Zork III (IF)

Infocom. Release 17. Z-code .z3.


I've now beaten all of the Zork titles. At least, I mean, I've beaten the original "Dungeon" trilogy. I finished Zork III in something of a frenzy. I started playing it months ago, about the end of my last IF fever, and couldn't get very far. Tonight, I picked it back up and proceeded to smash it to bits. Surprised me, how fast I got through it. I did have to cheat about the end, for a couple of reasons (I'll explain why) but even without cheating, it might have been only a matter of an additional hour of game play.

Zork III, quite frankly, represents some of the best and worst aspects of the original IF titles. Clever puzzles, intriguing game world, and memorable NPCs shoved right together with overly strict verbal games, rough puzzle design, and a number of unwinnable scenarios. The puzzles are clever. The time travel puzzle is my personal favorite, but the scenic vista is another good one. You find yourself enjoying trying out stuff and playing around with the whole system. The game world, with its crumbling aqueducts and underwater oceans, brings to mind the best of Michael Whelan's artwork. And the NPCs, though not exactly original, have a fun little way of sticking with you.

For all the praise I can potentially heap upon this title, though, I have to call it out for its even more glaring errors. First off, the game requires several "wait" spots. You have to hit the wait command a good number of times to activate certain events. These are not all bad, but walking through a room that seems empty only to find out that you were supposed to exit it and come back a dozen times until someone showed is frustrating. Clues need to be left for that sort of thing.

There are also several scenes of guesswork. At least I think it was guesswork. Truth be told, there may have been clues scattered around for me to pick up on, but I'm pretty thorough and I never found any. In some cases, this blends with the waiting game. Should I wait here? I don't know, let me try it out. Again, frustrating. It adds to the length of game play, sure, but makes you feel annoyed to have to keep reloading.

Lastly, there are a handful of unwinnables running around. Things you can do that completely stop you from being able to go further. The Royal Puzzle is a series of these, an infamous puzzle that requires the player to make, essentially, no wrong moves. It's not that hard if you spend, like me, half an hour or so mapping it all out. But it can be annoying to skip a step and then have to start over. No, the puzzles that are worse involve certain magical liquids, a timely earthquake that can come too early, missing a chance with a certain captain, and so forth. Especially, and let me try to be spoiler free here, when it comes to getting the most "hidden" of items. You even get a point if you do it wrong, giving you no reason to try and do it better until you are frustrating close to the ending and play back through it a couple of times to figure out why you can't make one more step. I consider that more than just frustrating, I consider that a goof in programming.

However, this is a 25 year old game written back when games were largely new. I can let go it's few bad points just for the chance to play it. There is a lot of fun to be had, here, it just sucks that the fun is better maintained with a walkthrough on hand. If you do like me, and avoid the walkthrough over the majority of the game, you will have to reload and retry. And, a couple of times, restart the game entirely because some item was used slightly wrong. I had at least half a dozen full restarts. Just a head's up.

Final Scores

(my ratings)

Interactive: Eh

Fiction: Good

Reviewer's Tilt: Good

Final Average: Good*

*: let me just say that the overall score would be dropped by at least a grade (to Eh) if it wasn't for it's classic status)


How I Did

Did it well up until "the mirror" room, at which point in time I was tired of restarting and so just looked up the next couple of moves, and then some moves beyond that. Like all the Zorks (I think), you can only beat it with full points, so I did.

Hints, Suggestions and Mild Spoilers (for what they are worth)

The big, end all and be all of Zork III hints is to expect to restart, from time time. This is closely related to another hint: when it doubt, wait a dozen times or exit and re-enter the room a half dozen times.

There is one big event that changes the solvability of two puzzles (makes one solvable, breaks the other). Pay attention to this.

The last handful of rooms make no sense in their description. Ignore most things and just pay attention to directions and colors it gives you.

Everyone says the Royal Puzzle is the hardest puzzle. I don't quite agree, but I never had any problem with the Riven marble puzzle, either. I've included a little helpful graphic for the Royal Puzzle. The upper left map shows the initial positions. Black (and dark grey) squares are unmovable. Light grey squares are "empty" (though may have a sandstone wall in them initially). The lettered squares are sandstone. The numbered squares represent two places of interest.

The upshot of solving the puzzle is getting to the book (under "f") and then moving the one wall "e" back to where wall "a" starts. It is mostly a matter of not moving any piece to a place where you can't get "e" past it. I think if you block "5" (and, of course, "1") that you can't exit.

Towards the end, starting with the Time Machine puzzle, you have to just use guesswork to solve some things. There are a few clues, here or there, but these end up not existing by the end. You just have to try every combination of direction and so forth.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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