Archive for March 2011
WELCOME TO ZORK
ZORK is a game of adventure, danger, and low cunning. In it you will explore some of the most amazing territory ever
seen by mortal man. Hardened adventurers have run screaming from the terrors contained within!
In ZORK the intrepid explorer delves into the forgotten secrets of a lost labyrinth deep in the bowels of the earth,
searching for vast treasures long hidden from prying eyes, treasures guarded by fearsome monsters and diabolical traps!
No PDP-10 should be without one!
PDP-10, picture by Michael L. Umbricht
I wanted to play the next adventure game chronologically after the Crowther and Woods Adventure, but the history of mainframe games (on monstrosities like the PDP-10) is so murky it was difficult to tell what should come next. For one thing, the mainframe games did not have “release dates” — they were works in progress and in some cases earlier versions were more well-known than later versions. If it took 4 years to write something should I be using the end date or the start date? What if the later changes were only minor things dealing with source ports?
Additionally, even with testimony from the original authors, memories are foggy about exact years (something Dennis Jerz struggled with in his Adventure article) and the early history of electronic games tends to the wildly inaccurate anyway.
Fortunately, in 1985 the New Zork Times published a “History of Zork” which not only mentions not only years but months, so aside from one exception (which I will place next chronologically) it’s fairly clear Zork came next after Adventure.
Specifically, in early 1977 after the Crowther and Woods Adventure had gone viral on the ARPAnet (precursor to the Internet) and a group at MIT (Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling) got the urge to write their own game:
Dave wrote (in MUDDLE) a command parser that was almost as smart as Adventure’s; Marc and I [Tim Anderson], who were both in the habit of hacking all night, took advantage of this to write a prototype four-room game. It has long since vanished. There was a band, a bandbox, a peanut room (the band was outside the door, playing “Hail to the Chief”), and a “chamber filled with deadlines.”
This led through the summer and the fall of 1977 to progress on what was at the time called Zork, until Robert M. Supnik got the notion to translate Zork from MUDDLE to FORTRAN:
At any rate, shortly after the Great Blizzard of ’78 he had a working version, initially for PDP-11s. Since it was in FORTRAN, it could run on practically anything, and by now it has.
At the same time the name got changed from Zork to Dungeon because as Tim writes: “Zork was too much of a nonsense word, not descriptive of the game”. This held for around a year when:
Fortunately for us, a certain company (which shall remain nameless) decided to claim that it had trademark rights to the name Dungeon, as a result of certain games that it sold. We didn’t agree (and MIT had some very expensive lawyers on retainer who agreed with us), but it encouraged us to do the right thing, and not hide our “Zorks” under a bushel.
(He’s referring to TSR and its boardgame Dungeon! from 1975.)
So the name got changed back to Zork, and the rest is history which I’ll sum up via original logo and box art rather than words:
(Image from the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.)
(Image from Ye Olde Infocom Shoppe.)
Just like Adventure there’s a bevy of ports, but I’m going to go with one based off the original MUDDLE code (rather than the FORTRAN rewrite) into Z-code by Ethan Dicks called ZDungeon. I compared it with the mainframe version on Twenex and it is accurate enough for me to be happy.
Actual gameplay will start in my the next post!
Huzzah! and so forth:
YOU MARCH THROUGH THE HOLE AND FIND YOURSELF IN THE MAIN OFFICE, WHERE A CHEERING BAND OF FRIENDLY ELVES CARRY THE CONQUERING ADVENTURER OFF INTO THE SUNSET.
It was easier to finish than I expected. I’m not sure if I’m better at these things now or if my success is attributable to vague half-memories of how puzzles worked. In any case, it was a pleasant enough experience which still holds up as a game. There’s shadows of emergent behavior (as I discussed with the maze), a strong sense of environment (given many of the rooms are based on the real Colossal Cave, see this article for pictures) and the impression of a rational system beneath the workings of the puzzles (I discuss what I mean by this below).
WARNING: The rest of this post gives spoilers on various puzzles.
I did use the dynamic hints twice — once in the Dark Room and once at Witt’s End (a puzzle I had solved by luck, but I wanted to know how it worked).
