Infocom, founded in 1979, is the shining light in the history of commercially-released Interactive Fiction games. Beginning with Zork in 1980, the company released over thirty games, many of which are still played.
The company's strengths included technical innovation (their Text Parser was the best in the business, and the z-code data format Infocom created is a popular choice for distributing new IF games to this day), rich storytelling, and creative packaging (most Infocom games shipped with "feelies", thematically-related props which might form part of the Copy Protection system, constitute clues, give extra background information, or just be included for the lulz).
In 1986, struggling with competition from video games with fancy graphics and badly damaged by an ill-fated foray into the business software market, Infocom was bought by Activision. Shortly after the acquisition, Infocom's champion on the Activision board left the company, and his successor spent three years "improving" Infocom before pulling the plug in 1989.
These days many of their games are available on Abandonware sites - indeed the games (being entirely text) are incredibly small files by today's standards. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which was a very verbose game, is only 128k - smaller than most modern digital pictures.
If youre interested in a truly deep dive into Infocom history, 4000 pages of Steve Meretzkys meticulously archived files are uploaded to the Internet Archive. The source code for most of Infocom's games have been recovered by an amazing chain of coincidences and uploaded to Historical Source on Github.
Infocom was the Trope Namer for:
Recurring tropes in Infocom games:
- Arc Number: 69,105
- Developers' Foresight: Infocom's parsers were incredibly smart, probably due to having more memory to work with as the games didn't have any graphics.
- Easter Egg
- Featureless Protagonist
- Fictional Document
- Guide Dang It!: Many of the games were DEVILISHLY hard, but particularly: Babel Fish
- Interactive Fiction
- Inventory Management Puzzle
- Kleptomaniac Hero
- Locked Door
- Second-Person Narration
- Unwinnable by Design: Infocom actually have their own page and their games rarely rated above "Nasty", and were more often than not "Cruel".
Infocom games with their own trope pages include:
- The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy
- Hollywood Hijinx
- Leather Goddesses of Phobos
- The Lurking Horror
- A Mind Forever Voyaging
- Nord and Bert Couldn't Make Head or Tail of It
- Planetfall (and Stationfall)
- Plundered Hearts
- Quarterstaff: The Tomb of Setmoth
- Tombs & Treasure
- The Zork series
Tropes relating to individual games that don't have their own pages:
- All Hallows' Eve: Suspect takes place in a Halloween costume ball... at the time that a murder has already occurred... a murder you're falsely accused of committing.
- Big Dumb Object: Forms most of the plot of Starcross.
- Clueless Detective: In Ballyhoo.
- Criminal Mind Games: In Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels.
- Dead Person Impersonation: At the beginning of Suspect, you notice that Veronica Ashcroft-Wellman has been acting strangely... until you eventually discover that your old schoolfriend, Alicia Barron, was posing as Veronica, which means that the real Veronica had already been murdered right before the start of the game.
- Difficulty Levels: Early in Moonmist, the player is asked their favorite color, and the answer determines which of four different mysteries (differing in complexity, and each with a different guilty party and a different reward) the game subsequently presents to the player. The options in order of ascending difficulty are green, blue, red, or yellow.
- Everybody Lives:
- Including the villain in Seastalker.
- This can also occur at the end of Ballyhoo if you play your cards right.
- Faking the Dead: In the red variation of Moonmist, we discover that Lord Jack Tresyllian attempted to kill his former fiancée, Deirdre Hallam, after murdering his uncle Lionel for his inheritance and fortune. However, she escaped Jack's clutches by jumping into the well in the castle basement and swimming her way to safety, thus faking her own murder and setting the one reason for "Never Found the Body"; she then masqueraded as the legendary "White Lady" in her effort to haunt Jack and her successor Tamara Lynd.
- Fission Mailed: In Ballyhoo, if you fall "awkwardly" down from the wagon cage, you get a "*** You have died.***" message that appears like any normal Game Over screen... except that there is no "Would you like to restore, restart or quit?" message at all. If you move your body and get all items you may have left near the cage, you get this message:(The reports of your demise have been grossly exaggerated. You suffer little more than injured pride.)
- Foreign Remake: In 1992, six years after the original Moonmist, Japanese software development company SystemSoft developed and published its remake for the PC-9801 entitled Moonmist: Shiroki Kifujin no Nazo (ムーンミスト ～白き貴夫人の謎～; Moonmist: The Mystery of the Noble White Lady). Unlike the original, this game has some of the most common verb commands ("look", "take", etc.) that can be accessed by pressing a corresponding button (the player still has to type the name of an object, though), and enchanced graphics for the unique background pictures on which the text is super-imposed.
- Going by the Matchbook: One of the Feelies in The Witness.
- Hello, [Insert Name Here]:
- Moonmist asks you for your name and title at the beginning.
- Some computer versions of Seastalker allow you to type in your first and last name at the very beginning.
- Bureaucracy allows you to fill out your full name along with the name and number of your street, city and state and your Purely Aesthetic Gender and so forth at the very beginning.
- In Case You Forgot Who Wrote It: James Clavell's Shogun, which James Clavell didn't have an active hand in adapting.
- Masquerade Ball: The setting of Suspect.
- Never Found the Body: We are told in Moonmist that Deirdre Hallam apparently died when she allegedly jumped or fell into a deep well at the basement of Tresyllian Castle, and her body was never found, although it is later revealed in the red variation that she was actually Faking the Dead.
- The Password Is Always "Swordfish": It is in Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels, anyway.
- Postmodernism: In Deadline, the player finds a novelization of the game within the game.
- Public-Domain Character: Each of the "Immortal Legends" games. Sherlock: The Riddle of the Crown Jewels features Sherlock Holmes and related characters; Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur does likewise for King Arthur.
- Purely Aesthetic Gender:
- A bit of a difference depending on which version of Moonmist you've played: while the original game only has you customize your character in the forms of Hello, [Insert Name Here] and Schrödinger's Gun, the PC-9801 version not only ditched the prefix in place of this "Purely Aesthetic Gender" (with an option of either male, female or "okama", i.e., Drag Queen), but it also allowed you to type in the number of your age!
- Bureaucracy also starts out a bit like Moonmist, except that it also customizes your protagonist in the form of Hello, [Insert Name Here] and others such as your street, city, state and zip code and so forth.
- Combined with Schrödinger's Gun: In Ballyhoo, your player's gender is indeterminate as you explore, but eventually you'll come across a punch-dotted ticket, with a blue dot for male and a pink one for female. Whichever dot you punch out as you put the ticket into the slot retroactively becomes the correct answer.
- Red Herring: Lampshaded in Deadline. The dead man's son George acts very suspicious. However, if you enter the dining room when he's there, you will witness him eating a plate of red herrings. Needless to say, he's innocent of the murder.
- Ruritania: Frobnia in Border Zone.
- Shout-Out: In the yellow variation of Moonmist, three of the four clues you are sent to find are references to the works of Edgar Allan Poe, namely, "The Bells", "Annabel Lee", and "The Cask of Amontillado".
- Title Drop: In Moonmist the hidden treasure of the green variation is a rare South American tribal remedy by that name. It doesn't factor into any of the other versions at all though.