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August 2011

Infocom Gone Wild!

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After I saw the "Get Lamp" Interactive Fiction documentary film last summer, I began to have deep regrets about the Infocom games I had collected and somehow let slip through my fingers around 20 years ago. When Infocom released the Lost Treasures series, I decided to consolidate space and get rid of all of my original Grey Box editions in a misguided attempt at Spring cleaning.  (Luckily, I did keep all the feelies!) While my collection was not complete, I had all of the Infocom Mystery titles as well as a good number of Science Fiction and Comedy.  Most of them I had picked up in the 1990s at bargain prices.  So it was quite a depressing realization that in recent years, Infocom games had become even more rare. 

Nonetheless, after many months and at some considerable effort, I managed to rebuild the collection from eBay and Amazon.  I also added quite a few additional titles in the process including original "folio" editions of Deadline, The Witness and Infidel.  These were the original packages and were influenced by the famous Dennis Wheatley crime dossier reprints of the 1970s. I'm especially proud of those and they weren't outrageously expensive either.  If there's interest I'll write up a separate post on those later in the summer.

The price I paid for my Infocom titles varied from $5 to $49, most under $25.  Though I was tempted, I drew the line at not paying more than the original list price for games.  Some titles, such as Sherlock, Stationfall and Border Zone seem to be quite rare, so these all came right up to my limit and I was often outbid in the process.  Still, Border Zone was one of the games I was very fond of, so I learned to be patient.  Also, since I already had all the game files, I didn't really need the disks.  That said, I still bought most of the Activision collections: Adventure, Sci-Fi, Mystery and Comedy just out of compulsion.

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Anyways, I'm very proud to now have so many of these Infocom titles taking up space in my cluttered home office.  And when I think about all the Dennis Wheatly crimefiles I've bought in addition to the Infocom games and time spent on programming my game The Z-Machine Matter, I realize what an expensive movie "Get Lamp" turned out to be.  

Still, it's cheaper than collecting cars or guitars.


Next Steps for The Z-Machine Matter

Considering the various reviews and Introcomp feedback on my game The Z-Machine Matter, there's no doubt a lot of work ahead of me.  I feel like I signed up for a 10k race and somehow ended up in a Marathon.  Maybe an Ultra Marathon.  Here's my own assessment of The Z-Machine Matter in its current state:

  • As a prototype or proof of concept, it's not bad for those who like old-school mysteries
  • The PDF manual, plot and characters pay hommage to classic Infocom mystery games
  • There's a hint of a multi-layered plot around a murder mystery with cold war intrigue
  • There's some decent use of Inform Extensions, built-in hints and standard commands to suggest the game may one day have reasonably good fit & finish 

But...

  • Not everyone is impressed by having an homage to Infocom
  • The game needs to be more engaging  --IF references alone don't make it interesting
  • Where there are IF references they need to be more clever
  • Some of the IF references may be too much of a distraction
  • As a prototype, the code is a bit of a hack -- some things don't work as expected
  • There's a lot of hard-coded logic that need to be made more general
  • There's a combinatorial explosion of objects, some of which serve no purpose yet
  • There's a need to pace how much information, topics, objects are put in front of the player in order to have more controlled pacing and more digestible information
  • The writing, especially room descriptions, needs to better convey an atmosphere of mystery
  • The dialog needs work to be more authentic, less stilted
  • The NPCs need work to be more observant of what's happening around them
  • NPC reactions need to be based on what's been revealed and what's still a secret
  • The NPCs need to help guide the story rather than just respond to questions
  • There's too much stuff lying around in closets and desk drawers 
  • There are pacing issues that need to be adjusted
  • There are still occasional ambiguity problems
  • Commands like ANALYZE, ACCUSE, ARREST still need to be implemented
  • The logic behind motives, alibis and suspects needs to be completed
  • The paceholder end of Act II needs to be more dramatic and robust
  • I need to decide whether additional locations and characters are required or whether I can limit the scope of the story to what's currently in place

The last point is perhaps the most important.  My original story outline includes The Brass Lantern, a roadhouse not far from the Blakely Estate and a barkeep named Nelson Graham. I'm not so concerned with the additional effort of writing that section, but figuring out how to keep the pacing tight could be a challenge.  And in the meantime, I think I need to focus on tightening up Act II before jumping into Act III.

No doubt there's a lot of work ahead.  With a more-than-fulltime job, it's gonna be a challenge.  But if I can break it down into smaller steps, perhaps I can just take it 1 mile at a time.  Meanwhile, feedback, suggestions, input and SCRIPT transcripts are always welcome!  

I used the IntroComp time period as a way to take a break from the source code other than fixing very minor errors, typos, etc. So now I'm ready to dive back in.