Milliways: The Lost Infocom Game

By John Walker on April 18th, 2008 at 10:11 am.

As it happens, I’ve recently been playing some Infocom text adventures. Guess what: Infocom were really rather good. Guess what else: there was one rather significant game they never released. And you can play some of it.

The late, great Mr Adams.

In a remarkable find by waxy.org (linked via the magics of QT3), amongst a complete archive of Infocom’s work is the game Milliways: The Restaurant at the End of the Universe, the unreleased sequel to one of the most famous and adored IF games of all time, Adams’ own Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy. This was discovered on the somehow aquired “complete backup of Infocom’s shared network drive from 1989.”

So head over to Waxy for a stunningly detailed, beautifully researched piece, where Andy Baio pieces together the complete story of this game, via the remarkable archives of emails, design documents, and prototypes found on the drive. It’s a huge piece of work, and tells a fascinating story spread over many years. Read Infocom’s discussions of how to input multiple viewpoints in a text adventure, an outline for the puzzle structure, and the frustrations within the team as the project failed to come together. Quoth:

“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.”

Look, we could quote the entire article here in celebration. But just go read it over there.

Most remarkably, the prototype is available as a Java app to play! It’s a stub, a few rooms, but they’re there and you can play them right now. Andy Baio, we salate you from atop a tall tower.

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14 Comments »

  1. Gloinn says:

    I have so much respect for the Interactive Fiction scene. Today they have surpassed the Infocom standards and 99% of it is free and made by people who just love the format. I myself don’t always have patience for IF but when I do play them the new games they are always excellent. It is also sad how the IF scene has drifted away from the regular gaming scene because it is the most vibrant and original indie gaming scene around.

  2. JJ says:

    Gloinn, could you point in the general direction of some of the better IF that is available for free. I’d like to check it out.

  3. fluffy bunny says:

    An obvious place to start would be http://www.wurb.com/if/ .

    Sort by rating.

    Personally I’d point you in the direction of Photopia, Anchorhead, Vespers, Dangerous Curves and Glowgrass.

    Oh, and for some experimental fun, be sure to check Aisle (http://www.wurb.com/if/game/431).

  4. Mike says:

    That’s a fantastic article. A great piece of research, making good use of an unbelievable find. God knows what else is on there.

  5. JJ says:

    Thanks fluffy! I’ll check those out

  6. Gloinn says:

    JJ: What the bunny said. Photopia is the probably the best start. It’s easy and is a good representative for the new breed of IF.

  7. Richard says:

    9:05 is a nice game too, if you want something with a bit of cleverness you won’t find in most regular games.

    And if you really want to be impressed (even if the game is a bit tricky for absolute newcomers), Spider And Web.

  8. Zuffox says:

    Just need to get something cleared up: It’s a problem for the Qt3 users, when Digg and Kotaku mentions Qt3, but it’s okay for RPS to do it? Because of a good amount of sharp users – and a generally vastly lower user base?

  9. ryan in exile says:

    do we know which implementors are involved?

  10. Will Tomas says:

    It’s a great article, and it’s probably worth checking back on to see the comments if you haven’t already – several of the people involved have since chipped in, which also makes interesting reading.

  11. Dracko says:

    JJ: In general, start with the works of Emily Short, Andrew Plotkin and Adam Cadre. Pick whatever sounds interesting to you among their catalogue.

  12. Janto says:

    It’s been years since I last dabbled with IF, but I had a play around with some of the suggested pieces, and came to a couple of conclusions. One, my brain has turned into mush through the passage of time, but my patience has improved enough not to smash the keyboard, and Two, they’re actually pretty good at evoking emotion. Didn’t go deep into Photopia yet, but I really felt engaged and concerned giving first aid.

  13. inle says:

    Dracko: Absolutely right– the triumvirate of Short/Cadre/Plotkin is always the perfect place to start. They each have several works, many quite meaty, several short and sweet. The games themselves run from intricate “classic Infocom” puzzlers to wildly experimental work. All are original, well-written, thoroughly-coded, smart, and thought-provoking.
    My starting recommendations: Galatea, Shade, and the aforementioned Photopia. For longer, tougher games, try Spider & Web, Varicella, or Savoir Faire.

  14. Cibbuano says:

    I just downloaded Spellcasting 101 – a terrific game! It’s a hybrid IF – static images, a little GUI, but it’s easiest playing in all text. It’s a raunchy game, too, with loads of offbeat humour.

    You can download it from Abandonia and play it in Ubuntu with dosbox – genius!