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This place is reserved for those who actually have skill in writing, so I'll shut up now.

Zork I, II, and III

By Roe R. Adams III (In Games Magazine, December 1983, page 57)

The Zork trilogy, which chronicles happenings in a vast realm known as the Underground Empire, is the most famous of the all-text adventure games. Fantastic creatures, magic spells, and diabolical traps abound at every turn, and each room or area is described in long paragraphs of rich detail, helping the player visualize the setting.

In the first saga, titled The Great Underground Empire, the player begins outside a strange house that holds the hidden portal to the underground. Once below, the adventurer will rarely see daylight again until he finishes Zork III. Inside the house may be found a lamp and an ancient elfin sword. Whenever the computer tells you the sword is emitting a blue light, watch out: Dangerous creatures are around.

The intermediate level Zork II: The Wizard of Frozzbozz [sic] goes ever deeper into the underground realm, and the adventurer must now deal with dragons, unicorns, and a carousel of spinning death. Randomly appearing throughout the dungeon is the Wizard of Fro[zz]bozz himself, who casts spells that all begin with the letter F (freeze, float, fluoresce, etc.). In the third game, The Dungeon Master, which is geared for the expert level, the player is faced with very complicated riddles to solve and finally must duel with the dungeon master of the title.

Though interconnected, each part of the trilogy is solvable separately. Zork I, the simplest, is a great game for first-time adventurers. The second and third installments become progressively more difficult.

Created by Marc Blank and Dave Lebling, the Zork trilogy has set a national standard for excellence in puzzle design. It will delight the game player with many months of adventures.

Zork I, II, and III, Infocom, Cambridge, MA, on disk for Apple II/II+/Iie, Atari 800/1200, Commodore 64, CP/M, DEC Rainbow, IBM PC, TI Professional, TRS-80 Model III, $40-$50 each.

Return to Zork

Reviewed by Rosemary Young (February, 1998)

OK, you read the book ... then you see the movie. Very rarely does the movie live up to expectations. It starts with a severe handicap because you already have all the pictures and all the characters indelibly painted in your mind, and it invariably disappoints.

That's the experience I had when I first began playing Return to Zork (RTZ) because I was (and still am) a big Zork fan and I'd played all but one of the previous games. I was particularly disappointed when the adventurer was identified as a male in RTZ by the use of a male face to indicate 'attitude' during conversations when, as a mere female, I had so far succeeded in solving all the previous tests. (And I really did feel it was ME being deafened by the echoes and getting lost in the twisty passages that all looked the same in the original text games). But despite my resistance, which was quite sharp at the time, I still managed to enjoy this darn game. Even with its 'sins' it kept me entertained for days, and it was over all too soon.

Lucky you
The game starts with a 'bang' with some pretty stirring music (especially played through your sound system speakers) as you zoom in on the 'white house', and text reminiscent of all the old games appears on screen. Though I wanted to stay put and find a way inside, it wasn't long before I was very happy that I accepted my sweepstake's winnings and was drawn into the mystery of why the vultures were so feared and why the town of Shanbar was a mere reflection of its old self as it vanished building by building.

RTZ was one of the first computer games to utilise live actors and though the quirky characters take some getting used to (Boos drove me up the wall and I wished he'd stayed unconscious after I'd plied him with Rye ... you'll know what I'm talking about if you play the game) it was an interesting and novel experience at the time. It is a first person inventory based adventure game with many characters to meet, and many, many clues to watch out for along the way.

Conversation mode allows you to talk generally to game characters, or to ask about specifics, and it's important to do both. Each conversation is meticulously recorded so that you can re-cap on what is said, and you can also take photographs wherever you go (you are on vacation, after all.) When it comes to asking about specifics a menu appears on screen so you can ask about inventory items, about recorded conversations or about locations on your map or featured in your photographs. The opportunities here are endless ... in the extreme. This is one part of the game that could have been streamlined to save a lot of repetitiveness, but it didn't spoil the fun for me.

Keeping score
I'm one of those players who appreciates accumulating points in adventure games because it gives me that extra incentive not to miss a single thing. It's tricky getting full points in this game, I didn't quite make it, but for every puzzle solved or important action completed you are awarded points towards a score of 225. And there are many items to collect and some fine puzzles to keep the gears crunching away and the scoreboard increasing.

