Archive for the ‘Zork’ Tag

Zork: Stuck   9 comments

(Heavier spoilers than usual this post.)

First, a mea culpa: you do get a faint blue glow when the thief is nearby, but only in the original Muddle version and not in the ZDungeon port. It’s actually even more effective than the sword suddenly turning on: it happens more frequently, and it makes for more moments of teeth-gnashing.

Paul O’Brian writes that “Dungeon wants nothing more than to see you fail” and I’m feeling the burn. I’ve developed a system over the years to give myself the best chance of solving adventure games; unfortunately my rate of hintless wins has not improved much. The only games I’d call “substantial” I beat with no hints at all were Countdown to Doom (1982) and Anchorhead (1998). Other than the “Beginner” level Wishbringer (1985) I haven’t beaten any Infocom game without hints.

Still I find my system helpful, so I’m plowing ahead. First I list all my open puzzles:

Locked trapdoor
Locked grating
Bank of Zork
Round Room
Entrance to Hades
Circular Room mysterious message:

   o  b  o
   
   A  G  I
    E   L
   
   m  p  a

Getting out of Aragain Falls with treasure intact
Getting coffin out of Egyptian Room area
Passage full of ice
Handling light source at narrow passage near coal mine

Then I list all my objects I have access to:

coil of rope
nasty-looking knife
elvish sword
jewel-encrusted egg
brown sack
garlic
old leather bag, bulging with coins
set of skeleton keys
deceased adventurer’s useless lantern
rusty knife
shovel
small brass bell
book
burning candles
grail
pearl necklace
bucket (can’t carry)
portrait
painting
solid-gold coffin
coil of thin shiny wire
toothpaste tube (Frobozz magic gunk)
wrench
screwdriver
matchbook
guidebook
sharp stick
folded plastic / pump -> boat
trunk with jewels
crystal trident
jade figure
bracelet
shovel
bat guano

Then I sit and compare the two lists and a map until something pops in my head. For instance, on one previous list-comparison check I realized I’d used the boat on only one body of water but the map had more I could try. My current list of things to try:

try shovel everywhere
burning timber didn’t work; try burning other things that can remain lit while on the floor to get an extra light source near the narrow passage
try alternate exit from area after the narrow passage instead
mess around with bell / candles / books at Hades some more (bell does have some effect)
try ‘odysseus’ or ‘hello, sailor’ more places

This works best if there’s a puzzle where all the systems are clear and it is just a matter of fitting the pieces together (like the troll bridge puzzle from Adventure) and worst when there’s some sort of in-game experimentation required (like not realizing an item is magic — that trident looks suspicious — and there’s no clue except for in-game manipulation).

Sometimes I’ll miss the existence of items; for instance the fact the “grail room” had an actual Grail object that could be picked up strangely eluded me for some time.

Absolute worst is when I miss a map exit exists. This can happen to me even on good, sensibly mappable games (I missed going up from the kitchen in Savoir Faire for something like an hour). One of my standing stuck procedures is to double check every room on the map and try every single direction — even if the room description insists there’s only one way out — just in case.

Anyone have their own method?

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Posted April 6, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Zork: Plot and story   3 comments

I didn’t discuss Adventure‘s overall plot at all; there’s a true sense that there isn’t one. The entire task was of collecting treasures and storing them, and the “endgame” was tacked on in the same manner as a late-80s arcade game.

That’s not to say there wasn’t a story — see for example my experiences in the maze playing a game of cat-and-mouse with dwarves — but this story was generated strictly from the system, and transplants into a (relatively) barren universe.

Zork is nearly the same setup — you’re urged to go find treasure, then set loose — but there’s something more textured about it. Entering the dungeon isn’t just a casual affair, but rather sinister. Upon going down the trap-door leading to the main part of the game:

The trap door crashes shut, and you hear someone barring it.

Or compare Adventure‘s pirate

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 THE GLOOM.

with Zork‘s thief:

Someone carrying a large bag is casually leaning against one of the walls here. He does not speak, but it is clear from his aspect that the bag will be taken only over his dead body.
Your sword has begun to glow very brightly.

The thief doesn’t just come out of the shadows, he is just there. The sword, which previously signaled danger by steps with a “faint blue glow” when an enemy is close and a glow “very brightly” when reaching the enemy, goes straight from dark to bright. The thief just leans against the wall — no visible signs of action — and you don’t notice your valuables have been removed until after he is already gone.

Not only is there a texture of menace, but a feeling of background; setting as character, if you will. Wandering outdoors:

You are at the top of the Great Canyon on its south wall. From here there is a marvelous view of the Canyon and parts of the Frigid River upstream. Across the canyon, the walls of the White Cliffs still appear to loom far above. Following the Canyon upstream (north and northwest), Aragain Falls may be seen, complete with rainbow. Fortunately, my vision is better than average and I can discern the top of the Flood Control Dam #3 far to the distant north. To the west and south can be seen an immense forest, stretching for miles around. It is possible to climb down into the canyon from here.

