We left off last time with the Alice area at the top of the well. Let’s continue now with the rooms that sprawl around the Carousel Room, which are now much easier to get to since we’ve stopped the carousel’s rotation by switching it off from the Machine Room.
In the Dreary Room off to the north is the first recorded instance of a venerable adventure-gaming cliché: a locked door with a key in the keyhole on the other side. What follows would quickly become a pretty rote procedure for seasoned adventurers, almost like a maze, but taken without all of the baggage of games to come it’s a fresh and clever puzzle.
>PUT MAT UNDER DOOR
THE PLACE MAT FITS EASILY UNDER THE
>PUT OPENER IN KEYHOLE
THE LID IS IN THE WAY.
THE LID IS NOW OPEN.
>PUT OPENER IN KEYHOLE
THERE IS A FAINT NOISE FROM BEHIND THE
DOOR AND A SMALL CLOUD OF DUST RISES
FROM BENEATH IT.
AS THE PLACE MAT IS MOVED, A RUSTY IRON
KEY FALLS FROM IT AND ONTO THE FLOOR.
This puzzle was also present in the PDP-10 Zork; thus my relative confidence in proclaiming it the first of its kind. Interestingly, in the original game the mat that was needed was the welcome mat found all the way back outside the front door to the white house. In the PC version Lebling instead placed a handy place mat in the gazebo alongside the U.S. News and Dungeon Report.
There’s also a dragon underground, the slaying of which is a tricky but not untenable puzzle. The dragon was holding a princess captive — a princess who can retrieve a key from a certain unicorn back in the garden, solving a problem that has been frustrating us since we first wandered in. The game subtly but effectively cues us that we need something from her, and that we should be following her.
THE PRINCESS (FOR SHE IS OBVIOUSLY ONE)
SHAKES HERSELF AWAKE, THEN NOTICES YOU
FOR THE FIRST TIME. SHE SMILES. "THANK
YOU FOR RESCUING ME FROM THAT HORRID
WORM," SHE SAYS. "I MUST DEPART. MY
PARENTS WILL BE WORRIED ABOUT ME." WITH
THAT, SHE ARISES, LOOKING PURPOSEFULLY
OUT OF THE LAIR.
THE HINGES ARE VERY RUSTY, BUT THEY SEEM
TO BE STARTING TO GIVE. YOU CAN PROBABLY
OPEN IT IF YOU TRY AGAIN. THERE IS
SOMETHING BUMPING AROUND INSIDE. ALL
THIS RUMMAGING AROUND HAS STARTLED THE
THE PRINCESS IGNORES YOU. SHE LOOKS
ABOUT THE ROOM, BUT HER EYES FIX ON THE
THE PRINCESS WALKS SOUTH. SHE GLANCES
BACK AT YOU AS SHE GOES.
THERE IS A DISHEVELLED AND SLIGHTLY
UNKEMPT PRINCESS HERE.
THE PRINCESS WALKS EAST. SHE GLANCES
BACK AT YOU AS SHE GOES.
It’s another puzzle that needs that little nudge… no, wait, this puzzle has that little nudge. If only they were all this way…
But enough with good puzzles. Let’s talk about the first of Zork II‘s two legendarily bad ones: the Bank of Zork. In his review of the game on IFDB, Peter Pears actually called this puzzle “beautiful.” In a way I can see what he means, but for me it’s undone once again by a lack of sufficient cues as well as a lack of feedback and parser difficulties. The bank consists of several rooms, but the heart of it is the Safety Depository.
THIS IS A LARGE RECTANGULAR ROOM. THE
EAST AND WEST WALLS HERE WERE USED FOR
STORING SAFETY DEPOSIT BOXES. AS MIGHT
BE EXPECTED, ALL HAVE BEEN CAREFULLY
REMOVED BY EVIL PERSONS. TO THE EAST,
WEST, AND SOUTH OF THE ROOM ARE LARGE
DOORWAYS. THE NORTHERN "WALL" OF THE
ROOM IS A SHIMMERING CURTAIN OF LIGHT.
IN THE CENTER OF THE ROOM IS A LARGE
STONE CUBE, ABOUT 10 FEET ON A SIDE.
