Zork I: The Great Underground Empire / Infocom (1979)

Vette King's Verdict: Zork sucks.

Ice Cream Jonsey's Verdict: Zork rocks.

My Verdict: This is the best we got.

The Review...

I went home for Christmas vacation and got a call up from one of my dad's neighbors. He wanted to know if I could come over and take a look at his computer and do some troubleshooting. No worries there. Invariably, however, I'm learning that the only type of work anyone over fifty wants done on their computer is a registered mpeg and jpg viewer. That's always an interesting treat, hooking up the pr0n highways for the same men that molded you into the smugly sarcastic yet model citizen you are today. Anyway, this was the guy that got me into Zork and without that experience reader and author would not be sharing this special moment in time.

There are a million reviews for the entire Zork trilogy floating about Usenet. It's by far the most famous piece of IF and can be considered the father figure of the genre, much like Super Mario Bros. is with the side scroller or King's Quest for the graphic adventure.

Zork works on many levels as the best introductory piece of interactive fiction  for the following reasons:

-- It's approachable. Anyone can understand that there is a solitary white house boarded up in front. If you don't happen to do a very good job getting into the house then you are able to traverse the country side and do some exploring there. The house is always there, waiting for you. There are no special commands required for navigation and is the best game for scaling down a player's expectations into what a parser can understand because it so trains the player to only have to worry about looking, taking and walking.

-- It's intuitive. Who doesn't like treasure? No really. We all like shiny, magical things. You may not necessarily make the logical leap that treasure goes into the trophy case but you can understand that your points go up as you acquire the really cool things.

-- NPCs that work. The troll is a bad guy who can not be expected to communicate in English. The player has no problems not trying to talk to the guy. The thief, as a shadowy, lurking character is also not expected to be much of a conversationalist due to time restraints. He will rob you and leave. No need to have the inherent difficulty of NPC conversation thrown into this game as the thief doesn't stick around long enough for a dialogue.

-- It's fucking evil. I was completely freaked out when playing the game because it was never so clear to me before that absolutely anything could happen. The white-on-black of the interface was an allegory to a twisted Hitchcock film. The disturbing mix of fantasy (clockwork canaries) and realistic history (the coffin of Ramses II) provided a background where anything the designer's imaginations dreamed up could be horrifically implemented. Yes, most games now are more streamlined and do not borrow from a mix of different myths, but Zork consciously decided not to limit itself and is wholly unpredictable because of it. The game also frequently accessed the noisy floppy drive of my PCjr at seemingly random intervals. Trying to get into Hades was maddening enough -- finally trying something that works and getting the noisy explosion of sound that the PCjr 5.25" disk drive provided was chilling. The really evil bit was when the drive would seemingly just activate for no reason. Chilling.

It's free and apparently available at Activision's website although I can't provide an exact URL because their website is a total mess. This is what it all comes down to -- no self-respecting gamer should fail to have experienced it.


Simple Rating: 9.8/10

Complicated Rating:

Plot: 10/10

Writing: 7.5/10

Playability: 10/10

Puzzle Difficulty: 8/10

Parser Responsiveness: 7.8/10


Reader Remarks


Milknuts sprach the following on August 18th, 1999:

I am glad that my friend Robb Sherwin opened my eyes to such a fun game. I agree with Robb's review as it did take me back to my youth playing pong for hours. I was enveloped in Zorks story. Thank you Robb and lick a dick up!!!

Stinkypants sprach the following on August 21st, 1999:

Zork is really a wonderful game except there are no pictures, who makes a fucking game with no pictures... ohh I know---an Idiot--

Irving Snotpockets sprach the following on August 24th, 1999:

How do you kill the thief? And why can't I get any damn graphics to work in this "great" game...

Ice Cream Jonsey sprach the following on August 24th, 1999:

Why are graphics necessary for a game to be great? You sniveling heretics make me sick.

BTW, Snotpockets: the nasty knife is a marginally better weapon to use.

tmcgee sprach the following on December 15th, 1999:

Okay, okay, it's the granddaddy of the genre, blah,blah,blah, and it's certainly an important game historically, but I found it dull. The treasure-hunting theme was crass beyond belief. The mazes are not only hard, they're boring. I found the mixture of "real" things (Ramses II coffin) with fantasy elements stupid. Certain puzzles (the cyclops, for instance) are almost impossible to solve without having a direct telepathic connection to the creator's heads.

I will try Zork II sometime, which probably says something about how masochistic I'm getting.

11-Digit Boy sprach the following on September 2nd, 2000:

Zork sucks because it's TOO HARD.

puddle slug sprach something like the following on February 8th, 2001:

zork is a classic example of early AI.  if you stop and think that the interface tried to be in a natural language (e.g. English), the achevient is substantial.  to date, (2001) we still have no straightforward way of translating sentences in english to movements in a game. the reason games such as zork might be "boring" is that the makers of the game did indeed have to guess what the players might do.  They had no choice.  Now, try to pick up an object in Quake, carve a couple of marks in it, make it fit with another object you previously acquired and modified, and you will see that the level of gaming has not advanced since zork - it has only advanced in its ability to deceive - today we substitute graphic constraints for linguistic constraints.  that is, if you modify an object in quake, it means nothing unless a programmer says it does.

Ghuda sprach the following on February 4th, 2003:

Anyone, and I mean anyone who hates zork because "its too hard" or "there aren't any graphics" is a whiny loser. At least give some reason to make the rest of us believe that you aren't always such a whiny loser. Zork was created in a time when people didn't have 3d graphics (oh yes, such a time did exist) so rather than complain about the lack of graphics, why appreciate it for what it is: the father of all gaming. It allowed people to try and solve puzzles and work their way through a world of fantasy. It was a gateway to a new kind of game that didn't involve hitting a ball between two paddles in slow motion. Don't knock it because technology has marched on and it hasn't somehow improved itself.


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