How would you introduce Infocom Games to a novice?

I have not played most of the games in the Infocom catalog. I’ve started Zork I a few times and made some progress. The only game I recall playing to completion is Wishbringer.

I just found this thread from a Google groups archive of where Greg McElhatton lists:

Witness (ok, it wasn’t, but it should have been;
Infocom even admitted it.)

Lurking Horror
Witness (SNORT)
Stationfall (???) (Maybe Advanced)
Zork I
Plundered Hearts
Hollywood Hijinx
Border Zone (???)
Nord and Bert

Zork II
A Mind Forever Voyaging
Beyond Zork
Zork Zero

Zork III

I think that’s accurate.

As a relatively inexperienced player who jumped from playing a handful of games to an exploration of authoring, I want to increase my overall play count and experience with games considered canon. I wonder how experienced players who have finished most (if not all) of the catalog would introduce the games to a novice. Would you suggest a “play by order of difficulty” strategy?


I usually say Wishbringer, then Enchanter. Though for Wishbringer you do have to map the path right at the beginning, which is kind of obnoxious when the rest of the map is intuitive (especially with the feelie map). I wouldn’t recommend Seastalker to beginners or experts. For completionists only, IMO. If you beat those (or others of your choice), make a thread or bump this one for more suggestions and conversation!

Random thoughts on the list:
The list is Infocom’s classifications, right?

Witness is easier than either, but I don’t think it’s very good.

I wouldn’t call Zork III Expert or Sorcerer advanced. Suspect is harder than Deadline to me, but that might be because it’s less interesting. AMFV and Infidel are probably not Advanced.

In fairness, some of this stuff is probably easier to see now that the catalog is complete. Hindsight, etc.

After you finish playing a game, you might enjoy checking out Jimmy Maher’s blog (or mine) for further discussion.


Thanks @kamineko! It has been quite some time since I played Wishbringer, so I might play it again and proceed through the list roughly in this order. I think the thread mentioned that this was Infocom’s classification system.

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Oh, @kamineko, I just checked out your profile. I stumbled upon the Gold Microphone podcast a few weeks ago! I haven’t started listening yet, but I plan to listen as I play through the games.


That’s great! Hope you enjoy it. We’ve been on hiatus while Callie completed her dissertation, but we’ll be releasing a new episode (Ballyhoo) soon.

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Difficulty level is very subjective. I never solved any of the Zork games completely without hints, despite I am an experienced player. On the other hand I solved Suspended on the hard setting in 14 days without hints.

Zork is difficult because of mapping. After Wishbringer I would propose Planetfall but expect to use hints or even a walkthrough once in a while if the purpose is to learn. No one will give you a medal for completing without hints anyway :slight_smile: However, you can also use hints/walkthroughs too much. Once you get started, it can be difficult to let go of the walkthrough, which is why I made a rule for myself: If I am stuck I must sleep on it and try again before resorting to the hints/walkthrough.

However, it also depends on the game - if the game isn’t much about puzzles I might break that rule, especially during IFComp due to the two-hour limit.


Wait… there are no medals? Never mind, then. (Just kidding)

Thanks for adding your perspective @Denk. I agree:


I also decided I wanted to bone up on the Infocom games a few years ago, largely occasioned by reading Jimmy Maher’s excellent blog series. I didn’t take any kind of systematic approach beyond just following what interested me, but I’m a reasonably experienced player (I still found many of the games hard!) But having done that, here are some thoughts:

First, I wouldn’t feel like you need to be comprehensive just for the sake of it. Infocom made a lot of games and some are going to appeal more or less to you, and some are just much better than others. There’s such a long list of “canonical” IF that nobody (except maybe @mathbrush) can claim to have played it all - so don’t feel bad about skipping something if you’re not feeling it.

Second, I’d start with some combination of Wishbringer, Plundered Hearts, and Lurking Horror, which I think hit a sweet spot of being reasonably-tuned difficulty-wise while having fun, genre-appropriate stories (Wishbringer is often positioned as the very first game you should try, but I found it does have some tricky bits and the design sorta punishes you for using your cool powers - personally I’d lead with Plundered Hearts which is similarly a gentle introduction but doesn’t have those issues).

