One of the hardest things about collecting old software packages is scouting out new sources. Not so much because all the good ones are taken (though I've noticed this too as the number of collectors grows), but rather because most dealers still regard anything over five years old as worthless and no longer worth knowing anything about. (A visiting Manuel Schulz and I were asked, "Are you guys crazy?" upon buying a three-foot stack of old games from a store in St. Louis.)
I'm sure everyone's had some variation on this experience: You're at a computer show, or maybe a flea market, or maybe you're on a trip and you find a possible source for games in the phone book but it's too far to drive but you jot down the phone number thinking you'll call them later. Whatever the case, you're on the phone with the dealer and you end up having a conversation along these lines:
Hi, I was wondering, do you carry any really old software? Or do you sell used software?
"Maybe some. How old are we talking about?"
Like early 1980s. Anything on 5-1/4 disks. Or anything for Apple or Commodore, maybe Atari...?
"Hmm, yeah, I think we might have some stuff like that in the back."
(Yes!) Really? I'm looking for old adventure or role-playing games, do you have any of those?
(Now, inevitably, comes the question I HATE:)
"I can go check. What titles are you looking for?"
(*Sigh*...) Well, I have an awfully long list... Do you have anything by Infocom?
"Well I don't know the manufacturers that well. I can look up specific titles, though."
At this point the collector can do one of four things: (1) Ask the nice ignoramus if he has each and every piece of collectible software on your list, while running up a huge phone bill plus likely ticking the guy off since he's got to get up and check for every title... He doesn't have a cordless phone, they never do. If you're lucky he'll have a database system where he can look up store stock, but he'll naturally be a pitiful typist. (2) Attempt to describe the type of game you're looking for, say, grey boxes with stripes, while hoping to God the guy doesn't pass up the later slipcased Infocoms, or worse, a Starcross saucer, simply because they don't fit that description. (3) Ask the Next Logical Question:
Well, I really have a huge number of titles I'd be interested in. Could I send you a list?
...to which he will always, always, ALWAYS make one of the following replies:
(A) "Sorry, I deal mainly with newer stuff/hardware so I wouldn't have time to look at every old game that comes through here."
(B) "Oh, are these collectible now or something?"
(C) "Sure, send it over."
If you get (A) you're screwed. (B) is a little better because at least the guy's interested. Except what do you tell him? Do you say, "Oh yeah, there's a huge market for these things now, I've seen rare stuff go for several hundred dollars on Internet auctions"? That's a good way to get a dealer thinking old stuff equals valuable, and when dealers think that is when the prices tend to start going through the roof, even on crappy stuff. I prefer to say "I just like the old games better than the new ones." Then I usually mention a group of nameless friends who feel the same way, hinting that they might shop here a lot more if the guy carried more old stuff, hint-hint.
The problem with getting response (B) is that it doesn't really resolve anything, and sooner or later you're bound to get (A) or (C). Now, if you're fortunate enough to get (C), then you're all optimistic because you think, wow, this guy's gonna go through my list and get all of the good games for me and this is my source and I found it and no one else can get anything from it cuz I sent my list in first!
Only it never happens. They never respond, and follow-up attempts are equally unprofitable. I have sent "lists" of games to at least two dozen potential sources, and would you believe not one of them has ever contacted me to say they've found something I'm looking for? Not one.
Am I right about this, fellow collectors? AM I RIGHT?!?
The only good thing that ever came with leaving a list was, one time a dealer gave the phone number from my list to another collector who'd come in that very same day asking about old games. That's how I first met TomMage. But otherwise I conclude it's not worth the time, trouble, and phone bill.
Which brings us to (4), and Lesson #3 in collecting computer games: Go to the damn store yourself.
And They Said It Couldn't Be Done!
One of the trickier Infocom sets to complete is their newsletter The New Zork Times (later changed to The Status Line). Their difficulty lies in the fact that Infocom was, from my experience anyway, pretty half-assed about sending them out. I remember mailing in at least half a dozen of those red subscription cards before finally receiving the very last issue in 1989. The ordering scheme is screwy too, with mix-ups and duplicate numbers abounding.
What follows is, to the very best of my knowledge, the complete set of NZT / SL issues. I've double-checked my own collection against that of a couple of others who also claimed to have them all, and this definitely seems to be the entire set. I've included dates, titles of the cover stories, and when warranted, some historical notes that I thought might be of interest. As always, if you have one I haven't got listed here, please drop me a line. Here we go:
Volume 1, No. 1 (Not numbered or dated, Spring or Summer 1982)
(Labeled an "Extra!", printed on one side only.)
"More Games, Systems, Says Infocom"
Volume 2, No. 1 (Fall 1982) (Single sheet, printed on both sides.)
