Returning to My Gaming Roots by Revisiting Infocom Text Adventures

Geek Culture

A few months back while participating in a basement cleaning session, I stumbled upon a box of jewel cases full of old game CDs — Command & Conquer, Doom, X-Com: UFO Defense (one of my all-time favorites), and a handful of others. While reminiscing of gaming-days-gone-by (aka procrastinating), I noticed another box tucked in there and pulled it out. It was The Lost Treasures of Infocom, a collection I’d purchased back in 1991 on a whim, thinking I’d run home, install them all and start playing. Unfortunately, that didn’t happen — skip ahead 20 years.

In my world, there are two types of gamers – those who know the name Infocom and those that do not. I am proud to say that I stand among those who were blessed to be alive and playing games during Infocom’s glorious reign.

I’m not here to to try and convince anyone that the old days of text-based adventure games should make a comeback. Get real! I enjoy a good round of Team Fortress 2, jumping through portals, and click-based dungeon fighting as much as anyone.

But there are these moments — rare moments — when I miss the old days of sketching maps and typing in “Pick up book” and, yes, even being told I’ve been eaten by a Grue. (Google it, youngsters.)

So, there I was holding a box of what are considered to be 20 of the best Infocom text-adventure games ever made. I scanned the list again, checking off those titles I’d solved in my youth — Starcross, Lurking Horror, Suspended, Infidel, Zork I and II, and Planetfall. (Suspended is widely considered to be the most difficult Infocom game ever made and I solved it in less than a month with no help or hints – let the debates in the comment section begin.)

And then the idea popped into my head — I must play these again. All twenty of them. Right now.

The Lurking Horror

And thus did I take myself out of yonder basement cleaning duty by accepting a quest (self-assigned, of course) to vanquish these twenty challengers.

I ran to my laptop, installed the games, opened up Lurking Horror (one of my all time favorites), and…


>look at hacker

The hacker sits comfortably on an office chair facing a terminal table, or perhaps it’s just a pile of old listings as tall as a terminal table. He is typing madly, using just two fingers, but achieves speeds that typists using all ten fingers only dream of. He is apparently debugging a large assembly language program, as the screen of his terminal looks like a spray of completely random characters. The hacker is dressed in blue jeans, an old work shirt, and what might once have been running shoes. Hanging from his belt is an enormous ring of keys. He is in need of a bath.

>take keys

“Hey! No snarfage, loser!” You determine that this means, “Stop!”


Second Floor

This is the second floor of the Computer Center. An elevator and call buttons are on the south side of the hallway. A large, noisy room is to the north. Stairs also lead up and down, for the energetic. To the west a corridor leads into a smaller room.


Take KeysTake Keys

Take Keys

Oh, I was hooked! Again! So I spent an hour investigating the halls of G.U.E. Tech, wandering out into the snow storm, and getting myself killed when I forgot about the dangers lurking in the tunnels below the school. But my fun was interrupted by the wife’s battle cry to return to the real world and go with her to Target. So I walked away, wishing I could take the games with me wherever I may roam.

As is my habit, I pretty much carry my iPad with me everywhere I go, so at one point I got online and started wandering here and there looking for anything Infocom-related. I paid a quick visit to the App Store to see if maybe Infocom might have released its games for the iPad. Nope. But I did manage to find an app called Frotz that would, according to the documentation, allow me to import my Infocom games and play them on the iPad.

I’ll go ahead and admit that I broke the speed limit on the drive home.

I installed Frotz, used Dropbox to move the special Infocom game files, and opened up Lurking Horror again.

Twenty Infocom games… all loaded on my iPad.

I’m in Geek Dad heaven.

You can still find Infocom games (and even The Lost Treasures bundle) on eBay and other sources. And even if you’re lacking in the manual or the “support material” that often came with the games, you can easily find that stuff with a quick Google search. (The Lost Treasures collection comes with a Hint manual and another manual containing all the support documentation for each game. For example, I needed the Lurking Horror student ID card with the computer login code on it and it’s right there in the manual. Fortunately there are tons of Infocom fans out there who have scanned these things into PDF files available for download here and there if you don’t have the original support docs.)

The likelihood of my sons ever playing these games is slim. There will probably be just too much competition with the Playstation, Xbox, Gamecube, or whatever it may be when they get older. But I’ll still show them how they work one day. I had so much fun playing these games as a kid, and I’m hoping one day to show my sons how to defeat a Grue.

Readers — I’d love to hear about your experiences with Infocom games. Please remember to use “SPOILER – GAME NAME” if you choose to discuss a particular game and share something that might ruin a surprise or ending for a fellow gamer. And I stand by my statement that Suspended was the toughest Infocom game to solve — so naysayers can bring it on.

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