Free Text/Flash Adventure: Returning of the Quantum Cat

Once 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 Infocom, were devoured by gamers looking to parse their way into new, imaginative universes.  But time and technology wait for no parser, and the advent of better and better eye candy eventually spelled the death of the text adventure genre.  They still live on in private collections of the classics, the odd website that gathers them and makes them available for play on the Internet, and – rarely – when someone creates a new one to play.

Such is the case with a little flash text adventure game called Returning of the Quantum Cat, written by zaynyatyi, a young programmer from the Ukraine.  It features still images with a text storyline, and rather than typing out commands, players click on hyperlinks within the text to accomplish actions.  It’s an interesting mix of genres, and is worth a look.  You can play this game here: Returning of the Quantum Cat.  Enjoy!


Game of the Week – Zork: Grand Inquisitor

In 1996, Activision released Zork: Nemesis, a visually-stunning game, but with an overtly dark 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 great game, but something had to be done to bring back the humor and irreverence of all things Zork.  And so, a year later, in 1997, Activision released a new game in the Zork / Enchanter series, set 580 years before Return to Zork, and with an eye to bringing the series back to its roots – Zork: Grand Inquisitor.

Box front of Zork: Grand Inquisitor

The story behind Zork: Grand Inquisitor was fairly basic: magic has been banned by the merciless Inquisition, and the Dungeon Master has been trapped within a trusty adventurer’s lantern.  The player is called upon by the Dungeon Master – “I shall call you ageless, faceless, gender-neutral, culturally ambiguous, adventurer person. AFGNCAAP for short. ” – to restore the magic outlawed by the Inquisition in Quendor.  To do so, AFGNCAAP must locate the lost Zorkian magical treasures of the Coconut of Quendor, the Skull of Yoruk, and one of the Cubes of Foundation, with which a torrent of magic will be released, defeating the plans of the Grand Inquisitor and his minions.  Sounds easy, right?

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

The technology used by Zork: Grand Inquisitor was a modified version of the Z-Vision game engine first used in Zork: Nemesis.  A full lateral sweep of 360 degrees was available to the player, but not any vertical movement (with a couple of exceptions based on unique scenes at GUE Tech and at the Flathead Mesa).  Human characters were portrayed by actors in full motion video, while non-human characters, such as Marvin the Goatfish, were clay models which were then digitized and animated.  Zork: Grand Inquisitor used lighting effects to draw the eye of the player to explorable areas, permitting the player to spend more time engrossed in puzzle-solving rather than the standard mouse click-fest and hunt-and-click routines of many adventure games.

The Voice of the Inquisition

The voice acting was superb, with Hollywood-class talent giving life to the various characters, which included Michael McKean (as the lantern-trapped Dungeon Master, Dalboz of Gurth) and David L. Lander (whom many will recall played Squiggy in Laverne & Shirley, as the font of ridiculous proclamations, the Voice of the Inquisition).  Some of the actors involved who had both visual and audio parts included Dirk Benedict as Antharia Jack, Rip Taylor as Chief Undersecretary Wartle, and Erick Avari, as Mir Yannick, the pompous, over-his-head but desperately attempting to fake it, Grand Inquisitor.  The effect was to improve the gameplay, especially during cutscenes, which can be excruciating when players are forced to watch the programmer’s second cousin who once acted in a school play gamely work their way through a script. *shudder*

Mir Yannick in Zork: Grand Inquisitor

Zork: Grand Inquisitor received good reviews (PC Gamer Magazine gave it an Editor’s Choice award and scored it at 88% in its May, 1988 issue, while GameSpot scored it as a 8.0 “Great”).  The biggest fault that reviewers agreed upon was that it seemed too short, and a longer visit in this archetypical gamer universe was wished for.  Now that’s a complaint any developer would like to hear!  It was released for both Windows and Macintosh platforms, and played the same on either one.  Also, a DVD version was released in 1998, which also included the full version of Zork: Nemesis as an added bonus.

