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Infocom's Classic Interactive Fiction Games

I love board games, great books, Marvel films, and other geek favorites. I mostly read sci-fi and fantasy novels.

Text Games Relied on Imagination

It probably comes as a shock to anyone under 30 that there used to be computer games without graphics. At one time, computer displays were strictly text-based; the only images they could produce were ASCII art, pictures composed of strategically placed letters, numbers, and special characters. It was a whole different world then, and PC games had to make do with very limited resources. Interactive fiction games were born as a result.

The first Infocom title, Zork, was released in 1980, followed by several sequels and a host of other games in various genres: sci-fi, fantasy, detective, adventure and comedy. There were even two interactive fiction titles written by Douglas Adams: Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy (based on his novel of the same name) and Bureaucracy. The games were interactive stories (somewhat like "choose your own adventure" books), allowing you to navigate through the story using text commands, your wits and imagination.

Read on to learn more about these early games and find out how you can play one yourself.

infocom-games

Remembering Infocom

I discovered Infocom games when I was a teenager, and I loved their melding of books and games: interactive fiction was the ultimate book, the one where you could control the action and make your own choices. Unfortunately, I discovered this form of games around the time when PC graphics were being introduced and text adventures were rapidly being replaced by image-driven games. This fact made it a challenge for me to find Infocom titles; any trip to the mall had me poking through the game store hoping to find one I didn't own yet.

I had all three of the Zork games, plus Trinity and Wishbringer, but I wanted more. I was dying for the Douglas Adams games and very curious about The Leather Goddesses of Phobos (although it had a mature rating -- and as a girl, I probably wouldn't have enjoyed it -- still, I was curious).

I eventually found a boxed set called "The Lost Treasures of Infocom", which did include the Hitchhiker game, at least -- although I found that one frustrating and never did get to the end. (Knowledge of the book wasn't a lot of help except in the very early part of the game.) Still, the set had other games I enjoyed, including Moonmist, The Lurking Horror, and Beyond Zork.

I was interested in the fantasy titles too—Enchanter and Sorcerer—but I can't recall ever getting very far with those two. I tended to get frustrated and give up if the games were too hard. (Come to think of it, I still do that.) But despite the titles that defeated me, I have fond memories of Infocom's interactive fiction and of the many happy hours I spent navigating their worlds.

Text Gaming Today

Here's the beginning of Zork, the first of Infocom's text-based adventures. This is a screen shot from my PC, which is running Windows 7. The games will usually still work on today's computers and run in a small window that imitates the text-only screens of the past. (Warning: it appears the games won't work on 64-bit Windows; sorry!)

Zork (Infocom Games)

Zork (Infocom Games)

Download 3 Zork Games, Free From Infocom

Infocom made the original Zork adventures available as free downloads. (Both PC and Mac versions are available.) If you want to relive the fun of text games -- or if you just want to see what gaming was like before graphics -- go to this site and download the free games! There are three titles available: Zork I, Zork II, and Zork III. Zork I is the easiest, Zork II is intermediate level, and Zork III is expert level.

You can also buy a Zork game package from GOG.com; the download includes Zork I, Zork II, Zork III, Beyond Zork, Zork Zero, and Planetfall, along with PDF maps, manuals, and other items originally included with the games. (The package is priced at $5.99. They don't say whether their version is compatible with 64-bit Windows, but they do offer a 30 day money back guarantee, which should cover you if it doesn't work with your system.)

InvisiClues Tips and Tricks

Are you stuck? Need some hints? As soon as I revisited Zork, I wondered if I'd gotten dumber over the years, because I immediately felt frustrated and stumped. But don't despair! Help is available.

Originally, "InvisiClues" booklets were available for the Infocom games; you revealed hints and tips with a special pen as you wanted them. Luckily, there are now resources online that act the same way: you see the questions and click to reveal the answers.

Here are links to the full catalog of InvisiClues, which includes the Zork games, the Enchanter trilogy, Planetfall and Stationfall, Suspended, The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy, Deadline, Suspect, Witness, and more.

Happy gaming!

Questions & Answers

Question: can Zork be played on Windows 10?

Answer: I haven't tried it yet, but there's a Zork forum that says you can use a helper app to do it. (Here's a link to that article: https://www.thezorklibrary.com/installguides/index... - -look under "Guides for Zork Interactive Fiction (Text Adventures)" and then under "Windows.") You can also play in a browser on Archive.org if you want a straightforward solution. (They talk about it in the same article under "Other Ways to Play.")

© 2010 C A Chancellor

Share Game Memories

anonymous on February 14, 2013:

Holy crap this brings back the memories! I had several of the Zorks, Wishbringer, Leather Goddesses of Phobos (it was more tease than sleaze), Suspended, Hitchhiker's Guide, Bureaucracy, Moonmist, Lurking Horror and probably a few others I'm not remembering. They were great games!

John Tannahill from Somewhere in England on January 24, 2013:

Being a bit older than you, I had other things to do when these games came out. But, the excitement of early computer games is something hard to describe to anyone younger. I think it was a unique moment in history.

