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Daily Archives: January 22, 2012

Exploring Zork, Part 3

Today we’ll finish up with Zork. That means plunging into the only big, completely traditional maze in the Infocom canon. And it’s a nasty one; apparently they decided that if you’re only going to do one, you might as well do it up right.

In keeping with the thief’s role as a stand-in for Adventure‘s pirate, the maze is where he has his lair. This fact, even more than its sheer size, is the root of its difficulty: as you wander about inside dropping items and mapping, chances are good that the thief will show up to scatter your carefully placed items about and leave you hopefully confused. Like the combat sequences, success here requires luck and careful saving and restoring more than skill. Nowhere else does Zork so thoroughly justify Robb Sherwin’s statement that it “hates its player.”

Within the maze is the “CYCLOPS ROOM.”

>SE
CYCLOPS ROOM
THIS ROOM HAS AN EXIT ON THE NORTHWEST,
AND A STAIRCASE LEADING UP.
A CYCLOPS, WHO LOOKS PREPARED TO EAT
HORSES (MUCH LESS MERE ADVENTURERS),
BLOCKS THE STAIRCASE. FROM HIS STATE OF
HEALTH, AND THE BLOODSTAINS ON THE
WALLS, YOU GATHER THAT HE IS NOT VERY
FRIENDLY, THOUGH HE LIKES PEOPLE.

There are two possible solutions to the cyclops problem, one basically acceptable and one easily the worst in the game. For the former, we can give him the lunch we found in the house at the beginning of the game, followed by the bottle of water. The latter is another guess-the-word affair that makes the loud room look like design genius: we can type “ODYSSEUS.”

>ODYSSEUS
THE CYCLOPS, HEARING THE NAME OF HIS
FATHER'S DEADLY NEMESIS, FLEES THE ROOM
BY KNOCKING DOWN THE WALL ON THE EAST OF
THE ROOM.

But never fear, there is a “clue” to this solution. Reading a prayer book we found in the temple yields the following:

>EXAMINE BOOK
COMMANDMENT #12592

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.

On the original PDP-10 implementation, reading the first letter of each line yields “ODYSSEUS.” On the 40-column Apple II screen, however, this rather breaks down. It’s an awful “puzzle,” but the fact that Infocom give the player a more reasonable alternative really marks them, for all their continuing design pratfalls, as unusual text-adventure developers for this era. Scott Adams or Roberta Williams would have just stuck the easy-to-implement “ODYSSEUS” puzzle in and dreamed of all the hint booklets they were about to sell.

Beyond the cyclops lies the thief’s lair. Giving him his reckoning feels sweet indeed after all the trouble he’s caused us, not to mention restoring to us whatever treasures he’s stolen.

>U
YOU HEAR A SCREAM OF ANGUISH AS YOU
VIOLATE THE ROBBER'S HIDEAWAY. USING
PASSAGES UNKNOWN TO YOU, HE RUSHES TO
ITS DEFENSE.
THE THIEF GESTURES MYSTERIOUSLY, AND THE
TREASURES IN THE ROOM SUDDENLY VANISH.
TREASURE ROOM
THIS IS A LARGE ROOM, WHOSE EAST WALL IS
SOLID GRANITE. A NUMBER OF DISCARDED
BAGS, WHICH CRUMBLE AT YOUR TOUCH, ARE
SCATTERED ABOUT ON THE FLOOR. THERE IS
AN EXIT DOWN A STAIRCASE.
THERE IS A SUSPICIOUS-LOOKING
INDIVIDUAL, HOLDING A BAG, LEANING
AGAINST ONE WALL. HE IS ARMED WITH A
VICIOUS-LOOKING STILETTO.
THERE IS A SILVER CHALICE, INTRICATELY
ENGRAVED, HERE.
THE THIEF RAMS THE HAFT OF HIS BLADE
INTO YOUR STOMACH, LEAVING YOU OUT OF
BREATH.
>KILL THIEF WITH AXE
YOU ARE STILL RECOVERING FROM THAT LAST
BLOW, SO YOUR ATTACK IS INEFFECTIVE.
YOU PARRY A LIGHTNING THRUST, AND THE
THIEF SALUTES YOU WITH A GRIM NOD.
>KILL THIEF WITH AXE
THE THIEF IS STRUCK ON THE ARM, BLOOD
BEGINS TO TRICKLE DOWN.
THE THIEF STABS NONCHALANTLY WITH HIS
STILETTO AND MISSES.
>AGAIN
THE BLOW LANDS, MAKING A SHALLOW GASH IN
THE THIEF'S ARM!
THE THIEF TRIES TO SNEAK PAST YOUR
GUARD, BUT YOU TWIST AWAY.
>AGAIN
THE BLOW LANDS, MAKING A SHALLOW GASH IN
THE THIEF'S ARM!
THE THIEF SLOWLY APPROACHES, STRIKES
LIKE A SNAKE, AND LEAVES YOU WOUNDED.
>AGAIN
THE THIEF IS STRUCK ON THE ARM, BLOOD
BEGINS TO TRICKLE DOWN.
THE THIEF STABS NONCHALANTLY WITH HIS
STILETTO AND MISSES.
>AGAIN
YOU CHARGE, BUT THE THIEF JUMPS NIMBLY
ASIDE.
THE THIEF STABS NONCHALANTLY WITH HIS
STILETTO AND MISSES.
>AGAIN
THE FATAL BLOW STRIKES THE THIEF SQUARE
IN THE HEART: HE DIES.

