Milliways: Infocom's Unreleased Sequel to Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

From an anonymous source close to the company, I’ve found myself in possession of the “Infocom Drive” — a complete backup of Infocom’s shared network drive from 1989. This is one of the most amazing archives I’ve ever seen, a treasure chest documenting the rise and fall of the legendary interactive fiction game company. Among the assets included: design documents, email archives, employee phone numbers, sales figures, internal meeting notes, corporate newsletters, and the source code and game files for every released and unreleased game Infocom made.

For obvious reasons, I can’t share the whole Infocom Drive. But I have to share some of the best parts. It’s just too good.

So let’s start with the most notorious — Milliways: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the unreleased sequel to Infocom’s The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. For the first time, here’s the full story: with never-before-seen design documents, internal emails, and two playable prototypes. Sit back, this might take a while.

Note: I’ve pieced together this history from emails and notes from the Infocom Drive. I haven’t contacted any of the people mentioned, so if you’re a primary source or authority, please get in touch so I can make corrections.

Update: Don’t miss the comments section. Infocom alumni Dave Lebling, Steve Meretzky, Amy Briggs, and Tim Anderson all comment on the story, Zork co-author Marc Blank helps correct an error, and writer Michael Bywater provides an alternative view of the events.

November 26, 2009:

After much consideration, I’ve edited this entry to remove the private correspondence that I never sought permission to publish. In my eagerness to share the story, I rushed to post instead of taking the time to reach out to everyone involved, against the recommendations of my source. At the time, I felt that 20 years of distance and the material’s historical value was enough to warrant bringing it to light without contacting each individual. I was wrong, and I’d like to apologize to each of the Infocom employees for my lapse in judgment.

On these pages, I’ve frequently waded into murky legal waters and I’m used to catching a certain amount of heat. But this article cost me far more than I ever anticipated — I lost a very close friend because of it. I deeply regret the error.

— Andy.


Douglas Adams (left) and Steve Meretzky in a promotional photo from 1984.

Written and designed by two legends in their respective fields, game designer Steve Meretzky and sci-fi author Douglas Adams, the first Hitchhiker’s Guide game was a tremendous success upon its release in November 1984. It quickly became Infocom’s bestselling game, selling over a quarter million copies in the two years after its release. (It ultimately became Infocom’s second-biggest seller of all time under Zork.)

Even before they’d finished writing the Hitchhiker’s game, Meretzky and Adams were considering two sequels based on the second and third books of the trilogy. In an email to Meretzky, Douglas Adams wrote down some notes from a design meeting, including a list of “some rooms we discussed (some might be kept for future games, which would be blatantly advertised at every opportunity).” The first three places on the list, “Milliways (need reservation to get in), Norway, Krikkit (placed off limits for protection of the galaxy, until you buy Game #3).”

A sequel seemed like such a sure thing, they mentioned it in the game’s ending. In the final scene, the Heart of Gold sets down on Magrathea and you exit the ship. “Slowly, nervously, you step downwards, the cold thin air rasping in your lungs. You set one single foot on the ancient dust — and almost instantly the most incredible adventure starts which you’ll have to buy the next game to find out about.”

But shortly after Hitchhiker’s was released, Douglas Adams proposed making Bureaucracy instead, a game inspired by his real-life experience dealing with government red tape after an address change. He proposed the idea to Infocom in late 1984 and Infocom agreed.

But by May 1985, it seems like Adams lost interest. With Adams busy working on Dirk Gently and other book-related projects, Bureaucracy languished. In his absence, Adams suggested a friend for the job, British writer Michael Bywater. Three years later and with no less than 10 co-authors, the game was finally released, crediting “Douglas Adams and the Staff of Infocom” on the cover. (The convoluted story of its development was detailed in an Easter egg in the final release of the game.)

Without Douglas Adams on board, the future of a Hitchhiker’s sequel was in limbo.

Developing Milliways

Three huge problems plagued Milliways from its start in 1985 until it was shelved in 1989: no solid game design, nobody to program it, and the backdrop of Infocom’s larger economic problems.

Searching the Infocom Drive, the very first mention of a Hitchhiker’s sequel is an email from Marc Blank to Stu Galley in May 1985, about Bureaucracy potentially pushing back Hitchhiker’s II in the production schedule. Indeed, by July 1985, Blank pushed back the Christmas 1986 deadline a full 18 months to June 1988.

Michael Bywater, as seen on his blog.

In 1987, Michael Bywater was flown in from London to stay at a hotel near Infocom headquarters in Cambridge, MA to work on Restaurant at the End of the Universe full-time. By July 1987, internal emails show some employees were unhappy with the arrangement, feeling Bywater wasn’t taking advantage of Infocom’s resources and could be just as productive back in London.

Michael Bywater produced some preliminary design notes (partly reproduced in The Story section below), but it seems nobody was happy with it. In December 1987, it was rumored that Bywater could work on the project for another month, after which someone at Infocom would need to take over the project. But who? Within the first months of 1988, other Imps were considered, but Plundered Hearts creator Amy Briggs was asked to helm the project.

In early February 1988, while management searched for a project lead, Stu Galley was working on the Milliways skeleton file (playable in the next section) and Michael Bywater delivered a new outline.

But on February 24, management dropped a bomb — development of Milliways would be moved to the other side of the Atlantic, coded by British game developers Magnetic Scrolls and designed by Michael Bywater. Amy Briggs had declared her intention to leave the company and no suitable replacement could be found, so Infocom would not be involved closely in development.

The reaction was swift and angry from the original founders of Infocom, focusing on the loss of creative control and the potential message outsourcing such a critical property would send to industry. But without any viable volunteers, Joel Berez, Infocom’s president, had little choice.

Behind the scenes, Marc Blank started working on finding an alternative to Magnetic Scrolls. He emailed Meretzky and Lebling on February 29, fishing for a way to do it in-house, knowing that if either volunteered, the project could be saved.

The conversations that ensued inspired both Steve Meretzky and Dave Lebling, two of the best adventure game creators in history, to independently offer to take on Milliways, each with their own similar conditions. Meretzky and Lebling wanted to finish their existing projects first (Zork Zero and Shogun, respectively), both wanted to be considered collaborators and not just programmers, and they wanted complete outlines finished before they started.

A Hitchhiker’s sequel created by Meretzky or Lebling would’ve been amazing, but it didn’t get very far. No other mention of their involvement is in the archives.

The door to the Restaurant at the End of the Universe was finally closed on May 5, 1989, when Activision (renamed to Mediagenic, at the time) closed the Cambridge office and laid off 15 of the remaining 26 Infocom employees. Offering to relocate the rest to their offices in Menlo Park, only five accepted. Infocom was dead.

The Story

What would have Milliways looked like if it had been released? Several design notes by Stu Galley and Michael Bywater give us an idea. The first reference to the storyline is in a list of “Ideas for Next Project” from October 1986 created by Stu Galley.


Takes up where “Hitchhiker’s” left off. Manufactured planets, Deep Thought, white mice, time travel, 1001 verb tenses, digital watches, the Frogstar, Total Perspective Vortex, the End of History! (Does Douglas really want to work on this at this time? Does it matter?)

The plot changed significantly over the next three years, but Galley took a first pass in a set of design notes from February 13, 1987. In it, he proposes how the game should start and end, and a couple critical scenes.

1. It seems natural to include a scene in the restaurant, Milliways. Could be a bit of fun: strange parties, unctuous compere, self-introducing food. Perhaps there’s an object there that you need to get. (It could be a SPORK, a spoon with sort of forky tines on the end. Or would that be a FOON?) It could be a vehicle from the car park — Marvin has the keys. If you manage to re-enter Milliways at another time (oops! on another occasion), you will not meet yourself, “because of the embarrassment that usually causes.” What about a visit to the Big Bang Burger Bar?

2. Given point 1, you must have a means (or several meanses) of time travel. In fact time travel instead of space travel could be the primary method of changing scene. In the original, the party got to Milliways by accident: in the radio version, a “hyperspatial field generator” overheated; in the book version, Zaphod’s great-granddaddy screwed up the works of Eddie, the Heart of Gold computer. Maybe your trip to Milliways would require info from an anti-piracy device in the game package. Once at the restaurant, you can steal a timeship and go anywhen you want.

3. Given point 2, it seems natural for the “best ending” of the game to be your arrival on Earth before it’s destroyed, which is the ending of both the first radio series and the second (namesake) book. The original route to this ending was an accidental landing on Golgafrincham Ark B, with its cargo of telephone sanitizers, marketing consultants, etc. (the ancestors of Earth’s humans!). I rather like this bit, and hope we can work it into the game.

4. Okay, so what about the beginning of the game? The easy answer: take up the story where the “Hitchhiker’s” game left off, namely the arrival on Magrathea. But in the original this arrival is followed by a travelogue of Magrathea and a flashback to the Deep Thought v. philosophers’ union story (including the introduction of the “42” joke) and the joke about the true nature of mice. All funny bits, but I have a hard time envisioning how they can be made into interesting interactive versions. Perhaps you could time-travel to Deep Thought and interact with it yourself. The Magrathean catalog of planets on Sens-O-Tape could be useful.

On February 17, 1987, Steve Meretzky provided this feedback on the design notes:

Some thoughts upon re-reading your notes:

The Infinite Improbability Drive acts as a time travel device, as well as a space travel device and an identity changing device. The trips to the party (as Trillian), to Damogran (as Zaphod), and the Earth (as Ford), all involve going back in time. Therefore, the IID could be your time travel device, if you want to avoid the hassle of inventing a new one. (It also provides some continuity with Game One.)

As I think I said before, I think it will work best if you forget about the original stuff, like the Deep Thought flashback, and come up with new stuff instead. References to the original stuff can be used to provide familiarity for “old-timers” and to supplement the humor of the story line.

A month later, on March 13, 1987, Galley’s second set of design notes outlined some innovative gameplay possibilities with third-person perspective, multiple viewpoints, text-based visual effects, and a parser with personality.

1. Shall we try to present multiple viewpoints in this version of the story? In the original version(s), the group of travellers became separated while visiting Magrathea, and again later on, with the story following either Arthur’s or Zaphod’s viewpoint. I have in mind a scheme to narrate the story in the third person, rather than the second, provided that the parser can handle declarative sentences, rather than (or in addition to) imperative ones. Example: “>ARTHUR SEARCHES FOR A GOOD CUP OF TEA. He fails to find any, but he does turn up the spork that he thought he’d lost.”

2. If there are multiple viewpoints, how does one change viewpoint? Provisional answer: with the “verb” MEANWHILE. Example: “>MEANWHILE, ON THE HEART OF GOLD. Zaphod is still trying to persuade the computer to unlock the sauna. Ford is chatting up Trillian.” Now the story begins to sound more like traditional fiction, with an omniscient viewpoint. What happens to the scene that one leaves when switching to a new viewpoint — does it go on by itself? Answer: perhaps it doesn’t matter. If one returns to the old scene to find that time has passed, one can use time travel to return to the scene as it was left.

3. And now for something completely different. I’ve been experimenting with textual “visual effects”, along the lines of the Boysenberry computer display in Bureaucracy. These effects depend on the ability (available only in Interactive Fiction Plus) to put any character on the screen at any place. One effect I’ve tried out makes the characters in a message appear in an area of the screen, seemingly at random, until in the end the message is completely spelled out and readable. Another effect “moves” a word up one line at a time, so that it appears to “float” to the top of the screen. (Since the program can’t tell what the word has overwritten, the word leaves a trail behind it.) I don’t know yet whether visual effects will prove useful or even interesting.

4. I’ve been talking with Tim Anderson about using the New Parser in this game. It still needs a lot of development, and in the end it may prove to be slow in operating, but it promises to be very capable. Now here’s the question: should the game itself make a big deal out of the New Parser? For example, the game could begin with the parser introducing itself to the player, asking the player to type a few sentences to “warm up” the parser, before getting on with the story itself. The parser could take on a personality, explaining that this is its first job, that it means well but it may not succeed. Perhaps it gets depressed and refuses to work at all. Perhaps the parser is in fact Marvin’s new aural interface module, depressing him even further.

While Galley was thinking about the game’s design, Michael Bywater was making his own design notes independently. The authorship isn’t completely clear, but I believe this very rough outline for the plot was created by Bywater on July 23, 1987.

The game has a three-part structure. You begin at the base of the ramp leading from the Heart of Gold; that is, where HH1 ended. As you look forward to exploring this apparently acceptable planet with your faithful companion Marvin and your friends Trillian, Zaphod and Ford, you realize that you are alone. You turn round to find that Marvin has gone back inside the ship. The others are nowhere to be seen.

PUZZLE 1 is to persuade Marvin to come out of the Heart of Gold and help you. WARNING: this is a nasty trick puzzle because if you solve it, you lose the game (although there is a safety-net). Marvin is enticed from the ship by means of an hallucinogenic psychodysleptic. Somewhere close by the H of G you find a broken radio (“a miserable-looking piece of technology” is the clue). Elsewhere, you find a plant. The plant, once picked, begins to deliquesce. You have to put the plant in the radio, whereupon the radio bursts into cheerful music. The plant appears to have lifted its spirits, if such a thing was possible. Marvin will come out of the spaceship to get the plant and immediately go into a state of intoxicated euphoria, whereupon he will fuck off and not be seen again. (Not until the parking lot at Milliways, anyway). You score points for this solution, but it is the wrong one. In fact, the winning score is 470 out of 490; if you get ALL the points, you lose.

The right solution is to TELL Marvin about the plant but not to GIVE it to him; he will follow you fairly faithfully if you have the plant in the radio for the first few plays of the game. After a while the radio begins to drive you mad. Shortly after this, you will be given the opportunity to find the thing your Aunt gave you; you can use this to store the plant. If you don’t, the inanities of the radio will drive you insane.

You need to keep Marvin with you until you have encountered Slartibartfast’s vehicle, but first you have another problem. While you are fooling around on Magrathea, Zaphod gets fed up and disappears in the Heart of Gold to go somewhere really fashionable. If you still have the radio (i.e., haven’t gone prematurely insane) you will hear an announcement to the effect that Milliways is the most fashionable place in the Universe.

Consulting the Guide about Milliways reveals the details. Now you have to get to the restaurant. You will need Marvin to get you there unless you are very, very lucky.

Once you get to Milliways, you have a problem: they won’t let you in. You aren’t fashionable enough. There are two solutions to this problem. If you fucked up puzzle 1, Marvin will turn up dressed as a parking attendant. You can borrow his clothes and go in as a high-fashion crypto-punk. If you didn’t get Marvin smashed on the plant, you can send him in instead, because his pose of fashionable paranoia is regarded as chic by the doorman.

Once in the restaurant, you have to get a response for the dead pop singer to find out where his ship is. There then follows a parking puzzle with Marvin, and you gain access to the ship. The roles of the other characters (Zaphod et al) are not clear here. We may leave them somewhere.

The ship is intercepted and you solve a navigation puzzle to return to Magrathea, where you are snaffled by Slartibartfast. The next major section of the game now takes place, here on Magrathea, and consists of three nested layers of puzzles.

The first level of puzzles are standard adventure stuff, but the objective is to assemble a time machine. Slartibartfast has told you of the great history of Magrathea as the Universal Planetary Design workshop, and says he can show you how it all worked but the machine is broken. It is necessary for you to fix the machine, which you do by pottering about the geography of Magrathea. Next, once the machine is working, you have to get into it WITHOUT Slartibartfast but WITH Marvin. If you get in with S. alone, all he’ll show you is Magrathea, boasting about his fjords etc. If however you get there with Marvin alone, Marvin will be so depressed that he’ll try and depress you too, which he does by taking you back to Earth. However… the machine only works from the point of view of Slartibartfast, so that’s in effect who you become. You observe a small flaw in one of the Norwegian fjords – a design change carried out without your (Slartibartfast’s) authority which is responsible for all the awful things which have happened since.

Returning to reality, your job is to arrange for the rebuilding of Earth. You are allowed into Slartibartfast’s workshop and you have to give him a huge philosophical puzzle to work on. This, like all the other puzzles in this penultimate part of the game, works on two elvels: it solves itself and allows you to proceed, but it also forms one element of the final endgame puzzle.

The endgame itself consists of a number of elements which are solved by assembling the consequences of solving eight other puzzles within the planetary workshop. To solve these puzzles you have to travel in space around the workshop visiting various locations which turn out to be planets, all of which are in the solar system and all of which are subtly wrong (Saturn has no rings, etc). To do this, you have a Solar System Bug-tester’s report as part of the packaging. When you have solved these eight puzzles, you effectively (eight planets plus Slartibartfast’s “Sun” puzzle) have all the solar system except Earth, and can then tie all the pieces together to make the adjustment to the fjords. (What we do about THAT, I don’t know. There are an infinite number of possibilities).

The FINAL part of the endgame is to propel this new Solar system into its correct galactic location. This is a complex puzzle and to solve it you have to be on the Heart of Gold at the time the Solar System settles into position. At that point the Inifinite Improbability Drive detects that something infinitely improbable has happened and ejects you onto Earth, ready to begin the final part of the trilogy.

Michael Bywater took a final pass at the plot on August 7, 1987, but only gets a description of the first scene before it ends in mid-sentence:

These notes should be read in conjunction with the earlier synopsis in H2… no, they shouldn’t. To hell with the earlier synopsis. What a cartload of pinwheel horse-shit. Screw the earlier synopsis altogether. Okay? Okay.

We begin on Magrathea, on the ramp outside the Heart of Gold, which is where H1 ended. You are Arthur Dent — for the time being. The surface of the planet is cold and inhospitable. The others – Ford, Zaphod and Trillian – have wisely decided to stay aboard ship, in the sauna. You, unwisely but predictably, have forgotten your dressing gown. This poses a bit of a problem to you. Quite a lot of a problem, actually, since you are going to die. You are probably going to die anyway, before the cold gets to you. Irrational, I know, but that’s the Galaxy for you: cold, aloof, impersonal and always ready to crap on an organism for no good reason.

The first puzzle is a fairly straightforward, linear, closed-boundary job: to get someone to open the hatch to the Heart of Gold before you die of cold. On Magrathea is a crater left by the impact of the whale. (You don’t remember the whale? Then you’ll be even more confused by the petunias…) On the edge of the crater is the remains of a intergalactic ghetto blaster left by a touring member of the Arqublustian Space Force, a group of deep-space thugs whose mission is to tour the galaxy playing loud music. In the crater itself, among the other whale bones, is a whale bone. Except it isn’t: it’s the Thing your aunt gave you which you don’t know what it is… and inside it is a Barry Manilow CD. You play the CD and become deeply depressed and realize that only someone like Marvin could truly appreciate this stuff.

Trying to get back into the Heart of Gold, you find that everyone else, being in the sauna, cannot hear you, and Eddie is stupefied with gloom, being engaged in “conversation” with Marvin. Marvin’s conversational powers are capable of breaking down any electronic device in the known universe. But Barry Manilow is even more potent. You potter about the ship until you can hear, through the hull, Marvin droning on, then you play the Barry Manilow CD. Marvin enjoys the “music” and frees Eddie to open the door. Marvin comes to the hatch bearing your gown, which contains the Guide and a key-card to the ship.

Now you can survive the cold long enough to explore the whale crater. You find not only the remains of the whale but the remains of the bowl of petunias. When planted in the Thing, the petunias take on a strange quality: if you are holding a…

And that’s where the design notes end. Was this the first part of the final outline delivered by Michael Bywater in February 1988? Hard to say, but it was definitely the most coherent. I wish there was more.

Play It!

The project may have been shelved, but the Infocom Drive reveals two early Milliways builds, from May 1988 and another a year later in April 1989. Both are very similar, just simple stubs with sparse descriptions and a small handful of rooms. These appear to have both been written by Stu Galley, but it’s hard to say.

You start the prototype game as Arthur Dent, with Marvin, Ford Prefect, Zaphod Beeblebrox, and Trillian standing nearby. It picks up where the last game ended, with our heroes standing “on the ramp leading from the starship Heart of Gold to the surface of the legendary lost planet of Magrathea, which isn’t. Lost, that is. It isn’t lost because if it were, you wouldn’t be here, but you are, so it isn’t.”

Unfortunately, it doesn’t get much further than that. Strangely, the first build seems a bit more polished, with more rooms and a better intro, in which Ford, Zaphod, and Trillian leave you alone with Marvin on the ramp. There are a few rooms with sparse descriptions (“There will be an elevator there someday, but not yet”), but not much to do.

Play Milliways (Release 15, Serial 880512). Java 5 required.

In the later build, you can go down the ramp onto the planet, poke the characters, or try to talk to them, but that’s about it. Unlike the first build, you don’t have the Hitchhiker’s Guide in your inventory and the surface of Magrathea has a large crater next to the ship. Trying to go south-east to view it gives you an error, but in the source files, there’s additional text which explains the crater was created by the sperm whale that materialized next to the Heart of Gold.

“The dusty ground rises here before falling away into a crater. The crater seems rather new, as if it had been created by the impact of something huge and confused, travelling downwards at high velocity. It is as if a sperm whale had inexplicably materialized several miles above the surface of Magrathea and immediately plunged

downwards, reaching terminal velocity almost immediately, terminal incomprehension soon afterwards, and, finally, terminal impact just as it was wondering whether it was going to have a nice day. This impression is heightened by the shards of whalebone and meat you can see glistening here and there around the crater.”

That’s the longest description in the prototype, and a tiny glimpse at what might have been.

If you like, you can download the original Z-code files (release 15 and release 184), but you’ll need an interpreter that supports Z-Machine version 4 and version 6 story files. I’d recommend Windows Frotz 2002 for Windows or Spatterlight for Mac.

Other Resources

For more information and gossip about Infocom’s history, I highly recommend Down from the Top of Its Game: The Story of Infocom, Inc., The Lore and Legends of Infocom, Jimmy Maher’s Let’s Tell A Story Together: A History of Interactive Fiction.

Several of the bio photos come from Marco Thorek’s excellent Infocom: The Master Storytellers.

Special thanks to Wei-ju Wu’s Z-Machine Preservation Project, the Java interpreter I used above. It’s the only web-based interpreter that would play both prototypes at all. Highly recommended.


    Zounds and Gadzooks, what a treasure-trove! What comes to mind is how this sorta thing can get spun up into a pretty readable book!

    Hey, wasn’t there a zanny website in the late 90s … something about a cruise-liner?

    thanks for the write up … fabulous

    p.s. ever heard of “Realm”? it was a really fine MPOG, circa ?what? ’98 or so. IIRC the game got caught in the gears during a takeover and died on the vine … very playable, it was. I think a version made a rather limping return coupla years back.

    This is an amazing read, but I find myself very confused… I really don’t recall being at all involved in working on a sequel to HHG at all. And the final email attributed to me doesn’t sound like anything I could (or would) have written. Of course, this was all many neurons ago, but still… I find this very odd.


    Please, please, PLEASE share this drive with Jason Scott. I think he’d just about die of sheer joy, even if he couldn’t put all of it online.

    Marc: Thanks so much for responding. I looked at the sourcing of the Restaurant outline again and realized that it was simply “M.B.” I made the mistake of attributing it to you, but in hindsight, it’s clear that it’s Michael Bywater. I adjusted my article accordingly. The emails, however, are definitely from you! My apologies for the mix-up.

    Interesting stuff. Feels kinda weird reading confidential emails and stuff, but I guess time makes fools of us all. Lunch time doubly so.

    You never cease to amaze with what you manage to find. I’ve played the original HHGG on nearly every computer I’ve had since I had a copy that ran under CP/M on the Coleco Adam. Just being able to go down the ramp brings me joy. Thank you as well as whoever provided you with these details.

    Well, I’m pleased to learn that I haven’t entirely lost my mind (I know it’s around here somewhere).

    Scoop of the century, this is fantastic! Can we expect any more from the archive? (Original source code would be unbelievable!)

    I am curious to look at the game source files themselves if that is possible.

    Fantastic find though and many thanks for sharing this and pulling the info together. It was an interesting read and shame that things went so badly for them in a way when the first sold so well.

    Ahh, the memories this brings back – those tricky but oh-so-lovable Infocom games.

    It’s incredibly fascinating to get a glimpse into the creative (and other) processes behind such a title, even if it is rather more of an exception than a typical production. Smart, creative people working it out to get the job done.

    Hey, how about rounding up some old veterans (at least Marc’s around, I see) to finish the job – with the help of the community, perhaps? It’s something the IF community would appreciate and could also be a tribute not only to the late Douglas Adams but also to the stupendous folk of (ex-)Infocom and its spirit.

    Absolutely fantastic, Andy. I can only imagine the giddiness I would have felt going through that hard drive. Like opening a time capsule that almost nobody knew about.

    That brings back memories.

    It would probably take an entire book to explain the trajectory of the HH2 project, but you’ve certainly managed to dig up the high (and low) points.

    My recollection is that the stubs you show are the only code that was ever actually written for it (during the Stu Galley era).

    Thank you so very very much for sharing this story (and backstory).

    Infocom created amazing products. Real creative and imaginative literary games that are so unlike the overblown visual games of today where the action is on the screen and not in our heads.

    These “good old days” may be long gone, but they have deep roots in many of us. I hope that the people who worked at Infocom know and understand that what they produced has touched many lives and that they were not “just games” but shared experiences that bond people together.

    You posted these internal emails without contacting their authors? Poor, poor, poor form, regardless of how juicy you find their contents.

    This would make the most fascinating documentary.

    It will. The above-mentioned Jason Scott is in post production on “Get Lamp” which is just that. He’s got a lot of his unedited interviews up on already.

    Great stuff.

    I can’t claim to be starting the new Infocom, but Textfyre is going to fill the gap for text-based adventures. We’re inching closer to launch, although nailing down potential investors is only slightly more difficult than acquiring a babelfish. I’m confident this year you will see the first major release of an interactive fiction game in over 25 years.

    Let me add a little color to your story (as if it wasn’t colorful enough!) with my favorite (and only) Douglas Adams anecdote. Everyone loves to hear the origins of a legend, and I have it. I turned Douglas Adams on to Zork.

    Back around 1982 or so (I forget), I was working in a little computer store in Studio City, CA called Programs Unlimited. It was right next to Universal Studios so they were gradually shifting their business from video games to selling Kaypro and other CP/M systems to screenwriters. One day, Douglas Adams came into the store to buy a new Kaypro portable computer, apparently he got some development contract at a nearby studio and needed a newer computer. One of the other salesmen was handling the sale, he went off to set up the machine, so Douglas was left idling in the store, looking around at the other stupid junk we had for sale.

    Always looking for an opportunity to sell up, I came up to him and said, “hey, I have a game that I think you’d really like. I’ve heard your stories on the BBC shortwave radio, this is right up your alley.” So I took him over to a Kaypro demo station where we’d play Zork when nobody was in the store. I sat him down and loaded Zork, showed him the first few steps, and let him play. He was totally sucked into the game, and after only a few minutes, he said he wanted to buy it.

    At that time, our retail copies of Zork came on 8 inch floppy disks, and we’d have to copy it to the appropriate CP/M disk format (in this case 5in Kaypro disks). So I copied it over for him, and handed him the disks. The other salesman added it to whole deal, Douglas wrote a check and walked out of the store with all his goodies. I never saw him again.

    So I turned Douglas Adams on to Zork. Without me, none of this legend would have happened. OK, well it probably would have, but this is my little anecdote so I get to put myself at the origin of this legend.

    Fascinating stuff … I don’t recall anything about Magnetic Scrolls being considered to make the game. I just remember Stu working on it and hoping that Douglas would be involved.

    My recollection is that we always refered to the game as “Restaurant”, not “Milliways”.

    In retrospect, we just should have started working on a sequel in 1985 without Douglas, rather than waiting and hoping he’d get past his “I’m tired of working on Hitchhiker’s stuff” period.

    Steve Meretzky, Dave Lebling, and Marc Blank commented on my weblog. I think I’m going to pass out.

    In email, you guys almost always referred to it as either “Restaurant” or “H2″… But in the design notes and the two prototypes, the game’s called “Milliways” so I went with that. I figured it was like how you would all use “Spy” to refer to “Border Zone,” or “Gas Pump” to refer to LGOP2.

    @Michael: I published with the hope that the material was of enough historical interest and distance (it’s 20 years later) that the original authors wouldn’t mind, wherever they are. I’m so grateful that Marc, Steve, and Dave seem to be okay with it, and even contributed to the discussion. But others may feel differently, so I may need to remove their emails if someone’s upset. We’ll see.

    As someone who was involved in the creation of the material you’re talking about, I’d be interested to hear more about where it came from, and which backup of which disk (if that can be known) it was. (Lebling and I had a discussion about it this morning, but our speculations did not lead to a satisfactory answer.) There are some source files (not the games–who cares about those?) that I thought were lost forever when my Infocom Mac’s A/UX hard drive froze up, and this gives me some hope that they can be recovered.

    When Infocom shut down in 1989, we had already retired our DEC-20 development systems, Fred and Zork, and sold them for scrap; developers worked on Mac IIs running A/UX, while testing generally had vanilla MAC SEs. File service was provided by a Sun server running NFS; IIRC, that got shipped out to Activision when the office closed. According to rumor, they never really knew what to do with it.

    Wow, that is a brilliant post. Thanks for the game builds and Z-code files.

    >clean gown
    (with the toothbrush)
    In general, toothbrushes are meant for teeth.

    As an unashamed fanboy, I whole-heartedly agree with Jules’ comment – it’d be great to see this game finally brought to life after so long. I mean, the Hitchhiker’s film eventually got made, so why not the game sequel? 😛

    Good heavens! What a breathtaking treasure trove you’ve acquired. Thanks so much for sharing this stuff about Milliways. It blew my mind and made my day.

    Andy, thanks a lot. Will there be more articles?

    And thanks Infocom for all the great adventures we’ve had! 🙂

    Beautiful, fantastic, well-edited research! Thanks for pulling back the curtain on a company that was dear to me in my childhood.

    I was in the Test Dept. at Infocom in those days, and we had about a half-dozen Mac SE machines with dual floppies and aftermarket 20MB hard drives (Jasmine, if I recall), as well as at least one, maybe two, Mac II or IIs boxes running System 6.x. All that and more got shipped off to Mediagenic when the ax fell. Don’t think we had much in the way of source code on ’em, though, as we did mostly end-user testing with compiled builds.

    Upset? No. Just surprised you didn’t contact any of us to check your facts before making the sort of error you’re taught to avoid in first year undergraduate history.

    If you wanted to know about Douglas’s involvment with Bureaucracy and who really wrote what, or the real story behind Jinxter, or all the about Restaurant, you should have showed better manners, or better judgment, or both.

    But I’ll tell you one thing on the nemo me impune lacessit principle. I’m no coder. I never was. I never claimed to be. The deal was I would salvage Restaurant but I’d need someone either to teach me the system or preferably to work with me as implementer/coder. This person went on holiday to build his new cabin in the woods the day after I arrived in Cambridge. I was put in a windowless room with a DEC terminal and that was that. Documentation? Come on. That sort of approach — to be charitable — is unlikely to guarantee a compelling product. I didn’t even know how to build a game room. I was not a geek. I did words, not code, and there was never any doubt about that.

    Too fucking right I cashed the cheque. I spent too much of my life digging Adams out of holes he got himself into, and, just for once, it was nice to get paid.

    There’s a lot more where that came from but not for you, Mr Baio. You should have asked nicely.

    Whoa, dredging up past memories, indeed. Not particularly pleasant ones, but even nasty neurons deserve to be pulled out and exercised occasionally.

    Excellent post, interesting what you dug up and pieced together. I didn’t know a lot of the background and behind-the-scenes communications going on (or if I did, I’ve completely forgotten that aspect). In many ways, this story demonstrates the level of dysfunction happening in the company at the time. Given a clearer view, we would have, as Steve suggests, just written Restaurant in-house and given Douglas credit for it (if he wanted it). We were all too close to it at the time.

    Thanks for the comments, Michael. It’s great to hear your side of the story. I was piecing together a narrative exclusively from the archive, which clearly reflects a biased version of the world from Infocom employees only. You didn’t have an account or mail on the server, so your voice wasn’t represented. (I’m sure Anita Sinclair and the Magnetic Scrolls team would have an entirely different and interesting perspective on the situation, too.) Thanks for filling in the gaps.

    I think Amy’s comments point out what caught me off-guard. I had always imagined Infocom as a fairly tight-knit group of collaborators. These e-mails seem to suggest communications were much more eratic and decentralized.

    Well, then. I suppose Mr. Bywater has a good point, and it would have been even more fascinating with the prior input of all parties. Nevertheless, a completely enjoyable bit of IF archaeology.

    What a fantastic scoop, and superb write-up. Nice one!

    I organised an event a few years back where Steve Meretzky and Michael Bywater spent an hour and a half talking about their Infocom-related adventures. While there was no discussion of Restaurant, there was plenty about HHGTTG and Bureaucracy. You can listen to the whole thing in this 100MB Ogg file – I recommend it, as Michael does a great line in anecdotes.

    David — we were a fairly tight-knit group, but didn’t collaborate, as such, on many games (except when noted). Supported, encouraged, helped-in-need, egged on, occasionally jokingly jeered — but not much collaboration. Another gap concealed by this method of research and reporting is that this story only demonstrates one side of our interactions, mostly about one project, and at one particular time in the history of the company. It would be wise not to extrapolate too far.

    @Mr Baio: I’m not giving you my side of the story, in that old tabloid-journo phrase. I am pointing out that your story would have been better if you had contacted those of us involved *before* posting it. We’re none of us hard to find, apart from Douglas.

    Obviously I am not as benevolent about this as the other guys. I suppose I am just a nastier person. But what sort of surprises everyone involved is that anyone is interested.

    As Amy says, don’t extrapolate too far from this. Your methodology doesn’t allow it.

    I’d like to let all the Infocom people here know that, despite the obvious drama, anger, and disappointment that seems to have gone on with at least some aspects of the job, your output caused many *many* people to laugh, think, and eventually create.

    Just for one aspect, I suspect you’ve singlehandedly raised the problem-solving techniques and skills of a whole generation of us. Thank you for that. And thanks to Andy to get us to remember just how much we really enjoyed the work you all put into these, and to understand the challenges and difficulties in doing such a fantastic job. The enthusiasm and excitement seen in this thread by your fans should make it clear your skill and cleverness has endured, and amazingly the plots, jokes, and general atmosphere created hasn’t become dated, even as the text-adventure-game itself has.

    Thank you.

    Amy – I was thinking more about how HH2 didn’t seem to have a “company” direction. I would have thought the sequel to one of Infocom’s best selling games would be something everyone had a stake in and everyone helped “get done”. But I guess this was the confusion between working with or without Adams. The more I think about it, the more I can see how HH2 suffered mostly from the lack of a clear definition of ownership. But the question I have is, were games developed by designers and approved by leadership, or was the leadership within Infocom involved in the development of ideas and weighing in on priorities? There’s a huge difference. Did Infocom have a centralized strategy for game selection, design, development, and release? Or was it based on game designers and whenever they got their games done?

