Three Shoppekeeper apologies are in order.


The first, better late than never, is for this year's mischievous April Fool's prank. Sorry. I couldn't resist. Most of you didn't even dignify it with a response. Those who did consistently asked, "When are the real pictures of you going up?"

That I haven't decided yet... Maybe when I have a few other collectors' faces to put up along with mine... or maybe when someone finds me the Infocom font I've been after. I've had a couple of moderately similar ones sent my way, but so far no exact match. Remember, free Shoppe game to the first person to find -- or make -- me an exact match. (Did I mention shipping was free too? Cuz it is.)

My second apology is for the delay in this update. Most of you are probably used to delays between columns, but lately I haven't even maintained the sale lists very well. An onslaught of trades, a family wedding, and gobs of recent acquisitions have all held back this update. On top of it all, Interplay just had to go and release Fallout Tactics back in March. Lots of things to do, not enough time to do it, until (1) it's piled up enough to seem overwhelming, and (2) I'm weary of making progress only to have to do it all over again when the next batch comes in.

In a way, I've become a victim of my own site's success. Which is why I'm negotiating with a fellow collector and web designer to help me automate the tiring, repetitive aspects of maintaining YOIS: entering new items, marking items as reserved, removing sold items, managing the waiting list, etc. The new YOIS codebase will run off a combination of PHP4 and MySQL, and will eliminate a lot of Shoppe overhead. I'll have a master games database that I can pull game descriptions from, even if I haven't had copies in the Shoppe for awhile. I'll be able to query waiting-list requests for matches from the sale pages instead of having to do it all manually. There will even be a make-an-offer algorithm allowing you to reserve and buy games without having to wait for a response from me.

Eventually, the time saved should lead to more regular updates, more frequent and longer columns, and some of the features I've wanted to do for some time (bringing back images of stuff for sale, for instance)... though possibly at the expense of a little of the "personal touch". Rest assured, though, it'll still be me behind it, and YOIS will still be a one-person operation. Just with a little automation to allow that one person to do more, faster. The launch date is tentatively scheduled for early October, pending database creation, and completion and testing of the scripts.


Death of a Shoppekeeper

My third apology is for the topic of this month's column, which is kind of morbid, but something that every serious collector needs to think about.

I'm sure everyone knows by now that Douglas Adams -- author of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy books, Infocom's Bureaucracy, Starship Titanic, and co-author of the Infocom HHGG adaption -- died of a heart attack on May 11th, leaving his Hitchhiker's Guide trilogy incomplete after a mere five books. He was 49. He made a lot of us laugh, made some of us scream with delightful frustration (I'm referring here to the Babel Fish puzzle and most of Bureaucracy), and he will be sorely, sorely missed. So long, Douglas, and thanks for all the fish.

Douglas' sudden heart attack, coupled with seeing my aunt recently diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, has made me realize that, if I were to die unexpectedly, I'd be leaving one heck of a mess behind for my next of kin to sort out. If you think about it for a moment, you'll realize you probably have a LOT of open affairs in your online life. My own list includes: YOIS, eBay, PayPal, GameTZ, all manner of open trades and deals with other collectors. And if I should suddenly depart, I'd be leaving behind a lot of incomplete work and a lot of frustrated Shoppers.

In online relationships, if one party doesn't respond, that party is DEAD. Just ask anyone who hasn't gotten a response from me within two days. Seriously, though, if you died, how could any of your online contacts be expected to know? If you're the only one in your family who knows those people, who would inform them? Who would you want to be notified of your passing? A negative feedback can't hurt you once you're dead, but wouldn't it be nice if you could count on someone to wrap up all of your open deals, leaving your customers completely satisfied? That's how I'd want to be remembered.

But what if your surviving family is not very computer-literate? Would they know how to log on and respond to your e-mail to let people know about you? Would they know to withdraw the money you have sitting in your PayPal account? And just TRY explaining your system for selling and trading games to someone who's never done it before!

Not that I think my time is coming anytime soon... At present the biggest threat to my life would probably be a really bad paper-cut from a game manual. But which of us can truly say how much time s/he has left? Heart attacks and car accidents can happen any day.

