Category Archives: text adventure

Not Mostly Harmless

How to Torture Gamers Without Even Trying

Woe to the poor gamer who slid the floppy for Infocom’s computer adventure game adaptation of Douglas Adams’ seminal book The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy into their unsuspecting drive. Not because it was a bad game; it wasn’t. Unless you mean bad as evil. Then it was very, very bad, indeed.

Adams was an early technophile, quickly falling in love with the Apple II, and subsequently with Apple’s revolutionary Macintosh computer. He was also fond of Infocom’s adventure games, and signed a multi-game deal with the company in early 1984. Paired with famed Infocom game implementer Steve Meretzky, the two banged out the Hitchhiker’s game over a six month period; Adams writing passages in England and emailing them to Meretzky in Cambridge, MA. Meretzky ended up having to chase famous procrastinator Adams down to a remote British resort  to finish work on the game.

Cover of Hitchhiker's game, Atari 8-bit computers version

Cover of Hitchhiker’s game, Atari 8-bit computers version

 

Upon release in late 1984, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a huge hit, moving over a quarter of a million copies. Breaking many cardinal rules then established in interactive fiction, it also caused a million hairs to be pulled out by frustrated gamers. Transgressions included outright lying to the player about available directions to travel in, and even what the player was able to see. It also often required players to have read the book to know what to do in certain situations. Perhaps worst of all, a favourite torture of Adams was to let you miss some critical piece of equipment during a scene that would cause the game to dead-end later, with no recourse but to reload a save or replay the game. At times it seemed that Hitchhiker’s was purposefully created as a ploy by Infocom to sell more of their Invisiclue hint books.

These brutalities aside, Hitchhiker’s is still an entertaining and interactive excursion through one of the greatest science fiction comedies of all time.

For more information on Hitchhiker’s and Infocom, consult your local Dot Eaters Bitstory.

Ad for Infocom's computer text adventure game Hitchhicker's Guide to the Galaxy, by Steve Meretzky and Douglas Adams

Raise a beer to the great Douglas Adams, 1985 Ad

 

What's cooking at Sorcerer U. today?

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls (1990) Pt. 5

Another serving of Late to the Party, where that sweet, sweet retro gaming cake NEVER gets stale. Today Anthony joins me in continuing the higher-education hi-jinks of one Ernie Eaglebeak, where we visit the Sorcerer U. cafeteria, and the housemaster’s wife Hillary comes on to us:

A typical dorm room at SU

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls (1990) Pt. 4

The Party continues, long after everyone has stumbled drunkenly home and the confetti has been swept up. Today Tim Mack and I continue the game by attending a fascinating lecture on magical ethics, and take a whirl in the Simulation Chair. 

The learned lecture halls of S.U.

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls (1990) Pt.3

Welcome back to Late to the Party, where procrastinating gamers get their decades old gaming fix. This episode, Tim Mack and I continue guiding Ernie Eaglebeak through his collegiate experience, having been previously rescued from his evil stepfather and enrolled in Sorcerer University.

Enjoy:

Other episodes in this series:
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 1
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 2

The Ivy-covered walls of Sorcerer U

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 2

Presenting our second instalment of Late to the Party, game playthroughs where we finally buy into the hype decades after a game’s release. This episode, Tim Mack joins me in continuing Steve Meretzky’s ribald 1990 text/graphic adventure game Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls. Our collegiate hero registers for classes at vaunted Sorcerer U, and gets the lay of the land, so to speak.

Class is in session. Welcome to college, Mr. Eaglebeak!

Other episodes in this series:
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 1 
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 3

Ernie Eaglebeak and friends

Late to the Party – Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 1

Welcome to Late to the Party, where we hop onto a game’s bandwagon waaay too late. This premiere instalment starts Babarnicals and me off in Steve Meretzky’s 1990 risqué adventure game classic about an abused young man who’s only hope of escaping imprisonment by his evil relative is by attending wizard school. Similarities to a certain other young wannabe wizard are purely coincidental, of course.  

Here is part one of our playthrough of Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls:

 

Other episodes in this series:
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 2
Spellcasting 101: Sorcerers Get All the Girls Pt. 3

Excerpt from Zork cover art.

Zorked: The Story of Infocom

I’d be hard-pressed to do a review of the computer gaming I did in my youth and not dedicate an entire chapter to the wonderful text-adventures put out by Infocom in the 80′s.

I remember that the first disk I ever bought for my gigantic 1541 floppy drive, newly attached to my Commodore 64, was a Commodore-labelled version of Infocom’s Zork.  Just a few minutes exploring the surface landscape and then delving deep into an ever-expanding Underground Empire had me hooked.

Box art for Zork, a computer text adventure game for the TRS-80, by Infocom 1980

Zork, TRS-80 version

Starting as an answer to Crowther and Wood’s original Adventure text adventure, a group of MIT students designed Zork as a program on a mainframe computer, and eventually developed a system to port it to personal computers. After an initial release by VisiCalc makers Personal Software, the Infocom team decided to publish the games themselves, and hence was a computer game giant created.

Ten Zork games were eventually produced, along with a huge library of other works spanning genres such as science fiction, history, mysteries, fantasy, and on and on.  When Douglas Adams got wind of what Infocom is doing with interactive fiction, he signed on with the company to adapt his seminal comedy science fiction book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  From this unholy pairing of Adams and Infocom “IMP” Steve Meretsky would come one of the most cruel, diabolical computer games of all time.

Even as graphics eventually supplanted text and the human imagination as the canvas of computer game design, the great writing and intricate design of Infocom’s worlds kept me visiting them. For our full history of Zork and Infocom, consult your local Dot Eaters article.

