Tag Archives: Infocom

Zork 1: The Great Underground Empire

Zork: The Great Underground Empire DOS Front Cover

Publisher: Infocom
Developer: Infocom
Year: 1980
Platform: Everything

Yes, Zork was the most important computer game of the early 1980’s. Perhaps even more important than King’s QuestYou are standing in an open field, west of a white house, is quite possibly the most well-known line in gaming history. It laid the foundation for many wonderful things to come. And it was an incredibly impressive, engaging adventure when it was released. But other than nostalgia, it has little going for it after all these years.

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Wishbringer

Wishbringer Atari ST Front Cover

Publisher: Infocom
Developer: Infocom
Year: 1986
Platform: Everything

Touted as an adventure game for beginners by Infocom, and Wishbringer certainly fits the bill. I played this text adventure when I was fourteen and required no hints for the duration. But this romp is still enjoyable for people of all ages and abilities.

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The Lurking Horror

The Lurking Horror Atari ST Front Cover

Publisher: Infocom
Developer: Infocom
Year: 1987
Platform: Every computer ever and now smartphones

Review: One of Infocom’s most overrated titles, The Lurking Horror is essentially the company’s only foray into the horror genre. Unfortunately, it feels more like a Zorkian dungeon crawl then an atmospheric mystery. While there are some creepy parts to this college campus caper, it is mostly a disjointed puzzlefest with a smattering of Cthulhu mythos. But what really sent my annoyance through the stratosphere was a hunger daemon, illogical walking dead situations, and unrealistic inventory restrictions. Coupling that with NPCs that aren’t fleshed out and a rather abrupt and unsatisfying ending, I can’t really recommend this to those looking for a good fright. Next year, look out for a countdown from Death By Troggles for good horror games.

13: Bureaucracy

Publisher: Infocom
Developer: Infocom
Year: 1987
Platform: DOS; Amiga; Apple II; Atari ST; Commodore 128; Macintosh

Review: Normally, descriptions written by the company on their boxes are horribly exaggerated and sometimes not accurate. In this case, Infocom does a better job than I could.  Here’s the plot, in a nutshell.

Once upon a time, a man moved from one apartment in London to another. He dutifully notified everyone of his new address, including his bank; he went to the bank and filled out a change of address form himself. The man was very happy in his new apartment.

Then, one day, the man tried to use his credit card but couldn’t. He discovered that his bank had invalidated his credit card. Apparently, the bank had sent a new card to his old address.

For weeks, this man tried to get the bank to acknowledge his change of address form. He talked to many bank officials, and filled out new forms, and tried to get a new credit card issued, but nothing worked. The man had no credit, and the bank behaved like, well, a bank.

It’s a sad story, one that gets replayed every day for millions of people worldwide. Of course, sometimes it’s not a bank at fault: sometimes it’s the postal service, or an insurance company, or the telephone company, or an airline, or the Government. But all of us, at one time or another, feel persecuted by a bureaucracy.

You begin in your new house. As per the letter in your package, you will fly to Paris just as soon as you get some money to take you to the airport. That money should be in today’s mail, so you should be off soon… unless, of course, there’s been some problem with the mail.

Oh by the way: The man in our story about the bank was Douglas Adams, the principal author of this game. The bank did finally send him a letter, apologizing for the inconvenience – but they sent it to his old address.

What ensues is comic madness, and unless you are a very good puzzle-solver, it will lean towards madness. As your blood pressure rises while playing the game, so does the character’s.  Yes, there’s a blood pressure gauge at the top of the screen that goes up for every mistake you make. And yes, you can have a heart attack if it gets too high.

I did need a few hints to win this one, but even I was amazed at my persistence with some of the puzzles. The game’s tightly developed plot and brazen humour kept me away from the hint book several times. While there are a couple of instances where the game seems unfair, with one walking dead situation, you will be duly rewarded with the genius that was Douglas Adams.

Contemporary RatingMedium. The parser is great, but the game is so frustratingly difficult that unless you’re a lover of text games, you won’t have the patience.

Cruelty RatingCruel. Not as cruel as most Infocom games (or Douglas Adams’ Hitchhiker game), but cruel nonetheless.

For those who don’t know, all Infocom games came with “feelies,” sometimes for hints, sometimes for copyright protection, sometimes just for fun.  Below is the best one they ever had.  An application for a credit card, in triplicate.  However, the yellow and salmon colored sheets don’t exactly say the same things as do the top page.  Hilarious stuff.  I miss Douglas Adams so much.

