The G.U.E. Tour

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Chris
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The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Chris » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:43 am

I was going to post this under "Zork Files & Information," as it isn't really a collection of game hints or software-related advice; it would perhaps be unwelcome in the "Help" forum. But because I find that not just any ol' new member can post there, I'll stick it here in case it seems like it might be a reasonably enjoyable read for anyone, and include the disclaimer that if it must be moved (or, in the event that it's mind-buggeringly boring, deleted), I understand completely.

THE GREAT UNDERGROUND EMPIRE TOUR
Why It's Still Tough to Top Zork, from a World-Designing Standpoint
by Chris Federico

Part 1/4

Zork I, II and III are those titles that seem to have always been around, available for any computer and constantly spotted on any '80s store shelf (no matter how sparse), '90s "oldies" section, or current "best of" magazine feature. Sequels continue to be developed, but they're tainted by revisionism or graphics "enhancements" that defeat the whole purpose, at least in this writer's opinion.

If you look through someone's old disk collection, chances are he'll have one or more of the Zorks. And most telling of all, people still play the things. I sure do. And I find new things quite often, which might strike one as rather surprising, considering how old the trilogy is. But the piece you're currently reading is a result of those discoveries, the often unnoticed ways in which the three Zork worlds are slyly interconnected -- to each other and within themselves, map-wise and otherwise. Surprised at the lack of such texts on the Net and in classic game 'zines, I wanted to make a learned tour of the Zork world available, narrated by someone who fell in love with the place embedded in the games' prose like others fall in love with cities or vacation islands.

If you'd like a theme behind this essay: Even now, there's quite a lot that modern IF writers can learn from the original Zork trilogy, in terms of designing coherent, attention-holding worlds.

The atmosphere is always a bit eerie, even when the game's being funny. This is, after all, an environment full of the artifacts of a long-extinct civilization. The prose renders you very present in the buried-under-ash-like stillness of the world, making you feel a certain strange way, like a great novel can do. The air always tastes heavy and the story's descriptions preserve the consistent spooky feeling that everything's too quiet, that even within mundane things like a forest clearing, a clay brick or a slice of red-frosted cake lie twisted secrets or momentous events waiting to happen. It's as if you're viewing a pretty painting through a distorted window and you can't quite put your finger on the warped bit.

The actual layout of the locations and objects is realistic and clever. Take Zork I, for instance. You can understand how some long-dead traveler's air pump could've washed up across now-impassable waters, because you're standing stranded next to his inflatable raft. You can see how a matchbook could've been left carelessly in a lobby, still to be found after all these centuries as one of those forgotten trivial artifacts of daily life; and you feel genuinely lucky that it remains, because the matches come in handy in your present endeavors in this emptied land. And the implementors thought of everything: You can read the advertisement printed on the cover.

At one point in Zork II, you find yourself in a lava tube. Elsewhere in the game is a huge, hollowed-out volcano core, although it's unreachable from this particular offshoot. These relationships define good storytelling, and building a consistent world is a craft that few writers besides the Zork magicians seem to have mastered. Earthquakes and other natural occurrences (not to mention some unnatural ones, like a player-induced explosion) change the actual shapes of some locations, particularly if they were described as fragile-looking to begin with. This makes those places and sights feel that much more real and ominous, since they're actually capable of being harmed by familiar, real-world effects. They don't exist as fixed, set-in-stone text descriptions to merely support a series of puzzles that are separate entities.

Dave Lebling, Marc Blank and Joel Berez, students at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in the mid-'70s, invented Zork on the school's mainframe computer (the PDP-10) in their off-hours (Blank even wound up commuting from his new digs in New York to work on the game). All three games were originally written as one huge story. The influence from which these three pioneers took their cue was the primitive Adventure, the first-ever work of prose-based, computerized, interactive fiction, written by Will Crowther a few years earlier on a similar college mainframe computer (and subsequently enhanced by Don Woods). The game had become known as Advent, since those room-sized computers could only keep track of a maximum of six characters per file name.

The collective Zork was finished in 1979; but for the time being, it would only enjoy a base of underground fans (couldn't help the pun): fellow students who dialed-up the mainframe to play the game. But it soon accumulated a nationwide following this way, foreshadowing the online spread of Doom.

So the three wise storytellers dropped their majors and formed Infocom. Zork was broken down into three games -- an undertaking that involved adding extra locations, objects, characters and puzzles to each installment -- and changes were made so a player could embark on one of the adventures without knowing anything about the other two. After Zork I was released for retail consumption, ex-roomie Mike Dornbrook was employed for play-testing. He wound up answering calls and letters from people begging for help from all over the country; he eventually started the Infocom Hint Service, which turned into the Zork Users' Group. That in turn became the lucrative InvisiClues company, offering hint booklets that required those old appearing-ink markers.

