Requirements: IMB-PC or compatible, Apple II series, Macintosh, Amiga, ST, Commodore 64, 128, or Atari XL/XE computer.
By now it's probably safe to say that most computer owners have seen or played an Infocom text adventure. Zork I, II, and III, The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, Infidel, Enchanter, Wishbringer, and Witness have all spent time on best-sellers lists, and high-circulation magazines like Newsweek have printed articles about the company. Infocom has become famous for its interactive fiction, and its customers look to it not for new kinds of products but for variations to the old.
As pioneers of the sophisticated text adventure, Infocom is expected to set the standard for future text adventures. To this end, Infocom has introduced Interactive Fiction Plus, a line of text adventures designed especially to take advantage of machines with 128K of memory (though they're also available for 48K and 64K machines). The differences are certainly not dramatic, and in many ways the games look the same as thay always have, but Infocom's newest adventures are different from the old in several important ways.
Moonmist demonstrates the differences. Like all Infocom games of the past two years, it is superbly packaged, but unlike the earlier games, the packaging is needed to play the game. Infocom does not copy-protect its disks (and has certainly suffered its share of software piracy), so this reliance on the packaging is perfectly justified. Inside Moonmist's package are two letters from your acquaintance, Tamara, the latter of which suggests a murder plot against her. Also included is a brochure about Tresyllian Castle in Cornwall, where Tamara is staying, which provides many descriptions necessary to play the game. The documentation introduces the "Legendary Ghosts of Cornwall," and a Moonmist iron-on transfer is included for those who still own T-shirts with no writing on them.
In The Castle
Your task is to uncover the murder plot, in the meantime dealing with some very interesting characters inside a well-described medieval castle complete with torture devices and a wandering ghost. You must collect clues, talk with the characters, survive an encounter with the ghost, and even figure out what outfit to wear at certain times. Moonmist is an introductory-level adventure, so it moves along quickly and is not overly difficult; but the sheer number of things you have to do make it a long, challenging game.
The differences between Moonmist and earlier Infocom games are subtle. The parser - the part of the program that interprets your typed commands - continues to grow more sophisticated, and more specialized. Room descriptions are more precise, more detailed, and more helpful, all of which gives you a stronger sense of your physical location. At each stage, too, there appears to be a greater choice of actions available, with fewer actions being blatantly wrong. And the characters in the story are, for the most part, genuinely interesting, even if they don't do as much as perhaps they should.
The most subtle change, though, and the most important, is in the role taken by the reader. In Moonmist, as in most of the newer Infocom games, you feel that a story is actually taking place, and that you are a part of it. In the earlier adventures, your actions forced the story from one point to the next, but unless you did something, nothing happened. While this is technically true of Moonmist, the authors, Stu Galley and Jim Lawrence, manage to make you feel that you are caught up in a story beyond your own actions. The time limit helps, of course, but somehow the castle seems far more "alive" than the caverns in Zork or even the spaceship in Starcross. The people in the castle all know more about it than you do, and the result is that you feel like an intruder. This effect is a good one.
For those who have not yet tried an Infocom adventure, Moonmist is a good introduction. It is challenging without being frustrating, and it offers what interactive fiction is supposed to offer: a chance to participate in an interesting story. For Infocom veterans, Moonmist demonstrates how text adventures have changed since the heyday of Zork.
Thanks to André St-Aubin for transcribing and donating this article.