There are three mazes, although one doesn't require too much mapping if you play it smart, plus a sliding tile puzzle and a range of pure adventuring problems, some of which are quite inventive and truly satisfying to work out for yourself. It's such a shame that there are so many RTZ walkthroughs about (ouch, we've got one) because you should never use a walkthrough with a Zork adventure. Having said that, novices will likely need some help in finishing this game, but intermediate to experienced adventurers will find more than enough problems to keep them happy.

Interacting with the game
It's all mouse controlled although there are also keyboard equivalents for all actions if you happen to be mouseless. There are options to toggle sound effects, music, and text off and on, although the text option simply makes the cursor 'smart' and identifies significant objects on screen. There are no text captions for speech so if you have any hearing problems you'll have to put a black mark against RTZ.

To do things you just point the cursor and click, after which a small menu of appropriate actions is displayed: look, talk, pick up, open, etc. The same goes for inventory objects, to use them you just extract them from your inventory and click on screen for the verb list. You can study objects in close up, manipulate them, and use one object on another when necessary. There are plenty of locations to investigate and reading everything you find (especially the files in the Mayor's Office) is essential if you want to get anywhere at all.

RTZ is about five years old now and it's a sad fact that this kind of game using real actors and snippets of full motion video seems to age more quickly than the cartoon graphic variety. Don't let this put you off. It is worthwhile. Also, if you have played Zork Nemesis be warned that this game is not the same. It's a very different experience, but equally as good as far as I'm concerned though I know that Zork Nemesis has its fans who might not agree with this reckoning. Try it anyway, it's much nearer in 'feel' to the very latest Zork episode, Zork Grand Inquisitor, though not as humorous or as technically advanced, and it doesn't capture that 'Zork' atmosphere to the same degree. In its favour, however, it is a longer game with lots of very good puzzles to ensure a good few days (or longer) of entertaining gameplay.

Copyright © Rosemary Young 1998. All rights reserved.

Zork Nemesis

by Joe DeRouen

I've long been a fan of Infocom's text adventure games. Such titles as Zork, Deadline, Planetfall, and Enchanter filled many long weekends for me as a kid. I miss those games. Activision took over Infocom in the late 80's, just as the bottom was falling out of the text adventure game market and graphic adventures were coming into their own. Since then, Activision has released several games under the Infocom banner, most notably the critically-acclaimed Return to Zork.

The 3-CD Zork Nemesis is the sixth direct sequel (there were several offshoots, like Enchanter, not to mention different genre crossovers such as comics and novels) to the wildly-successful original, and arguably Activision's best effort since acquiring Infocom. Though parts of Zork Nemesis do resemble the fright and terror of Sierra's Phantasmagoria more than they do the fantastical whimsy of the original text games, Activision has managed to create an exciting, compelling adventure.

When you begin, you're outside a temple beside the locked gateway into a graveyard. You must journey through the fantastic realm of the Forbidden Lands, a doomed region in the darkest corner of the Great Underground Empire. There, the souls of the Empire's four greatest alchemists are trapped in perpetual hell at the hands of the Nemesis. The forces of the underground beckon you to uncover the mystery behind the Nemesis' curse. You must discover the ancient secrets of alchemy in order to free the trapped souls before the Nemesis imprisons them for eternity. Only by mastering the ancient and mysterious art of alchemy can you discover the Elixir of Eternal Life and unlock the secret of the Forbidden Lands.

Featuring five fantastic new worlds, more than 40 hours of game play, and more than 60 innovative puzzles, fourteen live actors, an hour of dramatic live-action video, spectacular SVGA graphics, 360-degree 3-D movement, and immersive ambient music and dazzling special effects, this is truly an experience not to be missed. Whether you played the original Zork or not, Zork Nemesis will draw you willingly full-force into the world of the Great Underground Empire.

Zork: Grand Inquisitor

Remembrances of Zorks Past 

A new installment of Zork always brings back fond memories. I can remember playing a text version on a CP/M machine back in the early eighties—and the game was already a few years old by then. Apparently, the developers of Zork Grand Inquisitor, the eighth addition to this classic adventure series, also remember those good old days: This game is steeped in its roots, with allusions to several predecessors. There's even a graphical interpretation of the famed opener to that pioneering text game ("You are standing in an open field west of a white house..."). 

