How far should we *hack* the original Infocom games?

One that I’ve been discussing with @kamineko on Twitter.

We have the tools, we have the knowledge, now have far is “ok” to go with this?

In addition to bug fixes and some basic play enhancements such as extra resources in Journey, what about coding new storylines or even editing out scenes & descriptions that don’t sit well with modern sensibilities?

That’s a link to our poll on Twitter.

Interested to hear what people say about this.



I’m not a fan of this tendency. It didn’t sit well with me when “they” (whoever they are) rewrote Huckleberry Finn to take out the racist language. I understand the impulse to do so, but written works are a product of their times and rewriting them, even to make them more palatable to an audience that may be hurt by the language, is something akin to book burning to me.


New versions are unlikely to displace the originals so I’d argue that you should hack them for as long as you’re having fun hacking them.


I tend to agree. But then I try to challenge my thinking on this, I’ve been lucky enough never to be the subject of any *isms or *ist language; so it’s hard for me to walk in those shoes and understand how nice it would be to read without coming across that sort of language.


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I’ll expand what I said on Twitter: you can do this, but you’re not doing it for a modern gaming audience. You’re doing it for yourself and a small group of people who are interested in IF design theory.

It’s a good exercise. Make as many versions as you want. (No good comes from treating the original versions as holy texts.) But an exercise is what it is.


I’m female, so of course I’ve read/seen a lot of offensive crap in all media (especially games), and yeah, it bugs me sometimes. Although you may not feel exactly the same visceral discomfort I do when confronted with egregious sexism, I get a feeling that you do feel it and empathize with the targets. And that does give your opinion weight, IMO.

And I’m glad that culturally, we’ve come a long way in recognizing that our audience will be made up of people of all kinds, and that we should try not to be exclusionary.

But in existing, older work, it is what it is. It will stand the test of time (like Huck Finn) or it will not.

And that said, I don’t think you’re advocating replacing or censoring those games, so I am softening my initial reply to “Whatever makes you happy.”


At this late date I’d guess that the set of people who decide they want to play e.g. Enchanter are doing so primarily out of a desire to play Enchanter - like, as it was designed, released, and played. I suppose I could see some minor utility in doing stuff like adding X as a shortcut for examine (some of the earliest Infocom games didn’t have this, right?) but otherwise I have a hard time seeing who bigger tweaks would be for.

Of course if you do have a specific sense of who that audience would be, that’s great! But I’m a little stymied.


Interesting, and likely accurate, but do you mean the source of why I’d be doing this (my own desire to hack vs altruism) or that the modern gaming audience just isn’t there (they are off playing Fortnite)? :slightly_smiling_face:

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In short, yes :slightly_smiling_face: I’m interested in the conversation and to dig into it more in terms of how people would feel and what they feel would be beneficial vs just an exercise in hacking (which is also to @zarf’s point).

That said I do wince when I read certain descriptions as you rightly said, and I genuinely wonder how editing a single paragraph or description would re-frame the overall game. :slightly_smiling_face:


Great responses everyone, thanks for your feedback! Off to bed now (it’s 1am) so I won’t reply any further for a bit! :+1:


I’d be far more interested to see new games that riff on the old classics than tinkering with said classics. The recent movement toward building a Deadline sequel and completing Milliways (as well as games like Gruesome) seem like more enriching prospects.


Thanks, yes, you and me both! :smiley::+1:


The latter. A new version of an Infocom game will not attract a significant number of new players, no matter what you do to it.


I would embed Fortnite in it as an Easter egg.



Have I been summoned? I was one of the “bug fixes only” people, but honestly I’m not particularly enthusiastic about that.

Hello, I will be this thread’s crank for the evening. :stuck_out_tongue_winking_eye:

It is a commonplace to say that games are an art form, that games are art, but hardly anyone says what they think that means. How, generally speaking, do art lovers treat art? How do film buffs treat film? How do lit people treat lit? How do these people expect the objects of their affection to be treated?

Existentially, when I say that a game is art, I am also saying that I will behave as if it is art. Like Amanda says, I probably will not sanitize the text of The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn if I think it is art. A person who restores a precious painting will attempt to remove the ravages of age, but they will not set out to correct the artist’s “mistakes.” I see Zarf invoking the term “holy texts,” but really–trying to follow this art thing through to the end–we ought rather call them canonical. Zork is a canonical work–both in terms of IF as well as in terms of gaming history generally.

John Donne is hard to read, but John Donne scholars don’t rewrite his poems to make them more conveniently read. They do other things, like add annotations and critical essays. Staying just within the games field, we see remakes and remasters. Remakes are treated as separate works, so there is no real problem there. Remasters are usually technological updates (resolution, support for new control schemes, surround sound, etc.). There isn’t a good one-to-one relationship between remasters and IF unless we arrive at a new paradigm for parser presentation, so looking to other media for ideas makes sense.

I even think the bugs are probably ok. There are errors in the various versions of Shakespeare. When they are corrected, there is an annotation that identifies the correction. Or the errors are printed as-is with an annotation identifying the error. Likewise, Infocom bugs are well-documented by Nathan Simpson and Graeme Cree and to me are just another part of experiencing the various versions of the games–which we are lucky enough to have access to! I love spotting both a living and a dead Ms. Dunbar running around. That’s the game (Deadline versions 18-21) as it shipped at a certain point in time.

I could get behind someone doing an “annotated and revised” Zork. That’s what happens with canonical texts.

Now: I’m not the Infocom police, everybody can and should do whatever they like. If I want to sit down and rewrite all of Shakespeare’s sonnets in my notebook, that’s my business. But I do hope such projects avoid terms like “improved”.

Like Jim, I’d rather see new games with Infocom sources of inspiration, and I also think that Milliways is fair game.

I do feel differently about special releases for screen reader compatibility. Some games (Seastalker is a major offender) are simply unplayable as-is. I am generally in favor of increasing/maximizing accessibility.

Thanks for your patience! I’m off to yell at clouds again.


A similar thing happened a year or so ago, the Call of Duty website Pawn Takes Pawn had challenges on specific to Zork I and they needed to actually play it to pass! Fun days!


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Are you able to give specifics? I’ve heard people report issues with Seastalker but when we try to list them their memories fail them :sweat_smile: If we had a list we could try and sort the issues out.


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But Beowulf scholars sure do.

(Rewrite Beowulf, I mean.) And similarly Chaucer scholars, etc.

Now, you can try to argue about whether 1980s parser IF is more like Old English, Middle English, or Elizabethan Modern English. But the analogy is going to be pretty loose whichever way you cut it. :)


This seems to be nonsensical in the extreme. One, if you “code new storylines” you’re just writing fanfic.

Two, the number of people with “modern sensibilities” who simultaneously have the patience and desire to play an antique game that constantly tries to kill you and has no graphics and requires extensive typing to play is probably close to zero.

If you want to improve playability (i.e. add “x” for examine) or rejigger the fonts for better visibility or whatever, go for it. Otherwise, you’re just working on earning your 1984 Orwell badge.


I don’t think anyone has mentioned this thread, where a newcomer asked for a version of Zork without inventory limit, and some kind soul hacked together a new version for them.

In a way, the purist in me gets upset by this in almost the same way people get upset by the revised Huckleberry Finn. A large part of the challenge of the original game was the inventory management, and if you don’t like that, perhaps you should just play a different game.

At the same time, I have no problem with the way modern interpreters “remaster” the Infocom games by giving them high-resolution text, scrollback, resizable windows and so on, which also completely changes the experience of playing them.