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Classic Games (Games)

The History and Future of Zork 69

Matt Barton writes "I thought folks might be interested in my History of Zork feature on Gamasutra. I interviewed three of the original 'imps' for the piece (you can read the full interviews online) as well as Nick Montfort (author of Twisty Little Passages) and Howard Sherman (president of Malinche Entertainment). The article covers the original trilogy, as well as Enchanter and the later Activision games such as Zork: Grand Inquisitor."
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The History and Future of Zork

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  • aww (Score:2, Funny)

    Aww and I was hoping it said Zonk and he was getting kicked out.
  • by rpresser ( 610529 ) <rpresser@gmai l . com> on Thursday June 28, 2007 @03:42PM (#19680137) Homepage
    You are likely to be eaten by a grue.
  • Good times (Score:4, Interesting)

    by wandazulu ( 265281 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @03:45PM (#19680191)
    I played Zork the way it was meant to be played..on a PDP-11 with a DecWriter for a screen. Ah, if only I hadn't thrown away all those printouts...

    The real thing for me was that it represented a whole many games have their own tiny world and outside of that particular game, it doesn't exist. Zork, I think, really developed the concept of a "world of Zork" that included its own history (hysterically told in the manuals that came with the games) and the Zorkmid shows up in a couple of other games as well. I really felt like I was in a whole other world, that games like WoW do very well graphically, but then it was all up to the imagination, the images of, 25+ years on, I still have; I can still see that white house now the way I first imagined it.

    I haven't played the actual game in probably 15 years, but I almost don't need's like that happy memory of good times that just stays with you and doesn't fade.

    • I think even the graphical sequels were very imaginative. Return to Zork had some of the most random and vivid imagery and locations paired with an excellent tongue in cheek approach that really sticks out in my memory. Too bad about Nemesis. That was more like a cross of Myst and 7th Guest but boring. Zork was great because of the humor.
      • by sqlrob ( 173498 )
        I thought Nemesis was an awesome game. Not a Zork, IMHO, but a good game none the less.

        Grand Inquisitor, now that was a graphical Zork.
        • Re: (Score:3, Interesting)

          by harrkev ( 623093 )
          As I recall, they had planned out the game and then at the last minute decided to shoehorn it into a "Zork" box just to increase sales. From the start, it was not designed as a Zork game. And it really isn't Zork, and it shows. There are no flatheads, and the game is too gruesome (no relation to the grue).
      • Actually Nemesis was the only Myst clone out of hundreds at that time worth playing. To bad the series was axed after ZGI, which also was an awesome game.
    • I also played on a DEC computer in 1981 with an ASR-33 teletype for a terminal and still have the printout of the single all night session that a group of us undertook to solve the whole thing in one go. Happy days indeed :-)

      I'm not surprised but rather saddened by the fact that the text adventure has failed to materialize in the world of portable entertainment. Why does my mobile phone have Tetris but not Adventure? Adventure wasn't completely entertainment of course, the maze puzzle is really quite diffic
  • by cromar ( 1103585 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @03:45PM (#19680195)
    The trash imp blocks your path! With a wicked laugh, the trash imp jabs
    you with his fork.
    [Your endurance just went down.]

    Allow or Deny?
  • humorous tagline:
    zork: the game for those tired of the GUI-saturated gameplay of a game like Nethack.
  • look (Score:4, Informative)

    by countSudoku() ( 1047544 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @03:49PM (#19680245) Homepage
    You are in an open field west of a big white house with a boarded
    front door.

    There is a small mailbox here. []
  • Zonk? (Score:4, Funny)

    by theolein ( 316044 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @03:49PM (#19680253) Journal
    And there I was thinking this about Zonk finally leaving to (mis)edit someone else's website?
  • Whew!! (Score:3, Funny)

    by rlp ( 11898 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @03:57PM (#19680353)
    Glad they didn't use the words "Uwe Boll".
    • Damn right. I cannot believe CryTek licensed FarCry to THAT idiot to make a movie out of.

      "Slashdot requires you to wait between each successful posting of a comment to allow everyone a fair chance at posting a comment.