Then I’d do the Enchanter trilogy next - Enchanter isn’t too bad difficulty-wise and has a classic setup, and it’ll prepare you for the other games in the series which take reasonably different approaches to the concept (though I don’t think they’re as strong). I’d try not to go to hints too early in Enchanter or Sorcerer, but would be profligate about them with Spellbreaker - it’s quite hard, but I think it’s nice to see what a high-difficulty Infocom game looks like and this way you’re also capping off the trilogy.

After that I don’t think the order matters that much - though I might prioritize AMFV after Spellbreaker as a palate-cleanser (despite the “advanced” designation it’s got very few puzzles) - you’ll have a pretty good grasp of the Infocom design idiom at this point so I think would be fine to just follow your interests. I will say, Nord and Bert is 1/3 of a fun take on an awesome concept, and 2/3 of a frustrating ordeal ruining said concept, so I’d just skip it and play Ad Verbum instead.

(One final thought apropos of that, which is maybe not helpful - personally if I hadn’t played a ton of IF games and was looking to experience more while deepening my understanding of what authoring looks like, I wouldn’t put the Infocom games near the front of the process. They’re all fairly long, hard, lacking in modern player conveniences, and despite their diversity come from a very specific place in terms of design and writing assumptions. Doing a survey of a dozen or two of the best amateur games of the last couple decades would be I think a more rewarding approach that shows a broader range of what IF can be, while taking less time and building your playing chops so that the Infocom games will feel less intimidating - plus you might appreciate some of them more, like Infidel, if you have a sense for how they’ve been influential. Just jumping in with the Infocom stuff can definitely work too, though, I’d just run with whatever seems most fun and engaging to you!)


This probably can’t be emphasized enough.

This sounds right, although I think the system was partially based on marketing. For example, I’d rate Zork I, II and III all about the same difficulty, instead of, respectively, Standard, Advanced, and Expert. In fact, for me, these were the three of the hardest games to finish (I needed help with all three) because some of the puzzles are unfair, non-intuitive and/or poorly clued. Infocom got much better at eliminating this type of puzzle after their first few games. So my advice is to play these games with a walkthrough if necessary and enjoy them for their good parts and for their historical significance.

On the other hand, I was able to complete Starcross, Suspended and Spellbreaker without hints; I found the puzzles generally tough but mostly fair.

Nord and Bert is mostly easy, but I’d guess it’s the hardest to finish, because if you aren’t familiar with a particular saying or idiom, you’re going to have a very hard time guessing it.

To me, Wishbringer is definitely the best place to start, and, like @denk, I’d follow it up with Planetfall, but the suggestions from @kamineko and @DeusIrae aren’t bad either.

After that, I’d play whatever sounds intriguing, but definitely don’t miss Trinity, which in my mind is easily the best. Of the other games that haven’t been mentioned yet, I’d rate Hitchhiker’s, Beyond Zork, Zork Zero and Leather Goddesses as must plays (although I’m well aware that not everyone would agree).

Having spent much of my 20s playing Infocom games, I have a soft spot in my heart for most of them, but even so, there were a few (Moonmist, Seastalker, The Witness) that I haven’t finished, either because the beginning didn’t do anything for me or I wasn’t even inspired to start. That said, as a completist, I do intend to get to them… some day.


I’d frame Infocom games as very difficult logic puzzles with a lot of unexpected consequences, and guess the verb issues.

But also some of the best IF to this day.


This is all so helpful. Thank you!

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One of my favorite memories of raising my kid was listening as he giggled and repeatedly laughed out loud as he read Hitchhikers. I still have not read the book, but I intend to play it (if for no other reason) to talk to him about it.

I continue to be impressed by the generosity of this community. I appreciate your thoughts, as well, @Rax.