    Mr. Bywater, as someone who considers his life strongly influenced by the original Hitchhiker’s game, I’m surprised that you’re surprised that anyone is interested. That game simultaneously introduced me to the Hitchhiker’s series (thereby stimulating my interest in reading, as it was the first adult book I ever read as a child) and to the idea that video games could have a story to them, which led to my being a software developer (sadly, not in the video game industry).

    I understand your position regarding this article, but would you be interested in writing an article of your own on your blog? I’d be equally interested in hearing from the other people involved who have commented here as well, if they are willing. There are many fans that I’m sure would be interested, the Infocom games are often mentioned on various sites that I frequent, particularly the Hitchhiker’s game.

    Thank you all for your involvement on those games, especially the Hitchhiker’s series. I know I would have loved to see a sequel, so your effort towards it is appreciated, even if it didn’t come to fruition.

    hmmm… seems that you have the real thing…

    I can ask you a thing I guess you can do without infringe some copyright/IP nonsense: give a ls-lR (you get the idea) of the archive you have, so everyone can see what is here and in what state.

    Surely in the too many people wait for this directory listing 😉

    Best regards from Italy,

    Dott. Piergiorgio.

    I thought I’d add a line of thought coming out of the fallout discussion on ifMUD over this blog post. There’s some concern over the impropriety of posting this information without proper journalistic integrity and Mr. Bywater has clearly felt blindsided. That said, we’re in this weird stage of the Internet where journalism and blogging “seem” to overlap, but really, Mr. Baio here is no journalist. He’s just a blogger with a bunch of information. If he wants to be considered a journalist, he should probably take this article down, get permissions and responses from all parties, rewrite the article appropriately, and then republish it. If he just wants to open a can of worms, well, he’s succeeded.

    And yes, I am now embarrased about promoting Textfyre here. There are better places to talk about it.

    Infocom were a much loved part of my youth, I imagine I am not alone in this, as such it should come as no surprise that people are interested. Finding this sort of stuff is like discovering buried treasure.

    I remember being crushed by the fact that I beat planetfall in a week. Years later, “sparks, fireworks, pokita, pokita, pokita, feep!” is still something that comes to mind occasionally, and not just because I work with computers for a living.

    I was so addicted to this stuff that at one pointed I hounded Activision UK so much, spending most of the day on the phone at one point, that I got them to send me the only remaining copy of the “mind forever Voyaging” code disc in the UK. I’d lost mine and EBay didn’t exist back then. I still have it somewhere. In fact I recently bought a box set of all the infocom games on CD.

    Now I shall snag the ogg file 🙂

    @Rob Tomlinson

    “I understand your position regarding this article, but would you be interested in writing an article of your own on your blog?”

    Why on earth would I want to do that? What is the interest in the fact that, on a creative project which failed, people thought other people were assholes and tried to find ways to solve the problem? In this case, I was Project Asshole. Well, hell. Somehow I’ve managed to drag my maimed life onwards since then, and so has everyone else involved. And guess what? I’ve been Project Asshole a few times since; other projects, someone else has been Project Asshole.

    @David Cornelson: the thing is, Andy Baio describes himself as an “independent journalist” but this isn’t journalism. It’s just uploading. It would get an F on any journalism course. Journalism is about talking to people.

    @Brian Moriarty: Hi, Brian. You’re right on the money, as always.

    I’m going to leave it there, unless provoked.

    There are times when I am reminded of how fortunate I was to have been booted out of Infocom back in 1985; this is one of them.

    Strange as it may seem I remember a team of very talented people from the US and UK trying to make unrealistic deadlines driven mindlessly by a struggling management team running out of money and Douglas’ desires but lack of commitment.

    From my stand point dredging up old hurts and stress induced emails is not only unproductive but unhealthy.

    Creating and trying to sell a wonderful but completely non-competitive database sucked the life and finances out of a great company that was poised to be what EA has become.

    This is all driven by a revisionist history mentality and individuals who are not able to let go of the past and open their eyes to the future of gaming.

    Infocom was something special with amazing talents both in-house and out and any denigration of that image is not only false but doesn’t do justice to what we all accomplished all those years ago.

    Those of us who love interactive fiction and weren’t associated with Infocom are thankful to Andy for writing this post. But I understand how it would have been better if he had gotten permission from some of the people involved first.

    What’s the statue of limitations for discussing this type of thing without brusing egos? It is obvious to anyone reading this post that Andy’s intentions are honorable and he continues to amend details as they appear in the useful discussion section. I don’t see the point in being petulant about it.

    @Michael Bywater

    Certainly by some definitions this is journalism. It is an interesting reflection on a period of time from the information that is available.

    Yes it would have been better to contact those involved but if they hadn’t responded, or they said no then what? Don’t publish at all? Publish anyway but note that X, Y & Z declined to comment?

    Personally I am glad this got published but I accept that those involved at the time may be unhappy.

    Bywater’s comments in this thread indicate he may be far more than an occasional Project Asshole.

    Michael Bywater appears to be far from over something that happened 20 years ago. Rather sad, really. His lashing out at Mr. Baio is really puzzling.

    How many times do you need to be reminded that this is, indeed, a one-sided view based on what is in the Infocom Drive? You want to refute what’s been dredged from the Drive, then do so, but stop cloaking your objections by squawking about “first year undergraduate history” and “your methodology doesn’t allow it.”

    Shit or get off the pot, man, lest you come off even further like an arrogant buffoon.

    Rob Tomlinson wrote:

    “Mr. Bywater, as someone who considers his life strongly influenced by the original Hitchhiker’s game…”

    I say this as a near-lifelong fan of Infocom and somebody that considers Douglas Adams to be a personal hero: How does one have one’s life strongly influenced by that game and avoid leaping, screaming, off of a very high cliff? What an exercise in player-directed cruelty that game was.

    Get over it, Bywater.

    How long are you going to sulk about the past? (rhetorical question)

    We all hopefully learn from our mistakes and share the lessons.

    Why can’t you do that? (not rhetorical)

    Thank you, Infocom alumni, for providing an example I still try to live up to. Thanks also for turning out to be human after all. Don’t sweat it, we’re all so much grue food.

    I remember when I first got my IBM PC, lowly 4.77 speed demon. I bought those fun Zork and Planetfall/Stationfall and HitchHikers and I remember buying the Starcross for $50! had the white plastic saucer as packaging and the maps and other props. And all the other little programs with their props before they went to standard boxes, I still have my Planetfall ID card and packaging, I think I am missing a post card.

    The Invisiclues that came later on to help little by little instead of just giving a walk-thru.

    My brother bought Cornerstone to categorize his stuff too.

    Point of this Michael Bywater, while I understand your point, you also have to understand the weblog community in general. Yes, this is not cutting journalism in any sense of the word, it is a fantastic insight from raw un-filtered data.

    People who loved Infocom will look at this and think “Cool” that was very interesting, is there more?

    And keep their warm feeling about Infocom. It was a good run, I grabbed up the box sets so I could play them again, because they were very well thought out, they were very well done and a pleasure to parse!

    I hope you will realize what this ‘article’ is and represents and not just that someone forgot to ask your opinion.


    I remember in 1990 when, all of 16, we moved from north Jersey to Baltimore. My near-complete Infocom collection (including Fooblitzky) took up an entire shelf of my book case. At some point during the packing, I came up with the bright idea of dumping the boxes and just keeping the goodies inside. Not the best plan, in hindsight.

    I’ve still got my Hi-Jinx swizzle stick and Wishbringer glow-in-the-dark stone, and everything else save the cardboard. Once in awhile, I’ll load up Hitchhikers or Trinity (always my favorite) or a dozen others on the Palm Pilot and play through in one sitting.

    Since so many imps are clearly reading this, thanks for the memories. I’ll never have the sort of affection for a game developer like I did for Infocom.

    And thanks, Mr. Baio, for a fascinating slice of history.


    @ Michael Bywater

    “Upset? No. Just surprised you didn’t contact any of us to check your facts before making the sort of error you’re taught to avoid in first year undergraduate history.”

    and @ David Cornelson

    If he wants to be considered a journalist, he should probably take this article down, get permissions and responses from all parties, rewrite the article appropriately, and then republish it.

    I’m grateful Andy Baio published this stuff without going through any red tape. Had he informed and consulted everyone in advance, there probably wouldn’t have been a blog post at all and we’d still be in the dark about Milliways.

    As someone who has never worked for Infocom in any capacity whatsoever, I’m pleased to see this. I think it’s a valuable and entertaining part of history.

    For any ex-Infocom employee or associate who is ashamed of their actions or emails from many years in the past: oh, well. You should be over that by now. The historical record is what it is, and there’s no point in getting upset about it now. I assure you that I (and most other people) tend to judge you by your current actions and attitudes rather than those of twenty years ago.

    Mr. Bywater,

    This may not be journalism but I don’t believe Mr. Baio ever claimed that it was. Surely it cannot be denied, however, that the public availability of (admittedly one-sided) primary sources such as this presents a valuable building block for future historians and/or journalists.

    Andy Baio describes himself as an “independent journalist” but this isn’t journalism. It’s just uploading. It would get an F on any journalism course. Journalism is about talking to people.

    The world needs less “journalists” and more “uploaders”. Journalists are people who corrupt the information with their own opinions and misunderstandings, making it hard to get at the truth. Give me raw data any day.

    @Robert McGovern: It’s by hardly any definition journalism, “interesting reflection” or not. A proper journalist would have called the people whose private emails he was about to expose, and asked them for comment or insight. As Michael Bywater suggests, had Andy done this he could have made a far better article, that would have told us a great deal more about what really happened.

    But, yes, a real journalist would call and ask. If they said no, he’d weigh up whether or not to publish anyway, and would mention it in the piece. (You’ve seen “xxx declined to comment” in papers?).

    @Matt, Mark, sKurt: Yes, this is just a plain old blog post, whapped up on the net without consideration. Which is a shame, because it could have been better, and it’s more of a shame because it’s written by somebody who says they’re a journalist.

    I wonder how many sysadmins out there have backups of all our mailboxes. Will “it was too good not to publish” be good enough reason to spread them about in public without permission in 20 years’ time? It shouldn’t be today, either.

    Something you all might want to consider, of all the people involved Mr. Bywater is the only professional journalist, and no I don’t consider self taught web blog crap journalism.

    He is also the ONLY person who was a long time friend of Douglas Adams before, during and after this whole debacle.

    Being offended by having 20 year old emails dredged up and exposed to an uninvolved and uninformed public of youngsters would offend anyone.

    I commend Michael’s participation and am offended that this has turned into a 20 year old witch hunt driven mostly by uninformed 20 year olds…

    This is no witch hunt, believe me. Most comment sections on the internet are filled with far more vitriol than this one. The level of discourse here is still high and mostly respectful.

    And for the record, anyone who claims to have grown up playing Infocom games would be in his or her mid-thirties by now. If not older.

    As an actual, real journalist. One who has even worked and been paid on both sides of the Atlantic, I can feel happy and free to completely disagree with Michael Bywater.

    Reporters (a MUCH better word than journalist) report things. In this case Andy Baio reported some of what he found on an archived hard drive. It is all factual. He apparently made one mistake – which was publicly acknowledged and corrected. All the facts are clear as facts. All the extrapolations and opinion are clear as opinion.

    Journalism does NOT require talking to people. It does NOT require the ‘three sources’ people love to talk about. Instead it requires enumerating facts. The facts can come from anywhere – including a hard drive. In this case the hard drive is ‘the horse’s mouth’ – no other source is needed. A much better source than asking a person – who may or may not tell the truth, requiring you to get the story from two other corroborating sources to be certain. Which is the source of the three person requirement.

    So thanks, Andy.

    And remember that HHG and all the rest are all fiction and yet still tell the truth better than just about all journalism ever written.

    Journalists are people who corrupt the information with their own opinions and misunderstandings, making it hard to get at the truth. Give me raw data any day.

    Really? This thread has shown right from the start, the “uploader’s” take was wrong in a whole number of ways.

    I’m grateful Andy Baio published this stuff without going through any red tape. Had he informed and consulted everyone in advance, there probably wouldn’t have been a blog post at all.

    Basic courtesy isn’t red tape, it’s basic courtesy. There would have been nothing short of hefty litigation that these people could have done to prevent Andy doing this; all that asking first would have done is make it better.

    Dan Horn has it. This whole mess is offensive, not praiseworthy.

    To all those who cannot escape the bitterness, I’ll only remind you of Mr. Adams’ words.

    “Time affords us the ability to blame past errors on others while whole heartedly pronouncing our future successes”.

    – Ford Prefect

    I just wanted to let you all know how much I… we all… loved the Infocom games.

    I don’t think the little bits of frustration that are present in this e-mail are anything of the sort that rises to “Project Asshole” status. 🙂 I see mutual respect in these e-mails despite some understandable frustrations in that environment. I don’t think you should take it so hard, Michael–you were doing your best and everyone still wanted to use your design as much as possible.

    In fact, if anything, I got the sense from these that mainly, everyone was working on their pet projects, relishing in the full control and non-collaboration that comes with being a sole author. Lost in their own worlds as they were creating them, no one had time for the unwanted stepchild that came with the “requires collaboration” star after the project name. And then it was too late.

    Of course, that same consuming and immersive development methodology is probably why so many Infocom games are great. Infocom games required personal passion, and that can’t be manufactured or produced by management fiat. Without Adams’ passion, and with his empty chair looming as a potential Sword of Damocles over anyone else’s, how could anything have gone differently? From where I sit, what happened happened the only way it could have–and even with more civility than I would have imagined.

    As a guy who grew up on the HHGG game I certainly find this article fascinating, but I’ve got to admit I wouldn’t exactly be thrilled if confidential e-mails of mine were aired bereft of context, regardless of how much time had passed.

    Galley’s second set of design notes are brilliant! I would have love a game – any game – designed around that concept. It’s a shame that even with all the wonderful hobbyist and semi-commercial text adventures today, there has been little improvement in the underlying technology. It’s those design notes that make the mind reel at what might have been had parser/technology development continued without having to worry about visual elements.

    @Michael Bywater: I think you’re right that what’s being done here isn’t journalism – it’s more like digital archaeology. Andy Baio finds an unusual artifact, surprisingly well-preserved, which provides fascinating insights into the culture of ancient Egypt, etc.

    …except in this case the “ancient Egyptians” have unexpectedly shown up in person. I suggest wrapping yourself in bandages and shambling toward Andy Baio while pronouncing a curse on him.

    While I’m sorry to see that Mr. Bywater is offended by the (clearly very one-sided) presentation, I hope that he will continue to discuss his experience(s) working with Infocom and Adams in other forums.

    And, in case it means anything, I think that the record does not reflect poorly on him so much as it does on the dysfunctional culture of Infocom at that time (my initial thought was “Wow, how long did they take to address this lagging project?”).

    All that said, I think this general sort of retrospective look at tech companies past can be exceptionally informative and interesting, and thank everyone involved for both their past work and current comments.

    Another similarly interesting look at early 80’s game development can be seen here:


    As an old fan of Infocom’s (I even won a game with that Great Wall of China contest… I was the one standing on a picture of the Great Wall), this is sort of like digging into your parents’ old love letters… and then finding another stash where your mom is writing to some other guy on the side!

    It’s also amazing how a 20-year-old abandoned project based on the work of an author who died seven years ago can still stir up some interesting (though quite pointed) reactions.

    Andy, as an Infocom fan to this day, I can say I am appreciative of the work it must have taken to cull through the Infocom Drive to pull this material together. Thank you.

    And if I weren’t still at work I would be playing the game snippets right now (poking IF characters can be fun, you know)…

    Anyone who is foolish enough to form an opinion of Michael Bywater based on a single out-of-context intemperate email written by me twenty years ago is a fool indeed. Anyone who would make a judgment on Infocom’s “dysfunctional culture” based on reading a few cherry-picked emails about a single game that was never released is doubly a fool.

    If you want to know my opinion of Michael, note that in the later email from me, I offered to work on HH2 on condition that either Douglas -or- Michael be the UK collaborator.

    Just so we are all clear, The “infocom” drive and all the emails, data, information, etc. belong to Activision Blizzard, reguardless of where the copy came from. So while probably its really bad form to not contact the original writers, It is neither here nor there. I would assume Andy Baio contacted Activision Blizzard to get permission to post any of it and if he didn’t he is in the wrong and should not have published it.

    @Michael (not Bywater!) wrote:

    I wonder how many sysadmins out there have backups of all our mailboxes. Will “it was too good not to publish” be good enough reason to spread them about in public without permission in 20 years’ time? It shouldn’t be today, either.

    I could really give a shit if 20 years from now a sysadmin or ISP decides to release everything from my mailbox. If people want to sift through mundane crap like letters from cousins and family, or the advertisments I receive from various interests of mine, so be it. Hell, you could throw my full name into Google and you’d find tons of stuff I’ve written on USENET during my college and post-collegiate years.

    What was your point again? Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be embarrassed? Not in this lifetime. 😉

    Totally brilliant article. Kudos, Andy. I’ve read almost everything Douglas Adams ever wrote and played the Infocom HHG game too many time to count. I never knew there was a sequel in the works. Thanks for the great read. 🙂

    @Michael Bywater:

    I apologize, I think I misunderstood your original comment when I made mine. I thought you meant that this was a one-sided article that painted things the wrong way, and that you would have had more to share, but chose not to do so on Mr. Baio’s blog (“not for you, Mr. Baio”) because of the fact that you were not consulted. My mistake.

    For what it’s worth, I didn’t judge you as “Project Asshole”, or I wouldn’t have asked for more information about your time on the project.

    @John Booty:

    Good point. Perhaps “strongly” is too strong an adjective.

    Today I find myself in a somewhat enviable position in that I am a professional writer.

    Since many of the men and women that helped shape me as a writer are finding themselves on this page, let me be one more voice among the dozens to do this:

    Thank you to any Infocom imps, writers, programmers, coders, and developers that happen to stop in here. Today’s kids may not ever appreciate the shape of gaming in the mid-to-late 1980s, but I can unequivocably say that I wouldn’t be a writer today without the influence of your products.

    Thank you.

    Oooh. See if you can get rights to publish the source code, or something. It could be interesting reading.

    Thank you, Andy, for shining a little light on an obscure but wonderful bit of gaming history. Hitchhiker’s still rates as my favorite game of all time, and it’s great to see such a human face put on the development of its ill-fated sequel.

    I just wanted to let you all know that your comments will appear on my blog in 20 years. I’d give you the address, but the browser that can interpret it hasn’t been written yet.

    Leaving aside all moral/ethical arguments about whether it was right or wrong for Andy to have posted this stuff, I want to address the concern, brought up most cogently by Dan Horn, that the airing of this material somehow tarnishes Infocom’s legacy.

    For this Infocom fan, nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, before seeing this material, I felt only disappointment that the HHGG sequel never materialized. Now that disappointment is leavened by a much more nuanced understanding of the various obstacles involved. This post shows me a picture of many people who care very deeply about their craft, who are absolutely committed to never putting out a substandard product, even in the name of tremendous sales. Sure there’s frustration there — that frustration is the result of a passionate engagement whose revelation only enhances the Infocom legend.

    I’m glad to have seen it, and hope there’s more to come.

    Nice. Amy, your comment on the means of our collaboration is spot on. I’d like to add for the crowd here, that the very high level of expectation, and the extreme competence my co-workers is where I drew support at work. With individuals so skilled, if I ever did have a software problem that seemed hard too solve I could ask just about any one and get good help. But no one there was without an enormous ego and we had relationships that reflected them. Kind of like what I found at Caltech after leaving Infocom.

    What a shame that Michael Bywater should portray himself so poorly. He must assume that everyone who reads these is a complete idiot or just have an incredibly high opinion of himself. These emails do not protray him in a bad light as they are completely one-sided, and yes, we know that.

    Does anyone reading these emails believe that they, at no point in their entire lives, have ever had similar emails written about them behind their backs? Of course not. We know what life is like, how challenges can turn out and, most importantly, the one-sidedness of human perception. In short: It’s no big deal that he didn’t hit it off with a bunch of people.

    It seems that for Bywater that this is somehow a terrible and bitter insight, though. That now we’ll all think he’s an awful person.

    It’s ironic that, if he’d played the victim, or responded with some humility, we’d all think a lot more highly of him. Instead he responded with poorly aimed anger and bitterness, and now I think most of us *do* think poorly of him.

    How ridiculously ironic!

    The fact that Bywater considered Douglas Adams a close friend, or that he inspired the character of Dirk Gently, would have been more than enough to think fondly of him.

    The fact that he’s a successful journalist and writer is also something that would garner respect from me.

    Reading how Infocom felt he had not delivered the goods in terms of design for H2, only made me feel that he’d obviously struggled to come up with something good. I don’t think anyone is infallible or capable of doing everything, so it certainly didn’t make me think he was evil or talentless.

    I mean, who hired him to do the job he (apparently) couldn’t do? Infocom. So who’s at fault?

    Unfortunately his messages here portray a bitter and nasty ego. One that would quite merrily and childishly chant: “You should have asked me first! This is horribly one-sided! Don’t bother asking me NOW though, because I won’t tell you anything. THAT’LL teach you!”

    Oh well.


    I just wanted to thank the Infocom alumni for the many happy hours spent hacking away on my Apple IIe in the mid-late 80’s.

    You had a huge positive effect on myself and several friends. Great stuff, indeed!

    Pardon me as I pine for the days when great games came in wonderful boxes with books, maps, and cool thingys without paying an additional 20-50 for the “deluxe version”.

    Best wishes,


    David Lebling wrote:

    Anyone who is foolish enough to form an opinion of Michael Bywater based on a single out-of-context intemperate email written by me twenty years ago is a fool indeed.

    Reading Andy Baio’s article did not lead me to any opinion of Michael Bywater at all. I found it an interesting, brief, and very incomplete peek behind the scenes of the challenges faced by a company that produced some of my favorite games.

    Reading Michael Bywater’s own comments in this thread, however, has lead me to a quite strong opinion about him.

    Against my better judgment I’m going to make one last comment here.

    Yes, it may be interesting “archaeology” but the thing about archaeology is that the people involved are long dead. I don’t think it would be much of an archaeologist who, if the Sumerians or Egyptians were still around, nevertheless said “Well, I’m not going to ask them what this stuff actually meant, I’ll just stick up my own interpretation and get myself off the hook by saying ‘yes, yes, it’s one-sided’.”

    Nobody likes being misrepresented in public whether it’s about something that happened yesterday or twenty years ago. Particularly when it would have been so easy to send an email saying “Look what I’ve got. Do you have anything to say about it?”

    The story is much more interesting than an out-of-context set of emails. It sheds some genuine light on how these things get done (or in this case, not done). Baio could easily have got that story with a few emails. But he chose not to. I have no idea why, and simply assume it’s bad manners.

    And for Johnny W, if I had an incredibly high opinion of myself, do you think I would be writing here? For free? So that anonymous people can slag me off? If so, we inhabit different worlds. In the one I live in, people with incredibly high opinions of themselves wouldn’t give a damn what you or anyone else thinks of them.


    @Michael Bywater: Should have listened to your better judgment — you still come off as a pompous, overinflated windbag of a man.

    Can it be that your only true objection to all of this is that Baio didn’t come to you first and prostrated himself at your feet so that you might deign to give him “the story” straight from the horse’s mouth? (though after reading all your bluster, I rather think it’s coming from the other end….)

    My goodness, the ego has definitely landed, hasn’t it? You make Piers Morgan look positively saintly by comparison.

    The most interesting thing to me in the article from the standpoint of untried IF ideas was that notion of trying to get the parser to accept (and retrain the player to type) 3rd person declarative sentences instead of imperative ones.

    That, and the MEANWHILE verb, which is an amusing and possibly useful thing to implement in a game with multiple PC storylines that can be jumped between. I’m going to remember/steal/borrow/flatteringly-pay-homage-to that one.

    As a blogger, a fan of interactive fiction, a scholar who has published archival material on Colossal Cave Adventure, and a journalism teacher, I have many complex reactions to this article.

    For obvious reasons, I can’t share the whole Infocom Drive. But I have to share some of the best parts. It’s just too good.

    The “obvious reasons” that make it unwise to share the whole drive also apply to the “best parts.”

    I applaud Baio for releasing the content of his own blog under a Creative Commons license, but the authors of the material on the Infocom Drive did not release their work in the same manner. I don’t blame Bywater one bit for opting not to give Baio any more information.

    Because many of the named figures in Infocom history maintain an online presence and at least occasionally offer interviews, it’s a shame that Baio didn’t go to them (before publication) and ask for their opinion.

    As several commenters have pointed out, this limited selection of messages is not sufficient for constructing a whole picture of the culture of the company, or the creative accomplishments of each of the employees.

    I envy Baio’s access to the Infocom materials, I am curious about what happened to a lost Douglas Adams game, and I’m very interested in the discussion of new ideas in IF that hadn’t yet been tried.

    My point is not to attack Baio, or debate definition of “journalist,” but rather to lament his missed opportunity to do the double-checking, synthesizing, and contextualizing what he found there, before publishing it.

    Such work is difficult and under-appreciated, but it’s much better to do it before you’ve ruffled the feathers of your potential sources, and before you have contributed to potential misunderstandings in your readership.


    Regardless of how the news was interpreted, the idea of you steadfastly refusing to provide your perspective and sitting high up in your ivory tower 20 years later says a lot.

    Granted, you don’t have to like the way the news was interpreted or participate meaningfully in this historical find, but is this really something so deeply important that it has so much control over you?

    What would it take to share your thoughts on the history of ‘Restaurant’?

    @J. Robinson Wheeler: Yeah, I loved that MEANWHILE idea when I saw it. Though it would definitely need to be abbreviate-able to “M”. 🙂

    Regardless of how interesting it is, or how indifferent you’d be to having *your* correspondence published, other people’s private email is *theirs.* It’s completely inappropriate to publish it in a public forum without their permission.

    @Emily Short: You’re entitled to your opinion. Good thing Baio didn’t agree.

    This is endlessly fascinating and all you morally outraged writers/programmers/whatever need to get over yourselves.

    @Mark Miller

    ‘What would it take to share your thoughts on the history of ‘Restaurant’?’

    It wouldn’t have taken much at all. An email from Andy Baio saying “What do you make of this?” and I’d have told him, even though there are bits — lots — of it which don’t do me much credit. After all, I failed, in the end, to do the job.

    This is nothing to do with my allegedly galactic ego. It’s to do with Andy Baio uploading a bunch of stuff which is closely to do with me, without bothering to ask my opinion. I really don’t see how that’s so hard to understand.

    The tone of some of the comments on this blog, too, are kind of disheartening. Normally one ignores criticism, publicly at least; that’s one of the rules of the game. I’m not sure I agree with that; I think it’s more transparent to say “Actually, I find this upsetting and misrepresentative”. And then follows the sort of abuse most people would rather not get. Every now and then — like in this case — I forget it, and post a pretty unmediated response somewhere, and, whop, over the parapet of anonymity the turdballs start flying. You wouldn’t like it and neither do I. Being insulted by people who don’t know you? It’s not fun.

    I don’t know. I keep trying to think what I would do in Andy’s situation, and I gotta say I’d probably have published. If you transpose genres, this is easily equivalent to…oh, let’s say some of Lars Ulrich’s home movies around the time Dave Mustaine quit Metallica, or maybe the film from a camera accidentally left running on the set of ‘Married: With Children.’ I don’t know how to get in touch with James Hetfield or Ed O’Neill; I’d have to do my best to find the material I thought interesting, publish, and hope nobody’s feelings were hurt.

    Scott Adams and Infocom’s games are the reason I’m sitting at a keyboard right now, and have been an avid computer gamer for nearly 30 years (!) As a fan of the genre and a geek-in-general, I find this stuff fascinating and enlightening…and completely human. I can definitely understand being a bit weirded out to find one’s own words staring one in the face unexpectedly after twenty years…but I think I’d be happy to know that anyone thought them relevant enough to publish, too.

    @Michael Bywater — No insults here. More of an observation I’m surprised by. Why are you hurt by the insults of “people who don’t know you”? Let it roll off.

    My name may not be familiar to anyone on here, but I deal with criticism, anonymous and in-person, and I rarely let it bother me. To what end? You think you’re right, you’ve stated as such (though a tad brusquely, dare I say), let that be the end of it.

    I won’t say the reveal of all this information isn’t interesting — it is — and I’m rather amused by the indignation of people like Emily Short throwing in their two cents, but hey, opinions are like assholes — everyone has one.

    Let it roll off, man. You’ll live longer.

    Amazing story! And surely one that is not very unique in form. The tech has changed, but the people using/designing it have not.

    The story would have been good enough, but the fact that involved parties actually commented on it makes it 100 times better.

    So long, and thanks for all the fights!

    Michael Bywater – I’d be pissed too if my private emails were used.

    Or are they public? Is it part of the public figure thing? Can we get a legal beagle in here?

    I honestly didn’t form an opinion on Mr. Bywater just by reading the actual article. Unfortunately his posts have done that for me.

    “Aim at foot, pull trigger…”


    What is difficult for me to understand is even though the method of releasing this story was not done to your liking (and probably not to mine as well), here is an opportunity for you to present your story.

    I don’t know Andy from the next guy (this is my first time visiting this blog), but you were part of something historical and noteworthy.

    I would argue that all of us are more interested in the story than name-calling, character assassination or witch hunts.

    mmmhh. I’m a journalist, and an IF fan.

    As a journalist I appreciate news, facts. I agree with Owen: “Journalism does NOT require talking to people. It does NOT require the ‘three sources’ people love to talk about”.

    If I have a Scoop, a big Scoop, if I think it’s all true, if I think sources are safe enough, I have no doubts: I publish. Sometimes, you need courage to do that, but I publish.

    I don’t think, as Emily Short wrote, that mr. Baio made a mistake to publish private mails: these mails, if true, are history.

    But there is something strange here. I never saw so many Infocom authors all together, writing all together in a single forum.

    But the big question is: mr. Baio, if you are enough courageus to publish it, why you don’t publish _all_ the material?

    If you don’t wanna do it, send to people who request something more.

    Please, prove us this is not a hoax and it will be the most important scoop in if history.


    You really have to be a little sensitive about using unpublished sources which concern people still living. Only a handful of Infocom’s surviving emails reflect in any negative way on anyone at all, but the writers certainly wouldn’t want them published, and they are anyway misleading out of context. My policy when dealing with these and similar documents passed to me in confidence, when I was writing a short history of 20th-century IF for my book (“the DM4”, as it’s sometimes called) was to avoid quoting any unpublished email word for word – not so much for copyright reasons as to respect the fact that these were not public figures and were not writing for publication.

    I only had a few lines of space to give to “Restaurant” (which was only at one stage called Milliway’s, and had I think three false starts), but I hope I found it possible to tell the story without treading on anyone’s toes. Something I did point out is that, for some at Infocom, the involvement of Mr Bywater was a worry not for any reason to do with him as a person or as a writer – but because he was seen as associated with Magnetic Scrolls, which some people regarded as a significant future competitor for Infocom. (Dave Lebling, for instance, though if he’s here – we are not worthy! – he’ll correct me.) Magnetic Scrolls was in the UK, like Bywater and indeed Adams; the UK wasn’t a big market for Infocom; but MS’s founder had visited the Infocom campus and, some thought, learned some trade secrets in the process. The two companies were sizing each other up. Infocom testers thought MS games crude, as text games, but titles like “The Pawn” got good reviews from the computing press for mixing graphics with text well – which was exactly what Infocom was having trouble adjusting to.

    Infocom’s Implementors only rarely had to work on projects that they didn’t see much merit in – a luxury most programmers in the computing industry don’t get, but the Imps had carved out a role for themselves as creators, despite their name. Besides, their work had brought the company considerable revenues in 1982-85, and about half owned enough stock that they couldn’t be treated as ordinary employees. (Some of those who could had a trickier time at the end.) Just the same, the Imps couldn’t just work on whatever they pleased – they had to convince other people that the time would be well spent. And HHGG had sold more than anything else except the original Zork trilogy: a lot more. “Restaurant” appeared on business plans year after year, and it was the one project that management always wanted to happen. After the first couple of tries had failed, the Imps knew it wasn’t going to end well, but management didn’t see why they shouldn’t conjure up some product – any product! – and save the revenue projections.

    It was the Imps who were right. The real reason “Restaurant” never happened was the same as the reason that Douglas Adams’s “Doctor Who” TV scripts weren’t novelised (the only ones out of 150 which weren’t) – he would get just enthusiastic enough to want to be personally involved, then never have enough time to follow through. He didn’t remotely need the money, and he liked speculatively changing things. If he had been willing to sign a contract allowing Steve Meretzky to write “Restaurant” on his own, it might all have been a different story.

    The archive from which the original post seems to draw is a difficult source. Much that’s in it can only be explained using quite a lot else as context, and it preserves a snapshot which is not representative at all – not in time, not of projects, not of people. Getting all excited about the handful of sensational events towards the end isn’t, in my view, very productive. Anyway, like others in this thread, I hope people will respect the usual proprieties about unpublished, personal information and about copyright material, too.

    Well, look, it’s a damned if you do, damned if you don’t proposition. There were illegal actions that led up to this, including the transfer of company property to a private individual. At the same time, perhaps this was released when it was (now) because of the statute of limitations running out (just speculation). It’s compelling stuff and protected to a degree under the guise of “reporting”. The gentleman who posted it though would have been better off leaving out the part about the pilfered data and just left the transfer of information to him at “anonymous sources” and not been quite so specific about the actual “from” part. In other words, he could have presented the whole thing quite differently then he did and still had the same end result while maintaining full journalistic value and related protections. As it stands, his perfect honesty may come back to bite him. With that said, speaking strictly as a reader and historian, I love it as-is in all its unfiltered glory.

    By now all of this has already archived by others, so the cat is out of the bag forever regardless of how we feel about it at this point, so we just need to deal with that fact rather than the right or wrong aspects. That ship has sailed…

    If I have a Scoop, a big Scoop, if I think it’s all true, if I think sources are safe enough, I have no doubts: I publish. Sometimes, you need courage to do that, but I publish.

    Francesca, Owen: You would both publish your big Scoops without calling your subject for comment? And you have publishers that go along with this and somehow haven’t been sued to smithereens?

    MB is right. Andy should have at least attempted to contact those involved. Not only would it have been more fair (not to mention polite), it most likely would have yielded a better article. That said, I’m thrilled at what Andy did do, despite the shortcomings.

    Mr. Bywater, I sympathize. I’ve been there as well on projects, both completed and failed (although not quite this situation with 20 year old archives surfacing unexpectedly). You needn’t tell your side; you’ve made it clear that the HH2 debacle was frustrating and disappointing to you, and that’s all anyone needs to know.

    At any rate, you have my gratitude for your hard work on both projects.


    As a video game writer myself, I am in just about the same position you mentioned, and have the same fond feelings.

    Thanks, Infocom dudes.

    @Graham Nelson:

    Will IF Theory go more into the history of interactive fiction than the short history presented in the DM4?

    After twenty years the group got back together at Milliways. They sat at a table off to the side but this was not the restaurant they remembered. There was no one watching the door and the place was overrun with young punks. It seems that one of those punks was a telepath and had rummaged through their memories sharing them with the entire restaurant.

