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Ah, Infocom
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yazi

I recently acquired an Apple Newton Message Pad 130 (thank you, Shannon). For those of you who don't remember the Newton, it was the original Super-PalmPilot. Created by Apple in 1993 (and killed in 1998), the Newton program was WAY ahead of its time, producing a handheld computer not only capable of organizing all of your personal contact data and synching with your Mac or PC, but also capable of surfing the internet, reading electronic books and e-mail, playing games, creating text documents and spreadsheets, true natural handwriting recognition, printing directly to almost any printer, and so much more. Unfortunately, the computing market was not ready for such a device and, ultimately, the program was canned. All this is incidental, though, to my story today (although I love my Newt and will probably talk about it later). What I do want to talk about is a game system I recently installed on my Newt called YAZI.

YAZI is a Z-Machine Interpreter. "What in hell is that?" you might ask. Well, do you remember the old (circa 1981-86) Infocom text-based games? Y'know -- Zork, the Lurking Horror, the Leather Goddesses of Phobos and all the rest. Well, Infocom's games were designed on a superbly forward-thinking model: a proprietary "Z-Machine" was written for each current platform (at the time, DOS, Amiga, Commodore, and Apple -- Macintosh was added when it appeared) and all Z-Machines could run Infocom ZGames. This model was incredibly innovative and was not really used again until Sun created Java -- JVMs (Java Virtual Machines) are written for different platforms, and all JVMs can run Java programs. Anyway, YAZI is a third party Z-Machine for the Newton OS.

What this means is, through YAZI, I can now play all of those old Infocom games on my Newton!

Of course, I anticipate one of two reactions (from you, my readers and friends) to this news:
reaction #1: "That is too f**king cool!"
reaction #2: "Why the f**k do you want to play text-based games?"

If your reaction is #2, you are probably too young to understand those of us who have reaction #1. Once upon a time, text-based games (or, interactive fiction) were the shit. Even when Apple's MacOS arrived and we had access to a graphical interface, graphic-based games were thin and weak and not much fun to play -- they simply took up so much memory there couldn't be much of a story. IF games were richly textured with hundreds of outcomes, clever puzzles, horrifying monsters, and often a clever recognition engine that would say things like, "are you sure you want to do that?" or "your attempt to destroy the tree with the jewel encrusted egg Is met with utter defeat." I spent literally full nights (from dusk nearly to dawn) hunched over the 9 inch screen of my Mac Classic, banging away on Douglas Adams's the Hitch Hikers Guide to the Galaxy and the gleefully tongue-in-cheek Lovecraftian the Lurking Horror. The puzzles were difficult and intellectually taxing -- the results thoroughly satisfying and often hilarious or scary. I don't think I ever finished either of those two games -- I was always thwarted before I could reach the end. I did finish the Leather Goddesses of Phobos, which I played with some friends -- I remember one of the keys was smearing your lips with chapstick before you kissed the toad in order to avoid death by poison. I don't know which one of us was clever enough to figure that out -- I'm certain it wasn't me.

The IF games of old were works of art. Thoughtfully constructed worlds consisting of nothing more than text descriptions drew so many of us in for such long stretches of time -- playing those games is when I really first started to fall in love with my Mac, and I think a lot of us out there are the same. MUDs -- online multiplayer text worlds -- sort of replaced the IF games, but in opening the worlds up for interaction with other gamers over the Ether, all of the elegance of plot and puzzles was lost to simple killing and accumulating experience (which is not so bad, either, but I was never much of a MUDder). Eventually MUDs died as well (though, admittedly, the ones that are still out there are heavily trafficked by veteran computer dorks like me and my friends) and were replaced with prettier, faster multiplayer games like Doom and Quake and Diablo. I love these new games (though, admittedly, I suck at them), but, even though I didn't know it, there was a void in me -- a longing for something simple and elegant.

And now that void is filled. So, if you see me on a bus or in the park, hunched over the glowing screen of my Newton, cursing loudly and shouting "get the goddamn screwdriver!" as I scribble furiously, you know that I am not having an Epilieptic fit or an outbreak of Turettes' Syndrome -- I am merely reliving the golden days of my youth.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have a Babel fish to find and some Vogons to defeat.

end of essay
David Nett Portrait David is an actor, writer and producer in Los Angeles. He's the founder and editor-in-chief of CSP, and a founding producer of the acclaimed Lucid by Proxy theater company. Despite all this, he still has to hold down a day job in the dot-com world, where he does product and interaction design. His acting has been called "committed," "detailed," "fearless," "hilarious" and "heart-rending" by the LA Times and Backstage West. His writing has been called "articulate and commanding" and "eminently readable" by Flak Magazine. His tenth grade Geometry teacher said he "does not work well in groups." | more essays by David
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