Q-Bits From my Personal Collection – Infocom, the first twelve

Welcome to another Quick Bits article, this time showcasing the first twelve titles released by Infocom. Titles that not only heralded Infocom as the go-to company for interactive fiction but also turned traditional packaging upside down and into something unique for each different title including physical content, known as feelies.

In the late ’70s, a small group of Programmers from MIT, consisting of Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling, was working on an ambitious variation of William Crowther and Don WoodsColossal Cave Adventure. The game would be called Zork and was developed on MIT’s PDP-10 mainframe using the MDL programming language. MDL provided much more powerful string manipulation than other programming languages, resulting in ZORK featuring not only more intricate puzzles but also a much more complex text parser than earlier attempts in the interactive fiction genre. The word Zork, a nonsense word, was used by MIT hackers as the alias for an unfinished program and fitted perfectly since the game was developed in multiple stages over the course of a three-year period, with the last addition made in 1979. When completed the game took up a full megabyte of data, impossible for any personal computer to handle. When the game later was made available for commercial sale, it was split into three parts.

In the summer of 1979, three of the original creators of Zork, and 7 other MIT alumni and professors established Infocom. With no specific projects initially agreed upon, and while discussions were focused on developing software for smaller mainframe computers, Blank and Joel Berez came up with a plan to make Zork work on personal microcomputers. The fledging market was rapidly expanding allowing for a vastly greater audience than what the closed-off mainframe world could deliver.

Zork was licensed to Personal Software which published the first part in 1980 for the TRS-80 and later that year for the Apple II. The first part would be the only Zork published by Personal Software. Infocom unhappy with the lack of support the game got, soon reacquired the rights to the title and would go on to rerelease the first part of the game in 1981, with the now iconic bricks and trapdoor logo.

The first part of Zork was initially published by Personal Software for the TRS-80 in 1980. A boxed Apple II version was released later the same year

Before the end of 1982, Infocom had released all three parts of Zork, together they would sell a million copies and firmly establish Infocom as the go-to company for interactive fiction. The following years spawned another nine released games. Working with a newly hired advertising agency, unique packaging was created for each title and Infocom created physical items to provide information not included within the digital game itself.

Advertisements were a big part of Infocom’s endeavor in convincing the fledging home computer market that its text-only adventure games were the digital interactive counterparts to traditional fiction.
In 1984 with the slogan The incomplete works of Infocom, the company showcased its first 12 titles and conveyed the story that an Infocom work of fiction was never complete before you, the player, became a part of it.

Rather than finding another publisher after parting with Personal Software, Infocom decided to self-publish its games and began renting office space and contracting with production facilities. The company bought out Personal Software’s stock of Zork I copies and began publishing it along with Zork II by the end of 1981. Zork III followed in the fall of 1982 as the company’s fourth released game

Deadline, written by Marc Blanc and published in the spring of 1982, was Infocom’s third game and its first non-Zork game. Deadline started the company’s tradition of including feelies, physical tie-in products like maps, hints, etc…
The game’s number of NPCs and the independence of their behavior from the player’s actions, along with the parser’s complexity were considered revolutionary at the time of the game’s release.
Deadline was initially sold in packaging resembling a dossier

Starcross, written by Dave Lebling and published in the autumn of 1982, was Infocom’s fifth game and first in the science fiction genre. 
Starcross was initially sold in packaging resembling a flying saucer

Suspended: A Cryogenic Nightmare, written by Michael Berlyn and published in the early spring of 1983, was Infocom’s sixth game.
Suspended was initially sold in packaging featuring a three-dimensional molded plastic mask, with cut-outs that revealed eyes printed on the game’s manual.

The Witness, written by Stu Galley and published in the early summer of 1983, was Infocom’s seventh game.
Like Deadline, The Witness was initially sold in packaging resembling a dossier

Planetfall, written by Steve Meretzky and published in the summer of 1983, was Infocom’s eighth title.
Although Planetfall was Meretzky’s first title, it proved one of his most popular works and a best-seller for Infocom.
Planetfall was initially sold in a large cardboard folder

Enchanter, written by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling and published in the early autumn of 1983, was Infocom’s ninth game.
It was the first fantasy game after the Zork trilogy and was originally intended to be Zork IV.
Enchanter was initially sold in a large thin cardboard box with a cut-out on the front revealing parts of the manual

Infidel, written by Michael Berlyn and Patricia Fogleman and published in the autumn of 1983, was Infocom’s tenth game.
Infidel was initially sold in a large cardboard folder

Sorcerer, written by Steve Meretzky and published in early 1984, was Infocom’s eleventh game and the second game in the magic-themed Enchanter trilogy, preceded by Enchanter and followed by Spellbreaker in 1985.
Sorcerer was initially sold in a large thin cardboard box with the legendary Amulet of Aggthora as part of the front cover

Seastalker, written by Stu Galley and Jim Lawrence and published in the spring of 1984, was Infocom’s twelfth game.
The game was marketed as an introduction to interactive fiction for preteen players, having a difficulty rating of Junior. It was the only game to ever use this rating, which was replaced by the Introductory label given to games such as Wishbringer.
Seastalker Sorcerer was initially sold in a large thin cardboard box

Between 1984 and 1989, Infocom re-released its first 12 first titles along with many new titles in the now classic grey and pin-striped box design.

Sources: Infocom Documentation Project, Wikipedia…

6 thoughts on “Q-Bits From my Personal Collection – Infocom, the first twelve

  1. Why did they decide against using Zork IV through VI? Or some type of subtitle?

    Have thought about this before, but not researched!

    Love the posts!

    1. Thanks:)
      While Enchanter was set in the Zork universe but viewed from a different character’s perspective I think Infocom wanted it to have its own identity…also to give it the opportunity to have its own sequels not constrained by what happened in Zork I-III.

  2. Oof! I’ve been reading Jimmy at Digital Antiquarian since 2011 and now recall reading that very article… Knew that this question was oddly familiar. I guess I am getting gold! I just found your blog a few weeks ago and am enjoying your back catalog of posts.

    1. I know that feeling all too well:) I wish I was as good a writer as Jimmy Maher but first and foremost I’m a collector who happens to like and share the history of these games.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.