Just to clarify how dynamic hints work, in the case of Witt’s End you end up in a maze with this map:
After wandering in circles for enough turns, there’s this message:
YOU HAVE CRAWLED AROUND IN SOME LITTLE HOLES AND WOUND UP BACK IN THE
YOU’RE AT WITT’S END.
DO YOU NEED HELP GETTING OUT OF HERE?
I AM PREPARED TO GIVE YOU A HINT, BUT IT WILL COST YOU 3 POINTS.
DO YOU WANT THE HINT?
DON’T GO WEST.
That is, keep going in any direction except west you like until by random chance (I can’t be certain without looking at the source, but I think it’s 1 in 50) you exit the room.
This is strikingly unfair, except that the place is purely optional except for the Last Lousy Point. Just outside the room is a magazine addressed to Witt, so dropping it at Witt’s End will get a single point and push the final score from 349 to 350 out of 350.
Perhaps I still ought to be somewhat upset, but given in context Adventure was tackled on mainframes as nearly a group game I can understand having one too-hard-to-get point to force the group to band together (like a difficult alternate reality game puzzle). Quoting from Tracy Kidder’s The Soul of a New Machine:
That isn’t the worst maze, however. You can get caught in Witts End and think that you’ll never get out. Some of the engineers at Westborough who had come close to mastering the entire game believed that the only way out of Witts End was to tell the computer you wanted to commit suicide — AXE ME. That worksl you get reincarnated shortly afterward. But you lose points; suicide isn’t the best solution.
What I find most puzzling is that they should have at least been able to figure out the problem from the dynamic hints. Were they playing a port that had them removed?
I am somewhat less forgiving of the endgame puzzle. If you’ve been following along my posts closely (vanity, etc.) you may remember from Crowther’s original this odd message in the source:
BLASTING REQUIRES DYNAMITE.
Woods must have noticed the verb and decided to run it as a puzzle. The endgame section is divided into two rooms with the premise that it’s a stockpile for the various items from the adventure:
YOU ARE AT THE SOUTHWEST END OF THE REPOSITORY. TO ONE SIDE IS A PIT FULL OF FIERCE GREEN SNAKES. ON THE OTHER SIDE IS A ROW OF SMALL WICKER CAGES, EACH OF WHICH CONTAINS A LITTLE SULKING BIRD. IN ONE CORNER IS A BUNDLE OF BLACK RODS WITH RUSTY MARKS ON THEIR ENDS. A LARGE NUMBER OF VELVET PILLOWS ARE SCATTERED ABOUT ON THE FLOOR. A VAST MIRROR STRETCHES OFF TO THE NORTHEAST. AT YOUR FEET IS A LARGE STEEL GRATE, NEXT TO WHICH IS A SIGN WHICH READS, “TREASURE VAULT. KEYS IN MAIN OFFICE.”
Notice how the black rods have rusty marks and not rusty stars. (Rods with rusty stars are in the other room.) It turns out if you pick up one of those rods and type BLAST it will explode. How one can feasibly know this without checking a walkthrough I am unsure. (I checked a walkthrough 15 years ago when I beat this thing, and remembered the solution to this puzzle because of how unfair it was.)
Just so you don’t get the wrong impression, let me discuss two puzzles I liked, although one of them might be considered an edge case on the fulcrum of good puzzle-bad puzzle.
The troll and the bear. There’s a troll guarding a bridge who wants treasure to cross.
A BURLY TROLL STANDS BY THE BRIDGE AND INSISTS YOU THROW HIM ATREASURE BEFORE YOU MAY CROSS.
THE TROLL STEPS OUT FROM BENEATH THE BRIDGE AND BLOCKS YOUR WAY.
Already there’s a bit of a dilemma since maximum points require gathering all the treasures, but it’s possible to sacrifice a treasure here for the purpose of moving the plot along and simply be content with a lower score.
However, in another portion of the cave in the Giant’s Room there are a set of golden eggs with the magic words FEE FIE FOE FOO. Taking the golden eggs elsewhere and saying the four words causes the eggs to disappear; it turns out they teleport back to the Giant’s Room. So you can give the eggs to the troll and teleport them back to your possession, still claiming all the points for the treasure. Working this out was a lovely ‘aha!’ moment: I had puzzled out the egg behavior, knew I somehow had to outwit the troll, and the connection seemed perfectly logical on contemplation. This correlates with Andrew Plotkin’s own experience with the puzzle as a child:
Not too many days later, I solved a puzzle that he described. (How to get past the troll bridge.) I saw the elements, I saw how they could interact, and the answer was obvious. He tried it the next day, and it worked. That was it, for me. I knew this game was doing it right.