The casual mention of Aragain Falls and Flood Control Dam #3 suggest a story behind the place that is meant to be unraveled. Both locations become important later. Compare with a roughly equivalent scene in Adventure:

YOU ARE ON THE EDGE OF A BREATH-TAKING VIEW. FAR BELOW YOU IS AN ACTIVE VOLCANO, FROM WHICH GREAT GOUTS OF MOLTEN LAVA COME SURGING OUT, CASCADING BACK DOWN INTO THE DEPTHS. THE GLOWING ROCK FILLS THE FARTHEST REACHES OF THE CAVERN WITH A BLOOD-RED GLARE, GIVING EVERYTHING AN EERIE, MACABRE APPEARANCE. THE AIR IS FILLED WITH FLICKERING SPARKS OF ASH AND A HEAVY SMELL OF BRIMSTONE. THE WALLS ARE HOT TO THE TOUCH, AND THE THUNDERING OF THE VOLCANO DROWNS OUT ALL OTHER SOUNDS. EMBEDDED IN THE JAGGED ROOF FAR OVERHEAD ARE MYRIAD TWISTED FORMATIONS COMPOSED OF PURE WHITE ALABASTER, WHICH SCATTER THE MURKY LIGHT INTO SINISTER APPARITIONS UPON THE WALLS. TO ONE SIDE IS A DEEP GORGE, FILLED WITH A BIZARRE CHAOS OF TORTURED ROCK WHICH SEEMS TO HAVE BEEN CRAFTED BY THE DEVIL HIMSELF. AN IMMENSE RIVER OF FIRE CRASHES OUT FROM THE DEPTHS OF THE VOLCANO, BURNS ITS WAY THROUGH THE GORGE, AND PLUMMETS INTO A BOTTOMLESS PIT FAR OFF TO YOUR LEFT. TO THE RIGHT, AN IMMENSE GEYSER OF BLISTERING STEAM ERUPTS CONTINUOUSLY FROM A BARREN ISLAND IN THE CENTER OF A SULFUROUS LAKE, WHICH BUBBLES OMINOUSLY. THE FAR RIGHT WALL IS AFLAME WITH AN INCANDESCENCE OF ITS OWN, WHICH LENDS AN ADDITIONAL INFERNAL SPLENDOR TO THE ALREADY HELLISH SCENE. A DARK, FORBODING PASSAGE EXITS TO THE SOUTH.

Vivid, certainly, but adding to the story in only an immediate sense and not in establishing persistent background details and the feeling of a world history.

Posted April 4, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Zork: Open spaces, painful geography   20 comments

Just to clarify a bit of history: the mainframe Zork I am playing was too large a game for personal computers at the time, so when it went commercial it got split into Zork I, II, and III. Since I have only played the commercial versions playing mainframe Zork is like a fuzzy mash-up of my childhood memories.

One thing I noticed (compared to modern games) with Adventure and now also Zork is that it is enjoyable to explore a wide open space; the feeling of world-immersion is strong even when many of the room descriptions are unassuming.

Clearing
You are in a clearing, with a forest surrounding you on the west and south.
There is a pile of leaves on the ground.

Modern adventures and interactive fiction tend to a tight room-structure, where no space is “wasted”. With a full enough immersion in the world-space I don’t believe rooms are necessarily wasted. I’ll catch myself on that by saying I have experienced many adventure games where wasted rooms are both meaningless and painful (the worst offender I recall is Time Zone) and I can’t mathematize why Zork is different; just the amount of space feels right.

Not all is perfect with the geography, though. There appears a willful desire on the designer’s part that if you entered a room by going east, going west will not get you back to the same room. I can’t tell you how many times I had to redo room connections while working on the larger dungeon map:

Mapping with Trizbort is nice in that I can shift around whole sections to get the geography right. For example, there’s a “South Reservoir” that later connects up with a “North Reservoir”, so it’d be nice to have them in direct line with each other, but I had originally drawn the two areas all the way across from each other on the map. Just about a minute of cut and paste and everything was fixed. I suspect the general relationship of geography is important for at least one puzzle so I want to get it right.

The first maze (there’s at least one more, and I hear there’s a third epic one later) has a cute tribute to Adventure. It appears the same intrepid explorer who got carried away by elves in triumph didn’t make it in the Zork universe.

Incidentally, I’ve been picking up very little in the way of objects. The inventory limit is brutal, but interestingly enough it is based on object weight rather than exact number. It’s a nice touch of world-modeling which isn’t duplicated that often (I think?) in this era. The upshot is I’ve hardly started on puzzle solving at all. I do remember Zork I well enough that some parts will give me no trouble, but my Zork II and Zork III are quite foggy. There’s a rotating circular room that is driving me nuts. I presume there’s some way to stop it? I have forgotten how.

Posted April 2, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Zork (original MUDDLE mainframe version)   20 comments

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!

Posted March 31, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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