Archive for the ‘Zork’ Tag

Zork: Solving a puzzle via verb-checking   5 comments

When people talk about brute forcing on an adventure, they usually mean trying every inventory object on every puzzle.

Really though, there are four methods of brute force:
1. Map-checking
2. Item-checking
3. Puzzle-checking
4. Verb-checking

#1 for instance could be trying every feasible action in each room, checking them off as you go. #3 could be taking every item to a particular puzzle and testing each one out, hoping for a result. Occasionally a game will have an extra category particular for the game (for example, trying to use the magic words from Adventure in every possible room).

#4 is often overlooked but is quite handy for old adventures: trying everything that might plausibly be a verb for future reference. In particular I tested out SLIDE and got

Slide what?

Hmm. What slides? I tried the rubber mat from the beginning of the game:

>slide mat
under what?

Oho! I was in the first room, so I tried DOOR:

>slide mat under door
There’s not enough room under this door.

I could tell where this was going: there’s a puzzle that’s appeared in approximately 500 (*) other adventure games where a key has for some reason been left on the other side of a keyhole. To its credit, this appearance would be the first. A puzzle that could have been ornery later — it’s not obvious from the room description it would’ve been possible — turned out to be quite easy forewarned with this knowledge.

(*) Only a slight exaggeration.


Posted April 25, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Zork: 310 out of 616 points   11 comments


It’s time for a progress report, also known as a random selection of observations that don’t sort well as a single post:

* I found an ivory torch which seems to have unlimited fuel; I tested many, many WAIT commands and the torch kept going. Strangely, I also ran across a point in experimenting where I had a “burned-out torch” yet it was still providing light. [ADD: It’s a bug. If you throw the torch at the glacier (see below) and then restore your game the torch is in your inventory and burned out. If you quit and then restore the torch is back to normal.]

* The light sources in general are finicky and slightly buggy. The most annoying part came in a coal mine where you have to drop off a lit lantern and enter through a narrow passage (which cannot fit any items) where you have waiting for you a torch conveniently lowered by a basket. However, if you try to go back the way you came the room is dark. It took me a lot of fiddling before I realized if I raised the basket first the room with the lantern would be lit again. I guess the light sources need to be recalculated?

* The thief was dead as of the 190 point mark. I seem to recall in Zork I needing to wait until near the end of the game, but not here. I also realized there was an oblique hint in the temple that dropping items there made them safe from the thief (boldface mine):

> read inscription
The prayer is inscribed in an ancient script which is hardly remembered these days, much less understood. What little of it can be made out seems to be a philippic against small insects, absent-mindedness, and the picking up and dropping of small objects. The final verse seems to consign trespassers to the land of the dead. All evidence indicates that the beliefs of the ancient Zorkers were obscure.

* You can TAKE TREASURES as a shortcut for grabbing all items designated for the trophy case. This is handy for both inventory management and checking if something is a treasure.

* There’s a glacier I’ve been trying to get by. If I MELT ICE with my torch it works but I die getting carried away by water. If I THROW TORCH AT ICE I survive but I lose my torch (which is a treasure — I know from the TAKE TREASURES test).

* There’s a cake from the Tea Room that I need that apparently the thief has moved, but I can’t figure out where. I’m just hoping it’s not eaten, I may end up having a late-game restart (grumble).

* I recall being able to walk across the rainbow in Zork I, but I also recall an item in the gold coffin being used to manage that (which isn’t there now). Am I missing something?

Posted April 25, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Zork: A tale of three puzzles   6 comments

Things are winding down. I’ve found all the treasures and am trying to solve the endgame, so hopefully my next post will have “Won!” or some permutation thereof.

In the meantime, three puzzles are thoroughly spoiled below.

The Bank of Zork

This is my nominee for worst puzzle in the game.

There’s a Safety Depository

This is a large rectangular room. The east and west walls here were used for storing safety deposit boxes. As might be expected, all have been carefully removed by evil persons. To the east, west, and south of the room are large doorways. The northern ‘wall’ of the room is a shimmering curtain of light. In the center of the room is a large stone cube, about 10 feet on a side. Engraved on the side of the cube is some lettering.

and a portrait that needs removal (it’s a treasure)

Chairman’s Office
This room was the office of the Chairman of the Bank of Zork. Like the other rooms here, it has been extensively vandalized.
The lone exit is to the north.
A portrait of J. Pierpont Flathead hangs on the wall.

but attempting to just carry it out sets of the alarms.