    Some were proud of their thoughts and were honored that he had taken an interest in them but at least one felt violated.

    The one thing that they all knew was that the universe had changed and things could never go back to the way they were. They all raised a glass and drank a toast to the owner of the restaurant may he rest in peace.

    As to the discussion of whether or not this is journalism…

    It is journalism 2.0. We live in an age where information is no longer presented by large media corporations it is now presented by individuals with a blog or a camera phone or an old hard drive they aquired. Good grammar and fact checking is a luxury not a requirement. It is now up to the reader to judge what they see and come to their own conclusions. If a reader sees something and thinks “Wow that blog made Bywater sound like a jerk” then it is up to them to write to Bywater and say “Wow, that post at waxy made you sound like a jerk, you really should post a response.”

    Times have changed and like it or not they aren’t going to change back to the way they were. We have to adapt and live with it. Anyone with a blog is a journalist and a editorialist and a critic and anything else they want to claim to be. The responsibility is now in the hands of the readership to determine what is quality and what isn’t.

    @Michael Bywater:

    I must confess that I had no idea who you were until I started reading through the comments. I understand your anger a little– I’ve certainly written emails that taken out of context would not have put me or coworkers in a favorable light.

    However, it seems to me that you are operating under the principle of a printed book or newspaper article. Like it or not, blog format stories often gain much of their interest and new information via the comments left by the readers. They tend to be more fluid and become more informative as others get involved. Whether the author contacted you first, this has been published and there are obviously many people interested in the story.

    This IS your chance to respond and enlighten the audience. This doesn’t play by the same rules as traditional journalism, but this isn’t journalism. If you think you have been wronged, holding back your opinion doesn’t help portray you any better.

    You seem to think that you would be doing the blogger a favor by providing additional information. This isn’t true. People who are interested will find this story and read it. Take it from someone who didn’t know he was your fan until today– just clarify what you think is needed and realize that everyone who is reading this article is probably interested in your viewpoint.

    I don’t know who Andy Baio is and I’m not likely to visit this site regularly. I simply found an article about a company, a book, and a game that brought me great pleasure twenty years ago. Thank you for that.

    Today was like IF-nerd Christmas. I cracked up when I finally realized where the ‘Dornbeast’ got its name.

    I was nine when I first read HHG and was totally blown away (and stumped for a long time) by the Infocom game. HHG and the Zork series were the defining games of my childhood.

    Since then, I have collected and played all of the Infocom games (first on an Apple II, and later on the Mac) – and I still have the original packaging and (almost all of the) items. (Far different from the lame photocopied crap that Activision sold later. So sad.) My license plate says INFOCOM. I jailbroke my iPhone just to put a Z-machine interpreter on it. (etc, etc.)

    The games have provided hundreds of hours of entertainment, and I’d like to thank the folks who spent so much time and hard work on them.

    Granted, there were times I’ve wanted to throw the computer against a wall, but I guess that should also be taken as a compliment for writing such fiendishly difficult puzzles!!!

    I’m glad that there is an active IF community today, and I have seen a few pretty well-written games… but I sure do miss Infocom.

    Thank you for sharing this, Andy, and thanks to everyone from Infocom for all of the great games.

    Thom Brooks

    Chicago, IL

    Graham Nelson: “Dave Lebling, for instance, though if he’s here … he’ll correct me.”

    Consider yourself corrected.

    If there were people who objected to Bywater because he was associated with MS, I was not one of them.

    If there were people who thought Anita Sinclair “learned trade secrets” from Infocom, I’d answer “We had trade secrets?” I visited the MS offices in London on several occasions and they were very friendly and open with me; perhaps I learned “trade secrets” as well. I wonder what they were.

    I want to thank you all, not only for renewing the fond fading memories of games I enjoyed in my youth, but for taking me away from my concerns regarding Andromeda’s impending consumption of the Milky Way.

    I just want to say “thank you” to all of the Implementors. Just seeing your comments still gives me sort of a *they’re real! they’re real!* feeling after all these years. I have met a varied and interesting bunch of people through interactive fiction, a passion largely inspired by your games.

    I was one of the kids who sent the majority of his requests for “The Status Line” after it had stopped being published (but kept on sending them as I got more games just in case the previous ones had been lost in the mail).

    Despite being the ones to open our eyes to the possibilities of interactive storytelling, you still managed to capture some of its finest moments (IMO) and are a large reason why the genre will never die for many of us.

    @Paul O’Brian I was also thinking that MEANWHILE could be amusingly abbreviated to ME, so that you would type, e.g., :

    >ME ZAPHOD (Okay, now you’re Zaphod.)

    >ME FORD (Okay, now you’re Ford.)

    >ME ARTHUR (Sorry, Arthur Dent doesn’t seem to exist in this Universe right now. We apologise for the inconvenience.)


    “It is journalism 2.0. We live in an age where information is no longer presented by large media corporations it is now presented by individuals with a blog or a camera phone or an old hard drive they aquired. Good grammar and fact checking is a luxury not a requirement.”

    That’s not Journalism 2.0 – that is something that has been going on for decades. You can buy the results in many stores. Do the names “National Enquirer” or “Weekly World News” ring a bell?

    In fact, I’ve heard from many colleagues that when they called someone that was mentioned in many of those “Journalism 2.0” articles on the internet or elsewhere, the sources were happy to be called so they could tell the colleagues the real scoop. And then, one by one, all the other outlets corrected their reporting. Because one person dared to check the facts first.

    Wow, I just ran across this and this brings back a ton of memories. Makes me realize how much I miss playing these games. I was running these games on a TI-99/4A, and was saddened when Infocom scaled back the supported platform list. To give you an idea of my devotion level, I disassembled the interpreter on the 99/4A (discovering in the process that the coding of the Z-code interpreter looked like the 99/4A port was a port of VAX assembler code), fixed some bugs (one of which would render games with larger vocabulary tables unplayable due to an overflow bug), and ported all the other existing Z-code version 3 games to the 99/4A.

    All that aside, great read! I enjoyed this post immensely.

    If I were in Michael Bywater’s position, I think I’d feel roughly the same way he does, and I might have reacted in essentially the same way. If he were the saint that many of you must be (based on your responses to him), then perhaps he would have been able to ignore whatever old emotions that this had dredged up. But he seems to be, like many of us, only human.

    I’m sure there’s a lot more to the story than we can see through this tiny, distorted window. It sounds like everyone felt frustrated at the time, and seeing it presented in this way has revived that feeling for some. It looks like we’re not likely to find out the whole picture, as Mr. Bywater is quite justified in not feeling especially charitable toward this blog or the people surrounding it at the moment. So it goes.

    I would like to ask that those reading this not pass judgment on the individuals involved based only on a smattering of out-of-context emails and a few unhappy blog comments. (And I’d also like to note that both Dennis Jerz’s and Graham Nelson’s comments here seem particularly insightful.)

    Thank you, Michael Baywater, for not turning away from the conversation (if it really is that). I expect that many people have, or will have, worked at jobs where there are things said via email, or back room conversations, that they would not like to come out. Or correspondence that tells not one-side of the story, but one small piece of a story with many sides.

    I was at a company that was falling apart due to many issues, and there was a lot of good people trying to fix problem that were unable to be fixed. Reading this story and discussion makes me reflect back on that because it is awfully confusing and frustrating to live through. Michael Baywater was/is clearly respected by a lot of people at the time and should have been contacted for more info. So should many people. But that can’t be fixed now.

    It is very easy to look back and say what should have been done, but that really is unfair to everyone who lived through it. We’re all human, we make mistakes. We don’t like seeing our past brought back to life, especially when we are not included.

    Still I am glad to have read it this way myself, rather than a polished professional article, as it comes across with more passion and personal involvement.

    If he wants to be considered a journalist, he should probably take this article down, get permissions and responses from all parties, rewrite the article appropriately, and then republish it.

    Journalists don’t get permission, they get confirmation of facts.

    The article was perfectly appropriate.

    As another Infocom gamer I’d also like to thank all the veterans of the company. You’ve cost me a lot of sleep in the 80s, but it was well worth it!

    It’s quite interesting to look through the design documents for Milliways and to imagine what could have been.

    And this post and the comments have certainly added quite a lot of food for thought for all of us who have the last 25 years of our lives stored on various floppies and harddisks all over the planet.

    I’m pretty sure I would not be happy to have my internal emails posted to the web – now or in 20 years – but the reality is that nowadays everything ever recorded about any of us can pop up on the web at any time. We can’t stop it, and I’d recommend to embrace it. Blogs are powerful not just because the blogger can post whatever they want, the comments allow anybody to reply and correct the story. Also, nothing stops the reader to respond on their own blog in their own style.

    It certainly is not journalism. It’s a self-published shared consciousness with search engines as judge and master. Many of us will sooner or later find something about us on the web that we don’t like, but that’s how the cookie crumbles…

    But back on topic – sort of: Infocom games have shaped many of the lives of the people who brought us the Internet and the Web. I dare anybody to point me at one significant contributor of the Web as programmer who did not at one point try to get the Babelfish out of the vending machine. Yes, Infocom influenced the builders of the web in a very deep way, and many web sites and applications are peppered with references to this shared history. Think about that the next time you get the Babelfish to translate a site for you. 🙂

    I’m pretty sure I would not be happy to have my internal emails posted to the web – now or in 20 years – but the reality is that nowadays everything ever recorded about any of us can pop up on the web at any time. We can’t stop it, and I’d recommend to embrace it.

    But none of this was on “the web”. Hell, “the web” barely existed at the time. These are the contents of an in-house hard drive. I don’t know how it fell into Andy Baio’s hands (he seems vague about the details, which leads me to believe he’d rather we didn’t know) but possession of a physical drive does not entitle you to freely publish the files on it.

    Think about it. If someone came across your hard drive from 1999, perhaps from a computer you sent back for service, perhaps from a discarded drive that wasn’t properly erased, perhaps even from a laptop that was stolen– would you really feel comfortable if all of the contents were published on the web? Should we just throw up our hands and say oh well, who needs privacy?

    Frankly, I think Andy Baio is insane to post this. This is lawsuit territory…

    Wow – what an interesting and thought provoking experience. I have mixed views of the original article, given that the information was most likely not Mr. Baio’s to share.

    On the other hand some of the tidbits therein were genuinely interesting; and the comments section here reads like a who’s who list of IF and although polarized, is excellent reading. Clearly some of you are taking a dim view of Mr. Bywaters response; but I think we can all agree he has a strong command of the written word even now =).

    For those going back to the IF community both old and somewhat newer who seem bitter about this – please consider your audience and offer us some small benefit of a doubt. These are men and woman (whether 20 or not) who have a love for writing, language, clever puzzles and stories – what you, the Infocommies of old, gave us in droves. We are readers, and are capable of a critical eye. I would hope a little less prone to the snap judgement than your average joe.

    I was so enthralled by the games of that era that years ago I spent months and months working on an interpreter for them of some little fame – the original WinFrotz. It was quite a lot of programming actually, but entirely worth it to me when I would get letters from folks who had been unable to play Infocom titles for a decade but were now able to rediscover them.

    As such a fan, it does not disappoint me that the creative, intelligent people who built these games had differences or difficulties at the time. It’s the nature of creative work, and of difficult programming, and these were both combined.

    I suppose the only let down for me here is the general negativity this information has brought forth from the original Infocommies makes it less likely we’ll hear more from them going forward. I think most of us would dearly love to, warts and all.

    I just wanted to say that

    1) Mr. Bywater, I never realized you were responsible for “Bureaucracy” and soccer practices that I spent talking about how to beat the airline soup puzzle with my friend. And the muzak generator. And the remote African nation of Zalagasa. Thanks for many laughs.

    2) The notion of static between Infocom / Magnetic Scrolls is a jaw-dropping historical discovery.

    3) Not sure what this mythical “journalism” is, of which everyone loves to accuse us journalists of falling short. Honestly, I’m not sure anyone has ever practiced it, including Edward R. Murrow and Ernie Pyle. God bless Waxy.

    4) This is so 31337. The only thing missing from this post was a “Fooblitzsky” sex scandal, or maybe a 1981 Usenet post about a zorkmids kickback scheme involving “Hollywood” Dave Anderson.

    I should clarify my comments a bit. I don’t claim to not understand Mr. Bywater’s feelings; I’ve done a bit of media time myself over the years, and been bitten hard by it on occasion.

    I’ve said and done things over the years that I wish I hadn’t, and I’m sure there are embarrassing e-mails, message board posts, and photographs of me scattered to the four winds (likely as not photographs of ME scattered to the four winds, at that!) If I ever become particularly prominent again, someone will likely dig them out of an archive and publish them.

    I probably won’t be real happy to have my warts exposed to the world…but at the end of the day, it will *still* be a matter of “wow…someone actually cares about this stuff? How flattering!”

    It’s a shame that Mr. Bywater is so disturbed by this stuff – a bigger shame that his reaction to it has given me a far less rosy conception of him than the original material did – but that’s The Price We Pay for being public figures. I think the truly gracious and realistic take-away from this for the principles should be a sense of genuine pride in the scope of their impact on the world, even two and a half decades later.

    I’d sure like to think anyone I knew 20, 25 years ago would care this much about what I had to say.

    But when it’s all said and done…this is the geek equivalent of Zeppelin’s Headley Grange demos, and if I was the one who first laid hands on those tracks – with all due respect to Messers Page, Plant, Jones, and Bonham – they’d have been released into the wild before anyone had a *chance* to say “no.” They’re just too important to be subject to the restrictions of ego or hindsight. I think we all understand that every one of the principles involved wishes things had gone differently, and likely every one of them feels some sense of responsibility that things *didn’t* go differently…but that’s okay. You’re human, and so are we, and nobody is holding that against anyone, including Mr. Bywater.

    The sad thing to me is, this is a really GREAT opportunity to get this game finished. All of the necessary players are in place, and for the love of Pete you even have the source code! Certainly Mr. Bywater would know how to contact the Adams estate to work on arranging clearance for such a project.

    I hope you’ll all consider the possibilities here, let water under the bridge stay under the bridge, and give serious consideration to picking this back up as a hobby project of some kind or something. I’ll concede that we all need to eat and you’re not likely looking at any big lucrative moneymaker at this point…but it sure would be a cool thing to have happen, wouldn’t it? Not to mention a rather nice tribute to ‘The Owner of the Restaurant’…

    @Andy Baio:

    As someone who has successfully pissed off writers, journalists, academics, corporations, at least one TV personality and a newspaper proprietor, I feel I have some experience when it comes to conflicts. They’re very easy to stir up and very hard to settle. Some last more-or-less forever. Milliways was obviously one of these, it would have been impossible to know this in advance, and the reactions of the individuals concerned would likely have been exactly the same. I’m grateful that you did the work you did. It is an amazing feat of digital archaeology, whether or not certain individuals want to credit it with the label of journalism.

    @All Infocom Imps, Geeks, Hacks, Celebrities:

    For the sake of all humanity, do a reunion tour or something. We’re dying out here! One more game and I’ll feel like I’m in heaven. Just one more… Please….? I’ll stop begging if I can have just one last all-text adventure of the quality you have always managed.

    Heck, the question of who would care about the source code for the games just about killed me. Fixing the graphics bug on Beyond Zork, looking at how some of the finer details were put together in Suspended, or tweaking the intelligence of the AIs in Deadline would be fun beyond all compare, as well as educational on some of the thought processes of the finest adventure developers around.

    I do not consider Magnetic Scrolls to be worthy of comparison. Level 9 were cheaper and it showed, but were probably the closest to a real competitor in the single-user text adventure world, in terms of descriptive text and puzzles, but their parser was a basic 2-worder and the AIs had no logic to speak of. The only parser that bested Infocom’s was that of Essex University’s MUD (the source for that would be amazing, too). Even on the most modern dungeon-bashing games, no AI has come close.

    To me, the only series to have had as much impact on the history of gaming was Sir Tech’s Wizardry, but crude dungeon bashes – however ingenious the rest of the gameplay is – are just that. Crude. Again, I’ll plead and beg for mercy, just let the last of the Early Generation Games be an Infocom game. The Grues will thank you for it.

    So why was no attempt made at contacting the principals? Certainly at least Bywater could have been easily found.

    Considering the effort that must have gone into digging through the files, I don’t see how it could have been laziness, so it must have been a deliberate decision. So then what was the reason?

    The story describes a limited snapshot of time and it would be silly, though natural to make assumptions about people based on it. The good thing about the internet however is that the players in the story can respond, which a number have. Not only is that even more interesting but it gives an opportunity to fix any assumptions that might arise from the story. That makes this method far better than traditional journalism in my book.

    Anyway, as far as lawsuit territory, I don’t think so. The blog is publishing third party information, not presenting the information to hurt someone or used to prop up some point of view. I would have thought the only problem might have been if the material was illegally obtained.

    BTW. I would feel uncomfortable if someone publish my life story online, we have stuff we would prefer to forget, but that is not what has happened here. It is a small, focused, though incomplete discussion about building a product. Hardly earth shattering and as stated before. At least it is factual and not coloured by some journalist who modifies the facts to make the story more ‘interesting’ or ‘dramatic’.

    Nemo me impune lacessit? Forgive the jump from Latin to French, but as long as we’re fooling around with garters and thistles, how about honi soit qui mal y pense?

    Evil to him who thinks evil of it. We’ve all been there. That’s how software gets written. Anywhere. Everywhere. Sure, Baio should have talked to as many of you as he could have before talking about it, but I can understand (even if I don’t agree) why he didn’t — the contents of this drive are important to the history of interactive fiction.

    The core dump of prototypes and other archived materials isn’t about the internal friction and the corporate management, it’s about what ideas survived and made it to production, and what ideas never got to see the light of day. (As an aside, Galley’s MEANWHILE command is something that’s yet to be fully realized in any RPG I can think of to this day, and it’s a damn interesting idea.)

    As for more damn interesting ideas, your ancient email that said “To solve these puzzles you have to travel in space around the workshop visiting various locations which turn out to be planets, all of which are in the solar system and all of which are subtly wrong (Saturn has no rings, etc)” doesn’t just sound like a damn interesting idea, it sounds like bits of Trinity. (I’m speculating about it here just in case the folks at Slashdot didn’t pick up on my post, or in case you don’t read it there. I’m speculating about it in the first place because, as a student of gaming, I’m genuinely curious about where some of these ideas came from. This is a glimpse into something I can barely remember from childhood — even though I still have the box, the disk, and the Apple //e with 128K of bank-switched RAM on which it ran.)

    For what it’s worth, the graphics are still in my mind, and a human still never stands so tall as when he stoops to help a small computer.

    You’re right in that it’s been 20 years and it’s no longer about personalities. But IMNSHO, you weren’t right being slagged off — because I don’t think Baio was slagging you off. We all know it was a crappy time in Infocom’s history, and we’re all capable of looking past that. The genius of Infocom was in the words, even more so than it was in the code, and those design docs (whether they made their way to the klein bottle and Trinity or not) prove it.

    Wow, reading this was an interesting way to wake up on a damp Saturday morning.

    Whilst I don’t want to get into the ins and outs of the story – I would like to add the following comments for the record:

    Magnetic Scrolls had worked successfully with Michael on Jinxter – a game that we had needed to rewrite in about 3 weeks (for much less interesting reasons than these), and we would have had no chance of doing so without his help.

    We really really really liked Infocom. We liked them as people. We liked them as game designers. We liked them as engineers. We wanted to work with them on a collaborative project because we thought it would be fun. We thought that they thought the same thing – and we never had reason to doubt this.

    And Hi to David, Michael, Dan and Tim, and anybody else who’s reading this who might remember me.

    I spent a great deal of my youth playing Infocom games on 8-bit machines, and marveling at the parser’s abilities. (Even later, in the late 80’s, I fondly recall playing Leather Goddesses of Phobos with a friend at work after everyone else had gone home.)

    But I never really dug into the history of the company or the people involved. I just thought they were great games, and felt bittersweet delight when I finally finished one of the damned things.

    Now, at 4 AM, after reading this post & all the comments from the original cast, I feel as if I’ve crept down the stairs after lights-out to hear my betters talking. If this post has no other effect than a textual reunion (how appropriate!) of some immensely talented people responsible for so much fun, I feel privileged for the experience.

    Thank you all — for *all* of the fish.

    This story was just a conspiracy to pique the interest of former Names and Players from IF history to create a reunion of sorts. Genius really. 😉 Whoever hatched this plan has accomplished something that may not have been accomplished in any other way. Look around, They are all here and you know there are some behind the scenes communications between the interested parties as a result of all this hoop-lah. I can’t wait to see what comes out of this exchange of information.

    To those involved in the events of the time, thank you for the legacy you’ve all left on the gaming scene today. I certainly appreciate it!

    I must say my first impressions while reading through this story were that it seemed to be pure tabloid dumpster-diving… but of course I read on, it’s human nature to be inquisitive (read: nosey) 🙂

    Was there any attempt to contact infocom or the people involved to a) give them their data back, b) get the real story or c) even a courtesy ‘heads-up’?

    Yes this is history but it’s hardly ancient history…

    Thanks all!

    M.J. Simpson’s biography of Douglas Adams is useful background to reading this article, in that it illustrates Adams’s career-spanning difficulty in completing projects (he had to be locked in a hotel room by his agent a couple of times to fulfill contractual obligations to publishers). I definitely sympathize with Michael Bywater for the position he was placed in helping maintain Adams’s image by rescuing him from these situations. I also find the numerous casual slurs posted here in his direction incredibly cowardly and distasteful. Go back to your “Family Guy” DVDs and leave this discussion to the adults.

    My God.

    I am, sadly, too young to have been a good Infocom fan. But darn if I can’t sit up and listen. Reading through this entry and all its comments at 12AM-2AM PDT is one of the easiest times that I’ve been awake for anything in years.

    Thank you, Mr. Baio.

    Unfortunately, there is just too much for me to even say. I wrote up a blog post (linked as URL) after finishing reading (most of) John Henry’s comment above.

    There is too much here for me to comprehend, and I loathe the fact that I be so young to have missed out on Infocom’s true wonders.

    The chappies opining here that they would care not a whit should someone post their private correspondence on the internet are most likely nonenties whose private correspondence would be of interest to no one save their mothers, out-of-work mental health professionals in need of amusement, and a few nostalgiac prostitutes tracking down the punter who gave them that particularly narsty dose of crabs back in 1993.

    As a technical sidenote, XZip seems to work perfectly for the provided files; I found it easily in the Ubuntu repository, so I assume it’s also in Debian’s and easily accessable for users of most Linux distros, for those of us who swing that way instead of Windows or OSX and want to give these unfinished snapshots a try.

    I must say, I was too young to have played Infocom games “back in the day” but everything said here, and what I’ve played of the two snapshots, has made me want to take a step back and try them out for myself.

    As for Michael Bywater, I disagree with most of what he has said but I entirely understand why he would feel the way he does, and I cannot think badly of him for a second over it. One never really knows the full story, but in this case, one hardly knows the story at all, it’s simply a tiny interesting shard giving tantalizing hints. And so be it; in a way, Andy Baio is being far more honest in doing this than he would be had he acquired this drive but kept it entirely for himself, and this raw dump of snippets of data seems to have drawn quite a few people out of the woodwork, so I can’t fault Baio either. He’s human too, we’re all human. And sometimes humans make wonderful things, and make wonderful things happen. Why, I’ve been vastly amused even just by release 15.

    >clean teeth
    (with the toothbrush)
    Congratulations on your fine dental hygiene.

    You just don’t get that kind of in-game feedback from Halo 3, you know?

    I just wanted to post a “Thank You” to all the ex-Infocom developers who are watching this thread. I really miss your products; they were the high point of the 1980s for me.

    And I’m sorry that people felt violated by the publishing of this article, but on the whole I still think it should have been published. As for who owned the contents of the hard drive, that is an interesting question – just because the individual magnetic “bits” form a file or document, does that mean that the person who has physical ownership of the drive doesn’t own them?

    @Michael Bywater

    “The story is much more interesting than an out-of-context set of emails. It sheds some genuine light on how these things get done (or in this case, not done). Baio could easily have got that story with a few emails. But he chose not to. I have no idea why, and simply assume it’s bad manners.

    And for Johnny W, if I had an incredibly high opinion of myself, do you think I would be writing here? For free?”

    Michael, you give the impression that we should all be grateful that you’re willing to write here for free, but you seem to hold Andy Baio to a higher standard. Look at this page. If you look closely, you’ll find one, tiny ad. Andy would be lucky if that ad pays for the bandwidth used on this page.

    Sure, it could have been a better story with some interviews, but why should he have any compulsion to double his workload for something he’s contributing for free, in his spare time?

    And besides, what Andy posted was the hard part. If you’re as easy to contact for interviews as you say, then anybody can get an interview from you. But original documents? Those can never be duplicated.

    PS: When posting comments, never say “this is my last post”, because you end up looking silly when you change your mind. Whenever somebody has enough vested in the subject that they’ve become sufficiently perturbed to make such a comment, they’re invariably unable to hold back.

    This is a hard one. I’ve read all the current posts and am very tired so I have only disjointed thoughts.

    I can understand the anger of being subjected to public scrutiny and having not been consulted prior to “publication.”

    I don’t think that a blog counts as media in the traditional sense and don’t think that bloggers (by the way, I do have a blog) are in any way journalists unless they’re journalists who blog.

    I appreciate the information here and have a history as an avid gamer. Zork was one of my first games.

    I think that one might want to look at the legal issues. This information is still the property of another company regardless of of the value of the information to us. (If someone gives you a stolen car, for example but we have no way of knowing how the drive was aquired, you don’t get to drive it. It is still recieving stolen property.)

    Other than that, wow… I actually read all the posts, I enjoyed it a great deal. I think that the blight of the source and the publication without additional input AND permission may well have tarnished the entire ‘event’ but… Well… At least it has resulted in this much. I just really think it could have been done better.

    I truly enjoyed the games and I had a great deal of fun reading all of this information. It reminded me of the many days spent with bleary eyes from too much gaming on an old Trash 80. Those youthful days have impacted so many of us, the changes taking place then have had such far reaching scopes, and the legacy that is left behind is sure to never be forgotten. Without them, without you, much of what we take for granted today may well not exist in the current form.

    I offer a heartfelt thanks regardless of the situation presented here and figured I’d add my voice to the din.

    Beautiful. People being people. IT people ride more than one trainwreck in their careers: systems with a acronym names that live short lives and are now forgotten by all except the handful of people that wrote on them. You’re privileged that people care about yours.

    Not pretty, but you’re all human. Rejoice in some real history for a change. In the official version too often everyone is “really nice” and every knows it’s BS. Thanks for publishing this. I loved the earlier raw pieces on the history of Infocom. A worthy successor. Very glad you just published, and I think you also know why.

    Michael Bywater seems like the villain out of central casting, but I can remember a few times I was paid to work on a project without any support, supervision, deadlines or clear goals. I hated it, but I cashed the check too.

    I for one desperatly love you for posting this. I have always been a big fan of DNA and miss him dearly. Thank you to all who were involved.

    I too have a dozen or so Infocom games in their original packaging – complete with swizzle sticks, rubber bugs and god knows what else in the doohicky line. Bureacracy was far and away my favourite of the lot, and the insanity in that game most definitely inspired me to write the kind of SF I’m (un)known for.

    As for publishing the emails – it’s fascinating stuff, but it’s also easy to see why people could get upset when a load of dirty laundry has been hung out in full view.

    “And Hi to David, Michael, Dan and Tim, and anybody else who’s reading this who might remember me.”

    Only third-hand, through interviews in Crash Magazine, and I was always convinced you were related to Sir Clive 😉

    @Andy: Thanks for posting; brave and appreciated. Now bittorrent the hard drive image 🙂

    @Michael: Your replies read far worse then the emails portray you. The readership of this article is pretty informed and liberal so we’re not likely to conclude that you’re Beelzebub incarnate. Journalism, like language and the computer games market, is not any one thing and changes over time. I, for one, am grateful to finally see more raw sources put up for me to form my own opinion than having to put up with someone else’s. From the tone of your replies, I guess you might well have blocked this material from being published at all…

    @The Imps: The combination of humor, technology, creativity and literature that came together in the Infocom games generally and the Hitchhiker’s game in particular resulted in a key moment in my childhood that led to me pursuing a career in software. I won’t hold that against you though 😉 Thanks to everyone who worked at Infocom – organise that reunion tour…

    @Everyone else:

    Listen to Yoz’s excellent recording of the interview with Steve Meretzky and Michael Bywater (link above; give them an MP3 link as well can you Yoz?). Make your conclusion about Michael Bywater and his ego from that recording; it’s far more revealing than the material here.

    Finally: can we get a pledge fund going to actually pay some of these guys to finish the game? I for one would stump up $200 to make it happen. Who else is going to show them the money?

    * I love deadlines. I especially love the whooshing sound they make as they fly by. – Douglas Adams, Author, Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.

    I didn’t get the “Michael Bywater is Project Asshole” at all from reading the emails. Without a Clear, Single Owner I think most software project die (can you imagine Linux without Linus?), so that was the script that I fit this into, and until I started reading Bywater’s unexpected objections that’s pretty much what I think. Now I think mostly that Adams was excitable and didn’t manage to follow through with all of the things that he wanted to do, and whatever scapegoating was required to cope with this was displaced on the hopes and dreams of the responsibility of Bywater. The cashing the check business is all different if on some level he’s viewed as Adam’s proxy or just an independent contractor or whatever. (i.e. he’s put a lot of work into it rather than not and is therefor justly compensated.)

    Also an interesting thing I’ve learned from the comments, if true: Michael Bywater is the inspiration for Dirk Gently. How awesome is that. Extrapolating from even less and less, that puts all these comments in a different light as well.

    Outside of the damaged egos in the comments, of the main post I actually thought that Amy’s email where she laid out the realistic-ness of the timelines and what she would and wouldn’t commit to was actually more interesting. As I programmer I want to be able to write things like that and as a manager I wish more of my programmer would write things like that. I want more quality control emails from the illicit archives!

    To the infocom guys,

    As being an early Gen X’r (38) there is a REAL resurgence of people looking backwards to the 80’s. If there was ANY way you could collaborate on new stuff (or complete old stuff) there IS money to be made (I’d pay for some new infocom stuff).

    Go ask Scott Adams, I’m sure he’d be glad to tell you the response a couple of years back (or more) when he came out with something new.

    The number of REAL good adventures based on the Z interpreter over the last 10 years is simply astounding.

    Lastly. Although Baio wrote the story, I wonder what Eileen thinks of all this (over at xyzzynews)

    As a long time text adventure fan, I was delighted to read about this find. (I finally finished “Trinity” this year.) While it may have been rude for Andy to publish the e-mail excerpts without asking, I for one do not think any less of anyone involved, based on having read them. I’ve worked in companies with dysfunctional management and internal squabbling, I can recognize it when I see it.

    That goes for Michael Bywater in particular. I can see how he might think he’s being singled out as the villain, but I didn’t see it that way. If I think less of anyone, it’s Marc Blank for his “get this one back from the Brits” comment. Yeah, Infocom made better games than Magnetic Scrolls, but does it have to be a nationalistic thing?

    The complaining about the article, though, that’s a different matter. Michael Bywater: if you think the article misrepresents you, an effective way to proceed would be to present your side of the story–either here, or on your own web site. To complain about not being asked before having other people’s comments about you published, and simultaneously refuse to comment on any of the facts… how is that supposed to achieve anything positive? And you wonder why the “turdballs” are flying?

    As for whether Andy should have consulted the relevant parties before publication: if he’d done that, I’m betting we wouldn’t ever have seen the material. My first thought after reading the article was “I’m taking a copy of this before the DMCA notices are delivered”.

    What would I have done in Andy’s position? I would probably have contacted the people concerned, via an anonymous account. If things started to sound lawsuity, I’d have published everything anonymously. Unfortunately, the way the law has developed (particularly UK libel law), this kind of “rude” publication-before-consultation is becoming ever more necessary. But I don’t think the article was published with any negative intent, and I think we should cut Andy some slack for not e-mailing people first.

    Oh yeah, one last thing: if John Molloy who worked for Magnetic Scrolls happens to read this–John, please e-mail me and let me know if you got the CD I tried to send you. The address is on my web site.

    To all of those who were part of or associated with Infocom:


    My love of, and skill with, computers can largely be attributed to the games you produced.

    The many games of Infocom inspired me to learn to program (which like many others here I have turned into a career) – and I’ve made many attempts at trying to capture the magic of the games. For Pete’s sake:

    “What is a grue?”

    STILL makes me laugh.

    What surprises me is that many of the former employees of Infocom don’t seem to realize is that we LOVED your games and wanted more of them.

    This post was a trip down memory lane, and a brief, and surely incomplete and narrow look inside the company that produced games that influenced a whole bunch-o-folks.

    So Mr. Baio, you have put a smile on my face today. Thanks to you too.

    To those wrapped up in negativity over this post might want to take a deep breath and talk a walk, with your dog (if you have one), in some place sunny and green.

    Peace and Light


    I grew up in the golden age of Infocom games. When a new one was released it meant I worked a few extra hours after school to afford it. My Commodore 64 had a few trusty accessories… a floppy drive, a nice (for the time) monitor, and my endless collection of Infocoms. As games have matured I find myself wanting the simplicity of what I had back then. I miss them dearly because I was the one who made them graphic in my head. The parser technology in Enchanter drove me to write my own game engine for the 64 and I developed (but never published) my own text adventures for friends and family.

    I know the mass market would not support it, but just a note to whomever still (now?) owns the Infocom intellectual property – I would be re-issues of those games in a heartbeat… just make them XP friendly (yeah, Vista, too I guess) and send me the URL. Publish them via direct download from the web… people will buy them.

    Thanks for this article… believe it or not I still have my collection of old Infocom newsletters (New Zork Times, remember?)

    -John K.

    Phoenix, AZ

    20 years is an eternity on this exponential growth curve we’re on. There simply isn’t time to wait for people with hard feelings to actually die before posting. Thanks Andy!

    I’ve TXD’d the second version, 184 (first crashes TXD, an infocom disassembler). The only real suprises are the text from the bar scene at the beginning of the first game is in it, and text for the unimplemented crater. Well, at least I think it’s unimplemented, I can’t get in it.

    S174: “The dusty ground rises here before falling away into a crater. The crater seems rather new, as if it had been created by the impact of something huge and confused, travelling downwards at high velocity. It is as if a sperm whale had inexplicably materialized several miles above the surface of Magrathea and immediately plunged downwards, reaching terminal velocity almost immediately, terminal incomprehension soon afterwards, and, finally, terminal impact just as it was wondering whether it was going to have a nice day. This impression is heightened by the shards of whalebone and meat you can see glistening here and there around the crater. The crater continues south-west and south-east, and the blighted ground lies to the north-west.”

    S175: “You are on the rim of a great crater which continues to the south-west and south-east, while the blighted ground lies north-west”

    S176: “The rim of the whale crater continues northwest and southwest. The scene of the whale’s final disiluusionment lies below you, but there’s no way down”

    S177: “The crater lip continues north-east and north-west. Below you is a build-your-own-dead-whale kit (glue not included). There’s no way down.”