ENGRAVED ON THE SIDE OF THE CUBE IS SOME
ON THE GROUND IS A SMALL, WORN PIECE OF
As you might expect, that “curtain of light” is actually another exit. However, we can’t go that way simply by typing “N.” That just leads to, “THERE IS A CURTAIN OF LIGHT THERE,” which is in turn likely to lead us to give up on that direction of inquiry. Yet it turns out we can “ENTER CURTAIN.” Similar parser problems dog us at every stage in the bank, but even they aren’t the worst of it. To make a long and convoluted puzzle short, the place where we go after entering the curtain of light is dictated by the direction we last came from before entering. This is never explained or even hinted at at any point, and it’s obviously a very subtle and tenuous connection to make. Most players who “solved” the Bank of Zork did so only through sheer persistence, moving everywhere and trying everything, and were left with no idea of what they had actually done or how the puzzle really worked. Like Zork II‘s other notorious puzzle (of which more in a moment), the Bank of Zork specifically informed an entry in Graham Nelson’s “Player’s Bill of Rights”: the player should “be able to understand a problem once it is solved.”
Next we explore the volcano area to the west, which we accomplish largely via a hot-air balloon. Many of the puzzles and situations in Zork were designed around the capabilities of the technology used to create the games. Having created the programming for vehicles once for the boat found back in Zork I, the designers continued to use it again and again. Like the well, the balloon puzzle first involves deducing what it — “A LARGE AND EXTREMELY HEAVY WICKER BASKET” with “A RECEPTACLE OF SOME KIND” in the center and “AN ENORMOUS CLOTH BAG DRAPED OVER THE SIDE” — actually is. We need to burn something, like the U.S. News and Dungeon Report, in the receptacle to inflate the bag. The idea that burning something as small as a newspaper could do the trick doesn’t make a whole lot of sense in the real world, but adventure games have always had physics all their own, as Duncan Stevens and I briefly discussed in the comments section of my last post. Of more immediate concern are the parser frustrations that once again make this puzzle more difficult than it was likely designed to be.
And so we come to the Oddly-Angled Room, better known as the infamous baseball maze. At first it appears to be a conventional maze, but we soon realize that it defies all attempts to map it. Every connection is literally random, changing constantly according to no rhyme or reason. The diamond-shaped windows in the floor of each room don’t seem to offer much help. The key clue is the “club” we find:
A LONG WOODEN CLUB LIES ON THE GROUND
NEAR THE DIAMOND-SHAPED WINDOW. THE CLUB
IS CURIOUSLY BURNED AT THE THICK END.
THE WORDS "BABE FLATHEAD" ARE BURNED
INTO THE WOOD.
We’re expected to “run the bases”, moving diagonally through the rooms starting from home plate, which is located at the west end of the “ballpark”: southeast, northeast, northwest, southwest. The windows give us a slight clue when we are on the right track, lighting up more strongly for each correct movement we make. Even so, this is all deeply problematic on a couple of levels. Firstly, Zork eventually spread well beyond the United States, to players who had no clue about the game of baseball, inspiring the most amusingly specific of all Nelson’s Player’s Rights: a player should “not need to be American to understand hints.” But of course, even many Americans aren’t interested in baseball at all and know next to nothing about it. This right could be better rewritten as a prohibition on requiring any sort of esoteric or domain-specific outside knowledge. Yet the puzzle is even dodgy for someone like me, who loves baseball. From what I can see, there is no way to deduce that home plate in this particular ballpark is located at its western side, and thus no way to know which way to go in running the bases, at least outside of the extremely, shall we say, subtle cues offered by the windows. The baseball maze wasn’t in the PDP-10 Zork, but was devised by Lebling specifically for the PC version. He’s repeatedly apologized for it over the years since, noting that it stemmed from his boredom with mazes and desire to do something different with the general idea. Needless to say, we’d have been better off with a standard maze.
Up to this point we’ve been amassing treasures and scoring points for collecting them, but, unlike in Zork I, we’ve found no obvious thing to do with them. In the PDP-10 version, these treasures were simply more loot to be collected in the white house’s trophy case. In this game, of course, that’s not possible, what with the barrow having sealed itself behind us and the white house consigned to Zork I. The most obvious solution to this problem would have been to just give us another trophy case somewhere. That’s not, however, what Lebling chose to do. Instead he decided to devise an actual purpose for our collection beyond looting for looting’s (and points’) sake. Like other elements of Zork II, the need to restructure things for practical reasons here led Lebling to take a step in the direction of story.
