Welcome back! It's only been a little over a month, but the speed with which last update's new items flew out of the Shoppe told me I should go back to doing these more often, like I was a couple of years back. Which leads us nicely into this month's column...


The "Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe" Second Anniversary Spectacular (TM) !

Jay Goemmer pointed out to me that YOIS has reached its second anniversary. As of 11/20/98, I've officially been doing this for two years. How time flies. This seems an appropriate place to thank all the people who have helped in making YOIS work:

First off, to Jay, for giving of his time and his webpage space to make a home for the Shoppe.

To Manuel Schulz, who put together a collector's guide, and who did it without fixing high prices. Have you ordered yours yet? (I screwed up, incidentally -- it's $20, not $15. Mea culpa.)

To everyone who's written to offer corrections and information about obscure titles and game history. There are far, far too many to mention, but let me just identify a few of the bigger contributors: Graeme Cree, Paul Coad, Paul David Doherty, Manuel Schulz, Miron Schmidt, John Schultz, Harry Brown, Eric Sansoni, and our resident Ultima expert Tom "TomMage" Hlavaty. I didn't learn all of this stuff myself -- an overwhelming percentage of it came from other collectors.

And to all the patrons of Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe, everyone who's bought, sold or traded with me in the past two years. Without you, I wouldn't have a quarter of the games I have today, and there'd still be space to walk in my back room.

Since I have to celebrate somehow, how about free shipping to all buyers? Until the end of the year or the next Shoppe update, whichever comes first. (Standard or Priority for U.S. Mail, air-mail for overseas.)


Back Issues

I've received a couple of e-mails from people who were interested in reading some of the YOIS columns of yore. Currently I've got the old columns up where Shoppers can grab them, but the problem is I've only saved the back issues starting with 10/4/97. This is when they first started to serve as worthwhile reading, and I began keeping them myself for reference and to save retyping when new collectors asked questions a past column had addressed.

The earlier columns I recall were basically what's-in-the-Shoppe-this-month, and didn't offer much information to collectors, and much of what was there was inaccurate as I was still fairly new to the hobby at the time. But if anyone has any of these I'd be really grateful if you'd forward me a copy. Truth be told, I'm kind of interested to see what I wrote way back then. Presently I have the following columns:

10/04/1997
11/18/1997
1/25/1998
5/25/1998
10/08/1998
11/20/1998

You can find the date of the column at the start of the "transcript" (top of the page). Did anyone happen to save further back than this?


"Bid Me Discourse..."

As a lot of Shoppers noticed, I've just started scouting out games on eBay. For those of you unfamiliar with it, eBay is an Internet auction forum with every conceivable type of item for sale... including collectible software. Sellers post a description of the item, often with scanned images, and bidders compete by entering the maximum amount they're willing to pay. Whoever bids the most wins the item.

Be warned that eBay gets competitive, especially with rare items. (As I write this, a complete Suspended face-mask package has just passed the $200 mark.) The trick, I've found, is to seek out items that aren't obviously identified in their description. For example, doing a search on "Infocom" will pull up a list of all the items on the block with the word "Infocom" in the seller's description.

But if you search for items that don't have the word "Infocom", like for example if you search specfically for "Enchanter", you just might come across a description "Enchanter computer game in large flat package". No mention of Infocom, but you know what it is, and there's less chance of someone else finding and snagging it with a high bid. There's a definite strategy to locating prize items, as well as setting bids that are high enough but not too high.

eBay also incorporates search features that let you identify all the auctions in which a particular user has placed bids. This is handy for finding items you and another bidder might have similar interests in, but there's a downside. I know from experience, cuz a couple of users zeroed in on an autographed photo of Douglas Adams and Steve Meretzky I had my eyes set on. Ended up costing me quite a bit more than I'd hoped (Jeremy! B-), and I can see I may have to play the "wait until the last minute to bid" game.

eBay's a blast, though. I highly recommend it. I plan to continue bidding for items to add to the Shoppe and my own personal collection, but currently I have no plans to auction off any items myself.


Yet Another Package Discussion

This month I'd like to offer some info on two different Infocom repackagings: Infocom by Mastertronic and the Software Selection Service.

Mastertronic issued their own versions of several of the Infocom games under the label "Infocom from Mastertronic", circa 1988. As far as I know, these were only available in Europe. Mastertronic was based out of the U.K. They consist of thin square boxes, with dimensions 6 1/8" x 6 1/8" x 5/8". The boxes are black with blue stripes and the original grey-box cover art on the front. The back has a game description similar but not quite identical to the grays'.