Thamisgith on December 15, 2012:

Can't say I recall any of Infocom games you list - but I definitely remember the genre. I can still recall the frustration of trying to get anywhere in "The Hobbit" - played on an old BBC Acorn computer in our student flat. I can also recall the excitement when "Elite" came out - complete with wire frame graphics. Anyway, I like the sound of these, but you just try explaining why they're such fun to young people today etc.

LabKittyDesign on December 05, 2012:

Holy cow - actually played Zork on a PDP-11 back in the day. Talk about misspent youth...

AstroGremlin on November 28, 2012:

Anyone remember "Suspended"? You began the game unable to move but direct robots to solve puzzles to free yourself. Text only games required imagination and patience. My friend and I played Star Trek when the only visual interface was a printer!

flycatcherrr on May 30, 2012:

Ah, yes... Zork... my, how the times and tech have changed.

Anthony Godinho from Ontario, Canada on May 22, 2012:

I sure remember those days of DOS and Lotus 1-2-3. I've played some of these games. It does take you back down memory lane. Computers have surely come a long way, especially in terms of how easy things are and of course the stunning graphics :)

C A Chancellor (author) from US/TN on April 30, 2012:

@pelagic: I just meant that they were similar in nature; I've revised my wording to be more precise. Thanks for your input!

TransplantedSoul on March 25, 2012:

I remember these well. WHen my daughters were young, one of these games scared the heck out of them. They look back and laugh now when they realize how lame they were. (lame in a good way)

pelagic on March 06, 2012:

"in the tradition of 'choose your own adventure' books"

That's in interesting assertion, but I think the two genres developed completely independently of each other. The first "choose your own adventure" book was published in 1976 while the first computer adventure game, "Colossal Cave" was also released in 1976. Both were developed over a period of several years and it's doubtful the two creators had any contact with each other.

"Zork I" copied a lot from Colossal Cave; I've always viewed it as a crass attempt to capitalize on (rip off) the free work done by someone else. Infocom did some good work later on, however. My fav was "Starcross".

glenbrook on February 27, 2012:

This brings back a lot of good memories. I used to spend way too much time playing Zork on my C=64.

darciefrench lm on November 18, 2011:

I used to play arcade games in the arcade - I went through somewhat of a Cydni Lauper phase, and my parents owned the arcade so that was twice as cool. This is the first I have heard of infocom games, but I didn't get into PC games until recently.

MagicBeanDip on November 14, 2011:

I spent many hours on my college roommate's Commodore 64 playing adventure games!

shandigp on October 19, 2011:

wow! I never played one of these but I remember seeing other people play them! Nostalgia...

Heidi from Benson, IL on October 18, 2011:

I think I vaguely remember a few of the text-based ones. Zork was one of my faves, and a couple others I can't think of the names of now. I wonder whatever happened to the ones I used to have.

OldStones LM on October 17, 2011:

I loved all of these text based games. Lots of hours spent hunched over the old commodore 64 playing Zork.

Susanna Duffy from Melbourne Australia on October 16, 2011:

I love Zork! I spent hours playing it back in 1983 on my Commodore 64.

C A Chancellor (author) from US/TN on March 11, 2011:

@sudokunut: Glad you enjoyed it! I tried Legends of Zork online but I lost interest after a couple of weeks. It was a great idea but the site response time was very slow -- plus I didn't find it that challenging intellectually. Ah well!

Mark Falco from Reno, Nevada on February 20, 2011:

Man, this lens takes me back. I loved the Infocom games and Level 9 which was another company which produced solely text adventures. Activision released a new online game at legendsofzork.com which is based on the games and might be of interest to you.

Joan Hall from Los Angeles on February 20, 2011:

I love the Zork games!

Q: How many grues does it take to change a light bulb? :-)

C A Chancellor (author) from US/TN on January 26, 2011:

@anonymous: Hmm. I've never tried the games on a 64-bit Win 7... my Lost Treasures works on XP, and I got the Zork download to work on 32-bit Win 7 with no trouble. Maybe Googling it would yield some tips, though. That's what I've done before with old games... usually somebody's tried it and figured a workaround! Good luck and thanks for the visit!

anonymous on January 25, 2011:

Loved them all; trying to get my "Lost Treasures" CD to install on my 64-bit Win 7 machine -- any tips?

classicalgeek lm on January 16, 2011:

As a gamer from the release of the original "Adventure" game, all I can say is "xyzzy!" :)

LouisaDembul on January 09, 2011:

Even for me it brought out a lot of memories! I started learning programming in 1982, when the computer took up a large part of a room. We thought it was sooooo fantastic!

C A Chancellor (author) from US/TN on December 24, 2010:

@dwnovacek: You're welcome! That's so good to hear. I almost didn't make this lens because I thought no one would remember these games -- but I ended up having fun writing it, and now I want to play the games again too. :-) I remember a little of the Zork games so I might try them again over the holidays.

dwnovacek on December 22, 2010:

I LOVED these games! Haven't thought about them in years, but I'm going to head on over and get the Zorks just to see how I do. Thanks for this lens - you've brought back some wonderful memories!