Of even greater concern is what will happen to all the great items you spent so much time and effort (and money) bringing together. Remember, we're not "normal" people. We're vintage game enthusiasts. We hoard old games. "Normal" people throw out old games. I mean, old games are junk, right?

My advice to all collectors is, find out if your immediate family or close friends know your wishes regarding your hobby, and if not, make them aware of it. Include provisions in your will, stating what should happen to your collection. Write a letter, with detailed instructions for closing all of your online affairs, and stick it in the envelope with the will, to be read only after you're gone. And I do mean detailed: Tell them everything they wouldn't instinctively know on their own, and assume that they know nothing of how your hobby works. (Chances are they really don't.) This means e-mails, website addresses... IDs and passwords...

Don't wait. Take the time to do it this week. I've already done this for my collection: My sister has detailed instructions of whom to contact, what to do to close my accounts, and how to go about resolving my pending deals, should I ever pass on unexpectedly. My cousin gets the collection, with the stipulation that he's allowed to sell the entire lot, but not to break it up. (So nice try, you vultures! Heh, just teasin'... B-) You can't take it with you, but if you've spent your whole life collecting it, you can at least ensure it's treated with respect after you're gone.

That, or get a really big cemetery plot, and have all your treasure buried with you. B-)


On the Lighter Side

You know you're addicted to game collecting if you've ever...

...spent more than $100 on a single game.

...bought more than 20 games at one time.

...dedicated an entire room to your collection.

...outbid a good friend on a game you both wanted.

...bought a ton of crappy games just to get one really great title that was part of the lot.

...spent far more than you wanted to on a game, out of fear you'd never get another chance at it.

...placed want-ads for vintage games in your local newspaper.

...and in the classified section of your workplace's company newsletter.

...lost an auction and wished like hell you'd gone higher than you did.

...involuntarily winced when opening the shrinkwrap on a non-collectible game you bought to play.

...bought games you didn't need just so you could add them to your trade pile.

...or just because you felt the urge to buy a game, ANY game.

...neglected a prior obligation to snipe an auction for a game you really wanted.

...gone hunting for games in another state.

...and in another country.

...checked all your favorite sale sites more than once a week.

...done side-by-side comparisons of the contents from various incarnations of your games.

...spent more on games last December than you did on Christmas presents for your family.

...gone into a store and bought a rare game, feigning mild interest while ready to explode inside.

...asked people at a garage sale if they had any old software they'd care to sell.

...spent over two hours on the phone talking about old games.

...debated the authenticity of the shrinkwrap on a game box.

...asked for a game no one else has even heard of.

...had more transactions on your PayPal account than you did on your credit card statement.

...made a long, detailed list of every single game you want.

...and then actually given it to people.

...and then contacted them when they didn't get back to you first.

...bought a second copy of a game because the box was slightly different than the one you already had.

...driven longer than an hour to get to a store that might have vintage games.

...asked family members to keep an eye out for games for you while they're travelling.

...and then paid them back for the crappy stuff they bought for you, in the hopes that they'll eventually hit paydirt.

...met other collectors in person. (Extra credit if you see them regularly.)

...examined a game, piece by individual piece, to put together the absolute best package possible from multiple copies.

...not assembled a prop from a recent game, out of fear you might sabotage its future collectability.

...been able to tell a package is missing a prop by its weight.

...wrestled over whether your collection should be organized according to title, publisher, genre, package type, or computer platform.

...bought a complete computer system just to get the software that came bundled with it.

...hidden a store game behind some other stuff because you couldn't afford it right away and you didn't want anyone else to grab it before you had a chance to come back for it.

...spent your day off hunting for games.

...spent your lunch break hunting for games.

...prepped for a snipe on eBay more than 30 minutes prior to the auction's close.

...done the victory dance after landing a particularly awesome score (once out of earshot of the other party, natch).

...missed an auction but felt relieved that at least the item ended up selling for much higher than you'd ever be willing to pay.

...and then several months later you've seriously thought about paying that much.

...gone through all of your magazines and adventure game books and made a list of the titles mentioned in them.

...asked everyone you work with if they have any old software lying around.

...bragged about a rare item in your collection to someone with absolutely no knowledge of the hobby.

...refused to throw a game out, no matter how terrible its condition.

