Subject: Re: announcing a
new research paper about Infocom
Author: Dennis G. Jerz
I strongly recommend this paper, which was apparently submitted Friday for course at MIT called "Structure of Engineering Revolutions." The authors have sorted through much of the archived articles on Infocom history, and supplemented their work with new interviews with former Infocom employees. If you don't have time to read all 50 pages, at least read the four-page conclusion.
The authors quote Infocom employee Dan Horn:
The reason that text adventure isn't alive anymore is that the technology to present visual representations of a story advanced very quickly. Some companies picked upon on that but you'd notice that the reality of gaming is now EverQuest -- massive multiplayer, real time, online, and graphically amazing. This is the market that Infocom was destined to own but let slip through their fingers because of bad business decisions. Imagine if you will Sorceror, Planetfall, and Deadline with the EverQuest engine, amazing... but lost forever.
Apart from a reference to "Larry Nevin" for "Larry Niven" (p. 21), the whole thing is well-written, pulling together images and referring to articles that you might have glanced through in the if archive once upon a time, but which you didn't have time to sift an analyze. It's nice to have somebody else do all that work for you.
Also of note is the argument
that Infocom's demise was due to a large number of factors, not just the company's
effort to divert resources away from a thriving IF production and marketing
machine into the development of a new relational database that was supposed
to compete with dBASE.
Graham Nelson's "A short history of interactive fiction" begins with the disarmingly humble statement that "The history of interactive fiction has yet to be written."
But Briceno, Chao, Glenn, Hu, Krishnamurthy, and Tsuchida have made a whopping step towards writing the Infocom chapter. (I'd have asked for more close readings of early, middle and late Infocom games, in order to provide support for a side argument about innovation -- and the stagnation thereof-- in the creation of Infocom titles... but since the course had a business/entrepreneurial focus, rather than a literary history focus, their emphasis is understandable.)
Here's hoping you get the "A", friends!
Dennis G. Jerz, Ph.D.; (715)8361431
Dept. of English; U Wisc.-Eau Claire
419 Hibbard, Eau Claire, WI 54702
Literacy Weblog: www.uwec.edu/jerzdg
Subject: URL of Infocom report
(was Re: The Future of Text Adventures II)
Author: Ville Lavonius
In rec.games.int-fiction Dennis G. Jerz wrote:
> The recent MIT student report on Infocom has much to say about that
> particular company's demise:
It's located at a new URL these days:
And yeah, at least the abridged version should be considered mandatory reading for all newgroup readers...
by tvgunn on Tuesday December 19, @08:52AM EST (#31)
(User #265131 Info)
Drat, only 100 can read this paper at a time. Perhaps slashdot should warn sites before they are the subject of a story. it would be nice to have this paper on a few mirror sites.
It's long been held that what killed Infocom was their work on Cornerstone, their relational database which used their parsing technology to make a nice user-friendly interface. They sunk a lot of money into it, only to have it flounder in the face of dBase and the rise of SQL, which made their own non-SQL interface somewhat moot. But this paper goes further into detail, about the mistakes Infocom made that *were* within their control. The two-culture phenomenon was evidently really pronounced. It's a good read for any programmers who have to deal with business types and vice versa, if only as a cautionary tale.
Contemporary history of modern institutions and corporations is important. Just as we can learn a great deal about the politics and economics of previous centuries by studying the books of the East India Company or Lloyd's of London, histories like this will preserve the details of this time. This is especially important as we turn a new millennium, as many of our documents are now electronic and ephemeral. If somebody doesn't jump in and preserve this stuff, it'll be lost forever. And make no mistake, Infocom was a VERY important company in the early history of computer games. Believe me, people will be reading this document 300 years from now.
From: Mike Dornbrook
Date: Fri, 15 Dec 2000 18:19:23 -0500
Subject: RE: Infocom report
To all who couldn't make it to the presentation,
You would have been very impressed. As you can tell by looking at their report, they did a *lot* of research, and made some very astute observations. The powerpoint presentation was among the best I've ever seen (it even included the video from the CBS Morning News broadcast with Marc).
But they also did an awesome job of their personal presentation, down to details such as half wearing Hawaiian shirts, and half wearing suits.
We would have been proud to have these guys working for us at Infocom.
Date: Sat, 16 Dec 2000 17:01:53 -0500
Subject: RE: Infocom report
I want to second Mike's assessment of the report and presentation! I didn't see anything significant with which to disagree. I hope the team will consider creating a paper for publication since I believe many of the business lessons are applicable to many high technology companies today.
From: David Lebling
Date: Mon, 18 Dec 2000 09:45:40 -0500
Subject: Re: Infocom report
A very impressive work. I think this is by far the best "business" history of Infocom I've encountered. You are to be congratulated. I would strongly advise you to make it available to the wider community (either as a paper, as John Brackett suggested, or on some of the Infocom-related websites). There's a lot of wisdom and truth in there that the business community and the InfoFan community would benefit from.
From: Stephen van Egmond
Date: Sat, 16 Dec 2000 17:36:25 -0500
Subject: Re: Infocom report
Thank you very much for the information! Do you mind if I archive your reports with the FAQ on my own web server? It's fascinating reading, and I'm only a few pages in to the first PDF.
From: Stefan Meier
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000 10:32:40 +0100
Subject: Thank you!
just wanted sending you a BIG Thank you for your Infocom paper. It is
certainly one of the most interesting i.f. related articles I read.
Thanks for all your work.
Merry Christmas and A Happy New Year to all of you,
MAGNETIC SCROLLS MEMORIAL http://www.if-legends.org/~msmemorial/
Stefan Meier firstname.lastname@example.org
Member of IF-LEGENDS.ORG A world of legendary storytellers
From: John Colagioia
Date: Tue, 19 Dec 2000 15:25:03 -0500
Subject: "Down From the Top of Its Game"
First, I wanted to congratulate you all on an excellent paper, and topical as well, to me. I am an adjunct professor at Polytechnic University, and I tend to use Infocom's work as an example in many arenas. You have managed to squeeze an incredible amount of fascinating information into your work--this was probably the best read I have seen in many years.
From: Richard G. Sigler
Date: Sat, 30 Dec 2000 12:01:31 -0500
Subject: Great Report!!
Just wanted to thank you folks for putting together such a detailed report on Infocom. Very well done. I enjoyed it!
Yours, Rich Sigler
From: Michael Feir
Date: Wed, 31 Jan 2001 13:23:43 -0500
Subject: greetings from Audyssey
Hello to all of you. I'm the editor of Audyssey, an E-mail magazine which discusses games accessible to the blind. Interactive fiction has long been a popular form of entertainment for blind computer users, and is extensively discussed in the magazine and the discussion list.
I would like to extend my personal thanks to you for doing such an excellent job of exploring Infocom's success and failure. I've always wanted to better understand what exactly happened to Infocom. Thanks to your efforts, I do now. You have presented your findings in a very understandable and enjoyable way even for us folks who are not typically interested in business concerns. I will be publishing the URL of your site in the 26th issue of Audyssey due out later today. Thank goodness somebody on rec.games.int-fiction informed us of your new URL. It will doubtless be visited by many of my readers.
Editor of Audyssey