Preservation of Infocom (non-code) Resources

I started a long thread with many links, then feared that I was jeopardizing its readability. There is more I would like to say if the conversation garners any interest. For now, I offer a question boiled down to a thick paste. I have undertaken a project to transcribe visual content in Infocom documentation and copy protection to text for users of screen readers. Since the Infocom Documentation Project currently houses such files, I arranged for mine to be stored there as well.

I have been asked–quite reasonably–why I am not storing the files at such and such a place. While looking into this question, it became impossible to ignore the fact that there is no single destination for Infocom documentation.

Since we often call IF literature or art, it ought to have a canon, right? In a literary discussion, we would call this a question of canon formation and preservation. In such a case, these games would all still be in print, but digital media/game preservationists can’t rely on markets.

These old games pose a unique situation in that they have meaningful physicality. I’m sure there are many 80s games that would qualify with similar concerns (the several releases of Adventure for instance). 90s classics are digital only; we are only talking about a specific epoch in IF.

I know of three major digital repositories of Infocom ephemera. Before I reached out to IDP, I think their last update was 2012. When this activity is complete, I’ll request a ZIP of the entire site and find somewhere to stash it, but I wonder if that’s as far as the community would want to go in safeguarding such materials.

I have not been banging around here long, so I’m absolutely not criticizing any current practice, repository, or attitude. I just thought that–before I do what I do–I would ask if there were any wider interest, concern, or activity regarding this aspect of game preservation.

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The IF Archive?

https://www.ifarchive.org/indexes/if-archive/infocom/

I think that’s a good place if it’s what people want to do. Those text directories haven’t been maintained or expanded significantly since the 90s, so it isn’t an active effort (unless I am missing something).

While Gunther at IDP says that Activision is fine with their metatextual (forgive my lit/writing studies term) materials being posted anywhere provided they are credited, IFTF may want something more concrete before hosting a large amount (a complete collection would be substantial) of copyrighted material.

I think contacting Activision (now) or Microsoft (later) for permission would require a defter touch (if done at all) now that we have source code and game files readily available.

What I’m really wondering is if anyone has been working on this, or if there are already ideas about how the problem ought to be approached? Is it even considered a problem? Does anyone think conversations about this would be worthwhile? I guess we could always hope that a university with a healthy media studies department might take an interest.

I think there are copyright questions as well as philosophical/policy questions that I can’t answer as a random guy with a blog.

But back to your question! Yes, philosophically that is where I think the materials would best be homed (if possible). Perhaps even with some IFDB connectivity (it would be nice to run those *.Z5 Invisiclues in parchment, for instance).

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It’s true that the IF Archive directories haven’t been updated much since the 90s. If I may reconstruct the thoughts from back then (this is an imperfect science): The Archive maintainers were wary of taking too much proprietary material, and also wary of accepting too much high-res scanned art. (Kilobytes were precious back in those days.)

IDP was a personal undertaking by a few people (but then, all IF services were personal back then) to assemble a better collection of Infocom manuals in particular.

The IDP site says “with permission” and “special thanks to Laird Malamed”. Laird was an ally within Activision; he was a director on Zork Nemesis and ZGI, and I believe he organized ZTUU as part of that role. However, it looks like he moved on from Activision to Oculus around 2012.

Anyhow, IDP never got integrated with the IF Archive because there was no particular need. When the Archive was brought into IFTF, we briefly talked about integration (I think) but the IDP folks were happy to keep supporting the site as it was. This is still true.

Then Jason Scott started unloading Infocom documents at the Internet Archive, and then on Github. This was of course delightful, and Jason’s preservation chops are indisputable. We are not worried about anything which lives at archive.org.

There are a few other fan sites that I know of:

http://gallery.guetech.org/
http://quendor.robinlionheart.com/
https://www.csd.uwo.ca/Infocom/ (no longer extant but see Wayback or mirror )
http://infocom.elsewhere.org/gallery/ – links to and mirrors of the above
http://pdd.if-legends.org/infocom/fact-sheet.txt – We have this at the IF Archive, but it’s still live at its original site

Am I going somewhere with this? Not really! My position is that IFTF is an established non-profit with a loyal base of generous donators. It should survive for a good long time. So keeping copies of files there is a good idea. But then none of these other sites is likely to just up and disappear. But then the www.csd.uwo.ca page did up and disappear. But then the Wayback Machine has it. So, is it worth going out and scooping up more copies? Maybe.

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I’ll start with this: I’m grateful to all the individuals who have spent their own time and money preserving these resources. I know this stuff didn’t just magically happen.

Long term, though, there are likely benefits to institutionalizing these efforts. I’m at the young end of the “bought a folio retail” demographic, and I suppose I know quite a bit about Infocom games. Today, someone could ask me about the >11 different releases of Zork and I’d tell them what I know and point them to resources for play/reading. But I won’t always be as reachable as I am right now.

I also think organization and discoverability will be important for people who are interested in the materials but lack our perspective/connections. There is a TON of good stuff at the Archive (I’m there more than once a day), but I imagine a researcher without any IF background might feel overwhelmed.

There is no emergency, everything can be found today. I just wonder–sorry if this is a bit dark–how this stuff can be found without access to our accumulated knowledge. Without institutional knowledge. I am imagining someone who doesn’t know to look for a wayback archive of a site from the aughts the way we might.

Anyway, I didn’t create this thread just to make work for other people. I’ll support conversations and volunteer time if it sounds like a worthwhile activity.

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We are trying to breathe new life into IFWiki. The IFTF has just taken over responsibility for it. It would be an ideal place for you to record your knowledge. @fos1 recently added an accessibility category which might be up your street.

IFWiki has traditionally has left file storage to others, like the IF Archive and Internet Archive, though it has cover art and screenshots. IFWiki can (and does) store individual game information but it makes sense to put that on IFDB where possible.

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