    S178: “The crater lip continues northeast and southeast here, and below you is a ledge. If you fell from here to the ledge you would probably break and ankle and nobody would hear you screaming and you would die from pain and exposure. On the other hand, if you climbed down carefully, you’d have no trouble. So what are you making all the fuss about?”

    S179: “The crater lip continues northeat and southeast here, and below you is a ledge.”

    S180: “This ledge lies halfway between the crater lip and the floor of the whale crater itself. It doesn’t seem quite like any ledge you’ve encountered before, perhaps because of the pillars on either side of you and the rather nice wall – marble, perhaps, or ivory? – between you and the steep but survivable slope down to the crater floor.”

    Apologies for inflicting a low grade “Internet basement dweller virgin dork” post on this article, but compliments never hurt and this is my sincere opinion:

    @Anita, you were (and likely still are) a very beautiful woman.

    It is very heart-warming to see that you bare/bore no ill-will at IF folks and still think highly of everyone.

    @Michael Bywater, I understand where you are coming from and agree with you. Being a man of principals myself I realize the reason you refuse to divulge your experience. However, if you adhere me, some food for thought:

    In many decades from now when we would all be gone, (despite or even inspite of) this would likely not matter to anyone; yet for our ilk who seek out facts and “the truth” and for those who will for whatever reason seek this information out or happen to stumble upon it in the future — the information will remain incomplete. And with you gone so would your entire experience be remain lost to all forever.

    Do you not owe it to yourself, for as I suspect you also be a man of accuracy and data integrity (why are we called semantics chasers?), to present your piece onto the whole rather than leave it with a gaping hole?

    Although the Interleaf-Magnetic Scrolls relationship was certainly competitive in a sense, the competition was really about who could come up with a better work of interactive fiction (“Top that!”). The technology, and by the late ’80s MS was ahead in many respects, was a vehicle, and there was quite a lot of information sharing. I spent a week in London specifically to pick the brains of the MS development team. (The technology of course is long-forgotten, but there was a lovely evening finishing off a bottle of Laphroaig (10 year old, I think) with Mr. Bywater, while Anita got a demo of a friend’s latest invention.)

    My experience working with Michael (on a game where, again, he was filling in for Doug Adams; difference is, this one shipped) was similar to what Anita described with Jinxter–Michael’s a professional writer, and I’m a professional developer. The game could’ve been lots better, but that’s much to do with its train-wreck history and ridiculous schedule, and not much at all with Michael’s efforts filling in at the last minute–God knows he tried, and tried again when Testing didn’t like something he’d come up with.

    Infocom in general never mastered collaboration, especially with outside writers; I think the heroic approach to game development, probably necessary for PR purposes, precluded that. It’s funny, though: Zork was strictly collaborative (three or four of us sitting around the terminal room late at night hacking away), and Infocom’s best game, Enchanter, was another Lebling/Blank effort. It’s very hard to find a good programmer who’s also a good, imaginative writer (no offense, guys); we’d have done better if we’d had effective support for a model where the game designer provided ideas, text, and design, and the coding was handled by people who were primarily really good at that.

    Well, I thank whoever preserved this drive for all these years, and I thank Baio for posting it. Sorry if Michael got his feathers ruffled, but my view on that is ‘too bad’.

    If you have issue with the facts, fine. If you have issue with the one sided aspect of these files, fine. You could respond. You HAVE responded.

    As for ‘private’ emails, these emails were not private, they belong to Infocom. Who they belong to now is a question (Activision?) best left to liars .. er, lawyers. But the one thing that is for certain is that they don’t belong to the people who wrote them.

    So, sorry you were annoyed or upset or whatever, Michael, but this post was of great interest to a great many people, and that alone makes it worthy of being ‘journalism’ regardless of your opinion, or anyone else’s.

    I dearly wish I’d gotten to play the game, as I think is the case for most everyone else as well.

    I feel like I need to respond, just to put a “vote” in on the contrarian side:

    While the article, and the uncovered information from long ago, is darn interesting and fascinating to read, I want to be crystal clear here – if I was one of the Infocom-related people involved, I would be on the phone right now to A) my lawyer, and B) Activision’s lawyers, and I would sue the living daylights out of the article’s author.

    Confidential internal company emails have been busted open without any consultation of the companies that may still own them, or the authors of the emails. While it all makes an interesting read, blithely releasing internal private emails wirtten by people who are still alive who worked at a company a scant couple decades ago is complete crap. I’d be angry as all heck if this were to happen to me, *regardless* of the intentions, topic, or content. I recommend Andy Baio call his lawyer, and also recommend that he prays no one else does.

    To all of the ex-Infocom folks who commented here: Thanks for lending some additional perspective to the story presented by the archive. Like many here, I grew up with Infocom games and Hitchhikers in particular stands as one of my favorites.

    And to Andy Baio, thanks for posting. I question whether it was the right thing to do so without contacting any of the parties involved, but I’m also human enough to partake greedily of the archive now that it’s out there.


    Austin, TX

    How Michael Bywater became the model for Dirk Gently is explained in DNA’s biography Wish you Were Here by Nick Webb and is obvious when you meet Bywater.

    I just had to sign in to echo a Thank You to all the Infocommers who are here. I don’t take a negative jot from the email – it was a snapshot in time. You fine peeps helped secure my long standing interest in computers, programming, and gaming. I should do something so cool that 20+ years on people still care so much.

    But it brings to mind the lyrics of the great Bard MC Frontalot:

    not one of whom ever aimed a fish around the room,

    trying to get it in the ear canal because doom

    beset the last planet they were on, or near

    the verge of a set of poetics they wouldn’t hear.

    If you haven’t seen his It Is Pitch Dark video, go do it before you are eaten by a grue.


    Good gosh.

    Folks, it’s a videogame that became vaporware.

    Baio isn’t a Rosenberg or a Hanssen, and this article does not contain state secrets. It contains a captured moment in time that clearly cannot illustrate the whole situation, but can be used as a starting point to telling the whole story.

    I understand Bywater’s reaction; though my original comment was harsh, it was in fact made to illustrate the point that others actually put into words:

    He has a perfect chance to tell his side, and enter into what could have been a civil and informative discussion with many people here who are fans, and he blew the FANS off because they are in a thread regarding an article that was written by Baio, who didn’t talk to him before publishing.

    Look, we’re all here now. This is the time and place to clear the air and share your sides.

    All this lawsuit talk and junk is crazy.

    Someone at Infocom should have had the foresight to destroy this drive. I mean, a company full of coders, hackers, and general geeks should have known better.

    If this was another company’s secret stash, do you not think that the Infocom folks would have clicked the link to read that story too? Do you not think that people from other software giants in the 80’s have come to read the dirt?

    We’re all information junkies, that’s why we came to read this.

    Tim, as is often the case, hits the nail on the head: Infocom never mastered collaboration.

    I think it wasn’t so much “the heroic approach to game development” as that our model for collaboration was those late nights at MIT when Zork was first written, when a better model to skill up on would have been writer/developer teams. That’s something we approached most closely with Seastalker, where Stu Galley and Jim Lawrence collaborated. HHGTTG ended up that way, as did Bureaucracy (which would probably not have appeared without Michael’s aid), as would have Restaurant had Infocom survived, but the path was rocky, dark and grue-infested. Tim and Michael could show you the scars.

    Magnetic Scrolls never gave -me- any Laphroaig, although I do remember some very nice wines…

    It’s great see Anita appear here, even under the less-than-ideal circumstances. MS were great people, with excellent technology and ideas; they were the competitor that we had the most respect for.

    I am a huge Infocom fan, but Seastalker just sucked. I don’t know if the development model had anything to do with it, or if it was just because it was aimed at kids.

    In my ignorant opinion, the problem with the Restaurant game was the reason for making it. When something sells big, the suits always want to find a way to replicate the success. The creative types are seldom sanguine about going along with a lame derivative sequel, and rightly so.

    sue the living daylights out of the article’s author.

    Under what legal theory? Everyone needs to cool their jets, no attorney would take that case. Except maybe in England.

    There’s a certain voyeuristic pleasure in seeing the inner workings of a company such as Infocom. Yet, it is exactly that: voyeurism.

    It would have been proper to for Mr. Baio to give those involved a heads up about what he had in his position and what he intended to do with it. As has been posted before, this is common courtesy. Yes, this takes time and effort, but it’s the right thing to do. He has apologized for it, but it is certainly something to keep in mind for next time.

    I’d react the same way as Mr. Bywater and be upset about the this was initially handled. When I’m upset, I’m not exactly the nicest guy. In fact, I often behave like an asshole when I’m upset. I can certainly relate to Mr. Bywater’s candid and honest response.

    There are many who have posted here who have made snap judgments and posted very mean things about people they don’t know. It’s really easy to say, “Forget about it.” Yet, the comments are still hurtful, especially if they come from people who don’t know you.

    In the end, what goes around comes around. Have fun dealing with it when it does.

    What a find! You made it a very entertaining read. Now if only someone could find an old Sierra archival disk…

    The question is, would Restaurant at the End of the Universe have saved Infocom if it had made the projected $5 million?

    My personal opinion is Bywater is at least a jerk and at most an (expletive deleted) same with the other Michael non-bywater (one wonders if it was just a pen name).

    I was somewhat “involved” with Infocom back in the day, even had an NDA with them, and was starting to work on a new adventure project.

    See, I wrote a text adventure and being a lowly isolated author it wasn’t going to go anywhere, thus my approaching Infocom – the best text adventure company around.

    Sometime shortly after the NDA was signed, Infocom went belly up. Or at least, to me, they just disappeared.

    I also got copies of original fortran source code for Zork, Adventure and Empire from the original authors to do with as I pleased, or so they said. I still have those, but not much on the planet understands 36bit fortran-IV code from the PDP and vax systems of the early 70’s.

    I loved HHG and the game, but my all time favorite is still Bureaucracy just for it’s twisted humor.

    And who can forget other classic games of the time, like Leather Goddesses of Phobos and “Nord And Bert couldn’t make head or tail of it”. Those are two of my other favs of the time.

    the only competitor at the time was Sierra with a soft-porn game

    and later came similar type low-graphics games like space quest and early lucas arts games (maniac mansion), but I always consider Infocom started it all

    I agree with most of the postings here, as a fan and heavy purchaser of the games, and some involvement with Infocom, I want the whole story, we want to see this stuff, and hear more about it.

    I don’t care about how it was done or approached, get over it, we’re here now. Fill in the blanks, show us the real history.

    Don’t let it get lost in the wind, even if you think it should be, we, the fans, would love nothing more.


    Within Textfyre, we’ve successfully managed to make writing and designing the primary deliverable and the coding is setup as a secondary deliverable. However, the designers and writers working on games are deeply familiar with programming games so Textfyre sort of has the best of all worlds. In order for Textfyre to grow though, we’re going to have to learn how to bring in writers that do _not_ know how to code games and that will be an interesting challenge. I have always thought good/great games would have a better chance of being developed with a collaborative environment.

    As for the dirty details, we use MS Word to develop the design. Mike Gentry helped develop a template to codify all of the interactions and so far our programmer, Graeme Jefferis, hasn’t had any problems translating the design to code. We also started using SharePoint Services to have a project plan and team website to upload documents. We even have a build process that recognizes code changes in Subversion, builds the game file, zips it up, and uploads it to the team site for the testers.

    Collaboration is critical. We’re just beginning to understand how to do it well.

    Excellent! I’ve been meaning to pin down an Infocom employee and ask “why the hell doesn’t my copy of HHGG not work on any computer, ever?” Seriously. I bought it new and it never ran on anything. What are the max system requirements?

    Also, as an avid participant in the Kingdom of Loathing, I would like to thank all the Infocom team for their efforts. You inspired the direction of that game, some of the content of that game, and live on, through that game. Thank you.


    “My personal opinion is Bywater is at least a jerk and at most an (expletive deleted)”

    Your privilege.

    “same with the other Michael non-bywater (one wonders if it was just a pen name).”


    “my all time favorite is still Bureaucracy just for it’s twisted humor.”

    Pretty ironic, eh?

    “I want the whole story.”

    And this is the way to get it, you think?

    People: I was very angry yesterday that I had been publicly misrepresented without being consulted. I would bet most of you would feel the same if it happened to you. By now, having slept on it, I’d probably have thought, ho-hum, I’ll set out the back-story for the record. Then I come back here and I see a raft of low-grade insults aimed at me by complete strangers who are apparently throwing tantrums and calling me names because I won’t instantly comply with what they want.

    I can understand it in Dan’s case. He’s obviously still pissed off about the fate of his idea. Do I think you’re “at least a jerk”, Dan? No. I’d be pretty resentful under those circumstances. I’ve had similar things happen, many times, and they still rankle.

    But, really, I’m under no duty to tell you stuff just because you want it. I just don’t see it: you call someone a jerk and then ask them to fill you in on the story? Why would anyone do that?

    First, I’d like to apologize for enjoying these comments so much. Everyone loves a good fight. 😉

    Second, I don’t think text fiction will suffice in this day. The best interactive fiction game I’ve played is Knights of the Old Republic. You were able to choose different endings, affect the universe, guide character development, and explore the universe without a mess of guessing which word to use so the lying parser will understand you. All in a stolen spaceship you could walk around in and land on gorgeous planets.

    Finally, I agree that we all need more interesting games. I’m of the opinion that some combination of the user generated content that Second Life provides and the artistic quality that Blizzard strives for will rule the intertubes in the coming years. A combination of Mass Effect and SimSolarSystem, if you will. I wish I had the funding to pursue such a grandiose concept.

    Man, the suspense is killing me.

    @Bill: KoL’er here as well. Great to see a game pay such homage to a classic such as Zork.

    So when are we going to get our voice activated text adventures? Maybe we can host it on the web, call from a phone when in transit and speak such things as “Go North” or “Take aspirin”

    I am such a demanding consumer.

    Infocom: Thank you for everything.


    What are you trying to accomplish by not sharing your back story with us? Punishment? Retribution? Revenge?

    Ultimately, does this affect you so strongly that you cannot ungrudgingly speak about your experience?

    Many of us are interested in your story, but you allow the opinions of a few others to ruin something that is special to us who are more interested in history than ego.

    Mark Miller @11:47am: Your homework for today is to look up the word “entitlement” in a dictionary, and ponder its meaning and applications.

    Fascinating story, made much more interesting by the comments from the people involved. Nevertheless, surely people don’t think that it’s OK to publish private correspondences between people without their permission, particularly correspondence that is critical of other people that the originators never expected to be made public.

    I certainly hope that in 30 years time my private emails aren’t made public in this way (since I’m not part of anything totemic, I am probably safe in this hope)

    Not only is it rude, surely it’s illegal.

    @keldwud Actually, as far as voice activated text adventure goes, its been done. There is now a plugin module available for the Asterisk PBX phone system that lets you play Zork by speaking into the phone. Great fun and is a nice surprise for callers to get as your answering machine, instead of leave a message after the beep.

    And now just a short rant. There are enough of us Infocom fans out here making money in our our new jobs as writers and technical people, inspired by the original games. Why can’t you game programmers make money off of us? Common we’re hungry! We want more text adventures games. Feed us! Bring back Infocom.

    When I was a kid, I knew exactly what I wanted to be when I grew up: I wanted to work for Infocom.

    Thank you to all the people who worked on those games.

    @ Michael Bywater

    I just can’t understand why, after having the dirty laundry about a failed project that you were involved in 20 years ago aired most publicly without so much as a by-your-leave that you wouldn’t want to provide us with the intimate details about this difficult and chaotic period. Hasn’t the fact that we’ve treated you deplorably been ingratiating enough? Would talking about how much we hate you some more convince you to dredge up those wonderful anecdotes about trying to salvage another Infocom project circling the drain?

    We demand that you reminisce with us at length about this project; posterity requires your immediate response!


    I agree that Bywater comes across as really annoyingly over-defensive but maybe there’s more to it than meets the eye… I wonder if his pig-headedness about posting the “whole story” might have something to do with what I heard at the London Book Fair last week — that he’s written a book which deals with his whole relationship with Douglas Adams & that it’s being published at the end of the year… six-figure advance (so they say, but who knows the truth?) so perhaps there’s some radical news in there.

    There’s always been talk about Bywater being the hidden hand in a whole bunch of DNA stuff but I for one always put it down as bullshit. The Infocom Drive (and kudos to Andy for posting it) makes me wonder. And it would explain why Bywater’s so defensive AND why he won’t post anything more substantial here. Just a thought…

    Doctor Memory,

    That is a red herring argument.

    Nice try, though. No, actually, it was rather feeble.

    It is unethical to publish a living person’s private correspondence without permission. Period. This isn’t journalism; it’s invasion of privacy. Bywater’s reaction here is the only one that makes sense.

    However, you accidentally created a forum for the principal characters in the story to gather around and discuss their recollections. Reading their posts is wonderful and enlightening and entirely on the level. I just wish that the conditions for this discussion could have been provided some other way.

    Does it always require a disaster to start a debate?

    Wow. Just wow.

    I agree that these mails probably weren’t Andy Baio’s to publish, but I’m certainly glad for this slice of visibility into Infocom’s internals. It’s a little like having a time machine (or an IID :).

    I don’t see anything negative at all. Good software authors (and good authors in general) are creative and passionate. They have strong, sometimes short-lived opinions, especially during frustrating release cycles and perceived boondoggles.

    On another note, never in my life would I have thought I’d see this group of people gather together to comment in a casual forum. That’s a true gift, even if it did fall out of a can of worms.

    We don’t know all the details that Andy Baio knows, but I do feel that as much has been revealed by his decision to publish this material, even more of an opportunity has been lost. Look at the reaction by the people involved! It’s astounding. I can’t help but wonder what kind of amazing article could have been written had this material been used as the basis for a more traditional article, one where the people involved had been allowed to comment. It might have been the kind of article that Mr. Baio could have published somewhere other than a blog.

    As a 30 something I LOVED the Hitchhikers game – never did finish it though – but man I remember playing it on my Mac Plus (well my parent’s Mac Plus 😉 )

    But – wow my head is spinning with all this email ping-pong…

    Take a deep breath, breathe out, and chill…

    I didn’t draw any personal conclusions about anyone involved at all – it just looks like every typical IT project I’m involved in in the biggest companies in the world!! 😀

    Thanks for the great hours and hours of enjoyable frustration sitting in front of the Mac everyone! 🙂

    Oh btw – can anyone tell me what to do with the green frob? I’m stuck already and I’m only on the first “screen”!!! 😉 hehe

    Talk about knickers in a bunch! ;P

    Anyway, I agree with the people here suggesting it was unwise to release proprietary information gleaned from a hard drive which was not acquired legitimately (or at least acquired in a questionable manner). At the very least, the potential threat of legal action would generally be a deterrent.

    I believe internal company e-mails or e-mails between individuals with an assumption of a private exchange shouldn’t be published all over the internet (or anywhere) without the express permission of those involved… except where the release of such content would be justified and protected as that conferred upon ‘whistleblowers’ (which obviously isn’t the case here, since it is no service to the public to air out Infocom’s dirty laundry). I would only publish unsolicited e-mails to myself because I believe that when there is an e-mail exchange, like an exchange of letters, the parties to which they are addressed jointly own the rights to the exchange and as such any one of them would potentially be justified in releasing the information (although if absolute secrecy was asked for and given, the person releasing said e-mail exchange in public would look the worse for having betrayed that trust). For example, if someone e-mailed me with threatening words, insults or taunts, I’d happily publish that on my blog and make fun of them, without any remorse since it was an unsolicited e-mail and I don’t believe anyone should be allowed to privately abuse people via e-mail and still expect to be protected by some strange notion of that unsolicited e-mail as being ‘private’.

    However, this is clearly not the case, and I do think Mr. Baio would have done better to at least confirm the accuracy and veracity of the e-mail exchanges discovered on the hard drive with all the people involved (after all, it’s not hard to edit text, e-mail headers, hard drive information, etc.) and politely ask permission to publish, since no one outside Infocom (and possibly even restricted only to those addressed in the e-mail header) was supposed to be privy to the content of those e-mails.

    As for software (even aborted ones), alpha code, documentation, I think that is all intellectual property which someone out there (either the authors/coders themselves or the companies they worked for) owns the rights to, and to publish it without written permission is probably rather dangerous territory to tread upon, even in the New Information Age where Intellectual Property laws have failed to catch up with modern technology.

    I suspect that most if not all people involved in all this would have been more than happy to put in their 2 cents if asked, and possibly even given permission for their old e-mails to be published, but they were never asked and so never given the chance. I respect the fact that despite some of the exchanges published without permission may have portrayed some people in a negative light, those people still have managed to find it in their hearts to forgive the faux pas and concentrate on giving their recollections and opinions upon an admittedly interesting and historically significant discovery about a software company and vaporware which had a huge impact on their fans everywhere.

    I agree that Mr. Bywater’s comments (assuming that is actually him responding, and not someone pretending to be him) actually give a worse impression of him than anything that was found on the hard drive, but at the same time I don’t necessarily blame him for being annoyed and upset that he wasn’t even asked his opinion or his side of the story before the “scoop” was published.

    I admit I’m not a huge Infocom fan (I liked the original Zork, and the H2G2 game – although I never finished either) but not because I didn’t think they did good work, but simply that I obviously wasn’t as obsessed with the games as others were. But I fully believe that Infocom as a software company had a huge impact on budding young gamers, Douglas Adams fans, etc. of the time and just a casual glance at the praises heaped upon Infocom in this comments thread suggests that the discovery of a lost Infocom hard drive is an important one.

    But I don’t feel good knowing that it’s ruffled a few feathers or that it aired dirty, OLD laundry for no particular reason than a sort of lurid, titillating interest (similar to the fascination with roadside accidents…. or reality TV). It would have been enough to just mention having come into possession of such a valuable find, and that the principals involved were being contacted and permissions gained to publish excerpts from the hard drive, and then go from there.

    I dislike the ‘scoop’ mentality in any kind of journalism, whether it be old school print journalism or the new era of blogging, because it leads to exactly this type of conflict which I think is really quite embarrassing for all involved.

    No doubt this entire episode has served to attract more attention to this particular blog, which I would call ‘sensationalist’ and I think in that respect I would have to agree with Mr. Bywater that it leans more towards yellow journalism than something of Pulitzer Prize-winning calibre.

    But these are my two pennies based on what I’ve read on this page. I don’t claim to be a journalist by any stretch of the imagination, and my blogs are restricted to posting personal opinions and conjecture on myspace more as a method of venting frustration than in any effort to convince anyone of anything (although if some people agree with me, I’m always chuffed).

    I think another H2G2 game, especially one done well, by people of obvious talent such as those ex-Infocom people and Mr. Bywater, would be well-received since the market is current devoid of really great adventure games (or solo RPGs or whatever you want to call them). I think those involved in the creation of something fantastic tend to be too close to the project to really appreciate how amazing it really is/was or the kind of impact a really great game can have on people. But I appreciate the fact that it’s often because of the very logistical problems involved in game creation as exemplified in the Infocom hard drive contents which frustrate game developers to the point where they really get sick and tired of working on even the most seemingly interesting or amazing project.

    Like many of the other casual posters here, I ‘cut my teeth’, intellectually, on the Infocom games – starting with the Zorks on my Dad’s Osborne 1, and through many of the other infocom titles (Suspended really blew my mind, and had the COOLEST packaging of any game I think I have bought to date, still!) on later home computers.

    That’s some thirty years, beginning in my early teens, that I’ve had a huge amount of respect for the depth of satisfaction that could be had with games where the ‘graphics’ existed solely in one’s mind.

    I found this story, and the ensuing commentary from people who were involved at the time, fascinating.

    Side note: Many of the original Infocom games are available to play on the Gametap subscription service. Sadly, no HHG or Bureaucracy, but the Zorks, Suspended, Planetfall and more are there. I wish the detective IFs were there – I never finished Deadline, and I’d still love to.

    Hello Michael.

    Glad you’ve got over the initial “seeing red” phase, I can imagine that if it were my emails (or emails concerning me in a less-than-flattering manner) suddenly being aired without my say-so and in a fairly one-sided way I’d have reacted about the same. Personally, I don’t think that you come across as being an arse, and certainly not discernably so from the content of these mails…

    Now, can I make a plea to you?

    Please, don’t let people jerking your strings stop you from commenting. This – – applies, I think.

    I would *really* like to see you put down some of the backstory as seen from your point of view. Either here, or elsewhere, it would be interesting for a number of reasons. Still, if you don’t feel like doing so, that’s fine too, of course.

    Oh, and thanks. I really enjoyed beauracracy. In fact, that should go out to all the writers, imps, accountants and tea-boys that made all of the Infocom games possible, so please treat it as though it does.


    Wow. I’m glad someone pointed me to this.

    Discovering Infocom (and before that Scott Adams) Adventures in my early twenties had a huge impact on my life. Their influence in terms of player engagement in my own college teaching and e-learning projects persists to this day.

    Thanks to all the creative folks involved. These games were significant cultural contributions in the context of computer use.

    P.S. I once took a whole week’s vacation just to play Zork fulltime. Was I addicted or what!?

    I finished 98% of it. I just couldn’t figure out how to get that damm jewel encrusted egg open!!

    For any Implementors and Infocom developers and collaborators still reading this:

    Hello, Sailor. Thank you for everything.

    @drama: This is all out of context, and private e-mails that contained potentially inflammatory comments should not have been published, period.

    Ye Gods, this made…

    Don’t Believe in Imaginary Property writes

    “Archivists at have gotten a copy of the backup of Infocom’s shared network drive from 1989 and are piecing together information about games that were never released. In particular, there is the sequel to The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy called Milliways: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, and there are two playable prototypes of it. And yes, they have playable downloads available.”

    I loved the Infocom games, even went to the offices when I visited my Uncle in MA.

    p.s. The egg, give it to the thief then go to his lair if I remember.

    It would be like a really cool movie, if someone with lots of money offered all the IF people lots of money to get back together to re-do HH for all of us who never had the chance to play it….

    It would be like a really cool movie, if someone with lots of money offered all the IF people lots of money to get back together to re-do HH for all of us who never had the chance to play it….

    >p.s. The egg, give it to the thief then go to his lair if I remember.

    Yes, give the egg to the thief. In the end, I had to cheat to get that one. It seemed so obvious when I discovered it, but I just couldn’t make that leap of logic.

    Reading the draft ideas about “Milliways”, I don’t think I would have progressed very far with that. Those IF developers have devious, twisted minds (-:

    That’s why I loved those games!

    (sigh) If you really really want to play the original HHGG game why don’t you? The BBC have had it available to play online here for the last three years.

    To all you people who think infocom should get back together…let it go…

    Besides Marc Blank has to get out the 800w with chattermail, and I am sure everyone else has plenty else going on.

    Thanks for the memories though Infocom. I loved the Enchanter series the best, although I never beat Spellbreaker.

    I did sell my Masterpieces CD on Fleabay for $135.00

    Wish I had that back 🙁 Actually wish I had kept my infocom games in prime condition.

    Mr. Miller: That you are in no way entitled to someone else’s memories (or words, or time, or effort) simply because you happen to care deeply about the subject is not an “argument”, it is a simple fact.

    (I could perhaps go on, but Phil Binkowski @12:16pm really made anything else I might say redundant — well played, random internet person.)

    This was fascinating stuff, and I did read it all…

    Still, it’s wrong to publish a person’s emails without their permission, at least while they’re alive. I’m no lawyer or writer or anyone of consequence; it just seems obvious to me.

    I don’t know what I was writing in emails 20 years ago (on BBSs), but I would hope someone would consult me before publishing those emails.

    I suggest that Andy take this post offline until he can get approval from all interested parties.

    @Michael Bywater:

    Just for the record, I’m one person who isn’t demanding that you give your side of the story. I think it’s actually quite arrogant of you to assume that we’re all hanging on your every word. Most of the comment above is based on your conduct in this thread, not begging for words of wisdom from you. Based on your — rather petulant — behaviour above, I think we’re probably better off without your version of the story. No, this isn’t reverse psychology… I’m genuinely not interested.

    I for one think we’re much more likely to get a balanced viewpoint from Jason Scott’s forthcoming documentary “Get Lamp” ( For the record, I am in no way associated with that work, just a punter.

    Peter Wentz wrote: The chappies opining here that they would care not a whit should someone post their private correspondence on the internet

    Now, when someone says something like this, I check my postings to see if it could be construed that way. I don’t think so, as I was talking more about how some personalities simply are flamable and how some situations simply are explosive, making certain combinations a recipe for disaster.

    Regardless, I totally back the argument of personal privacy. I would prefer much stronger personal privacy laws in the US – something akin to the UK’s data protection act, minus most of the frivolous exclusions.

    Now we come to a sticky question: were personal privacy principles violated? On the face of it, yes. The legal reality is no. These were corporate e-mails on a corporate server concerning corporate material. That makes them corporate e-mails and who has legal rights to them depends on whether the sale of the company included the ownership of material held under accidental(?) data retention.

    Morally, do the authors own the data? Absolutely. Legally? Who knows!

    Finally, should he have spoken up and asked? Well, if this was investigative journalism, the answer is probably no. When you investigate, you corroborate as far as you can, but checking with those involved in what’s being investigated would likely not be asked.

    @Rich Klein You read it all. And so did many others. Bywater said “But what sort of surprises everyone involved is that anyone is interested.” Not sure who he means by everyone, but a great many more interested parties clearly exist than he appears to have imagined.

    If Bywater still makes his living by selling his work to anyone interested in buying it, then this post has been a benefit to his bank account. There is no such thing as bad publicity and the only thing worse than being talked about…


    Rank: 24,236,772

    Linking In: 17

    Rank: 91,565

    Linking In: 2,553

    Maybe Mr. Bywater should consider sending Andy a gift basket as a show of thanks for the spike in popularity his blog must be enjoying right now.

    Doctor Memory,

    You are obviously confused and have a language comprehension problem.

    Allow me to attempt to clarify just for you (I promise not to use scary big words).

    I am certainly not claiming entitlement, but thank you very much for putting words in my mouth. Indeed, I have not writ a single deplorable word related to this topic.

    If you have something intelligent to contribute, please don’t waste your words on me. I am not worthy of your attention.

    Now, your homework for today is to look up the word “erudite” in a dictionary, and ponder why its meaning does not relate to yourself.

    I think what I like most about this is the fact that all the people criticising Michael Bywater for being a pompous cock (or whatever) are throwing around the rudest insults based on virtually no information. I happen to know Michael, and I think I know who the real pompous cocks are in this room (hint: not Michael).

    Regardless of who does or doesn’t mind about their emails being published, it really is breathtakingly arrogant and offensive to take people’s private correspondence and info and publish without even asking. I’m not quite sure why some people think they have a ‘right to know’ all this stuff, and ‘damned if you do, damned if you don’t’. Why the hell would you be damned if you decided not to publish a bunch of private communications? Our privacy is eroded seemingly on a daily basis anyway, so why are we so happy to allow this kind of thing?

    As for the ‘well I wouldn’t mind if someone published all my emails’ crowd, well, good for you. Perhaps the next time you’re swanning around in your received glory you might consider that other people might have different views on the matter, and perhaps that should be taken into account…just maybe? In other words, try not to be too much of a dick.

    In some of my professional dealings I have come in contact with similar information/material relating to Douglas, including some personal matters. I expect some of you would be interested. I expect some of you even think you have ‘a right to know’.

    Am I ever going to tell anyone the details, let alone publish them on the internet? The hell I am. Private things deserve to remain private.

    And the emails being argued about here weren’t even said by people who are now dead, for Zarquon’s sake.

    To summarise: have some goddamn respect for other people’s privacy and feelings.

    To summarise the summary: try not to be too much of a dick about this.

    (Again, if you feel like replying along the lines of “Well, if it was me, I wouldn’t mind if…” then you’ve missed the point again. Well done. Big tick. Go and stick your head in a pig.)


    Some awesome stuff here, but mostly I can’t believe someone would be THAT fried that they would think to publish people’s private correspondence without permission.

    Think about it, if those had been actual letters mailed through the Postal service you just cheerfully opened and shared with everybody, you would be in jail right now. Yeah… Nice.

    Even worse, one of the people directly involved shows up and clearly and very loudly shows that he’s upset at this, and the guy doesn’t take it down or anything, oh no, he thanks the person for his input and goes on acting as if nothing’s wrong. Again… Nice.

    So, having admittedly enjoyed getting a glimpse at all this, I must now retire, for I find I have a curious urge to take a shower.

    First and foremost I would like to tilt my hat in acknowledgment of the great gifts that Infocom, and all those involved in the creation of their wondrous products, gave to an entire generation. I feel indebted to you all as your work had a profound impact upon who I was back in the 1980’s and indirectly influenced who I was yet to become.

    Secondly, I would like to thank Andy Baio for bringing this information to light and giving an entire generation the opportunity to walk down memory lane. Although I agree that it was an innocent oversight not contacting those involved prior to publishing the information, everything else I would have done the same if I were in your shoes.

    With all that said, let me throw my own two pence into the fray…

    I have been working with computers since 1980 and have made my living as a Systems Admin for the better part of those years. I also dropped out of my undergraduate studies in Archeology and Paleography although it is still my life’s true calling. The two fields have given me a rather unique perspective on information and it’s desire to be free.

    I too once had a private e-mail correspondence from the 1980’s get posted on the Web a few years back and suffered some repercussions from it. Initially I had wished the publisher had consulted me first, but in the end I realized that although what I wrote was in the strictest of confidence, I eventually resigned that it was inevitable that these e-mails would see the light of day.

    Like it or not, we live in a world that has changed dramatically and continues to change although the human condition remains the same as it ever was. That is the dynamic of our time. Those who resist it are doomed to be the dinosaurs of our time, yet those who embrace it will contribute something relevant to the generation next to come.

    Those far wiser than any of us here would tell us to live our lives without regret. Verily, if one lives true to their Wills, then one should never feel the need to apologize or explain themselves for the things that they have chosen to say or do. Certainly, if one abides by such a simple rule then no thing, whether from the past, present, or futures yet to come, can bring them any amount of embarrassment let alone harm.

    If you have an opinion, then by all mean speak it or forever hold your peace. If you want history to represent your side of the story then by all means write voluminously upon your perspective, and whatever else you may do, be sure to be the one who gets the last word.

    Again, kudos to Marc Blank and Dave Lebling, and the rest of the Infocom crew, Michael Bywater, and even the Magnetic Scrolls crew who were my second-fave game designers from that era. You were the pioneers that inspired not only an entire genre but a generation.

    @Just zis guy:

    “To summarise: have some goddamn respect for other people’s privacy and feelings.”

    If you enter into business dealings with companies, you can expect the project you’re working on and your actions in relation to that project to be discussed in internal company dialogue. You also forego the right to privacy within the company on those matters.

    As the documents exposed only relate to the opinions of other people working with Michael Bywater, not Michael Bywater’s own emails, this does not pertain to his privacy, so let’s not confuse that particular issue.

    Regarding feelings, if anyone has the right to feel truly aggrieved here, it’s the Infocom staff whose emails actually were published.

    Infocom team:

    Thank You for the amazing work you did and the countless hours of entertainment you provided and still provide to this IF junkie.