Each box also has a number identifying the game's order in the "Infocom from Mastertronic" series. I'm aware of:

  1. Hitchhiker's Guide
  2. Zork I
  3. Planetfall
  4. Wishbringer
  5. Leather Goddesses
  6. Zork II
  7. Zork III
  8. Enchanter
  9. Sorcerer
  10. Deadline
There's a listing in the back of each game's manual of the other titles reissued by Mastertronic, but only these 10 are mentioned. I've been in negotiations with someone who claims to have Shogun as well, but presently I can't confirm it. (Especially since Mastertronic did release an ultra-cheapo game called Shogun that had absolutely nothing to do with the Infocom game... I suspect that's what this is.)

Inside the boxes are both a 5.25" and 3.5" disk -- for IBM anyway, I don't have any for Amiga or Atari ST -- and a square manual. Some of the disks I've heard come in plastic Ziploc bags. Manuals contain the text of the grey-box instructions, minus the little story that helps set the mood for the game ("Legend of Wishbringer", Gustar Woomax's "Brief History of Magic, etc.) Enchanter's manual has the text of the sealed scroll. Sorcerer's has a reprint of the field guide (and on the diskette label it's misspelled as "Sorceror"). Wishbringer comes with a black-and-white reproduction of the postal zones map, although not nearly as cheaply-printed as the one in LTOI. Deadline's manual reprints all of the case documentation. Zork I comes with a reproduction of the GUE map. They're definitely cute, although not quite as cute, IMO, as the Dysans.

Also by Virgin/Mastertronic is The Infocom Collection, which comes in a normal-sized blue box and contains four of the five Solid Gold releases.

From the Software Selection Service, I have Moonmist, offered as their selection of the month (what month, what year, it doesn't say). For those of you who missed it, this one came out of Software & More, and I'd never even heard of it before. It's a grey folder, 10 3/4" x 8", with the SSS logo (motto: "Esse Quam Videri", whatever the hell that means), suggested retail price of $39.95 printed in the upper-right corner, and a photo of the Moonmist grey-box package. There's a broken red sticker-seal that once held the folder shut. It's a pretty flimsy folder, not as sturdy as the folios Infocom did themselves.

Inside are the Moonmist disk (Apple II) with Infocom sleeve, the game's map of Tresyllian Castle (motto: "Quaerite Et Invenietis", whatever the hell that means!), the two letters from Tamara, the "Legendary Ghosts of Cornwall" instruction manual detached from the grey box (with the little white papery thing used to slide it in place in a grey), and an I-F reference card. The only thing that's not included is the T-shirt iron-on, but it's not mentioned on the package with the other contents. Also missing are two business programs, "FUTURE TECH: The Newspaper of Tomorrow!" and "THE BANK STREET SOFTWARE LETTER: A Friendly Guide for Parents & Others!" Presumably these were included as demos along with the game, and SW&M or the previous owner took 'em out. No complaints about that, as the only 15-year-old business program worth owning is Cornerstone.

Anybody else got any Infocom titles packaged like this?

Oh, and one more for you: Anyone heard of a Lurking Horror that doesn't include the centipede? It's not mentioned on the back of the box, but this could be a prop change midway through the game's shelf life, like the Wishbringer stone. Had another collector ask me about this, he had a shrinked package that was missing the creepy-crawly when he opened it. (Of course, as we'll see below, my first question was, "Was it the original wrap?")


A New Hole in the Shrinkwrap Theory

Okay, we all know about Software & More's new system for identifying new shrinkwrapped titles, and most of us probably know a few used-software stores that do their own repackagings. Point is, it's getting gradually harder to identify original shrinkwrap jobs. Fellow collector Eric Sansoni recently showed me another (potential) indicator of original wrap, so I thought I'd pass it along and see what everybody else thinks:

"I've noticed that some of my definite original shrinkwrapped Infocom stuff (Hitchhiker's, Stationfall, Lurking Horror, Arthur) has a tiny hole in the plastic, usually a perfect circle the size of a pencil eraser, in the front and back. Some C64 folders and a Trinity (which I'm not sure is new) just have the hole in front. Maybe this little air hole was a byproduct of older shrinkwrap machines used in manufacturing. Maybe this is a sign of original wrap. I have a definite rewrapped Stationfall that has no holes, so maybe the smaller machines software dealers use don't create this... However, I'm not sure if all original wrapped Infocom games had the holes. I have a Bureaucracy and a [Solid] Gold Zork I with Sears price tags that don't seem to have any holes at all, and a couple other wrapped games that look really mint and new under the wrap but have no holes (Ballyhoo, Hollywood Hijinx). However, if I find a game with the telltale hole present on front and back (or maybe even just front), I would be convinced that it is in the original wrap."