> e
An alarm rings briefly and an invisible force prevents your leaving.

Fair enough so far. Entering the curtain of light described in the Depository brings the player to a Small Room:

This is a small, bare room with no distinguishing features. There are no exits from this room.

Waiting a few turns, a gnome shows up:

An epicene gnome of Zurich wearing a three-piece suit and carrying a safety-deposit box materializes in the room. ‘You seem to have forgotten to deposit your valuables,’ he says, tapping the lid of the box impatiently. ‘We don’t usually allow customers to use the boxes here, but we can make this ONE exception, I suppose…’ He looks askance at you over his wire-rimmed bifocals.

After giving a treasure to the gnome, he sends you back to the bank entrance. Further attempts to enter the curtain of light send you to a viewing room. It’s possible to give the gnome a treasure other than the portrait so for a long time I thought the objective was simply to trick the gnome.

No: it’s much, much stupider than that. From the Small Room:

> enter south wall
You feel somewhat disoriented as you pass through…
Safety Depository

Note that just going SOUTH doesn’t work, it has to be those exact words. Argh!

Reusing the curtain of light brings the player to a vault full of zorkmid bills, as depicted above. There’s another secret exit like this first. Dropping everything, coming back, and using the curtain again sends the player to the viewing room and past the alarms. The latter part is not what’s upsetting; there’s just not much reason to suspect it is possible to walk through a wall, especially given the rejection of walking south.

I cheated by looking at source (specifically Dean Menezes’s port to Inform 7). Did anyone solve this one fairly? How would anyone suspect this? I suppose the curtain of light is meant to “prime” the player (like the PLOVER puzzle in Adventure) but it just strikes me as too much a reach.

The Secret Slide Room

This puzzle has a similar dilemma as the Bank of Zork with a hidden exit, but I enjoyed it much more.

One general rule in adventure games is to always GAZE or LOOK INTO something resembling a crystal ball. There’s a white crystal sphere; gazing into it describes seeing the location of a blue crystal sphere. Later finding the blue crystal sphere:

> look in blue sphere
As you peer into the sphere, a strange vision takes shape of a distant room, which can be described clearly….
Sooty Room
This is a small room with rough walls, and a ceiling which is steeply sloping from north to south. There is coal dust covering almost everything, and little bits of coal are scattered around the only exit (which is a narrow passage to the north). In one corner of the room is an old coal stove which lights the room with a cheery red glow. There is a very narrow crack in the north wall.
The vision fades, revealing only an ordinary crystal sphere.

So a puzzle remains: where’s the sooty room? There are subtle clues in the text: “a ceiling which is steeply sloping” and “coal dust covering almost everything”. Near a coal mine there’s a Slide Room

This is a small chamber, which appears to have been part of a coal mine. On the south wall of the chamber the letters “Granite Wall” are etched in the rock. To the east is a long passage and there is a steep metal slide twisting downward. To the north is a small opening.

where going down the slide leads to the Cellar at the beginning of the game. There’s no hint of anything special, but the crystal sphere text gives strong suspicions.

At this point the rope seemed handiest, but it led to a dilemma

> tie rope
to what?

Nothing in the room description suggested itself. Fortunately, nearby there was a broken wooden timber I knew was quite heavy just from the inventory juggling I needed to carry it.

> tie rope to timber
The rope is fastened to a broken timber.
The rope dangles down the slide.
> d
As you descend, you realize that the rope is slippery from the grime of the coal chute and that your grasp will not last long.
This is an uncomfortable spot within the coal chute. The rope to which you are clinging can be seen rising into the darkness above. There is more rope dangling below you.

Further down the rope is the Sooty Room I described above, and a red crystal sphere.

What made this puzzle especially satisfying was it’s a true knowledge puzzle. There’s pretty much no way of solving it other than putting together the information clues in the right way. So it was like solving a mystery akin to a detective story.

