Infocom: the Classic Text Adventure Games
Text Games Relied on Imagination
It probably comes as a shock to anyone under 30 that there used to be computer games that didn't have any graphics. At one time, computer displays were strictly text-based; the only images they could produce were ASCII art, composed through strategic placement of letters, numbers, and special characters. It was a whole different world then, and PC games had to make do with very limited resources.
The first Infocom title, Zork, was released in 1980, followed by several sequels and a host of other games in various genres: sci-fi, fantasy, detective, adventure and comedy. There were even two selections written by the author Douglas Adams: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (based on his novel of the same name) and Bureaucracy. These games were interactive stories (somewhat like "choose your own adventure" books), allowing you to navigate through the adventure using text commands, your wits and imagination.
Read on to learn more about these early games and find out how you can play one yourself.
I discovered Infocom games when I was a teenager, and I loved their melding of books and games: they were like books made better, because you could control the action. Unfortunately, I found them around the time when PC graphics were being introduced and text-based games were dying, being replaced by image-driven adventures. This fact made it a challenge for me to find Infocom titles; any trip to the mall had me poking through the game store hoping to find one I didn't own yet. I had all three of the Zork games, plus Trinity and Wishbringer, but I wanted more. I was dying for the Douglas Adams games and very curious about The Leather Goddesses of Phobos (although it had a mature rating -- and as a girl, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it -- still, I was curious).
I eventually found a boxed set called "The Lost Treasures of Infocom", which did include the Hitchhiker game, at least -- although I found that one frustrating and never did get to the end. (Knowledge of the book wasn't a lot of help except in the very early part of the game.) Still, the set had other games I enjoyed, including Moonmist, The Lurking Horror, and Beyond Zork. I was interested in the fantasy titles too -- Enchanter and Sorcerer -- but I can't recall ever getting very far with those two. I tended to get frustrated and give up if the games were too hard. (Come to think of it, I still do that.) But despite the titles that defeated me, I have fond memories of Infocom and of the many happy hours I spent navigating their worlds.
Text Gaming Today
Here's the beginning of Zork, the first of Infocom's text-based adventures. This is a screen shot from my PC, which is running Windows 7. The games will usually still work on today's computers and run in a small window that imitates the text-only screens of the past. (Warning: I'm not sure if the games work on 64-bit Windows; it tends to be less backwards-compatible.)
Download 3 Zork Games, Free From Infocom
Infocom made the original Zork adventures available as free downloads. (Both PC and Mac versions are available.) If you want to relive the fun of text games -- or if you just want to see what gaming was like before graphics -- go to this site and download the free games! There are three titles available: Zork I, Zork II, and Zork III. Zork I is the easiest, Zork II is intermediate level, and Zork III is expert level. Here's the link:
You can also buy a Zork game package from GOG.com; the download includes Zork I, Zork II, Zork III, Beyond Zork, Zork Zero, and Planetfall, along with PDF maps, manuals, and other items originally included with the games. (The package is priced at $5.99.)
Poll: favorite game
If you played Infocom games, which one was your favorite?
Hints and Tips
Are you stuck? Need some hints? As soon as I revisited Zork, I wondered if I'd gotten dumber over the years, because I immediately felt frustrated and stumped. But don't despair! Help is available.
Originally, "InvisiClues" booklets were available for the Infocom games -- you revealed hints and tips with a special pen as you wanted them. Luckily, there are now resources online that act the same way: you see the questions and click to reveal the answers.
Here are links to the full catalog of InvisiClues, which includes the Zork games, the Enchanter trilogy, Planetfall and Stationfall, Suspended, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Deadline, Suspect, Witness, and more.
© 2010 C A Chancellor