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 (1984), 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:
- Unwinnable by Design: Infocom actually have their own page for listing their intentionally unwinnable moments. 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 (1984)
- 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:
- Big Dumb Object: Forms most of the plot of Starcross.
- Bookmark Clue: In Witness, one potential clue is a receipt that Hong the butler carelessly used as a bookmark.
- Clueless Detective: In Ballyhoo.
- Crappy Carnival: In Ballyhoo, T.P. Munrab's Travelling Circus that Time Forgot. Not creepy or scary but somewhat run down and noted for its presence of a strictly old-school freakshow with midgets and a fat lady. Even when the game was made, Munrab's circus would be heavily subject to a lot of criticism concerning exploitation, both of people and animals.
- 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.
- Dungeon Bypass: If you're quick enough in Witness, you can spot the murderer hiding the evidence in a room and end the game right there.
- Everybody Lives:
- Including the villain in Seastalker.
- This can also occur at the end of Ballyhoo if you play your cards right.
- 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.)
- Going by the Matchbook: One of the Feelies in The Witness.
- Halloween Episode: 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.
- Hello, [Insert Name Here]:
- 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.
- Orientalism: Witness is a blatant example. Freeman Linder, the man who calls your detective character to his home, is clearly a White man with a Foreign Culture Fetish. His home has many Asian touches of decoration and Linder goes on about how he went native during his years over in China. His servant, Phong, is stereotypically dressed in mandarin clothes with the queue hair braid. The story is set in the 1930s so such stereotypes were normal back then.
- 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: 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.
- Secret Room: In Deadline, the updated will is hidden in one.
- Sdrawkcab Name: T.P. Munrab from Ballyhoo.