...chosen games over a basic necessity (food, bills) when faced with the decision of paying for one or the other.

...met or corresponded with an author of one of the games you've collected. (Extra credit if you tracked the author down yourself.)

...run out of shelf space to put all of your stuff.

...so you stacked it on the floor as best you could, slowly filling in the room until now there's only a narrow path for you to walk on.

...and you've accidentally kicked stuff over more than once.

...been embarrassed to have people over, lest they see the shelves full of games and think you're some kind of weirdo.

...had to defend the legitimacy of your hobby for someone who didn't understand it.

...tried placing ads in adult magazines in search of early adult games.

...and gotten some... er... interesting replies.

...almost crapped your pants when you found a rare item at a dirt-cheap price.

...calculated the exact value of every item in a large lot, to determine how much you'd bid on it.

...bid against another collector just so they'd have to pay more for an item.

...immediately mailed someone who outsniped you, hoping they'd sell you the item they just won.

...made someone a very generous offer so they wouldn't list a game on eBay, so you wouldn't have to compete for it.

...tried to learn a new language so you could trade with people from that country.

...wondered how well the Starcross saucer would fly, but have always been afraid to try it.

...put your face into the plastic Suspended mask. (Extra credit if you looked at yourself in the mirror with it on.)

...eaten the "pills" from Infocom's Deadline to see what they taste like. (They're Smarties, in case you haven't.)


I-F Profile: Datasoft

It's been awhile since I've done a company profile, hasn't it? These have been popular in the past, so I thought I'd try to start them up again.

Datasoft got their start in 1981 developing games Tandy published for their Color Computer, and doing a little Atari 8-bit on the side. Eventually they expanded into the Apple II and Commodore realms, where they lasted until 1988.

They're probably best remembered for their two Alternate Reality RPGs, The City and The Dungeon (along with four more that were planned but never created). They also did the American distribution for Time and Magik and Lancelot, adventure games by Level 9 that weren't imported by Firebird / Rainbird.

Datasoft also published five text/graphic adventures for Apple, Atari, Commodore, and the Tandy CoCo. Rumors of PC versions of their games persist, but I have yet to see one. All had hi-res static graphics, with a two-word parser. Packages were sparsely prop-ulated (a collector word I use to describe the extent of the materials / props included with a game), just disks and manuals, plus coupons for discounts from their frequent buyer program.

Datasoft's five parser adventures are:

Dallas Quest: Adapted from the popular 1980s TV series. You're a private detective hired by Sue Ellen, attempting to recover a map of a lost oil field without J.R. finding out. The story is by Louella Lee Caraway and Phyllis Wapner, two of the show's original writers if I'm not mistaken.

Dark Lord: A fairly typical fantasy-world, "defeat the evil bad guy" adventure. Features some real-time puzzles and the ability to randomize the game so that the items appear in different places each time.

Gunslinger: Set in the Old West (a genre I'm still surprised Infocom never tapped), this game is chock-full of spaghetti-Western situations, characters, and puzzles. The goal is to free a friend from jail while avoiding a ruthless outlaw gang. Has a menu of common commands you can choose with a joystick instead of typing everything.

The Neverending Story: Based on the children's fantasy movie, newly released at the time. You play the child Atreyu, on a quest with Artax the horse and Falkor the Luck Dragon to stop the Nothing destroying the magical land of Fantasia. Follows the film's plot, closely enough that knowledge of it helps with the game. The Atari and Commodore versions were on opposite sides of the same disk. Also released in Europe by Ocean for the Spectrum, possibly other machines as well. Actually Datasoft licensed it from Ocean, maybe it should go there instead. (Incidentally, the film is superb. Check it out if you've never seen it before, especially if you liked The Dark Crystal.)

Sands of Egypt: Datasoft's first parser adventure, and the only one to come in a two-piece box. Along the lines of Infidel -- lost and alone in the desert, you search for a pyramid -- though this was released a year earlier, and didn't have the twist ending when you found the treasure. (Kim Schutte's The Book of Adventure Games incorrectly identifies this game as being by Datamost, not Datasoft.)