After the troll there’s an area with a bear and puzzle that was satisfying (for me) for reasons other than difficulty. Feeding the bear tamed at and you could TAKE BEAR and have it follow you; this came to me fairly immediately. The satisfying part for me was not the taming of the bear but the final result of taking the bear back to the troll:
THE BEAR LUMBERS TOWARD THE TROLL, WHO LETS OUT A STARTLED SHRIEK AND SCURRIES AWAY. THE BEAR SOON GIVES UP THE PURSUIT AND WANDERS BACK.
This brought me a glow of karmic contentment.
The Dark Room. I had a good experience with this puzzle, and it makes for a striking early example of “training” a player in a system.
Deep in the cave there’s a narrow passage:
SOMETHING YOU’RE CARRYING WON’T FIT THROUGH THE TUNNEL WITH YOU.
YOU’D BEST TAKE INVENTORY AND DROP SOMETHING.
In particular the lantern is too big. Going on in:
YOU’RE IN A SMALL CHAMBER LIT BY AN EERIE GREEN LIGHT. AN EXTREMELY NARROW TUNNEL EXITS TO THE WEST. A DARK CORRIDOR LEADS NE.
THERE IS AN EMERALD HERE THE SIZE OF A PLOVER’S EGG!
IT IS NOW PITCH DARK. IF YOU PROCEED YOU WILL LIKELY FALL INTO A PIT.
So the problem involves getting light to the dark room. I originally thought perhaps the geography was such that one of the pits mentioned around the map connected on the way down, so throwing the lantern down there would get it to the right place. No luck.
Later I was thinking about how magic words worked. Early in the game there’s this iconic description:
YOU ARE IN A DEBRIS ROOM FILLED WITH STUFF WASHED IN FROM THE SURFACE. A LOW WIDE PASSAGE WITH COBBLES BECOMES PLUGGED WITH MUD AND DEBRIS HERE, BUT AN AWKWARD CANYON LEADS UPWARD AND WEST. A NOTE ON THE WALL SAYS “MAGIC WORD XYZZY”.
Saying XYZZY teleports the player back the building, but more importantly (and fortunately a strong temptation), saying XYZZY in the building teleports the player back to the debris room.
Later there’s a room with a marked “Y2” where a hollow voice says “PLUGH”. PLUGH in that room will also teleport back and forth to the building.
I already mentioned the FEE-FIE-FOO-FOE combination worked on the golden eggs.
Given the setup of a.) magic words used for teleporting and b.) magic words related to objects I decided “why not” and while in the room with the “emerald the size of a plover’s egg” I typed PLOVER. And lo:
YOU’RE AT “Y2”.
Typing PLOVER again teleported back.
I feel like I shouldn’t be pleased with this — it is decidedly unfair — I still appreciate that I managed the puzzle with a lateral leap of logic, and that there is a primitive sort of “training in a system” just like was recently discussed on this thread at Emily Short’s blog.
That’s all for now. Was this worthwhile reading? Should I do the same thing for other games? If you’ve played it, how does it match with your own experiences of Adventure? Let me know in the comments.
The twisty maze of passages, all alike:
So, so much better. (See previous installment: Worst Maze Ever.) It was clear early on there was some sensible geography going on with bottlenecks and specific sections. Being forced to drop items like a breadcrumb trail is much more interesting than squinting at the difference between “twisting” and “twisty”.
But also, perhaps more importantly: both dwarves and the pirate are active. The dwarves will pop up at randomly and throw knives at you; you need to throw an axe at them to kill them (it may or may not hit on the first try). Their knives also have a random chance of connecting and killing you back.
THERE IS A THREATENING LITTLE DWARF IN THE ROOM WITH YOU!
ONE SHARP NASTY KNIFE IS THROWN AT YOU!
YOU ARE IN A MAZE OF TWISTY LITTLE PASSAGES, ALL ALIKE.
YOU KILLED A LITTLE DWARF. THE BODY VANISHES IN A CLOUD OF GREASY
The pirate will steal any treasure you might be holding and store it “deep in the maze” as he says.