Last Lousy Treasure

This one’s pretty absurd, but at least it is designated a last lousy point. From a matchbook at the Flood Control Dam #3:

> read matchbook
[close cover before striking BKD]

YOU too can make BIG MONEY in the exciting field of

Mr. TAA of Muddle, Mass. says: “Before I took this course I used to be a lowly bit twiddler. Now with what I learned at MIT Tech I feel really important and can obfuscate and confuse with the best.”

Mr. MARC had this to say: “Ten short days ago all I could look forward to was a dead-end job as a doctor. Now I have a promising future and make really big Zorkmids.”

MIT Tech can’t promise these fantastic results to everyone. But when you earn your MDL degree from MIT Tech your future will be brighter.

Send for our free brochure today.

Just in-joking, nothing to think about, right?

Allow me a brief aside on Max Blaster and Doris de Lightning Against the Parrot Creatures of Venus (2003) by Dan Shiovitz and Emily Short.

You see a mask of fearless Xavian leader Ch’awww-k’pot, a teething corknut, and a Max Blaster action figure here.

>x mask
Cast from a solid piece of plastic, with features lovingly molded to exactly reproduce the stern-but-caring countenance of fearless Xavian leader Ch’awww-k’pot. The eyeholes are empty and a rubber strap is attached to the back of the mask, enabling young Xavians to slip it over their beak and re-enact famous socio-political decisions made by Ch’awwk.

>reenact famous socio-political decisions
(first taking the mask of fearless Xavian leader Ch’awww-k’pot, then wearing the mask of fearless Xavian leader Ch’awww-k’pot)
You perform a complex series of instructional morality plays/shadow puppetings using your hands, the mask, and a conveniently-placed light source.

The presence of this exchange was the fault of a (in)famous beta tester with the philosophy of “whatever the player might reasonably think of typing from the text, allow it”. It’s a good approach for side interactivity, but what about the regular portion of a game?

Back to Zork. Go read the matchbook text again. Can you guess what to type?

> send for brochure
Ok, but you know the postal service…

Several turns later:

There is a knocking sound from the front of the house.

Checking West of House:

West of House
There is a small mailbox here.
In the mailbox is a large brochure.
The free brochure contains:
A Don Woods stamp

Yes, that’s a treasure. I’d call it a REENACT FAMOUS SOCIO-POLITICAL DECISIONS style puzzle if that was easier to say. The major difference here is the action makes no sense; how are we sending for the brochure? Is just declaring our intention out loud enough for the post office to notice?

(Thanks to Dan Shiovitz and Admiral Jota who both sent me information on the Parrot Creatures game.)

Posted April 27, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Zork: Endgame   24 comments

Your score in the end game is 100 [total of 100 points], in 52 moves.
This score gives you the rank of Dungeon Master.

Spoilers ahoy.

Notable things about the endgame:

The scoring trick. I never did quite make it to 616 out of 616 points, but I’m not worried in that a.) knowing how things went down throughout my game, it might’ve just been a bug and b.) The score resets anyway to a separate “endgame score” out of 100 points.

INCANT. Upon entering the endgame the player is instructed to INCANT “word of their choice” and the game responds with a passkey to use to warp to the endgame (so I did INCANT “STUFF” and it told me to keep “INCANT ZEAAA”). This can be done without a save game (saving no longer works in the endgame, anyway).

Object choice. It’s somewhat unclear what is needed if anything in the endgame. It turns out the sword is necessary but it’s very hard to realize such other than it seems the iconic thing to be carrying around. Fortunately, warping to the endgame with INCANT also drops the lamp and sword in the player’s inventory, so I took that as a hint.

