A Detailed Look At Infocom’s Zork

June 29, 2007

For those of us who grew up the the golden age of computer gaming, when the term graphics meant little more than a text parser blinking patiently for input on a darkened screen, Infocom’s seminal Zork and its siblings hold a special place in our hearts. That’s why Matt Barton’s terrific Gamasutra feature on “The History Of Zork” is such a great read. The article, like Jeffrey Fleming’s equally compelling look at Spacewar, is part of a larger series offering a historical look back at the Digital Game Canon titles.

As Barton explains, “Zork. For some, the name conjures up little more than a dim notion of the “primitive” era of home computing, back when graphics technology was so lacking that desperate gamers were willing to buy games even if they consisted entirely of text… For others, though, the name Zork still makes their Elven swords glow blue. To them, saying that Zork is obsolete makes no more sense than saying J.R.R. Tolkien’s Ring trilogy is obsolete. Why do people still read Tolkien or any other novelists when there are so many movies and channels available on TV? If graphics and animation are so essential, then why haven’t comics and pop-up books long overtaken “plain text” novels on the New York Times best seller list?”

The article also includes lots of tasty quotes from those involved with the series, as we as the interactive fiction genre it helped spearhead, including this delicious bit from writer Nick Montfort of Twisty Little Passages fame, who notes, “Zork introduced an actual villain, the thief, who opposed the player character during the initial exploration of the dungeon, who could be exploited to solve a puzzle, and who had to be confronted and defeated. This was a real character with the functions of a character as seen in literature, not the mere anthropomorphic obstacle that was seen in Adventure.”

For those of you who are old gaming geezers like myself, or those who are simply interested in the history of gaming, I encourage you to head over to Gamasutra for a read. Just be sure to keep your lantern lit, else you’re likely to be eaten by a Grue.