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"Down from the Top of its Game"

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Hector Briceño, Wesley Chao, et. al.Edit

The complete authors of this text are: Hector Briceño, Wesley Chao, Andrew Glenn, Stanley Hu, Ashwin Krishnamurthy, and Bruce Tsuchida. These superstar from india

thala ajith kumar individuals were students in the MIT class 6.933J/STS.420J: Structure of Engineering Revolutions, taught by Professors David Minted on the MIT class website. The course description of the class is:

"This class provides an integrated approach to engineering practice in the real world. Students research the life cycle of a major engineering project, new technology, or startup company from multiple perspectives: technical, economic, political, and cultural. Research involves interviewing inventors, reading laboratory notebooks, evaluating patents, and looking over the shoulders of engineers as they developed today’s technologies. Subject is for students who recognize that technical proficiency alone is only part of the formula for success in technology."

This project is aptly sourced at MIT, as Infocom was a start-up of several MIT students. It exists as valuable documentation of the Infocom period and Infocom's many employees.

Down from the Top of its Game: The Story of Infocom, Inc.Edit

In some sense, this project embodies an alternative genealogy of Infocom. Setting up the "traditional" story that Infocom failed as a company because it took heavy losses from a poorly-performing database software release called Cornerstone, the students then suggests that the reasons for Infocom's demise are more nuanced than typically thought. Rather than critiquing Infocom for developing Cornerstone, the authors suggest that Cornerstone was an obvious progression and investment for the software company. The overall jist of this approach is summarized on page 5:

"This paper traces the history of Infocom, starting with its roots as a group of MIT students and faculty. It explores the period when Infocom soared to the top of the software entertainment industry, through the transition from making games to developing business products, and the end, after the Activision buyout. The story shows that a combination of factors, not a single technical or managerial decision, led to Infocom’s success and failure. Infocom succeeded in making popular games not only because it decided to make Zork available on personal computers, but also because it developed an effective system for supporting new
platforms, maintained an engineering culture that excelled at writing computer games, and marketed its products to the right audience.

Nor did Infocom fail simply because it decided to make Cornerstone. Infocom failed for many reasons that were closely tied to how the company managed the transition to business products. Behind the scenes, the transition created a litany of problems—skyrocketing costs, depletion of resources, and internal conflicts. Combined with some bad luck, these problems, and not just Cornerstone per se, ultimately led to Infocom’s downfall."

The document serves as a fair platform study as well, as some attention and detail is given to the process of downsizing the mainframe PDP-10 version of Zork (which ran on 516 kb of memory and 1 MG of code) to a program that could run on 32 kb of memory plus a 80 kb floppy drive. The solution for this was the Z-machine, an virtual machine specifically developed to suit only the needs of a text adventure. Marc Blank and Jose Berez, the ex-MIT/LCS [Laboratory for Computer Science] students saddled with porting the game from a mainframe to a microprocessor, also figured out how to only load certain portions of the code to memory at a time and leave the rest on disk. These efforts produced "one of the earliest virtual memory managers for the personal computer" (11).

The document offers an excellent examination of the games vs. business software split, and the various economic and technical considerations that ruled these categories. Indeed, the trasition documented around pg. 28-29 may be the most interesting part, as they suggest a watershed moment in which the company was forced to define itself in a particular way, thus limiting its possibilities. It beautifully illustrates the business-end difficulties with an unmanaged (or over-managed) merger, and articulated the intra-personal difficulties that faltered the company. One especially telling qoute from Marc Blank asserts his desire to work in with graphics, a perspective somewhat in constrast to the after-the-fact histories that suggest Infocom was solely invested in the literary standards of their interactive fiction.

The authors use the notion of a "disruptive technology" a term borrowed from Clayton Christiansen, a Harvard Business School professor, who "argues in The Innovator’s Dilemma that companies often fail because they discount new, disruptive technologies either because the markets are too small or because their customers do
not want what these technologies provide. He explains that a disruptive technology is one that usually starts with inferior performance than the present, sustaining technology" (43).

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