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About the Story
Many strange tales have been told of the fabulous treasure, exotic creatures, and diabolical puzzles in the Great Underground Empire. As an aspiring adventurer, you will undoubtedly want to locate these treasures and deposit them in your trophy case.
Language: English, Castilian (en, es)
Current Version: Release 1
License: Former commercial
Development System: ZIL
Forgiveness Rating: Cruel
Baf's Guide ID: 987
Adapted from Zork, by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling
Translated to Italian in ZORK I ITA, by Whovian (Bruno Bucciotti) [programming] Ragfox [translation]
Pork 1: The Great Underground Sewer System, by AnonymousFollowed by sequel Zork II, by Dave Lebling, Marc Blank
The Black Ladder, by Jan Åberg
Zork: A Troll's-Eye View, by Dylan O'Donnell
Followed by prequel Zork Zero, by Steve Meretzky
Remade as Mini-Zork, by Dave Lebling, Marc Blank
The first Zork to be published commercially, this game essentially consists of a large chunk of dungeon carved from the central area of the original Zork. A decent dungeon crawl, and many adventurers' first experience with IF. The Hugo port is of questionable legality, but considering that Activision made the entire Zork Trilogy available for free download a few years ago, I wouldn't be too worried.
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
Adventure Classic Gaming
I have replayed this game several times over in order to write this article, and I have found the gameplay to be as absorbing as it is the first time I have played many years ago. While on the whole it is very much a game of "find object and use object in the right place", it does not necessarily mean that it is a doodle. It is not at all! There are some quite tricky puzzles to be solved, and I have been stuck a few times even though that I am playing the game the second time around. Although the treasures in the game are easy to find, getting them back safely to the trophy case can be an entirely different matter. Certain puzzles must be be solved in order, but there is no clue as to what that order isï¿½it is up to you to work it out. In some cases, timing is also important. The text descriptions can either be in "verbose" or "brief" mode. Even in the brief mode, there is still enough to keep pulling you further into the game. For me, the game defines the whole addictive syndrome of "must solve just one more piece of the puzzle" which other imitators never manage to capture.
-- Karen Tyers
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Mr. Bill's Adventureland
Zork creates a wondrous, magical realm that is a veritable feast for the imagination. You find that you have stumbled upon the ancient ruins of a vast empire lying far underground. Yes, you will find many more treasures for your trophy case. But to do so you will have to search far and wide, solve diabolical puzzles, and defend your treasures (and yourself!) from a few very nasty characters... and one monster, a vicious GRUE that lurks in the dark!
-- Mr. Bill & Lela
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Zork I does work, in the end, though it's hard to pinpoint just why. Collect-the-treasures as a plot is a weary old device, and it doesn't only seem that way to IF players -- it had, after all, been the subject of innumerable fantasy novels and games before IF hit the scene. But its recurring presence points to some appeal that Zork I managed to tap into -- the allure of getting rich, and of obtaining things as diverse as the coffin of Ramses II, a songbird's bauble, and a dead adventurer's bag of coins, keeps the intrigue of finding the next treasure alive, somehow. Vital to the enterprise is, of course, the humor, even if the barrage of self-reference becomes wearying; responses like "Only Santa Claus climbs down chimneys" make the game feel more intelligent than a "You can't do that" response would have, and moments like the description of the vampire bat and the behavior of the thief break up the traipsing-from-room-to-room feel that sometimes plagued Colossal Cave.
-- Duncan Stevens
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Number of Reviews: 20
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Most Helpful Member Reviews
Some modern reviewers have said Zork I is dated, and to some extent it is, although not in the usual way that computer games become dated, which is to say technologically. The technology of IF has improved over the years, certainly, but only incrementally; Zork I is, after all, written on basically the same Z-Machine that a lot of authors are still using today. Sure, parsers have gained a few niceties over the years, but the fact is that even the most sophisticated current parser is still an unnatural computer interface that you have to learn to use; Zork's parser is maybe 10% harder to learn than the current standards. Try digging out a video game from last year, let alone one from Zork's era, and see if they hold up as well.
The thing that makes Zork I look dated isn't the technology; it's the genre. Zork is a story-less treasure hunt in a big cave full of wacky incongruities and anachronisms; it's an unapologetic puzzle-fest; it's a slightly unfair, one-sided contest between a smirking author and a frustrated player. This sort of game went of out style years ago (among IF enthusiasts, I mean - the whole of IF went out of style even earlier among the broader gaming population). Some IFers look at it and say, good riddance: this sort of thing went out of style because it was inferior to what IF has evolved into. I tend to disagree; I think this sort of game actually went out of style because it was done to death, in large part by imitators of this very game. Zork I isn't inferior to modern IF; it's just different from modern IF.
The appeal of Zork I is that of a crossword, or of one of those evil little entangled-wire-loop puzzles. And the thing is, Zork has a ton of that kind of appeal. Once you get into the game, it's really good at doling out just enough positive feedback to keep you going, while keeping the challenges numerous and difficult. Maybe you have to have the right personality type, but if you do, it can become an obsession to beat the thing, to get that last lousy point. The game is unfair, but just a little; its designers had a good feel for just how far they could push their luck before players would feel cheated. It's the kind of game you really want to solve on your own, without looking at hints or walkthroughs, because it always feels like the answers are just within reach.