Set 120 years after Zork Nemesis (last year's [1997] installment), the game is named for the villain who has outlawed the practice of magic in the Great Underground Empire. Your mission is to overthrow the Grand Inquisitor, a quest that involves gathering three magical treasures from various periods in Zork history. Time travel is accomplished by casting spells that allow you to pose as three different characters. 

Judging from the preview I played, Zork fans should be pleased with Zork Grand Inquisitor. The look and feel is strongly reminiscent of Zork Nemesis, down to the point-and-click interface and ambient music; the self-referential humor harkens back to earlier versions. Welcome additions include an inventory screen, a map that lets you return to previously visited locations (thereby eliminating boring and time-consuming backtracking), and improved 3-D graphics. 

Game play is pretty much the assortment of exploration and mental gymnastics that we've come to expect from the genre: Activision says the complete game, which is expected to ship by the holidays, will contain 55 puzzles; the 20 or so
included in the preview were fun without being overly taxing. Zork Grand Inquisitor doesn't seem to be breaking new ground in the adventure genre, but with such fondly remembered old haunts to draw upon, it doesn't have to. 

—Yardena Arar 


In June of 1977, before teenagers were born, before The Simpsons, Cats or Sunny Delight, a couple of twisted guys at MIT put together a text-based adventure game that would one day be Zork. Under an ordinary White House lies the Great Underground Empire, a subterranean kingdom in which you, the
adventurer, match wits with the game designer via an all-text interface. Twenty years, several companies, a myriad of technological advances and 12 related products later, we are presented with Zork Grand Inquisitor, a game that attempts to trace the spirit of Zork back to its roots. The two previous Zork titles, although more or less highly acclaimed, were widely criticized for having failed to do just that. Return to Zork, although mildly humorous and Zorkish, is very far removed from the history of the Great Underground Empire; and Zork Nemesis is a very dark slice of Zork, devoid of any humor – sinister and
foreboding. Zork Grand Inquisitor lives up to its promise to deliver unto us the wacky soul of the earliest Zorks; even the full motion video doesn't hurt (much). 

"Who is the boss of you? I AM THE BOSS OF YOU! Who is the boss of you? Me! I…AM THE BOSS OF YOU!" These words accompany the game's introductory 1940's style newsreel, a satire entitled "Propaganda On Parade." The year is 1067 GUE (which turns out to be 101 years after the end of Beyond Zork and Spellbreaker, 118 years after Zork Nemesis, and 580 before Return to Zork). Yannick, The Grand Inquisitor, has banned magic throughout the land. Since he embarrassingly failed magic courses at GUE Tech, he allowed the spoiled brat in him to declare that now no one may prestidigitate. Why? Because "I AM THE BOSS OF YOU," shouts Yannick. A curfew was established, the Underground sealed, and anyone caught in defiance of the smug little bastard is Totemized. We don't know exactly what that is, initially, but it involves scary looking machinery and we're told it hurts.

The LOUD WORDS of the Grand Inquisitor are also pumped through the public address system of Port Foozle as you arrive there selling Frobozz Electric Perma-Suck machines. As if being a Perma-Suck salesman isn't bad enough, you find that curfew starts in five seconds, no one in town will talk to you after curfew, the Inquisition is no fun, and the loudspeaker is very annoying. After a puzzle or two, you acquire [angels voices here] the Lantern, without which (as in any Zork game) you are consistently eaten by a grue. The lantern contains the spirit of Dalbozz, a Dungeon Master imprisoned there by Yannick. He becomes your right arm and alter-ego for the rest of the game.

With Dalbozz in your hand… at your side… OK, in your inventory, you are able to pursue the greater quest, which is to unseat the Grand Inquisitor and restore magic to the land. To do so you must enter the Great Underground Empire, master spellcasting and time travel, and find three artifacts that have been hidden in different eras by Yannick: The Coconut of Quendor ("sometimes ya feel like a nut…"), the Skull of Yoruck (if Hamlet will ever let go of it) and the Cube of Foundation (Asimov's childhood toy). 
Most folks who have played the early Zorks will probably be satisfied with the game's visual translation. Descriptions of locations from the text adventures are nicely represented by their graphical counterparts (although it would have been admirable to see them in a higher resolution). The White House is properly barricaded, Hades bears its requisite "Abandon All Hope" sign and Flood Control Dam #3 is complete with colored buttons. While it's certain that everyone's imagination painted something completely different during the text games, and while there will probably be some who shout, "But where's the brown button at the dam?" (shoot them now), few will argue that the game suffers as a result of its graphical style. Au contraire. The look is a successful cross between slick and charming. The only exceptions occur during the (gulp) full-motion video sequences.