"Infocom announces two new games: Starcross, and long-awaited Zork III"
Volume 2, No. Infinity (It has a little lemniscus symbol, really, I'm not kidding! Summer 1983. 6 pages, plus a pink order form.)
"Zork Users Group Will Shut Down"
(Some headings printed in red, including one announcing "Our Last Issue!" which of course proves to be untrue.)
Volume 3, No. 1 (Spring 1983. One sheet, front and back.)
"New Products in the Works"
Volume 3, No. 1 (Winter 1984. Yes, I know I just did Volume 3, No. 1 -- this is another Volume 3, No. 1! 4 pages.)
"Sorcerer Has the Magic Touch"
(This one was originally mailed out with the first copies of the "Our Circuits, Ourselves!" product catalog.)
Volume 3, No. 2 (Spring 1984. Just to clear up any confusion, Winter
issues are the first of each year, not the last. It just had me baffled
for awhile -- I was thinking Winter, December, end of year, but it's
Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall... at least until we get to the Status Line
issues, at which point Winter becomes the year's last issue. 4 pages.)
"Infocom Introduces Seastalker"
Volume 3, No. 3 (Summer 1984. 8 pages.)
"You're About to Get Yourself Into Very Deep Trouble" (Cutthroats)
(Of note: This is the issue where Infocom announced their new packaging, the now-famous grey box. Cutthroats, was the first new game to be done in this format.)
Volume 3, No. 4 (Fall 1984. 4 pages.)
"Two Exciting New Products!" (Suspect and Hitchhiker's Guide)
(Of note: This one includes a cryptic ad for Infocom's at-the-time-untitled business software package.)
Volume 4, No. 1 (Winter 1985. 12 pages.)
"Cornerstone: The Hottest New Business Product of 1985"
Volume 4, No. 2 (Spring 1985. 12 pages.)
"Wishbringer: The Story of Your Dreams"
(Of note: The spread of the Wishbringer package contents does include the stone. The stoneless version must have been a very low run, done either before Infocom finalized the product and went public, or at the end, when the supply of stones ran out.)
Volume 4, No. 2 (Should be No. 3, but they goofed. Summer 1985. 8 pages.)
"New Release: A Mind Forever Voyaging"
Volume 4, No. 4 (Fall 1985. 8 pages.)
"Spellbreaker is Here!"
Volume 5, No. 1 (Winter 1986. 8 pages.)
"Now Introducing... Ballyhoo!"
(Of note: The caption below the spread of package contents specifically mentions the balloon as being "red". Hmm.)
Volume 5, No. 4 (Should be No. 2 but they goofed. Spring 1986. 12 pages.)
"Trinity: A Nuclear Time Warp"
(Of note: A landmark issue. This includes the official announcement of Infocom's purchase by Activision and a last-minute addendum -- overlapping part of a Cornerstone article -- announcing the lawsuit brought on by the New York Times, which led to the name change. This is also the issue where Infocom sold off the last of their Personal Software Zorks -- aka Barbarian Zorks -- as collector's items.)
Volume 5, No. 3 (Summer 1986. 12 pages.)
"Moonmist"/"Leather Goddesses of Phobos"
(Of note: This issue marks the first use of the new newsletter name The Status Line.)
Volume 5, No. 4 (Fall 1986. 8 pages.)
"Hollywood Hijinx"/"Enchanter Trilogy"
Volume 6, No. 1 (Winter/Spring 1987. 12 pages.)
"Douglas Adams' Bureaucracy"/"Genuine Zorkmid Coin Minted for Zork Trilogy"
(Of note: This is the first issue to have the title printed in blue.)
Volume 6, No. 2 (Summer 1987. 12 pages.)
"The Lurking Horror and Stationfall"
(Of note: Includes an ad for a complete set of NZT back issues for $10. How many of you are kickin' yourselves now for not ordering them?)
Volume 6, No. 3 (Fall 1987. 12 pages.)
"Plundered Hearts"/"Nord and Bert"
(Of note: Includes a special offer of a free Zorkmid with the purchase of
Zork II or III. I do believe this was the only case where the Zorkmid was sold separately from the Zork Trilogy package.)
Volume 6, No. 4 (Winter 1987. 12 pages.)
"Beyond Zork"/"Border Zone"
(Of note: Pictures the three slipcased sets for the first time. Classic Mystery Library and Science Fiction Classics arrived about a year after the Enchanter Trilogy.)
Volume 7, No. 1 (Winter/Spring 1988. 12 pages.)
"Sherlock Holmes"/"Infocomics" (the first three)
(Of note: First mention of the Solid Gold releases.)
Volume 7, No. 2 (Summer 1988. 8 pages.)
