It is almost illegal that Infocom isn’t better known in the twenty-first century. Microsoft has the ability to recover a historic collection of lost video games from the Activision vault.
In 1989, the company that made all-text adventure games like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and the Zork series stopped making them, but not before releasing a library of titles that show how video games can be used to tell stories, or “text adventures.” It has a rich history that has been mostly wasted by Activision, which bought Infocom in 1986.
There’s still hope for Infocom fans, tho, in the form of business news. Microsoft wants to buy Activision Blizzard in a deal worth more than $80 billion. It’s right that a lot of attention has been paid to the new owner’s popular franchises like Name of Obligation and Overwatch, as well as what the deal means for a company that has been dealing with a growing number of workplace accusations since last summer. However, don’t forget that Microsoft could also protect an important piece of gaming history with this.
Infocom’s hits came out before most of what is popular now in gaming. In 1979, the company started making Zork games. Before Nintendo’s first console, the Famicom, even came to Japan, the company made a whole set of Zork games. As a result of this, games like Pac-Man, Donkey Kong, and Frogger made people see a different kind of skill than they had seen before.
They all had a story to tell, but they did so in a way that gave the player some control over how things would go. This was their lineup. The basic text inputs that required us to write out cardinal directions to move around the world and simple actions like “get” or “see” to work together might not meet today’s needs, but in their time, they created the illusion of a digital world where anything was possible.
As a way to build the world, Infocom focused on “feelies.” This meant filling each game field with “feelies.” These were tangible things, like brochures, maps, and prop replicas, that helped fill in the blanks in the world of the game and make it more colorful and detailed. The text of the game might not have been able to do this as well.
There were three Zork games made by Infocom before Nintendo’s first console in Japan came out, the Famicom.
People could see that the creative process was flagged when graphics took over text and the world started to go online again in the late ’80s. However, Infocom is still a big part of gaming history and one of the people who helped spread the idea that playing games at home can be different from playing games in arcades.
When you ask people who like games from Generation X or older what they remember about Infocom, at least a few of them will start to cry as they remember old memories. A Thoughts Perpetually Voyaging, a thoughtful interactive journey by creator Steve Meretzky, still has a bright, burning flame in my heart. Players play as an AI researcher who learns about the human experience by traveling thru different parts of a fictional person’s life.
When a group of college-age computer nerds started a company, they realized that they could make games for people who didn’t want to eat pellets in a maze while avoiding ghosts. A game called “The Lurking Horror” and a game called “Wishbringer” let people solve story puzzles in a scary setting. Forms used words by Douglas Adams to make fun of capitalism and government bureaucracy. The Hitchhiker’s Guide author also helped make the game version of his favorite house novel, which would be the studio’s best-known game.
Activision didn’t seem to know what to do with Infocom at all. In the author’s opinion, there wasn’t much talk about saving games when the brand and its related studio were bought in the mid-’80s. However, while we’ve been thinking more about protecting gaming’s history in the last few years, Infocom materials have been missing from the mix.
People who follow this studio have had the best they’ve ever had. In 2012, The Misplaced Treasures of Infocom were released on iOS for free. The Misplaced Treasures app was first released in the 1990s as a two-part compilation. It brought together 26 Infocom classics into one place, with a digital storehouse of feelies for each game and iOS controls that were perfect.
Apple stopped supporting 32-bit apps on iOS 11 in 2017 and this great app was no longer playable. (I keep an old iPhone 3GS on my desk for those times when I want to go on an Infocom journey.) Activision didn’t hire Code Mystics, the studio that made the app, to make a 64-bit version of it or do anything else to make sure the iOS version of the app would work well. So, misplaced treasures have been forgotten ever since.
What are the best video games ever? I asked our team to help me figure out what to do.
Heroic efforts by Infocom fans and preservationists over the years have made sure that important parts of the company’s history haven’t been lost. The “Infocom Cupboard” at the Web Archive is full of documents that were donated by Meretzky and curated by historian Jason Scott, who made a documentary about text-based adventures called “Get Lamp.” (Meretzky also gave his original materials to Stanford College.) There are a lot of ways to play Infocom’s games and read about their history on the internet that aren’t legal.
However, now that Microsoft is in charge, Infocom fans can feel hopeful. There are only a few big franchises that Activision tends to focus on, like Name of Obligation. If you want to keep a lot of people on your team, you should subscribe to Recreation Go and join the [email protected] indies program. Preserving old games has become a part of the Xbox DNA because of Microsoft’s good work to make every new Xbox machine compatible with as many old games as possible.
At this point, the Xbox company doesn’t want to talk about what it plans to do with Infocom (and that is assuming such plans exist at this level). That’s not all: It’s also clear that the Microsoft we’ll know in 2022 is much better at being the steward that Infocom’s library needs.