OUT FROM THE SHADOWS BEHIND YOU POUNCES A BEARDED PIRATE! “HAR, HAR,”
HE CHORTLES. “I’LL JUST TAKE ALL THIS BOOTY AND HIDE IT AWAY WITH ME
CHEST DEEP IN THE MAZE!” HE SNATCHES YOUR TREASURE AND VANISHES INTO
This led (for my game) to some fascinating tactical and story implications. My first time in the maze I entered by dropping from the stalactite (meaning I couldn’t get back or find an exit easily) but I also left behind the axe so I could have more room for items to drop to help make a map. This was a mistake: dwarves started popping up and chasing me around the maze. It turns out you can duck into a dead end and they won’t follow, but will still be waiting for you outside. So a story came out where I was playing a game of cat-and-mouse, ended ignominiously by running out a dead end and getting skewered by a pair of dwarves waiting for me.
My second attempt came from the West End Hall (where it was easy to go back) but things were still interesting because there aren’t enough “normal” items to drop in every room for mapping so I had to resort to treasures. Of course the pirate can at any time snatch those treasures. While collecting treasures for the maze I had to balance out the reward from having more items to use vs. the risk of wasting more time vs. the fact they might be snatched while in the maze anyway. Eventually I realized the geography was sensible and started moving items that were already present rather than bringing in new ones (perhaps the only good effect of the twisty maze of passages all different is that I came in paranoid the geography would be bizarre and didn’t realize this would work straightaway).
Having an actual goal (the pirate’s lair) helped both with motivation and with story. As I kept getting treasures snatched and battling my way through dwarves I felt a tangible sense of getting closer and closer to the source.
The (general) elimination of NE / NW / SE / SW led to a much faster traversal even with the extra story involved. The map above took about an hour to make rather than three hours. Also interesting is that the pirate’s lair requires a northwest exit, so is somewhat “hidden in plain sight” — by that point players may have stopped even trying those directions. However it is still fair because the pirate does explicitly state he’s hiding his treasure deep in the maze, so it makes a puzzle of sorts based on one compass direction.
Everything put together for the most satisfying maze experience I ever recall having in interactive fiction. I can understand a little more why authors at the time wanted to copy it, but most that followed didn’t have the interesting considerations mentioned above.
I’ve already brought it up on a comment thread here and elsewhere, so I might as well make an official link:
Download for Renga in Four Parts
It is in Hugo (any multi-format interpreter like Gargoyle also ought to work).
This is not a “demo” — it is as long as it is going to be and was actually made shorter in initial testing — but more of an “open beta”. If you try it at this stage I have one request: please send a transcript (email address in the about text of the poem).
Here’s the “author notes” from the fair:
Renga in Four Parts
So what’s all this then? It’s interactive poetry. Back in 2005 I was theorizing about categories of interactive fiction (like “Hypertext” versus “Gamebook”), and ended up with an empty gap on my chart along the “high freedom of input, user does not control a character in the story” category. The closest I could come up with was Andrew Plotkin’s Space Under the Window, which referenced itself as interactive poetry (even though it wasn’t, strictly speaking, poetry). I thought – why not actual poetry?
So I’ve been puttering with this for 6 years. There were all sorts of bad ideas along the way but the IF Demo Fair gave me a chance to bring my experiment to a finish. Hence: the renga (“linked poem”) you are about to experience.
If this is haiku, where’s the 5-7-5 syllable thing? Japanese poets do not count “syllables”, they count onji, which means “sound symbol” and is not the same thing as an English syllable. In translation to get equivalent sound duration something close to 2-3-2 is a more accurate way to fit English, but even that is only a loose suggestion:
old pond . . .
a frog leaps in
— Matsuo Bashō (1644-1694)
In modern practice poets throw out syllable counts altogether and focus on rhythm in a limited space.
What should I type? It’s up to you. You can type particular words that occur in the text, or words that are implied. You can be entirely experiential and use word-association. Keep in mind that what you type is much a part of the poem as the verse.
the grey-sanded beach
Enjoy, and thanks for trying!
I thrashed around in that maze awhile longer. Finally, Alsing said, “Look carefully at the messages on the screen.”
“They’re all the same.”
“No, They’re not.”