    (I also think that no email should have been posted without consent.)


    Mike Sousa



    “Maybe Mr. Bywater should consider sending Andy a gift basket as a show of thanks for the spike in popularity his blog must be enjoying right now.”

    Not really. I don’t maintain the blog any more. It was just an indulgence and got wearisome both for me and all three readers. But I take your point.

    For anyone who is interested in the story, rather than watching people have fits of the vapours, I think I will publish the background. Just not here. And only after running it past the others who were involved.

    The tone of some of the comments here, especially those directed to Michael Bywater by anonymous commenters, is offensive and uncool. I’ve already removed several of the worst offenders, but I’ll say it clearly:

    Insulting or inflammatory comments without a full name and email address will be removed, from this point forward.

    The underlying question here is this: Where is the edge of history?

    From reading the comments, I’d say all the people involved who’ve commented place the line in roughly the same place Andy, I, and the rest of the commenters do–except for Mr Chuckletrousers, there.

    Certainly, journalists don’t ask permission.

    Been a fan from the Are They Hot days, waxy… Illegitimi non carborundum.


    It is unethical to publish a living person’s private correspondence without permission. Period. This isn’t journalism; it’s invasion of privacy. Bywater’s reaction here is the only one that makes sense.

    Except that he is neither the sender nor the recipient of the messages in question, he is merely mentioned in them. Either the sender, the recipient, or crucially, as this is all internal work-related correspondence, their employers at the time could have given permission for this stuff to be published. Bywater is peeved because he wasn’t consulted. I contend that there was no reason to consult him, and he would have no reason to know if the people who had the rights to release these emails were consulted.

    From that viewpoint his early postings look, at the least, faintly ridiculous.


    “I’m the sysadmin for a company in Largo with about 25 servers and 200 workstations, all running Linux. Ok, ok, we have 15 Windoze workstations and 2 servers, too, but I try not to mention those in public.”

    So no reason, really, why you should know that journalists only ask permission when they need to, but always make every possible effort to contact the people they are writing about. That’s where the line is drawn.

    Let me say this one last time: if Andy Baio had made the pissant effort required to send me an email, I’d have happily gone through the thing and helped him flesh out the story. He didn’t, so I won’t.

    If that sends anyone into another fit of the morally-righteous vapours, all I can say is: head between your knees and breathe slowly into a brown paper bag.

    To Michael Bywater: I agree you should have been consulted. But are you really that easy to get ahold of? I haven’t tried to hunt down your email address personally (and I’m NOT suggesting anyone else try; I can imagine the flood of moronic emails you’d get).

    Case in point: 19.7 years ago my fiance (at the time) and I split up. When we split up, we promised that 20 years later we’d try to track each other down and correspond. Well, now I’m trying to find her and it’s proving to be hard–she married someone with a fairly generic name, her parents are too senile to help; she didn’t have a lot of friends (and those that were her friends haven’t been much help)…anyhow, she could be living down the block from me and I wouldn’t know. How easy are you to be found, if your friends aren’t willing to help?

    Also, even if he had emailed you, what are the chances that your spam filter would have trashed it? What if you overlooked it? I’m possibly talking out of my ass, but I’ve missed important emails because they’ve been flanked by spam.

    There’s also the chance that he could have been too shy. I’ve just started blogging myself, and part of my blog contains historical articles. In true 2.0 style, I’ve fact-checked only against other online articles (wikipedia, etc.); I could have contacted the people involved, but since I’m a nobody, why would they want to spend time talking to me about an article that maybe a handful of people will ever read? Now Andy’s article has ballooned quite nicely; but in the beginning it may have been shyness that kept him from contacting you. I don’t know for certain, I’m speculating.

    Either way, it’s a shame that your side of the events aren’t being shown. I don’t personally think your being an ass, I think that what you posted was more of a reflex. What can we do to change your mind and see your side of the story?

    @Michael Bywater:

    “if Andy Baio had made the pissant effort required to send me an email, I’d have happily gone through the thing and helped him flesh out the story. He didn’t, so I won’t.”

    Just for the record, is it true you’re writing (or have written) a book that will include aspects of your working relationship with Douglas Adams? Will it also cover “Restaurant”?

    Because I haven’t seen it here yet (except possibly in the “sue the pants off” comment) I have to ask…

    Even though this material is at least 20 years old, the copyrights and assorted legalisms assorted with intellectual property may still apply. Especially if ActiVision has a legal staff whose sole duty is to ensure that copyrights/trademarks/etc are maintained. So the question becomes, who really owns the rights to this data? And is Mr. Baio about to receive a massive legal missive from the legal owner? Sure, IF may have gone belly up, but property never dies. It just gets feasted upon by the scavengers who seek to take what gold may still be attached to the corpse.

    As far as Mr. Bywater being defensive, or at least sounding that way… look, he’s British, and a professional writer. If you’ve not noticed, we all have different styles of typing out our thoughts and while some comments were likely upset, some may also just be rational thoughts that, read in this context may “sound” angrier than they really are. In any case, he gets paid for writing… and since Mr. Baio didn’t ask, why should he write something here that will drive traffic to Mr. Baio’s site? Especially as there is at least one advertisement and it may be generating revenue.

    I’d rather read a book written by all of the original designers/implementers than a short, handpicked bit of information out of a nebulous backup. But then again, any information is workable as long as you take it with a rock of salt.

    Also, Thanks for all the Fish… BabelFish. HHGTTG was a computer science “project” for me in 5th grade, and I loved it. =)

    Michael Bywater wrote:

    “For anyone who is interested in the story, rather than watching people have fits of the vapours, I think I will publish the background. Just not here. And only after running it past the others who were involved.”

    That certainly sounds like a book to me. Am I the only person here who thinks the contents of the drive are far more interesting than anything Mr Bywater has to say here or elsewhere? I think the facts (which I believe I can call them) extracted from this drive are a much more objective record on the workings of Infocom than anything an artistic collaborator could add from memory 20 years later.

    @Karn: Who’s Max? Do you mean me? If so — yes, it can get worse than it already is. It can *always* get worse than it already is. And (again, if it’s me) I’d hardly say I’m “lurking” here… If I’d been lurking, I wouldn’t have had to put up with so much offensive judgmental abuse from people.

    @Floyd: I’ve just about finished the book that you mention. And yes, Restaurant is in there, but not in the detail I think the people here who are interested in it would like. Which is why I think I’ll write up the story in more detail.

    @Don Holberg: I don’t think being shy quite sits with all this stuff (nor has Andy Baio emailed me even now). If you’re a journalist, or describe yourself as a journalist, one of the crucial things is that you’re willing to talk to strangers… and, perhaps surprisingly, you usually get a nice response, even if they only say “I’d really rather not talk about it.” But 90% of the time, people actually *do* want to talk about it — whatever it is. Everyone likes talking about themselves. What people don’t like is being made to look like fools without warning.

    Just to echo some comments that have already been made. As a person who worked as a journalist for several years, Andy, you probably crossed the line in reprinting e-mails without consultation or atleast warning the individuals. You’ve crossed a line here that exposes you needlessly to critical comment. Journalist or not, there is an ethics issue involved here as well as the personal right to privacy. Not to mention that these are company e-mails, which in and of itself creates it’s own issue as you might be considered to be in possession of stolen property (Activisions?), and at risk for disclosing internal business communications. Even more reason to have the principles involved in the discloser.

    To Michael Bywater: While the content of this blog post does paint a possible picture here where the players at the time seemed less than pleased with your performance later on in the project, this is 20 years ago and nothing more than a historical narrative. I think you’ve done yourself a great disservice in your comments to this blog. While I understand your perspective, I can think of few internet communities who would have responded positively to your aggressive posts.

    …and for the fanboy moment… how cool is this seeing so many of these people posting together on some random blog. =D

    Cat (not the Meow kind) wrote:

    “Even though this material is at least 20 years old, the copyrights and assorted legalisms assorted with intellectual property may still apply. Especially if ActiVision has a legal staff whose sole duty is to ensure that copyrights/trademarks/etc are maintained.”

    Unfortunately, from what we know of Activision they are downright brutal on this sort of thing. (See^activision+inc$ for an example). They are very aware of the “legacy” they have or have bought into.

    Wow… I remember beating HGTTG on my Commodore 64 and being extremely excited for the sequel. It’s like a trip back in time to read this stuff. Thank you for posting this.

    As a side note, I haven’t read anything in this blog, or anything in the comments, that makes me think negatively of anyone. It seems like the typical thing I deal with every day: clueless management, a company under severe financial pressure, and rank-and-file workers being justifiably frustrated by the fact that they’re expected to work miracles with zero resources. I can very easily see myself being just as frustrated with senior management as these people were twenty years ago.

    @Michael Bywater wrote: “@Karn: Who’s Max? Do you mean me?”

    Sorry, Michael. There’s another Max I know and maybe I’m a closet dyslexic.

    > If so — yes, it can get worse than it already is. It can *always* get worse than it already is.

    LOL. Very true. I’ll have to remember that one.


    “… clueless management, a company under severe financial pressure, and rank-and-file workers being justifiably frustrated by the fact that they’re expected to work miracles with zero resources. I can very easily see myself being just as frustrated with senior management as these people were twenty years ago”

    I’m not sure this is a fair picture of the situation at Infocom, apart from the financial pressures which were, to the best of my knowledge, the result of two main factors. First, the company had sunk a lot of resources into the development of what would have been a remarkable database app. if it had ever worked out, and, second, text-based IF was losing out (and projected to lose out even more) to graphics games. The whole market was changing fast.

    I don’t think anyone would have called Joel or any of the other senior management clueless, nor was there a division between “rank-and-file” and senior management; it was a fairly affable and tight ship. The resources problems were more to do with cracking the collaboration problem, and, in particular, the fact that it was vacation season and the man I was due to be working with had a long-booked holiday shortly after I arrived. The “miracle” expected, if there was a miracle, was that I should in a very short time, and not being in any sense a programmer, find myself able to speak ZIL. That, as you may imagine, didn’t happen, and we didn’t find another way to solve the problem.

    The excerpts which Andy Baio put up on his blog were the most sensationalist because they arose at periods of great stress on the project. They were in no way representative of how things were most of the time, which is why I took such exception to his posting them without asking anyone else’s opinion or interpretation. It’s not just for my own sake; Dave Lebling comes across as a fearsome and intemperate man who, almost incidentally, thought I was a fool or a fraud. Actually Dave is a thoroughly nice guy who was simply trying to fight his way out of a tangle because — like all of us involved — he wanted the thing to succeed.

    I stress this again: everyone was on the same side. The yelling Andy Baio published, out of context, was no more than the yelling you’d get at a football game about who should play where, when, and how. Plenty of testosterone flying around, but it’s still a team. Even for someone brought on from the subs’ bench like me.

    This has been such a fascinating read.

    The history, the behind-the-scenes, the comments from those involved… I’m sad to see the anger on some people’s parts, but I’ve tried to ignore it.

    When I played these games and idolized the author’s names on their covers, I was only about 9 or 10 years old, and still learning how to type and spell words, some of which none of my friends even knew. “Examine, Medicine, and Analgesic” were especially difficult back then, but to this day, I always think back to those games when I spell them.

    I adored all the Infocom games I could get my hands on. A great deal of my tiny allowance would go towards these games. I remember pouring over the game catalogs, carefully deciding over and over again which one I wanted the most…

    I absolutely loved the New Zork Times… I must have read and re-read each one countless times.

    I can recall one moment of personal glory. As a young child, I remember solving one puzzle involving entering a computer and zapping some kind of debris that was breaking the computer. I remember that I figured this out when my own father could not. I remember that moment as an incredible coming-of-age experience that changed my life. And I owe it to some of the people posting on this very page.

    I’m getting goose bumps thinking that some of them might actually read my words.

    I owe some of you so much and thank you for your brilliant work and amazing accomplishments.

    Thanks for everything you’ve done!

    On a side note, just this morning I had my Roomba vacuum cleaner running. Being a cleaning robot, his name of course is Floyd. 🙂

    A quick legal summary on posting these e-mails

    As you might be guessing reading through the comments, there’s a bit of talk on legal liability. I’m not a lawyer, so this all might be shite! But, I wanted to highlight a couple of comments on legality of posting this stuff.

    First of all, in the US, 25 years ago, intellectual property cognizance was much lower than it is today — witness an above commenter who was given source code to a bunch of games as a going-away gift when Infocom went down! So, I’d imagine that there were no direct IP-related statements in anyone’s employment agreements.

    Regardless, generally, these e-mails almost certainly belonged to Infocom, and then to whatever company bought the assets of Infocom on its demise. They almost certainly aren’t the property of their original authors, unless any of the authors had a specific agreement retaining rights to all e-mails. (Extremely unlikely, even today!).

    So, in essence, whatever company they currently belong to would be the only ‘aggrieved’ party in the US. Compare, for instance how aggressively Apple tries to protect its new product launch information, or Microsoft’s response to the original “Halloween” e-mails and their probable impact on the company, and you’ll probably guess that this just won’t cross the radar of Activision Blizzard or whoever owns these files.

    Given the gamers comments of strong interest (a feeling I share!) Anyone over at AB who cares is currently probably reading this page with great enjoyment, and as an after-thought, polishing up their ‘demand letter’ to get a dump of the hard drive so they can see what else is on it, and subsequently share it with their friends over beers.

    In the UK, as alluded to in one comment, anti-libel laws are pretty strict, so regardless of who owns the content, if you’re publicly stating negative things about someone that are not true, you’re going to get HIT. A few comments have noted that facts are presented as facts, and opinions as opinions in the original post: if that’s true, then this probably isn’t a candidate for libel.

    So, all to say, posting these e-mails without checking in is lazy, and apparently hurt some feelings, but I personally think it laughable to say there’s some significant legal consequences to the post.

    Just because the implementers are reading this blog, I would like to say that the Infocom games were very instrumental in both my career as a computer programmer and development of many skills (in addition to providing many hours of enjoyment).

    I find it interesting to reflect that a current trend (for several years) is towards virtual machines with interpreted language.. Something Infocom had perfected very early in the computer age.

    I was going through and tossing old computer games this weekend, two of the boxes I foudn were the Lost Treasures of Infocom (even though I had already had individual versions of many of the games). Those boxes did not get tossed.

    Comments Room

    You are in the comments section of an internet blog. Shadowy figures surround you, some lurking on the fringes, others more participatory.

    You see some Implementors here.


    You are carrying a great deal of fondness for the old Infocom and Magnetic Scrolls text adventures. And a brass lamp.


    I don’t know how to thank the Implementors enough.


    I have utmost respect for everyone involved here.


    Mr. Bywater, I respect your position, and I understand where you’re coming from, and I would like to ask you (and, of course, I’m not the only one) to please share your side of the story. Ignore the assholes who insult you, some of us are diehard text adventure fans who would love to hear more about this situation – including me. Fuck the haters, as they say.


    Thank you to Mr. Baio for sharing this. Should he have asked around first? Probably. I don’t think anyone would’ve declined to it, and I think it would’ve added to the story.

    But it’s still absolutely fascinating. I’m glad the information is public. And I think that, in time, all the people who didn’t get to share their opinion will eventually to so

    I can see both sides of this. I’m very glad this was published, and yet, I can see how some people would have rather been contacted first, instead of having their E-mails published without warning. I had just turned eleven when Infocom’s doors were closed, and never got to play any of their games until much later.

    @ everyone who continues to diss Michael Bywater, give him a break. None of you have put yourself in his shoes. He woke up to a public display that made him look bad. It made him feel angry and defensive, and he posted a response that reflected his mood. That doesn’t make him the world’s biggest jerk, it makes him human.

    @ Andy: Perhaps you should apologize to Michael. Sure it’s easy for anyone to say that you could have done what you did differently, and it could have been better. But he’s the only one who was hurt by how you did it.

    @ Michael: Since Andy hasn’t chimed in yet on the crux of your original complaint, let me offer the perspective of a humble nobody: To those of us who just grew up loving the games, you guys are all kind of legendary to us. I don’t think it would have occurred to me that you would all be reachable – or if it did, I would have been afraid that attempting to contact everyone would have resulted in somebody (or somebody’s lawyer) shutting the project down before it could be completed.

    What Andy did was really risky, and I won’t be surprised if the article does get taken down. I’m glad I got to read it. While it’s true there may have been better ways to do it, I’m glad that it happened when it could so easily not have.

    Anyway, Michael, you have my deepest sympathies for having been subjected to so much public attack, trying to defend yourself, and then being criticized b/c you didn’t do the perfect job of it.

    The emails that went back and forth were, quite likely, corporately owned, though who precisely owns the legal copyright to them will depend on the contracts that were signed between the employer and employees at the time. If this was not clearly spelled out at the time of the contract, then we can assume that these would receive the same status as any interdepartmental mail – it belonged to the corporation, and the associated rights to the emails were carried along to the companies that subsequently bought Infocom’s IP.

    There are two real legal issues that arise here:

    (1) There is the question of how this HDD was obtained. The admission of having this property, if it was not legally turned over to the blogger by the current IP owner, can result in a (relatively) quick and easy trial. Moreover, even if the Mr. Baio happened to have acquired the disk out of a dumpster, the current proceedings in American courts concerning the legal distribution of even freely distributed product by the music industry suggests that legal claims could be brought – IP and copyright persist even after disposing of product. Making a legal claim along this route, of course, depends on a ‘successful’ outcome of the aforementioned case(s) surrounding who retains copyright, even of freely distributed items. There are other ways of approaching this that are also likely to merit a successful legal challenge, though I can’t say that I’m aware of what the actual ramifications of a guilty verdict might be (I would assume it would be limited to some kind of civil reparation).

    (2) Perhaps most significantly, Mr. Baio is not solely subject to American law when it comes to posting this information on his blog. Many Commonwealth countries, Australia in particular, have taken a strict interpretation of the law (as in the EU have Germany and France) – bloggers are subject to the laws of nations where their content is distributed to. Bloggers are responsible for abiding by the laws of the lands that their data enters. This isn’t an issue if you don’t plan to travel, but if you do it’s a good idea to ensure that you haven’t been tried in abstensia.

    Now, this isn’t to say that Mr. Baio will be charged with anything. More likely than not, this will be another somewhat amusing bit of information that is added to the ‘net, and forgotten about in the next couple of days. That said, the author demonstrated a lack of ethics, and has potentially opened himself to legal challenges that he (hopefully) was aware of. As a blogger myself I’m aware of the desire to ‘scoop’ something, but that desire should be tempered with caution and prudence. I haven’t seen that from Mr. Baio in his post, or in his subsequent comments.

    (Note: No, I’m not a lawyer, but my academic specialty has me investigate the ranges and limits of privacy rights as they apply to Western Europe, North America, and [gradually] South America.)

    Wow. I mean, wow.

    Thanks to the author for writing up a great post. While the window on personal relationships at Infocom is interesting, it’s also clearly nothing more than backstory to the real story, that of Milliways itself.

    As such, can everyone who clearly hasn’t had a pee 20 years please stop pissing on my childhood memories.

    I mean, isn’t this just great – here’s one of the greatest posts I’ve read in ages, marred by what ends up being a personal flame war by its authors. Talk about being our own worst enemies.

    I don’t want your side of the story, folks. I don’t know you from adam, and I could give a rat’s ass how broken a company Infocom was or wasn’t. Save it for a documentary about Infocom – I suggest you hold it in a steel cage, and call it WrestleMania. I came to read the story’s side of the story, and I think I got that.

    I’d like to thank everyone who was involved for a great game. I’d like to mourn the absence of what could have been a great game, and read with glee the bits on what Restaurant could have been.

    It’s just a shame that I read the comments, too.

    Thank you, Michael Bywater, for reconsidering the idea of publishing the story. I look forward to reading it.

    Also, thank you for explaining further the context of the emails that were published.

    Thanks again to all Infocom and MS people that have posted, and Andy Baio for the article.

    @Mike R.: I, too, learned the word analgesic from the Hitchhiker’s Infocom game. I probably learned a few others as well, but I always think of that game when I see or hear that particular word. I believe I was 10 or 11.

    It’s hard for me to be upset with Andy over this, if for no other reason than it’s always good to hear from Dave, Tim, Steve, Brian, and Michael (none of whom I correspond with regularly).

    No doubt the courteous thing would have been for Andy to ask those mentioned for comment, but courtesy isn’t very highly valued on message boards and blogs.

    No harm, no foul, I think.

    @Rob Tomlinson:

    Something I’ll never forget: It was a buffered analgesic… 😉

    @Mike R.: Yeah, I remember that too. 🙂 I remember associating it with Buffarin.

    I too, was raised on Infocom. I loved them, and even today, graphical games don’t quite capture the imagination like text games do…

    @Andy Baio

    I really think you need to humble yourself to Michael Bywater and apologize. He was clearly miffed about it. If I had done what you did, I would have apologized immediately, and asked for clarification from him. As a blogger, or a semi-public figure, you have a responsibility to others to not only be fair, but to show yourself as someone who is willing to say, “Oops, I didn’t mean to do it like that, how can we bring things into a more complete perspective?”

    I’m a long-time fan of INFOCOM. This article made my week. I’m a former winner of a New Zork Times T-shirt thanks to one of the Status Line contests. I’ve met Michael Moriarty briefly, though he’s not likely to remember. I’ve talked to Steve Meretzky, hell I even had the only camera in the room during the 1997 GDC when he was presented with a birthday cake after his talk on humor in games, so I took the pictures. Met him many times since, as we are both working in Boston area game companies, (and let me say he’s one of the nicest people I’ve met around here.) I’ve attended his talk about working with Douglas Adams, not long after Adams was far too soon removed from this world. He graciously autographed my INFOCOM games that he was involved in (yes, I’ve owned them all since they were first published) and heck, he even autographed the two books based on his Planetfall and Stationfall games. He’s that nice of a guy. I’d also love to meet more of the original Imps, they are my heroes.

    And I have NO idea who Michael Bywater is but he certainly doesn’t sound like Steve Meretzky.

    But regardless of the egos that got bruised in publishing this story, this article was amazing. I had read stories about the INFOCOM drive, and would love to have a copy. For nostalgic interest only. It would be safe in my hands. I’m an expert at keeping corporate secrets.

    But let me say that INFOCOM is also the reason I am where I am today, or at least it’s a good portion of the reason. And I know how ironic it is that INFOCOM TEXT games made me want to be a game ARTIST. Even when INFOCOM’s ads were deriding game graphics, I saw the two media as much closer-related than most.

    I spent so many days, weeks, months, hell years, playing INFOCOM games in the 1980s on my C64 that I got interested and became a computer science major, got my degree, but also got a minor in English Literature, which is a rare combination, I know.

    And now I’m working on some of those games, you know “the overblown visual games of today where the action is on the screen and not in our heads.”

    One of the true joys in my life is that the INFOCOM legacy lives on, not only extended into visual games where often the interaction seems similar, only visual; not only because a lot of us successful game designers, artists, programmers, gladly confess we are here in part due to the love of what INFOCOM did in the 1980s, but because INFOCOM games are still currently available and playable on almost any platform.

    I’m playing Planetfall right now on my Palm TX.

    I also wrote a Text Adventure in 1985 in BASIC on my C64. I am currently re-writing it, rather robustly using Inform 6.0 (Thanks, Graham! I have a hard-cover copy of DM4 and it’s awesome!)

    I’m also slightly saddened that the games I work on will not be playable 20 years from now, unless they remain popular enough to keep the servers up.

    (Though “Asheron’s Call” is approaching its 9th birthday, so who knows?)

    When our servers eventually shut down, the games I worked on will no longer be there to play. A huge part of me will be lost.

    So let me just say thanks that INFOCOM games will be there as long as I am, to play and enjoy afresh.


    After reading this, the comments are certainly 300% more interesting than the original posting.

    Hard to believe information can travel this fast… disparate people long since having parted ways are reading the same web page out of the millions that exists.

    My thoughts: For Chrisakes Andy B, email Bilgewater and make nice. Lets try and get some backstory if possible.

    PS I loved HHG on my Atari 800xl.

    To those geniuses of Infocom who are watching this blog, I can only say thank you. Zork was my very first computer game purchase ever. Being an avid reader, I’ve played them all through several times.

    I also still have an unopened copy of Hitchhiker’s that I miraculously found in a bargain basement computer store about 10 years ago. I consider it a very prized possession.

    To certain others reading this… anyone who would make judgments about somebody based on such a small slice of data, I have only this to say:


    “A hollow voice says, “Fool.”

    To answer Tim Anderson’s question…. the disk image is from the Sun server.

    This is going to be buried under hundreds of other posts, but I’ll say it anyway.

    Mr. Bywater, I understand how you feel. After reading the original post, I thought you came out looking pretty bad. I don’t think that was Mr. Baio’s intent, though… a byproduct of posting emails which painted you in an unpleasant light.

    Of course, I know blogs and the internet are funny things (as do many). You have my sympathies, and I’d encourage anyone else who is tempted to take a shot at you to replace your name with their own and see how it reads. Not pleasant, indeed.

    Mr. Miller: if you don’t see how your abusing Michael Bywater for “ruin(ing) something that is special to us” while on the other hand still insisting that he spend his time here dredging up a 20-year-old story for your entertainment might lead a casual onlooker to suspect that you felt entitled to his efforts, then certainly you are correct that my meagre erudition is unlikely to convince you. Good day.

    @Andy: You say you have all the story files and the source code? That is huge!

    Um, you don’t have ZILCH, do you?

    One thing that doesn’t come through from the posting. I looked up Activision just now in Wikipedia and it says Activision acquired Infocom in 1985, and lays a lot of the blame on Infocom’s fall to a heavy handed management at Activision, resulting in closing the Infocom Cambridge office in 1989.

    Still Activision (Mediagenic) went bankrupt not long after in 1992 and reorganized out of bankruptcy as Activision again.

    Lots of water under the bridge before that, but sure is an interesting blast from the past.


    Reading the original article and this comments section I was struck by a thought.

    Twenty something years ago, about the time Infocom was struggling with “Restaurant” I worked for a company in the UK that was also struggling to bring a product to market. The company was well known in another field and had branched into computers when the whole “microchip revolution” happened. Looking back it was easy to see that the project they were attempting was just too ambitious for the technology of the time and doomed to failure from the outset.

    Unfortunately hindsight is always 20/20.

    When our project fell behind schedule we hired a consultant. This was a big deal at the time because he was quite expensive and the company was more comfortable hiring it’s own staff rather than subcontracting work. Three months into his contract our management was not at all impressed with the consultant’s first deliverable since it didn’t move the project forward in the way they had hoped.

    At the six month point he was amongst the people representing the company at a trade show and helped land a significant order, enough to persuade the company that there might be a future in the computer business after all.

    Eighteen months later the company decided that this wasn’t really their core business and closed the project down.

    Now had I woken up this morning and discovered that my emails from back then had been published on the net I’m sure I would be shocked and angry, especially if they had been picked through and edited to try and tell a specific story. Back then there had been times when the consultant was seen as a miss judgement, a waste of money and any number of uncharitable things. Email culled from that period would doubtless have painted him in a very dark light.

    Of course a few months later he was our golden boy, the guy that had made the big sale that was going to save our bacon. I’m sure a snapshot of emails taken at that time would have painted a very different picture.

    I think it’s hard to infer anything from these kinds of emails without a better understanding of the events taking place when they were written. This is one of those occasions where speaking to the folks involved can fill out the back story needed to give the emails context.

    A few observations:

    1) Michael Bywater’s post above appears to suddenly, and without real impetus, launch into his version of the story despite repeated, vociferous statements that he will never do so…

    2) There is an outside possibility here that Michael Bywater himself is the source who provided the Infocom network drive image. He has stated explicitly that he is bringing out a book that partially covers this material later this year and this blog post has gathered a large amount of attention from those interested in this history. I don’t personally believe he provided the network disk image — I believe that Michael has been genuinely affronted — but I put it out there as a possibility for others to consider.

    3) I would personally like to see the source code for the games put up online far more than company emails. Andy, if you want to do a service to the community, it would be great if these appeared on Bittorrent. This is something akin to abandonware – Activision have no interest in the games now but will never put up the source code. It’s something the community will have to arrange.

    Just to add to the praises of the games and the authors and all others associated with Infocom. Thanks for the imagination and enjoyment.

    Still have all the games and still love them. Like a classic book you never tire of reading them.

    As to the arguments – life’s too short.

    As for Milliways it was great seeing the familiar prompt and as usual my first command, in this case “go east”, meant an early exit 🙂

    Interesting article. Too bad about all the other stuff, but a nice read nonetheless. Thanks.

    Chalk another one up for *we are not worthy* to the implementors for giving me the following approach to problem solving:

    “There must be a solution”

    When you’re sitting there, you think to yourself “There must be a way, they wrote it so I could solve it”. It’s funny how that attitude translates to the real world, even if the author is, shall we say, harder to pinpoint 🙂

    I will be pulling my kids through the Infocom games when they’re old enough: both to develop the imagination and to crystallise problem solving skills that require actual freeform verbs.

    Favourite games: HHGTTG, Bureaucracy, Trinity, AMFV, Planetfall

    I believe Andy did the right thing by writing his blog entry without running it through any “channels” – Bywater and others should get off their high horses with comments about “journalism”. It’s a blog, not a newspaper article. Andy could’ve uploaded the disk somewhere for the whole world to see, but he didn’t – those involved should be thankful for that and it certainly shows some evidence of integrity on Andy’s part.

    All this was a long time ago. People should relax a bit. It’s of historical interest, that’s all.

    @ Anonymous Coward:

    “(As an aside, Galley’s MEANWHILE command is something that’s yet to be fully realized in any RPG I can think of to this day, and it’s a damn interesting idea.)”

    Presuming that could mean RPG or Adventure game, since h2g2 and sequel would more likely be considered the latter, wasn’t that very concept realized in Maniac Mansion, the same year (1987) as the notes? It might have even said ‘Meanwhile…’ before the cutscenes. Certainly DOTT had its ‘meanwhilst…’

    Andy Baio has *nothing* to apologise for. This sort of scoop is exactly what the web was meant for — as opposed to the self-censoring blandness that passes for journalism in most of today’s news organisations, no matter what — if any — their political leanings might be.

    When was the last time the BBC, say, allowed impassioned comments like these to be published on their website? And yet, freedom of speech demands that they should. All credit to Andy for giving space to the rough-and-tumble of a healthy, boisterous debate. This is democracy. (Have you seen footage of the House Of Commons lately?)

    If Bywater’s offended, so be it. Let him say so. Let others tell him he’s too sensitive. It’s called communication. Let’s encourage it. It’s been a fascinating (and unrepresentative — but so what?) look behind the scenes at Infocom, and nothing even remotely like it would have emerged if everyone involved had been consulted beforehand and been allowed to neuter whatever bits of the story they felt a little embarrassed by. A million thanks, Andy.

    Oh, and three cheers to Marc Blank for acting like a grown-up too.

    Its a strange feeling to read all the comments from those persons only known from magazines and booklets in my youth. By the way, far more interesting than the restaurant story itself.

    I read a lot about this persons in video game magazines years ago, read some stuff on wikipedia and have seen some videos about them in the inet. But reading their comments here give them a kind of “substance” they never had before.

    They all played a great role in my youth (or there adventures did) and because of this i did learn english … i think you still can see that i am a F grade student 😉

    Thanks to all of you for a really great time and all the great games. I hope the HD will be archived and not be lost after some years. Infocom and Magnetic Scrolls are part of the history at least.

    @Michael Bywater:

    I hope you contribute the whole story some day, preferably in paper form 😉 At first i had some opinion about you because of your first postings, but that has changed after what you had written later. So i am glad that you didnt leave as you said.


    Just want to say Hi 😉 You were one of the few persons which impressed me in these days.

    I have to say, I was intrigued by this entry myself, but there was something wrong about reading through private emails that were not even intended for public consumption.

    I have not seen Andy apologize for this in the slightest. Sure, it is interesting — but some have some of the love notes I’ve written to my girlfriends. If someone were to have heard about these through the grapevine, and eventually they were discovered, it would be bad form to release them into the world without asking permission. At this point the damage has been done…it would be gracious of him to write personally.

    We talk about this both being journalism and not journalism a the same time — depending on the point we want to make — and then say this is a more personal human form of ‘journalism’…human would imply that you realize there are real people out there and you aren’t doing this solely for the ad revenue.

    I have written to Mr. Bywater, and I can safely say he seems to be a decent man. And most definitely human in his response.

    To all the folks that were involved with interactive fiction in the 80s — I want to thank you all for doing what you did. The subject matter helped shape my life more than it should have, albiet random chance. I wrote a parser of my own in High School (1988?) that was never completed because I had no clue what I was doing in terms of gaming. That experience, however, was crucial a few years later a the university when a future employer was researching latent semantic analysis and other nature language processing and asked me if I was interested.

    Thank all of you involved.

    (And Andy, you can probably do some public relations by sending a private email to the folks involved…it isn’t like their emails are that hard to find…I found Mr. Bywater’s in the first three links in the search).

    “What’s the statue of limitations for discussing this type of thing without brusing egos?”

    In this case, I would think it would be the day after Michael Bywater’s death, as everyone else involved seemed to be fairly mellow about it.

    Like a train wreck, I have to keep looking… 😉

    I’m too lazy to scroll up and down for the entirety of my Sunday morning, so please forgive:

    @”put yourself in Michael’s shoes”/”if you think you’d be okay in his place you’re a naif” crowd: Been there, done that, still can’t set foot in my home town without looking over my shoulder because of it. Did it make me happy? No. Is it the price of admission to the ‘club’ of being considered, to whatever degree, someone of influence or note whose opinions and/or history is worth reading to someone? Yes…and indeed that’s one of the reasons why I’m sitting here yapping on a blog instead of lounging poolside with hot and cold running groupies four deep on both arms: I decided the ride wasn’t worth the price of admission.

    @ Michael Bywater: Greetings! I understand your first reaction – although I still think it did you more harm than good in the public opinion poll – and commend you on being at least willing to stick your other toe in the pool for the pirahnas to gnaw on. That said: in my twenty-some completely unremarkable years online I’ve been publicly accused of everything from paedophilia to international terrorism; I’ve had my life and the life of my daughter threatened; I’ve had the local constabulary sent to my home on spurious complaints several times; I’ve had employers contacted and even lost jobs over things I’ve said online (being a spiritually-inclined agnostic liberal who is pro-death penalty, pro-second-amendment, pro-abortion, and firmly convinced that the only thing our current president has done right in eight years is NOT pushing the shiny red button on 12-Sept-01 definitely carries some social risks here in the American South); and finally I suspect that one of the biggest reasons I have trouble finding work today is that while I was no-archiving my usenet posts, the people throwing lies about me weren’t, so that’s what people see when they Google me, if they look hard enough.

    All because I’m unapologetically opinionated, pathetically verbose (evidence: you’re lookin’ at it!), and remarkably intolerant of intolerance. Poor judgment on my part? Probably. The point that I’m making isn’t that you have no right to affront, but rather – as you yourself pointed out – it can *always* be much, much worse. As someone else said: this definitely isn’t going to *hurt* sales of your book when it comes out. It could be a good move for you professionally to leave the hurt feelings aside on this one and make lemonade (or a gin and tonic, if you prefer). Just one man’s opinion.