Now, late in the game, we penetrate the Wizard’s inner sanctum at last. Amongst other fun and puzzles, we can summon a demon here by making use of the three magic spheres we’ve collected earlier — the one in the Alice area which the robot helped us to collect, the one behind the locked door in the Dreary Room, and one which we find in the aquarium inside the wizard’s inner sanctum itself. But demons, of course, don’t work for free. To do us a favor, he demands payment in the form of ten treasures. Yes, it’s all very pat and convenient, but combined with other innovations like the Wizard himself it gives Zork II a shred of plotting and motivation that both Zork I and the PDP-10 Zork lack. Count it as a step on Infocom’s road from text adventures to interactive fiction.
Once the demon is satisfied, we have a favor at our disposal. Unfortunately, it’s easy neither to figure out what that favor should be nor how we should go about asking for it. If we manage both, though, we’re greeted with this:
>SAY TO DEMON "GIVE ME WAND"
"I HEAR AND OBEY!" SAYS THE DEMON. HE
STRETCHES OUT AN ENORMOUS HAND TOWARDS
THE WAND. THE WIZARD IS UNSURE WHAT TO
DO, POINTING IT THREATENINGLY AT THE
DEMON, THEN AT YOU. "FUDGE!" HE CRIES,
BUT ASIDE FROM A STRONG ODOR OF
CHOCOLATE IN THE AIR, THERE IS NO
EFFECT. THE DEMON PLUCKS THE WAND OUT OF
HIS HAND (IT'S ABOUT TOOTHPICK SIZE TO
HIM) AND GINGERLY LAYS IT ON THE GROUND
BEFORE YOU. HE FADES INTO THE SMOKE,
WHICH DISPERSES. THE WIZARD RUNS FROM
THE ROOM IN TERROR.
And so the tables are turned. I feel a little bit sorry for the poor fellow. He seems more playfully insane than evil. But then again, I feel sorry for a lot of the monsters I have to kill in Wizardry, so count me as just a big softie.
We now have a magic wand at our disposal — a very cool thing. The immediate temptation is to go around waving it at anything and everything, trying out each of the Wizard’s arsenal of spells. Yet for inexplicable in-story reasons but all too explicable technical reasons, only one actually works: Float, which lifts a boulder for us to unblock an entrance in the Menhir Room and retrieve a final key item. I particularly wanted to spell a certain three-headed guard dog in the Cerberus Room, but, alas, my efforts to Ferment, Freeze, and even Filch the hound proved in vain. Only Float gave any sort of appropriate response at all: “THE HUGE DOG RISES ABOUT AN INCH OFF THE GROUND, FOR A MOMENT.” If the implementation here is kind of sketchy, the idea of having a collection of spells at one’s disposal is still a very compelling one, and one that obviously remained with Lebling and his colleagues: they would later produce a trilogy of games that revolved around that very mechanic.
We now make our way into the final room of the game, the crypt. We also now have all 400 points — and yet the game doesn’t end. We in fact have one final puzzle to solve. We need to extinguish the lantern within the crypt, using some grue repellent we found lying around to protect ourselves. In the darkness we can see the “FAINT OUTLINE” of a “VERY TIGHT DOOR,” the way forward into Zork III. It’s yet one final example of a clever little puzzle that just needed a little bit more of a nudge; the solution is arguably hinted at, but much earlier in the game, and so subtly it’s almost impossible not to overlook. For the really unlucky, the game here also unveils its nastiest trick of all. One of the spells the Wizard — luckily, seemingly very rarely — casts is Fluoresce, which causes one to glow with light, apparently in perpetuity. What a lucky break, one thinks; no more worrying about that expiring lantern! Until, of course, one comes here and can’t finish the game. Infocom may have been making them better than anyone else already, but they were still making them pretty damn cruel at times.
