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How to Play Trinity

How to Play Trinity

My upcoming "Complete History of Trinity" series with Brian Moriarty is spoiler-laden right from the first episode. If you think you'd like to play Trinity yourself, now is the time!

Starting next week, I will be (slowly) posting episodes from my long-form interview with Brian Moriarty on the making of the Infocom classic game Trinity. The episodes will be full of spoilers, so the experience of playing Trinity for the first time might be significantly diminished if you listen to the podcast prior to playing the game.

Since Trinity is unfortunately “abandonware” at this point, there is no real way to purchase and play a modern version of the game that has been updated to run on modern hardware. You cannot, for example, buy it on Steam. Believe it or not, I even approached Activision to ask if they’d give me a contract produce such an update myself, but unfortunately, they were not able to do that.

So, as it stands, you have only two options. One is to use a prepackaged emulator running in a web browser to play it on-line. The other is to download a third-party interpreter for your platform, and the Trinity bytecode file, so you can play it off-line.

Playing Online

There are several sites that prepackage an emulator, interpreter, and story file into a single web page. The upside is that it’s easy to use. The downside is, it’s a little riskier, since things like saved games are stored in the browser’s temporary storage, and may get deleted if you’re not careful.

The following sites have working bundled versions of Trinity as of this post:

  • At My Abandonware. Push the blue “START” button above the video screen to begin playing.

  • At Classic Reload. Push the blue “START” button in the center of the video screen to begin playing.

  • At Retro Games. Push “click to start” in the center of the video screen to begin playing.

  • At DOS Games Zone. Push the white “Click to play Trinity” button in the top part of the video screen to begin playing. Note that it may take a very long time to load.

Playing Offline

Infocom games ran on a virtual machine called “The Z-Machine”. The bytecode files for games like Trinity are therefore completely portable, and can be interpreted by any compatible Z-Machine interpreter.

If you’d like to try this route, you need to do two separate steps.

First, you have to find an interpreter for Z-Machine games that runs on your computer. You can look at a large list of them here. Unfortunately, I do not have recommendations as to which of these is best for Trinity, because I played Trinity using an old Lost Treasures of Infocom distribution of it that I had actually purchased many years ago.

Second, you have to download the Z-Machine bytecode for Trinity. There are actually multiple revisions, and you can see them listed on this github. The last known revision is r15, which is presumably the one you would want to play — but if you want to play the one that is closest to what was actually released in 1986, you may prefer r11. Other than slight bug fixes, I don’t think there are any important differences between r11, r12, and r15.

Once you have an interpreter and the Z-Machine bytecode, all you should have to do is open the bytecode file with the interpreter, and the game should begin.

As I said before, I can’t vouch for any of these files, since I didn’t use them to play Trinity. Proceed at your own risk. I wish there was an official release somewhere you could simply go on Steam and buy, but, Activision has not made such a thing available, so unless and until they do, this is unfortunately the only way to play the game offline at the moment.

Playing the Game

Note: If you’d like to read the manual for the game, which can be helpful, you can view a complete scan of it here. It includes both the original comic and the full instruction manual, both of which came with the original 1986 release of the game.

If you have played a text adventure before, you will be right at home with Trinity. But if you haven’t, the interface may seem strange. To get you started, here are some basics.

When the game begins, the first thing it will ask you is, “Do you want color (Y/N)?” I would recommend pressing “Y”. Trinity doesn’t make much use of text color, but “Y” is still better than “N”.

When the game begins, you will see some establishing text (“Sharp words between the superpowers…”), and then the name of a location: Palace Gate. The location name will be followed by a brief description of what’s there.

Most text adventures adopt the convention of discrete locations like this. Since there’s no way to visually represent the motion of your character in a text adventure like there is in a graphical game, having specific, distinct locations allows you to know where you are, and to tell the game where you want to go.

You can type directions like “west”, “northwest”, “north”, “up”, “down”, etc. as commands to the game, and move between rooms. For example, from the Palace Gate, you can type “east” (or “e”, as an abbreviation), and the game will tell you what happens. In this case, it will say “The east wind makes it difficult to walk straight”, but you will nonetheless end up in the location to the east: Flower Walk.

If you read the description of this new location, it includes “You can see a soccer ball half-hidden among the blossoms.” You can often interact with objects described like this. Perhaps you would like to know more about the soccer ball. If so, you could type “examine soccer ball”, and the game would respond, “You see nothing unusual about the soccer ball.”

Maybe you’d like to take the soccer ball, in case it will be useful later. In that case, you would type, “take soccer ball”. The game will respond “You take the soccer ball off the flower beds” to let you know you’ve got it now.

It will also tell you that your “score” has gone up by one point. Infocom games generally had a “score”, which nominally had something to do with winning the game. But in Trinity, the score doesn’t matter, and you can basically ignore it, with the exception that you might consider it a sign you’ve made progress in the game.

When you take things like the soccer ball, they go in to your inventory. This is the list of things you are currently holding. At any time, you can find out what’s in your inventory by typing “inventory” (or “i” for short). The game will respond with something like “You’re holding a soccer ball. You’re wearing a wristwatch, and you have a credit card and a seven-sided coin in your pocket.”

There’s not a lot more to it than this. You can drop objects (“drop soccer ball”, for example, would leave it in your current location), give objects to people (“give soccer ball to woman”), place objects on things or under things (“put soccer ball on grass”) — you get the idea. You explore the locations, see what’s in them, interact with things, and generally try to overcome obstacles that the game will put in your way.

Unfortunately, due to the technological limitations of Infocom games, only some of your text commands will be understood. Since this is long before the advent of things like ChatGPT, the interpreter’s ability to understand your input is very limited. It can sometimes be very frustrating to get the game to understand what you want to do. So if at any point you get too stuck, you can always consult a walkthrough, just like you would if you can’t figure something out in a modern game. It will explain what you need to do to solve the problem you’re having.

Two meta-commands you will need to know, unfortunately, are “save” and “restore”. Trinity was made in an era where standard game design practice allowed players to easily get into an “unwinnable” game state. For example, if you needed that soccer ball later, but you didn’t pick it up, the game would not stop you from progressing to a new area, even if there was no way to get back to where the soccer ball was.

Similarly, there was no expectation that experimentation in the game would be “safe”. Unlike a modern game, which will automatically return you to a recent position if your character dies, games in the Trinity era just killed you and expected you to have to restore the game yourself from some earlier state you saved manually.

As a result, playing through a game like Trinity requires that you often type the “save” command, and that you save multiple files, just in case you have to “restore” one of these when you die or realize you’ve made an unrecoverable mistake. It’s one of the truly unfortunate design mistakes of the Infocom era — we never thought about it when we played games back then, but you really notice the difference now that we are used to games which take care of this bookkeeping automatically.

Finally, in text adventures it is usually helpful to make a map of the locations you visit. This is because there is no in-game way to see where you have been or where you might be able to go. If you’d like to make a map yourself as you play the game, you can do it the old-fashioned way and use a piece of graph paper, or you can use a map-making utility to simplify the process. If neither of those sounds like fun to you, you can also use these premade maps for Trinity instead.

That’s about all there is to it! Playing a game in a legacy genre always takes a bit of adjustment, so, be prepared to get acclimated. Like reading Shakespeare, the anachronistic presentation takes some getting used to. But despite the rough edges, playing a text adventure even though games now have detailed graphics can be a very rewarding experience in much the same way that reading a book is still a rewarding experience even though we now have movies.

So that’s it! I hope you enjoy Trinity if you decide to play it, and I hope to see you back here soon for the first episode of The Complete History of Trinity podcast.

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Casey Muratori