    @andy: I stand by my original assessment. I’d have published, too, in your position…although by this point, I’d have also contacted the principles off-line and tried to find a way to piece this back together in a fashion that both allows the truth to be told *and* allows people to maintain their dignity or offer rebuttal to the misconceptions that can arise from such material. Send those e-mails, bro…and be humble about it. An apology wouldn’t be out of order, and may well open doors to a far greater wealth of information.

    @legal-beagles: two key points. First, the material in question appears to have been largely authored – and never published, which is a key point – before changes in US copyright law did away with the requirement for declaration in order to claim copyright. Ergo, while it might make a case, the strongest possibility is that it would be a matter of ‘finders keepers.’

    Same principle applies under US law to the physical drive. Assuming that it’s not flat-out stolen – recovered from a dumpster or purchased at a surplus auction in a box of random detritus – with the exception of previously published and copyrighted work the material on the drive is the property of the guy who legally owns the drive…and until we have a good reason to think otherwise, we have to assume that’s Andy’s source. Consider that master recordings of popular artists are owned by record companies (or were until artists started fighting back against this execrable practice), and it has happened on a number of occasions that those masters have been sold and the new owners have then published, legally. Same principle.

    Further, US precedent has clearly established that a) any electronic communication sent through the equipment of an employer is the property of that employer and b) there is no legal expectation of privacy involved in such correspondence.

    Final analysis: any talk of people getting sued is ludicrous unless someone can prove the drive was flat-out stolen, and even then the only likely result will be criminal charges against the thief…for a pices of metal and plastic that’s worth maybe $20.

    There’s little to nothing here for anyone to get sued over, including the release of the playable fragments. Indeed, given the timelines involved and the fact that the material has never previously been published, Andy could make a case that *he* is now the legal copyright holder, since he’s the first actual publisher (of course he’d hit a brick wall on that one due to the fact that it’s a derivative work, but still.)

    I’ll grant that these principles were by no means clear in the mid-80’s, when ‘on-line’ was something you only saw in “War Games” and “Leisure Suit Larry,” but they still apply. Is it NICE? Not really, but I seriously doubt there was any malicious intent on Andy’s part. Rather, I suspect his reaction was the same as mine would be: HOLY CRAP I GOT A HARD DRIVE FULL OF HISTORY TIME TO TELL EVERYONE! If Mr. Bywater can be forgiven his initial petulant response, certainly Andy can be forgiven his enthusiasm. Kiss and make up, kids, and maybe everybody can walk away with happy thoughts and a buck or two.

    @people being obnoxious and vulgar: C’mon, girls. There’s really no need for that. Un-knot your knickers and show some respect to people, if for no reason than that they’re people – the fact that for many of us they are particularly influential people with whom we never thought we’d ever be in the same conversation notwithstanding.

    ObFanboy: OMG THE PEOPLE WHO INVENTED GRUES ARE READING WHAT I WRITE. I hate doing the drooling fanboy thing because I know how uncomfortable it makes me when I’ve been on the receiving end (small as it was), but holy cow. Short of collaborating with Scott Adams on Adventureland 2 or something, this is about the pinnacle of old-geek coolness.

    And yes, the day of the text-based adventure game is long gone…but boy doesn’t it just make ya shiver to think what such a talented group of people could pull off in collaboration, with an extra couple of decades’ experience under their belts and an extra couple of decades’ technology in their toybox?

    Thanks again to ALL involved, and here’s hoping that after feathers unruffle a bit and the appropriate social lubrication is applied, perhaps the gang of folks this is all really about might be persuaded to get together and offer some kind of deeper insight.

    I’ve got my towel. Just in case.

    This is where I go back to observing, but again: thanks, to everyone involved, and especially to the Infocom crew for providing a key influence on the “other half” of my personality (the one that wasn’t an aspiring to moderately successful ‘rock star’) during my formative years.

    I simply couldn’t read this all without adding a comment or two:

    Infocom crew: it’s brilliant that you all chimed in here, for good or for bad. You were responsible for much of my most enjoyable childhood computer memories and I’m currently trying to get my 10 year old daughter into Zork, ushering in a new generation of fan.

    Michael B: I’m not andy, can’t apologize for not asking permission first, and it’s said and done. I, personally, would really appreciate any input you had about this process, and working (or failing to work) with Douglas and Infocom. Douglas was a treasure and his books are my all time favorites, and any insight into those workings would be really appreciated, regardless of how off-track many of these comments have become. I don’t know why we would be casting aspersions on people’s personalities when, honestly, we all just want to know about Infocom, about the games, and about how they came about. The name calling is wasteful. We (the folks reading and following this) have the ears (eyes?) of some of the most interesting folks in IF, people that I know I, for one, would LOVE to hear tell of the development of some of the most enjoyable “pieces of fiction” I’ve ever interacted with. Let’s turn this into more of that. Michael, I implore you to help if you can, on whatever forum makes the most sense.

    Steve M, Dave L, and all the rest, the same goes. Name a forum that works and we’d love to hear all about this stuff. Or, at least I would.

    Thank you Andy for getting this moving, and please, let’s keep talking.

    Lastly, Douglas, we miss you.


    Mr Bywater is an artist (author). Did you really expect him to be as dispassionate about such things as the others, who were/are developers and businessmen?

    /sarcasm on

    Oh dear, a passionate, ill-tempered author!!

    Who ever heard of such a thing?!!

    /end sarcasm.

    What a suprise – a sign of life from Anita Sinclair. Was trying to get hold of you for several years (but not trying hard enough).

    I am now a much better Risk player and I dearly love “The Germans” – Don’t mention the war.

    Unlike yourself I am easily findable via Internet Search Engines. If you are up to, drop me a mail.

    Cheers, Boris

    Thank you to all from Infocom and Magnetic Scrolls

    I’ve bought and played almost all the adventure/IF games of both companies. I have wonderful memories of those games and would just like to say a simple, but deeply felt, “thank you” to everyone from Infocom and MS that might still be reading these comments.

    Nothing I can add hasn’t been voiced (probably more eloquently even) by others here. While I find the whole thing interesting from a socialogical perspective (both the originating content, as well as, differently, the comments), overall I find the whole brouhaha silly. An interesting slice of real history, but nothing to get in a fuss over.

    In effort to progress the discussion, my only contribution is that I found Mr. Baywater’s response, not unjustified, but ironic considering his excellent “Big Babies” work, partially reprinted in an article in the Telegraph…

    One of the tenants:

    Don’t be affronted:

    Being affronted (or offended, or complaining about ‘inappropriateness’) is no response for a grown-up. Only children believe the world should conform to their own view of it: a sort of magical thinking that can only lead to warfare, terrorism, unmanageable short-term debt and the Blair/Bush alliance.

    Good advice all around!

    This keeps coming up, so I figured I should let everyone know I emailed Michael Bywater yesterday, and I’ve been in touch with several of the Infocom alumni. Thanks for the comments, everyone!


    I wondered why you switched to A/UX for the development of the compiler. Having used SunOS 3 & 4 and the SVR3-based (the original versions) A/UX, I found the former a lot more pleasant programming platform. Was it the availability of MDL on the Apple?

    As Andy Baio said, he emailed me (which I just picked up) and explained the background & his thinking behind this. I’ll be emailing him personally, but he’s made his position much clearer, for which I respect him.

    As for the people posting here who think it’s odd/inexplicable/Machiavellian that I have shifted my position somewhat: I’m not an NPC in some online game you’re playing.


    You cannot do that.

    I can understand why various people feel miffed about this material turning up, but I applaud Andy for publishing it, and think he took the right approach.

    Part of the reason people expect print journalists to call everybody and their orchestra before publishing is that in print, the journalist has total control of a page that will never change. When you’re hungry to share your side, a letter to the editor or a correction three issues later is pretty thin soup.

    Andy Baio, on the other hand, put up the material on his blog as the opening of a discussion. He was clear about the source of his material and its limits. He invited comments, provides space on the page for them, and has actively updated his post to reflect them. Anybody who found a comments box insufficient could have taken three minutes to start a blog or upload a page elsewhere, and I’m sure Andy would have linked to it. There’s no need to demand that Andy tell your side of the story when you can tell it yourself.

    As to the legal rights: Yes, he could have asked for permission first, but that would have been foolish. Internal emails decades old whose rights were owned by a company long defunct and multiply merged into what is now a French media conglomerate worth 30 billion? Good luck even finding the 1 person in their 35,000 who could authorize that, much less persuading them that it was worth the risk of saying yes. Vivendi has zero economic interest in this material, so the spirit of copyright does not apply. Publishing as Andy did was the right approach.

    1) People need to bow in the presence of greatness instead of issuing all this Usenet-esque snot in Mr. Bywater’s direction. This dude wrote “Bureaucracy” and worked on “Guild of Thieves” (which I mail-ordered sometime in 8th grade, and spent several afternoons watching out the window for the postman to bring it.)

    2) People who don’t know how Baio acquired the Infocom Drive should stop with the goofy legal threats and stormy speculations. When you get information on deep background, your hands are tied and you can’t always explain legitimate avenues by which you acquired, or were permitted to release, information.

    Fascinating story especially as I was on the periphery of it for a while, being a co-author of FISH! with John Molloy and Pete and working with MS.

    Lovely to hear from Anita as I was sure she’d gone to ground forever.

    Hi Anita.

    Phil South

    In response to Allen Garvin’s question: we chose A/UX as the development environment and made MDL available on it (Infocom was by then the only place where the language was in use, and the creator worked there) because our tools needed more memory than was afforded by the Mac OS (and there was no chance of making them work under a reasonable budget on the 80x86s available at the time; we had a VAX compiler, and the rudiments of a 68K compiler from Apollo days, so the port was reasonably straightforward). Mac IIs were still cheaper than Sun workstations, using the Mac allowed the game writers to see how the game would play on a consumer box, and anyway the game writers were only writing ZIL, not C–the superiority of Sun’s development environment was moot.

    We also had someone build an excellent ZIP debugger that ran as a native Mac application, and was well-behaved enough to run on A/UX.

    I’ll leave my opinions on legality and ethics of the original post out, because they matter not one iota and I can’t add anything new to what’s already been said.

    I’ll just add my voice to the people touched by the hard work, passion and inspiration of the people at Infocom. To this day, I’m still, rather curiously, fascinated by Infocom and the stories behind the scenes, and find them extremely interesting. Like many things of our youth, they often have a great deal of fondness attached.

    To everyone who has provided some insights, thanks again, and if anyone involved wishes to document anything further in other fora, that would be great and really appreciated to fascinated thirty-somethings like myself.

    I guess that, no matter how things turned out at the end, to be part of a company that is still so loved and appreciated by it’s former customers so long after it’s demise is a rare gift.

    It surprises me that having read a lot of these comments noone actually seems to be drawing the appropriate analogy here: This is online “journalism” the same way paparazzi pictures in the tabloids are print “journalism”.

    We all know what a guy running around after famous people calling himself an ‘independent journalist’ amounts to.

    It’s legal yeah. It’s also slimy. There are many people who love and enjoy looking at the results, yeah. There’s also many people who look at it and just go, ‘ew’. It is what it is.

    In the end, I’m happy this was published for my own enjoyment, with the caveat that the name “Andy Baio” now holds a very low rung on my respect ladder, and were I ever to meet him in person I’d give him a very, very wide berth.

    Legalities and manners aside, I found this post fascinating. I was even more tickled by the additional comments from the Infocom alums.

    I’d just like to echo the many posters above me who are saying thank you! to all the folks of Infocom.

    I was first introduced to Zork I in first grade in 1985, and it’s no boast that Infocom games played a major role in how I grew up and where my interests lie. I even dabbled in the rec.*.i-f group for a couple years, trying to recreate the wonderful memories I had as a kid.

    Since Tim mentioned MDL I felt I had to post something.

    A few of us PDP10 and Lisp enthusiasts have been lamenting the fact that no surviving compiler for the MDL language seems to have survived. It feels a bit sad that that ladder on the Lisp family should be totally forgotten. It would be really nice if that contribution from the Dynamic Modeling Group to the development of Lisp could be saved somehow.

    Would it somehow be possible to save and release a working MDL compiler, of some sort from the Infocom archives? I’m sure it will involve some thought about the legal way to do it, but if it could be done I know that a few of us computer historians would be delighted!

    I must also send a big Thanks! to all the Imps, at Magnetic Scolls and INFOCOM, for all the fun you’ve given me!

    @ Andy Pietri: you make some v. good points which I hadn’t thought about. Personal feelings aside, I think your arguments are interesting and spot on.

    Theory and practice are two different things. And theory is ALWAYS more important.

    Thanks to all Infocommers responsible for Hitchhikers. I recall spending many, many nights trying to obtain babel fishes, tea-like beverage, get off the Heart of Gold, not be eaten by a Bugblatter beast and what-all else.

    I still have the original box, but the 5 1/4″ diskettes are long gone. I do have the “DON’T PANIC” button and possibly even the Joo Janta sunglasses, slightly nibbled by the dog we had at the time.

    Again, thanks for creating something so wonderful.

    ok all you infocom guys (and that cute amy), i want my early teenage years back (early ’80s). i spent more time underground fighting grues, spent tons of time with floyd and more time in infocomland than i did in real life.

    but i wouldn’t change it for the world. i loved you guys (and amy) and all the games you created.

    just over the last 6 or 8 months i’ve been reliving my joys playing all the games over again.

    this is an interesting read, and i just wanted you guys to know that you aren’t forgotten.

    This is great information!

    I thought every project I worked on was just out of control and thought it was never like this ‘in the pioneer days’ when I was playing these great games instead of coding/managing software.

    What happened then still occurs right now, the difference is that we (apparently) sign better NDA’s 😉

    Until those of course expire…. and then… oh boy!

    Certainly I will chime in by saying that my long and prosperous software career (including software patents) were supremely launched by college problem solving refined by the various Infocom games. I fully intend on having some interpreter to run my copies for my little girls as they get older. I want them to find ways to THINK WITHIN, not just experience, computer games.

    For those newly reacquainted former IF and MS employees, I would ask this one question (which would, of course, lead to multipart essays if answered interestingly):

    What kind of modern Interactive Fiction project would you work on, given today’s technology, memory, speed, and computer development capabilities?

    I still (re-)play Infocom games today. They’re fun, smart and engaging stories all.

    I wish terribly one of you would make another! But thanks for the ones you did.

    Michael Bywater strikes me a hilarious guy.

    Kuni wrote:

    Its a strange feeling to read all the comments from those persons only known from magazines and booklets in my youth. By the way, far more interesting than the restaurant story itself.

    I agree. With most of Infocom’s existence being before my birth (and having just magazine articles and websites with a historical archive vibe floating about to learn about Infocom and its imps) I had almost the same impression of them as I would of dead people (sorry guys!) I learned about back in history classes. Just watching them converse puts everything back into the proper perspective.

    So a thanks is in order to all of you who made these games. Of my generation, at least one person is still playing your games and enjoying them. However, I do have one major regret in being born so late in this industry’s existence…

    >get shirt

    You can’t get the shirt. It went out of print probably before you were born.

    >But I got the Babel Fish!

    You used the word “got” in a way I don’t understand.

    I want to know more about Bureaucracy now! I’ve actually got more fondness for it than Hitchhiker’s, (because I won the Marathon of the Minds for it and got my name in the Status LIne because of it!), and I’d be fascinated to see how the story of Milliways *not* being made intersects with Bureaucracy showing up.

    I think I fall in the most common group, where I’m fascinated by this story and personally delighted to see it, while I can certainly imagine why, say, Michael Bywater would be ticked off.

    @Michael Bywater: when you say “And yes, Restaurant is in there, but not in the detail I think the people here who are interested in it would like. ” As you can probably tell, there is almost no limit to the amount of detail some of us would like to see.

    I’m glad to see that, having talked to each other and explained themselves, everyone seems to be feeling better.

    @everyone who want the whole drive shared:

    Some of the personal data on the drive is clearly not suitable for public distribution. For example, those employee phone numbers would be tried by a few dozen someones even though they probably wouldn’t work anymore, and sharing the games still commercially available (through Gametap, etc.) would get him sued in an instant. (Those games were published with copyright notices on them, for those of you looking for loopholes.) Therefore, the entire disk image cannot be torrented or shared. It’s not even clear that Andy’s had time to go through every single file yet. Andy has said that he’s starting with Restaurant; presumably he will release the other interesting, not-likely-to-get-him-sued parts as he gets to them. Have some patience.


    You cannot do that.

    So many kinds of awesome – kudos, Mr Bywater.

    The original post was fascinating enough on its own, but this is possibly the single most awesome set of online comments I’ve ever read in my life.

    To come across all these casual blog comments from the names on those grey boxes – it’s like seeing the figures on the Sistine chapel hop down and start dancing around.

    To anyone reading this who ever worked at or with Infocom, my deepest and most sincere thanks for the years and years of fun. My brain works the way it does today in part because of your puzzles.

    Thank you for putting this bit of history forward. I was STUNNED when I heard about it. You have been critized enough.

    I hope to see more prototypes of the games, and less of the behind the scenes of the games, i.e. personality squabblies. I worked for Macromedia, and got sick of that whole scene.

    I got into text adventures with the origional CAVE game from GAMES IN BASIC, and then a decade later, had heard of zork, etc…but heard someone talking about HHGTTG, and went down to the local EggHead, and grabbed all the files, and took them home, to play on ZorkTools, and had a fun time, that 2 days later we went back and purchased the game, and kept it in its shrinkrwap. Sold on Fleabay for $42.00 No kidding, we laugh about it now.

    To all those former infocom employess who have written in, THANKS. Thanks for the work you did, thanks for setting the record straight. Thanks especially for the creative genius that brought a world of words to light.

    To find out how bad wikipedia is, click on Random Article, until you find something you know about. Then read what the clueless masses say.

    Andreas Davour: A few of us PDP10 and Lisp enthusiasts have been lamenting the fact that no surviving compiler for the MDL language seems to have survived.

    Andreas, the possibility that the MDL source code exists either as part of the “Infocom Drive” that Andy got (actually a CD, I think) or is in the hands of whoever obtained it from Activision in the first place (possibly “owner of the Infocom hard drive” who posted above), is of huge interest to a lot of us.

    @Andy: I have just one question for you, a simple yes or no will suffice: does the hard drive in your possession contain an unpublished Infocom game written by Brian Moriarty called “Timesink”?

    @M. Alan Thomas II: The thing about torrents is that one can even put up illicit material. Imagine that! People could even put up movies and music. Thank goodness they’re all unaware of this or those industries might have a real problem.

    It’s a good job if Andy Baio were ever to put up the image on a torrent that everyone would know it had come from him personally and would be able to stop its mass distribution across the world.

    I can sleep safely now…

    No, of course I don’t want people’s personal details uploaded for public abuse. This data would be 20yrs old though and could even have those bits removed with relative ease.

    @Andy Baio: Seriously, if you’re not comfortable with uploading parts of the drive (and I can fully understand why), *please* make sure you have redundant backups so this treasure chest of early computer history is never lost. It will be priceless to future computer historians.

    Wow! This post and the comments really stirred up fond memories. Thankfully, Andy Baio has contacted Michael Bywater and hopefully the tensions are eased. I think as someone who contributed to Bureaucracy and Jinxter he did not deserve some of the comments (which have been now removed). Its astonishing to see so many Infocom-imps and even Anita Sinclair dropping by out of nowhere. Thanks to all of you (both Infocom and Magnetic Scrolls)for having entertained me so much and started my interest in the possibilities of interactive entertainment.

    And who knows, even if it was a can of worms opened in the beginning, once overcome, maybe something positive comes out of it.

    Mr. Bywater,

    Thanks for your work on Bureaucracy. I picked it up in the early 90’s when Activision released the Treasure Chest collections. I started playing it one summer when I was off from university and I had a great time figuring it out.

    @David Lebling:

    I kind of figured you had some interest in the matter as well!

    Since this data is now under investigation, let’s hope our dream of access to the MDL compiler can be realized.

    The best evidence I have at the moment is that the disk image contains the MDL compiler(s), but not, alas, the MDL interpreter. MDL didn’t build executables; you’d save your core image, and restore it into a running interpreter, so without the interpreter you have a lot of interesting code that you have no way of running.

    The disk seems to be what was shipped to Activision (along with its containing Sun server, of course) when Infocom Cambridge was shut down. No particular reason, therefore, why it should have included the full MDL source–no one at Activision would have known how to do anything with it.


    Thanks for that information. I guess that means that the MDL source must be found in the MIT backups of DM, if they survive. The AI tapes have at least survived but I’m not sure to which extent they are restored.

    Anyway. I have found a MDL interpreter, I think. On the public TOPS20 system there is a Zork and also a “game” called MDL105 that gives this output:




    Which looks a bit like an interpreter.

    My knowledge of TOPS20 is a bit limited so I’m not sure how to play much more with this.

    That’s a MDL interpreter, alright. Now all you need is the MDL Primer and you’re ready to go! (What? You don’t have one?)

    The canonical first thing to do upon approaching an MDL interpreter is to type 1$ (where $ is ESC typically).


    p.s. I created an account on and tried it for myself. What a kick! (It’s probably been 20 years…)

    Welcome to the past, Marc!

    I actually contacted one half of the pair behind this primer

    S. W. Galley and Greg Pfister, MDL Primer and Manual

    when I saw the name Greg Pfister online and recognized it. He has a copy, but understandably he don’t want to part with it. I’m not sure MIT sells them.

    There is another book as well, by David Lebling, The MDL Programming Environment, but since no compiler seemed to be around I have not even tried to track one down.

    I guess everyone related to Infocom knows about these things, of course.

    So there is a compiler on the Infocom archive for A/UX and we have an interpreter for TOPS20. To bad we don’t have a MDL compiler to create the core dump usable in the interpreter, or any public information (that I know of) about how to implement such a compiler.

    The MDL programming environment sure is fragmented these days.

    The Primer was updated by Mike Dornbrook in the late 70’s, superceding the original that Greg wrote. There’s also a document that Dave compiled on the diverse pieces of the programming environment. None of these was exactly a best-seller; I’d guess they were all out of print before most of this blog’s readers were born… 🙂

    For those who don’t know:

    There have been a few post-Infocom text adventures written by Infocom Implementors. Most notably, Marc Blank and Michael Berlyn collaborated on Zork: The Undiscovered Underground in 1997 to help promote Activision’s release of Zork: Grand Inquisitor. Details (and a download) can be found at Peter Scheyen’s excellent Infocom site.

    Berlyn (author of Suspended, Cutthroats, and Infidel) also attempted to restart IF as a commercial concern in 1998 by founding Cascade Mountain Publishing, and wrote a text adventure for that venture called Dr. Dumont’s Wild P.A.R.T.I. CMP, sadly, went belly-up in 2000.

    Dumont, along with loads of other cool stuff, is available at the IF Archive. The archive itself is a little bandwidth-choked, but lots of good mirrors are listed at

    For those interested in the hobbyist IF scene, or seeking a friendlier front-end to the Archive, check out IFDB and Baf’s Guide.

    I wasn’t aware that Mike Dornbrook worked on the Primer as well. Greg was glad that someone remembered that he and Galley had written that Primer all those years ago.

    Not surprising if those weren’t best-sellers, no. 🙂

    I wish I knew a bit more about TOPS20 and could take a look at the innards of that interpreter and the zork dump. Wherever they are stored on that disk.

    Re: MDL primer

    This and the scans of two other MDL books were quietly uploaded to ifarchive last year. I’ve talked to a couple other Infocom archeologists who weren’t aware they were there.

    The link is:


    The MDL Programming Environment (1980),

    by David Lebling.


    The MDL Programming Language (1979),

    by Stu Galley and Greg Pfister.


    The MDL Programming Language Primer (1980),

    by Michael Dornbrook and Marc Blank.

    MDL 105 on Tops-20 would be the last in the line of original (beautiful hand-crafted PDP-10 assembly language) MDL interpreters, which doesn’t do anyone much good (I’m sure it exists on to allow the original Zork to run).

    When we moved to a VAX, ca. 1985, Muddle got rehacked with most of the interpreter written in Muddle (barring a small core in some combination of C/assembly language). The version of Muddle we used at Infocom was in the latter family; anything that might be found on the disk would only run in the MIM (Machine-independent Muddle) family.


    I don’t know how to thank the Implementors enough.


    Indeed, the most tasteful versions of MUDDLE were hand-crafted by skilled native craftsmen with pride in their work.

    The best part of the web is that it lets almost anybody publish anything at any time. This is fantastic.

    The worst part of the web is that it lets almost anybody publish anything at ay time. This is tragic.

    @ all imps, bloggers, artists, creators: Thank you for making a life with computers worth living.

    @ all those who live to bring others down: Shame on you. You make a life with computers extremely tedious.

    ObFanboy: The week I spent exploring Enchanter with my friend was the highlight of my life up to that point, and remains a very bright spot in a rather humdrum life. zifmia implementors, cleesh frog, figuring out how to get the turtle to get the treasure, it was as if we ourselves were enchanted. (If my friend is reading this, as might well be, know that I think of you often.) Thank you, Infocom.

    Thanks for the article. I was 13 years old in 1983 and played pretty well every Infocom game released. This article brought back some great memories.

    you know, this sort of thing is why research libraries exist. But you got the .pdf, so so much the better. Yes, my real name is in the NZT, but I’m happier just giving you all the love. Rock on.

    One thing that always bugged me: where did you go for mai tais and does it still exist?

    Aku-Aku was the name; various tonics made from petroleum distillates were served under the guise of “Mai Tai”, “Zombie”, etc. Two mai-tai’s would do significant damage; three was a near-lethal dose. I’m told that five was the most ever “enjoyed” at one sitting, but this is apocryphal, as the body was never found.

    If you wish to wallow in the historicity of Aku-Aku, you will have to visit its current incarnation as “Jasper White’s Summer Shack.” Jasper White is a Boston celebrity chef who took over the space many years ago and sells $10 crab rolls there, among other things.

    Great article and follow up. I am amazed that most all involved long ago chimed in.

    I’ve read through the entire article, posts. While I feel Michael Bywater did come off a bit terse, the way the emails played out did make him look like he was slacking or some such… And now that everything seems to have calmed down, anyone still having any animosity toward M.B., should re-read the requests of the infocomer that were willing to pick up the project.

    Everyone of them requested that they be the collaborator, not so much the programmer. Sounds much the same situation that M.B. was in across the pond, he was willing to go, just no programmer. so it looks like the frustration “level” was everywhere.

    What I did not clearly get from this was did Amy actually pick up the project? The article states her stipulations for taking on the project, but then jumps to the project being moved oversease and Amy leaving. Did she leave after taking on the project and running into problems, or did she leave because her stipulations were not met, or finally just because she decided to move on to other things?

    I did look into the closest research library, but they didn’t have it. That was on the other side of the Atlantic, though, so the chance of it showing up was less.

    So someone has found the documentation for MDL and it’s available at the if-archive!! Wow! I guess that means you *could* actually try to use that to re-implement a compiler from that documentation.

    Now that I have re-awakened my MDL quest I have actually found a piece of source for something MDL related. I had dug this up before, but since I lacked documentation I didn’t do anything more with it. If some of the Imps would like to take a peek at it maybe we could learn what it is. It’s from the AI backup tapes from MIT and resides at one of the (two?) public ITS systems that are still around.

    Something is not really healthy with the Muddle interpreter on Twenex, it seem to barf on simple concept from the Primer. I wonder why?

    Thanks, Infocom folks, for making those games. I played the hell out of them when I was a kid, and loved every minute of it. I’m a professional game programmer now, and it was your work that first showed me how awesome, in the old and proper sense of the word, computer games could be. I don’t think I’ve since seen a game that had such impact, so much Heart.

    Zork was, of course, a revelation. I couldn’t believe I was playing something so amazingly cool.

    HHGTTG was brilliant. I can’t even find words to describe Enchanter. That puzzle with the map and the magic pencil rocked my little world. PLANETFALL. My God, Planetfall. Let me tell you, I Loved Floyd. I took forever to finish that game because I just liked hanging around with Floyd.

    I eventually had to turn to spoilers to finish it, because the first time I sent him through that door, I was so horrified by the first few lines of the result that I didn’t even get to the part with the three little knocks. Obviously sending him in there was a mistake, and there had to be another way. But we all know how that eventually had to go, and yeah. I cried a little.

    Anyway, thanks. You did beautiful work. I still miss Floyd.

    I remember getting Zork for the first time, when I was about 11 or 12 in ’85 or ’86. It was late one night, and all I could think about was the trapdoor in the white house…I went downstairs at about 11:30 at night, fired up the computer and began exploring…when I stumbled across the Gates of Hell, I was so scared shitless I couldn’t play anymore and ran back upstairs to my bedroom…

    fond memories. So, yes, thank you to all of you Infocom guys (and gals). You were really some amazing dudes in the book of my childhood years. I really really wish IF could have another company like Infocom to move it forward again. I always envisioned the next generation of IF to be enormously rich in the interpreter, with much more natural english commands, and a great many more verbs, nouns, adjectives and plot twists. Much like a novel of 1000 pages might read, in the depth of character development and soul. I think that it would really appeal to the more thoughtful to which modern graphical games seem all too often to be violence and stupidity combined into a slick marketing package.

    Hey, maybe the former Infocomers could come together once again and launch a new breed of Interactive fiction…with today’s technology and computer power it would be amazing what could be accomplished.

    That would be wonderful

    I’ll just admit it outright, I have nothing interesting to say, I just want to comment on the same blog as some of the people here! One of the great things about the internet is the way it sometimes allows you to have people influential from your childhood pop out of the woodwork and remind you that they are just a bunch of guys and girls who did some things and who still sit around and browse the net sometimes.

    I still play IF games to this day, though I don’t have the time to play anything as brain-wracking as those infocom games. I appreciate having the opportunity to read this and all the comments. And for the Infocom people and those who worked with them, you are Hall of Famers, and never forget that you were the ones that helped get the juggernaut of the computer games industry going.

    Dammit, I want to go and dig out my old Lost Treasures sets again. But they’re in a different country.

    The one hitch in replaying any of the games without the packaging is the *need* for some of it (like the library card from Lurking Horror). It does make them a little awkward, but at the time… wow. Nothing else compared.

    If I recall correctly, I only owned three or four original games in the proper packaging – Nord & Bert, Suspect and Lurking Horror. A *very* kind guy in the US sent me the packaging for HHGTTG in exchange for some favour or other I did him. I think it’s the only packaging I kept – the others went to the great recycling bin in the sky.

    It is a crying shame that text adventures went the way of the dodo, at least from a commercial point of view. With a decent parser they’re far more entertaining and mentally challenging than any graphical interface can hope to match. Magnetic Scrolls stuff was pretty good as far as I remember – I think I had a slightly dodgy copy of The Pawn at one point (hey, I was a schoolkid – forgive me) and it was the closest thing to an Infocom game around.

    I so have to start digging for more abandonware. I believe the Level9 stuff is freely available now?

    Info-folks – thank you. I know a ton of people on here have already said it, but thank you. Likewise the MagScrolls lot. Your hard work entertained me for *hours*. Reminds me, I still haven’t read the Infocom novels I have kicking around in a box back home.

    The legend continues…

    Marc, was it you that developed the Z-Machine with Joel Berez?

    Back in 1986, I disassembled the CP/M interpreter and a group of friends (called the InfoTaskForce, for some reason!) re-wrote it in C.

    I’d just like to say that disassembling the interpreter was a fabulous education and an adventure within an adventure. I still remember the joy of finding out how text was encoded (“Hey, that’s clever!”) and objects were linked (“Oh, so I can teleport myself like _this_!”) Then there was stuff such as the parser that was simply voodoo!

    One thing that I always wanted to ask: given the virtual machine architecture, why didn’t Infocom release games on a wider range of platforms?

    What about the final version of Cornerstone? I have had the demo for decades, and have looked for a working version for about the same amount of time. I did find a box at a computer show in the mid 90s, but alas, it was empty except for a registration card.

    Now I have a working copy of ZorkTools, Im going to be playing around with Millways! ( Dear god, why did fate give us a sqeual to Highlander, and not to H2G2? )

    My lost treasures was stonlen, but I was able to download it!


    Wider range?! Have you looked at how many different platforms Infocom supported? It’s a staggering amount, and very impressive.

    You’ll never find anything like it.

    @ArthurT, Andreas: Yep, the number of machines they supported was unprecedented and an extremely sophisticated solution for the time.

    Games these days are lucky if they can share code across the three or four main platforms, let alone running the same exact game on multiple platforms essentially unchanged. Modern games are more complex by comparison, but given the far more restrictive resources in Infocom’s day, the comparison is probably fair.

    While UCSD-Pascal (which originates from the same kind of timeframe) was presumably the inspiration for bytecode and virtual machines, the imps must really have rolled their eyes when Java came out!

    > Yoz wrote:

    > I organised an event a few years back where Steve Meretzky

    > and Michael Bywater spent an hour and a half talking about

    > their Infocom-related adventures

    Yoz – thanks! The Steve Meretzky/Michael Bywater recording you linked to way up there in the dizzy heights of the top of the comment tree – very interesting, and very funny indeed…

    @ Michael Bywater:

    Unlike so many others, I’ve chosen to stay as objective as possible while reading your comments. While I don’t condemn Mr. Baio for posting this, I believe I understand your initial outrage. Thank you for reconsidering your original stance; I know I’d be pleased to learn another side to this story.

    @ Andy Baio:

    I’m glad you finally contacted Mr. Bywater. A follow-up to this article with his input (and possibly that of the other original contributors) would be illuminating. If you haven’t already done so, perhaps you could provide the Infocom alumni with the contents of that drive as well? I’m sure they’d get a kick out of it. Regardless, thank you for making this information public.

    @ Mr. Lebling, Ms. Briggs, et. al.

    Thank you for commenting here and showing everyone you’re still out there and still care about a longstanding, timeless series of products that shaped a generation and still provide people with hours of enjoyment (and frustration).

    Re Aku-Aku. I had four mai-tais. Tim Anderson will confirm this. They also did some sort of flaming mai-tai which consisted of the following ingredients:

    A measure from every bottle in the place

    Napalm to taste

    Source of ignition

    Complete contempt for personal safety.

    Actually, this may be what *really* went wrong with the Restaurant project. We should have done Aku-Aku instead.


    An Interactive Fiction




    You are in a restaurant decorated with monstrous amorphous Polynesian imagery. Around you are several hundred diners.


    Some of them are on the floor. Some of them are on fire.

    A waiter brings you a drink.

    >X DRINK

    You do not want to examine the drink.


    There is a crisp and noisome odour as your nose-hairs ignite.


    You cannot extinguish the drink.


    You take a sip.


    Yuo take anohter sip.


    Uoy tkae a thrid spi of teh dnirk. Teh room wihrls ruond. Yuo flal to teh foloor.


    You see no drink here. You have not died. You wish you had died.

    Made me laugh – thank-you Michael.

    Now, given that you’re in the mood for writing interactive fiction… 😉

    With the wisdom of the years, I see now the true reason for the collapse of the Restaurant project — I didn’t drink then. I sat across the table and admired all your little umbrellas, but did not partake.