"I love it when a plan comes together."

Never forget who is the boss of you. ME!  I am the boss of you!”  Combining the visual appeal of Zork: Nemesis with the humor of the original series, Zork: Grand Inquisitor was a laudable addition to the Zork milieu, and certainly a worthy entry into this Game of the Week series.  Bluntly put, this game is well-worth a playthrough, especially if you are a fan of the Zork series!

Retro Game of the Week – Return to Zork (1993)

“Want some rye? ‘Course you do!” Any gamer who played this classic from 1993 should recognize this hilarious quote from Activision’s Return to Zork, one of the most anticipated games of the early 1990s.

Box front for the 1993 PC game Return to Zork

The Zork series was the pinnacle of the text-adventure genre, but as time and technology marched on, Infocom, creators of the Zork franchise, did not.  Graphic adventures controlled by mouse commands replaced text adventures – with Sierra’s King’s Quest leading the way – but the Zork universe was left behind.  However, with the 1993 revival of this venerable franchise came improvements in the graphics as well as the user interface.  Gone was the text input, replaced by a click-through mouse menu of actions, including the ability to show your emotions towards characters as they talked.  For example, during the visit to the blacksmith, a stern emotional response will help you avoid a restarting from a game save later. (No, I won’t tell you why.)

It's the white house from Return to Zork

The intro was a fabulous nod towards the original game, with the obligatory visit to the outside of the white house and its mailbox, using the actual text from the beginning of Zork I.  A hint of the mystery was provided, and then the player was faced with his or her first puzzle: the irritatingly stubborn vulture.  Puzzles in Return to Zork were varied in complexity, some incredibly simple, while others frustratingly challenging.  As the Zork universe is a magical one, simple logic does not always win the day and the player always has to be prepared for a non-sequiter solution.  As an example, one of the situations requires you to drink along with Boos (where the first line from this blog entry comes from).  The trouble is Boos has an amazing capacity for rye whiskey, and you don’t.  How to stay sober while Boos gets hammered enough to pass out takes a little thinking “outside of the box”.

One feature that the original Infocom text adventures were known for were the “feelies” that they included inside each game box.  Mock postcards, pocket fluff, a Zorkmid, and so on gave each game a unique feel (hence the name “feelies”).  Return to Zork returned to the practice, including an official Sweepstakes Winner letter (with envelope) as well as incorporating the game manual into a mock-up of the 966 GUE version of the extensive Encyclopedia Frobozzica.

Flood Control Dam #3 from Return to Zork

Return to Zork was released across several platforms, including MS-DOS, Macintosh, PlayStation, and Sega Saturn, and was a smash hit for Activision.  It spawned two more games in the Zork universe, the ultra-serious Zork: Nemesis and the very funny Zork: Grand Inquisitor.  There was also a new text-adventure released to coincide with Return to Zork, called Zork: The Undiscovered Underground, which you can still play, here.  A multi-player game was recently released, Legends of Zork, but it did not seem to have the same spirit of zaniness that Zork games were known for, but that’s merely an opinion – your mileage may vary.

The thief (vigilante) from Return to Zork

Don’t expect to run amok killing all the inhabitants of the Great Underground Empire or trying to burn it to the ground, for although you can try, you’ll soon find the modern version of the classic Zork thief comes along to punish you for your sins.  Once he’s come and gone with all your possessions, the only way to win the game is to restore a saved game.  After all, this isn’t a Doom clone!

Valley of the Vultures from Return to Zork

Ultimately I very much enjoyed playing Return to Zork when it was released, and give it a strong recommendation to any retrogamer who is looking for some classic adventure gaming today.  It was designed to run under MS-DOS 5.0, so you’ll need to run it under DOSBox or a dedicated classic retrogaming PC computer, but if you take the time to set up your system to run it, Return to Zork will reward you with some great gaming moments!

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: or just jump right into a game here: You can also play the original Dungeon game complete with a game map, here:

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