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The History and Future of Zork

Zonk posted more than 6 years ago | from the just-one-letter-off dept.

Classic Games (Games) 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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aww (2, Funny)

Turn-X Alphonse (789240) | more than 6 years ago | (#19680099)

Aww and I was hoping it said Zonk and he was getting kicked out.

Re:aww (1)

coaxial (28297) | more than 6 years ago | (#19683155)

Aww and I was hoping it said Zonk and he was getting kicked out.
He might get eaten by a grue.

It is dark here. (4, Funny)

rpresser (610529) | more than 6 years ago | (#19680137)

You are likely to be eaten by a grue.

Re:It is dark here. (0, Troll)

WilliamSChips (793741) | more than 6 years ago | (#19680199)

Considering this is a Zonk article, perhaps you mean gnue...

Re:It is dark here. (-1, Troll)

rpresser (610529) | more than 6 years ago | (#19680279)

Considering it's *not* a Zonk article, perhaps you should get your eyes checked.

WTF is Zonk, anyway?

Good times (3, Interesting)

wandazulu (265281) | more than 6 years ago | (#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 Universe...so 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 to..it's like that happy memory of good times that just stays with you and doesn't fade.

Re:Good times (1)

Tol Dantom (1114605) | more than 6 years ago | (#19680607)

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.

Re:Good times (1)

sqlrob (173498) | more than 6 years ago | (#19680925)

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:Good times (2, Interesting)

harrkev (623093) | more than 6 years ago | (#19682647)

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).

Re:Good times (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19682745)

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).

That explains a lot. I enjoyed Nemesis but the lack of any relation to the rest of the Zork world did puzzle me, and I had wondered about that. Now to find a bargain bin copy of Grand Inquisitor... :)

Re:Good times (1)

MemoryDragon (544441) | more than 6 years ago | (#19687231)

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.

Re:Good times (1)

coastwalker (307620) | more than 6 years ago | (#19688821)

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 difficult and you have to have an interest in drawing maps to solve it. It also lacks violence, torture or sex which all modern escapist entertainment has to have to compensate for our sanitized and overly safe lives. On the other hand I cant think of any computer game which doesn't have some root in this game, its the granddaddy of them all. As such, playing it should be a compulsory part of education.

Re:Good times (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19710821)

>Why does my mobile phone have Tetris but not Adventure?

maybe because typing anything into a mobile phone is an exercise in masochism?

Zork on Vista (4, Funny)

cromar (1103585) | more than 6 years ago | (#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?

Re:Zork on Vista (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19680327)

>>Allow or Deny?

BWWWAAAAHHHAAAHHAAA...No, Really that is enough. No more of these "jokes". There has to be some attempt at humor. Vista isn't funny enough to carry the joke on its back. The teller has to put a little effort into it, or don't bother.

These just don't cut the mustard to enter the pantheon of stale re-told slashdot jokes.

Re:Zork on Vista (1)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 6 years ago | (#19681189)

Um, that's Continue or Cancel.

Besides, that would sooo be cheating. "Hmm, bad thing. Cancel!"

I was going to comment, but (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19680273)

I was caught in a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.
At least I'm not in Soviet Russia, where you are caught in a maze of little twisty passages, all alike.

Hunt the Wumpus is a much better game
Rogue 4Ever


Whew!! (2, Funny)

rlp (11898) | more than 6 years ago | (#19680353)

Glad they didn't use the words "Uwe Boll".

Re:Whew!! (1)

Kalriath (849904) | more than 6 years ago | (#19681243)

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.

Back to the Future IV (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19680439)

You have to use your mind??

Asterisk (1)

halcyon1234 (834388) | more than 6 years ago | (#19680527)

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.

What game ist that? (1)

TransEurope (889206) | more than 6 years ago | (#19680547)

I know it's the first game of the first Zork trilogy, but what version is that with that graphical background?
http://www.gamasutra.com/db_area/images/feature/14 99/95460435000.jpg [gamasutra.com]
I've never seen it before. Any idea?

Re:What game ist that? (2, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19681693)

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.

Re:What game ist that? (1)

atomicstrawberry (955148) | more than 6 years ago | (#19685027)

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 bogs to show you the solution to said maze), grabbed the magnet, and was then able to teleport out of the bog without going through that horrible maze. Saved me hours of frustration.

Also, regarding the bonding plant (I don't think we need to censor spoilers from a game from 1993) I always liked that the game didn't bat an eye if you ate the plant. In fact I seem to vaguely recall that if you did things right you could go back to the area at the start of the game and get a replacement.