    Never has sobriety proved such a loss for the world. Had I imbibed in even one Aku-Aku Mai-Tai in January 1988, the bottleneck of my objections, at least, would have dropped, and the course of the game, thus the company, and ultimately the world of today would have been changed for the better.

    Yes, Joel and I designed ZIP in the summer of 1979, not long after Infocom was formed. We had, in fact, looked at UCSD Pascal, although our approach was tailored entirely for the creation of adventure games, rather than as a general purpose VM. This was necessary due to the extreme limitations of our original target devices (TRS-80 Model III, Apple II), which had only 32k of memory and roughly 80k of usable floppy disk space. To make this work, we not only needed a very compact yet powerful instruction set, but we also needed to do some text compression and utilize a paging (virtual memory) system.

    Can I just butt in at this point and say this is in fact the very first time I’ve ever appeared on a forum.


    The copy-protection documents are rather annoying, even though the documents are available online with the blessing of Activision. Fortunately, the zmachine is very well understood today. A few years ago I made some modifications to remove the copy protection of several games (altruistically too–I did it to help a blind man who needed to bypass the AMFV code wheel). Anyway, it makes the games much more convenient:

    Interesting that as the complexity of the discussion increases, the trolls bail out.

    Wow, Stu Galley! It’s an honor. (Not sure if you got the email, but I tried to reach you the day before my article was published.)

    This thread makes me want to fire up my old Commodore 64 (or just use the Z-Machine) and give HHGTTG another try. I may even find a way to exit the Heart of Gold this time.

    Okay. Mr. Bywater and any other Infocom or MS alumni interested in adding even a smidgen of your talents to Textfyre games is obviously very welcome. Even if you want to just do some editing or testing, please give me a holler. We would welcome and honor your assistance.

    The Bywater Aku Aku thing is simply brilliant.

    “Some of them are on the floor. Some of them are on fire.”

    Simply brilliant.

    Part I. A Correction

    Graham wrote: “If he [Douglas] had been willing to sign a contract allowing Steve Meretzky to write ‘Restaurant’ on his own, it might all have been a different story.”

    Actually, the contract between Infocom and Douglas gave Infocom the right to create six games WITH OR WITHOUT DOUGLAS’ INVOLVEMENT. So we could have embarked immediately at the conclusion of the HHGTTG game on Restaurant and four additional sequels. However, we WANTED Douglas to collaborate on it, because:

    1) It had great PR value to be able to say so, and to have Douglas along on all the print, radio, and TV interviews. And

    2) Having Douglas involved would result in a better game. There were all sorts of great ideas in the first game that I never would have thought of on my own: having an inventory object called “no tea”, having a parser failure be the words that fall through the wormhole and start the interstellar war, and having the game lie to you. To name just a few. Restaurant, without Douglas’ involvement, would have been a good game, but it wouldn’t have been the best possible game.

    However, when the first game was completed, Douglas was completely sick of working on anything Hitchhiker’s-related, after years of working on the original radio show, the books, the TV show, and now the game. So he wanted to work on a new IP first, Bureaucracy, and then return to Hitchhiker’s to write the game’s sequel. Given #1 and #2 above, Infocom agreed to wait to begin Restaurant.

    However, no one imagined that Bureaucracy would drag out for years. Which I will get to in

    Part II. Bureaucracy

    No one can ever understand the history of the never-completed Hitchhiker’s sequel – and especially the various implementor’s attitudes toward working on it – without understanding the history of Bureaucracy. Now, covering the entire history of Bureaucracy is not something I have the patience for. Or even the expertise, without consulting with many other people. But to summarize:

    Douglas was up to his usual tricks, procrastinating on his deliverables. He raised procrastination to a fine art. When we were working on the first game, he was also just STARTING work on So Long And Thanks for All The Fish – and the FINAL MANUSCRIPT was now one year overdue to the publisher. (Which is why he was in “exile” at a country inn far from London when we completed the initial design work on the game.)

    As Douglas procrastinated, various collaborators came and went – either getting tired of waiting and quitting the assignment (or the company), or re-assigned to other projects where they could be more immediately useful. Over the years, the imps assigned to Bureacracy included Marc, Tim, Jeff O’Neill, Jerry Wolper, and probably two or three others I’m forgetting. The game finally came out in 1987, two years later than originally scheduled, and even that was only because Michael Bywater stepped in and filled in for the still-procrastinating Douglas.

    Now, of course, Douglas also procrastinated like crazy when he and I were writing the first game. One big difference is that I always had the other versions of Hitchhiker’s to draw upon, to fill in the gaps when Douglas didn’t. (Also, I was really good at imitating his writing. Toward the last week or two, as we were making the final tweaks, Douglas mentioned that he couldn’t tell which parts he’d written, and which parts I’d written.) With Bureaucracy, there was no other source of material in the Bureaucracy “universe”, since it was original IP.

    So, keep that history in mind as you read everyone’s emails about being involved in Restaurant … no one wanted to be involved in the game without assurances that it wouldn’t become another Chinese Water Torture project like Bureaucracy. (And, probably, there were some imps who couldn’t be convinced by any level of assurances.

    Part III. My Opinion on The Controversy

    As an archivist at heart, I’m always glad to see material added to the historical record. That said, Andy should have run this by everyone first. Period. Not only as good manners, but also because it would have resulted in a better article by allowing everyone to add context to the emails.

    Part IV. “The Great Imps Reunion”

    Several posters have been agog at how this blog has managed to “bring together so many Infocommies for the first time in 20 years” or similar sentiments. In fact, pretty much any time there’s an Infocom-related post of note, someone will notice it and email the link around to everyone else, and many of us will comment on it. The only think unusual here, I’d say, is the widening of the circle to people like Michael and Anita.

    Part V. So Long, and Thanks for all the Thanks

    @Stu: No, no, we haven’t time, because we’re going straight over to the Basingstoke roundabout.

    This is awesome. It really is. I never knew writing IF could be so crazy. But seeing this reunion is crazier. All you post-Infocom people: I love IF. I’ve not played a whole lot of it, but that may be because I tend to have mysterious files on my machine that I don’t know how to open. I’ve managed to beat HH once, and I’ve started Zork. Bureaucracy, however, never ceases to confound me. Even with a guide I looked up online. I imagine it’s something like life in actuality.

    And, because I can’t resist: this makes me wish I had met Adams even more. He’s had a gigantic influence on my life, and when I found out he’d died, a bit of me did too. It may be completely unrelated to the current topic, but there it is.

    Anyone have a spare time machine?

    @ArthurT: Cornerstone was a very nice piece of software to use, and deserved to do a lot better than it actually did in the marketplace. Every so often I’m tempted to dig up my XT and fire it up again, just for nostalgia’s sake; alas even though it can be found online in seconds it’s not happy on modern hardware (or OSes?)

    I’ve made a few abortive attempts over the years to figure out the innards of its virtual machine so I can see how feasible fixing that would be; I’ve almost e-mailed Andy several times since reading this post to ask if he’s found anything juicy on the subject but not sure it’d be appreciated!

    Anyway, before the assembled crowd have me stoned for talking about the dreaded Cornerstone, I might dust Zinc off and immerse myself in HHGTTG again. It’s been a few years…

    @Steve Meretzky

    If you’re still reading this: Thanks for LGoP! Probably my favorite of all the Infocom games I did get to play. I’ll never forget the portable hole!

    @All the former Infocom personnel, thanks for the excellent adventures!

    Holy crap, this thread delivers!

    Andy, when it finally dies (is that even possible now?? It’s turned into a forum of it’s own), archive it along side the InfoDrive.

    This thread contains enough new information to create its own followup article. I’d like to see a version with just the Imp responses without having to wade through the numerous fanboy & hateboy responses.


    Can I just butt in at this point and say this is in fact the very first time I’ve ever appeared on a forum.

    You’re not the only one.

    yes, please make follow up article, with relevant back info and succinct comments. I like reading the good bits over and over.

    Steve’s summary of the history of HHGttG, Bureaucracy, and Restaurant is excellent.

    In my case, vis a vis Restaurant, I was very leery of getting involved in a collaboration where we couldn’t be sure the collaborator would be present, as I was at the time involved in a ‘collaboration’ with James Clavell on Shogun which had turned out to be a pure licensing deal instead. I didn’t want to go through that again.

    When I laid down my conditions for taking on the project (as it happened, it didn’t matter, as Shogun shipped just as Infocom’s corpse was being embalmed and shipped to California), I wanted one single official collaborator who could be jettisoned if he failed to appear. Douglas, if he had actually been involved, would have been awesome; Michael had shown on Bureaucracy that he was a professional who could get a job done (not to mention being able to write like a somewhat more acerbic Douglas) with appropriate ZIL coaching and partner feedback.

    What I was most afraid of, no matter who took the project on, was more drift and finally “settling for what we have” to feed a revenue projection.

    This discussion has been so interesting to read. I never thought that Restaurant would surface, as I assumed it had been lost forever. It’s nice to see even if it is just a skeleton. I just hope that other unreleased Infocom games such as The Abyss and Robin Hood will be released in a similar fashion (although hopefully without all the hurt feelings).

    @Amy Briggs

    Being an 11 year old boy at the time, I’m sure I wasn’t the target audience for Plundered Hearts, but I had the hint book for it since it came as a combo with the Beyond Zork hint book (I needed help with the hourglass puzzle). After reading through the hint book for Plundered Hearts, I was interested enough to go out and buy it, and I really enjoyed it. It was interesting to play a game with a female lead in a time where that was almost unheard of. I also learned that “Ladies do not play with fire” 🙂

    @Brian Moriarty

    Beyond Zork was and still is my favorite Infocom game. The mix of text adventure and RPG elements (well MUD elements really) was simply brilliant. I still play Beyond Zork two or three times a year, just to see if I can do something I haven’t tried before like call Y’Gael by name, or show her the umbrella (hard to get off the bridge intact), or see how far I can increase my stats (I just found out that tasting the coating on the goblet increases your luck). The only thing I haven’t been able to figure out is what the Implementor threatens to do to you if you don’t pick up the goblet (the runes don’t translate into anything I understand).

    @The other Infocommies

    Thank you for making my childhood interesting and memorable. You guys (and gals) taught me to think outside the box.

    Oh and Christmas Tree Monsters were the greatest monster ever!

    I can say this here, now, anonymously.

    I’m one of the owners of a currently fairly-well-known independent video game development studio and I’m busting my ever-loving ass to get wealthy enough for exactly one purchase. I don’t want coke and whores, I don’t want a Ferrari, I don’t want a house boat, I don’t even want a Hummer with my company logo on the back: I want to buy Infocom back from BlActivision.

    I want to get the rights to everything that was ever done under their name and release all of the source code and all rights to the compiled zgames so that everyone that ever cared, every geek that’s posted in this forum above me begging for info from Andy about one or another of the unreleased prototypes… so that every one of us never has to worry about preservation again.

    Long live the imps.

    In response to Asai above: there is a community developing new games, based on the reverse-engineering of the z-code machine. Some of the best are recommended here, on the interactive fiction archive portal:

    You will need one of the interpreters mentioned in the original post above: Windows Frotz 2002 for Windows or Spatterlight for Mac.

    On the first page, I adore Anchorhead, which is free but is easily commercial quality – dark, lovecraftian horror tale with atmosphere in spades. Shade, Savoire Faire, the Muldoon Legacy and Varicella, plus Curses! are all good. Curses and the Muldoon Legacy are the closest to an ye olde treasure hunt.

    Fascinating discovery there. If anything, I am more interested in the code for games.

    (Incidentally, if Graham Cluley is reading, I had great fun with your IF too 🙂

    Regarding DNA, I have a very fond memory of meeting and interviewing him around the time of Starship Titanic (a whole story in itself). I got to talk to him for half an hour asking him anything I wanted. The news of his death so prematurely was like a juggernaut and even now I often think of him. Nevertheless, he lives on in the games, the books, the towels… immortality, indeed 🙂

    Excellent read from start to …

    Thank you all

    [A] ny fool can make history, but it takes a genius to write it.

    Oscar Wilde

    What a wonderful thread. Leather Goddesses of Phobos had me chuckling frequently while playing on my C64 back in the mid’80s. Still one of the most memborable games I’ve every played.

    Wow, what a trip down memory lane. Infocom was and is, by far, my favorite gaming company of all time. I have been hard pressed to find ANYTHING to rival the quality and immersion created by their games.

    As you can tell by the flood of postings here, many of us thoroughly enjoyed and appreciated the craftsmanship and dedication you put into your work.

    Thanks, Imps, for the hours of entertainment, laughter, frustration, and the great sense of accomplishment I reveled in as I solved yet another of your devious puzzles. It’s great to see that you’re all still so passionate, and obviously talented as ever!

    Holy cow! Amy! I haven’t thought of Plundered Hearts in forever…but it was the first video game I ever played.

    i would like to know about this zork game as well…(reading one of the books now)


    > i would like to know about this zork game as

    > well…(reading one of the books now)

    That brings back memories. Back in school my friend loaned me some of those Choose Your Own Adventure books. One was set in Zork, written by Steven Meretzky. I think that was my first exposure to anything Infocom.

    There was some great writing in those games. Meretzky’s Planetfall, in particular, comes to mind. That was the major thing that set Infocom apart. The strength of their parser clenched it, though 😉



    Fascinating read, but I also felt very guilty reading it for the simple reason that it was obvious none of the participants had been contacted first. What a dilemma!

    I used to work for Rainbird in the UK (publishers of the first five MS adventure games) and I have fond memories of meeting DA at a book signing at the Forbidden Planet store in New Oxford Street in 1988. Our offices were directly opposite the store, and I was so tempted to ask DA if he wanted to pop in and say hello, but I didn’t. However, I did ask him to sign my new hardback of The Long, Dark Team Time of the Soul and I will forever treasure “To Richard, a man who really knows where his towel is”…

    I should also stoutly defend Michael Bywater, who was gracious enough to give me some background information for an article on the making of Jinxter for my own website. I would never publish anything without at least cross-checking the facts with at least one other source first. It’s just being polite, let alone following good, sound journalistic practice.

    @Ben A L Jemmett

    I was fond of Cornerstone, too. But then, I worked on it.

    The Cornerstone sources/development environment/whatnot never made it off Fred (the DEC-20 whose front panel currently adorns my office). Cornerstone was known to have problems with disk partitions > 2GB, easily worked around, but long-time users have reported that it doesn’t work on the latest and greatest Windows versions (not sure whether it was W2K or XP that did for it).

    The virtual machine could perhaps be reverse-engineered, but the underlying language was much more advanced than ZIL, since it was designed by the best hacker we had, and its ideal user was a software developer, as opposed to a game developer.

    @Tim Anderson:

    Well, thank you for your work — it was one of the programs that got me interested in programming as a young’un (along with Lotus 1-2-3 and DRI’s GEM). I distinctly remember puzzling over the enigmatic “Vector/tuple FALSE” error message listed in the manual…

    A shame about the development environment; would have been fascinating to sneak a peek at it! A few years back I read a comment that suggested a version for the Atari ST was attempted, which had me pondering the feasibility of a GEM-based MME.APP to run it — if such a beast ever existed it would have been a fun experiment to try compiling it up for PC GEM, something which I’ve hacked on on-and-off since it was GPLed in 1999.

    I don’t think I ever got Cornerstone to run under Win2k, but never tried under the earlier NT versions; the last machine I successfully used it on ran Windows 98. Given my lack of reverse-engineering experience, figuring out the whys and wherefores is very slow going — perhaps I’d better settle for paying homage to the excellent manual in my own documentation!

    On the grounds that it’s an interesting piece of industrial archaeology (how I love that phrase; how young and VIBRANT it makes me feel) I’m going to flesh it out for Wired. It’ll be a few weeks in the doing — I have a book to get in, and I also want to run the stuff past the others involved, of course — but something should be published be late May/early June. If this thread is still alive, I’ll post an alert here.


    You can’t get on with some work. You are too busy drivelling about some game that didn’t happen twenty years ago.






    I have buggered off. Do you wish to (Q)uit, (R)estart or (A)pologise?

    Three cheers for Baywater. I look forward to reading the article, and I sincerely hope you are quickly and fully compensated for writing it! The book sounds wonderful as well.

    Regarding Cornerstone, I’ve never used it, but you might be able to get it going in a DOS emulator on a modern machine, an emulator which actually emulates a PC running DOS, not just a DOS box under Windows.

    On a totally different subject, from the little about it I know, I’ve always thought it’d be cool to have a ZIL compiler. I think I might be one of very few, but there you go.

    @ Michael Bywater:

    As one of those who requested that you dig into this archeological expedition, I’m thrilled to hear you’ll be doing an article. Many thanks for this (as well as for your past work)!

    @ Dave Lebling (re: post 4/18/2004 12:59 PM)

    It looks like I offended you with my post; were I a better writer I would’ve specifically referred to the culture “of the ‘Milliways’ project at Infocom” vs. that “of Infocom”. The latter paints with an needlessly broad brush, which was a mistake. Sorry!

    That aside, thanks much for all of the entertainment (and frustration!) that Infocom’s IF brought me during my formative years.

    The good news is, the comment thread eventually became as enjoyable, if not more enjoyable than the OP. All those old friends and co-workers chatting old times; It’s like being fortunate enough to be seated at a table with a bunch of your heroes while they talk amongst themselves.

    The article was excellent as well. Lots of interesting info in there, and a great look into the events surrounding the game.

    I’ll agree that Andy probably should have attempted to get permission from the authors of the emails before posting, but none of them were extremely upset, so that part turned out ok, luckily.

    Mr Bywater took his umbrage out on the wrong person though. None of his emails were taken out of context; at least, none that he complained about. He was upset about characterizations made by others in _their_ emails. There was no reason for Andy to contact Mr Bywater, as Mr Bywater had nothing to do with those statements.

    In true journalism fashion, Mr Bywater was given an opportunity to provide his own side of the story. He refused to do so (until now, and at a profit).

    When someone writes an article for a newspaper or a spot for a news program in which the contents of a memo or letter are discussed, wherein someone makes disparaging remarks about someone else, you never see them rush out to speak to the person who has been badmouthed. The story isn’t about whether or not the statements are true, but that they were said.

    The only time they do that is when they want a reaction to pump up ratings. Invariably the exchange isn’t intended to clear any names, but to inflame the situation for more ratings.

    Mr Bywater had every right to be angry with the people who wrote the emails in which he was badmouthed, although being angry over twenty year old mis-characterizations is a tad emotional, but he should not have been angry with Andy. Instead, he should have taken this opportunity to set the record straight, give his side, or otherwise lessen the damage to his (past) character.

    In the entire thread of comments, I only saw one person note that Mr Bywater’s emails were not the ones he thought he should have been consulted about. (I’ll admit to skimming most of the flaming portion.)It’s amazing to me how people on the internet would rather bash people (on both sides of the issue) rather than actually discover where the problem actually originated, and solve it.

    I’m pleased that Mr Bywater has become more reasonable, and that he is going to share more with us about how things went with the game. I look forward to his article. I never thought the one-sided emails provided a clear or accurate picture of him, and I don’t think most thinking people thought so either.

    I’ll refrain from praising him as a hero though. I still think he was wrong, and behaved poorly.

    Of course, some may say I am behavng poorly by stirring this pot which appears to have cooled so well. I just felt this information hadn’t been properly recognized by most of the posters.

    Quite a few people have been telling me I had to check out this thread. Wow – I had no idea it was going to be such a reunion!

    I was at Infocom from the beginning (I was the proud recipient of the very first paycheck issued for my testing on Zork I in 1979) to the bitter end (July of 1989). Steve, Dave, Tim, Marc, Stu, Amy, Andy, Anita, and Michael (I hope I haven’t missed anyone) have already said most of what needed saying, but there are a few things I’d like to add.

    Marc is right about being fortunate to leave in 1985. The first 6 years were truly an amazing experience. We were young, mostly single, working hard, playing hard. It was a one-of-a-kind work environment. The last few years were quite difficult (as you can sense in the emails above).

    I’m torn about the posting of these private emails. It generated this wonderful discussion, and for that I’m grateful. However, I’m sure there are emails of mine on that disk I’d never want to see published.

    It’s wonderful to hear from Anita after all these years. I always enjoyed her visits, and my own to Magnetic Scrolls. I cannot remember any “static” between MS and Infocom – quite the contrary.

    Steve is correct about the contract with Douglas (I negotiated them) – we had the right to do six Hitchhikers games with or without Douglas’s involvement. I think Steve left out one of the most important reasons that we didn’t proceed without him, though – we liked and respected him too much to go against his wishes, no matter what the contract allowed.

    I think all who knew him will agree: time spent with Douglas was memorable. He was fun to be with – he had a wide-ranging curiosity, was a fabulous conversationalist, a great host, loved good food and wine (how many of us were introduced to Chateau d’Yqem by Douglas?), and surrounded himself with some of the most interesting people on the planet (where else would you have dinner with Terry Jones, Sir Clive Sinclair, Alan Kay, Chris Cerf, …). Even if he was (self-admittedly) the world’s worst procrastinator, we found it hard to consider proceeding with Restaurant until he was ready.

    I’m often ribbed here at Harmonix for talking about the “good old days” at Infocom. It probably does come across as if I’m telling tales of Camelot. But I think those who were there in its heyday will agree that they’ve never experienced anything like it since (though Harmonix comes close in some ways).

    Thanks for an interesting diversion down memory lane. It is truly heartwarming to have our work so fondly remembered after all these years.

    The Dornbeast

    Now we come to a sticky question: were personal privacy principles violated? On the face of it, yes. The legal reality is no. These were corporate e-mails on a corporate server concerning corporate material. That makes them corporate e-mails and who has legal rights to them depends on whether the sale of the company included the ownership of material held under accidental(?) data retention.

    Whilst I doubt infocom had a ‘net usage policy governing email, I think it’s been generally accepted through the ‘Provider Exception’ of the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986 that the data on a corporate drive belongs to the corporation. Especially email. If the corporation sells or disposes of the drive, the data on it goes with it; the owner has the obligation to wipe it/destroy said data before disposing of it.

    How Mr.Baio received said drive may be in question, but if it was ‘above board’, he is fine to publish what he will. This more akin to buying a used car than receiving a stolen one – what I read off the odometer or from the owners manual or discover in the glove box is my business; I bought it as-is, where is.

    Will it add anything to this discussion by saying that I always thought Amy was hot!?

    No? Okay… Late to the party here (I read the story and comments a few days before it all blew up!) and thus redundantly wanted to say thanks to the Infocom people for the fantastic games.

    I occasionly play these retro gems on my slightly less retro Psion 5mx. Makes my daily commute less of a grind.

    Loved the thread. Looking forward to the Wired article. My dad introduced me to Zork on our Apple ][ when I was a wee lad – he and his best friend loved all the Infocom games and shared graph paper maps galore for each of them. The documentary mentioned above ( looks neat too…

    The Summer Shack? God, really?

    That’s the place of choice for post-work drinks here, and I pass it all the time on my trek to and fro. I’ll have to drop in sometime, if only for the sense of history.

    I came to the Infocom games later than most–1993, if I recall correctly–courtesy of a sixth-grade classroom that still had an Apple IIe and all three Zork games on floppy disks. When we upgraded, I was able to convince my teacher (lovely lady, *totally* clueless about computers) that the Lost Treasures were educational software. I *still* can’t look back on that without feeling decidedly smug.

    Thanks, everyone: for years of entertainment, for letting me bond with fellow geeks in college, for keeping me sane at my most boring temp jobs, and for letting me look around the MIT Infinite Corridor, when my boyfriend was showing me around, and say “Y’know, this looks familiar. But there should be a sinister floor waxer.”

    The two hours it took me to get through all the comments has made my day.

    This was such a fun and heart-warming read. The article itself was, of course, a glimpse into something few ever get to see, and I really hope that someday everything gets fleshed out (looking forward to the Wired article). It was the comments though, and their evolution over the week, that made for such a treat. All these people who worked together on ground-breaking things reconnecting, sharing stories and talking 25 year-old tech makes me weepy. Playing typing-games made me a loser when I was a kid; now I know I’m part of a history most will never understand.

    And I have Infocom and Lurking Horror to thank for making walks through the tunnels at Carleton University a thoroughly creepy experience.

    Fascinating story, and I too grew up on Infocom games, a bit too late for the original Zork, but HHGTG was a big influence on my life. The book(s) more so than the game. To this day, any cellphone I have ever owned has had the greeting message changed to ‘Don’t panic’.

    Thanks to all have have contributed (now, and then) and looking forward to more articles!


    Accidentally and suddenly came across this thread tonight on the often excellent b3ta:

    >> Hitchhiker’s II game back story

    At the risk of sounding clammy, Bywater is one of the UK’s most consistently illuminating cultural commentators, (yup, that’s clammy enough) so anything he has to say is prob worth reading.

    Infocom games were constant companions during my college years in the early 1980s. (“Infidel” was a particular favorite — ironic, given the subsequent course of world events, but then again, so much of the 1980s has become ironic, in retrospect.) All those late nights spent staring at the screen of my C-64 eventually led to a career in Silicon Valley. Thanks for some enriching, literate entertainment, Infocommies!

    David Cornelson wrote: “And yes, I am now embarrased about promoting Textfyre here. There are better places to talk about it.”

    Then he goes on to promote it twice more in this thread!?

    I was going to check his games out, but after bashing Andy Baio and then using his blog’s comment thread to shamelessly promote his games, I think I’ll have to take a pass.

    Thank you Andy for a interesting and thought-provoking glimpse at the history of a great game company.

    Thank you to all of the people at Infocom who worked so hard at entertaining us all.

    Thank you Douglas Adams for inspiring so many people in ways that he could not even fathom.

    And thank you Mr. Bywater for your patience and understanding. And for writing up your side of things for Wired.

    Just for the record, even though I am sure that some of the things said in those old emails were hurtful, I never once thought of you as an asshole whilst reading the article. I realized that it was a long time ago and only represented one side of the story.

    @Brian Wolf

    If you read through all of the comments, you’ll note that there was a wave of people unhappy with the email postings, then everyone got past it and the result was a healthy and happy discussion about Infocom.

    As the owner of a startup, the thing in my brain right now is primarily marketing and promotions. So my first reaction was “hey cool..Infocom stuff” and then my second reaction was, “Oh boy…these e-mails weren’t checkout with the owners…that’s not cool” and then I watched as Mr. Bywater “came around” and all the other imps chimed into the comments with a more or less positive flair.

    At that point, there was a note about collaboration and I wanted to comment about that. It’s an importamt part of how we’re working and very different from how the IF community functions, which is to work alone in a dark cellar, constantly beating of grues.

    I’m aware of how Textfyre plays in various groups and am completely comfortable with the “wait-and-see” attitude from most people. In the end, if we sell games, everyone will be happy. If we don’t, some people will be disappointed and some people will say, “I didn’t think that was going to work out.”

    In any case, I am trying. As someone who got into computers because he played Dungeon on an LA32 paper terminal connected via coupler modem to the school system PDP-11/70 in 1980, I can say that doing this was something I was meant to do. I feel that strongly about it.

    The idea of possibly recreating something remotely close to Infocom is something I could not pass up. So far, after two years, it’s been a lot of fun. Working on several games at once and watching the designers and writers develop things is incredibly gratifying.

    It may seem like I’m pandering…but the way I see it, I am communing with my IF brethren and in the case of the imps, well hey…they’re THE IMPS.


    You are on sitting on the loveseat in your living room, reading Andy’s article on Infocom, there are some great memories from the 8-bit days of old which you relish immensely.

    There is an open doorway to the south, leading outside.

    The Infocom Imps are here, along with some honored guests.

    > STAND UP

    You have legs! Amazing! You are now standing.


    You thank the Infocom Implementors profusely for all they did to enhance your childhood and your interest in computers, fiction and programming until, sadly, your arm falls off from all the virtual handshakes. Needless to say:

    Dave… Thanked.

    Marc… Thanked.

    Steve… Thanked.

    Tim… Thanked.

    Brian… Thanked.

    Stu… Thanked.

    Amy… Thanked.

    Anyone other Infocom folks you might have missed… Thanked.


    Michael… Thanked.

    Anita… Thanked.

    > SOUTH


    You are now standing on the right of way in front of your property. There an uncarved block of gelatin towering in front of you on the grass. Next to the block is a coin-sized slot. A hastily written Post-It note, attached just below the slot reads “Let me tell you about TextFyre – 1 Zorkmid”.


    You are carrying:

    A Zorkmid

    A piece of belly button lint.

    A Frobozz Magic Transmognifier


    The Frobozz Magic Zorkmid Transmognifier looks identical to an old spyglass, with the exception of two buttons labeled “1” and “2” on the side.




    The Transmognifier rattles and churns for a moment and then grows silent.


    The lint trembles in anticipation (or is that just the wind?)


    A shimmering red beam shoots out of the transmognifier, instantly transforming the lint into a cheap, plastic version of your Zorkmid!


    Which Zorkmid do you mean, the original NICE Zorkmid, or the cheap imitation?


    The unZorkmid passes through the slot and makes a empty clanking sound as it drops down into the coin holder.

    A holographic image of an hourglass miraculously appears in front of you, the number “13” glowing inside with a harsh, red light. The number “13” is replaced by “12” and a booming voice from behind the block begins speaking, causing the gelatin to quiver:

    “Now hear the tales of TextFyre” it begins.

    (11). “how TextFyre searches for funding,” it continues, in no apparent hurry…

    (8). “how TextFyre will develop their software…”

    (5). “how TextFyre shamelessly plugs its own name as many times as possible in a single comment post…”

    (1) And, finally, “Listen…”

    Seconds pass… Other than the sound of a a muffled deflating sound and some cricket chirps, there isn’t much else to report.

    Like I said before, anonymous sniping of anyone here, including Textfyre, will be deleted. If you’re going to flame someone, be grown-up enough to use your real name, email address, and homepage.

    Fine, I’ll reiterate my last comment…

    David @ TextFyre — I wish you success, but touting your company, its products, development processes and how you’ll fill the shoes of a considerable legend such as Infocom, when you’re not ready to “show anything” is premature and arrogant.

    Stop trying to hock your vaporware here. I, for one, will gladly welcome more information on your products and company when you’ve got something to show for all your hard effort.


    I was an avid Infocom fan and was the first runner-up in the “Win A Date With Mike Dornbrook” contest; Mike sent me a poster that he signed with, “Marian, love your oven.” (inside joke related to the picture I had sent them for the contest). 😀

    I can’t tell you how wonderful it is to “see” all of the Infocommies posting; I miss you folks! and I miss your games!!!!! I felt a pang seeing all of your names—and it’s just so good to know that you are all still “out there.” I hope you are all doing well. 🙂

    I’ve played a lot of computer games since then, but nothing has duplicated the same kind of thrill I remember feeling when I would load up the newest Infocom game for the first time.

    You are loved, one and all!! 🙂

    I am writing from the me-no-blog perspective.

    Please tell me Why the animosity to “The Brits”?

    OK. They procrastinate taking time out to be creative and make goodhearted jokes together. Is that so bad? The best thing about listening to the original Radio 4 weekly installments of HHGuide was that it was pure entertainment without the acrimony of war or competitive gamesmanship. Several posters have commented that this is all good gentlemanly fun is it not? It is indeed, hard to detect tone from emails but this seems to me to veer more towards snide chortling. But I read it all anyway.

    What is a sandbox?

    @jean cave:

    “What is a sandbox?”

    In a computing context, it’s an environment where a program can be run for testing purposes without being able to adversely affect the operation of any other programs or hardware – anti-virus writers who want to see how a particular virus behaves, for example, will often allow it to infect a program in a “sandbox” system where it can be studied without risking infecting other systems.

    This thread has brought back many happy (old!) memories. To all the Infocom guys and gals that have posted – thanks for everything! I’ve got a wall full of the old Infocom greys staring down at me as I type this…..and my treasured Saucer and Suspended Mask package (still sealed!) are safely tucked up in the attic.

    Nostalgic? You bet ya…..

    I remember going to visit my father at work now and then in the 80’s, at BBN, out by Alewife, and saying, “Damn, that’s cool, you work next to Infocom!” To which he’d answer, “Huh? Who are they?”

    Thanks for the games… =)

    Wow! This thread is an amazing thing in itself. I feel bad now for what I said about Bywater. The danger of reacting too soon on the internet can have horrible lash-back, and he sure got more than his fair amount.

    He’s now one of my favourite people. Yay! Looking forward to the book and Wired article.

    Infocom is probably the single greatest entertainment software company of all time, and I have nothing but respect for those guys, yet unlike several other people who’ve posted here, I’m not going to thank them for their work. I shelled out literally hundreds of dollars purchasing Infocom products (money that otherwise would have gone to marijuana and beer) in the early-to-mid 1980s. That is tribute enough, with all due respect.

    Loved reading all this, and then coming back a week later to read the comments explosion. But anyways….

    What I always hoped for was a sequel to Hitchhiker’s with the BBC Radiophonic Workshop providing sound effects and audio atmospheres.

    I stumbled across this site while searching the internet for those games that I grew up on. Over the past few weeks I have discovered so much about the small software company that developed those adventures, as well as the multitude of other IF games available. I truly wish there was still a way to purchase playable Infocom games legally. I have discovered that you can still find some of them if you are willing to search hard enough, and do some grunt work, but it just doesn’t feel right. Even the relatively recent re-releases by the company to remain unnamed are hard to come by.

    I am honored to read postings from those who were once Infocom. The adventures were brilliant, and seemed truly cutting edge at the time. Zork was my first real “computer game”. No other genre of game I have played has even come close to providing me with the same level of entertainment that Infocom did.

    I feel privileged to be able to say THANK YOU to ALL who were involved with the creation of those games, and know that at least a few of them will be reading my post.

    Just played through Bureaucracy for the first time in response to this immensely cool thread. It’s madness, I tell you. Bloody insanity; with a pleasant hint of cruelty, a nice sprinkle of twisted humour and a liberal dash of frustration.

    Anyway, nothing to say that hasn’t really been said before in so many words. Infocom, we love you. Level 9 and the Acorn/Phoenix crew at Cambridge, if you’re around, we love you as well. And all the IF authors who still write IF because they enjoy it and have one a new fan – well, yeah, you know the drill by now. I never played a Magnetic Scroll, but I find from the IF archive that they too had some cool tech back then. So I’ll be generous: we love you too.

    I’m twenty-five now, but I first played IF in my schooldays: first on Acorn BBCs, then on PCs; Level 9, then Infocom. I couldn’t stay away from Planetfall, is how one of my memories goes. If there was free time between lessons, out came the laptop to play. And that damned magnetic bar scrambling all my cards! Snowball and Kingdom of Hamil were other faves of mine, for when the library BBCs that hadn’t yet been transitioned to PCs were all we had available after school hours.

    I’m fond of archiving things and tech history. I think I was born too late: Unix, the Internet and Infocom are things I should’ve lived through. (Google me for a precis of what I do now; a lot can be attributed to my IF playing habbits.) As a blind person, Interactive Fiction is something I’m passionate about. IF is very suitable to blind players, of course. I love reading and I love computers; could there be a better medium for active, intellectual entertainment? No, of course there couldn’t.

