Abandonware and Interactive Fiction

Abandonware: Old games no longer supported or distributed but still copyrighted by their publishers, who are often completely out of business.

Warez: Games supported and still distributed by their publishers that may be found available for download on certain unscrupulous web sites despite the fact that such sites take a bite into revenue.

Note: Links to sites I mentioned below may be found at the end of the essay.

This topic should raise a few eyebrows: "IF and Abandonware? That's a strange topic. Most games available at abandonware sites are action/adventure, strategy, or role playing games, not interactive fiction." This is true. When one stops to think about it, interactive fiction is traditionally about the least commercial of game genres. This is especially true of the pure text adventure, of course - it would be hard to imagine Sierra Online or Lucas Arts releasing their games as freeware. Nay, impossible! Even the text adventure enjoyed a relatively brief period of commercial success, but only to a very limited extent. In America, there was Infocom. In Europe, Level 9. But other companies? I'm sure there were a few, but they were certainly overshadowed by their well-known rivals, and their releases don't often show up on abandonware sites for sure. But the vast majority of interactive fiction games released have been freeware or shareware, passed along on BBSes and Compuserve during the 80s and early 90s, and then through the Internet after that. Anyway, I recently came across two really excellent web sites that offered extensive downloads from both those popular commercial text adventure makers I mentioned, and I took advantage of those sites. Is this right or wrong? In the case of Infocom, the site I came across was the Commodore Zone's Infocom collection. In essence, they have every single game released by Infocom for the Commodore 64 ready to play by anyone who dares embrace the revolutionary concept of emulation. I didn't really need to play a bunch of old classics that I had played on the PC already for years through a C64 emulator, but what really caught my eye was the abundance of relative rarities that were also available: Infocomics, samplers, etc. I had to download these! I'd never played them before, and I wouldn't have gotten a chance to play 'em, either, if I hadn't downloaded them from this site. Should I be condemned to Hell? Maybe! But Infocom doesn't exist anymore. Activision markets(or used to market) a couple of fantastic Infocom compilations, but these are basically out-of-print now. There are still copies to be grabbed in strange places, but they're becoming harder and harder to find as time goes by. They also don't include the Infocomics or the samplers anyway(The page on the Commodore Zone is likely the only place even on the Net where you can find those). Oh yeah, and as for Level 9? Well, I downloaded a complete collection of their games from a little abandonware site devoted to serving the "underdogs" of the gaming industry - the companies you've never heard of. I sure hadn't heard of Level 9 till I met up with my fellow Trotting Krip Robb Sherwin who is a big fan of their seminal 1987 release "Knight Orc." So, does this mean that I should never get a chance to play the classic games released by Level 9 in the 80s just cuz of the fact I hadn't heard of the buggers till the late 90s? Perhaps it does - after all, Level 9 does still exist. They just don't produce adventure games anymore. What it all boils down to is whether or not you approve of abandonware as a concept.

I do. I think great games can be as timeless as great novels or great albums or great paintings. I believe that great games should be preserved and played till the end of time, not pushed aside by the latest thing simply because it is the latest thing. And since it seems that in order for great games to be preserved they must be freely distributed as there is little market for selling "classic" games commercially, so be it. All the more fun for everybody! Granted, the whole thing is kind of illegal due to various copyright issues, but my bottom line is thus: "If the company don't exist no more, or don't support game no more, let's booooogiiiiieeee!" I'm not too keen on the idea of taking away profits away from the game developers, even if they are millionaires. But what could possibly be wrong with playing a game that's not going to make anybody any money anyway? Is it better for certain games to be forgotten despite their quality than it is to break a few copyright laws that cannot/will not be enforced? I hardly think so. All this brings us to another dilemma: "Is it okay to download Infocom games from Abandonware sites?" Well...uh....gee...that is a tough one. Sposing there's a kid out there who can't find himself a copy of The Lost Treasures of Infocom - maybe he doesn't have any money, either. Is it morally wrong for him to go down to the ol' Commodore Zone and download himself copies of not only the rarities, but the actual games, too, just to see what the hype is about? It's really, really tough to say. I wouldn't hold it against him personally, and it's a given fact that the Treasures and the Masterpieces are getting harder and harder to find - in a few years, they'll be about impossible to find unless they're re-released. There are no easy answers, unfortunately...but could we really let Infocom become FORGOTTEN? No way! So go 'head and knock yourself out! Just don't tell the cops.

Commodore Zone - Infocom Collection

Home of the Underdogs(and Level 9)

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