Video of Douglas Adams Demoing HHGTTG Game in 1985

When Douglas Adams paired with text adventure giant Infocom to do a computer game version of his much-beloved satirical SF book Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, it seemed an idea too good to have come from the uncharted backwaters of the unfashionable end of the western spiral arm of the Galaxy.  Infocom was the biggest player in the market, and Adams a computer-literate author who’s works matched the sensibilities and episodic nature of the genre.  All the more so when Adams was matched with Infocom “IMP” or Implementor (what the company called its game designers) Steve Meretzky, author of some very Adamsy games for the company such as the Planetfall series.

So it came to pass that Infocom released the HHGTTG game for a myriad of home computer systems in 1984, and it was a huge success, a top-seller that dominated the game sales charts for months and became Infocom’s best-selling product.  You can read more of the HHGTTG game’s development and Douglas Adams’ other major contributions to the video game landscape in a previous entry in this blog, written to celebrate what would have been his 60th birthday if not for his passing in 2001.

As for the video mentioned in the post title, here is Adams demonstrating the electronic version of his novel on the U.K. TV show Micro Live.  He very cheerfully points out how diabolically obtuse and unfair his game is, as well as takes the host through the opening passages of it:

For more information on the history of Infocom and its seminal text adventure Zork, consult your local Dot Eaters article:

source: Anna Black, via The Galamoon retrogaming Daily

It is pitch black…

Perhaps you’re like me, and one of the very first gaming experiences you had on a computer was a text adventure.

Sometimes a person is lucky enough to have a first experience, a first taste of something, that is so amazingly, compellingly good that it forever shapes how they think about that thing.  For me, that first thing was Infocom‘s Zork, and it gave me a lifelong love of computers and gaming.

The text adventure was a genre that ruled the landscape of early computer gaming, until advancing graphics technology inevitably supplanted text as the canvas for creating worlds on personal computers. GET LAMP, a documentary directed by Jason Scott, takes a close look at the genre, from its inception as Will Crowther‘s original cave-diving Adventure, to its perfection at Infocom, to its effective demise in the late 80′s and resurgence in the modern era as home-grown Interactive Fiction.

As the premiere text adventure company of the era, a particular light is shone on Infocom, producer of  classics such as the aformentioned Zork games, Deadline, Suspended, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy… the list is exhaustive.  Interviews of those involved are numerous and informative, and form a captivating narrative about the company and what it was like to work there.  It’s fascinating to hear the founders and game designers talk about how they were convinced they were on the cusp of creating a new type of literature that would stand the test of time.  Now we look back with 20/20 vision and it seems so obvious that the writing was on the wall for Infocom even as it began making games, that inherent in the very idea of text adventure computer games is the seed that will sow the company’s destruction.  It was inevitable that game designers, inspired by Infocom games, would eventually want to move on from monochromatic text and turn the lights on to see what is actually there.  As well, hobbyist IF writers and players also feature in segments that highlight the fact that text adventures have survived and thrived after the demise of Infocom.  Be sure to keep an eye out for a secret item in these interview segments.

Call them text adventures, or adventure games, or the more grandiose interactive fiction, these types of games created entire worlds only with words on a screen.  GET LAMP brightly illuminates the forgotten dark corners, hallways and caverns of these worlds and the people who crafted them.  Good thing too, because you don’t want to end up reading these words:

…you were eaten by a Grue.

Are You A Hoopy Frood Who Really Knows Where Their Towel Is?

The Hoopiest Frood

Today is Douglas Noel Adams’ birthday.  He would be 59, if he hadn’t been so rudely taken from us in 2001.

Adams was not a particularly prolific writer, and by all accounts had to be bribed, cajoled and downright threatened to produce anything.  “I love deadlines.”, he once wrote.  “I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”.  Thankfully, while lying drunk in a field in Innsbruck, Austria in 1971, gazing up at the canopy of stars above him, Adams came up with the idea for and subsequently wrote The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.  Starting as a BBC radio series, through subsequent books, records, and other media, Hitchhikers was a hugely influential work of SF comedy. It follows the exploits of hapless earthling Arthur Dent  and his pal Ford Prefect, who Arthur is surprised to learn is not in fact from Guildford as he previously claimed, but actually from a small planet somewhere in the vicinity of Betelgeuse.

Adams made several contributions to video game history, starting with the computer text adventure adaptation of Hitchhikers, produced in 1984 by the dominant company in that genre at the time, Infocom.  His collaborator on that project was Steve Meretzky, who himself had been hugely influenced by Adams when creating Planetfall (1983) for the company.  The game would flout several conventions of the text-adventure, including a sequence where the game would outright lie to you about what you were seeing.  Adams also did the text-adventure Bureaucracy in 1987 for Infocom, and later the Myst-like graphic adventure Starship Titanic, published by Simon & Schuster Interactive.  Titanic featured voice talent from John Cleese and Terry Jones, two members of the famous British comedy troupe Monty Python’s Flying Circus, for whom Adams had contributed early in his career.

Fallout from Hitchhikers also helped shape Sierra’s long-running Space Quest series, done by The Two Guys From Andromeda, Mark Crowe and Scott Murphy.  In fact, it’s hard to think of any comedic foray into science fiction without seeing a touch of Douglas Adams in the proceedings.

As much as I might be a microscopic dot on a microscopic dot in terms of literary contributions to the Universe, Adams had a profound impact on me as a writer, as well as a human being.  He continues to leave a 6′ 5″ hole in the world, one that will never be filled.

RIP DNA.