    The only problem with my playing of Infocom games nowadays is the damned copy protection; fortunately, patches are available to deprotect some of them.

    IF, old and new, finds itself enjoyed by many people today, and Infocom is a big part of why. The Interactive Fiction Archive is without doubt a place you should visit. Of Z-Code games in that archive, Spider And Web by Andrew Plotkin (Tangle.z5) is by far the most beautiful I’ve ever come across; you’ve got to try it. It brings me back often and is a real favourite of mine that I’ve often been recommending to hardened players, although it’s not necessarily suitable to the new IF player.

    Anyway, a big thanks to all the good people involved in the shaping of one of the most easily forgotten technologies nowadays that the computing industry has ever known. You’ve got yet another fan owing you. And to everybody here, happy sailing!



    Wonderful article and comments! As a game developer, I was very interested in the design discussions for Restaurant. I think I got some feel for the limitations of IF at the time and ways in which people were trying to extend the envelope.

    Every creative project goes through phases of frustration that make the developers wonder why they put themselves through torture. (For example, there was the day Lori was so stressed out at Sierra, she couldn’t remember her passcode to get in the building.) But there are also moments when the stars align and everything feels so “right”, we can’t imagine doing anything else.

    @Jonathan Day: “For the sake of all humanity, do a reunion tour or something. We’re dying out here! One more game and I’ll feel like I’m in heaven. Just one more… Please….? I’ll stop begging if I can have just one last all-text adventure of the quality you have always managed.”

    Well, as a matter of fact… Malinche Entertainment is putting on the Adventure Game Expo in Atlantic City on Aug. 29-31, 2008. You can find more information at I hadn’t heard of Malinche prior to being invited as a VIP guest, but since then I’ve looked at a couple of their games. They are trying to carry the text adventure game torch forward and are apparently doing pretty well commercially.

    Lori and I are currently working on our first traditional, non-graphic IF game. More information will be on our site,, as we get farther along on the project. In the meantime, I have a lot of homework to do learning Inform, and I sympathize with Mr. Bywater trying to pick up ZIL while he was also trying to design a new game.

    @Michael Bywater: Thank you so much for posting your notes on the development. They add a valuable extra dimension to the discussion. I’ve only done one game (Shannara) in collaboration with an author, and we did it the easy way – Lori and I wrote all the scripts, imitating Terry Brooks’s style, then sent them to him for approval. It would be 10 times harder to write text for a game without being closely involved with the implementors.

    – Corey Cole

    (co-designer of Hero’s Quest / Quest for Glory, Shannara, and Castle of Dr. Brain)

    Heh. Steve Meretzky says there’s nothing special here, the Infocommies gather online all the time!

    Steve forgets that what’s special is that someone remembered to invite the fans this time. This thread’s been something special for me.

    HaHa i’ve lost a little respect for douglas adams to be honest, i always thought he had INVENTED Arthur Dent – now i know someone like #that# really exists I’m a little lost, oh and i KNEW he would start to come round to the idea after he’d had a cup of tea.

    This article and thread has made my day. Maybe my week. Thank you to Andy, Michael, and all the Infocom folks. My imagination was enriched by you as a kid, and from reading this I have one of those barely describable feelings – sort of an emotional deja vu. That great, warm feeling that makes you feel the excitement and pure pleasure of thinking with a young mind again. That is priceless.

    I’m going home and pulling out Zork for my kids. I need to let them in on this.

    Thank you folks.


    How discouraging to see so many comments slagging Michael Bywater. For the benefit of the clueless (who are clearly vast in number), let me explain his reaction. While Baio is American, Bywater is British. British people have manners. Consequently, British people expect other people to behave politely and properly, i.e. asking permission before publishing their emails, and so react more strongly when it doesn’t happen. It is not a question of legality. It is not a question of journalism. It is a question of COURTESY.

    Just to clarify, I didn’t publish any of Michael Bywater’s emails in my post, so there was nothing to ask his permission for.

    I could have contacted him before I published to find out his side of the events, but that’s a different issue.

    This thread is one of the most remarkable things I have seen on the internet, at least in recent memory.

    Cheers to all involved – I think it’s arguable as to whether Andy’s original post was in good form, but if I’m going to speak honestly I’d have to say I’m glad he made it, and I’m glad so many parties involved provided all the extra background they did.

    To Mr. Bywater, I very much look forward to reading your upcoming piece.

    When did we start allowing courtesy on the intarwebz??

    Everyone involved has kissed and made up. Stop coming to Michael’s defense, he did just fine for himself.

    @Chris Remo

    I agree wholeheartedly. In this particular medium, I would personally rather see it all unfold, THEN see it all put together in proper form after all the parties chime in. That might be different if I was one of the people named, of course.

    I do understand Mr Bywater’s reaction at the beginning. To find out that people were talking about me in a less-than-favorable light 20 years ago would probably affect me more (for a few hours, at least)than if I heard that someone said it yesterday. It was a completely human response.

    Anyway, this has been a truly amazing thread. Thanks again Andy, Michael, and Infocom folks!

    Wow. This all was an amazing read! (I even made it through all the comments.)

    Slightly ironic that, dealing with a story where an Infocom project got pushed back further and further and finally scrapped rather than not be courteous to Douglas Adams by waiting for his input, which would also have added greatly to the quality of the game if it were ever to be finished, the main complaints about this article is that Baio should been courteous and waited for input from all the original authors and subjects of the Infocom emails, which would also have added greatly to the quality of the article. (Okay, that sentence was way too long, sorry.)

    I had an illegal copy of HHGTTG from a friend, so to make up for that, I bought a new copy of Bureaucracy, set it aside and never played it, just so that Infocom and Adams still got my money. Hope that worked out okay.

    But I never did figure out how to get that damn Babel fish.

    And now I suddenly want to go to a Polynesian restaurant and have a Mai Tai. Hmm, Damon’s, Bahooka, or Tonga Hut? Decisions, decisions.

    Thanks to all the Infocom people who provided our generation with hours and hours of maddening frustration. ;-D


    I don’t know how to thank the Implementors enough.

    This made me smile inside.

    As someone who was playing Adventure (Colossal Cave) on a long-forgotten mainframe, twenty eight years ago, as a way to kill time while waiting for printouts of keypunch FORTRAN programs to be available, I can heartily second all of those posters who’ve been moved to comment on the positive emotion generated by this whole endeavour. As the last poster wrote, “This made me smile inside”, regardless of any petty bickering earlier, has been the prevalent tone of posts for a reason – there are enough of us who fondly remember this era, and are truly thankful for the efforts of those who made it happen. Think about it – twenty years ago this *ended*, and we’ve sat around grinning like the proverbial ‘Cheshire cat’ just hearing about it. If any of us could say half as much about our exes, the world would be a much better place! Thanks to all of you who made us smile those twenty years back, and thanks to everyone else, who contributed to this whole bit of Interactive Non-Fiction. Special thanks to Andy, for striking the spark which brought us here. No matter what else may come, it’s brought smiles into a world too often void of them.


    Marc Blank wrote:

    Marian – As far as I know, Mike is still available… 🙂


    I was also hired to be a beta tester for Infocom, but unfortunately it was right near the end, and I never got the chance.

    It’s so good to see so many of you here; it’s like old home week. 🙂 You are my heroes!!

    Now that the dust has settled, I have a very different question to pose in regards to the Infocom drive find.

    Back during the late 80s, I was an Apple IIGS user and the promise of ‘Infocom’s new graphics will blow you out of the water’ sounding the fanfare to their last line of games always appealed to my IIGS game playing addiction (it still does!).

    According to the same piece of four sheet, double sided advertising, listings of Zork Zero, Quarterstaff, Shogun and Journey were scheduled to appear on the Apple IIGS in Spring, 1989, however the games never ended up materialising.

    On the Infocom drive, is there a hint of what happened to IIGS releases of these games?

    I realise this may seem a very trivial matter in light of a Hitch Hiker’s Guide sequel, but Andy, you would appease the tens of ones who’d be keen to get even a scrap of information regarding IIGS versions of these games? 🙂

    – Alex

    I would just like to say that I’m really looking forward to both the book and the Wired article. Michael, I can more than understand your initial outrage and I’m over the moon that an understanding was reached that would get you to tell your side of the story. I’ve been reading stuff about the Hitchhiker’s Guide for many years (I chaired a panel featuring Neil Gaiman at the recent British National SF Convention that talked about the various incarnations of the Guide, to give you some idea of how much I’ve read on the subject) but this is the one aspect of the canon that has never been explored to the appropriate level of detail. I cannot wait to read more.

    Any chance of a ‘Salmon of Doubt’ equivalent, combining all the ideas and featuring commentary from all the people involved? You could play through and have the option to view what people on the team have to say about each point of the game. I’d pay money for that! As much as I think it would’ve been nice for Baio to consult people before publishing, I still have to thank him for publishing this. It’s absolutely brilliant on every level, and I thank you.

    Lastly, thanks go to everyone at Infocom who’s reading this. You were involved with something very special, and for that I thank you!

    Also, just one more thing – Spatterlight for Mac doesn’t actually read .z6 files, and doesn’t want to play the .z4 file, either. Zoom, by Andrew Hunter, plays both but crashes after a certain amount of turns have passed. Anyone got any recommendations for other Mac OS X Z-interpreters?

    I’m one of those 30somethings mentioned above that played infocom games in my teens. I’ve also been BBSing since then.

    I admire the Infocom staff, and their novel contribution to electronic literary works. Go Amy.

    I marvel at the great new things that were invented in one of the fastest moving new-times in my lifetime.

    I don’t marvel at how in the 25+ years since I logged on to my first BBS, we can still easily prove that the lowest common denominator of public online interaction will always be the flamewar.

    Graham Nelson said: “The real reason “Restaurant” never happened was the same as the reason that Douglas Adams’s “Doctor Who” TV scripts weren’t novelised (the only ones out of 150 which weren’t)”

    Well, the only ones other than Eric Saward’s Dalek stories. But, that’s beside the point.

    Graham, I love INFORM 7 by the way.

    Dear Implementers,

    Thanks for all the great games. I just spent a small fortune and many months reaquiring every single one of them. I’m looking forward to playing them all, some of which I missed the first time around. Plus when my son gets a little older I fully expect to get him hooked on them too.

    This is extremely cool. Recently the realm of Infocom games has felt like the lifeless, ancient rooms and passageways of the underground empire. Like an age past. But having all these Imps comment on this thread is a fresh breath!

    Man, what would it take to convince a few of you to write another game? What if everyone interested pitched in for it? What would it take?

    That would be so cool!!!!

    What a completely AWESOME discovery. I’ll have to make sure some of the other fansite owners (DA, you out there?) see this. Anyone passed this on to the Chronology of Quendor folks? 😀

    I’ll be adding this game to the synopses, when I get a chance to finish playing it, and finish my complete revamp of my Zork mini-site. Thank you so much for releasing this treasure!


    Yaaa, looks like I’ve arrived a few weeks too late!!

    If any of the original implementors are checking back at this, here’s one more dear and sincere thanks for your original work and additionally for not going postal over this post. I get a bit antsy imagining such email getting posted, and you’ve shown more grace than most could muster.

    You changed my life for the better. I humbly bow.

    As a testament to the lasting value of the work, interactive fiction continues to be produced today. It is hard to imagine any fan-written works coming up to the level of the originals (especially sans the in-box “feely” experience and the heavenly joy of holding a gray box, knowing what adventure lay inside), but inspiring to see that there are so many people who find it worthwhile.

    Thanks for showing up.

    — Seth H.

    Oh lord. Now Slashdot is here, it’s only a matter of time before there’s a /B/tard invasion. Anyway…

    I’d just like to thank absolutely EVERYONE! 😀

    Thank you to the oroiginal poster for making available to us this fascinating information; thank you to all the interested parties for chiming in and giving your own perspectives on events; and thank you to the annonymous cowards who lighten my life with your own lack of one.

    I find it unspeakably tragic that, given the incredible achievement of getting Michael, Mark, Dave, Steve, Amy, Anita, Emily, Robinson, Graham, Paul, et. al to all be looking at the same comment box on the same day, all anyone wants to do is argue.

    So, correct me if I am wrong, but you have a drive, that you should not have in the first place?

    From the drive, that you should not have in your possession you have published not only company confidential emails, without asking permision first, or even contacting the parties concerned, but you have also published a previously un-released unfinished game onto the internet?

    A game you are not the copyright holder of, that should not have seen the light of day, with full permission?

    Is that not illegal?

    Its certainly irresponsible, no matter how ‘interesting’ the content, there is no public interest angle that I can see where releasing it would serve the good of the public (such as releasing news about say a faulty product, or whatever) – these are emails, and intellectual property that has been stolen, and published illegally as far as I can see from this blog.

    Is that the case?


    Try not to break your neck when you fall off that cosmically high horse you’re on.

    I just want to take the time to thank all the Infocom alumni and Anita for some of the more memorable gaming moments in my childhood.

    I have fond memories of HHGTTG, Zork and Enchanter along with Guild of Thieves.

    This is quite possibly the best blog entry ever, not so much for the original article but mainly for the historical tidbits and the comments of everyone involved. Only now I’ve finished reading it and am able to comment.

    I was not actually playing those games back then (more like Atari 2600 and then NES) but I’ve come to know and enjoy IF immensely by way of the if-archive. I’ve also played the Infocom classics by now as well, which is why I find it reassuring that someone anonymously hinted that is trying to buy the games back from Activision and release the source for preservation. I think it’s the right thing to do, it’s an important piece of hacker lore to remain obscured by people who don’t appreciate it.

    Salute from Brazil for all the Imps and thanks for their sharing of absolutely interesting stories! I agree that this whole thread should be archieved together with “the drive”. XD

    Well, I have to admit that this thread has been truly amazing for me too… And I think truly unique.

    I guess I’m part of the model demographic here… At 38 I do clearly remember infocom games coming out and the joy of playing them. Interestingly, after the death of Infocom, I later played and thoroughly enjoyed the Quest for Glory series. It may not be so unusual for you imps to talk to one another, but surely all of you, plus current leaders of the IF movement, plus authors from genres influenced by you is unique. It could be said that there are two generations of people influenced by your work here.

    Until just a couple months ago, while doing some web surfing (I’m deployed to Afghanistan so I got more time to do that now), I found out about the vibrant IF community, and needless to say it’s almost like being a kid again. You all really are celebrities to me, and to be able to actually write to you is amazing.

    Even though this thread began under less than positive circumstances, I am thankful for the opportunity to hear from truly great people. Prior to coming back into the Army, I was a software engineer for a major software corporation. I am a linguist both by the Army’s definition (someone who speaks a foreign language) as well as everyone elses (BA in “English” Linguistics) and worked in a Natural Language Group. I had applied for positions in Sierra Online and a couple other game companies. To complete the analogy, I even took some graduate courses in syntax. Even though I never knew you, it’s fair to say that your games in many ways shaped who I am today. I realize you’ve heard it so much that it’s almost a cliche, but I hope you truly appreciate what an impact you had on so many people, in fact the world. Without the ground-breaking influence of Infocom (and by extension you all who were Infocom), it’s hard to say what the computer landscape would look like today.

    I really do hope that you all come together again someday and do the next “great thing.” As it is, I’m busy learning Inform 7, to write a game for my kids. I’m certainly hoping to turn them into the next generation of interactive fiction lovers.

    And by all means, please continue to give your story. One reason I am in the Army is to influence young people in a way few jobs let you. May you continue to inspire as you have to us.


    Which Infocom Era do you mean, the Golden Era of Gaming or the Activision Era?


    You must be kidding.


    Whatever do you have to be thankful for?

    My love of reading.

    My love of writing.

    And that thrill that still fills my heart whenever I see a flashing cursor.

    It’s crazy that after so many years, I still find myself typing “Infocom” into my search engine from time to time.

    How wonderful to discuss something new on the subject!!


    Surely there must be some motivation to revist your glory years and produce a new Infocom title?

    Deadline 2, perhaps?

    While I don’t agree with the way this was done and question the ‘journalistic’ methods applied (it wasn’t done very tastefully, mistakes were made, people should have been asked permission, etc.), one mustn’t forget that we’re talking about something that happened 20 years ago, concerning intellectual property that has nothing more than nostalgic value, from a company that folded many moons ago, who catered to a genre that is commercially as dead as can be, with all the main players clearly aware of the fact that this is about memories from the past.

    Looking at all the comments I must say that this blog post has, despite the unfortunate way of exposing the information, done way more good than harm and has sparked an interesting discussion with some great, iconic participants.

    Many, many thanks to (in order of appearance): Marc Blank, Dave Lebling, Steve Meretzky, Michael Bywater, Amy Briggs, Brian Moriarty, Anita Sinclair, Phil South for some really great games and a most interesting reunion.

    Any word on when Michael Bywater’s Wired article will be out?

    Also, will there be articles on the rest of the “Infocom Drive” content anytime soon?



    I don’t think interactive-fiction is only about nostalgia, as I was completely unaware of these games back then. In fact, I started on IF from the games the community started around if-archive, only eventually finding out the old commercial games, some of which are pretty good even to this day.

    The prose and story has got a lot better, away from juvenile dungeon crawlers, though luckily Infocom already got past that trend back then.

    What a journey! I don’t know what is more amazing…the fact I read every single entry, or that I managed to do it at work?

    Zork 2 kept me up at night trying to figure out how to talk the princess into not ‘riding off into the gloom.’ The things you pondered at age 13. Thanks to all involved. Our minds may never be as challenged again to imagine.

    I’m surprised it has taken me this long to notice this. I have a stalled project of my own — a sequel/prequel to a few previously unrelated Infocom titles. I have permission from Activision for the project, but I was hoping to contact the original authors to seek their approval for the re-use of characters they created. I would really appreciate it if someone could forward me an email address I could send the plot outline to. I don’t want to make the details public because there is always the possibility that I will never complete the project and I wouldn’t want to disappoint anyone.

    G’day folks 🙂

    What can I say to the Great Implementors that has not already been said on this thread? I’m only sorry I didn’t find this when it was more active and the Imps were likely to read my words.

    I’m among the many who were positively influenced by the Infocom crew and their creative product. I can attribute a lot to the days spent playing Interactive Fiction; Better vocabulary, faster typing skills, problem solving, inspired to do more writing of my own… and reading on a variety of subjects the Infocom games touched on. My brothers and I bust many a gut laughing at what we could make the interpreter do, and the unlikely things you could type that the Imps had given us a hilarious outcome for.

    Certainly my time playing lent itself to more interest in the Atari that ran the games, and how it worked inside. This partly lead to my career in high tech, where we can trace much back to the ‘ol PDP’s that brought us all the original Dungeon/Zork.

    It all stuck with me… enough to have been going by Frobozz on the net since… forever now. I wear Frobozz on my futbol and hockey jerseys, and meet other fans in the strangest of venues who can place the word… and we share a smile and a reminisce about the works of the Great Imps.

    I still get the occasional fan friend sending me a “zorkmid for your thoughts” emails, and the lads I go camping with are more than willing to Frotz their hats when it gets dark. There are lots of us out there.

    I discovered eBay about 10 years ago now, and went mad buying up all of the original Infocom titles that I never could get my hands on back in the day, including the nice original folio editions of Enchanter, Sorcerer and others. A few Invisiclues, because you never know when you’ll need a hint ;).. and I even found an extra loose zorkmid coin from the Zork Trilogy box set… two zorkmids is better than one.

    I don’t religiously collect much, but my Infocom collection is prized to me. No gaming experience has ever compared, before or since.

    To the Imps, the testers, collaborators – you were pioneers of early gaming and created a genre that pushed the boundaries of gaming, writng and the imagination at the time… thank you a thousand times over 🙂

    And to the fans of the genre who, like me, still find white houses in the woods a little creepy… but can’t resist looking in the box to see what an Infotater is… you’re not alone 😉

    – ‘bozz

    My sister, knowing I have a love for all things Infocom, made sure I would be able to read this. Bless her. After all, she had witnessed me relentlessly track down all the books written for the Infocom universe, watched me go insane with pleasure at finding the original boxes at sales, and looked on in awe as I spent long sleepless nights on the computer.

    Wishbringer was a huge influence on me. I named a cat Chaos. I have a fascination with platypuses. And I always try to avoid the Boot Patrol.

    When I read the comments of Brian Moriarty and Steve Meretzsy, I squeed all over the place like a fangirl. (It was embarrassing, and a little messy.) These two men are responsible for more pleasure in my life than any one man ever has in person. (Sad, but true.) Thanks guys, for raising the bar.

    Thanks for fueling my dreams.

    @Tim Anderson:

    It’s very hard to find a good programmer who’s also a good, imaginative writer

    Just look at the list of commenters – Graham Nelson, Emily Short, Stephen Granade… there are many fine programmers who also have imagination and vocabulary to match. They just ply their trade for free.

    @Steve Meretzky

    “Actually, the contract between Infocom and Douglas gave Infocom the right to create six games WITH OR WITHOUT DOUGLAS’ INVOLVEMENT.”

    So is that contract still in place? That is, does it mean that Activision have the right to make 5 more games based on Douglas Adams’ work?

    My post adds nothing to this. A fascinating story, doubly so with my heroes participating in the conversation. I’m glad this got posted – to all the Infocom folks: Thank You. You all added a lot of happiness to the world. I’m glad Bywater has decided to write an article about it. I remember getting the newsletters, eagerly going through all the extras in the new games, then trying to figure out the actual puzzles while laughing at what you could (or shouldn’t do). You’ve influenced a generation.

    This has been wonderful. I’m another late-30s kid who spent all kinds of time on his Apple IIc playing Infocom games. Still have them on my Mac, too.

    Ken wrote: “So, correct me if I am wrong, but you have a drive, that you should not have in the first place?”

    It’s a 20 year old drive from a 20 year old computer from a company that was acquired by another company that neglected it and later went bankrupt.

    Most likely the computer the drive was in was sold off years and years ago as part of a liquidation, or just to free up some space because they didn’t need the machine. (About ten years ago I worked at a big midwest bank, and there was a stack of obsolete hardware waiting for disposal, six feet tall and twenty feet long. Employees were allowed to scavenge as they pleased. Something similar may have happened with this drive.)

    Many people forget to erase hard drives before disposing of a computer. If it was a Sun server, then it’s possible that they didn’t even know how, and might not have had a compatible monitor or keyboard.

    The point being, at this date it would be exceedingly weird for this hard drive to have been obtained through nefarious means.

    Has anyone got an update for Michael’s promised article? I used to buy the Sindie just for Lost Worlds so I’m looking forward to it…..

    Many thanks to the Implementers. I will always remember Infocom and its games fondly.

    A late find.

    Like someone said above, I still find myself searching for Infocom in Yahoo or Google from time to time.

    I could kick myself for waiting this long.

    As a 14 year old trying to figure out how to play Zork I, I became very resourceful. I don’t think there were any Invisiclues yet. I can remember seeing a hint in Family Computing sent in by a reader at least 2 days ride away. The hint was for the platinum bar. One I had figured out long ago. I fired up the telephone and called information for that area and got every number in that locale for that name. I must’ve made thirty calls before finding the puzzlemaster I was searching. I think I called him at least fifteen times over the next year when I would get stuck helplessly. To him, I apologize for the intrusion.

    I eventually solved Zork I, HHGG, Nord and Bert, and have played countless others. The worst (best) was undeniably Suspended. I cannot tell how many hours was put into that game. I finished (nearly) the entire game with next to no clues. I NEVER, however, got past the acid shower at the end by any means I could see. I would fire that thing up every now and then and RESTORE to give it one more go, but alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

    It has to be said, I cried a little towards the end of this thread. I still cannot figure out why, but to glance at the inner workings of something that was so dear to my childhood was an immensely satisfying experience. This has to be the best thread of comments ever put on the internet and I am humbled to have sipped flat champagne even after all the party guests have stumbled home wine bottle in hand.

    For those of you who wish Infocom was still around, see the above comments about Graham Nelson, Emily Short et. al. I just played Savoir Faire – by Emily and it isn’t nearly as long as some of those old games, but written just as well (if not better).

    Marc and Dave – Thanks for Zork

    Steve – Thanks for HHGG and LGoP

    Mike Berlyn – Thanks for Suspended

    Amy – Call me

    Hm, if Infocom had a contract with Douglas Adams to do six games with or without his involvement, does that mean Activision still has a contract sitting in some file cabinet somewhere givin them the right to put out video games based on HHGTTG? I wonder if they realize that…

    I remember playing the original game when I was just a tad younger than I am now and always wondered what happened to the sequel. Company with problems or no, some of those old Infocom games were just fantastic. There’s a “Best Infocom Game” list over at UnSpun? that ranks them. Hitchhiker’s currently stands at 5.

    I wish I could publish a picture here. It’s Christmas 1987 and I’m proubly holding my new copy of Bureaucracy. Unfortunatly I found Infocomm at the end. I had a pirated version of HHGTTG which never worked, so until WinFrotz I was not able to actually play the game.

    I am generally not a fan of anything, but for some reason what Douglas Adams did and created has affected me for a long time.

    I had a autographed post card from DNA and it was a sad day when one of my kids scribbled on it with a pen.

    I miss the true mental challenge of these text games.

    I would love to see “Restaurant” made into a game.

    Thanks for the article.

    As a 59 year old who can see the big six-oh coming up and feeling nostalgic I typed Infocom into Google and found this amazing thread.

    I still have all my old Infocom boxed games for the Amiga (and the Amiga…). Remember completing Lurking Horror at 4 in the morning a couple of days after Christmas one year, my yell of delight woke the whole house up.

    Just got to add my thanks to all those involved in the Infocom games.

    A few years ago, an emulation enthusiast group called Back To The Roots seemed to acquire permission to redistribute all of the Infocom games in emulatable form for the Amiga.

    Don’t know if the agreement was ever rescinded, but BTTR still has them available, so I assume Activision just allowed them all for download.

    (Of course, they’re in Amiga disk format, but with a little work you can of course extricate the data files if you wanted to)

    It was truly great to read the comments here from all the Infocom folks.

    The Z-code interpreter always filled me with awe (“how on earth could they actually DO that?!”) back then, and to be honest, in many ways it still does. Not to mention how many, many hours of delight I got from the sense of adventure in exploring the Great Underground Empire, and the many, many belly laughs at the humor to be found there and in the other Infocom games.

    I honestly don’t think anybody ever made anything comparable in the way of commercial IF games; the writing and the technical aspects were both utterly brilliant. There are some rare examples of free modern IF that meet or surpass the original Infocom games in quality… but even then, it’s only decades later and in much smaller doses.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you, Infocom folks.

    Holy mother of kittens, this brings back memories. Back in my college days the Infocom games were so beloved that it actually inspired me to author and code my own IF game from scratch (No hard drive, even, I had the compiler in one drive and the data disk in the other. Those were the days!), complete with the same superb command interpreter and devious puzzles and tricks of the Infocom series. I was quite proud of it and I had delusions that I could send it into Infocom and become the next Amy Briggs, BUT then the Grues over at Activision decided to pave Infocom and put up a parking lot. It was a sad end of an era for everyone.

    I salute you Steven, Amy, Brian, and the rest of you imps wherever you are, for you were more then just authors and programmers. Like Elvis and the Beatles were for musicians, you were the shakers and movers of an era for us computer geeks. Oh, and thank you, Andy, for posting this material. I can’t say whether this is or is not proper journalism, but I can say it is proper historical reporting. What you posted, needed to be heard.

    Above all, Rest in Peace, Infocom. You are sorely missed.

    I was pretty sure the Internet Personified could pick a nit over anything. Now I’m positive.

    Regarding this ridiculous “debate” (a term too dignified for this context) about what journalism is and isn’t:

    Consider perhaps that what Mr Baio may mean by “journalist” is rather literal – that he records events for no real personal gain, merely for personal interest; and shares them through the media for others to enjoy or ignore.

    Journalism by occupation only means that the information is presented with the strong intent of being un-analytical. Whether or not you agree that he has succeeded, Mr Baio has made notable ATTEMPT at presenting facts rather than interpreting them.

    The attempt is what is important! If it fails, the journalist is unprofessional. And so what! Amateur is not a dirty word. Mr Baio has made no claim to be anything but an enthusiast. I’d think that by reading this, YOU would be an enthusiast as well, though by some of the posts it is hard to tell!

    I know this is an ancient post, and none of the implementors likely still look at it.

    However, in 1983 I was 13 years old. While waiting for my mother to finish shopping at one of those giant box stores (I think it was “Best”) I came across a TRS-80 with Zork I on it. It took only a few minutes before I was hooked. I had to play more.

    I didn’t have a TRS-80, I had a TI-99; and to play the Infocom games on the TI you had to buy the disk drive… which required you buy the expansion box, and the memory expansion, and several other things to the tune of about 1500 bucks if memory served. Somehow I convinced her to loan me the money, and I left the TI store with all the required hardware and a copy of Enchanter. Over the next few years, I played almost every game released, frequently buying them as soon as they came out.

    I don’t have any of that anymore; in 87 or so we sold the TI and all the games to somebody or other and I was given an IBM-PC.

    I bought all the titles again, for the PC this time, including some titles that I don’t think ever came out for the TI, such as Spellbreaker. I don’t know why I chose to keep the boxes for everything – I typically didn’t – but somehow I knew the Infocom games were special. I still have them, with their delightful instructions with their silly example adventures and the little props in the boxes. I’ll probably always keep them. I bought the Lost Treasures sets when they came out too, just for those few games I hadn’t played yet.

    So – implementors, or at least the ghost of the implementors if they never read this – thank you. Thank you for expanding my horizons. Thank you for giving me a reason to spend my time staring at a screen, for teaching me to type, for giving me a hobby that would eventually become a career. Thank you.

    Yay necroposting. I want to say a few things:

    1) Infocom imps et. al.–Thank you. Thank you for the few gems I have played of yours, and for the many I have yet to start. I look forward to them.

    2) All you people complaining about whether this is legal or not—you read the post in it’s entirety, didn’t you? Why complain about being able to read this, and indeed, having already read it? I definitely understand that this is an invasion of privacy, yadda yadda yadda, but c’mon–the article’s up, we’ve read it, no harm done. 😛

    3) Thanks, Andy, for posting this.

    Obscure Trivia Question:

    Hoping someone here will know the answer to this… who designed the smiling “Don’t Panic” alien that appears on the front cover of the Infocom game? Thanks in advance.

    It was called “The Cosmic Cutie” and was designed and illustrated by Peter Cross. Douglas Adams didn’t like the character, and fought to keep it off future editions of the book. More information, with links, in this Ask Metafilter thread.

    I can’t leave this thread without leaving my thanks as well. I work in the IT industry, and I have to say the entire reason I got into computers at all is because of Zork.

    I begged my parents for a Commodore 64 specifically so I could play Zork on it. I came across a Commodore 64 once in a store with Zork loaded up on it, and stood there for hours playing while my parents shopped. My love for computers was born then because when I was not playing games, I was learning I could about computers, programming, hardware, etc. So I just want to thank all of you so much. You changed my life.

    I still play all the GUE games from time to time. I play other Infocom games periodically as well, but much, much less often than the GUE games (Zork Trilogy, Beyond Zork, Zork Zero, Enchanter Trilogy, and Wishbringer). I haven’t played the Activision Zorks all the way through yet, though. I have them, but it’s just not the same.

    I also have much love for Planetfall and Stationfall. Never have I loved an NPC, nor have I been moved to tears because of an NPC, like with Floyd. What a great couple of games!

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    You bow humbly before the greatness of the Implementers. All is as it should be….


    I just wanted to come in and give a very warm and grateful “Thank you” to who i feel were simply the greatest group of programmers/developers that created some of the best and most influential games i ever had the pleasure to own.

    I was just a child when i first picked up a Infocom title…Zork, I must confess that i was more amazed by the boxart and had little knowledge of what the game was…little did i know that it would keep me fixed to my Commodore 64 trying to solve puzzles with a slowly fading lantern.

    This information regardless of the possible mishandling of it is simply amazing, thank you so much Andy for giving us a small (if incomplete) glimpse into what could’ve been.

    In closing i would like to give a special thanks to Steve Meretzky for all the laughs (and my loss of sanity) he has provided over the years, Superhero League Of Hoboken provided me with a mixture of laughter,confusion,frustration and pure zaniness that is an almost impossible find in gaming nowadays.

    Here’s how I see this. Anyone else, feel free to post a better explanation. In terms of IF, an Easter egg is a secret message, sequence, ending or the like. To uncover an Easter egg, the player must do something which is not required to finish the game normally, and might not even be a useful thing to do. For example, a bad example of an Easter egg would be having a special message appear when the player picks up and drops one particular object twenty times in a row.

    @ Charles Eicher

    I have a incredibly hard time buying that story, here’s why:

    1: Douglas Adams was indeed a computer fanatic but unfortunately for you the computers he owned around that time are well-known…Kaypro was not one of them.

    Douglas Adams first jaunt to California was in 1983 to work on the screenplay to HGTTG which fell through(one year after your supposed ‘sale’)…he bought a DEC Rainbow 100+…when he returned home he bought a Apricot, BBC Micro, Tandy 1000 and a Cambridge Z88.

    In 1984 Douglas bought a Mac and was a Mac user until his death, he was a “Apple Master” or celebrity spokesman for Apple.

    So I’m calling BS on that one, i find it hard to believe that Douglas would forget/fail to mention his first computer or that he would’ve switched out for a Kaypro II, which is what you would’ve been selling at the time…it wouldn’t have been any type of upgrade over a Rainbow 100+ anyways except for it’s awkward portability and i seriously doubt Douglas would give up a CP/M-80, CP/M-86 and MS-DOS system for one that only handled CP/M and SBASIC.

    Lastly, The Kaypro was only in competition with the Osborne really, and Douglas didn’t bother with one of them either, so why own a Kaypro?

    Chances are Douglas came into contact with Infocom products when he owned his DEC Rainbow…so unless you can provide some proof of your wild claims, which is unlikely considering his life is pretty well documented, i would suggest not throwing around such BS claims without some shred of evidence first.

    Hey derekf,

    I did port all the Z-Code version 3 games to the TI-99, even those that Infocom did not release for it. To do it required some fixes in the 99/4A interpreter to handle larger vocabulary tables. On top of that, we even got permission to legally sell the new games for the TI for a brief period many many years back. This was done by buying old original packaging for the PC version of the games, and putting the TI formatted disk inside.

    The caveat for the newer games was the requirement of at least 720K double sided diskettes to hold the larger data, so minimally expanded TI systems might not be able to play them.

    I also had to require the use of a supercart (an extra 8K of RAM sitting in the cartridge space) to get a couple of the games to work (including Leather Goddesses).

    Wow…oh wow…what an absolute treasure trove of love.

    I just wanted to say thank you to all if the people at and around Infocom for starting me off on the right track. I am eternally grateful…and there is no company I’ve ever held higher than Infocom. Many happy memories. Take care!

    Thanks to everyone for your heartfelt comments. This is comment #500, which seems like a good time to close the conversation. Feel free to email or IM me for any reason. (And thanks for all the fish.)

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