Zork 1


Now I know that reviewing Zork is like reviewing Pac-man, it is crossing a line. Classics, especially classics that are WELL established, are essentially unreviewable. It does not matter what a particular gamer thinks, since a good number have already passed on their decisions.

With that being said, I feel like reviewing it. So, there.

Zork is a masterpiece. It is not perfect, but it helped to set the stage which was built by Adventure. It added more rooms, more interactive "NPCs". Trickier puzzles. It added fluff text. Most importantly, it helped IF (interactive fiction) to transition away from simple parser commands to slightly more complex ones. It kept this on top of the simple delight of finding all the treasure and the mix of real world scenes mixed with high fantasy and quirkiness.

I think Zork, as a game, sets in about the time the trap door gets slams behind you on your first trip into the underground. There is a certain type of tension, there. You feel cut off, already you have to figure out things just to make it back to the surface. You may not even yet realize the importance of the trophy case or avoiding the dangers of the thief. You feel claustrophobic. Depending on how you feel, and how evil the game feels, the next ten minutes might involve a thief, a troll chopping you to bits, a room filled with echos or an art gallery in the middle of a cave. The game is filled with a a mix of odd little moments like this, which is one of the major reasons to keep exploring.

Before I continue, a few complaints. My primary one involves certain elements lifted straight from Adventure:

Besides these problems of inheritance, there were a few other issues I had for the actual game itself. Turns out I had release 15, initially. Some of my complaints (the lack of description, for instance) seem partially rectified, with a better overall choice of wording, with the later (release 88 I believe) version I had to pick up playing and ended up having to replay from the beginning because I lost my save due to stack overflow issue involving me trying to pick up an item and it somehow bugging out and assuming that I had picked up all the treasures (that sentence HAS to be bad grammar...ah well). This is not precisely the game's fault, but it is annoying. While Adventure could probably be beaten in about ten minutes if you know where everything is, I figure Zork 1 took me an hour to get everything put back to right (and I still had an hour after that to finish).

Now, bringing an end to the complaints, let me talk about a few things it corrected over its uncle game:

I guess in a lot of ways those sum up my likes and dislikes. Strong on the game, weak on the fiction, this one is a classic that helps set the groundwork for those to come (not just IF, but adventure games all over). Could have toned down some of the twisty passages. Needed some more fluff in game. Could have used some build up. Overall, though, worth playing. And, thanks to either Infocom and/or Activision, is now free to play. So, there.

My Stats

I had a score of 345/350. I have no idea what I was missing. True to form (I almost always miss some 2-5 points in these games), looking through a walkthrough afterward didn't point out anything that I myself didn't do. I probably did something in an earlier game and forgot to do it the second time.

Total playing time? Hmm, I don't know: 10 hours? Not including the hour or so of replay after the crash. I actually played this one kind of different. Rather than try and play to solve it, I ran through the dungeon a half dozen times and tried out different things. Only after I had established some ground rules did I actually go for playing the game through.

Degree of cheating/hints? Very little overall. I ended up using a pdf of the map AFTER I had mapped out everything (the professional looking one was neater). Turns out I missed some rooms in the maze, like it matters, and that I missed some optional room that I still don't know how to get to. The last two treasures (for me, one of which is actually accessible fair to the beginning of the game), I needed some help on. Technically, three treasures. Once you play, you will know what I am talking about. The glitch in my initial copy allowed me to do something to an item that shouldn't have been doable. Also, the treasure "fair to the beginning" is one of those that shows up when you do it one way, but another seemingly exact same way of handling the issue fails. Probably the game's primary "syntax trap".

A Handful of Hints, Mild Spoilers and Helpful Suggestions (for what they are worth)

The best place to head first, in my opinion, is over to the SE side of the underground map (SE of the Round Room). find the rope first and go. Not only is the torch going to help extend your battery life, but there is a subtle puzzle here that will help you to find an alternate exit from the dungeon (and I think it stops the trap door from being locked shut after you use it).

Mostly leave the thief alone. Once you fight the troll, the main thing the thief can steal to screw you is a light source (which he did a lot, to me). Save often. As your points go up, you are supposed to get better and better at fighting him. Later in the game it is easier to kill him and take your stuff back or at least go out and look for it again wihtout him further messing with it (some of it gets dropped again).

The sparse flavor text means one specific thing, when things have an extra bit of description about them, it usually means something.

Note your score as you do things. Especially pick up items. This is a good sign if you are on the right track.

You can only carry so much. In some versions, you can put things in containers and get around some parts of the limit. My preference was just to set up base in the living room and bring everything I could back to it to drop it.

Drop items to solve the mazes. Both of the mazes are kind of predictable. The main issue is to remember UP and DOWN are used.

Written by W Doug Bolden

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