If you're still convinced that modern IF is just objectively superior to the likes of Zork I, here's something to consider. Modern IF dogma ranks immersiveness as one of the great virtues a work can have. Some look at Zork I's sparse room descriptions and irrational map and scoff. But Zork suggests that there's more to immersion than pretty descriptions. For many IFers, Zork I and its ilk have created some of the most intense subjective feelings of immersion they've had from any sort of game, just because they spent so much time walking back and forth and back and forth across the map. The obsessive play, I think, makes up for the thin text, and then some.
Looking at the back of the 1984 "grey box" release of Infocom's "Zork I," you, a prospective player, are promised that "during your amazing journey, you'’ll come face to face with creatures so outlandish, they defy description. And you’ll wander through an underground domain so vast, it can offer you new surprises no matter how many times you explore it." What a thing, all those years ago, to be told. We are also, helpfully, told what Interactive Fiction is: "You can talk to the story, typing in full English sentences. And the story talks right back, communicating entirely in vividly descriptive prose." Earlier (1983) promotional packing for the Commodore 64 focuses more on the technical possibilities of "Zork I," and provides a short matrix of what were most certainly impressive possibilities at the time--a vocabulary of "600+ words," "35-40 hrs." of play time, and a "multiple save feature." Players of available "hi-res" adventures like "The Wizard and the Princess," would find the promised vocabulary an incredible offering. The 1983 packing, in itself, is far more communicative than the 1981 "Barbarian Package" released by Personal Software, which came in a plastic bag and featured a heavily-muscled, bare-legged gentleman swinging a sword at a cowering, tan-skinned humanoid creature. This misleading illustration is accompanied by hardly any text at all save the requirements for operating the software: "For Model III BASIC TRS-80 with 32K and One Disk Drive." What one finds, considering the early history of Infocom's promotional material, is a company learning to explain what it is and what its products are. What on earth was this thing? The term "IF" itself had yet to be coined in 1981.
Enter the contemporary reviewer, who most likely has no such difficulties. Instead, many writers understandably take for granted that a reader will know just what IF is, and focus on whether "Zork 1" is a good game and attempt to answer the question of whether or not, as a piece of IF, it "holds up" in comparison to the works of today. "Holding up" is a problematic thing to measure. Certainly, were one able to visit the Globe Theater of Elizabethian times, one could complain that the actor portraying Ophelia is a man, but complaining thus would reveal a lack of understanding. "Zork 1" lacks the "AGAIN" command and many other modern conveniences, but pointing out said absences, while a helpful heads-up to the prospective player, is a misdirection, unless additionally explaining that "Zork's" publisher later invented these conveniences. One would hardly fault Intel for producing the Pentium II before producing the Pentium III.
Whether the modern player can ENJOY "Zork 1," then, is really a question about the player as opposed to one about "Zork." Can one adequately bring to to the GUE an understanding of IF's history? Can one know and marvel at the difference between, as an example, "Zork 1" and Sierra's "The Wizard and the Princess?" Can one, quite simply, accept "Zork 1" on "Zork 1's" terms? If not, players will probably find more rewarding entertainment elsewhere. If so, then there is much to do and enjoy in "Zork 1." The game world is vast, and many puzzles are quite challenging, affording a real sense of satisfaction when solved. Most of them do, that is. Some seemed, even at the time, unfair, especially when considering the fact that the most-readily available hints were, pre-InvisiClues, available via postal mail. Even guessing at the objective of "Zork 1" is difficult at first. The playfulness of the narrator will either amuse or grate, depending on the player's perspective--at times the narrator seems the primary antagonist.
Easily rendering the game unwinnable? Check. Save and restore combat? O mai oui. Guess the verb? Yes indeed. Inventory management? Certainly. One-dimensional NPC's? Present. "Zork" does not speak contemporary IF, in the same way that John Donne did not write in contemporary English. Donne is not for everyone, and neither is "Zork." Recommending "Zork," again, is a question of what interests a reader of IF. It ultimately has nothing to do with "Zork," which is and always will be "Zork"--the first but not best large example of z-code and all that it promises.
Perhaps a compelling piece of meta-IF could be crafted to simulate the experience of an early-eighties player confronting a game that troubles itself to provide responses to commands that do not advance the story, or includes objects as complex as the jewel-encrusted egg. Barring that, the player will have to bring his or her own sense of history to the piece, which may or may not be sufficient motivation to see beyond its now-dated technical and narrative techniques. Not every fan of "Black Ops" likes "Space Invaders," no matter how great an improvement it is, technically, over "Pong." Those who wish to know the giant upon whose shoulders "Anchorhead" stands will enjoy seeing firstand, or at least appreciate, how far IF has come, though one hardly need love "Zork" to love "Anchorhead." Which type of IF reader are you?
I myself still like "Pong," and occasionally see, depicted in hideous, pale blue text, a brief description of that silly white house and its boarded door. I see it in my dreams, all these years later. Five stars.
Again, from the 1984 packaging: "For the first time, you’re more than a passive reader." Does what it says on the tin.
I really enjoyed playing through this game again this year (after having played, but not beaten it back in the 1980s). Yes, I understand how the phrase "Zork hates its player" came about, but at least because the tasks are compartmentalized and getting back to where you last were doesn't take more than a few minutes that it doesn't feel like a major setback to blow yourself up when you weren't expecting it. I had fun puzzling through everything (or at least most things, I had to cheat to figure out (Spoiler - click to show)the secrets of the egg) and even making the maps on my own, though I can see how those can become tedious as well.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed myself and look forward to picking up Zork 2 and 3 for the first time ever, soon.
See All 25 Member Reviews
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