Life without objects. The sword gets used fairly early and the rest of the puzzles use no objects at all. Given how much Zork relies on objects, the style is rather different, almost like Myst

> go in
Inside Mirror
You are inside a rectangular box of wood whose structure is rather complicated. Four sides and the roof are filled in, and the floor is open.
As you face the side opposite the entrance, two short sides of carved and polished wood are to your left and right. The left panel is mahogany, the right pine. The wall you face is red on its left half and black on its right. On the entrance side, the wall is white opposite the red part of the wall it faces, and yellow opposite the black section. The painted walls are at least twice the length of the unpainted ones. The ceiling is painted blue.
In the floor is a stone channel about six inches wide and a foot deep. The channel is oriented in a north-south direction. In the exact center of the room the channel widens into a circular depression perhaps two feet wide. Incised in the stone around this area is a compass rose.
Running from one short wall to the other at about waist height is a wooden bar, carefully carved and drilled. This bar is pierced in two places. The first hole is in the center of the bar (and thus the center of the room). The second is at the left end of the room (as you face opposite the entrance). Through each hole runs a wooden pole.
The pole at the left end of the bar is short, extending about a foot above the bar, and ends in a hand grip. The pole has been dropped into a hole carved in the stone floor.
The long pole at the center of the bar extends from the ceiling through the bar to the circular area in the stone channel. This bottom end of the pole has a T-bar a bit less than two feet long attached to it, and on the T-bar is carved an arrow. The arrow and T-bar are pointing west.

…except Myst is really awkward and difficult described as text. At a basic level this puzzle isn’t too difficult (the mirror is a vehicle you have to control) but just reading the words is brain-jumbling.

Master of the Dungeon. I was warned about this one: you get to a door, knock, and the Master of the Dungeon comes and asks a trivia quiz about Zork.

It’s clear some of the questions are meant to test alternate solutions or methods of transport:

‘What can be done to the mirror that is useful?’

(Touching the mirror warps to the other mirror.)

Others are more, mm, trivial:

‘What is the absolute minimum specified value of the Zorkmid treasures, in zorkmids?’

And one of them’s just evil:

‘In which room is ‘Hello, Sailor!’ useful?’

(If you know your Zork mythology, you can answer this even if you haven’t played the game. I’ll answer in the comments.)

The Final Puzzle. After the quiz the Dungeon Master starts to follow you, and there’s a room with another Myst-like setup:

There is an object here which looks like a sundial. On it are an indicator arrow and (in the center) a large button. On the face of the dial are numbers ‘one’ through ‘eight’. The indicator points to the number ‘four’.

The trick here is that you can direct the Master of the Dungeon just like a robot from earlier in the game, with TELL MASTER ‘DO ACTION’ as the syntax. This is one of those odd cases where pre-Infocom syntax was my nemesis; I admit it never occurred to me (even though the Master says he is yours to command) that I could even give him directions. This seemed to be because the syntax felt like a special-case thing for earlier in the game and it wasn’t incorporated as part of my puzzle-solving reflexes.

The ending scene. After puzzling out the business with the dial comes the end:

> go out
Treasury of Zork
This is a room of large size, richly appointed and decorated in a style that bespeaks exquisite taste. To judge from its contents, it is the ultimate storehouse of the treasures of Zork.

The treasures are described in intricate detail (I’ll post all of it in the comments), and this could’ve been the end of it, akin to being carried off by cheering elves in Adventure. However, there’s one final paragraph:

As you gleefully examine your new-found riches, the Dungeon Master himself materializes beside you, and says, “Now that you have solved all the mysteries of the Dungeon, it is time for you to assume your rightly-earned place in the scheme of things. Long have I waited for one capable of releasing me from my burden!” He taps you lightly on the head with his staff, mumbling a few well-chosen spells, and you feel yourself changing, growing older and more stooped. For a moment there are two identical mages staring at each other among the treasure, then you watch as your counterpart dissolves into a mist and disappears, a sardonic grin on his face.

The last sentence is remarkable. That was the ending?

I was stuck by it as a lens of sorts: here is a new art form, one raw and unrefined, with the potential to be serious and profound.

For me it was the most gratifying moment of playing Zork.

I’m not entirely done with Zork. I’m planning a “backtracking post” at some point to discuss Hunt the Wumpus and related games. Zork has two parts that definitely show Wumpus influence and I’ll discuss them with the same post.

In the meantime I’m moving on to 1978 and Bill Wolpert’s Mystery Mansion, a game with almost ridiculous ambition for its time.

Posted April 29, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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