      It's been 1 minute since you last successfully posted a comment"

      For fuck sake, POST IT ALREADY.
  • Zonk will post ze dupe of ze Zork article in ze future.
  • One of the techies here at work put Zork on the Asterisk phone system. It's narrated by an awful Stephen Hawking impersonator, and "works" by voice commands. In other words, not very well. But if you're ever bored, start calling up Asterisk-based phone systems. Try extension 9675. Beware of the dark.
  • I know it's the first game of the first Zork trilogy, but what version is that with that graphical background? 99/95460435000.jpg []
    I've never seen it before. Any idea?
    • Re: (Score:2, Interesting)

      by Anonymous Coward
      I am pretty sure that it is from Return To Zork, a brave attempt to push Zork into the mulitmedia era. It's quite ok really, but it was mightily frustrating that it is possible that near the end of the game you notice that you did a certain thing wrong which forces you to play it from the beginning again. (hint: it had to do with a plant). You'd never encounter that kind of sadistic problem in a LucasArts game.
      • by harrkev ( 623093 )
        As I recall, something like that was possible in "The Dig."
      • Yeah, it's from the opening cinematic.

        I found the most frustrating thing in Return to Zork aside from the game's propensity to kill you if you made a mistake was the bloody bog maze. Every area looked alike, you had to check every direction with the stick to find solid ground, and the whole thing was randomly generated. Just a pain in the ass. Eventually I gave up on it and instead figured out how to get through one of the other mazes (you were supposed to use the bats that you got from the witch in the bog
  • This certainly brings back memories. Zork, Planetfall, Infocom, Activision and other 'ancient' gaming related names that remind me of when 640KB was all the RAM one needed.

    It is almost tempting to see if my Tandy 1000SX is still functioning so I can run Zork and others off the aftermarket 40MB hard drive.

    • by cromar ( 1103585 )
      I'm sure it is widely know, but I thought it would be worth mentioning that if one can acquire the original data files to the Zork games (or other Infocom games), frotz [] will play them on modern systems and is OSS.

      Also, the DOS/Windows incarnations may be found at the Underdogs [] site.
      • by harrkev ( 623093 )
        Here is a blatant rip from an article on []

        Activision briefly offered free downloads of Zork I as part of the promotion of Zork: Nemesis, and Zork II and Zork III as part of the promotion for Zork Grand Inquisitor, as well as a new adventure: Zork: The Undiscovered Underground. This led many to believe that the games had been released as freeware, even though the included license explicitly prohibited redistribution. Activision's legal department has recently stated that the

  • Adventure FTW (Score:3, Interesting)

    by Pvt_Waldo ( 459439 ) on Thursday June 28, 2007 @05:19PM (#19681725)
    The original Adventure/Collosal Caves was to me the real innovator and original. Zork was just a derivative work of it that made it commercial. Adventure is the classic, Zork just the commercialized imitator.
  • Good article, although I found the interviews more interesting (since there was less editorial and more of a peek into the minds of such IF pioneers as Meretzky and Lebling).

    Some comments about the article itself:

    Zork is not obsolete; merely under appreciated.

    Underappreciated? Perhaps by the newer generation of gamers. Practically everyone from my generation knows what Zork is. Heck, the author even contradicts himself in later statements:

    It's quite likely that no computer game in history has ever inspired as much prose as Zork...


    To say that Zork is an influential adventure game is like saying the Iliad is an influential poem...

    If it's under appreciated, how can it inspire more prose than any other game in history? How can it be

  • by SimHacker ( 180785 ) * on Thursday June 28, 2007 @05:34PM (#19681997) Homepage Journal

    Zork was the reason I got on the ARPANET, back around 1980 or so. I was using Bruce's Northstar BBS that had an adventure game that Bruce had written in Basic, and he told me how to play Zork: first, dial up the NBS TIP, connect to MIT-AI (the command was "@L 134", because the ARPANET had 8 bit host numbers, and AI was 134), and apply for an account to learn Lisp. Once that was granted, I connected to MIT-DM ("@L 70"), and logged in as URANUS, password RINGS, used :CHUNAME to change my user name, and waited until one of the two people playing Zork quit, to take their slot. Later somebody told me the magic words to use to get an account on DM, so I applied for my own account on DM, claiming that I wanted to "Learn MDL for calculus and algebraic applications". The source code to Zork was well hidden. DM ran a weird version of ITS that had some kind of file security or cloaking, it was rumored. I was always looking for the Zork sources, but never found it on DM.

