Are Infocom lagging behind in
innovation or have they got
something up their sleeves?
John Sweeney takes a look at
their most recent adventures
and discovers a possible
change in direction
Infocom continue to produce some of the best text Adventures in the
world. They started off 1987 well with the excellent Bureaucracy and
Planetfall, both worthy of a place in any adventurer's collection.
They continued with Lurking Horror and Plundered Hearts, both of
which are, again, straight text Adventures of the kind at which
Infocom have excelled for so many years. Admittedly the four
adventures are all very different, partly because of the different
styles of the authors, but also because they cover a diverse range
of genres — The Romantic Novel, Gothic Horror, Science Fiction, and
... urn ... well, Douglas Adams' Bureaucracy is just Different!
Despite all being excellent games, they are all straight text
Adventures in the world-renowned standard Infocom style. There are
no surprises in the presentation, game-play or facilities of any of
these games. There has been talk for some time that Infocom may be
beginning to fall behind in technical innovation and the use of the
power of the 16 bit machines but then came Nord and Bert and,
hopefully by the time you read this, Beyond Zork. Both are
innovative, but in very different ways.
Let's take a look at each of these most recent adventures.
THE LURKING HORROR
The Lurking Horror is Infocom at its best (its old best, that is! —
mayhap Beyond Zork, previewed later, will lead us on to new even
dizzier heights!). It was written by Dave Lebling who co-authored
the original Zorks (I, II, III and Enchanter) and also wrote
Starcross. Suspect and Spellbreaker on his own. With a pedigree like
that you know its going to be good! This time he has chosen to write
a horror story full of monsters from Lovecraft's worst nightmares,
complete with nasty descriptions of all the things which happen to
you if things go wrong (which they do frequently!), such as the
delicious descriptions of what the monsters do to you if you die:
"Something gnawing on your tongue thinks its pretty wonderful!".
(Actually when I first mentioned that line to my wife she thought I
was talking about a scene from the Romantic Novel 'Plundered
The adventure is set on the campus of the GUE Tech. No, it's not a
coincidence that George Underwood Edwards and Great Underground
Empire, (setting of all the Zorks), have the same initials, but sad
to say, there aren't any Grues. Most of the action does in fact take
place deep below the campus when, while investigating the
disappearance of various members of the university, you discover
that the underground passages linking the various buildings of GUE
Tech lead deeper than anyone
suspected. You soon discover they lead to blood-stained altars, pits
with terrifying inhabitants and ancient tombs. It all seems to have
something to do with the Alchemy Department! Along the way you pick
up a companion to help you in your troubles, a sort of pet, but I
won't reveal what, just that Mr Lebling has a most gruesome mind —
The packaging is up to Infocom's usual high standard and includes a
helpful manual, a Fresher's Guide to GUE, your student ID Card,
and your very own personal monster, which sticks very nicely to the
side of an ST screen!
Since Infocom stopped classifying their adventures I don't believe
they have produced any as hard as the ones they used to class as
Advanced or Expert, I would class this as a good Standard Level
adventure. The atmosphere is great, the puzzles are interesting, the
implementation is excellent. Thoroughly recommended to all who love
adventures and/or horror stories.
Trembling, you fire the heavy arquebus. You hear its loud report
over the roaring wind, yet the dark figure still approaches. The gun
falls from your nerveless hands. "You won't kill me," he says,
stepping over the weapon. "Not when I am the only protection you have from Jean Lafond." Chestnut hair,
tousled by the wind, frames the tanned oval of his face. Lips
curving, his eyes rake over your inadequately dressed body, the damp
chemise clinging to your legs and heaving bosom, your gleaming hair.
You are intensely aware of the strength of his seaworn body, of the
deep sea blue of his eyes. And then his mouth is on yours, lips
parted, demanding, and you arch into his kiss...
He presses you against him. "But who, my dear", he whispers into
your hair, "will protect you from me?". So starts Plundered Hearts!
