"A fortune in Interactive Mystery, Fantasy, and Science Fiction Adventures!"
Years ago now Activision re-released two anthologies of classic text-based adventure games that had originally been produced by Infocom. Those nostalgic for the days of bootleg Commodore floppies and the hard clank of keyboards that had not yet worked well away from the aural qualities of their typewriter forebears would be pleased with the nicely organized compilations. While the first set offered up twenty classics from well-worn genres of fantasy and sci-fi (with a few odd men out), the second set stands as a reminder that, towards the end of its term, text gaming was becoming quite inventive.
Each box provided all of the (in some cases ample) subsidiary paperwork necessary to enter into and complete each game. The first volume contained two separate books, the first being the game documentation and the second a reasonable collection of hints to help one through some of the distinctly non-intuitive puzzles devised by insidious programmers. The box also contained maps for each of the games in a nice little flow-chart format which included hidden rooms and obvious objects thus vastly decreasing the difficulty of each game. At least you now knew there was a hidden chasm to get to behind the “suspicious jumble of rocks” that was so unreceptive to the butter and rope and grue-pooh combo making up the entirety of your inventory. The second volume reduced the off-screen reading to a single manual and another pile of maps, relying more on in-game hints to assuage frustrations. Most will remember the particularities of early copyright protection schemes that usually involved drawing correspondences between page numbers and first-paragraph, fourth-word passcodes. Well this didn’t change, and so in the small number of cases wherein these protections are enabled you still need the hard pages, at least in some format.
Vol. 1; as listed from top to bottom and left to right, complete with thumbnails of the original covers on the back of the box:
Vol. 2; as listed in the manual’s table of contents (I lost the box)
For gamers these titles are like the dialogues of Plato. Sure you could just read Deleuze and Guattari and pretend that philosophy was dead (while misapprehending everything they work toward). Likewise you could just run around stealth killing mercenaries in the equally engaging Splinter Cell titles, and disregard the depth of history to which games are indebted. It certainly would be difficult for the graphics-obsessed to patiently wade through the broken language of text command grammar whose specificity required an almost academic familiarization. But they are the foundation, and as much as they have been rocked, as much as they have been built upon and translated, there is much in them that has remained unchanged.
And maybe I’m wrong, maybe Zork was a stupid blight before computers got off to a real start. I don’t think so, but maybe. Nowadays some University of Chicago psychology grad gets real paid to produce the illusion of a challenge in quasi-non-linear shooters. Back then it was you versus unadulterated logos baby, wandering naked with only a few words to get you through the darkness. Look. Go. Pick Up. Hit. Time didn’t really pass. There was no real Way. It is left to mod communities to salvage the essence of games. The only real question is why, in the name of all that is Right and True, was Leather Goddesses of Phobos not included?