by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling

Cave crawl, Zorkian

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Ongoing review in progress, September 5, 2013
by WriterBob (Richmond Hill, Ontario)

I'm going to try something a bit different with this review. Many pieces of modern IF are brief and can be completed in less than hour. Zork (the one and only, the original) is much larger, so large that it was broken into three parts to make the Zork Trilogy. (Yes, yes, most people reading this review are intimately familiar with Infocom and it's history, and those who aren't, well the story of one of the most successful early video game companies makes for interesting reading. Please, pardon the digression.)

Where was I?

Oh, right. Zork. It's big; too big for me to play through and write a review in a reasonable amount of time. Besides, I've never completed the game, and I'd like to.

Here's the deal. I plan on writing a brief review of my gaming sessions with Zork. My hope is that I'll be able to provide an in depth look at this, the father of IF. Of course Colossal Cave/Adventure is the grandfather of IF, another early work that I've barely scratched the surface of. But I don't find Colossal Cave nearly as intriguing as Zork. Perhaps it goes to my fascination with Infocom and the story of that company. Perhaps it's because Zork spawned such a large library of games. In any event, my focus is on Zork. Let's dive in...

I'm playing the Inform port of Dungeon - zdungeon.z5. This is based on a relatively early version, "...from the original MDL sources created at MIT, dated 22-JUL-1981," according to Ethan Dicks (U.S. News & Dungeon Report found in-game.) There are many other releases available on this site ported to a variety of different interpreters, the latest that I've come across is a version 3.2b for TADs.

I chose to go with the Inform version for a couple of reasons. First, Inform was inspired by the Infocom ZIL interpreter and designed initially to play the original Infocom games. Second, being an older version, this is probably the closest I can get to the version I played briefly back in the early '80's. Third, this was the only version I found that would work with IFMapper, an intriguing auto-mapping program which attempts to generate a map from a live transcript file generated during game play.

When it comes to mapping, I find it tedious. For some it may add depth to game play experience. For me, it takes me out of the story. Having access to a full map though can lead to spoilers. IFMapper takes the chore of mapping out of my hands while retaining mystery of the adventure.

So I've got Windows Frotz fired up (v. 1.17) with Dungeon loaded, and IFMapper up and running with automap turned on.

Right from the first location, the original Zork is slightly different from Zork I. The original "West of House," description reads:

This is an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

In the commercial release of Zork I, the player is emphasized more:

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.

It's a small difference, but not a minor one. With the commercial release, the player is an active part of the environment versus being an external observer. Sure, it may be semantics, but good IF relies on how something is said as much as what is said.

I won't go into the details of where I have gone in this game. As River Song would coyly say, "Spoilers." This is a review, not a walkthrough.

My experience in playing this so far is akin to the feeling I had in reading the early drafts of The Star Wars, the script that laid out the bones of the story that would become The Star Wars Trilogy. This comparison is more than a little apt. Both the first draft of Star Wars and Zork were too large for a single release. Both Star Wars and Zork were split up into trilogies that expanded upon the ideas of the initial versions. Both were incredibly successful for their time.

I'm looking forward to continuing my exploration of the Great Underground Empire. In short, between personal nostalgia and curiosity over how the game unfolds this is one game that I'm eager to keep playing.

Note: this review is based on older version of the game.
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Hanon Ondricek, September 5, 2013 - Reply
Neat idea! Your comparison of the descriptions makes me wonder if anyone has ever done an "Annotated Zork"?
WriterBob, September 11, 2013 - Reply
Hi Hanon,

Now there would be an interesting idea. A lot of information is already available about Zork and Infocom online. What would be interesting is linking those articles, or excerpts from them to specific locations as footnotes within the game itself. That would require a deal more effort though than I currently have the time (or skill) to implement myself.

But it sure would be cool.

Hanon Ondricek, September 11, 2013 - Reply
I was thinking of a book...but seriously...how cool would it be to play Zork in splitscreen with comments and pictures and alternate versions aligned on the other side?
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