At first I was elated when the editors of AmigaWorld asked me to review my new Infocom story, Wishbringer. Here was a chance to sidestep the jaded critics and bland press releases, and tell the world the truth about the thankless life of a game designer! Eagerly I sat down and composed a long, flowing tribute to myself, backed up by a detailed autobiographical sketch, flattering color portraits and lengthy examples of Wishbringer's deathless prose.
"Too biased," complained the editors after uncrating my manuscript.
"Of course it's biased," I snapped over the phone. "What did you expect from a designer reviewing his own game?"
After a heated exchange and many threats, I agreed to ditch the review and allow myself to be interviewed, but only on the condition that I ask the questions as well as give the answers.
Q: How did you become a game designer at Infocom? Did you join the company as a programmer in the microcomputer division, hacking in machine language on Ataris, Commodores and TRS-80 Color Computers, until one day Marc Blank, vice president and co-author of Zork, touched you with his magic wand and made you one of the few, the proud, the implementors?
Brain Moriarty: Yes.
Q: Wishbringer is your first game for Infocom, right? Where did you get the idea?
BM: The design started with the game package. I was trying to think of something neat we could include in the box, a magical item that would tie in well with a fantasy theme. It couldn't cost too much, maybe a quarter tops, and it had to be easy to mass produce. At first it was going to be a magic ring. But that's been done so many times before - Wagner, Tolkien, Donaldson, etcetera - that I decided to make it a rock instead. The story emerged from that.
Q: Describe the story in excruciating detail.
BM: [Sigh] Oh, all right. You play the part of a mail clerk in a small seaside village called Festerton. Your mean old boss, Postmaster Crisp, orders you to deliver a mysterious envelope to the Magick Shoppe on the far side of town.
When you get to the Shoppe, you meet an old woman who asks you to read the envelope. It turns out that her pet cat's been kidnapped by somebody called the Evil One. The ransom is Wishbringer, a magic stone famous in local legends. Your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to rescue the cat without getting turned into a furry toilet seat cover.
When you return to the village, everything is screwed up. All the familiar landmarks are twisted into sinister new forms. The streets are patrolled by giant army boots. Trolls, vultures, hellhounds and grues make your life difficult, and everything's under the all-powerful eye of the Evil One.
Fortunately, you're not alone. Friendly pelicans, platypuses and seahorses will help you if you're nice to them. And if you really get stuck, you can invoke the power of Wishbringer, the Magic Stone of Dreams.
Q: Infocom is famous for its clever packaging. What do you get when you buy Wishbringer?
BM: Besides the glow-in-the-dark magic stone, you get a facsimile of the mysterious special-delivery envelope from the Evil One, a fold-out color map of Festerton and a booklet, The Legend of Wishbringer, that explains the origins of the stone and how to use it to make wishes. Oh, and you get a disk, too.
Q: Wishbringer is billed as an Introductory Level game. Is it really just for beginners, or can veteran players enjoy it?
BM: Most of the problems in the story have two or more solutions. The easy way out is to use Wishbringer. If a beginner gets frustrated, he can whip out the magic stone, mumble a wish and keep on playing. Experienced players can search for one of the logical solutions - a bit harder, perhaps, but more satisfying. It's possible to complete the story without using any of the stone's seven wishes. In fact, that's the only way to earn the full 100 points.
The puzzles are highly interconnected. Once you start wishing your problems away, it's very hard to continue playing without relying more and more on the magic stone. The impotence of idle wishing - that's the moral of Wishbringer. All really good stories have a moral.
Q: How long did it take you to write this moral tale?
BM: I started coding in September of 1984. In December, I deleted most of what I'd written and started again. The disks went out for duplication on May 1st, so I guess it took nine months altogether. That's fairly typical for an Infocom title.
Q: How is an Infocom story developed, anyway? What kind of computer do you use?
BM: Glad you asked. Infocom's Z Development System is based on a DECSystem-20 mainframe, a machine that resembles a fleet of red refrigerators. All of the game designers are connected to it, so it's easy for us to share code and ideas and to play each other's games.
The programming language we use was created expressly for writing interactive fiction. It's called ZIL (for Zork Implementation Language). ZIL "knows" about concepts like rooms, objects, characters and the passage of time. It has instructions the designer can use to manipulate these concepts in very sophisticated ways.
ZIL itself is written in a LISP-like language called MDL, or Muddle, which was developed at MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science. Because ZIL and its utilities operate in a high level environment, it's relatively easy for us to tinker around with things and make incremental improvements.
Q: Infocom games are available on every home computer I can think of. It must take a lot of programmers to do so many conversions!
BM: Naw. The Z System produces machine-independant code that can be executed on just about any computer with enough disk space and RAM. All we have to do is write a single machine-language interpreter for the computer in question. Once the interpreter is running, all of our present and future titles become available for that machine.
The Amiga interpreter was relatively painless. We simply downloaded the 68000 Kernal developed for the Macintosh and Atari ST systems and changed the I/O to make it work with the Amiga's operating system.
Q: One of the Amiga's big selling features is its graphics. Why don't Infocom's games use graphics?
BM: Why aren't all books illustrated? [Pausing for effect] Should we succumb to the temptation to throw in lots of cartoony pictures and special effects just because the hardware is capable of it? We'd rather invest our time in writing better stories, more evocative prose, making the user interface as transparent as possible, and getting rid of every bug we can find. We think these efforts result in a better interactive experience than what has been achieved by "graphics adventures." Our sales suggest that we're right.
That's not to say Infocom will never do graphics. We've been actively working on some graphics-oriented ideas for a couple of years now. But if the day comes when we offer a graphics entertainment product, you can be sure it won't be Zork With Pictures.
Q: What about Cornerstone, Infocom's powerful, yet oh-so-easy-to-use database system for the IBM PC? Will there be a version for the Amiga?
BM: It's technically possible. Marketingwise, I suppose it depends on how many machines are bought and what types of people buy them. You never know.
Q: What about you? Got any more game ideas?
BM: I've started work on a big science-fantasy game that will be released some time in 1986. The story has an interesting historical angle. That's all I can say about it now... except that it will definitely not be for beginners!
Wishbringer author Brian Moriarty, 28, is the newest member of Infocom's team of interactive fiction authors. He brings to the medium the stern morality of a rural New England upbringing and a lifelong passion for the fantastic. Write to him (or he'll write to himself)
c/o Infocom Inc.,