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Tuesday, December 19, 2000
 
A History of Infocom
12:25 PM | Tom Bridge | Comment on this story

Well before graphics-based arcade games such as Dark Castle stole gamer's hearts, the text-based adventure game fascinated those who were first to treat the computer as an entertainment device. Infocom was the definitive master of these games, producing such wonders as the Zork series, Wishbringer (the first game I ever won!) and Planetfall. Recently, some students at MIT wrote their thesis paper on the rise and fall of Infocom, entitled "Down From the Top of Its Game: The Story of Infocom, Inc.". This well-written piece is an in-depth look at the origins of one of the very first game companies, their meteoric rise to popularity, and their descent into debt, gloom, and finally, death. Here is an excerpt:

Even in 1985, many employees had hopes that the company would succeed. “It was clear that we had problems,” said Ilson. “It was not clear that we weren’t going to surmount them.” However, to make their financial situation even worse, in 1985 the Bank of Boston cut back on the credit line of every high-tech company in which they had invested and called in Infocom’s loan. Said Dornbrook, “They bounced checks to get our attention. They didn’t even give us a
phone call!”

To raise money, Infocom employees decided to buy stock options in their company, putting up their own houses as collateral. “The bank was so embarrassed…that they put up additional $500,000 credit,” said Dornbrook.

Authors Hector Briceno, Wesley Chao, Andrew Glenn, Stanley Hu, Ashwin Krishnamurthy, and Bruce Tsuchida deserve nothing but the highest praise for their writing ability, depth of research and reasoning, and above all sentiment. As someone who did cry at Floyd's death in Planetfall, I can only say how thrilled I was to read such an insightful piece of work. Although many of Infocom's games we released long ago, we're sure some of you out there remember those black screens with lines of white text, and only your imagination to fill in the blanks. The thesis can be downloaded in PDF format, readable with Adobe Acrobat Reader. The games themselves are available as a collection called Lost Treasures of Infocom, which you might be able to find on E-bay, if you're lucky; they still run on current Macs, believe it or not.

Infocom Thesis Mention on Slashdot
Down From the Top of Its Game (pdf)


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