But that’s Zork II for you — more sophisticated technically and thematically than its predecessor, but also with more design issues and a wider mean streak. Of course, in evaluating works we always have to be mindful of the milieu that created them. Adventure games in 1981 were cruel and difficult as a matter of course. Infocom in the years to come would be largely responsible for showing that they could succeed as art and challenge as games without hating their players, but they weren’t quite there yet. Likewise, they would show that they could be about more than treasures, puzzles, and points, but Zork II merely nods in that direction rather than striding down that road with purpose. Neither a masterpiece nor an outright failure, Zork II stands as an important way-station rather than a definitive landmark.
Still, those looking for a game changer should just stick around. Infocom’s next release would not completely sort out the adventure-game design issues I’ve been harping on about for many posts now, but it would completely upend the traditional definition of what an adventure game was and what it could do.
May 29, 2012 at 3:07 am
I always used the club for balloon fuel. Not terribly realistic, but still better than a newspaper.
May 29, 2012 at 5:38 am
As if the baseball knowledge needed to solve the maze wasn’t bad enough, you actually needed one more piece of knowledge: home plate has always traditionally been situated to the west. That means the batter isn’t staring into the setting sun for evening games. It also gives rise to “southpaw” (in a possibly apocryphal fashion), since a left-handed pitcher throwing at a traditionally arranged plate has his throwing arm to his south. Sounds good, anyway.
Being a little bit of a latecomer to home computers, Zork 2 was the first text adventure that I ever played, and it has stuck with me like few other games have. Thanks for the trip down memory lane.
May 29, 2012 at 2:29 pm
I didn’t know that bit of baseball lore. I did suspect there might be some tradition like that, but didn’t see it mentioned in a quick check of the Wikipedia entry for “ballpark.” :)
It’s obviously not followed too religiously. Home-run balls in San Francisco and Seattle frequently wind up in the ocean — WEST of the ballpark.
May 29, 2012 at 7:22 pm
Candlestick Park (by whatever name) is on the eastern edge of the San Francisco Bay peninsula. I don’t know what way they orient the diamond, but you’d have to hit quite a pop fly to get it all the way over to the Pacific Ocean in the west. The bay itself is to the east of the park.
October 30, 2021 at 5:20 am
I know I’m nine years late, but the Giants moved out of Candlestick in 2000. The new park, Pacific Bell/SBC/AT&T/Oracle Park, sits right against McCovey Cove, a favorite spot for the adventurous to fish home run balls out of the bay.
October 30, 2021 at 4:32 pm
Sure, but again, that’s on the east side of the peninsula. I’m not saying they don’t end up in the water – I’m saying that the water is not to the west of the park like Jimmy was apparently picturing.
June 6, 2012 at 6:31 pm
Here in Seattle, the plate is in the southwest corner, which is actually more common than just west, because we’re in the northern hemisphere and…well, here’s a picture:
Again, the canonical direction is west, but the reality is southwest, so even if you knew this tidbit about ballpark arrangement, you’d still probably fail the first time since you’d likely assume the plate was in the southwest, not the west.
December 31, 2012 at 4:13 am
This is very late, but I found the perfect link for this and had to share. It’s a diagram of the way the batter faces in every major league ballpark:
The median does seem to be pretty much due northeast (so that the plate would be to the southwest), though the center of the range is something like east-northeast.
May 29, 2012 at 12:12 pm
I recommend casting “Fierce” and “Fear” on Cerberus.
Also, does the game ever hint that the brick is an explosive? That always struck me as rather underclued. Ditto getting the dragon to follow you.
May 29, 2012 at 2:39 pm
Not that I can think of. Oddly, this puzzle didn’t give me too many problems. I was pretty sure what the brick must be as soon as I found it. It seems to be one of those that people either immediately intuitively “get” or they never solve.
May 29, 2012 at 7:23 pm
without all of the baggage of games to come it’s a fresh and clever puzzle…. This puzzle was also present in the PDP-10 Zork; thus my relative confidence in proclaiming it the first of its kind.
The Invisiclues advise the player to try the “old trick” of slipping something under the door to catch the key. It might be the first appearance in an adventure game, but I guess they thought it was a known method in general. (It was beyond me, of course.)
Yet it turns out we can “ENTER CURTAIN.”
You can also WALK THROUGH NORTH WALL, although I agree it’s a course of action unlikely to occur to a player after the response the game gives to the more conventional “N.” (Another puzzle quite beyond me. Even after reading the hints, I didn’t understand what was going on when I was a teenager. Now I do understand it, but it’s rather fiendish, I think.)
