• magisterrex Retro Games

    I've been gaming since the days of Pong and still own a working Atari 2600. I tend to ramble on about retro games, whether they be board games, video games or PC games. Sometimes I digress. Decades after earning it, I'm finally putting the skills I learned while completing my history degree from the University of Victoria to good use. Or so I think. If you're into classic old school gaming, this blog is for you!

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magisterrex Retro Game of the Week – ZORK

One of my earliest gaming memories involves spending long nights playing Infocom’s flagship game, Zork on my family’s Circle II – an Apple II clone – computer.  This was a text-based adventure: no graphics, no digitized speech, no musical score; just vivid descriptions of another world that still resonate in my memories today.

Zork I: The Great Underground Empire

Gaming history tidbit! Zork was originally entitled, “Dungeon,” but as soon as the lawyers at TSR, Inc. found out, a quick “thou shalt not” trademark violation letter convinced its creators to call it “Zork” after a MIT slang for an unfinished program. I doubt if anyone would associate the word “zork” with anything but text-based gaming today, so perhaps this is an example of how gaming language changes over time.  But I digress…

Who could forget Zork’s opening: “You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.  There is a small mailbox here.”  The text-based parser would respond to your directions, such as “Open mailbox” or even just “open”.   Actually, the parser was quite advanced for the genre, as it was able to handle conjunctions and prepositions, such as “open the mailbox and read the leaflet,” and had a wide array of verbs and nouns that it recognized.  Of course, if you tried a command that it didn’t know, the parser would just respond with, “I don’t understand that” or a pre-programmed witty response if you tried something the programmers anticipated you would, like typing in “jump” and getting “Wheeee!!!” as a response.  For fun, type in any of the following: zork, win, repent, yell, and see what the parser says back.

Screenshot of Zork's text parser

After a brief search of the area you find a way to enter the house, and from there, the entrance to the Great Underground Empire.  (Incidentally, this game is responsible for teaching gamers that although a sword is wonderful to have, a lantern is even better.  Lose your lamp and expect a grue to feast your poor lost soul.)  Many of the locations in the Great Underground Empire (G.U.E.) found their way into other games, such as the spectacular Flood Control Dam #3.  Did I already mention the magnificent prose used in this game?  These locations were described in such a manner that gamers could close their eyes and visualize their environs…and the danger they were in.

By the way, you’re not alone down there in the remnants of the G.U.E.  Besides the ever-present danger of a grue coming across you, there’s a troll blocking your access, and a damn Thief randomly appears throughout the game.  He’s looking for treasure, and considers you a nice low-level random encounter.  In other words, run into the Thief and he’ll steal you blind.  He might even take your lantern (and that’s a bit of a problem).  A winning strategy is to avoid him until you’re armed and dangerous with the nasty knife, and then take him out (but not before saving the game first; he’s a tough guy to take down).

Finding the original disks is a serious challenge these days, thirty years later, but there are several emulations available to anyone looking to play this classic retro game.  You can download the first three games here: http://www.infocom-if.org/downloads/downloads.html or just jump right into a game here: http://thcnet.net/error/index.php You can also play the original Dungeon game complete with a game map, here: http://almy.us/dungeon.html

Go on – enjoy a little classic oldschool gaming with one of the games that started it all!


4 Responses

  1. […] upon a time, text adventures ruled the PC gaming industry.  Games such as Zork, Wonderland, Planetfall, Shogun, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, and more from companies such as […]

  2. […] upon a time, text adventures ruled the PC gaming industry.  Games such as Zork, Wonderland, Planetfall, Shogun, Leather Goddesses of Phobos, and more from companies such as […]

  3. […] theme and a serious – even intense – game atmosphere, very unlike any other game in the Zork series.  (So dark, in fact, that the Infocom label was not included on the box!)  Nemesis was a […]

  4. Great trip down memory lane. I vividly remember playing Zork on my family’s Apple II. It was one of the first computer games I ever played and I loved it. I still consider it one of the most immersive games I’ve experienced. I can picture it all so clearly in my mind, like I’ve actually been there. Immersion in gaming is a funny thing.

    If you want to collect all of the treasures, don’t kill the thief until he has done one very special thing first.

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