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Classic Game Spotlight:
The ZORK Trilogy

"You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here."

These now famous first words greeted you at the start of a game of Zork, an adventure that would have you explore the abandonded halls of the Great Underground Empire, confront Grues, Trolls, Thiefs, and Wizards, and finally encounter the enigmatic Dungeon Master himself. Zork excelled in the genre of computer based interactive fiction and laid the foundation for Infocom, one of the classic game companies of the 1980s.

The game was a purely text-based adventure, devoid of any graphics whatsoever. You would read descriptions of the locations you were in and the items you were carrying, and could type in relatively complex commands such as "Go North", "Examine the sword", "Pull the rug, then open the trap door", or "Open the crystal egg with the key". The game's "brain", the parser, would analyze your input and then describe the result of your actions. For example, the rather ineffectual input "Throw the sack at the troll" when battling a beast would result in the response "The troll, who is remarkably coordinated, catches the brown sack and, not having the most discriminating taste, gleefully eats it. The flat of the troll's axe hits you on the head...". Careful reading, some experimentation, and a lot of imagination were required to solve the game's many devious puzzles.

Infocom, the company behind Zork, quickly rose to the top of the charts with a series of imaginative and sophisticated games. Their original games have now become collector's items, due in fact to the inclusion of 'feelies' (unique extras included with the game), and their inventive 'InvisiClues' booklets (which provided game solutions written in invisible ink). But a shift toward graphical adventure games as well as a failed database product in the mid 1980s led to financial difficulties and a 1986 takeover by Activision. Later text adventures such as Beyond Zork (1987) and Zork Zero (1988) did not do well enough, and the plug was pulled on Infocom in 1989. Activision retained the label only, and used it to publish graphical adventures in the 1990s (Return to Zork, Zork: Nemesis, and Zork: Grand Inquisitor).

Zork Trivia

* The trilogy was originally a single game entitled "Dungeon", but had to be split into three parts for release in 1980. This was due to size restrictions of micro computers at the time.

* 'Zork' was actually a coding term refering to an unfinished program. The name, however, stuck even after game completion.

* The original Zork I parser had a vocabularly of almost 700 words. Later Infocom titles, such as the acclaimed Trinity could understand over 2000 words and complex sentences.

Zork Links

* As part of a promotion for Zork: Nemesis, Activision released all three Zork games in playable form on the internet. You can download, install, and play these classic games right here.

* A new text-based Zork mini-game, Zork: The Undiscovered Underground was also released as part of this promotion. Return to the world of Zork for one final (?) adventure.

* The Infocom company may no longer exist (other than as an Activision label), but the (unofficial) Infocom Homepage is a treasure trove of information on all of their interactive fiction games.

* A fan-made Encyclopedia Frobozzica has some great reading about anything related to the Great Underground Empire. Here, for example, is their entry on the infamous Grue:
The Grue is a sinister, lurking presence in the dark places of the earth. Its favorite diet is either adventurers or enchanters, but its insatiable appetite is tempered by its horrible fear of light. No grues have ever been seen by the light of day, and only a few have been observed in their underground lairs. Of those who have seen grues, few ever survived their fearsome jaws to tell the tale. Grues have sharp claws and fangs, and an uncontrollable tendency to slaver and gurgle. They are certainly the most evil-tempered of all creatures; to say they are touchy is a dangerous understatement. "Sour as a grue" is a common expression, even among themselves.
* And finally, very observant* players of Wonderland Secret Worlds might find the maze section in Zork I ("This is a part of a maze of twisty little passages, all alike.") strangely familiar.

*That is, those who, say, completed all levels in gold and paid careful attention to the ending animation. Hint, hint! :)

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