>SAY TO DEMON “GIVE ME WAND”
DEMON, KILL THE WIZARD or DEMON, MOVE THE MENHIR are also possible solutions, although I find the first not very satisfying and the latter of course leaves the wizard free to keep annoying the crap out of you by casting spells on you.
for inexplicable in-story reasons but all too explicable technical reasons, only one actually works: Float, which lifts a boulder for us to unblock an entrance in the Menhir Room and retrieve a final key item.
This might depend on release, I think. I recall a number of other spells functioning (in that they had unique responses which matched the spell name), although I was disappointed that game wouldn’t allow me to point the wand at myself (IIRC).
May 29, 2012 at 7:51 pm
Asking the demon to kill the wizard or move the menhir would allow you to finish the game in early releases; in later releases, you had to have the wand to finish the game (you died when you tried to descend the staircase). No idea why Infocom made this change; it seems arbitrary.
Also, one of my favorite bits: if you try to attack the princess, the Wizard appears and kills you via the “Fry” spell. That’s a spell the game designers really should have written some funny late-game responses for.
May 29, 2012 at 8:26 pm
Sorry, I was unclear; it’s asking the demon to move the menhir that (unforeseeably) rendered the game unwinnable in late releases, for no good reason I can see. If the demon killed the wizard, the wand would be left behind, and you could you use it.
August 7, 2017 at 9:19 am
Slipping something under the door to catch the key was a common trick in children books like “The famous five” and “The Secret Seven”
June 4, 2012 at 10:33 am
Don’t have anything constructive to add (especially not on the topic of Zork :). Just wanted to say I am enjoying your blog tremendously. Thanks for all the time and energy you are putting into this. Your blogs on the history of computing/gaming are a joy to read.
August 18, 2014 at 5:25 pm
The bitter aftertaste of the Oddly-Angled Room is making itself felt in IF development to this very day.
February 21, 2017 at 8:12 pm
I recently played this for the first time, largely with help from invisiclues and a walkthrough, and as noted in your article several my biggest frustrations tended to be figuring out the exact wording needed to accomplish certain tasks.
For example, I knew immediately what the hot air balloon was, but had no clue how to activate it. And once I knew what the clay brick was, and deduced that the string was needed, I could not figure out exactly what to say to connect the two items. (“INSERT STRING IN BRICK”)
I love these old games for the nostalgia factor, but sometimes you have to wonder if the writers truly expected you to come up with some of these answers on your own.
January 20, 2018 at 10:18 am
In an early version of the game, if the wizard and the robot were in the same room, you could tell the robot to get the wand and then give it to you. You could then go straight to the endgame and win with only 60 points. Also, the game treated the wand and collar as “treasures,” so you could get 2 additional points each by giving them to the demon. (You could use “filch” to get the collar back from Cerberus, and he would remain tame and not kill you. You would get the wand back after the demon killed/scared away the wizard.) This way you could complete the game with 404 points instead of 400.
January 31, 2018 at 6:46 am
This is, to me, the most fascinating Zork-related response comment I’ve read on Jummy’s blog. And I’ve pored over the entire text from the Zork library Resources Page. Well-shared, sir.
January 31, 2018 at 6:47 am
How did that spell-check let Jimmy come out as Jummy? Sheesh.
January 23, 2018 at 8:40 pm
Sadly, the article’s link to Graham Nelson’s “Player’s Bill of Rights” has been broken for quite some time. Fortunately, the text is available in this document (page 7).
January 24, 2018 at 6:58 am
February 9, 2020 at 3:01 pm
One instance of U.S. New and Dungeon Report which might be News to you ;-)
February 10, 2020 at 8:14 am
February 9, 2020 at 4:29 pm
Should this be “Fluoresce”?
November 23, 2020 at 12:45 am
I mistakingly posted this in the wrong reply section, so I’m copying and pasting it here.
n the version I’m playing, Version 48, there are a few spells you can use with the Wizard’s wand that will do a few things.
First off, there’s ‘Fluoresce’, a spell you’re only likely to know about through a previous session where your lamp went out. You can use it yourself to make any object a light source, like this:
You are carrying:
A Wizard’s magic wand
A white book
>point wand at white book
The wand grows warm, the white book seems to glow dimly with magical essences, and you feel suffused with power.
