April 19, 2008

The End of the Restaurant’s Universe

by Nick Montfort · , 11:20 am

This has been so overexposed as to finally oblige a post – so, sorry if you’ve already heard it. There’s a set of backup files from the main Infocom disk that exists and seems to be in very small-scale but discernible circulation. Among other things, it contains emails about the eventually scuttled sequel to the game Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy by Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky, design notes for this sequel, and two early very incomplete but working mock-ups of it. Andy Baio’s lengthy post on Waxy.org unearths an email conversation about the never-completed game Milliways, ak.a. The Restaurant at the End of the Universe from more than 20 years ago.

There is a little discussion after this post about life at Infocom, the development of games, and how typical or not this email conversation and this project is. I liked Amy Briggs’s comment about how Infocom wasn’t really collaborative (unless a collaboration was indicated on the game’s box) but was supportive and collegial. The emails quoted in the post are certainly telling in some ways, as are the comments on the post offered by all the main imps involved: Marc Blank, Dave Lebling, Steve Meretzky, Amy Briggs, Tim Anderson, and Michael Bywater. And there are some interesting comments about the design goals and what was accomplished in the prototypes by modern-day IF community members and scholars – including a long note from Graham Nelson, who had already researched Restaurant and written briefly but clearly about it in part of a longer history.

Most of the discussion is of the propriety of posting internal corporate emails that have the potential to still hurt feelings, particularly without attempting to contact any of the people involved first. This is an important conversation to have, although it’s too bad that this blog post provided the opportunity to have it. I hope the main course from all of this ends up being a better understanding of how games were developed at Infocom and renewed interest in the sorts of innovative ideas that were put forth in this incomplete project.