Thursday, April 2, 2015

You Are Likely to Be Eaten by a Grue

"Zork I box art" by The box/cover art can or could be obtained
from the distributor. Licensed under Fair use via Wikipedia.
In my last post I mentioned the Infocom games, which got me to thinking about such games and about interactive fiction in general. Infocom, if you don't know, was a computer company founded in 1979 and bought out by Activision in 1986. We had a number of their titles on floppy disks for our Commodore 64, including the three Zork games, Enchanter, Sorcerer, Planetfall, and I forget what else. I mostly played them around the late eighties and early nineties.

They're purely text-based, and form a bridge between the choose-your-own-adventure books that were popular at the time and visual adventure games like King's Quest or Police Quest. But the former were too simplistic to be engaging for long, while the latter, to me, left too little to the imagination. I loved the Zork games because playing them was a bit like being a character in a book. Also, because my parents wouldn't let me play Nintendo, and we didn't own a PC until winning a shopping spree a couple years later.

The beginning of Zork II, my favorite in the series.
The puzzles were extremely difficult, partly because the possibilities for action were basically limitless – you could try any simple command – and partly also because of misleading clues and useless objects. But of course, once you strip away the trappings, they're really just big logic puzzles, and I've mentioned my proclivity for logic puzzles here in the past. Part of the difficulty for me back in those Web-less days was that we had no instructions for any of them, since we inherited the games as part of a box of disks gotten rid of by someone else, but really that just added to my enjoyment.

I've done a bit of programming, beginning with BASIC at the same time I was playing the Zork games – which probably are what got me into programming – and continuing into C++ and other things in later years. Actually, just the other day I found some ancient C++ notes of mine with a map of Zork II drawn on the back. They're the classic games for geeks, and contain numerous programmers' in-jokes and obscure references, like 69,105. I've always wanted to try my hand at writing interactive fiction...

But all of that's not to say that the setting was nothing to me. Romantic that I am, I played the Zork games chiefly for their subterranean, half technological, half magical setting, exemplified by the opening above, in which the adventurer encounters an Elvish sword (which naturally glows in the presence of enemies) and a battery-operated brass lantern in an ancient barrow. The lantern's batteries, incidentally, have a frustratingly low life-span, leaving the hapless adventurer prey to lurking grues once the light goes out.

The interested reader can experience these games at the Internet Archive, which allows you to play them online in an Apple II emulator:

Oh ye who go about saying unto each: "Hello sailor":
Dost thou know the magnitude of thy sin before the gods?
Yea, verily, thou shalt be ground between two stones.
Shall the angry gods cast thy body into the whirlpool?
Surely, thy eye shall be put out with a sharp stick!
Even unto the ends of the earth shalt thou wander and
Unto the land of the dead shalt thou be sent at last.
Surely thou shalt repent of thy cunning.

No comments:

Post a Comment