s departure, however, carried with it no hidden blessings for anyone other than Blank himself. As things had gone increasingly sideways over the course of 1985, he had made himself more and more of a gadfly at the Board meetings.

I’d been very unhappy there for a while. I was on the Board of Directors. At the meetings the Business Products people would say, “Well, things are turning around, but we’re still spending a lot of money.”

I would say, “When does it hit a wall? When do we shut it down so that we don’t lose the rest of the company?” No one wanted to discuss it. We needed money for games; we couldn’t be cutting things this close. The response was always to ignore the problem. I got more and more frustrated, saying, “What’s the plan? We’re spending this much money, we’re down to this much cash…” No one really wanted to deal with it.

So I started taking more time off. I started getting into flying more; I’d had a pilot’s license for years.

[My fiancée and I] decided we’d take a trip to Europe. I hadn’t had a real vacation in a while. We went to different places: Switzerland, Germany, Italy. We happened to be in Sardinia at this very nice resort when I got a call.

The caller said that there’d been a layoff, and all these people who’d worked for me had been laid off. And someone else was now VP of Product Development [Blank's official title at Infocom].

I said, “Okay… what’s my job now?”

“Well… you don’t have a job now.”

I said, “So you’re calling me on vacation to fire me?”

He said, “Well, yeah. It’s too bad, but, you know, things are bad…”

I said, “I’ll come right back!”

He said, “No, no… enjoy your vacation!”

In my experience, when a company is having a lot of trouble and going down people act in very different ways. Some people act very badly; some people do very well; some people try to fight; some people say, “Who cares? Move on!” There was all sorts of that. There were Business Products people who wanted to quit; talks of mutinies and various things. Nobody really knows what to say or do.

But, you know, my head was already out of there. I wasn’t being listened to at the Board level, so it was really frustrating being there. The Business Products people, the managers were… just incompetent. I don’t know what else to say. The business people knew nothing about business, and the marketing guy didn’t know anything about marketing. They were academics trying to run a business.

Realistically, they did me a favor. I didn’t really want to be there. I’ve seen this happen in other places. If you’re a founder of a company, it’s hard to quit. You’re giving up. Nobody wants to walk away from their own thing. What happens in a lot of cases is that people who are ready to go kind of telegraph it. Then they’re done a favor by being fired.

I’d arranged for it to happen. It was for the best under those circumstances.

As Cornerstone-focused as this article has so far been, it’s important at this point to explain that Infocom’s financial problems did not all arise from that failure. Infocom had sold 725,000 games worth $10 million in 1984. They judged that their game sales were likely to continue to steadily increase, especially with the unprecedented new exposure Hitchhiker’s was bringing them. They therefore budgeted for a 30% increase in game sales, to $13 million. For all the talk of Cornerstone as the company’s real future, for all the alleged rumblings in some quarters about giving games up entirely if it succeeded, they budgeted for first-year sales in Business Products of a (they thought) relatively modest $5 million.

Cornerstone missed that goal by more than $3 million. Still, for all the bad decisions and enormous waste it has justifiably come to represent, Cornerstone may have been a survivable lesson learned for Infocom but for one thing: their games sales also fell off dramatically in 1985. Infocom sold about 511,000 games that year, a decline of almost 30% rather than the expected rise.

The sales breakdown for the year makes interesting reading. It actually imparts a surprising lesson: it could have been even worse but for a few big titles. Zork I, while its sales finally began to decline relative to previous years, nevertheless sold over 63,000 copies, while Hitchhiker’s all but carried the rest of the catalog on its back with sales of 166,000. If 1985 looks ugly now, just imagine what it would have looked like had Infocom not managed that high-profile deal. Throw in Wishbringer, by far the most successful of Infocom’s three new works of interactive fiction for 1985, and you’ve accounted for half of the company’s sales right there. The other games from earlier years fell off a veritable cliff, to the extent that the classic, hugely influential Deadline barely broke four digits. This was an ominous sign for a company that had always been defined by strong catalog sales, by games that just sold and sold and sold. It was a sign that the sales base was being whittled down to dabbling stragglers who bought Zork and Hitchhiker’s and (to a lesser extent) the introductory-level Wishbringer alongside a hardcore of perhaps a few tens of thousands who already had the old games and so just bought the new. Infocom, in other words, was no longer growing its loyal customer base. This was in its way as dangerous to the company’s future as the whole Cornerstone fiasco.

