The Infocom Documentation Project

by Roger J. Long

November 24, 2001

The desire to have high-quality documentation for Infocom's products turned out to be more wide-spread than I had thought.

About 3 years ago, I began playing around with trying to recreate the manuals in the form of web pages. That got set aside when I ran into a problem with Netscape Navigator lining up the pictures differently than Internet Explorer did. I've learned since then that getting a web page to display exactly the same regardless of which browser views it is an almost futile task. Even Microsoft's new version of Office has to resort to "Optimize for Browser X" and you're stuck with making duplicate websites optimized for each browser.

In 2000, I learned that Gunther Schmidl had obtained permission from Activision to put the Infocom newsletters up on the Internet. Called "The New Zork Times", "****" and "The Status Line" at various points over the years, one year's worth of the newsletters--typically four issues--were given out as a reward for people mailing in their registration card. (The quotations in the "Take Their Words For It" also came from some of the registration cards.) I volunteered to help Gunther convert scans of the newsletter into Adobe Acrobat PDF format.

After that was finished, I wanted to see how the newsletters would turn out if they were re-published using a DTP program. The files turned out to be quite a bit smaller in size, which is a benefit to everyone that is using a modem to connect to the Internet.

At this point, Gunther and I began discussing what it would take to re-create the manuals for Infocom's games.A couple of websites, such as the Infocom Gallery, had had the same idea, but were just posting pictures of the manuals and in most cases what they had wasn't complete. Since complete manuals of high quality haven't been available, we decided to take a shot at filling this void. We both agreed that, as one person put it, "Infocom deserves better".

Gunther came up with two ideas that really got the Project underway. First, he suggested contacting Activision to get their permission. Second, get the rest of the Infocom fans involved.

Laird Malamed at Activision responded very promptly and granted permission for us to go ahead. (This Project turns out to be to Activision's benefit also. They have a contract to provide games for Nokia's cell phones, and they needed some new manuals.)

For the second item, I typed up a proposal on how we would proceed, and posted that on the and newsgroups. About 30 people have volunteered to help, with about 5-10 active volunteers (which is about average for any volunteer project).

Gunther also found a home for the Project, came up with its name: the Infocom Documentation Project (InfoDoc Project for short) and obtained permission to host copies of the PRIZM files, which are the InvisiClues hint files in the Z-Machine interpreter format. This last part saved us a lot of time, especially since neither Gunther or myself could figure out a suitable way of replicating the invisible ink method that Infocom used. (I think we came up with using web pages that had white text on a white background, and you would highlight one clue at a time to make the text readable, but the PRIZM format is much nicer.)

That brings us to the present.

As of today (November 24, 2001), we have full-color manuals in PDF format for seven games: A Mind Forever Voyaging, Beyond Zork, Bureaucracy, Wishbringer, Zork I, Zork II, and Zork III. These manuals are also available as all text, for players with partial or full vision imparement. (Ever try translating a picture into 1,000 words? It ain't easy.) All of the InvisiClues are available, but at the moment only the map for Cutthroats has been finished.

The rate at which new manuals and maps are added should increase from this point on. The company I work for finally hired a technician to handle all the in-house computer and phone issues, and there's also another person available to answer questions for our salespeople. So, the amount of time I spend after-hours has dropped by about 50-70%, and I can concentrate on the InfoDoc Project.


If you would like to contribute to the Project, drop me a note. The Project needs people that can type parts of the manuals into text files, or who have scanners and can provide color scans from the original packaging.

Visit the InfoDoc Project

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