“Wham!” was climbing the charts. Neon was becoming a fashion statement. Reagan was just beginning to screw up, MTV was but a babe, and everyone loved the “Where’s the Beef?” lady. It’s the early eighties, folks, a time in our history that the world would love to forget ever existed. Subtlety was thrown out the window as the me generation spawned ridiculous notions of glamour and taste.
The one bastion of hope in this Duran Duran desert could be found in the pale green blur of an Apple IIe. Sure, some had Atari. Some had Intellivision. A rare few held the keys to Colecovision (myself included). But the real pros, the ones with the inside track, they knew where the excitement could be found.Welcome to the world of the interactive text adventure.
Infocom’s Masterpieces is a formidable collection of over 30 of these classic games. These are exact copies of the originals, complete with online documentation containing manuals, maps, and hints (you will use these . . . oh yes, you will. . .). Among the better known titles is the Zork series (Zero, I, II, III, Beyond), Bureaucracy, Planetfall, and the ever popular Leather Goddesses of Phobos (minors, please avert your gaze). If you’ve never played a text adventure (i.e. you were born after 1985), here’s the idea. Text adventures contain no graphics (with a few exceptions), little if any sound, and utilize neither a mouse nor a joystick. In order to “see” the world you are exploring, you must rely heavily on a sense that may have been left back in the sandbox: Imagination. This, coupled with a keyboard and a decent grasp of the English language (though I hear they made Zork available in Spanish, es muey bien . . . ) are the tools with which one navigates through a literary universe. In short, the story is yours to unravel.
Sounds like a piece of cake, right? Wrong. These games are NOT easy. Infocom has released these games exactly as they were with no changes. I found some of these games completely frustrating as a pre-teen, and find them completely frustrating as a twenty-something. These games tend to be pretty strict on grammar and spelling, and it can take hours to figure out the right way to phrase a perfectly harmless sentence (i.e., which is the correct phrasing: give man hat, give hat to man, give the hat to the man, man take hat please?). Nonetheless, this frustration is quickly replaced by sheer joy when a puzzle is solved or a new area is found.
In addition to the classic titles, Infocom has released 6 brand new text adventures. These are award winning entries into a recent competition sponsored by Activision. Unfortunately, each game is built to be completed in under 2 hours and are not nearly as challenging as the original games. Creativity abounds, however, particularly in the case of Toonesia, a wacky romp through the world of a Warner Brothers cartoon (all names changed to avoid copyright infringement, of course).
In the modern computer era of flashy graphics, cheesy video clips, and often regurgitated story lines, the good old-fashioned text adventure is like a breath of fresh air. For the sheer sake of loyalty, old-time hackers must get this collection. It brought back a slew of memories, not to mention finally providing a true mental challenge. If you’ve never played a text based game, I highly recommend dropping your joystick and cracking those knuckles . . . the world of words awaits.