April 18, 2019

NERD HEAVEN: You can now download the source code for all Infocom text adventure classics.

The code was uploaded by Jason Scott, an archivist who is the proprietor of textfiles.com. His website describes itself as “a glimpse into the history of writers and artists bound by the 128 characters that the American Standard Code for Information Interchange (ASCII) allowed them”—in particular those of the 1980s. He announced the GitHub uploads on Twitter earlier this week.

The games were written in the LISP-esque “Zork Implementation Language,” or ZIL, which you could be forgiven for not being intimately familiar with already. Fortunately, Scott also tweeted a link to a helpful manual for the language on archive.org.

Dive in and you’ll find that things are very different now than they were then. At the time Infocom was active, personal computers did not have a widely shared architecture, so the path ZIL’s architects took was to allow game creators to write instructions for a virtual machine called the Z-machine, which was then brought to the various platforms of the day. There are interpreters available today for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS, and Android, among other platforms.

After 30-plus years, it sure would be nice to finally beat “The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy.”

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