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.
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
- 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
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
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.