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Zork Origins

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Zork was one of the first interactive fiction computer games and an early descendant of Colossal Cave Adventure. The first version of Zork was written in 1977–1979 on a PDP-10|DEC PDP-10 computer by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling, and implemented in the MDL programming language. All four were members of the MIT Dynamic Modelling Group.

"Zork" was originally MIT hacker jargon for an unfinished program. The implementors named the completed game Dungeon, but by that time the name Zork had already stuck. Zork has also been adapted to a widely panned book series.

Three of the original Zork programmers joined with others to found Infocom in 1979. That company adapted the PDP-10 Zork into Zork I-III, a trilogy of games for most popular small computers of the era, including the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the Atari 8-bit family, the TRS-80, CP/M systems and the IBM PC. Zork I was published on 5¼" and 8" floppy disks. Joel Berez and Marc Blank developed a specialized virtual machine to run Zork I, called the Z-machine. The first "Z-machine Interpreter Program" ZIP for a small computer was written by Scott Cutler for the TRS-80. The trilogy was written in ZIL, which stands for "Zork Implementation Language", a language similar to LISP. Personal Software published what would become the first part of the trilogy under the name Zork when it was first released in 1980, but Infocom later handled the distribution of that game and their subsequent games. Part of the reason for splitting Zork into three different games was that, unlike the PDP systems the original ran on, micros did not have enough memory and disk storage to handle the entirety of the original game. In the process, more content was added to Zork to make each game stand on its own.

Zork is set in a sprawling underground labyrinth which occupies a portion of the "Great Underground Empire". The player is a nameless adventurer whose goal is to find the treasures hidden in the caves and return alive with them. The dungeons are stocked with many novel creatures and objects, among them grues and zorkmids. Perhaps the most well known location in the Zork universe is Flood Control Dam #3, a place that is returned to in Zork sequels. The Zork universe and timeline has been extended by several of Infocom's other works of interactive fiction.

Zork and its relatives are works of interactive fiction. Zork distinguished itself in its genre as an especially rich game, in terms of both the quality of the storytelling and the sophistication of its text parser, which was not limited to simple verb-noun commands ("hit grue"), but some prepositions and conjunctions ("hit the grue with the Elvish sword").

Zork seriesEdit

The original Zork TrilogyEdit

Later additions to the seriesEdit

All these are text-only unless otherwise noted.

  • Games that take place somewhere in the Zork universe:
  • The Zork Anthology comprises the original Zork Trilogy plus:
    • Beyond Zork (1987, Infocom)
    • Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz (1988, Infocom, text with some graphics)

After a six year hiatus, the following games were produced:

The Enchanter trilogy and Wishbringer occupy somewhat unusual positions within the Zork universe. Enchanter was originally developed as Zork IV; Infocom decided to instead release it separately, however, and it became the basis of a new trilogy. (In each trilogy, there is a sense of assumed continuity; that is, the player's character in Zork III is assumed to have experienced the events of Zork I and Zork II. Similarly, events from Enchanter are referenced in Sorcerer and Spellbreaker; but the Enchanter character is not assumed to be the same one from the Zork trilogy. In fact, in Enchanter the player's character encounters the Adventurer from Zork, who helps the player's character solve a puzzle in the game.) Although Wishbringer was never officially linked to the Zork series, the game is generally agreed to be "Zorkian" due to its use of magic and several terms and names from established Zork games.

Later compilations and current availabilityEdit

Among the games bundled in The Lost Treasures of Infocom, published in 1991 by Activision under the Infocom brand, were the original Zork trilogy, the Enchanter trilogy, Beyond Zork and Zork Zero. A second bundle published in 1992, The Lost Treasures of Infocom II, contained Wishbringer and ten other non-Zork-related games.

Activision's 1996 compilation, Classic Text Adventure Masterpieces of Infocom, includes all the text-based Zork games; the Zork and Enchanter trilogies, Wishbringer, Beyond Zork and Zork Zero.

Activision briefly offered free downloads of Zork I as part of the promotion of Zork: Nemesis, and Zork II and Zork III as part of the promotion for Zork Grand Inquisitor, as well as a new adventure: Zork: The Undiscovered Underground. This led many to believe that the games had been released as freeware, even though the included license explicitly prohibited redistribution. Activision's legal department has recently stated that the promotion relating to those games has ended and that it is not legal to distribute the games or make them available for download.

Of six novels published as "Infocom Books" by Avon Books between 1989-1991, two were directly based on Zork: The Zork Chronicles by George Alec Effinger (1990) and The Lost City of Zork by Robin W. Bailey (1991). Two further novels in the same series are based on the same universe: Wishbringer by Craig Shaw Gardner and Enchanter, also by Bailey.

A parody series known as 'Pork' was released also starting in 1988. Uncyclopedia also has a small wiki-based game called Game:Zork, which is almost impossible to win, and losing tends to consist of being eaten by a grue.

As of 2006 an over-the-phone version of Zork entitled Zasterisk entered beta testing. Programmed by Simon Ditner using Asterisk and the Festival Speech Synthesis System, players can call in and play Zork over the phone by speaking voice commands. The results are read back by the automated text-to-voice synthesis system. It is now known as Zoip, a reference to VoIP.


In the Zork games, the player is not limited to verb-noun commands, such as "take lamp", "open mailbox", and so forth. Instead, the parser supports more sophisticated sentences such as "put the lamp and sword in the case", "look under the rug", and "drop all except lantern". The game understands a good number of common verbs, including "take", "drop", "examine", "attack", "climb", "open", "close", "count", and many more. The games also support commands to the game (rather than in the game) such as "save" and "restore", "script" and "unscript" (which begin and end a text transcript of the game text), "restart", and "quit".

In all of the Zork text adventures, the following commands apply:

> n, s, e, w

Short for "go north", "go south", etc.

> nw, ne, sw, se

Short for "go northwest", "go southwest", etc.

> u and d

Short for "go up" and "go down"

> i

Reveals a player's inventory

> verbose

Gives full descriptions after each command (rather than omitting details already given to the player)

> score

Displays the player's current score, number of moves, and ranking

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