The wand glows very brightly for a moment.
The white book begins to glow.
Sitting on the Wizard’s workbench is:
A black obsidian stand
You are carrying:
A Wizard’s magic wand
A white book (providing light)
I suppose this is useful if you’re nearing the end of the game, still haven’t done the Oddly Angled Room (which I agree is probably the worst puzzle in the game because it’s so poorly clued – the vague baseball hints aren’t really enough), and your lamp is getting dim.
You can also cast ‘feeble’ on the three-headed dog for an amusing message. And you can make it ‘float’ but that won’t help solve the puzzle.
Casting ‘Fierce’ on the three-headed dog will give you an amusing death.
‘Fry’ (a spell the Wizard of Frobozz will only use under very special circumstances as part of what TV Tropes calls a Videogame Cruelty Punishment) can also be used on objects to destroy them. However, it won’t work on anything that isn’t portable for some reason – the Wizard can use it to fry you, but you can’t use it to to fry any creatures.
(You could use it to ‘fry’ the dead dragon and the dead sea serpent in a previous version that I played on the C64, but that doesn’t work in Version 48).
Most of the other spells don’t really have any noticeable effects.
September 19, 2021 at 12:51 pm
This right could be better rewritten as a prohibition on requiring any sort of esoteric or domain-specific outside knowledge.
Yeah, but then how do games do anything really interesting when they want to expand or evolve? For example, knowledge of mechanics (how things work) or physics (how things move and interact). You couldn’t have games that involve, say, chemistry of technical knowledge (such as wiring) or knowing that a strong adhesive might plug up a hole enough in a spaceship’s hull. (Think of some of the puzzles in the game Mission Critical, for example.)
All games require outside knowledge. So I think the focus here is perhaps best put on that esoteric aspect. But that still leaves things in the eye of the beholder. After all, what’s esoteric to me might be totally understood to someone else. So it probably really just comes to the notion of making sure that domain-specific knowledge is sufficiently clued.
The baseball puzzle described here is definitely agreed as just being a horrible puzzle. Even if you had the domain knowledge, there are bits (like the western home plate) that don’t necessarily fit that knowledge in a reasonable way. So in this case it seems like just removing the baseball part — i.e., the “Babe Flathead” clue — could have been reframed more around paying attention to the mirror themselves, perhaps with something found that would allow the player to deduce a starting point and a series of moves from that starting point.
What would that be? I have no idea but clearly this puzzle was designed around baseball, which I would agree is the violation of common sense here. This feels like a puzzle where someone absolutely wanted to incorporate baseball somehow and tried to figure out a means to do so.
December 9, 2021 at 4:47 pm
I played this game in the 80’s and I also got hung up on the baseball maze.
But to be fair, looking at this in retrospect, the glowing windows should provide adequate clues to solve the puzzle without having any knowledge of baseball. The successive levels of glow are the key. From the starting room, moving SE you get the dim glow. Next from that room, trying all directions eventually should allow you to discover moving NE gets you to the medium glow. Then from that room trying all directions should reveal the way (NW) to get to the bright glow room. Then from that room trying all directions will eventually lead to the solution (SW). Upon solving it that way it should then “ring a bell” to those picking up on the baseball clues that they just ran a diamond path around three “bases” back to “home”.
The diamond shape of the windows was an incredibly subtle hint as to the pathway to take, with no need to understand baseball for that hint.
The club (with “Babe Flathead” inscribed) is also a subtle clue to those who know baseball that the starting room is home plate, as one would drop the bat at home prior to running the bases.
Yet still this was not intuitively obvious to me at the time and after a few days of going back to try solving it again and again I just gave up on the game in frustration.
This maze, while cruel, is probably more fair to the player than the bank puzzle. Yet I must have just accidently solved the bank puzzle without deducing how it worked so at least I could continue the game from there.