Back to the tour: Zork I contains more natural scenery than the other two. The trilogy's consistent proportions hold fast in these places. There's a river complete with beaches, a waterfall at its far end, a forest far below (where the player starts, and from where he can glimpse the falls), a rainbow with curiously physics-defying properties and the only series of outdoor cliffs and ledges in the trilogy. The ledges in the second game are carved into the inside of a huge volcano jutting up from the dungeon floor; only a bare amount of sunlight sneaks in from far above. Zork III's cliffs, while also exposed to an unreachable spot of daylight, stand below the dungeon roof and serve to overlook an underground ocean. The outdoor locations in Zork I can be glimpsed from afar if the player dooms himself by riding a hot-air balloon up through Zork II's volcano core. This is an astonishingly consistent world.

Chris
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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Chris » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:45 am

Part 2/4

Since those natural locations, comprising the outdoor segments of the trilogy, only appear in the first game, the player's advancement feels progressively deeper into the earth. Zork I also features a view of the mountains roofing the sequels' locations (and one can easily imagine the volcano hiding in that range somewhere).

Compared to the first game's vast outdoor forest, Zork II's brief patch of foliage is underground, its vegetation illuminated by phosphorescent mosses instead of sunlight, and its lushness broken by a stream merely carved into the cave floor through a crack in the underground wall. Compare this to the first game's long, treacherous outdoor river. Zork II's trickling stream dries up to the west, its route broken by the extinct volcano. One gets the feeling that the first episode's river has sent this arm into the sequel's world.

Except for the impassable underground ocean, Zork III reduces natural water sources to residual swamps, quicksand and a small lake in a pitch-black hollow far below everything else, a tributary of which is briefly glimpsed elsewhere (where the traveler can stand on an underground aqueduct; this huge plumbing construct is one of the locations that partially collapses from a natural disaster, and the event exposes a doorway to a previously unreachable place).

Along with the great outdoors, Zork I's layout contains the most familiar types of locations, like a crypt complete with coffin, a proper maze and a sandy cave ripe for digging with a shovel found nearby. The treasures are also more commonplace than in the other two games: There's a chest of jewels hiding under the waves of the river where it dips briefly indoors and defies the player to stop it with a dam. There are also diamonds, gems and coins: archetypal adventure game treasures. By contrast, the other two stories mainly contain items that don't usually strike one as being valuable, like broken musical instruments, stamps and clothing. Zork III's different from the first two anyway, in a couple of general ways: Its treasures and score aren't simply accumulated as a means of achieving one final, grand task, but rather are accumulated on and about the traveler's person to complete a guise, the score harboring a maximum of 7 compared to the others' hundreds. The tally in the final game represents more of a clue as to which things are important than a marker of how close the adventure is to being completed. The other difference in Zork III is smaller: The first two games contain creatures and areas based on existing fiction, while the third installment's silence is broken only by one person in a few different disguises.

Grues abound in all three stories, anytime you find yourself in a dark place without a light source; but only in the third do they actually figure into the adventurer's necessary actions. Zork III also contains the only areas connected to the Royal centerpoint of long-gone dungeon rulers the Flatheads (who are alluded to throughout all three stories), as well as the only opportunities to briefly visit locations from the previous two games, even traveling through time to temporarily observe the Empire during its heyday.

The familiar mythological creatures in Zork I are a Cyclops, a vampire bat and Hades spirits; its other characters are a songbird, a troll and a bothersome thief. Remnants of past fiction include a bit of Atlantis and, not-so-fictitiously, an area reminiscent of Tutankhamen's Tomb. By way of mythology, Zork II features Cerebus the two-headed dog, a gnome, a unicorn, a serpent and a dragon; its visited literature is Alice in Wonderland. Other characters in the second game are a princess, a demon and the notorious Wizard of Frobozz, the equivalent to Zork I's thief; each of these antagonists requires a double-edged approach. While their pranks have to be avoided whenever possible, and precautions taken to save the game occasionally as insurance against the potential hindrances they pose in the form of the games' only random events (along with the first game's troll and Zork III's hooded man), these bad guys are, paradoxically, needed for the player's eventual victory. Finding out just when, where and why their dubious services are advantageous rather than troublesome is the crux of the challenge in dealing with them.

Keys abound in all three stories, but another example of the writers' collective ingenuity is that the nature and usage of the keys differ from game to game. Keys appear in all colors, shapes, sizes and materials, and one even changes shape frequently.

Trap doors, mirrors and other two-dimensional portals to other locations are found in the first two games, while the last story features the Scenic Vista, a multidestinational teleporter.

