Last chance to support Bob Bates' IF Kickstarter


Infocom author and gaming legend Bob Bates is running a Kickstarter project to support his new IF game "Thaumistry: In Charm's Way." Bates was the only non-Infocom employee who wrote for the company with two classic IF titles to his credit ("Sherlock" and "Arthur"). Bates also co-founded Legend Entertainment, and published a series of innovative graphical adventures that married some of the best elements of parser driven interactive fiction with good graphics, publishing titles such as "Timequest", "Spellcasting 101" and others. 

The Kickstarter project has met it's funding goal, but is now on it's way to stretch goals that would enable the development of digital feelies and possibly porting to more platforms. 

If you're interested in modern IF or want to pay homage to one of the original IF authors, I encourage you to help fund this project. It ends late tonight Feb 21. 

30 Years of Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Douglas adams infocom

It's hard to believe that Douglas Adams' classic comedy / sci-fi novel is thirty years old.  It's hard to believe because it's not true.  The novel is well on thirty-five years old, the original BBC radio broadcast is a year older at thirty-six, the TV adaptation is twenty-six and the film is just a wee nine year-old.  However, the Infocom game of the same name will be turning thirty on March 8th, so we may as well celebrate that. It's a nice round number, and I like round numbers.

Hitch_adAdams was a fan of technology, computers, games and procrastination.  So what better medium for The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy than an interactive fiction version from Infocom?  

The project was co-authored by Steve Meretzky (above right) who wrote all of the program code as well as significant chunks of the prose, presumably while Adams was busy procrastinating on other projects.  Adams penchant for putting off projects has been well documented over the years and the game's development is  given a detailed treatment by IF historian and game author Jimmy Maher.  

Adams subsequently kicked off work on the game Bureaucracy, though he later lost interest and the game went through many co-authors over three years and was eventually published in 1987.  Following this, there were some ill-fated attempts to create a sequel game Milliways: Restaurant at the End of the Universe which was to be written by author Michael Bywater, who had worked on Bureaucracy. Alas, nothing came of these efforts except some rough prototypes, heated emails and plenty of bruised egos.  

BBC Hitch30BBC Radio 4  has released an updated online version of the game for the thirtieth anniversary with a fun graphical interface.  You can find it on the BBC site. They will also be re-broadcasting the original radio series. 

If you've got a copy of the old Z5 file you can play it with the Frotz interpreter or equivalent on just about any platform around including iPhone, Android, Windows, Mac, Linux, etc. Be warned though, it's a fun game, but remarkebly tough. It's virtually impossible to get through without a walkthrough.

Update: I have updated the links in this story

Z-Machine Interpreter for Android

TextFiction Android

OnyxBits has released a new Android IF interpreter called TextFiction.  While not quite as full-featured as iFrotz on iOS, it looks to do a good job with classic Infocom games using Z3, Z5, Z8 files as well as more modern (and larger) ZBlorb games created with Inform.  It also provides a cool "text message" type of user interface that looks pretty cool.

You can download the app from Google Play or get the source code directly from GitHub.  So if you've got some old Infocom games lying around, or want to investigate modern games written in Inform, TextFiction looks like a good way to bring the games onto Android.  There are plenty of free Interactive Fiction games available on IFDB.

I don't have any Android devices personally, so I've not been able to test it out.  If you're an Android user, let me know how you like TextFiction by posting to the comments below.  


New JJ Abrams, Doug Dorst Book Inspired by Dennis Wheatley

S page

Acclaimed television and film director JJ Abrams' latest project is a distinctly analog book called "S." written by Doug Dorst.  The book is built on a mythic turn of the century novel "The Ship of Theseus" by a mysterious VM Straka.  More importantly, the book, which is made to look like an old library volume, includes margin comments from two college students, old letters, post cards, photographs, newspaper clippings and other assorted items that provide the reader with all the clues necessary to unravel a larger mystery.  Sound familiar?  

In an LA Times story, Abrams acknowledged his childhood fascination with the crime dossiers of bestelling English author Dennis Wheatley:

He hit upon the idea of “S.” after discovering a novel that had been left behind by another traveler, and he drew inspiration from the murder mysteries of British author Dennis Wheatley, who included dossiers of evidence in his books.

“There was one I remember called ‘Who Killed Robert Prentice?’” Abrams said. “It had a torn-up photograph in these little wax paper envelopes. As a child, I remember seeing those. That always stayed with me, that idea of getting a book, a packet, that was not just like any other book.”

"S" Looks like a fascinating old-school approach to meta-level fiction and the production appears to be top notch.  Here's a video from Mullholland Books that shows more details:

There's also an electronic version of "S." available for iPad. Call me old-fashioned, but I think the print version is the way to go. 

Update: I've added a few more links to related reviews and articles. 

