Sunday, April 8, 2012

Cover to Cover: Infocom 1987 Catalog (pp. 17-18)

We've reached the end of another Cover to Cover pagethrough series, as we wrap up the 1987 catalog from interactive fiction pioneer Infocom.  The company had been acquired by Activision at this time and would soon be pressured to include graphics in its future and final products; in some ways this feels like the last of the "old" Infocom era.  The last two pages feature support for frustrated adventurers and faithful fans alike.

Page 17 promotes the legendary Invisiclues -- sold separately, these packages included full maps and hint books, with clues printed in invisible ink that could be developed with a special marker.  Infocom's hint design originated with an unofficial adjunct called the Zork Users Group, and was eventually made part of the company.  The concept worked very well -- ideas and suggestions were revealed gradually, and red herrings were included among the questions, so players could get themselves unstuck without cheating themselves completely out of those memorable "Eureka!" moments:

Infocom also published a promotional quarterly newsletter called The Status Line (originally The New Zork Times) which included news, hints, and behind-the-scenes articles.  It was provided free to people who registered their Infocom games and was always an entertaining read.

And that's it for this trip down memory lane.  These old catalogs fascinate me because they capture moments in time -- the games that were being promoted in this printing, and moreover the games that were not, say something about the state of Infocom and the text adventure genre in 1987.  In the digital distribution era, games need not go "out of print," but physical production concerns and sales to date likely account for the absence in these pages of Cutthroats, Seastalker, Suspended, Starcross and other Infocom titles of the early-to-mid-1980s.

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