Before video games were blasting you into 80 billion megapixels with enough raw processing power to send a human to Jupiter and back, they used to exist as mere words on the screen. Much like audiobooks, text adventure games exist halfway between reading and watching a movie. In the heyday of text games, Infocom quickly became a leader, pumping out the best games in the genre (which they called "interactive fiction") from 1979 until 1986, when Activision bought them. We still love them, and you will too. We've made a list of Infocom's best science fiction text adventure games below the fold.
- Starcross, by Dave Lebling: This 1982 game was Infocom's first foray into science fiction, and you played the central character who was a lonely miner in space, searching for black hole. However, you end up encountering a massive alien derelict ship and to explore its depths to unravel the mystery. This was Infocom's third game (behind Zork III and Deadline) to feature "feelies," props that came in the packaging that were meant to enhance the gamplay. It included a logbook for your ship, a partial map of space, and a letter from your company which was supposed to help if you encountered alien life.
- Suspended: A Cryogenic Nightmare by Michael Berlyn: This brilliant game featured the player as the "central mentality," basically a human in cryogenic freeze for 500 years, whose sleeping brain functions as the processing center for the city's support systems. However, an earthquake disrupts everything, and you have to repair the systems via six robots that serve as your sense while you're on ice before the a crew arrives to "disconnect" you. Each robot had a different ability, and most of the game was spent trying to figure out how to get them to help you. Plus, the game came with a creepy cryogenic mask cover that terrified me as a kid.
- Planetfall by Steve Meretzky: In Planetfall the player travels the cosmos as a lowly ensign seventh class in the Stellar Patrol, scrubbing floor and performing menial tasks. However, the ship begins exploding and you flee in an escape pod, eventually landing on an alien planet whose inhabitants have vanished. As you try to figure out what happened to them, you encounter Floyd, a goofy robot who quickly becomes one of the most memorable characters in any game I've ever played, both text and with graphics. Touching and funny, this is my personal favorite.
- The Hitchhiker's Guide To The Galaxy by Steve Meretzky and Douglas Adams: This award-winning adaptation of Adams' novel takes the book to new heights as you play Arthur Dent. The plot is similar to the first novel, with the character trying to find the legendary lost planet of Magrathea, and encountering galactic hijinx along the way. This game came with a huge amount of feelies, including a microscopic space fleet, pocket fluff, and "Peril Sensitive Sunglasses" that turn black when you're in danger.
- A Mind Forever Voyaging by Steve Meretzky: Just when you think Meretzky couldn't top himself, he does. I swear the guy probably helped shape my childhood more than most of the teachers I had in elementary school. In this game, you play an artificially intelligent computer called PRISM having just "awoken" from what you thought was a real life as a human being named Perry Sim. Turns out you were living in a simulation all that time. Your programmer sends you into several advanced simulations to check out the feasibility of The Plan for Renewed National Purpose being lobbied for by a senator. Turns out, things aren't so nice in the future if Congresses passes the thing. You visit it at 10 year intervals, and it is a commentary on the future, as well as politics. Truly epic.
- Stationfall by Steve Meretzky: Infocom returned to the world of Planetfall in 1987 with this sequel that reunites the player (now a lowly lieutenant stuck processing paperwork) Floyd. Although not quite as charming as the original, it does have a lot of the comic and touching hallmarks of Meretzky's writing. Fans weren't too pleased with the ending of this one, however, and Meretzky said he did it because he didn't want to write another game in the series. Darn it to hell.
- Leather Goddesses of Phobos by Steve Meretzky: This is an interactive fiction take on Barbarella, and the player can set one of three different "naughtiness" levels: tame, suggestive, or lewd. Think Leisure Suit Larry, but in space and without any graphics. Set in 1936, the player tries to stop the Leather Goddesses of Phobos from invading Earth after they abduct him. If you fail, you'll get tossed into their "pleasure dome." Why would that be considered a punishment?
- Trinity by Brian Moriarty: Trinity is one of the most epic games ever created, and probably the best (although not most-known) that Infocom released. Set against the creation of the atomic bomb, the player finds himself in the middle of a nuclear missile attack in the United Kingdom. Through a series of adventures involving time-travel and space-folding, you have to foil several different nuclear weapons tests in order to have the military abandon the technology. Truly an incredible game with emotional moments, and well worth playing, even today.
You'll either have to do some digging through garage sales, check out eBay, or find various electronic versions of these games scattered across the web. They're out there in different places, and we suggest Googling "Infocom" for starters. You'll need a tiny program to play the games, but we recommend trying to find the packages with the "feelies" for a truly unique experience.