Game
Author(s)
Year
Platforms
Box Type
Dallas Quest Louella Lee Caraway, James Garon, Phyllis Wapner
1984
Apple, Atari, C64, Tandy CoCo
1-piece
Dark Lord Kyle Freeman
1987
Apple, C64
1-piece
Gunslinger (unknown)
1986
Apple, Atari, C64
1-piece
Neverending Story Ian Weatherburn
1986
Apple, Atari, C64
1-piece
Sands of Egypt Steve Bjork, Ralph Burris, Frank Cohen, James Garon
1982
Apple, Atari, Tandy CoCo
2-piece

(Note that the above table lists only platforms I've seen myself or seen on other lists. Ports to a few other systems, PC in particular, may never have been completed, so I've left them off.)

Datasoft games aren't rare, but finding them can sometimes take some looking. Dallas Quest tends to fetch moderate prices due to fans who collect memorabilia from the show. Dark Lord seems to be the least common, and evaded me for quite awhile. The hardest part is not finding them, but finding them in good condition. Except for Sands of Egypt, the boxes are flimsy and crush pretty easily.


Folio Forensics

Can you stand just one more article on Infocom package variations?

Awhile back, another collector wrote me about his acquisition of a Deadline folio package. Nothing unusual about that, but on the back of the package, where Infocom gave brief descriptions of their other available titles, it only mentioned Zork I and II. No Zork III, no Starcross. This was news to me, as every copy I had, both in the Shoppe and my own collection, mentioned all four. To be honest, I'd never really checked for folio variations.

Scanning the Infocom Fact Sheet, it turns out Deadline was actually released between Zork II and Zork III, so the variation does make sense.

Timeline of Infocom Folio Releases

I made a note of the variation and filed it away, until recently, when I had four extra Witness folios in the Shoppe at the same time. Checking the backs of these packages, and the one in my own collection, I found three that mentioned Planetfall, Enchanter, and Infidel on the back, and one that did not. See the difference for yourself:

(Earliest folio release, mentions
Zork, Deadline, Starcross, Suspended.)

(Later release, mentions
Zork, Deadline, Enchanter, Starcross,
Suspended, Planetfall, Infidel
.)

Of course, all this has left me wondering about the other folios, whether any variations of those exist. So if you could, those of you with folios and a few free minutes, let me know which games are mentioned on the back of yours. I'll accumulate the info and pass on our findings to everyone else in the next column.

Here are the versions I currently have or know of, listed by the games' original publication dates. (Thanks to Paul David Doherty for putting these in chronological order in the Infocom Fact Sheet, so I didn't have to do it myself.) Note that, aside from the Zork series, the folio games do not include themselves in their list of other Infocom titles.

Zork I (small blister pack)
Two varieties:

Zork I (large blister)
Mentions Zork I - III, Deadline, Witness, Starcross, Suspended, Planetfall, Enchanter, Infidel.

Zork II (small blister)
Mentions Zork I - III, Deadline, Starcross.

Zork II (large blister)
Mentions Zork I - III, Deadline, Witness, Starcross, Suspended, Planetfall, Enchanter, Infidel.

Deadline
Two varieties:

Zork III (small blister)
Mentions Zork I - III, Deadline, Starcross.

Zork III (large blister)
Mentions Zork I - III, Deadline, Witness, Starcross, Suspended, Planetfall, Enchanter, Infidel.

Starcross
Mentions Zork I - III, Deadline.

Suspended
Mentions Zork I - III, Deadline, Starcross.

Witness
Two varieties:

Planetfall
Two varieties:

Enchanter
Mentions Zork I - III, Deadline, Witness, Starcross, Suspended, Planetfall, Infidel.

Infidel
Mentions Zork I - III, Enchanter, Deadline, Witness, Starcross, Suspended, Planetfall.

Sorcerer
Mentions Zork I - III, Enchanter, Deadline, Witness, Starcross, Suspended, Planetfall, Infidel.

Seastalker
Mentions Zork I - III, Enchanter, Sorcerer, Deadline, Witness, Starcross, Suspended, Planetfall, Infidel.

I'll close with the following observations:

Thoughts or comments, anyone?


