Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The Lurking Horror: Infocom's Lovecraftian Text Adventure Game

Via guetech.org
Infocom produced classic text adventure games, starting with Zork in 1980, and running the gamut from detective stories (Deadline) to pirate romance (Plundered Hearts); some games (e.g. Trinity, A Mind Forever Voyaging) were strikingly unique and unclassifiable.  Back in 1987, strange aeons ago in computer game time, Infocom released The Lurking Horror, an H.P. Lovecraft-inspired text adventure game. Written by Infocom cofounder Dave Lebling, The Lurking Horror was the very first Lovecraftian computer game. 

There aren’t any overt Cthulhu Mythos references in The Lurking Horror (although the name “Lovecraft” is dropped), but the style is there.  The story takes place at G.U.E. Tech, an MIT clone down to the steam tunnels (an early site of urban exploration).  You take the role of a student trying to finish a term paper for “The Classics in the Modern Idiom” during a blizzard (“You wonder, yet again, why a technical school requires you to endure this sort of stuff.”).  The campus is almost deserted and the file containing the paper has been corrupted by Department of Alchemy files which are bizarre, to say the least, including “woodcut illustrations which are queasily disturbing”.  They seem to reference sacrifices and summoning, and before you know it, you have a dream about an ichor-dripping thing with palps.  As you traverse the deserted buildings, the storm worsens and you begin to realize that, well, a lurking horror (as opposed to a  Lurking Fear) lurks on campus.

Most of Infocom’s games concentrated on puzzles, and some were quite difficult.  There are a number of these in The Lurking Horror, and, like the rest of the Infocom games, they’re made more difficult by the game’s limited vocabulary – players are forced to spend a lot of time trying to express themselves using words the game understands.  Lebling did a nice job evoking the dark, deserted, snowed-in campus – there aren’t a lot of horrific thrills, but mostly, playing the game will give you a cold, oppressive feeling. 

To make up for forcing you to use your imagination (and as copy protection), Infocom games tended to come with a lot of extras in the box; The Lurking Horror included a little rubber centipede-thing, among others.
Via guetech.org
 The Lurking Horror is now classed as abandonware.  If you really want to peer into computer gaming history and see a blue screen telling you “I don’t know the word “X” again and again as you figure out the commands, you can download it at Abandonia, or even play it online.

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