Whether they should be counted as characters or not, it's noteworthy that the second and third episodes contain a robot apiece. All three games feature puzzles that have to be solved to get special vehicles going; each such mechanized route leads to a spectacular death unless a special action's taken to keep the vehicle from going too far or drawing attention. Zork III combines the one-time event element (like the earthquake or Zork II's explosion) with the tales' flair for eerie encounters by bringing a lonely sailor briefly into the story; other not-quite-characters are a dead traveler, two dangerous statues and an array of monsters infesting the small lake in the dark Zork III hollow. This lake's the closest thing to a nod to other fiction in the third game; whereas the first two contain obvious bits of well-known lore, the wet cave resembles Gollum's hideaway in Tolkien's Misty Mountains (the obtainment of a ring is even required elsewhere in the game).

The first two feature mazes of greatly differing natures; the third has the Royal Puzzle, a maze that actually has to be altered to get through. Zork III also uses the first two's lost-in-a-labyrinth ethic by featuring a Land of Shadow in which all locations look alike, with only the barest qualities differentiating the sites from each other.

As mentioned before, each story's lower in the earth than the previous one; Zork I starts outside a house surrounded by mountains and a forest made up of disorienting, maze-like locations similar to those comprising the Land of Shadow. Never after the first installment does the adventurer leave the underground dungeon. What's fascinating is that in overlaying the maps from all three games, one finds that Zork I's Land of the Dead stands above the sequel's crypt; the Cyclops and Treasure Room lie above the Wizard's pet serpent, pet Cerebus and trophy room; and Zork II's huge volcano is revealed as a spire in one of the higher, unattainable cliffs overlooking Zork III's ocean.

If one were able to dig deeper in the first game's sandy cave, he'd fall into the dingy closet in Zork II, another room containing an important hidden object and a hazardous quality. Zork I's Frigid River flows over the surface that roofs the Pool Room, a tiny place in the second game that just happens to contain a leak in the ceiling, forming a salty pond in the room's low depression.

If one could take Zork II's well bucket down lower, he'd wind up at the entrance to the third game's Royal Puzzle, an anteroom requiring another downward venture.

Chris
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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Chris » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:46 am

Part 3/4

Ironically, Zork I's starting location, outdoors and west of the house, lies directly above the Strange Passage, a spot in the dungeon that many players will never come across (its discovery involves an alternate solution to getting past the Cyclops that's nearly impossible to discern without a walkthrough). The contrast between the dark dungeons below and this sunny forest is so effective because its opposing characteristics are so subtly employed: The things worked into the traveler's subconscious are the songbird, who has to be summoned, contrasting the bat, who must be repelled; the trees that are climbed up as opposed to the bucket shaft and balcony that are scaled down; the crossing of the rainbow by solidifying it set against the crossing of the reservoir by emptying it; the pile of leaves in the clearing opposing the pile of objects surrounding the dead adventurer; the blockage of trees and cliffs contrasting the spirits barring entry to Hades; and the relatively easily escapable maze of forest locations counterpointing the maze directly below it, which can easily get an adventurer lost without a clue. But in turn, the rewards below easily outweigh the fruits of the friendlier obstacles above; upon breaking into the house, the traveler finds a simple lunch and a bottle of water, but after breaking into the Treasure Room far below, he'll see not a bottle but a silver chalice.

There are a couple of treasures hidden inside other objects in the first game, and both deal with items connected to natural elements: Both the egg in the tree and the buoy in the river can be opened.

The rooms in all three episodes are laid out in clever accordance with one another. Certain rooms are lined up with similar places, and some locations contain residual effects from neighboring spots. These sister sites can't always be directly accessed from each other (which is what makes it so much fun to discover this stuff). For instance, Zork I's studio, with its paint splattered all over the walls, is directly latitudinal with the Engravings Cave and its indecipherable etchings. The Loud Room lies just south of and below the water-tossed reservoir; hence the disorienting roaring noise. The damp cave is damp because just a couple of locations away is the Frigid River. The temple and altar are right next to (but inaccessible from, by far) the Entrance to Hades and Land of the Dead. The coal chute leading down into the cellar from the Slide Room -- a one-way trip that skips the traveler over dozens of southward moves in one jump -- is aligned with, yet out of direct reach from, the one-way shaft leading up into the house's kitchen from the studio.

In Zork II, this kind of not-immediately-noticeable congruence is more rampant. Once the traveler figures out how to ascend through the huge, hollowed volcano, he notices -- but has no access to -- a viewing ledge situated a bit more than halfway up the naturally rounded interior. From a completely separate part of the game, far to the east, he can climb up a petrified lava tube and emerge onto that ledge.