You play the part of a beautiful and genteel Englishwoman in the
late 17th Century, travelling to the West Indies to care for your
ailing father. The story begins with your ship being attacked by
pirates. You are carried off by a dashing pirate, Captain Nicholas
Jamison — better known as the Falcon! He claims to be from your
father, but can you trust him? Even worse, can you trust yourself in
After the introduction which covers your first meeting with the
Falcon, you find yourself alone in a cabin on the Falcon's ship,
which is anchored off the coast of the isle of St. Sinistra. The
Falcon claims to be visiting Jean Lafond in an attempt to rescue
your father from him. You have been locked in your cabin, supposedly
for your own safety. Unfortunately there appears to be a traitor in
the crew: the ship is drifting on to the reefs, and if the reefs
don't get you then when the fire in the stores reaches the
gunpowder, the subsequent explosion will! This is SAFETY?
IF you survive all that you still have to reach the island and face
further dangers such as treacherous pirates, a most efficient
butler, savage crocodiles, and the evil villain Lafond.
Plundered Hearts is full of atmosphere. It really does read like a
romantic novel, full of adventure on the high seas. There are, as is
usual in Infocom adventures, lots of little touches to help the
atmosphere, for instance the response to a blank line is "Prithee,
pardon?", and to SAVE is "Aye-Aye"! The whole thing is very
tongue-in-cheek, full of cliches and incorporating every scene
you've ever seen in a swashbuckling Douglas Fairbanks movie. Even
down to such lovely detail as (if you fail to escape from Lafond's
bedroom): "Lafond pulls the sheets up to cover you both.... Waves
crash against the base of the cliff.... You have suffered a fate
worse than death!".
Experienced adventurers may find the game a little easy. I
don't know if I was just very lucky, but on this one I beat my
previous record for an Infocom game (6 hours for Witness) by
completing Plundered Hearts in well under four hours. So, at
its full price an experienced player may find it is not great value
for money — if you are an experienced player looking for more of a
challenge then I would recommend one of the older Advanced or Expert
level Infocom games, but if you can afford Plundered Hearts it is
great fun to play.
It is well written, not excessively deadly — it gives you plenty of
warning that the ship is about to crash or explode — and it just
won't let you do stupid things such as walking off cliffs or into
crocodiles. It is full of humour and interesting puzzles and a
number of the problems have two solutions to reduce the
chance of your getting stuck. These variations can in fact lead to
two slightly different endings — you haven't completely finished
until you Live Happily Ever After!. Definitely a good
Beginners/Standard Level Adventure.
NORD AND BERT COULDN'T MAKE HEAD OR TAIL OF IT
Nor, apparently can a lot of people when confronted with this rather
offbeat game from Infocom! Nord and Bert LOOKS like a standard
adventure, but plays rather differently! It accepts commands and
gives responses in the normal way, it has locations which you can
move between, items you can examine and pick up and it has lots of
problems to solve but if you just try and play it like a normal
adventure you won't get anywhere.
Although you do type in the occasional normal command
(GO NORTH or GET BAG) most of the problems are solved
by typing in puns, cliches, spoonerisms, well-known phrases or
sayings, homonyms, or other such examples of verbal trickery!
There are eight scenarios. The first seven are completely
independent. Effectively you have seven separate games, each one of
which uses one form of 'verbal trickery' to resolve its puzzles.
When you have finally completed all those you are allowed to play
the eighth scenario. Whereas, in each of the first seven, once you
have worked out which particular form of verbal trickery is being
used in this game, you can concentrate on that one form, in the
final part (Meet the Mayor) all the different puzzle types are mixed
together so that it is much harder to work out what to do next. To
help you understand the game it is probably best to give you a few
samples from the instruction manual:
> TAKE NOTE
The tee holds the note firmly to the table.
> TAKE TEE
You grasp the tee and give it a series of mighty tugs but, as with
Excalibur, it will take more than muscles to extract the tee from
The golf tee is swallowed up into a huge divot which then dissolves,
leaving in its wake a steaming cup of oolong tea. or
> LOOK AT THE STONE LAMP
There is a beautiful Mayan oil lamp that your father smuggled
out of Central America.
