Beyond Zork

by Brian Moriarty

Episode 4 of Zork
Fantasy / Zorkian / RPG

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A good risk taken on an established franchise, May 16, 2019
by mjhayes (Somewhere east of Garinham)

Take a game that has had a successful trilogy, add a bunch of elements people might like, and hope it's received well. That seems to be what Infocom did with this addition to the Zork series.

I'll begin by saying the downside to this, just to get it out of the way since there's nothing else I don't like about it. To me, this game was a turning point. Future Zork games were just campy, with the exception of the radical departure that is Nemesis. Also, most interpreters I've used don't display this game correctly. Fortunately, I was able to play it again in all it's original glory once I started using Termux, a Linux environment for Android devices that doesn't require rooting.

As for the upside, I like everything else that's new in this game so much that I wish it was done for more IF game sequels. It's obviously heavily inspired by Dungeons & Dragons, with the avatar creation, turn-based fighting, character growth, barter system, randomized maps, and randomized item placement. The screen is divided into four main sections, which is why it's necessary to play this in a text-based environment. In addition to the usual Status Bar at the top, there's a pseudo-graphical minimap, with a window to the left containing room descriptions, and below all that is the usual call-and-response text parser area.

Many of the scenes were ridiculous, like the ripoff from The Wizard Of Oz and part of the ending ((Spoiler - click to show)a magic spell to turn granite into fettucini), not to mention some throwbacks to other Infocom titles. Some puzzles were just too convoluted as well, like getting the helmet. But all that was eclipsed by the immersion into this world with the game's new features. A couple scenes were touching too, like the interaction with the Minx. The reaction of the Implementors when they become aware of my presence was a very nice touch too, in addition to the easter egg: (Spoiler - click to show)trying to open the mailbox pictured on the wine bottle's label. Messing around with the various magical items was a lot of fun, and I felt a great sense of accomplishment too when I achieved the highest level in the game.

While I was playing through the game though, I couldn't help but think that the audio tracks from the CD-ROM version of Return To Zork would fit here. Imagine the Morpheus Nightmare music as a backdrop in the tavern cellar, the Whispering Woods music in the jungle, or the forest music in the ... forest. Event-driven tunes would include the creepy "abandoned hardware store" music when finding the Circle in shambles, the Troll Fight music when an enemy appears, and even that pretty little tune from the intro when you open the Sea Chest. If I put some effort into it, I could probably modify the stand-alone PC-DOS executable file to make the game do just that.

That leaves me with a couple questions. First, what does the game look like when played on a VT220? Second, are there any Android apps out there that display this game correctly?