Memos from Digital Antiquarian Corporate Headquarters

21 Nov

From the Publications Department:

I’m pleased to say that the latest edition of the ebook series collecting the articles published here is now available. Volume 11 centers roughly on the year 1989. (Yes, this means we are now moving into the 1990s, which is quite a milestone. Little did I imagine this blog would turn into what it has when I started it five and a half years ago.) As always, we owe big thanks to Richard Lindner for putting these together.

From the Quality Control Department:

As anyone who’s delved seriously into the history of computer games and videogames will attest, concrete sales numbers were closely-held secrets back in the day and can still be damnably difficult to dig up today. Given that, I’m sometimes forced to make surmises based on the preponderance of the evidence. And, inevitably, sometimes those surmises turn out to be wrong.

Some time ago, I credited SSI’s Pool of Radiance, which I know sold precisely 264,536 copies thanks to internal sales figures found in the SSI archive at the Strong Museum of Play, as the best-selling single CRPG of the 1980s. Well, I recently found — in the March 1991 issue of Questbusters of all places — some official Electronic Arts figures for the first Bard’s Tale game: a very impressive 407,000 copies sold. This of course means that it easily eclipses Pool of Radiance for the title of best-selling (Western) CRPG of the 1980s. I’ve changed my articles dealing with Pool of Radiance and the Bard’s Tale series to reflect this, as credit is certainly owed where it’s due; Volume 8 (1986) and Volume 10 (1988) of the ebooks have also been updated. My thanks to my fellow historian Alex Smith, who tried to get me to look at this question again back when I first made the claim in my Pool of Radiance article. You were right to be skeptical, Alex.

From the Referrals Department:

As long as we’re on the subject of CRPGs, I’d like to pass along a recommendation for a tool that I’ve really come to love. I’ve spent a lot of time in the past searching for an alternative to graph paper and a pencil when it comes to mapping old-school dungeons. Everything I came across was either too sketchy or way too over-the-top, designed for making elaborate decorative maps for tabletop RPGs rather than mapping as you go from a computer game. But at last some months ago I found just what I was looking for: Grid Cartographer by David Walters. It’s not often I see such a polished and usable application in such a niche area as this. You do have to pay for the full version, but I’ve found it to be well worth it. I have no affiliation with David and have never even corresponded with him; I’m just a happy customer passing along a recommendation. I’ve long since come to suspect that many of you love old-school CRPGs much more than I do (it tends to be a genre, as many of you know, that tries my patience pretty quickly these days). You will doubtless be able to get even more use out of Grid Cartographer than I have.

And for text-adventure mapping, of course, there’s Trizbort, which is totally free and open source. I can hardly express how much more playable both tools make the moldy oldies in their respective genres.

From the Planning Department:

To wet your whistle, here’s a quick look at what you can expect in the months to come; those of you who prefer to be totally surprised by each new article will want to jump down to the next heading now. In other words, spoiler alert!

We’re entering another of those periods of transition where many publishers and developers fall by the wayside. So, after we finish the series we started on Friday, we’ll start a new series writing the last word about some companies who have been with us for quite a while, but who, alas, won’t be with us any longer. Lest that sound too depressing, know that the stories of these deaths manage to cover a huge amount of interesting ground, including patents from hell, the first color handheld videogame console, more early experiment with CD-ROM and full-motion video, and even more nefarious deeds by our favorite villain around these parts, Jack Tramiel. Death, so the philosophers tell us, begets life, so after that we’ll look at the birth of Legend Entertainment, the heir to Infocom (another recently deceased company of the 1980s, come to think of it). Speaking of which: we’ll stop by the amateur text-adventure scene to cover the early history of TADS, the first freely distributed development system capable of making adventure games as polished and complex as those of Infocom. Then an examination of early academic experiments with hypertext fiction, especially Michael Joyce’s afternoon, a story. Next we turn to Lucasfilm Games (soon to become LucasArts), who truly came into their own as adventure developers in 1990 with not one but two of the genre’s stone-cold classics. We’ll check in with Sid Meier, who also published two games in 1990, one an immensely influential strategy classic, the other… well, not so much. But both are very instructional. Then more on SSI and their coveted Dungeons & Dragons license, an interesting experiment in accessible family-oriented multi-player gaming from Sierra, and a visit to Origin for Ultima VI and another era-defining game that, improbably, actually became even more popular than that latest installment in Richard Garriott’s seminal CRPG series. Somewhere in there we’ll also take time out for a technical article on the much-ridiculed 640 K limitation of MS-DOS and how developers finally got around it. (Did Bill Gates really say, “640 K should be enough for anyone?” Stay tuned to find out!)

Whew! I know I’m excited, and I hope you are too. Which brings me to…

From the Accounting Department:

No one has ever tried to write a history of these topics of the scope and depth of the one I’m attempting. To continue to do so, I continue to need your support. To keep this site clean and fast-loading and to protect my neutrality and your privacy, I keep it ad-free. But that does mean that you’re all I’ve got when it comes to financial support. If you’re already a supporter, my heartfelt thanks. If not, and if you’re a regular reader who’s come to value what I do here, please do think about pitching in with a one-time donation (see the button to the right) or, even better, by becoming a Patreon patron at whatever level you can easily afford and that feels right to you. As I’ve said before, for the cost of a good cup of coffee each month you can make a material difference to the cause of serious gaming history, and ensure that you have an entertaining, interesting new article to read (almost) every Friday as well for years to come.