The natural thing to do at this point is to ask why this was happening. Much can be explained by the general downturn with which everyone in the industry was struggling. Consumers seemed to be particularly losing interest in text-adventure games, if the performances of bookware lines like Telarium and the Synapse Electronic Novels are any guide. Infocom had seemed virtually immune to trends during previous years, but that was clearly no longer the case now. With graphics and sound getting better and better even on some platforms like the Commodore 64 that had been around quite a while, with new approaches and whole new genres appearing, the subtle pleasures of text were getting harder and harder to sell. It wasn’t as if no one at Infocom had been aware of these changes; Marc Blank in particular had battled desperately to get the Board to properly fund new initiatives that could keep the company competitive. Thus we come around again to Cornerstone, which we should recognize as being most significant not for the money it cost Infocom but for the money it prevented Infocom from using for other things (not that these two interpretations aren’t ultimately largely two sides of the same coin).

Infocom fell a good $7 million short of what they’d expected to earn in 1985 even in a worst-case scenario. By year’s end losses were projected to be in the neighborhood of $4 to $5 million, many times more than the company had made over the course of its entire lifetime. The Bank of Boston suddenly cut their line of credit, forcing some of the founders to mortgage their homes to keep the doors open. As the layoffs went on, Vezza and the Board were forced to start looking desperately for a buyer to save them.

It was a humiliating process. So full of hope and hubris just a year before, now they were forced to go hat-in-hand looking for a lifeline. Still nurturing the dream that Cornerstone could be turned around with a proper injection of capital, Vezza went to his heroes at Lotus, a company that had once been neighbors with Infocom inside the Wheeler Street office complex. They weren’t interested. He went to Simon & Schuster, whose CEO had wined and dined them in his penthouse suite just a year before and tendered an offer they’d kill to receive now. The bookware boom being dead and buried, he wasn’t interested anymore either. Infocom — what was left of it — spent the Christmas of 1985 once again thinking about what the next year would bring. Only now instead of visions of success and prosperity their heads were filled with futile-feeling scheming about how they might somehow survive to see another Christmas. Forget changing the world of literature or the world of business software; at this point, mere survival would feel like a dream come true.

As much of a downer as this article has inevitably been, I do want to conclude by noting that Infocom’s unique culture, this playground for smart, creative people, proved remarkably… well, if not impervious to all the pain and chaos, at least able to rise above it more often than not. No truer sign of that can we find than by looking at Infocom’s games of the year. While reduced — one odd board/computer game hybrid which I’ll also be covering aside — to just three games thanks to all the distractions, each of those three games is an interactive-fiction landmark in its own way. We’ll get into the much happier story of Infocom’s actual games of 1985 next time.

(My two golden geese for this article were my usual two for everything Infocom related: Jason Scott’s Get Lamp interviews and, particularly valuable this time out, Down From the Top of Its Game. Also useful, sometimes in a reading-between-the-lines sense, were contemporary issues of Infocom’s newsletter The New Zork Times.)


Comments

Classic Adventure Solution Archive

CASA Update - 20 new game entries, 21 new solutions, 11 new maps, 7 new hints, 6 new fixed games

by Gunness at April 03, 2014 10:51 AM

A long overdue news update - I've made a promise in the forum that I'd bring the IF Comp list up to speed. Now that it's been mentioned so prominently here, I guess there's no way around it!
As always, thanks to all who have submitted new stuff for us to add.

Contributors: Gunness, engineerWolf, Alex, jgerrie, Sylvester, Mousey, DannieGeeko, Dorothy, boldir, ASchultz, stonic, Dave_E, farique, rsa, Tinker, Rene van Hasselaar, terri

April 02, 2014

The Monk's Brew

Changelog 2014-03-31

by Rubes at April 02, 2014 08:00 PM

=========
CHANGELOG
=========

Week leading up to 2014-03-31:

- Completed porting orangeriverstudio.com to Joomla 2.5 and updating web site
- Began new web site to celebrate 20th anniversary of Missions of the Reliant
- Finiahed organizing prayers to implement for Acts 1 and 2
- Continued reviewing specifications for AFX spells to being implementation of prayers
- Finiahed new animation controls for Ignatius for second cutscene (NR)
- Began work on second cutscene (NR)

  [More...] Read the rest