Interactive Fiction

I have a lot of vices. And one of the few vices that hasn’t led to jail time is software collecting. I collect all sorts of vintage software, but my favorite is interactive fiction, especially the games created by Infocom.

Interactive fiction or text adventures, were the precursor to graphics-based games. Like a great novel, a text adventure dropped you into a strange new world, a world you could interact with by typing commands via your keyboard. Below is a sample transcript from the beginning of a murder mystery called The Witness:

Infocom games were authored by writers, who were also programmers.

But what really set Infocom games apart was the user interface or parser.

The Infocom parser allowed you to type your commands in plain English. While other text adventures could understand only two words at a time, a verb and a noun (take flashlight, hit troll, go east), Infocom games understood full sentences (loosen the screw with the screwdriver and pick up the hammer) which made the fantasy world more believable.

But to make doubly- sure you were fully immersed in the fictional world, each game included “feelies”, small items and props that served as background material or clues related to the story.

For example, here’s a picture of the packaging from the Infocom murder mystery, Deadline:

The software package looked like a police dossier, and inside it were items like a fingerprint file, pills used in the murder (they were SweetTarts), lab reports, and an autopsy report.

The whole idea was to draw you into the story.

This was really a unique approach, at least I thought it was, until one of the programmers at Infocom said he got the idea for the “feelies” from a series of fictional crime books that were sold in England in the 30’s and 40’s:

They were written by Dennis Wheatley, and they employed the same immersion techniques that Infocom would use 40 years later- they used lab reports, evidence, photographs, and an early version of feelies. Here’s a few of them.

Blueprints from the ship:

Photos of the murder scene:

And evidence from the police investigation:

That’s actually a match stick and human hair. The rumor was the hair came from a group of nuns at a local convent who agreed to donate the hair if the publishing company made a donation to a local charity.

And of course, below we have the requisite bloodstained piece of the shower curtain:

Once you read through the book and examined the evidence, you could tear open the sealed envelope at the back of the book to see who did it:

I thought the books were pretty cool so I started collecting them. There’s only 4 of them, and the 4 I have are all reproductions from the 1980’s.

The original books aren’t that difficult to find, but I want them to be complete and in mint condition, so on the rare occasion when they do come up for sale, they’re mucho expensive.

And I’m not one to waste money on old vintage crap.

Oh wait. I am.


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