Individual Work

ZORK, one of the first interactive fiction text parser adventure games began in 1977 as a mainframe program running on a DEC PDP-10 computer. It was developed by MIT students who referred to themselves as “implementors” Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling, were all members of the Dynamic Modelling group at MIT. Three of these implementors were among the founders of Infocom in 1979. “Zork 1: The Great Underground Empire” became the first software title by Infocom as well as being regarded as the first game made for personal computers that became commercially successful. The game came as a 5.25 inch floppy disk with a paper manual, and was published for the Apple 2 and DOS. The game was often sold as an essential companion to a buyers first home computer. The implementors drew inspiration from “Dungeons and Dragons” and “Colossal Castle Adventure”, “ZORK”’s interactive fiction predecessor. ZORK built upon many of the concepts introduced in “Adventure” namely the text-parser interface and functionality, and the spelunking theme.

A text parser is conversational interface that requires specific vocabulary to understand the interactors inputs. Interactors use commands such as “go east” and “go upstairs” to move around the game environment. In every portion of the game an interactor can “look around” and print on the screen a description of their environment, and interactors can “look at” objects to further inspect them. The eleven most common commands could be abbreviated to single letters, such as n to move north, nw to move north west, u to move up, and l to look. The text parser aspect of the game is central to the experience of ZORK. While the specific commands required by the parser can be frustrating at times, the implementors hid many pithy responses to incorrect commands. Interactors may input “inventory” to check what objects they are carrying with them, and there is a limit to how many items an interactor can keep in their inventory. The inventory in this game can be very limiting, and there is an element of strategy in when to drop items and where. Objects can be put in and removed from the inventory through “take sword” and “drop sword” commands.

The interactor plays the part of an unnamed adventurer and begins in a field west of a white house. The interactor may then explore the surrounding forest and enter the house by moving south and east from the location the game begins in. Behind the house the traverser will observe an ajar window, and may open the window and enter the house, first arriving in the kitchen. After collecting the necessary supplies throughout the house, the interactor can move the rug in the living room, open the trap door, descend the stairs, and begin the subterranean portion of the adventure. To win the game, interactors need to collect the twenty treasures of ZORK and place them in the trophy case. Interactors must somehow keep track of their surroundings, and during the time of the games release would often create handwritten maps. The thief appears throughout the game and steals treasure, but the items can be recovered again later in the game. The traverser must solve puzzles throughout the caverns in the cellar area and maze, dam, temple area, river, and coal mine. To win the game the traverser must find and navigate to the treasure room and then systematically return to and retrieve the treasures and place them in the trophy case. Upon completing the game the traverser unlocks a map and secret path to guid them to ZORK 2.

Today interactors may find complete maps and kinds to the game on the internet, as well as sites emulating the original ZORK games for free. The entire ZORK collection of games can be bought online for a few dollars.

This entry was composed as a part of Will Luer’s course, Electronic Literature DTC 338, at Washington State University Vancouver in April 2019.