    Years later I googled for a unique phrase that was only in the original DM version of Zork, and this URL popped up: []

    The original MDL source to Zork is really beautiful code that's almost as fun to read as it was to play. I had discovered a bug in the InfoCom version of Zork, which turned out to be in the original sources. When you're fighting the troll who's wielding an Axe, you can give anything to the troll and he will eat it. So I tried "give axe to troll" and he ate his axe, then cowered in the corner! Better yet you can go "give troll to troll" and he will eat himself and disappear, unfortunately not clearing the troll bit that is required to leave the room, so if you try to leave it prints a message saying the troll fends you off with a menacing gesture, and stops you from leaving. Sure enough, in the original sources, there is a troll bit!

    From []:

    (<GET-OBJ "AXE">)
    "A nasty-looking troll, brandishing a bloody axe, blocks all passages
    out of the room."


    <PSETG TCHOMP "The troll fends you off with a menacing gesture.">


    "This is a small room with passages off in all directions.
    Bloodstains and deep scratches (perhaps made by an axe) mar the
    "The Troll Room"


    • Out of curiousity, how did you learn MDL? I tried finding some kind of resource on the language online, but to no avail. I managed to locate a couple publications in the MIT library, and that's about it.

      I'm interested because I'd like to write an open-source MDL interpreter. The only interpreter I know of is a binary sitting on the PDP-10 at
      • Well, I said I wanted an account on DM to learn MDL, but I actually only wanted to play Zork. I tried to find the source code at the time, to help me solve the harder puzzles, but not until years later did I stumble across it thanks to google. Finding the source code was a grand adventure in itself!

        MDL is basically just a fancy dialect of Lisp, with data types and angled brackets. Now days, the best way to learn MDL is to read the Zork source code!

        Where did you find the MDL binary on I wo

  • I've attempted to play Zork many times in the past. I've never got past the Flood Control Dam. Do I suck?
  • I'm probably an ungodly heathen or something for even suggesting this, but I found I enjoyed Zork Zero and Beyond Zork a lot more than the original trilogy.
  • I think Activision is missing a huge opportunity in not making the Infocom universe into a MMORPG. Imagine an online game with humor as the central storyline.

    Oh well, just a thought, Activision wouldn't know a winner if they bought the company.
  • But futurewise I've always wondered what would happen with a Wiki approach. A game that was user extensible. I was not the Dungeon master type myself, but I enjoyed a few in college and looking at that industry's energy was curious what if a platform for expanding a structured universe online would lead to play? Granted heavy plot points would require log-in protection but it might be pretty fun to play the world's first wiki-crazy-quilt game in text format. Could bring back the genre nicely or even provide
    • MUD (Score:2, Interesting)

      by TheSciBoy ( 1050166 )

      Almost as old a concept as Zork itself (not really, but probably as old as or older than WWW) is MUD, Multi User Dungeon. Text based, the point of the game was a sort of Munchkin-role-playing where you were supposed to gain levels quickly in order to become powerful enough to get allowed to write your own areas to the game. This is basically where the basis for all modern MMORPG's come from. Except no WoW player is likely to be allowed to add his/her own areas to the game.

      Anyway, look it up. There are most

      • I didn't know MUDs were extensible. I also thought they were more quasi-graphic in play, where I'd rather let budding writers stretch their keyboards. But yes, I guess I'm envisioning a web-based MUD with more collaboration.
        • There were/are many kinds of MUD servers available. Most let users collaborate in creating the world. It's all up to the game masters who to give editing privileges. MUD was originally only text, just like text adventure games, but some gained some graphics along the way. I don't think I've played a single graphical MUD though and by the time they started to catch on I think Ultima Online and its ilk were already available.

      • One of the longest running text-based role playing games, GemStone IV [] by Simutronics, is still active with a fairly dedicated user base. Wikipedia [] has a pretty good overview.

        It's not as popular as it used to be, no doubt due in part to the explosion of graphical MMOs. However, it still provides the environment for some of the best role playing available on the intertube and still shines with the hands-on attentions its GameMasters give to the player community.

        It's not free, but I'd suggest anyone wit

    • If you wish to have an interesting time, check out []Uncyclopedia's games. They've redone all the Zork games (read: made it so you're eaten by a Grue every step you take or so), plus other odd ones. Plus, some games are in fact works in progress, so you can try out the "Wiki" approach you mentioned. Note: some parts may be NSFW.

It's fabulous! We haven't seen anything like it in the last half an hour! -- Macy's