16: A Mind Forever Voyaging

Publisher: Infocom
Developer: Infocom
Year: 1985
Platform: DOS; Macintosh; Amiga

Review: Lauded by critics and ignored by the public, A Mind Forever Voyaging is more of a story than a game, being essentially puzzleless. But man, what a story. Taking place in the year 2031, America is doing poorly and some crackpot scientists have developed a sentient computer named PRISM. It’s purpose: to enter a simulation of the future to see if popular conservative Senator Richard Ryder’s plan for renewed national purpose will lead to prosperity. You are PRISM.

If you can set aside the ridiculous notion that a simulation of the future would ever come close to being accurate (hell, we can’t even predict next weekend’s weather with certainty), then you should enjoy this entertaining look into Steve Meretzky’s political vision of a possible future. While your goal is to record evidence of what’s going down in the years to come (from banal activities like eating a meal in a restaurant to more charged activities like meeting with government officials), the real purpose and joy of the game is to simply explore. The town of Rockvil, South Dakota is vividly imagined and detailed, and one could complete the game without visiting 90% of what the town has to offer. And while the story’s progression is fairly predictable, it consistently remains a poignant and touching story of self-exploration throughout and boasts one of the best endings out there.

My only criticisms are that things can be a little repetitive at times and the NPCs are not as developed as I prefer (especially your simulated wife). But in the grand scheme these are mere trifle. More of an experience to be enjoyed than completed, A Mind Forever Voyaging should be at the top of any gamer’s list of classics to try.

Contemporary RatingHigh. If you can get past the whole all-text, no graphics thing.  The parser is perfect and the game should never be frustrating.

Cruelty RatingMerciful.  No way to die, which makes it hard to believe this game is from 1985.

35: Nord and Bert Couldn’t Make Head or Tail Of It

Publisher: Infocom
Developer: Infocom
Year: 1987
Platform: DOS, Macintosh, Commodore 64, Apple II, Amiga, Atari ST

Have you ever wanted to get a nice juicy steak, but all you had was a stake?  Have you ever wanted to literally kill two birds with one stone?  Or have you come across a pretty girl and it made you long for a gritty pearl?  Then you should definitely help out Nord and Bert, because they truly can’t make hails or teds of it.  Wait, um…

Still my favorite language based game ever, this game has you playing with homonyms, spoonerisms, idioms, and other plays on our language and culture in order to help save the town of Punster from total chaos.  There’s a story, but it’s there to serve the puzzles.  Just dig in and get your lexicon dirty.

The game designers smartly realized that most gamers would not be intimately familiar with every phrase, idiom, and slang the game is riddled with; thus an in-game hint system is a welcome sight. Despite the occasional frustration that ignorance creates while playing, the game can be funny and very satisfying when you do advance on your own intellect. Nord & Bert is a must-play for those who love word puzzles. Hardcore adventurers may want to look elsewhere.

Contemporary RatingHigh. If you figure out the answer to a puzzle, the parser is not going to get in the way.

Cruelty Rating:  Tough.  While you can get rid of an item you need and the game won’t tell you you’re stuck, you’ll figure it out pretty quickly.  Also, the game is short enough that even if you screw up it’s not really frustrating.

49: Hollywood Hijinx


Publisher:
Infocom
Developer: Infocom
Year:
1986
Platform:
DOS, Macintosh, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Apple II, Atari 8-bit, Atari ST, Commodoe 64

Review: One of just a few games on this countdown that are text only, Hollywood Hijinx is one of Infocom’s unsung gems.  Your rich aunt has just passed on, and you were the favorite nephew, chosen to inherit the large fortune. However, she needs to know if you are clever enough to be worthy of holding the family finances. She has given you twelve hours to explore her mansion and find the ten “treasures,” or leftover props from her husband’s popular B-movies.

Hijinx captures the flavor of the times and the B-movie industry wonderfully, and is funny throughout. Most of the puzzles are very easy, with only a few mind benders to plunge through. But if you’re just looking for a good time and a few good laughs, this game is great.

Contemporary RatingLow.  There’s a copyright protection puzzle, but thankfully it’s at the very beginning and the answer can be easily obtained on the internet.  But what the modern gamer really wouldn’t put up with is the 12 hour time limit.  When I played it, my first run through was gathering information, solving some puzzles, making a detailed map.  On my second playthrough, I knew everything I need to do in order to beat the time limit.

Cruelty Rating:  Nasty.  You can make the game unwinnable when messing with various props, though it should be obvious that you’ve done so.  Considering you know you’re going to have to start the game over from scratch at some point anyway, it’s not a huge deal.  The game isn’t terribly long once you know what to do.