A horror text adventure from Infocom that draws a lot from the Cthulhu books.

It opens thus, in a fairly mundane situation (just like Graham Nelson said it should):


You've waited until the last minute again. This time it's the end of the term, so all the TechNet terminals in the dorm are occupied. So, off you go to the old Comp Center. Too bad it's the worst storm of the winter (Murphy's Law, right?), and you practically froze to death slogging over here from the dorm. Not to mention jumping at every shadow, what with all the recent disappearances. Time to find a free machine, get to work, and write that twenty page paper.

THE LURKING HORROR
An Interactive Horror
Copyright (c) 1987 by Infocom, Inc. All rights reserved.
THE LURKING HORROR is a trademark of Infocom, Inc.
Release 203 / Serial number 870506

Terminal Room
This is a large room crammed with computer terminals, small computers, and printers. An exit leads south. Banners, posters, and signs festoon the walls. Most of the tables are covered with waste paper, old pizza boxes, and empty Coke cans. There are usually a lot of people here, but tonight it's almost deserted.

A really whiz-bang pc is right inside the door.

Nearby is one of those ugly molded plastic chairs.

Sitting at a terminal is a hacker whom you recognize.

>

You've waited until the last minute again. This time it's the end of the term,so all the TechNet terminals in the dorm are occupied. So, off you go to the old Comp Center. Too bad it's the worst storm of the winter (Murphy's Law, right?), and you practically froze to death slogging over here from the dorm. Not to mention jumping at every shadow, what with all the recent disappearances. Time to find a free machine, get to work, and write that twenty page paper.

So begins Infocom's classic horror game The Lurking Horror. Written in 1987 by Dave Lebling, one of the founders of Infocom and a creator of Zork, Lurking Horror takes place at GUE Tech. You are a student at this fine institution, with a paper due tomorrow and plenty of trouble you can get into. Trapped in the main buildings by the snowstorm, you're about to find out one way or another what's been causing the disappearances. The only question is whether you'll find it, or it will find you.

The Lurking Horror is a remarkably interesting and playable text adventure, and received good reviews at the time for being one of the first (if not the first) real text adventure horror game. Today, it's something of a lost classic; old and devoted Infocom fans have usually heard of it and played it, but it's been supplanted by more modern horror/puzzle games such as The Seventh Guest. Once it gets over its rather mundane beginning, however, the game produces a very well-designed feeling of creepy nervousness. As any lover of the printed word can tell you, one doesn't need spectacular graphics or ominous music to convey growing worry and a sense of urgency, and for all of its age the game still does just that. More than anything else, the game reminds one of a solo Call of Cthulhu adventure for college students.

Of course, it's a lot easier to get involved in any kind of tale, horror or otherwise, if it's on familiar ground. What many people don't realize is that Lurking Horror is truly a product of the early Infocom days, back when the vast majority of employees had just graduated from MIT. The game itself is set on a compressed and slightly skewed version of the MIT campus as it existed in the 1980's, and is an object of great fascination to the local students who discover it. The campus is situated between Mass. Ave and Smith Street (as opposed to the more traditional Vassar), includes a Temporary Building where the old Building 20 , and centers around the Infinite Corridor. Aside from being a navigational aid, of course, this isn't terribly useful in the game, but for those interested in the history of the Institute, Lurking Horror serves as a time capsule of sorts.

Among the interesting local tidbits to be found in the game:


  • The Department of Alchemy is located in the eastern branch of the main buildings, corresponding to the Department of Chemistry in Building 4 of the Institute proper. This also references the long-standing hack painted on one of the Chemistry office doors, where the Department of Alchemy has its headquarters.
  • The Fruit and Nuts Building, where modern-day buildings 16 and 56 are located, was the former location of the now-defunct Food Sciences Department. The only remaining indication that it ever existed is a glass plaque on the wall in one building.
  • The Brown Building, more usually recognized as the Green Building, houses the Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences department. Apparently, ten years ago, they really did have a tree in a bubble on the rooftop, just like the one in game, except without the monsters. On the other hand, no one seems to know what happened to it...
  • The Computer Center that you start game in is located in what is now Course 6 territory, where many of the computer and electronics labs are located. At the time, however, this referred not to the academic department but to the original location of SIPB, the student computing group that many Infocom founders had been members of.
  • The Temporary Building really was temporary. Building 20 has a history of its own, but the description in game isn't all that inaccurate... except for the basement. Any evidence of a secret Temporary Basement to go along with the building was erased by the administration when the 50-year-old "temporary" structure was demolished in 1999 to make room for the new Stata Center, and the dark altar underneath Vassar is apparently to be replaced by the new Bill Gates Tower.
For those interested in playing, the Lurking Horror is available today as part of the Lost Treasures of Infocom collections. Unfortunately, these are primarily available to European audiences today, and may or may not be in print in the United States at any given time. For the rest of us, there have been free copies available online for the Frotz text-adventure platform, and sometimes servers with the complete collection of Infocom games have been made quietly open to the public. Try your favorite search engine for more details.

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