Theme from Lovecraft


I've finally got some time to devote to my game The Z-Machine Matter. But rather than dive immediately back into programming, I have been working on tightening up the story.  It's a murder mystery, so the most important thing is to make sure that the suspects, motivations, clues and red herrings all fit together in a cohesive fashion.  No point programming up a bunch of interesting objects if the underlying story doesn't make sense.  

I've also been working on the underlying themes. One area that I've lifted from is the works of HP Lovecraft.  The story is more murder mystery than horror and is set in cold-war era 1950s.  However, it does tie into some interesting themes of Cosmicism as explored in many of Lovecraft's works and makes reference to the fictional town of Arkham Masschussetts and Miskatonic University.

For those seeking a more complete Lovecraft interactive fiction game, there are a good many to choose from including Infocom's The Lurking Horror, Michael Gentry's award-winning Anchorhead, Jimmy Maher's The King of Shreds and Patches, and a recent trilogy of shorter works by Marshal Tenner WinterThe Surprising Case of Brian Timmons, Ill Wind, and Castronegro Blues.

Lost Treasures of Infocom on iOS

  Lost Treasures Icon

I'm not sure how it hapened, but someone working below the radar of senior management must have figured out a way to release the Lost Treasures of Infocom for iPhone and iPad.  Why else would such a great collection of games be made available at such a great price?  Twenty-six of the original Infocom classic Interactive Fiction (IF) games including the original Zork series, Deadline, Enchanter, Witness, PlanetFall and much more for a measley $10. Or if you're not interested in the full collection, you can buy 5-packs of games for just $2.99.  

If somehow you missed out on '80s Interactive Fiction and don't already have these games on 5.25" floppies or the reissued CD-ROM collections, this is a great way to get them on your iPhone or iPad along with a spiffy new UI, built-in documentation and reproductions of the classic Infocom "feelies".  I was a bit disappointed that maps and Invisiclues cost $1 extra each if you buy one of the $2.99 collections, but you'll gets all of the maps and all of the feelies for the entire series.  And if you spring for the full $10 bundle, you get the maps and Invisiclues for free as well as a bonus game, Zork: The Undiscovered Underground.  

Completists will note that there were in fact 31 games in the Infocom canon.  So take note that this does not include Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Arthur, Sherlock, Shogun or Nord & Burt Couldn't Make Head or Tail of it, most likely due to licensing restrictions.  But if you're aware of those titles, you probably already have them running on iFrotz anyways. 

Here's the full list of games available:
• A Mind Forever Voyaging Lost-infocom
• Ballyhoo
• Border Zone
• Cutthroats
• Deadline
• Enchanter
• Hollywood Hijinx
• Infidel
• Leather Goddess of Phobos
• The Lurking Horror
• Moonmist
• Planetfall
• Plundered Hearts
• Seastalker
• Sorcerer
• Spellbreaker
• Starcross
• Stationfall
• Suspect
• Suspended: A Cryogenic Nightmare
• The Witness
• Trinity
• Wishbringer
• Zork 1: The Great Underground Empire (FREE)
• Zork 2 : The Wizard of Frobozz
• Zork 3 : The Dungeon Master
• Zork: The Undiscovered Underground (bonus game)

Parser Say "Happy New Year!"


It was a quiet New Year's eve, just before dinner and I managed to get a few hours of programming time on my long neglected IF murder mystery game. As I was working away, I noticed a couple of email notifications on Inform7 suggestions I had voted on.  Just as I was busily working away on my game, there were others, perhaps many others, around the world working on their own IF projects.  

No doubt there are people working on new games, writing code, creating extensions, writing hints and walkthroughs and feelies.  Others, like the Inform7 team, appear to be toiling away on bug fixes and new features for an upcoming release.  And hopefully there are newcomers, perhaps intrigued by the iOS Lost Treasures of Infocom or otherwise have stumbled upon IFComp and are taking a look at Inform7, TADS, Quest or other IF tools with the thoughts of creating their own games.  To all of you, I say "Happy New Year!"

I don't have many personal connections to the IF community, but if I did, I'd buy everyone a drink as a thank you for all that the IF community does.  There are so many people who have put in countless hours in projects that we all benefit from whether it's the Inform7 compiler, the IDEs, library extensions, documentation, historical essays, interpreters, Kindle & iOS ports, classic retro games, fantastic modern games, lively forums, competitions... You could not hope for a better, warmer and more inviting community. (Ok, with the possible exception of mean reviews, but even that seems to be getting better.)

Thank you!  I wish everyone a wonderful year and the best of success with your IF projects in 2013.

If there's something you're grateful for in 2012, please feel free to add a comment.

San Francisco IF Meetup


Dan Fabulich (above right) does a great, or dare I say, fabulous job organizing the local San Francisco Interactive Fiction meetup.  Meetings occur the first Saturday of every month and are generally in or around Berkeley or Oakland area.  Last week we met at the Musueam of Art & Digital Entertainment (MADE) offices in Oakland.  There was a lot of catching up on what everyone is up to, speculation on recent rumors about Steam's console PC, discussion of Double Fine's forthcoming Adventure game.  