We seldom expect FMV characters to look quite at home in rendered environments. Here is no exception. They generally (but not always) look out of place graphically – but in spite of this, they work. The main reason for this is that the acting is very good. Both voice and digitized actors are generally of higher quality than usual across the board. In addition, they're funny. They're written funny and they play funny; so we have a good script combined with actors dead-on in their characterizations. Antharia Jack (a takeoff of Indiana Jones), who runs the Port Foozle Pawn Shop, is played brilliantly by Dirk Benedict (Starbuck on Battlestar Gallactica and Face on The A-Team). He is the most frequently encountered of the NPC's, and certainly the least forgettable. Rip Taylor, looking for all the world like a double for the Gatekeeper at Emerald City, is Yannick's henchman, Wartle. Y'Gael, blithe spirit of the underground from whom you acquire your spell book, is a wonderful character as well, a very savvy cross between Glinda and Fanny Brice.

Zork Grand Inquisitor's engine is similar to the one in Zork Nemesis – first person 360-degree rotation, with fixed paths. Navigation is also possible via teleportation stations at almost every location. Insert your map and poof! There you're not. Of course, if you're daring, you can travel the Great Underground Subway, which, when summoned, doesn't stop… it just slows down a bit and a mechanical hand grabs you off the platform. The puzzles are the comfortable, grass-roots kind, of varying difficulty, and also interspersed with humor.
 Each of the artifacts must be claimed from another Zorkian era by a currently Totemized character. Send a Totem back through time and you are able to control a Griff, a Brogmoid or Lucy Flathead (with a 'do that has to be seen to be believed) in a mini-quest. There is the Little-Chess-Puzzle-That-Wasn't, and, unfortunately, the old "slip the paper under the door; poke the keyhole so that the key on the wrong side of the door falls onto the paper; then pull the paper (with the key!) back under the door" puzzle. (They couldn't have been serious about its inclusion. Or could they? Ah, history.) Ample clues are offered throughout the game so that no puzzle feels intuitively unsolvable. Interestingly enough, though, many puzzles are unsolvable as is, and require a leap of logic or…magick (hey, where'd that "K" come from?).

Spellcasting remains the center of a lot of the puzzle solving. You will find scrolls, which are then "gnustoed" into your spell book (provided they have been spell-checked). They have funny names like BEBURTT and SNAVIG, and do useful stuff like turn purple things invisible.  The story is linear, but not so restrictively that you feel too often trapped; and it is always possible to die here…whether you are eaten by a grue, or have walked into a bottomless pit, your fatality is lauded by a blank text screen onto which is typed the action that you foolishly attempted, followed by Zork's traditional **you have died** message: "Your score is 24 out of a possible 1000 giving you the rank of Unfathomable Jerk."  Finally two add-ons are offered as enhancements – a throw forward and a throwback. On the forward side is a multiplayer linked play option allowing players to solve with a partner. One player controls the game, and the other
is able to watch and comment; fairly useless? Maybe, except perhaps to solicit online help. And on the retro side is a delightful text adventure, Zork: The Undiscovered Underground, a prequel to Grand Inquisitor, written by none other than Marc Blank (one of the creators of Zork) and Mike Berlyn (another Infocom writer), a really terrific bonus for those who loved and still love text adventures, an introduction to those who have never played them, and an anachronistic relic to others.  Zork Grand Inquisitor is a funny, solid, well crafted, well-written, well-acted adventure. All in all, it's a bit too short, and the three sub-quests (which really should present the bulk of activity, since their solutions ultimately solve the main quest) are terse and anticlimactic. Expanding on the ability to play three additional (and extremely engaging) characters would have really put this game over the top. Nonetheless, it has more going for it than many adventures on the shelf today, and for Zork players or the non-initiated, it's a must-do. After all, you get to play (and win) Strip Grue, Fire, Water (like Rock, Paper, Scissors), with Antharia Jack! And as his clothes drop slowly, piece by piece, you'll find… that the whole thing is censored. Oh well.

(I apologize to whomever wrote this review, I seem to have lost the credits file)