Re:What game ist that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19687733)

The Bonding plant you spoke of was a pain, but it did not require you to start the game over. If your bonding plant happen to die. Just EAT the bonding plant. When you go back to where you found the plant initially. You will find another plant just waiting to bond with you.

"Here's to Us!"

Re:What game ist that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19681831)

It's from Return to Zork's intro-sequence, IIRC.

Re:What game ist that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19682485)

It is indeed from the Return to Zork intro video. It is, sadly, not interactive. When I played RTZ for the first time I tried typing as soon as the > prompt appeared, thinking to myself "whoah, this is going to be REALLY cool". Imagine - a moving 3D background to illustrate the commands you type.. and I'd thought the Level 9 illustrated adventures were clever. But nothing happened. The video ended, the game started, and turned out to be just another weak Myst clone. Easily the worst Zork game I've played. Give it a miss and play any of the other Zorks... even Zork Nemesis, which is also Myst-like, but actually quite interesting.

Re:What game ist that? (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19684405)

It's from Return to Zork, I believe in the very beginning of the game - from an introductory FMV sequence.

Ancient memories (1)

geek2k5 (882748) | more than 6 years ago | (#19681271)

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.

Re:Ancient memories (1)

cromar (1103585) | more than 6 years ago | (#19681643)

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 [freshmeat.net] will play them on modern systems and is OSS.

Also, the DOS/Windows incarnations may be found at the Underdogs [the-underdogs.info] site.

Re:Ancient memories (1)

harrkev (623093) | more than 6 years ago | (#19685691)

Here is a blatant rip from an article on http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zork [wikipedia.org]

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 promotion relating to those games has ended and that it is not legal to distribute the games or make them available for download.
It really annoys me when a company stops manufacturing a product, yet they still legally protect it. Are they trying to protect the sales of one of their non-existent products?

Re:Ancient memories (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19682617)

Zork 1 can actually work within 256kb of RAM using a hacked version of Frotz, which includes the memory space for the Zork data file and the interpreter machine code (I tried it once on an embedded system).

The original Infocom games were very efficient with memory... not surprising, considering the types of computer they were intended to run on. One of the great technical innovations of Infocom was making their games run on a wide range of minimal systems: Crowther and Woods' Adventure required a minicomputer. Adventure fanboys seem to forget this!

Adventure FTW (2, Interesting)

Pvt_Waldo (459439) | more than 6 years ago | (#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.

Re:Adventure FTW (4, Interesting)

tuffy (10202) | more than 6 years ago | (#19681833)

Zork's text parsing was far superior to Adventure's, and Infocom's ability to port it (in pieces) from the PDP-10 to the many microcomputers of the time was in itself and innovative achievement.

A couple of comments... (2, Insightful)

slashwritr (1009921) | more than 6 years ago | (#19681827)

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 called influential? Make up your mind.

Perhaps Zork is not the past of gaming, but its future.
As someone who's played nearly every Infocom game out there, I'd be happy if that company or any of its authors made a comeback; however, it's quite unlikely, and IF will be a niche market for the forseeable future (I'm happy to be part of that niche). I doubt that many people are going to sit still long enough to read a lot of verbose text, even if the parser is as intelligent and as witty as HAL or Deep Thought.

A couple of memories.. (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19682417)

Try playing Space Rangers 2: Rise of the dominators. There's a text-based mini-game in there along with a few other items that may bring memories back.

Re:A couple of memories.. (1)

dgagley (468178) | more than 6 years ago | (#19713223)

Memories ahhh memories.

I still have all the Zork games and other Text and earlier Graphic games.

I still play them on occations.

Original Zork Source Code in MDL (5, Interesting)

SimHacker (180785) | more than 6 years ago | (#19681997)

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: http://retro.co.za/adventure/zork-mdl/ [retro.co.za]

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 http://retro.co.za/adventure/zork-mdl/dung.mud [retro.co.za]:

"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"


Re:Original Zork Source Code in MDL (0)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19683325)

>Give Zonk to troll

Re:Original Zork Source Code in MDL (1)

SimHacker (180785) | more than 6 years ago | (#19684277)

>Give Zonk to troll

The troll, who is not overly proud, graciously accepts the gift and not having the most discriminating tastes, gleefully eats it.