Then we dove into a group session trying to solve Infocom's notoriously difficult Deadline interactive mystery game.  We had to dive into some online clues, but a good time was had by all.  Heck, Dan even brought pizza.  What a mensch!

Next meeting is April 7.  Hope to see you there.

Kindle IF Screensaver

Kindle infocom moonmist

I picked up a Kindle 3 (aka Kindle Keyboard) a while back and have been thoroughly impressed with it.  I love the fact that I can take half a dozen or more books with me when I travel without taking up a lot of weight or space in my luggage.  And although the keyboard is not great, it's good enough to play Jimmy Maher's Kindle version of "The King of Shreds and Patches".  

No doubt there was a lot of heavy duty hacking of the Glulx interpreter to get the game to run on Kindle. I don't know how much effort would be required to make this into a general-purpose interpreter capable of running any Glulx or Z-Machine game, but I sure hope that happens.  The game is well worth the $4 to support IF on a new platform.  Heck, if Maher puts this project on Kickstarter, I'd be happy to kick in more.

At any rate, I've created a ZIP file of IF-inspired screensaver wallpapers for Kindle users.  These are scaled down black & white images of various Infocom games.  If you have a Kindle and are tired of the standard images of authors, you can install a Kindle hack easily enough with a couple of downloads.  Just make sure you install the right version for your particular Kindle device.

I've also posted these on PicasaWeb along with some other covers from various novels, some Mad Magazine covers and some fake O'Reilly covers.  And there are plenty of other Kindle screensaver wallpapers out there to chose from. 

Happy thanksgiving!

(Update: Fixed a broken link)



My Top 10 in IF


There's a thread on the intfiction forum regarding the creation of a top 50 list for Interactive Fiction.  Ok, fair 'nuff...  I'm in.  I've probably played fewer IF games than many hardcore fans, so I've limited myself to a top 10 list.  It's not the most varied list around, reflecting my own personal bias towards old school Infocom games and mystery stories.  Still, maybe you'll find a few reasons to try out these games on IFDB.

  • The Witness 
    This is my all-time favorite interactive fiction story and really one of the first that I was able to solve without too many hints.  It's definitely old-school with all the good and bad of what was state of the art Infocom in the 1980s. It also included great "feelies" in the package.  My own work-in-progress game "The Z-Machine Matter" has a modest tip of the hat to The Witness and other IF mystery games.    
  • Border Zone
    Another great Infocom title, Border Zone was an espionage story that took place in 3 acts with a real-time clock.  It's tricky, but a fun story where you have to move quickly.  Definitely gets your heart racing!  I was finally able to pick up a copy on eBay many years after having lost my earlier version in misguided spring cleaning years ago.  What memories this game had for me!
  • Trinity
    While I never finished Trinity, I still think it is one of the coolest concepts for a game.  Great historical story telling that goes into a while other level of mythology working on multiple levels.  Also included a very cool comic book and great props.
  • An Act of Murder
    This is a great short "who done it" mystery by Chris Huang.  This was one of the games that got me back into Interactive Fiction after a long absence.  It's very approachable and does a great job of creating a randomized mystery story.  Huang's story is also an inspiration to my own game.
  • Photopia
    While Photopia is more story than game, it's an excellent example of a more experimental style of IF that is actually interesting and moving.  Definitely worth trying out.  Extremely compelling writing.
  • Lord Bellwater's Secret
    This is a short one-room mystery.  While it has some quirks and some puzzles that are not completely logical, it's still a pretty darned good piece of entertainment.  The writing is strong and there's some good surprises for such a tight-knit game.  
  • Spider & Web
    An intriguing piece of IF with some interesting narrative techniques and solid writing by Andrew Plotkin. It might take you a few attempts for the game to pull you in, but once it does, it's a compelling story.
  • The King of Shreds and Patches
    Admittedly, I'm late to this game, trying it for the first time with the recently released Kindle version.  I could use Zoom on my Mac, but I really wanted to see whether IF could work well on the Kindle.  I'm just blown away at what a great job Jimmy Maher has done exploiting the Kindle UI.  This truly captures what an interactive novel should feel like.  Elizabethan stories are not usually my cup of tea, but this is so well done I'm willing to stretch a bit.  If you have a Kindle, how can you not try this out?  

  • Make it Good
    This is the most awesome post-Infocom detective mystery story out there.  It's truly an epic piece of work taking Jon Ingold several years to deliver this story.  But it was worth it.
  • Lost Pig
    Despite the fact that it's not a mystery story, this is a fun game with a helluva great narrative voice.  It's fun, it's entertaining and it's not crazy hard.