"New Mail Order Firm - Really!"/"ZorkQuest II"
(Of note: Included a pull-out flyer for Triton, first announced in this issue as Infocom's new distributor.)
Volume 7, No. 3 (Fall 1988. 8 pages.)
(Of note: Included a pull-out flyer for Triton.)
Volume 8, No. 1 (Spring 1989. 6 pages.)
(Of note: An article on the back mentions another name change for the newsletter, this time to ZQ. Unfortunately Activision subsequently relocated Infocom to the west coast and no more issues were printed.)
Show And Tell-arium
Here's another list I've been meaning to put together for quite some time. Unlike Infocom, Telarium never included a list of contents in their games, making it hard to tell if they're complete. Hopefully this'll help.
(This is under construction, so if yours has something I don't list here, please let me know!)
(Note: Some box packages for PC simply contain a cheaply printed instruction manual and have Spinnaker labels on the disks. These are from the last wave of releases. Some packages contain a Trillium / Telarium newsletter, some do not.)
Nine Princes in Amber
Rendezvous with Rama:
And as Long as I'm on a Roll
...how about I list the Sierra package variations I know about? By which I mean Sierra Hi-Res Adventures #0 - 6, not the King's Quest / Space Quest / Police Quest / Quest Quest series. There are four basic formats for the early Sierra stuff:
Mission Asteroid (#0): Package type (2) has black / white / red art of an astronaut. I have two variations, identical except for the appearance of the On-Line Systems logo on the back. Packages (3), (4), and (5) have full-color art of an astronaut standing on the asteroid's surface. I haven't seen package type (1), but presumably it exists.
Mystery House (#1): Package types (3) and (4) show a picture of the house with smoke rising from the chimney to form the title. Type (2) shows a shadow view of the house from the side. I haven't seen package types (1) or (5), but I'm sure they were produced.
Wizard and the Princess (#2): Package type (1) is printed on yellow paper and has a picture of the wizard and princess outside a castle. (2) has a white border and shows the wizard in a dungeon cell with the princess. (3), (4), and (5) show them outside with a castle in the background and the wizard holding a staff emitting a beam of light which strikes the title.
Cranston Manor (#3): Package (2) has a black border and shows a knight in a fountain guarding the gate leading up to the manor. (3) and (4) show the manor with the knight's helmet at the bottom of the picture. Haven't seen packages (1) or (5) for this title.
Ulysses (#4): Same cover art on packages (2), (3), (4), and (5) show our hero riding Pegasus, holding the Golden Fleece. Not sure if (1) exists.
Time Zone (#5): Package type (6), the large box, only.
Dark Crystal (#6): Package type (3), the large folder / manual only. I think. I don't believe there ever was a box or Load-and-Go version.
The Fall of Planetfall
A few people have written since the last update to ask me if I know anything about Activision's Planetfall 2: The Search for Floyd, a playable demo of which was included on either the Zork Anthology or Return to Zork CD. The game was supposedly in development around the time RTZ was released, but little has been heard since.
So I pestered Activision, and they finally said the project was killed some time ago. When I asked why, they said (heh, this is good!) they "didn't remember". Personally, I suspect the thing turned out a big bloated sucky mess like LGoP2 and Activision, rather than release another bomb, took the loss and quietly swept it under the rug, hoping we'd all forget.
If anybody knows anything more, or has a playable version of the work-in-progress, please drop me a line. And one of these days I will get a reply from Steve Meretzky himself, and he will answer to us. B-)
Okay. That infamous pink cover of Suspect in one of Infocom's catalogs. I finally have an answer for all of you, courtesy of Mike Dornbrook (Infocom Director of Marketing 1983 - 1989, also the creator of InvisiClues and the New Zork Times, founder of the Zork Users Group and beta-tester for Zork I and II).
Mike writes: "We had to go to press on the catalog before the game cover was complete, so we used a prototype. Suspect came out in mid-November 1984, as I recall, and we needed to print catalogs in August to get them into the fall production runs for Cutthroats, Hitchhiker's, etc. We commissioned Alan Cober, a fairly prominent graphic artist at the time (he was big in the New Yorker), and paid him something like $12,000 for the cover and manual artwork for Suspect. I'm sure it's worth many times that now. I gave it all to Dave Lebling when the company shut down (you can imagine how tempted I was to keep it myself)."
So, there you have it. It does not exist in actual package form. (That's a relief, I was goin' nuts trying to find this one!)
Featured Items This Update
Well, I had a great list of rare stuff, including a Sci-Fi Classics slipcase, a Fooblitzky, a Curse of Crowley Manor and a Shadowkeep, but Manuel Schulz was visiting from Germany and bought it all! So there's nothing in the Shoppe worth buying this time. Nope. Not a thing. B-)
Remember, Lesson #3: Go to the damn store yourself.