Quickies

If you haven't tried BidVille yet, check it out. While basically another clone of eBay, it's 100% free for listing, gaining traffic from disgruntled eBay users, and you can find some good bargains there without a great deal of competition. It reminds me of the days when eBay was the best-kept secret on the net (and not the greedy rule-changing crybaby it is today). That's where Harry Brown (zzyzx000) currently hangs out, now that Yahoo! Auctions is charging listing fees.

Just a quick note when sending me payment: I usually have a lot of open deals going on at once, so please include some sort of indication of what your payment is for. If you don't I'll have to dig through my back mail to find it myself, which can delay my getting your package together. (Writing "GAME" on the check is not good enough, I sell lots of games.) And please, WRITE LEGIBLY. Thanks in advance.

I've found Jay Goemmer, whose Downbelow Station site hosted the original Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe back in 1996-97. Or rather, he got back in touch with me while passing through the Shoppe. Jay's since moved from radio to television, and says he isn't into I-F as much anymore, but still keeps his I-F page around. Nice to hear from you again, Jay!

I'm trying to get the waiting list up to date before the new codebase goes live in a few months. If you're on the list for something but haven't written me in awhile, please drop me a line and let me know whether you still need the item in question. (If you answered my last wave of mails, no need to reply again.) Also, Shoppers who get mail bounced back from any of the waiting-list addresses, or no reply at all, please let me know and I'll remove the appropriate entry.

Anyone out there collect America Online disks (or maybe just have a bunch lying around because you can't bear to toss them)? I know, AOL rains them down on us, but apparently there's some interest in collecting variations and early versions. Check this out!


New This Update

Lesson number... um, what lesson number are we on?

Four. Lesson #4 in collecting computer games: Buy up the entire lot.

A couple of months back, I had the opportunity to purchase a huge lot of old software from David Bishop, the man who founded the Cyber Exchange chain of software reseller stores back in the 1980s. He'd saved a bunch of interesting-looking items people had brought in from the store's early days, suspecting it'd be collectible someday. Quite a visionary, foreseeing both the potential for used software stores and the advent of software collecting.

(For those of you in the Chicago area, Bishop has a new store in Fox Lake: Take Rand Road north, it's on a side road, visible from the main road, on the right-hand side as you come into town.)

Anyway, David had this huge lot of old software he'd been holding onto for years, and was looking to sell it all. So he floated offers around various collector sites, and eventually it got forwarded to me (thanks Stephen!) A lot of people had made offers on individual pieces, but I was the first to quote a fair price for the entire lot, so I ended up with it all.

The reason, I suspect, that many collectors (the type I discussed in the last column aren't into buying up lots is because it's inconvenient. It's not very tidy. You end up with a number of huge boxes cluttering up your living quarters until you can go through it all, find buyers / auction it, etc. Selling off individual pieces is much more work than getting rid of an entire lot for a single price. On the other hand, getting rid of duplicates and things you don't need is a small price to pay for finally acquiring a copy of THE game, the one you've been after for years (in my case, Sierra's Adventure in Serenia... not for sale, please don't ask).

So. Lesson #4. Buy up the entire lot.

As a result, you'll see a number of rare additions to the vault this time around, and quite a bit of new sale stuff. Not so much Infocom anymore, a lot of my sources have dried up, though there are a few InvisiClues and an Enchanter Trilogy slipcase. Plenty of other I-F and non-IF, both of which seem to move almost as well as the Infocoms these days.

I've also added a non-game page for some early business and operating system software I've had given to me and asked to sell. Not that I plan to get into this area with any level of seriousness, but maybe some gamers who are also vintage PC enthusiasts will find something they can use. It's mostly cheap stuff, cost of book-rate shipping and a few bucks (though I would like to get a decent price for the MS-DOS 1.1 and a few of the still-wrapped items).

And, just to refresh, the previous "lessons in collecting computer software" were:

  1. Always look in the box. If the package isn't wrapped, check if it's complete... and if there's anything unexpected included, such as props or docs from another game (especially in thrift shops).

  2. Take a chance once in a while. If it's not too expensive, buy up an entire lot of old software, sight-unseen. You may get a diamond or two.

  3. Go to the damn store yourself. Don't waste time talking to store staff on the phone, asking if they have any old games. Their definition of old is different from a collector's, and they probably won't know what's valuable and what's not. Drive there and check it out in person.

Happy Shoppe-ing!


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