Each chamber of this maze within the big labyrinth had a slightly different and unique address, formed by a particular arrangement of the words twisty, little, passages, and maze.
“And what do you do when you get lost?” asked Alsing.
“You make maps, of course.”
— Tracy Kidder, The Soul of a New Machine
Click image for a larger PDF map.
So I wanted the full original Adventure experience, and that included mapping this monstrosity. Despite the clever trick which could be designated the first wordplay puzzle in IF, I hold it is the worst maze ever made. To wit:
a.) It requires, if solved as designed, keeping one’s eyes from blurring the distinction between “twisty” and “twisting”; it is still possible to drop objects around as is more typical, and I would have done so had I not been more than halfway through the above map before the insight struck.
b.) It has no purposes other than dispensing an item which extends lamp life, the usage of which reduces one’s score so there’s really no reason for going into the maze at all.
c.) Even realizing (b.), given Adventure is a treasure hunt and there is the slight possibility of a secret dead end, it’s pretty much necessary to map the whole thing anyway just to be sure.
d.) This is, following a comment in this thread, a spreadsheet rather than a maze. I made a failed attempt at a coherent map before starting on my one-way diagram:
Compare with the entirely reasonable maze found in Crowther’s original:
e.) The dwarves or pirate dropping by could lend some excitement, but they don’t visit. Can’t blame them, really.
f.) The trick shows the way for future “tricks” and caused an endless stream of mazes in games to come, whereas if there was just the twisty maze of passages all alike that might not have happened. (Hyperbolic stretch, sorry.)
I tried to get into the exercise as a zen sort of experience, I really did, but even given the shock of the new Adventure had back in the 1970s (as seen in the Tracy Kidder quote) I have trouble imagining why anyone would want to duplicate this with other mazes back in the day. (There’s the maze of passages “all alike”, of course, but I’m guessing it isn’t that much better.)
The one saving grace is that both the vending machine and exit are naturally findable about 15% of the way in the mapping process. It is possible someone treated the rest of the maze as an “acceptable unknown” and only kept track of the valid routes in and out. Does anyone remember doing this back in the day? I recall being completist about maps even then because I had played too many other games with hard-to-find side passages, but it’s possible with Adventure being the only example at the time people weren’t so scared to leave things untouched. Even given that token of forgiveness there’s no reason NE, NW, SE, and SW should have been allowed as directions other than sheer sadism.
At this point I honestly don’t remember much about Adventure goes, so I’m going to blog about my playing experientially, like The Stack and The CRPG Addict.
I’ve hit a snag on the Don Eckman port:
I CAN SUSPEND YOUR ADVENTURE FOR YOU SO THAT YOU CAN RESUME LATER, BUT YOU WILL HAVE TO WAIT AT LEAST 90 MINUTES BEFORE CONTINUING
IS THIS ACCEPTABLE?
Specifically, SAVE doesn’t work (other than to give this original message, which has interesting implications for authentic play) so I have to restart every time.
I switched over to the Kenneth Plotkin port, which has a single save game that works and normalizes capitalization, but otherwise seems to be fine.
I’ve been playing a lot of old-style adventures lately, and one thing I’ve noticed is my initial forays into the dungeon/fortress/whatever have been purely mapping expeditions. It’s curious if I imagine it in a story sense, that I am creating alternate-universe clones to scout for me before the “real” expedition begins. This is especially the case for old adventures with lots of instant-death-puzzles. For me, part of getting over the amount of instant death was not to imagine each traversal of the map as a coherent narrative: only the last successful trek matters in a story sense.
While Adventure doesn’t have anything in the way of instant death that I’ve seen so far, now there’s an inventory limit of 7 items (*ahem* thank you Don Woods) so inventory optimization is important; fairly early on without any special effort I find myself maxing out my limit.
So I’ve been avoiding picking up things for the moment and just mapping, but even without solving any puzzles (except for the dragon, which I distinctly remember because it was unfair) I can map a huge chunk of the area:
Click the map above for a full sized PDF map.
I find refreshing the vast amount of exploration available for solving only a few puzzles. It’s hard to find the equivalent in modern games (or even many older ones). One tendancy that I’m glad has died out is the “go north one way, go west to go back” trick. Drawing the bottom section around Bedquilt has been torturous. It does, however, accurately convey the same confusion as crawling about a cave.