Interesting theory, Eric, and one that deserves to be put to the test. My collection is still an awful mess, but I hope to have it organized by next update and will present my own findings regarding shrinked Infocoms. If anyone else has the time to inventory theirs too, it'd be most appreciated. Of course as you say, Infocom probably didn't wrap all copies of a particular package the same way, and there's no guarantee some reseller doesn't have a machine that puts in the little holes. But it is something else to check for when appraising a so-called "shrinkwrapped" package.

Is collecting shrinkwraps worth all the trouble? Depends on your POV as a collector, I suppose. In over-the-Net transactions, there's always the nagging uncertainty whether the game is a genuine unopened package. The only reason I'm into this is that, in the Infocom arena, there's not much more to add to my collection besides shrinkwraps and ultra-rare items. My two-opened-titles-for-one-shrinkwrapped-title offer is still on, BTW, so LMK if you have any spare shrinkwraps. Just keep in mind I am paranoid about all this and will probably want to inspect the packages personally before committing to a trade. (I'll pay shipping, of course.)


Collector-Oriented Website of the Month

Starting this month I'd like to dedicate a bit of the column to a webpage that I think would be of interest to game-collectors. If you know any good ones, drop me a line.

My pick this month is MagicTree.com, built by the original founder of Penguin Software. (Thanks to TomMage for pointing me to it.) Before changing their name to Polarware, Penguin did several parser games, including Crimson Crown, Ring Quest and Transylvania, and also some strategy titles. Their releases under the Polarware name included repackagings of Crimson Crown and Transylvania, the new title Talisman, and the graphical version of Sentient's Oo-Topos, by Michael and Muffy (M.M. McClung) Berlyn.

The site includes a complete history of Penguin as well as downloadable versions of all their releases except Transylvania and Crimson Crown. Check it out.


New This Month

A few complete folios, a couple of Synapse / Broderbund Electronic Novels, a couple of Firebird Level 9 releases, a small stack of grey boxes. Not as much as the last two updates, but it's only been a month so whadya expect?

I know last month I had to turn quite a few people down on Infocom greys, since my stock was bought out so quickly. If you're having trouble getting a grey, give TomMage a mail. He's got a ton of extras, far more than I do at the moment, and his prices are very reasonable. Got a cool Ultima page to boot (except can we lose the music, Tom?)

Unordered but available: Anybody need any of the Temple of Apshai games, the Might and Magic series, Magic Candle, Gemstone Warrior by SSI, Darkhorn by Avalon Hill, or the non-Ultima releases by Origin? If so I can get 'em for you, just let me know. I'm reluctant to order more at the moment, because the non-IF content of the Shoppe is so high right now. Remember, they're cheap and shipping's on me this month, so buy up!


Collector's Blight, Revisited

Oh, and just for closure, I did finally get my copy of Michael Berlyn's Blight. So the any-Shoppe-item offer in exchange has expired. I'll still offer you a trade, though, as I know some other people who are interested in obtaining this extremely-hard-to-find title. Just to refresh: "Mark Sonders" is the correct pseudonym. It's paperback, black cover with red letters and the author's name in white, with a picture of a moth with blood on one of its wings.

I have a theory, maybe those of you with used book stores in your area can help me test it... Since the cover seems to indicate a horror novel instead of sci-fi, I suspect many used book dealers might be filing Blight on the horror shelves instead of with Berlyn's other books. Check this out on your next visit and let me know if you run across any, will you? Haven't found any in my area yet, but I haven't checked Bloomington-Normal recently.

I haven't had time to sit down and see if it's a good read in addition to being a good collector's item. Judging from its limited print run and absence from all book lists everywhere, my expectations aren't high.

After all, as the G.U.E. Tech motto in The Lurking Horror says, "Omne Ignotum Pro Magnifico" (whatever the hell THAT means!)...


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