zork, buried chaos

by Brad Renshaw

2009

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12 of 13 people found the following review helpful:
Not for anyone lacking the patience of Job., November 16, 2009

I don’t like giving negative reviews to things or being critical for the sake of it. But I thought it worth tackling this one fairly with the more constructive aim of giving some indications to the author about how to improve things.

If anyone else reading this is like me, they were captivated by Zork in their youth and made fumbling attempts to create their own games in imitation of it, but lacked the imagination or technical ability to produce anything remotely uncringeworthy. This game is those games, but in Inform rather than C64 BASIC. If you’re expecting a jolly, in-joke-filled nostalgia-fest, in the style of “Enlightenment” or “Janitor”, you can forget it. If you’re after a more serious retro-style cave crawl, in the style of “The adventurer’s museum”, you can forget that too. This one tries to recreate the world of Zork but without, it seems, either the imagination which made the early cave crawls such experiences or the wit to parody them amusingly. In fact it’s not merely completely humourless but lacks pretty much any kind of atmosphere or character whatsoever. And that is the first point I want to make: if you’re going to make a game, you need to have some kind of vaguely worthwhile story, or world, or experience to convey to the player.

We don’t get that here. The room descriptions are spartan to the point of meanness:

medium room
You are in a medium-sized room. Exits lead south and west.

A panel is on the wall.


Or:

big room
You are in a huge room. Souoth is a smaller room and hallways lead east and
west.


(That’s just one of the many spelling errors, which it would be tedious to list.)

The implementation is poor:

blue room
You are in a blue room. Exits lead east and south, and there's a glass wall to
the north.

A gray door blocks your way south.

A dial is on the wall.

>x glass wall
You can't see any such thing.


Or:

platform
You are on a small platform over spikes. The platform feels weak beneath you. A
bar leads out over the pit to the south and northwestt lies the maze.

A door leading southeast is here.

A rocky shelf is sticking from the wall.

The platform is collapsing!

>climb onto bar
You can't see any such thing.

>s
You realise that there's a hole blocking your way south.

The platform is collapsing!
You fall onto spikes!
You have died! You wake up in a random room!


It was that last one that finally exhausted my patience. (Spoiler - click to show)I did have a look at the walkthrough at this point, which revealed that what I should have typed was GET ON LEDGE (“climb onto ledge” or “up” or any other alternative wouldn’t have worked). Incidentally, that last room doesn’t really have a door leading southeast – that is actually the door leading northwest, but it seems to have the same description in both of the rooms it’s in. (You can’t go back through it though, for no apparent reason.) There are many other examples of this sort of sloppy implementation. As for the design of the game itself, I could also mention the maze (the rooms of which don’t have any descriptions at all, and which has no original features apart from its thankful shortness); the Room Of Pointless Death (my name), where pressing any button other than the right one will kill you; or the locked door puzzle where you must simply turn the dial next to the door until you hit the right number. There is one part where the game appears to be completely broken (Spoiler - click to show) where you are told that there’s an exit east, but you can’t go east.

The game gets some points for being competent and coherent marginally more often than not, but not many. In short, it feels like a practice game, written as a programming exercise. Its biggest flaw, though, is just a complete lack of imagination.

To the author: as I said at the start, I don’t want to be negative for the sake of it. The criticisms I’ve made are meant to point to questions about why one makes a game and puts it online for others to play. The game has to make sense and be reasonably playable by other people, and that means making sure that objects are properly implemented, that things mentioned in the descriptions can be appropriately manipulated, and that there aren’t points where only one particular form of words is accepted despite the existence of many other equally plausible ones for the same action. That’s just fundamental. Equally important, though, is having something worthwhile for people to play. The Zork games were great games because they took the player to an interesting world that was well described. If you use the Zork name, that’s what people expect. Even if you don’t, people will expect something that’s worth their time. A “big room” and a “medium room” with nothing of interest going on in them isn’t. If you try writing something more original or simply more imaginative in general, and testing it properly, you might well produce something worth playing, but I’m afraid this isn’t it.