Friday, May 4, 2012

I Was A Teenage Interactive Fiction Player

It was towards the end of 1992, and CD-ROM drives were just then starting to become the bane of my existence as an "IBM Compatible" gamer. I was still running DOS 5 on my first computer that I finally had convinced my parents to buy in 1990 when I was twelve years old; a $1400 Packard Bell 386SX @ 16mhz with 1MB of RAM. It had a 5 & 1/4 floppy drive, a 3 & 1/2 drive, and a 40MB hard disk. Fancy VGA monitor, but no modem and no printer. I eventually had a total of roughly 60 games, mainly graphic adventures. The first few games obtained were Ultima 4-6,  Eye of the Beholder, and X-Men - Madness in Murderworld.

One day, I'm at the mall with my grandmother, who was my main supplier of video games. At the time, PC games were usually sold for less money than console games due in part to the extra money needed to produce the cartridges. I spot a game called Return to Zork, and marvel at the cover. I assume before even picking up the box that the game is CD-ROM only. Looking at the spine expecting to be further frustrated that my system was outdated, (Ultima Underworld had recently come out. I was very disappointed that the game required 2 MBs of RAM and it would probably be very laggy without a 486 CPU) I see that my system can in fact play RTZ correctly! I had heard about the original Zork trilogy many times reading PC Gaming World and other things, so the title and the impressive packaging along with screens of real life actors had me very intrigued.

When I get the game home and install the twelve 3 & 1/2 inch discs included (using more than half my hard disc), the game fires right up the first time. The next few months will be filled with exploring the game, figuring out puzzles, and generally annoying the rest of my family with "Want some rye? Course ya do." blaring through my 8-bit Sound Blaster card. Somehow, I did sucked into the game despite having not played the original series. Many people I talk to today have a dislike for RTZ. Others mention their hatred for it, but yet told me about watching a walk-through of it on YouTube to see the solutions. I still prefer the floppy version of RTZ over the CD-ROM version due to originally playing off floppies. I also always thought that some things like the geography just weren't didn't seem right to me. Flood Control Dam #3 being depicted too small in the game motivated me to make my own version of Flood Control Dam #3 within the Return to Castle Wolfenstein (modified Id Tech 3) engine a few years ago.

A couple of months after getting RTZ, I read that The Lost Treasures of Infocom has been released. Not only did it contain every old Zork game, but it also contained many other Infocom games I had only heard about and missed. It was pricey.. around 75 bucks. My grandmother bought it for me after assuring her that it was a lot games in one package, and would keep me occupied for a long time. It also came with a card to send off in the mail for Leather Goddesses of Phobos for 9.95$. Somehow, I managed to get her to send off a check for that too! I still have the discs, books, and all maps that came with Lost Treasures of Infocom. I never did get Lost Treasures of Infocom 2.

The first game out of the Lost Treasures of Infocom box I played was Zork I. Instantly, I thought to myself that this was a far better actual "game" than RTZ. While there was more graphically to RTZ, the original Zork text adventure completely filled in any questions I had about the actual Underground Empire environment. The interface was also much better to me, being used to typing in commands into early text adventures such as Space Quest 2 and 3, Wonderland, and the Spellcasting series. I was amazed at how much better the word parser was in the Infocom games, and played everything within the Lost Treasures box steadily for months.

Before that, I had only played one text adventure in junior high school on, which I think was Mystery House on an Apple II. There was a disk of it laying around in a typing class I had. The only thing I really remember about it though was making the teacher very angry when I printed out the map from an in-game menu. It was seemed huge and I was never able to use it again, which was a disappointment.

I must admit that I used the hint book for Lost Treasures pretty heavily for Zork 1-3 and the Enchanter series. However, it's been so long ago that I can remember only fragments of all of those games with exception to Zork I. I will probably be playing the games in that collection off and on for the rest of my life, which is more than I can say for most modern games in my collection.

As mentioned in my first blog post, all of this lead to me trying (and pretty much failing) to create text adventures shortly after. It wasn't until about 15 years later when I was telling a bit of this to story to a friend after mentioning Get Lamp that I was rewarded with him telling me about Inform, and the whole interactive fiction enthusiast and developer community that I had been missing out on for a large chunk of my life.