Zork

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.

14 Comments
15 Comments
Posted by ahoodedfigure

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.

Posted by Video_Game_King

Wait, isn't Zork available for free in a browser-based thing, like Adventure? Why would somebody charge money for it?

Edited by Skald
@Video_Game_King said:

" Wait, isn't Zork available for free in a browser-based thing, like Adventure? "

It sure is
 

Posted by mylifeforAiur
Posted by ahoodedfigure
@mylifeforAiur:  That was the one after Nemesis, wasn't it? I played the demo of that and it seemed interesting enough.
 
@Video_Game_King:
@extremeradical:
 
I thought so, although I assumed they might have done something with the license. I guess that's just the first game, though, not  2, 3, Beyond, Zero, and Planetfall, unless those are free legitimately too, somewhere. I didn't bother to look it up because I only remember the first one being featured in that free online mode. Glad you found the link, though, thanks.  I'll feature it.
Posted by Skald
@ahoodedfigure: The first three Zorks are all free now. All the other Infocom games are still owned by Activision.
 
Zork II
Zork III.
Posted by BeachThunder

Hm, I thought Zork was actually selling at full retail price and as a bonus you get some other game called Black Ops, or whatever, with it.

Posted by ArbitraryWater

The ultimate conundrum for me with those types of games is that I'm not bright (or perhaps persistent, considering the general amount of logic required is negative) enough to solve the puzzles, but looking at a guide ruins the point of the game. It's less obvious with some of the newer Telltale stuff, but generally speaking, I think I prefer all the Homestar Runner parodies of these sorts of games to the games themselves. GET YE FLASK.

Posted by mylifeforAiur
@ahoodedfigure: I believe it is^^ I highly recommend it; it's actually pretty funny ;)
Posted by MooseyMcMan

I only play Zork in the historically inaccurate computer in the Blops main menu. 

Posted by vidiot

Oh- Jeez, this brings me back.
I remember getting Return to Zork as a kid. I was raised with adventure games on the Mac, but Return to Zork confused the hell out of me at the time. I think it was a pure generational issue, my knowledge first-person adventure games were like Myst, 7th Guest, Journeyman Project or Obsidian. So when I went forward on that first screen in the mountain, to magically appear in-front of a lighthouse...Well, that confused the hell outta me. Even though these games were essentially pre-rendered hypercard games, at least they usually had in-between slides to give me the impression I'm walking somewhere.
 
In retrospect it makes sense. The entire back knowledge of that franchises history was lost to me at the time, and the spasmodic nature of wandering around, and the weird as-hell tone/story make sense when looking back when relating it to it's adventure game lineage.
 
But yeah, I understand the whole "I don't understand why I like Zork". Even in comparison to other adventure games at the time, it's confusing nature and just weirdness isn't for everyone. Strangely, Return to Zork (barely, you can actually screw-up continuing in the game. No Game-Over screen, just a bunch of clicking and confusion.) and Zork 1 are the only games I've finished in the series.  

The only way I would consider a purchase for repacked Zork games, would be some very sacrilegious visual flair to the text-only adventure games. I blame my blasphemous statement due to me being an evil young kid, who drives his car too fast, and listens to that loud rock music.

Posted by ahoodedfigure
@ArbitraryWater:  It's hard for me not to feel a bit inadequate sometimes. I feel like these things are more for puzzle fetishists who think exactly like the authors/designers do, rather than just anyone with a modicum of brainpower. But I've also noticed that i tackle puzzles differently than I did as a kid, so there's always the chance that stuff like this isn't as opaque with a little life experience under the belt. Sort of like how I read a book and get something different out of it every time (assuming it's a deeper book and not something too straightforward). Same with movies. The majority of games don't really qualify for that, but that doesn't mean it's impossible.
 
@vidiot: Careful when you drive. You might miss a few in-between frames and smack right into a mountain.
 
I'm not sure I could be as detailed about my adventure game lineage as you. A lot of times I would try one out, but feel like the accomplishments weren't incremental enough that I was afraid of failing spectacularly. The first adventure games I thoroughly trounced were the King's Quest and Space Quest games of the 256 color, post parser era. Even when there wasn't much else to play with I still disliked parsers, maybe because I tended to be a bit too creative with my answers rather than figuring out what they were thinking when they came up with the puzzle. That balance between cleverness and accessibility is a hard one to manage.  Makes you feel like you're part of an elite club if you figure it out, though.
Posted by mzuckerm

I noticed that pack for sale today, too, and it took me back.  I had a whole bunch of Zork games for the Apple IIGS.  Definitely Zorks 1, 2 and 3, and probably Zero and Beyond Zork as well.  I think I had Nemesis for PC later.  I spent a lot of time in the original text-only Zorks.  I never beat any of them; frankly, games were harder back then, and not just because I was in like second or third grade.  But something about the ridiculous, crumbling Zork empire really appealed to me.  I don't think I can really go back to a text-based adventure game at this point, but man, those bring back fond memories (mostly of getting eaten by grues or giving up in frustration).

Posted by Hailinel

To the day I die, the line "Want some rye? 'Course you do!" will haunt me in my sleep.

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Posted by HaroldoNVU

Luckly GOG just offered to give Moto Racer 2 buyers a refund code for a 6 dollar game, and I think I'll buy the Zork Anthology with it. Never played any of those, but I was thinking of starting any day.