Speaking of which: see you this Friday with the next installment in the ongoing saga of Mick Mannock. Thanks for being the best readers anywhere!

(UPDATE, November 28 2016: As Leigh points out in the comments below, I accidentally left an article out of the new ebook. This has now been corrected, so you’ll likely want to download that volume again if you want to read about Arthur: The Quest for Excalibur offline.)


17 Responses to Memos from Digital Antiquarian Corporate Headquarters

  1. lint

    November 21, 2016 at 2:12 pm

    You are an absolute machine. Keep up the incredible work!

  2. ZUrlocker

    November 21, 2016 at 2:26 pm

    Thanks for all the updates. I’m very interested to see where the blog goes, especially around topics like TADS, Inform and the amateur IF scene. BTW, if you ever want to package up all the Infocom related stories in one eBook (or printed book), I would gladly make a donation for that. (Or Adventure + Infocom + other traditional text-based works.) Happy thanksgiving, if that’s still a thing for you, or whatever the equivalent is in Norway.

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 21, 2016 at 2:51 pm

      I have had some other inquiries about such a book, but I’m more inclined to make it into a “real” book rather than a collection of blog articles, especially since I’ve since gotten access to a lot more material than I had when writing the early articles. Problem is, I don’t feel *quite* like I’ve told the whole story here yet. I think the ideal place to end would be with the publication of the Lost Treasures compilations in 1992, which played a big part in the formation of the modern IF community. It’s really from there that Infocom’s hallowed reputation can be dated. In the few years after the shutdown, they were really just regarded as another failed developer who didn’t keep up with the times. And it’s certainly a better note to go out on than “turn out the lights, we’re done here.”

      And thanks — although we’ve actually been in Denmark since 2013. ;) Nothing much happening for Thanksgiving this year. Normally we go home (well, to my old home) for Thanksgiving, but we’re going home for Christmas this year instead.

      • ZUrlocker

        November 21, 2016 at 7:29 pm

        Makes sense. I would love to see a full book on the story of Infocom right through to Lost Treasures. Heaven knows there’s been a ton of stuff that’s been posted on the Internet Archives including design documents, corporate memos, sales data, photos, etc that might yield some interesting findings.

        At any rate, if you decide to do something in that area, let us know. I would sign up as backer #1 on kickstarter or however you chose to do it.

        There’s a guy in Vancouver, Rick Thornquist, who has apparently been working on an Infocom coffee table book since 2009, but it seems to always be “just around the corner.”

        • ZUrlocker

          November 21, 2016 at 7:36 pm

          Um, on second thought, I meant to put Rick’s name but not his email address in the above post, if you can edit that.
          Sorry for the inconvenience.

          • Jimmy Maher

            November 21, 2016 at 7:39 pm


        • Chris

          December 19, 2016 at 2:58 am

          I’m just another speck on sand on the beach, but I want to add my voice to the chorus of those who would be interested in a real (paper) book featuring content from this incredible website.

  3. Eric Lundquist

    November 21, 2016 at 2:50 pm

    “A quick look at what we can expect”

    • Jimmy Maher

      November 21, 2016 at 2:53 pm

      If you excepted all of that, there’d really be no point in coming to the site at all, would there? Thanks!

  4. Ricky Derocher

    November 21, 2016 at 7:29 pm

    Looks like some great stuff ahead! – I’m looking forward to it! :-)

  5. Lisa H.

    November 21, 2016 at 8:58 pm

    Re: Trizbort, personally I use this fork since it’s still getting updated, and I think it fixed a couple of things that annoyed me in the “master” Trizbort (although exactly what those are escapes my mind at the moment).

  6. Rubes

    November 25, 2016 at 3:44 pm

    Fantastic stuff. Really looking forward to the items to come. And I second ZUrlocker’s thoughts…I’d Kickstart the heck out of that. Keep up the great work.

  7. Leigh

    November 27, 2016 at 4:45 am


    In regards to this … “I’ve changed my articles dealing with Pool of Radiance and the Bard’s Tale series to reflect this, as credit is certainly owed where it’s due”… have the ebooks been updated, and if so, which volumes?


  8. Leigh

    November 27, 2016 at 4:59 am


    It looks like the article on Infocom’s Arthur was omitted from Volume 11… is that intentional?


    • Jimmy Maher

      November 27, 2016 at 4:35 pm

      No, the article was left out by mistake — my mistake and not Richard’s, I should hasten to add. I’ve asked Richard to recreate the ebooks, and will let you know when it’s done. Sorry and thanks for pointing it out!

      On the other issue, loathe as I am in general to start chasing my tail with the ebooks, it is a fairly significant factual correction, so in this case I’ll see how much trouble it would be to have volume 8 (1986) and volume 10 (1988) recreated.

      • Jimmy Maher

        November 28, 2016 at 12:53 pm

        Okay, corrected versions of Volumes 8, 10, and 11 have been uploaded.

        • Leigh

          November 29, 2016 at 4:12 am

          Awesome, thanks so much for fixing them so quickly!


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