If you were to mention the words of Secret of Monkey Island, Hook and Lure of the Temptress to the average games-player of today, they would know exactly what you were talking about: point-and-click graphical adventures. Such games have become immensely popular over the last couple of years, mainly due to the advent of machines such as the Amiga with its superb graphics and large memory.
How many, I wonder, know about the history of these fabulous games? Mention the words Planetfall, Enchanter and Zork today and you’re likely to get a blank look in return. Well, here’s a potted history...
In the mid-70s, when computers were still relatively new and they took up the space of several rooms, the world’s first computer adventure was born. Called, strangely enough, Advent, it was similar in style to a novel because it was conveyed only by text. Players would enter commands using only two words, for example, "Go North", "Take Sword", "Hit Goblin", so the game was severely limited.
In 1977, though, two computer scientists at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) got together and created their own masterpiece. Again using text only, the game was much larger and employed an excellent interpreter, or ‘parser’, which enabled whole sentences to be entered and recognised. They called their system "Interactive Fiction".
With the advent of home computers, the programmers, Marc Blank and Dave Lebling, began writing Interactive Fiction full-time, and founded Infocom. Because their games were so large, they required lots of memory which just wasn’t available on home computers. Thus the games were written for disk-only systems, which gave them the capacity they needed.
Computers with memories as large as the Amiga’s, though, could run entire Infocom games, and as such the new machines gave the company a chance to expand their games and employ a new upgraded parser, called Interactive Fiction Plus.
The first two games which were released using this system were A Mind Forever Voyaging and Trinity - both were acclaimed.
However, with the new machines came superb graphic capabilities, and companies such as Rainbird began producing adventure games with stunning images. As such, the public’s attention was moved from text-only type games over to the new breed.
Infocom, however, continued to produce text-only adventures, and although their many fans continued to buy them the general public turned away. In 1988, the company was bought out by Activision, and soon afterwards closed down.
Anyway, all is not lost because Activision have resurrected all the games, and released 20 of them in this one neat package. We have taken a look at all the adventures, given them each an individual rating, and then rated the package as a whole at the end.
The Zork Trilogy
A light-hearted game describing the adventures of a lower-class space cadet shipwrecked on what seems to be a deserted planet. Teaming up with a lonely but annoying robot called Floyd, you have to explore the planet and discover its dark secret. A great game, not too difficult for hardened adventurers, although it does help to think laterally sometimes.
Continuing on from Planetfall, this game sets you as a pen-pushing administrator aboard the largest ship in the starfleet. You're given an assignment to take a spacetruck and pick up some forms from a nearby space station. Normal request? Nah, this is Infocom! A large game, and very difficult. Prepare to spend literally weeks stuck on the spacestation tearing your hair out!
A ghost story set in an old castle deep in Cornwall. You play an American detective who has been asked by an old friend to investigate mysterious goings-on in the area. Lots of interesting characters, with many puzzles and riddles, and an eerie sense of foreboding which builds up further into the game.
A fantasy adventure which casts you as a young wizard who is chosen to rid his people's land of an evil presence. You have great power, but limited experience; this is the ultimate test. A great game which doesn't show its age. The easiest of the Enchanter games, but still fairly difficult!
In this the second installment of the Enchanter saga, Belboz, your teacher and leader of the Guild of Enchanters, is troubled by evil spirits. He then vanishes, and it is up to you to discover why. Another game which I found difficult, but then it is avanced level so I suppose it's to be expected.
The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy
Now that you have taken over from Belboz as the sparkly new leader of the Guild of Enchanters, a crisis situation occurs in your land which causes magic to fail. A conflict between good and evil ensues...
You really should try to tackle the other two games in this excellent trilogy first, because this is by far and away the most difficult of games that Infocom have ever produced. Hardened adventurers and fantasy heads will love it.
In your job as the pilot of a mining ship, scouring the asteroid belt for black holes to harness, you are more than used to living a fairly tedious, mundane and humdrum existence - until, that is, you meet up with a large alien spacecraft from another galaxy.
Starcross is a game with a similar feel to Planetfall, except for one thing: it is much, much more difficult. It's easy to start with, but gets more and more involved as the plot unfolds.
The Egyptian desert beckons you to come in search of one of its lost pyramids. You must pit your wits against the Ancient Egyptians to find the pyramid and enter it, and discover treasures beyond your wildest dreams. An excellent story, which is both exciting and compelling, with a good atmosphere to boot.
A definite Krypton Factor feel pervades as you play this game, in which you are all alone on a semi-automated planet. Your computer has woken you from cryogenic suspension because only you can save the planet from destruction. You cannot move, but you can communicate with a series of six robots, each with a specific ability such as sight and hearing.
This is an adventure for people who enjoy solving puzzles and relish a challenge. For normal adventurers, however, the method of controlling six robots simultaneously may become too much to handle. When you play, have several notebooks, a few pens and some cans of Coke to hand at all times.
The first of three thriller adventures, in which you play a detective given 12 hours to investigate the death of a wealthy man. The authorities say that he committed suicide, but you think differently. You should keep a record of all the events in this game, as it's pretty deep. A nice touch is that many different endings are available depending on which decisions you make in the game, so each time you play the ending could be different. Great for Whodunnit? fans.
Another WhoDunnit type of story; this time a man is killed, and it falls to you to gather evidence to present at the defendant's trial. Once again, several endings are available depending on what you do in your investigation. It's not that a hard game to get into, but cracking the case could be tricky.
Slight twist to the story here, as you can probably imagine from the title. You are framed for a murder you did not commit, and you only have a short time to prove your innocence.
Not only that, but you must also discover proof of who did do it. An interesting angle on the usual detective story, and it works well.
A recent game which is a prequel to the original Zork trilogy. Zork Zero is set in the days when the Great Underground Empire was still thriving, and the Flatheads ruled the land. A curse threatens to bring down the Empire, and the chief Flathead offers a large reward to anyone who gets rid of it. Naturally, you attempt to oblige...
This game was Infocom's first attempt to keep up with technology and include some graphics - no pictures - a compass instead. Fortunately the text is up to the usual standard, and there are hints and maps thrown in on-line to spice it up.
An update on the original Zork story, this casts you as a peasant who must seek out the fabled treasure known as the Coconut of Quendor. The usual Zork rules apply generally, but here you can actually alter the attributes of your player before you begin, in a sort of RPG style. Unlike other Infocom games, Beyond displays a map which shows your immediate area.
A student at Great Underground Empire Tech, you have gone into college to finish an assignment. A snowstorm prevents you from leaving the building, and you are trapped in the school overnight. But are you alone? Well, the title would suggest not, and opening that trapdoor in the basement just might prove it...
This is an excellent, atmospheric game that will have you looking over your shoulder. There's an weird storyline and a comic-book feel.
The package as a whole
Before you rush out and buy the package, take a while to consider just what these games are about. There are no graphics, and so comparing them with recent graphical adventures is difficult. Some of these games stand up well even when compared to the fabulous Monkey Island 2; in the sense of comparing a good book to a good video.
If you're the type of person who prefers reading a novel to watching a film, and you have the next couple of years free, then buy this. It's not just a pack of games, it's a piece of history.