Read the source code for every classic Infocom text-adventure game!

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Never made it past the Heart of Gold despite many many attempts. Even the Babelfish puzzle took many many retries before I could pass it. That game was effectively impossible without a walkthrough, even if you were an avid reader of the books and listened to the radio shows.

Another evil aspect: There are 10 tools you have to collect throughout the game. At the end Marvin will ask for one of them at random in order to finish it. You might think if you collect 8 of the 10 you’d have an 80% chance of winning, but in fact the game checks and if you are missing any of them he will ask for one of the ones you missed. There’s no backtracking to get the tool either, you gotta start from the beginning and try to find it/not miss it.

The game also liked to lie to the player, a lot. The parser was also extremely picky, so you couldn’t examine the console, you had to examine the left side of the console. And there was no clue about that anywhere, you just had to guess that it was being picky and not that it was lying to you this time or that the console couldn’t be activated until you did something else or something.

As someone who was a huge fan of the books I wasted many many hours on that game and basically got nowhere. This was back in the 90s. There was no gamefaqs. I think there might have been a 900 number tip line you could call, but my parents never would have allowed that.


I was just reading a Zork I play through last week.

That looked much prettier than the disassembler I wrote. Crack the code and you don’t need to buy no hint books :wink:

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Oh yes there was. How do you think I managed to have tea and no tea? Do I look like a frekin Zen master to you?

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Infocom games were difficult, yes, but I wouldn’t say that they were “impossible without a walkthrough”. That would be more true of the lesser adventure games from the likes of Sierra. The great blog “Digital Antiquarian” covers many topics in retro gaming, but one thing that is covered in great detail is just how much better the classic Infocom games were in game design despite (or perhaps because) of their lack of graphics.

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Reading through the walkthrough I see that I never discovered the cheese sandwich/dog puzzle right at the beginning. And obviously there is no going back to (this) Earth in this game.


You want to finish Zork without hints? That’s entirely possible. But the Hitchhikers Guide was just cruel to the player. Dozens of ways to fail with zero indication that you had failed until the end of the game, or a hint at what you needed to do to avoid the failure. The version I played didn’t have save states either, you had to play it all in one sitting.


Certainly there were ways to make the game unwinnable, and modern game design frowns upon that, with good reason. On the other hand, I’m not a fan of the modern tendency of games so afraid of challenging the player that they literally tell you where to go and what to do next (Bethesda’s games are particularly bad at that). As for save states not being present in your copy, are you sure? Even the very first Zork I had save states.

I was playing on the Commodore 64, there probably wasn’t any room left on the disk for save states.

I don’t mind hard games, but I’m not a fan of “you didn’t read the developer’s mind early on, so you lose” as a game mechanic.

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And then you realized the truth, there is no tea…

(Because there’s no frekin spoon to stir it with!)

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I remember Hitchhiker’s being hard, but not impossible. But then again I think someone had given me a heads up on the need to find all of the tools - without that I probably would have given up in frustration at the end.

Bureaucracy, on the other hand, I never was able to finish. At one point I decided that there was no end game and that was the ultimate joke. Haha, Douglas Adams & co, very funny. Eventually - once I discovered the Internet - I looked up a walkthrough and found I was wrong and there really was an endgame that I was never able to get to, but by that point I wasn’t as into computer games as I once had been so I’ve never gone back to actually complete it.


My experience as well with Hitchhiker’s. But it came with a “DON’T PANIC!” button! Though I wasn’t nerdy enough to actually wear it out in public:)

The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy was a game where If, at one point, you failed to buy a cheese sandwich and give it to a dog, the game would later become unwinnable when you found yourself stuck on a microscopic space fleet getting eaten by a hungry dog.

Infocom games were easy to make unwinnable, but Hitchhiker took a special glee in setting up as many ways as possible for you to make the game unwinnable down the road, without you ever realizing it until hours later, so the chances were that you either didn’t have a save far enough back to revert to, or you wouldn’t even know which one to load if you did. Given it was co-written by Douglas Adams and Steve “Glass Maze” Meretzky, it seems it was done this way on purpose. Funny though the game is, the joke is just as much on you as anyone else.

Personally, I prefer Bureaucracy, also a Douglas Adams creation, but he and “The Staff of Infocom” are the only writers listed on it, so it appears that Adams was responsible for most of it. The theme of the game personally hating you is still there, but the game is less likely to actively punish you for trying to play it. It makes sense to me. I always really liked the writing and ideas in Steve Meretzky’s games, but a lot of the puzzles seemed designed to screw with you. (In Planetfall, for example, I’d say about 65% of the times are either useless or unreachable red herrings, just to screw with you. And god help you if you weren’t being careful what was in your inventory when you picked up the u-shaped bar…)

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Well I’m one of those who did finish HHGTTG without assistance. Mind you, it took six years across four entirely different (and incompatible) computer systems, and a large binder full of notes. But I managed it. (Nord and Bert, on the other hand, I found impossible. Although I do blame part of that on not being a USian so some of the cultural/linguistic assumptions failed for me.)

And the causal relationship joke is still really good.

Of course, Sierra doesn’t hold itself up to Infocom’s standards.

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On my PC, I had to insert a separate save diskette for loading/saving. The game diskette was read-only.


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