July 25, 2006

An Infocom Obituary

by Nick Montfort · , 6:35 pm

A short, melancholy article on “The Short, Happy Life of Infocom” is now in The Escapist. The piece is by Lara Crigger, who also wrote the April Compuer Games cover story on IF. Like many such articles, it casusally mentions that Infocom is dead, dead dead dead, not alive. This one is illustrated with a photo of a gravestone, once again following the “IF is history!” formula for such pieces that Jeremy Douglass has pointed out. Why don’t we see articles like “Back Before DOS Bit the Dust,” “Origin Systems: Once Great, Now Toast” or “Dreamcast: Fun, and Six Feet Under!” more often? Or do I just not notice these?

When I was in Boston recently, Jason Scott of the text adventure documentary, Get Lamp, took me to Infocom. Well, the company has been gone from the location some twenty-one years or so, but we did go by and see the building in which they used to have their offices. It was sort of cool, but it was also just this building. Maybe that will help the reality of Infocom’s death sink in.

5 Responses to “An Infocom Obituary”

  1. mark Says:

    I actually do see the Dreamcast being dead come up pretty often, although more in informal/gamer circles than in published articles. The usual context is either someone lamenting how the Dreamcast is dead despite being so much better than all its crappy competitors, or someone mocking the stereotypical Dreamcast aficionado who would respond to every new console system announcement with a diatribe about how the Dreamcast is still better.

  2. Gilbert Bernstein Says:

    Just a guess, but I think it might have to do with Interactive Fiction being so very far from what most people think of as computer or video games nowadays. Dreamcast had some great games, but none of them were quite as radical (in a sense) as to not have graphics. In a way, you might see it as a complement.

  3. Lara Crigger Says:

    Hi Nick! I should’ve known you’d find my piece sooner or later…

    Yes, I wrote another morbid Infocom-is-dead-dead-DEAD piece. I fully admit it. But the point of this Escapist issue was to examine a few fascinating business success and failure stories, and you have to admit: Infocom definitely fits the “fascinating” bill. Also, the word count restriction was unfortunately rather tight on this one, too. Else I would have loved to go into long, elaborate detail about what’s going on in IF today. Alas. One day, I promise!

    Of course, you could make it easier by bombarding every editor in town with letters saying, “How I’d love to see an article about the IF Comp or Grand Text Auto in your magazine. I’d buy seventeen subscriptions!” (I kid, but really, if you want to see more IF articles in print, just write your favorite editor and tell her so. I’ve heard many complaints from one of mine that nobody writes to his magazine until he does something wrong. It can’t hurt.)

  4. nick Says:

    I suspect Jason Scott’s documentary (which doesn’t seem like it is going to shun the “Infocom is dead” message, by the way) will do some to raise awareness of IF in popular media.

    True, mark, I suppose it isn’t just Infocom. The corporate history of computer games, like modern first-person shooters, is often loaded with gore to make it more appealing. The old book “Zap: The Rise and Fall of Atari” is one example; even another old book about Nintendo, which does not seem to be dead, gets called “Game Over” to suggest corporate annihilation. I guess, as Gilbert suggests, the obvious connection to draw seems to be simply that all of these were businesses, since the specific games were so different.

    But I’m an odd case: I’m much more interested in what creators of interactive fiction can learn from Infocom’s successful and creative software development, and the company’s programming processes, than in what lessons there might be to learn from its problems on the business side.

  5. Jason Scott Says:

    I may still surprise you, dissertation-boy!

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