Thursday, November 7, 2013

"WOULD YOU SHELL OUT $1000 TO MATCH WITS WITH THIS?", 1983.

The number of "killer apps" is necessarily small -- there are a lot of great games out there, but how many of them will inspire you to drop the money not only on a game, but on the machine needed to play it? Indeed, Space Invaders moved a lot of Atari 2600s, Donkey Kong moved a lot of ColecoVisions, Tetris moved a lot of Game Boys, Sonic moved a lot of Genesises (Genesii?), Final Fantasy VII moved a lot of PlayStations, Grand Theft Auto III moved a lot of PlayStation 2s and Halo moved a lot of Xboxes. (No, thank you, Wikipedia.) But it's a bold move to pitch your games as the ones justifying the purchase of a machine. Still, Infocom could hedge their bets -- with all the gutless microcomputers supported by their platform-independent Z-machine, they really didn't care that you bought a particular computer as long as you had some kind (while most of those games above were, at least for a time, platform exclusives -- practically the opposite state of affairs.) And the challenge -- buy a computer to play our games on -- lowers the ante when the ads are run in computer magazines, which are after all read primarily by individuals already owning computers or at least planning on purchasing one.
WOULD YOU SHELL OUT $1000 TO MATCH WITS WITH THIS?

Meet your match. Meet Infocom games: perhaps the best reason in software for owning a personal computer.

In fact, people have been known to purchase computers and disk drives solely for the purpose of playing our games. And they haven't been disappointed. Because Infocom 's prose stimulates your imagination to a degree nothing else in software approaches.

Instead of putting funny little creatures on your screen, we put you inside our stories. And we confront you with startlingly realistic environments alive with situations, personalities, and logical puzzles the like of which you won't find elsewhere. The secret? We've found the way to plug our prose right into your imagination, and catapult you into a whole new dimension.

If you think such an extraordinary experience is worth having, you're not alone. Everything we've ever written - ZORK I, II, and III, DEADLINE, STARCROSS, SUSPENDED, THE WITNESS, PLANETFALL, ENCHANTER and INFIDEL - has become an instant bestseller. For the simple reason that Infocom offers you something as rare and valuable as anything in software — real entertainment.

At last, you can fritter away your evenings playing a computer game without feeling like you're frittering away your computer investment.

Step up to Infocom. All words. No pictures. The secret reaches of your mind are beckoning. A whole new dimension is in there waiting for you.

Infocom - The next dimension.

Funny how I was just referencing my past life in the field of ANSI art, as this seems to fall in neatly with that defunct world. It must pre-date ANSI art on PCs (which can't pre-date the EGA graphics standard, needing its sixteen foreground colours!) I dig the big monkey hands and the relatively swelling biceps on toothpick arms. But because every fight has a mental component, we see also the rays of intellect emanating from our foe's impassive head. It remains an intriguing character, though admittedly not $1000 interesting.

Infocom doesn't note that their game development pre-dates the home computer revolution, and their PDP-10 Zork might have been billed "the best reason to own a minicomputer"! I like the specificity -- to play our games, "people have been known to purchase computers and disk drives". Because unlike a Scott Adams text adventure, that would be a lot of source code to type in from a printout. (And while Scott's games were available as cartridges on selected machines, I don't know that Infocom's ever were! I don't even see any cassette tapes!)

"They haven't been disappointed." I know that Douglas Adams bought the first two Apple Macintosh computers in the UK (Stephen Fry bought the third!) and I am given to understand that he spent a lot of time listening to book deadlines whooshing by overhead while playing Infocom games, hence the cameo of "Dork 1" on the user's Boysenberry computer in his later Bureaucracy game. Later publishers would circumvent this problem by kidnapping him and locking him in a hotel room with a typewriter. But I digress.)

I think that Planetfall's Floyd might well qualify as a "funny little creature" on your screen, despite being bereft of a cute animated sprite (though... they were working on it!) I don't know if the Hitch Hiker's Guide game could be described as "startlingly realistic", though it's very much true that it includes situations and logical puzzles I would not find elsewhere.

I'm not sure that any game, really, could justify a computer investment, regardless of how much entertainment value you got from it -- computers are still expensive, and $1000 dollars in 1983 (that's $2,350.89 today!) seems quite pricey compared to, well, season's tickets to any sport or symphony. Word processing and spreadsheets were the tools that sold computers, and Infocom was acutely aware of it -- alas for their ill-fated expensive development of the Cornerstone spreadsheet.