December 10, 2021 at 1:05 pm
I feel like too much of the criticism on the baseball puzzle focuses on the notion that the puzzle requires an understanding of baseball which it is presumed Americans and no one else would have. In truth, the problem with the baseball puzzle is that it’s just a bad puzzle, and Americans are not specially privileged with this; someone who knows about baseball might have an advantage in making the deductive leap, “I should approach this like it were a baseball game,” but this does almost nothing to help with the more critical step of understanding what it even means to approach this puzzle “Like baseball”. As you say, the baseball aspect is far more likely to be understood even by a baseball fan in retrospect: as “Oh, I get it; the thing it had me do was kind of like running the bases. Sort of. I guess. A little”
September 19, 2021 at 12:59 pm
Yes, it’s all very pat and convenient, but combined with other innovations like the Wizard himself it gives Zork II a shred of plotting and motivation.
Yeah, but … it doesn’t, though, right? Motivation would mean we are doing something for a reason that we understand. In this case, we don’t discover the reason we did something until much later. So the only “motivation” was a meta one: gamers are supposed to pick up treasures in an adventure game. And this is no way at all contributes to “plotting.” Plotting is something that extends through the narrative. But, as just stated, here we only encounter the relevant narrative at the end. Up to that point, there was no thread of plot that tied our collection activities together.
I know you said “a shred” but I think even that’s giving it all too much credit. Related perhaps to this:
Count it as a step on Infocom’s road from text adventures to interactive fiction.
Maybe? I think it’s rather just a game mechanic. I think people like to look back at Infocom with some rose-colored glasses. I used to do this as well until I replayed a lot of the games later in life. I do agree that the demon at least retroactively provides you with an “explanation” of why in the game you bothered grabbing all these items. Prior to that, it was really just relying more on the expectations of the player to understand that grabbing treasures is just kind of what you do in adventure games. After all, it’s what you did in Zork 1.
Reading this as some leap from a pure game mechanic to the creation of plotted narratives that provided aligned motivations between player and player character is, to me, historically untenable.
What I think is much more defensible as a game mechanic providing an interesting story element is the fact that the demon gives you the primary weapon of your adversary! I also think that if this game truly were on some path to “interactive fiction”, the comment here would have been more front-and-center:
He seems more playfully insane than evil.
Exactly! Imagine if that was part of the narrative that was built up over the course of the game, where eventually the Wizard — pain though he may be; even potentially deadly — is still a figure to be pitied, much like Gollum perhaps. Now there would be plotting and motivation and narrative.
But we get none of that here and I would argue none of Infocom’s canon ever really presented an antagonist in any sort of interesting way.
Contrast that with later works such as Sofia Lamb in Bioshock 2 or Handsome Jack in Borderlands or GLaDOS in Portal or Arthas Menethil in Warcraft.
Yes, I realize those were all much later than Infocom’s games. But the point I’m more going for is that I can think of no villains in any text adventure I’ve ever played that were truly memorable. Yet I can think of plenty of such in books and in other game formats.
I truly believe that text adventures really never managed to capture people well. Thus there never was room for nuance around motivation and why people did what they did. Thus there was never much allowance for antagonists that could be sympathetic on the one hand but something you must defeat or overcome on the other. Any antagonist in a text adventure tends to be very one-dimensional and really just serving as yet another puzzle to “solve” rather than a character to potentially understand while you are figuring out how to thwart them.
February 3, 2022 at 11:49 pm
The first time I played the Wizard used the “Fluoresce” spell on me. Much later I realised that this made the game unwinnable. Shades of the Ningy in Acheton and saving one’s game state in the two pit room in Hezarin.
October 8, 2022 at 1:27 pm
Another late response. I just wanted to say that you don’t need the grue repellent in that last room when you have to extinguish the lantern. The light from the outline is enough to still keep grues away.
The grue repellent isn’t needed until Zork III, and in that game, you do actually return to room 8 to get the repellent.
October 8, 2022 at 1:38 pm
Oh, and another thing. It seems that you and other responders are annoyed by the balloon working with just a burning a newspaper.
I think you are all forgetting the fact that the balloon and other objects in the game world are magic (Frobozz MAGIC Balloon) company. The balloon doesn’t need to work like a real life hot air balloon would. Heck, in all the times I’ve played through Zork II over the years, I never thought of it as being as large as an actual hot air balloon is. I don’t even recall seeing words like enormous in the description of the pile.
I’ve always thought of the balloon to be maybe a little bit bigger than a pilates ball. And it was able to lift me because it was magic.