I’ve been making my maps with Trizbort, which has been working great except for the mazes. They’ll likely be the focus of my next post.
I figured while I was poking at Adventure I might as well move on to the 1977 Crowther and Woods version. Unfortunately, even getting the “most authentic” version can be a challenge; the list of available versions is epic. It would seem a simple matter to just pick WOOD0350 (the original Fortran source) but that version has never been ported directly (due to technical issues with the source being particular to the PDP-10).
David Kinder discusses several other close versions:
Kevin Black’s DOS version of his and Bob Supnik’s DECUS version, available as a DOS executable.
Kenneth Plotkin’s version, available as a DOS executable, MS Fortran source code and the PDP-11 Fortran source code from which the former was derived.
Don Ekman’s version, available as a DOS executable and MS Fortran source code, derived from Fortran source for the PDP-11/70. There is also an Amiga executable, compiled from the MS Fortran source.
I decided to test all of them, comparing with what is allegedly an image of a printout from Adventure being played on a PDP-10.
Kevin Black’s is out fairly quickly:
You are standing at the end of a road before a small brick building. Around you is a forest. A small stream flows out of the building and down a gully. In the distance there is a tall gleaming white tower.
While the gleaming white tower makes me curious it’s certainly inauthentic. Kenneth Plotkin’s version is better — the text essentially matches — but it normalizes the capitalization, which makes me wonder if there are any other minor changes.
Hence I went with EKMA0350, the Don Eckman Microsoft Fortran port (according to the READ.ME file, the only tweaks were for the sake of compiling).
HAVE PATIENCE. IT TAKES A WHILE TO INITIALIZE…
Effective immediately Colossal Cave is open all day, even during working hours. Although we are no longer locking the cave, you are expected to exercise some degree of self discipline.
WELCOME TO ADVENTURE!! WOULD YOU LIKE INSTRUCTIONS?
Already there’s a dose of charm, a reminder that this used to be playable only on very expensive servers that were normally used for “work” and “productivity”. There’s even an HOURS command (mentioned in the game information):
COLOSSAL CAVE IS OPEN TO REGULAR ADVENTURERS AT THE FOLLOWING HOURS
MON-FRI: OPEN ALL DAY
SAT-SUN: OPEN ALL DAY
HOLIDAYS OPEN ALL DAY
I presume this was originally set to be down during work hours. I confirmed this by trying a version of Adventure (440 point version) available on a PDP-10 simulator via telnet. Trying to start a game led to a very curious prompt:
I’m terribly sorry, but Colossal Cave is closed. Our hours are:
MON – FRI: 0:00 to 11:00
17:00 to 24:00
SAT – SUN: Open all day
HOLIDAYS: Open all day
Only wizards are permitted within the cave right now.
Are you a wizard?
Prove it! Say the magic word!
Foo, you are nothing but a charlatan!
We do allow visitors to make short explorations during our off hours.
Would you like to do that?
I could go on a theoretical tangent about how the server is hosting a literal location that can be open or closed like an amusement park, rather than a story-narrative, but I’d rather get back to the Don Eckman port:
YOU ARE INSIDE A BUILDING, A WELL HOUSE FOR A LARGE SPRING.
THERE ARE SOME KEYS ON THE GROUND HERE.
THERE IS A SHINY BRASS LAMP NEARBY.
THERE IS FOOD HERE.
THERE IS A BOTTLE OF WATER HERE.
I and INV don’t work, but INVEN and INVENTORY do, hooray!
YOU ARE CURRENTLY HOLDING THE FOLLOWING:
SET OF KEYS
WATER IN THE BOTTLE
In the room it’s called a “lamp” and in inventory it’s called a “lantern”. Also you can still refer to it as a “headlamp”.
The “Forest (2)” room is rather mysterious: it can only be reached by going north from the regular Forest room, and only by random chance (1 out of 4, seems like). Why include that room? I suppose already at this stage Crowther was trying to make the outside seem larger than it really was. I remember in the 80s when I first played Adventure I wandered outside a long time curious if there was some obscurely hidden treasure. (I double checked and this map oddity is also in the Crowther original, so this isn’t a Woods addition. They means I’ll probably shuffle this comment into the other post at some point, but for the moment I’ll let this stand.)