> LONE STAMP
The ancient Mayan relic flattens out and its edges become perforated
leaving a lone stamp.
There is a freshly-burrowed molehill on the ground.
> MAKE A MOUNTAIN OUT OF THE MOLEHILL
There is a tremendous rumbling
... the molehill crumbles away ... mighty, jagged peaks emerge from
The first of those is a Homonym (two words sounding the same), the
second is a Spoonerism (mixing up the beginnings of words), the
third is a cliche/ proverb/ saying.
Each of the games (apart from Meet the Mayor) can be played
independently, and makes quite a good way of passing a few hours
with a group of friends — this is definitely one where its worth
getting as much help as possible. Although you should be able to get
a lot of the wordplays eventually if you stick at it, I would be
amazed if anyone actually managed all of them without help. Some are
obscure, a few are American, and there are a couple which are not
really very good, so you have to be lucky to spot them.
Infocom obviously realised that it was rather difficult, so they
have very kindly incorporated a full set of Invisi-Clues into the
game. At any time you may ask for HINT and get a list of the problem
areas in the current scenario. You can select one of these and get a
number of graded clues to help you with your problem. Sometimes just
seeing the list of problem areas is sufficient to point you in the
A couple of the scenarios didn't quite seem to fit the 'verbal
trickery' description as far as I was concerned, but most of them
were good fun. There are quite a few clever puzzles to solve, and
since most of them depend on wordplay they are mostly humourous.
Even when you aren't successful in solving the problems the game has
been programmed to respond with lots more verbal jokes to all your
One word of warning. For reasons best known only to Infocom, the
game refuses to load in 40-column, low-resolution mode. It insists
on using 80-columns. So if you use a small TV you may not be able to
read the screen very easily. All other Infocom games (to, my
knowledge, and with the possible (probable?) exception of Beyond
Zork) work quite happily in low-resolution. Strange!
So, if you want a good 'adventure', DON'T buy this one. On the other
hand if you like playing with words and are interested in a variety
of amusing and frustrating challenges you will probably find Nord
and Bert to be a worthwhile and unique experience.
So to a preview of Beyond Zork. This one CAN be made to look like a
standard adventure, but provides a whole host of new facilities as
well. It is set in the same 'universe' as the previous seven Zork
adventures (Wishbringer, Zorks I, II and III, Enchanter, Sorceror
and Spellbreaker). Your quest is to rise from a humble beginning to
become an adventurer capable of finding the mythical Coconut of
Quendor! I'm afraid that's all I know about the story at the moment,
but I have seen some of the facilities:
DEFINE allows you to assign a commonly used command (complete or
partial) to a Function Key to save you having to type. NAME is
another command to save your typing — it
allows you to give a name of your own choosing to any object in the
game. MONITOR allows you to see bar charts of your six attributes in
a window at the top of your screen, useful for viewing your progress
(especially during a fight). These are the usual sort of Dungeons
and Dragons style attributes, Strength, Charisma, Intelligence, etc.
and affect your ability to progress through various parts of the
game. ZOOM helps you with mapping. The screen will usually display a
small map in the top right of the screen showing your current
location, the adjacent rooms, and any exits of which you are aware.
ZOOM allows you to see more rooms, but in less detail. PRIORITY
tells the game what you want to see in the top window, for instance
you can get it to always show the current inventory of what you are
carrying. UNDO allows you to back out the previous command
if something went wrong. MODE is for the purist. It gets rid of all
on-screen maps, windows, monitors, etc. and makes the screen look
just like an ordinary Infocom text Adventure. You can also let the
game provide you with default attributes at the beginning instead of
choosing them yourself.
Unfortunately, I haven't managed to get my hands on an ST copy yet —
so I can't tell you yet whether or not all these new facilities make
the game better or not. My guess is that it is going to make Infocom
Adventures even more fun to play (if that is actually possible). I
hope to be able to let you know in the near future!
Infocom appear to be on the move — it can only be good news for
adventurers — the next one is called Border Zone,
apparently, I believe the setting is the Berlin Wall. I look forward
|Nord and Bert Couldn't
Make Head or Tail of It