But wait… remember when I mentioned way back at the beginning of this adventure that the jeweled egg we found in the forest was key to the cruelest puzzle in the game? Well, I’m afraid we need to get the thief to do something for us before we kill him. We need to let him open the egg for us, for, as subtly hinted when we try to do it ourselves, we “HAVEN’T THE TOOLS OR EXPERTISE.”

With the maze explored and the thief employed and then promptly dispatched, we face only one last puzzle — but it’s another nasty one, a late addition that we could just as well have done without. From time to time while wandering in the forest, we “HEAR IN THE DISTANCE THE CHIRPING OF A SONG BIRD,” a message originally included as just a bit of flavor text. Tim Anderson:

Many people on the net had long since solved the game, but went back in and did any new problems that came along; one of them had played DD with Dave, and called him up about a day after the egg was announced. "I've gotten the egg opened, but I assume you losers have some nonsense where you do something with the canary and the songbird. Dave, no fool, said "Cough, cough, ahem, of course," and immediately went off and added the brass bauble.

Specifically, we need to wind the clockwork canary we found inside the egg to attract the songbird, which in turn drops a brass bauble at our feet — the 19th and final treasure. We place the lot in the trophy case, which magically opens up a new path outside.

>SW
STONE BARROW
YOU ARE STANDING IN FRONT OF A MASSIVE
BARROW OF STONE. IN THE EAST FACE IS A
HUGE STONE DOOR WHICH IS OPEN. YOU
CANNOT SEE INTO THE DARK OF THE TOMB.
>W
AS YOU ENTER THE BARROW, THE DOOR CLOSES
INEXORABLY BEHIND YOU. AROUND YOU IT IS
DARK, BUT AHEAD IS AN ENORMOUS CAVERN,
BRIGHTLY LIT. THROUGH ITS CENTER RUNS A
WIDE STREAM. SPANNING THE STREAM IS A
SMALL WOODEN FOOTBRIDGE, AND BEYOND A
PATH LEADS INTO A DARK TUNNEL. ABOVE THE
BRIDGE, FLOATING IN THE AIR, IS A LARGE
SIGN. IT READS: ALL YE WHO STAND BEFORE
THIS BRIDGE HAVE COMPLETED A GREAT AND
PERILOUS ADVENTURE WHICH HAS TESTED YOUR
WIT AND COURAGE. YOU HAVE GAINED THE
MASTERY OF THE FIRST PART OF THE GREAT
UNDERGROUND EMPIRE. THOSE WHO PASS OVER
THIS BRIDGE MUST BE PREPARED TO
UNDERTAKE AN EVEN GREATER ADVENTURE THAT
WILL SEVERELY TEST YOUR SKILL AND
BRAVERY!
PLAY "ZORK: THE GREAT UNDERGROUND
EMPIRE, PART II".
YOUR SCORE WOULD BE 350 (TOTAL OF 350
POINTS), IN 1313 MOVES.
THIS SCORE GIVES YOU THE RANK OF MASTER
ADVENTURER.

And that, my friends, is Zork, a flawed creation but a tremendous advance over what had come before. And Infocom were just getting started.

I’ll have much, much more to say about Infocom in the future. But next, something completely different.

 
 

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