<COND (<==? <OCAN .A> .T> <>)
(<AND <MEMQ .A <ROBJS ,HERE>> <PROB 75 90>>
<AND <==? .HERE <OROOM .T>>
"The troll, now worried about this encounter, recovers his bloody
(<==? .HERE <OROOM .T>>
"The troll, disarmed, cowers in terror, pleading for his life in
the guttural tongue of the trolls.">
(<VERB? "OUT!">
(<VERB? "IN!">
<COND (<==? <OROOM .T> .HERE>
"The troll stirs, quickly resuming a fighting stance.">)>
(<VERB? "1ST?"> <PROB 33 66>)
"The troll, who is remarkably coordinated, catches the " 1 <ODESC2 <PRSO>>>)
"The troll, who is not overly proud, graciously accepts the gift">)>
"and being for the moment sated, throws it back. Fortunately, the
troll has poor control, and the knife falls to the floor. He does
not look pleased." ,LONG-TELL1>
"and not having the most discriminating tastes, gleefully eats it.">
"The troll spits in your face, saying \"Better luck next time.\"">)
"The troll laughs at your puny gesture.">)>)
<TELL "Unfortunately, the troll can't hear you.">)>>

(Sorry about the indentation! It looks nicer in the original source. Slashdot filter fodder: bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla bla...)

Re:Original Zork Source Code in MDL (1)

kerohazel (913211) | more than 6 years ago | (#19691031)

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 twenex.org.

Re:Original Zork Source Code in MDL (1)

SimHacker (180785) | more than 6 years ago | (#19694387)

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 Twenex.org? I wonder if the binary version of MDL you found would run under the KLH10 [trailing-edge.com] PDP-10 emulator, like the one you can telnet to at its.svensson.org. Probably not, since ITS is a lot different than Twenex. Maybe Devon [mit.edu] could pull it off of an old DM dump tape! Good luck with your open source MDL interpreter!

I've had a hard time finding the tech reports about MDL online. Here is a thread about locating those and other MIT LCS Tech Reports [osdir.com]. It mentions this place to find TR's [mit.edu]. That links to this catalog [mit.edu], which lists several MDL publications. Those listings say you can purchase them from MIT Document Services [mit.edu].

MIT-LCS-TR-292: The MDL Programmig Language Primer, by M. Dornbrook, M. Blank. [mit.edu]
MIT-LCS-TR-293: The MDL Programming Language, by S. W. Galley, G Pfister. [mit.edu]
MIT-LCS-TR-294: The MDL Programming Environment, bu P. D. Lebling. [mit.edu]

You might try asking Gerald J Sussman, Hal Abelson, Stu W. Galley or Steve Meretzky. I wonder who owns the copyright, and if they'd be willing to make it GPL and put the original Zork source code up on Google Code for people to read and search and learn from? The version I found [retro.co.za] is the latest greatest PDP-10 ITS version, just before Infocom took it and ported it to microcomputers.


Bah! Zork? (-1, Troll)

Anonymous Coward | more than 6 years ago | (#19682315)

Always hated zork. Never could figure out how to do anything. I always thought it was shit.

Probably, Yes (1)

mqduck (232646) | more than 6 years ago | (#19684153)

I've attempted to play Zork many times in the past. I've never got past the Flood Control Dam. Do I suck?

Beyond Zork / Zork Zero (1)

atomicstrawberry (955148) | more than 6 years ago | (#19684831)

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.

Missed opportunities (1)

Joe U (443617) | more than 6 years ago | (#19685029)

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.

i haven't RTFA (1)

mgabrys_sf (951552) | more than 6 years ago | (#19685289)

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 a template for the emergence of a graphics engine that could translate a more english like parsed script.

VC's anyone?

MUD (2, Interesting)

TheSciBoy (1050166) | more than 6 years ago | (#19686811)

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 likely some of these still active. You can download them and start a server yourself.

When I studied at the university in the late nineties people where still playing MUD all night, and it was considered an old kind of game back then.

Re:MUD (1)

mgabrys_sf (951552) | more than 6 years ago | (#19686991)

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.

Re:MUD (1)

TheSciBoy (1050166) | more than 6 years ago | (#19688055)

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.

Re:MUD (1)

resequenced (656161) | more than 6 years ago | (#19693629)

One of the longest running text-based role playing games, GemStone IV [play.net] by Simutronics, is still active with a fairly dedicated user base. Wikipedia [wikipedia.org] 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 with interests in role playing games to give it a look and take the trial for a run.

Re:i haven't RTFA (1)

Elkayen (1115951) | more than 6 years ago | (#19687967)

If you wish to have an interesting time, check out http://uncyclopedia.org/wiki/Game [uncyclopedia.org]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.
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