Lost Treasures of Infocom

If the words “plugh” and “xyzzy” mean nothing to you, you probably won’t understand why I’m thrilled that the Lost Treasures of Infocom have hit the iOS App Store.

Back when I was a lad, just getting started with computers, the neatest game around was called ADVENT. Also known as the Colossal Cave Adventure, it was the very first text adventure game, a genre now known as “interactive fiction”. Originally written in Fortran, it was eventually ported to pretty much every platform then in existence; and it can now be played on-line.

ADVENT is the remote ancestor of every adventure game now in existence. You had a large world to explore, monsters to cope with, treasures to loot, puzzles to solve, and an inventory of items to solve them with. Of course, this was 1976. The average micro-computer had no more than 64 kilobytes of RAM, and probably much less. There were no computer graphics to speak of; the game world was presented as text descriptions, and your commands were simple “verb” or “verb object” sentences parsed by the game, e.g, “GO EAST” or “GET WAND”.

The next big adventure game to come along was written at MIT, and was called DUNGEON. Set in the Great Underground Empire of Zork, it included a much more powerful parser, a much larger world, and much trickier puzzles. (You can play it on-line to, at the link given above.) It become so popular that it was commercialized by a company called Infocom, but it was too big to fit on micro-computers, so it was split into parts, now known as the Zork trilogy. Infocom went on to produce almost thirty different text adventures.

Infocom was eventually bought by Activision, and in 1991, shortly after dissolving the Infocom brand, Activision released a CD called Lost Treasures of Infocom, including all of their text adventures (except Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, due, I guess, to licensing issues).

When I was in junior high, we had ADVENT running on a HeathKit H-11 computer at our house. Later we had the Zork trilogy running on an Apple II and on a KayPro 4. It was inspiring, and for many years writing text adventures was my educational project of choice when learning a new programming language. When Lost Treasures of Infocom was released for the IBM PC, I grabbed it. (I think I still have the CD somewhere.)

Now the Lost Treasures are available on your iPhone or iPad. For free. And per the linked review, Activision managed the transition to the touch environment quite nicely.

If you’re looking for retro gaming, it doesn’t get any more retro than this. Go check it out.

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