The original interactive fiction authors at Infocom were heroes; they combined creative puzzles with compelling prose and great packaging. Over the years, I've ready many good interviews with the Infocom implementors. I've gathered up as many useful links as I could find from online sources as well as some old print magazines from back in the deay. Here are a couple of short excerpts as well as links to the full interviews.
What do you think had made Infocom initially so successful as a game developer and publisher before its demise under Activision in 1989?
For its time, Infocom had very impressive technology: the multi-word parser was a huge improvement over the two-word parser that was state-of-the-art in those days, as well as the compression techniques that allowed Infocom to store an astounding amount of game play on a floppy disk which, in those days, held only about 80K of data! Also, Infocom as a company had a near-obsession with quality, which showed through in everything from package design to the scarcity of "bugs".
Among all people you have collaborated with, who gained your highest respect? Why?
I mostly collaborated with people inside Infocom. I always found Marc Blank to have a game-sense or puzzle-sense most like mine, and we collaborated easily on several games, most notably Enchanter. I think I was most in awe of Steve Meretzky, whose reservoir of ideas never seems to run dry, and who has always been a meticulous and dedicated craftsman about his work, and cares deeply about every aspect of it. All this while denying that he is a programmer.
What is your philosophy in designing puzzles for adventure games? In other words, what makes a great puzzle and what makes a poor one?
I've written extensively about this, and to answer the question completely would take much more time than is available in an interview. The basics, though, are that a puzzle must be fair, it should be natural to its environment, the information needed to solve it should be available in the game, and when the player finally learns the answer, if he didn't figure it out for himself, he should slap himself on the forehead and say, "Of course!!!" rather than wanting to shoot the designer.
Had elaborate packaging been one of Infocom's ideas from the start?
Well the first packaging of Zork was just the disk and the manual, very prosaic, and the first one that had really exciting packaging was Deadline, the first murder mystery we did. We had seen some things by Dennis Wheatley, I don't know what sort of books you'd call them, but they had clues, transcripts, all kinds of fun stuff in them, and I think it was Marc Blank seeing those things that motivated him to write Deadline and so we got the idea that it would be fun to have interesting stuff in our packaging too. It was such a success, and partly for that reason as well as being a good game, that the next time we did a game we thought, well, we can put some other keen stuff in it, and so we've just made a habit of it.
Click through to the links below to Adventure Classic Gaming to read the full interviews.
- Steve Meretsky (2001) Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, PlanetFall, Zork Zero
- Dave Lebling (2001) Lurking Horror, Suspect, Spellbreaker
- Bob Bates (2001) Sherlock, Arthur
- Amy Briggs (2002) Plundered Hearts
- Brian Moriarty (2006) Trinity, Wishbringer, Beyond Zork
And more interviews at XYZZY News:
- The Wizards of Infocom (1984 Computer Games interview)
- Brian Moriarty (1986 AmigaWorld interview by Brian Moriarty himself!)
- Four Minds Forever Voyaging (1986 ZZap! 64 interview)
- Dave Lebling (1987 profile which mentions the influence of Dennis Wheatley)
- Marc Blank, Joel Berez (1988 interview in Compute! magazine)
- Brian Moriarty (1991 interview about Trinity and Wishbringer)
- Brian Moriarty (1997 interview from the book Halcyon Days)
- Steve Meretsky (2005 BBC interview about working with Douglas Adams)
- History of Zork Interviews (2007)