In all honesty, if you are an inexperienced player, I wouldn’t recommend any Infocom games as an introduction to Infocom games. They are commercial games that were written in a different era. Infocom games are notoriously hard for an inexperienced player. The puzzles were intentionally hard to extend the playing time so that players felt like they were getting their money’s worth.

Instead, I would play some of the more modern games that are known to be suitable for beginners. Play a dozen or so of these to get familiar with the concepts, then start on the easier Infocom games.

As others have already said, Infocom’s level of difficulty is pretty much nonsense. I haven’t played any of the beginner games, so I can’t pass judgement on those.

Of the standard games, I solved Planetfall in one night, but took weeks to solve Zork I. I think Zork I, II and III are roughly the same difficulty, but Zork I has all those friggin’ mazes and various random factors, such as the thief. After 40 years, I still haven’t finished Enchanter, because I got the s**ts after getting into an unwinnable situation (more than once) by using the spells in the wrong situations.

Of the Advanced games, I recall Infidel being pretty easy (I think it was the second Infocom game I played) and Hitchhiker’s Guide was downright illogical. Although it’s different to the book, you’ll have a hard time if you’re not familiar with the book.

Many of the Infocom games (such as Deadline, Suspended and Ballyhoo) simply did not appeal to me, perhaps because of the trial and error and repetition that was needed.


I have to disagree on your front. Okay, yes, totally on the plotter/ATS/Generator problem. But just very hard on the others. I remember ditching the Guide at first, so I had to restart. Now I remember every single move by memory, I’ve played it that much.


Read my review of Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy at Page 6 and then try to convince me that the game is not illogical. Keep in mind that the review was written at the time Hitchiker’s Guide was still being sold. That was before you were born!


I always appreciate an alternative take, so thank you @Warrigal.

I started playing IF after stumbling upon an online article that described a text adventure buried in the Terminal of my Mac. Unfortunately, newer Macs no longer have this game installed by default because emacs is not installed. Still, that led me to seek out other games roughly ten years ago.

Dunnet got me thinking about how I always wanted to finish that game Zork I when I was a kid. After I finished it, I was hooked. That’s when I found IFDB. Through polls, I discovered recommendations for beginner-friendly games. I played and finished Bronze and The Dreamhold, 9:05, and a few others, but then I found Aaron’s book, and my focus shifted to learning Inform.

I thought Wishbringer was pretty beginner-friendly. Still, after getting lost in the Zork I maze and struggling with one of the puzzles, I set all of the Infocom games aside. I’m only now thinking about returning to them but perhaps I could play through some of the other games I’ve downloaded from IFDB first.

I’m sure opinions differ on this question as well, but how many games would one have to play to be considered an experienced player?


I have struck many people over the years that have played an Infocom game (typically Zork I) and that has put them off adventures forever. That’s the main reason I recommend becoming familiar with easier text adventures before tackling Infocom games. However, you’ve played a few, so you know what you’re getting yourself in for.

Like you said, opinions will vary, but if you’ve played and completed 100 or so games and at least half of those were from the 80s and 90s (when games were much harder), then I’d say you’re pretty experienced, especially if you managed to complete them without hints or walkthroughs.


Of the 2 Infocom games I solved without hints: Wishbringer and Trinity, both by Brian Moriarty.

I can’t solve Seastalker correctly even with hints! Sigh.


Sorry for wandering off-topic, but I think the original 2 HHGTTG radio series are better than the books (or TV series). I think it might have “written in haste” appeal. (Actually, John Lloyd wrote some of it.)


Sorry for the late reply.
I love Wishbringer. I don’t think it ‘punishes’ you for not using wishes; I was just a bit surprised when I got to the end only having used some of the wishes and it told me it could be done using NO wishes.
I like Enchanter and it’s not very difficult. Sorcerer is very clever but I found it hard. (Spellbreaker is harder still.)
I like Planetfall, too (though I didn’t cry).
I often think A Mind Forever Voyaging is Infocom’s only true interactive fiction as opposed to adventure game. There’s a bit in the main part that does make me cry, and so does the end.