What in the zork is going on here?

If I remember correctly, my first experience of Zork was at school, during either a lunch or a free period where a friend of mine who was far more computer savvy than I got it, or one of its sequels, up and running for a game. I remember nothing else but for the fact that it was a text adventure.

I've had mixed success with text adventures, but I have heard Zork was one of the better ones. Maybe I'll manage to wrap my head around it, unlike all the other text adventures. Maybe I'll get lost in all that text. I just don't know until I fire it up.

The Internet Archive is once again home to an online emulator that you can play on, so we can dive right in.


From the off, I'm not terribly sure where I'm going, even though right in front of my is a white house ripe for exploration. I bumble around it a bit before stumbling into a forest, climbing a tree, stealing an egg and not quite getting to grips with the text input.

But as you can see I'm having fun. I'm interacting with a bunch of code that doesn't have a clue what I'm doing, but is diligently trying to make sense of it and, when it doesn't, it's because I'm the problem. It's five minutes in and I've turned Zork into a kind of Dungeon Master who just wants to play a game and doesn't quite follow his players line of reasoning.

To be fair to Zork, this isn't really a frustration with the game, but with me. You could argue the game doesn't make it obvious where you are or what you're doing, just as hard as you could argue that I'm just a stupid player.

Fun Times

It simply doesn't matter though, because soon I'm not playing the game to try and complete it, I'm amusing myself with my interactions with the text parser. The cheeky little bugger turns a bit sarcastic if you read it one way, and develops a character all of its own in other instances.

I'm bumbling around this place without any idea of what I'm doing, or any sense of the goal I'm striving towards. Just type in whatever leaps to mind and see what works. In other games, that might be a source of frustration, perhaps because of more rigid and limited text inputs, or maybe thanks to confusing writing. In Zork it's almost liberating to type, type and type some more.

Unless you're hopelessly lost in a maze.

Before that maze though, I did manage to use all I had learned from my previous text adventure trials on a Troll...

Fond Memories

For a first stumble through Zork (I'd not even call that attempt a walk through it), it wasn't terrible, and reading a little more and venturing further into the dark depths of the Great Underground Empire soon made me realize that, yes, there was a reason to try getting it to run on the school computers, because it was a laugh, it was an adventure. It was nothing to look at, but it was something to read, something to pass the time.

And there was this thing about a Grue or something...

Final Word

It is bare bones, white text, black background, do it yourself gaming, but Zork is, for the moment, my go-to text adventure. Is that a reason to play it yourself? Not so much, no, but it's an indication that I'm going to wrap up this article and fire it up again, seeing what I can actually get done with a bit of smarts, rather than aimless wandering.

Zork dumps you right into the action where things are kept simple enough, but don't expect an easy ride. Hand holding exists only in the text parser making sure it knows what you're trying to ask it, and it knows a fair bit without you having to dumb it down like I tend to do.

I fully expect to continue to get lost but, game by game, learn something new that will aid me in the next session, and the session after that. When it's freely available online, you've no reason to not try it, if only once.

Fun Facts

The game can be completed in 223 moves, should luck be with you. Uses a bug, but still, it had to be a good game for someone to find that kind of strategy...

Zork, developed by Infocom, first released in 1980.
Version played: Apple IIe, 1980, via Internet Archive (emulation)