The source code of every Infocom text adventure game has been uploaded to the code-sharing repository GitHub, allowing savvy programmers to research and build on some of the most beloved works of digital storytelling to date.
There are numerous repositories under the name historicsource, each for a different game. Titles include, but are not limited to, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy† planet trap, Shogunand several Zork games—plus some more unusual additions like an incomplete version of hitchhikerthe sequel The restaurant at the end of the universeInfocom samplers and a previously unreleased adaptation of James Cameron’s the abyss†
The code was uploaded by Jason Scott, an archivist who owns textfiles.com. Its 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” – particularly those of the 1980s. He announced the GitHub uploads on Twitter earlier this week.
The games are written in the LISP-esque “Zork Implementation Language” or ZIL, which you could be forgiven for not being very familiar with. Fortunately, Scott also tweeted a link to a helpful guide to 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 up and running, personal computers didn’t have a widely shared architecture, so the path ZIL’s architects took was to allow game makers to write instructions for a virtual machine called the Z-machine, which was then sent to the different platforms of the day. Interpreters are available today for Windows, macOS, Linux, iOS and Android, among others.
The interactive fiction community is still quite vibrant and people are still making games with ZIL and the Z machine these days. But they’ve been joined by creators who are using new tools for running interactive, text-centric games like Twine and Ink, some of which are used as middleware in modern graphics game productions large and small.
Gamasutra, a game development industry news site, also noted that Activision still owns the rights to Infocom games and can request a takedown if it wishes. For now, though, historians, narrative designers, programmers, and game enthusiasts can benefit from Scott’s efforts.