Infidel was the 10th game released by interactive fiction pioneers Infocom.
Infocom planned to create a "Tales of Adventure" series of games, in genres deriving from late 19th century and early 20th century "pulp fiction". This was prompted in part by the success of the movie Raiders of the Lost Ark, which had similiar influences. Infidel was the first "Tales of Adventure" game. (The label quickly became a catch-all genre description, rather than any sort of interconnected series.)
The game designer/programmer (or as Infocom called it, "implementor", or "imp") for Infidel was Michael Berlyn. Berlyn consulted extensively with Patricia Fogleman, a graduate student Egyptologist, for information about Egyptian mythology and pyramids.
Much like Raiders of the Lost Ark's hero Indiana Jones, the (nameless) player character of Infidel is in an exotic location, searching for historic relics. Indiana Jones is portrayed as almost superhumanly capable, and although his character is roguish, he always has good intentions. By contrast, the player character in Infidel is both immoral and incompetent. He lies to his benefactors, treats his crew cruelly, and breaks irreplaceable equipment. Infidel critiques the imperialistic assumptions of its genre. Berlyn later said in an online chat:
Some of the problems I faced in this game are what kind of a human being would even WANT to ransack a national shrine like a pyramid? And once I asked myself that question, I was sunk and there was no turning back.
Unsurprisingly given its non-crowd-pleasing nature, Infidel 's sales fell off sharply after a strong start.
The game begins with the player awaking, alone, in his Egyptian desert camp. They have been abandoned by the crew whom they mistreated. In fact, Infidel is Infocom's only game without any non-player characters with whom one can interact, further illustrating the isolation of its irredeemable protagonist.
The player soon indeed discovers the buried pyramid they believed to be nearby. They venture inside in search of its treasure. Once inside the pyramid, they must read hieroglyphics, manipulate objects, and otherwise solve puzzles in order to proceed.
Ultimately, just as the player uncovers an invaluable ancient treasure, there is a cave-in and they are buried alive. The ending text reads:
as you sit there, gazing into the glistening wealth of the inner sarcophagus, you can't help but feel a little empty, a little foolish. If someone were on the other side of the quickly-collapsing wall, they could have dug you out. If only you'd treated the workers better. If only you'd cut Craige in on the find. If only you'd hired a reliable guide.
Well, someday, someone will discover your bones here. And then you will get your fame.
As had become traditional for Infocom, Infidel's packaging contained collectibles (or, as they were referred to, "feelies") to help set the mood of the game. Infidel's "feelies" were:
- A "letter" that sets up the story and the other "feelies".
- A 10-page-long "Expedition Log" that contains essential backstory. The player character is revealed to be an assistant to an explorer named "Craige", and intensely jealous that Craige is universally viewed as the superior explorer. (Given the extreme unreliability of the narrator, Craige undoubtedly is exactly that). Miss Ellingsworth, the daughter of an archaeologist, called Craige's office. She had found, within her late father's files, a clue to the location of an undiscovered pyramid. The player lied to Miss Ellingsworth that Craige is unavailable to take her case, and also falsely reassured her that his interest is scientific rather than treasure hunting. Quitting Craige's employ without notice, the player headed to Egypt and arranged the expedition. On the way to the site, the needed "navigation box" fell off of a jeep and broke. Lacking this tool, the player asked his workers to dig aimlessly, stringing them along with false promises of pay raises. When the expedition's top guide attempted to warn the player that the workers were unhappy, the player slapped him across the face (and would later push him around). About a week later, on "August 12", the player was told that the workers are gathering for a religious ceremony. The player didn't believe them and ordered them to get back to work, only to discover that they were telling the truth.
The front page of the log bears a tag saying "Berlyn's Office Supplies", referring to the game's author.
The log contains a picture of a cover of "True Tales of Adventure" magazine, which also appears in the "feelies" for Berlyn's next game, Cutthroats.
- A four-page-long letter, also dated "August 12", that the player intended to send to Miss Ellingsworth from the expedition. Filled with either incomplete information or outright lies, it paints a far rosier picture than what we know to be true from the "Expedition Log". By the end of the letter, it becomes clear that the player has been drugged by the crew, setting up the beginning of the game.
- A note from Miss Ellingsworth's father. This serves as a guide to the hieroglyphics found within the game. (Naturally, since the game is a text adventure, they take the form of typeable symbols, rather than hieroglyphics as we know them historically.)
- A map of the excavation area.