By ahoodedfigure 14 Comments
GOG announcing that they're releasing modern-compatible Zork series (sans the multimedia versions that came later), along with Planetfall, has me wanting it just for the sheer audacity of the offer.
But beyond wanting to buy that compilation and try my adult brain at those puzzles, I'm not sure WHY I like Zork. The Zork I actually completed was Nemesis, which isn't practically speaking a Zork game, even though I enjoyed a lot of what it had to offer. I only played the first Zork up until I was crushed by something or other. I remember trying to figure out the revolving room (the description was just enough that I have a permanent mental picture of what that room looks like), being victimized by the grue of course, and some other disjointed attempts to find enough light to illuminate all the mistakes I was making.
I think I gave up when I realized that the game was timed, in a sense, by how many commands I gave it. Up until then I enjoyed exploring, fiddling with things, and trying to survive. I think I learned a lot about my particular gaming tastes playing it, even if it wasn't quite the game to reward the playing style I was using.
It seems that what I liked was that my playing style was acceptable, even if it wasn't optimal. I was able to treat it like a virtual environment dungeon exploration game, without worrying about resources, at least until my luck ran out. Once I figured out that I needed to keep things lit, I lasted quite a while, even figuring out a few puzzles related to how the underground dam worked. I experienced just enough to know that I liked what text adventures could do, even if I wasn't quite ready to actually complete it.
This sentiment is from someone who tried very hard to beat Bureaucracy and Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which are in my opinion a bit too clever for their own good. Those two, though Douglas Adams' writing and design in them were entertaining in the extreme, were absolutely merciless. While I imagine some people breezed through them, I needed a guide to do it (a guide to the Guide). The bar was just too damned high, so I felt more like the game was walling itself off to me than entertaining or even enlightening me.
A lot of games were like that the more complicated they got: you were at the mercy of the programmers who may have even delighted in killing player characters in all kinds of horrible ways, and often players enjoyed starting over because it meant all their mistakes were erased, but their memories of them weren't. They were willing to spend a long time in that lair doing all the wrong things, because they might eventually get it right.
Text adventures have expanded beyond the wildest dreams of old Infocom, though their potential is still largely unknown, if not undiscovered. Zork sticks in people's minds in part because it was one of the first popular text adventures, sure, but it was also one of the better examples of giving players just enough space, and just enough abstraction, to write their own, usually grisly, end.
Edit: if you want to try it without risk, the first few are featured here , since at least some of the Zork titles are in the public domain the last I heard.