Cleverly, a glacier separates the main part of the second game from this ex-furnace. The stream that was a mighty river in the prequel can be deduced as the vessel that brought the glacier here as a smaller chunk of ice in the distant past; the stream flows along the locations leading to the glacier. This ribbon of water represents striking consistency among its relevant locations: Shortly after embarking southward at the beginning of Zork II, the traveler walks over a foot bridge spanning the stream below. The game's descending tendency is described cunningly in that the player's later fording the stream (once he's navigated its winding route through the duly moss-lit Great Cavern). A couple more moves to the southwest leads him down the Path Near Stream, adequately surrounded by displays of harnessed vegetation and botany in a formal garden and creepy topiary. In an otherwise-accessed but aligned part of the map, the stream has smashed through the walls of a marble hall. North of that room, a deep ford's lined up with, but distantly separated from, the shallow ford that the player encountered at the game's outset. Again parallel to, but inaccessible from, the foot bridge at the beginning, a stone bridge spans the stream at this deeper spot.

Once the player figures out how to kill the dragon and melt the glacier (related achievements), the dragon's carcass is found to have floated along with the melted ice, as he's now lying in the middle of the stream.

On the far side of the extinct volcano, the consistency represented by the viewing ledge is continued. Cliff walls have been carved by the stream into a canyon or ravine (a cleft between two mountains). In this again utterly separate part of the game from the volcano, the hero can climb up this neighboring mountain's less steep exterior from the depths of the carved canyon, encountering a ledge that's latitudinally aligned with the inner-cone ledges of the volcano. This shelf, like the two accessible ledges in the volcano, leads into the cliff wall where an actual room is found.

The two magical places in this second adventure are right next to, but inaccessible from, each other. The Wizard's quarters, including his scary-looking workbench and his conjuring room, are located to the west of the crypt and the dazzling stairway landing at the end of the game. His set of rooms is guarded by a lizard head mounted on the front door, while the crypt area's guarded by a dog with two heads. Continuing on this theme, the crypt contains the mounted heads of the long-deceased Royal Family, and depictions of the King's (living) head abound in the game on various treasures.

On the opposite, northern extreme of the Zork II layout lies the dragon, guarding rooms of his own. His outer chamber's aglow; a crack is observed in the eastern wall. The traveler eventually learns that the dragon's cave is located up in the mountain that neighbors the volcano; up on the ledge that overlooks the cleft between the hills, a crack in the wall is noticed, a red glow piercing from it into the room. This chamber, high up on the mountainside, is right next to the dragon's cave if one looks at the map.

All three games contain locations whose atmospheres foreshadow neighboring places. Zork I's Smelly Room smells because it lies south of the Gas Room; the Drafty Room's drafty because its bucket shaft spans quite a distance upward to another location. The first game's unique in that the connected names of locations represent puzzles or preventions; for instance, the torch can't be carried into the Smelly Room or the Drafty Room, for different obvious reasons. The temple and altar area is accessed via a room with mystical engravings on the wall, and the Cold Passage is cold because of updrafts from the mine.

Zork II's Fresco Room features walls and decorations that are cracked and charred -- the Dragon Room lies just to the east. The Cool Room's directly east of the location containing the glacier. The Cobwebby Corridor's dust and webs have been recently disturbed; it leads eventually to the Wizard's chambers. In Zork III, the Foggy Room's just north of the Lake Shore, and the Damp Passage is discovered, much later, to be the bottom of a water slide leading down from the aqueduct. The Land of Shadow contains quicksand; nearby is discovered the underground ocean. Brilliantly, Zork III, and thus the entire trilogy, ends at the Dungeon Entrance proper (remember, the player broke into a sort of back door of the dungeon, hidden in the house in the forest).

Chris
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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Chris » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:46 am

Part 4/4

All three games contain one huge machine apiece, and although the adventurer's manipulation of each leads to the possession of a vital treasure, the machines' functions become more involved as the trilogy progresses. The contraption in the first game's Machine Room is exclusive only to that location in importance, and involves a couple of simple actions that are forgotten once the treasure's obtained and the room exited. There's no danger involved. Zork II's identically named room stops one location from spinning and starts up another; besides figuring out that this is what happens, the adventurer has to overcome two puzzles, first learning how to use the controls without being electrocuted and then discovering which button does the trick instead of making things worse. The final game's Technology Museum houses a time machine, requiring the solving of all sorts of problems. There's a whole separate series of puzzles involving the very reason the hero's working this thing in the first place -- and he even has to go to lengths to reverse its effects once it's worn-out its use. Using this last machine wrong almost always results in death.

All three stories contain one major group of objects apiece that have to be used in conjunction with each other to overcome their puzzles. Only in the first game are they found near each other, and these are the easiest to figure out: Religious items have to be collected and used in their correct order. In the second adventure, spheres that are similar to the Palantiri in Lord of the Rings are collected, but instead of being used together to obtain one treasure, they lead to the final reason that all of Zork II's neat things are being scavenged in the first place. The third game's interrelated group, the hero's wardrobe and required inventory, are actually the only "treasures" in that episode, although the reason they're being collected is so gradually, slowly apparent that it's much more difficult to figure out what to do once they're obtained than the nearly identical spheres.

Along with the nature-hewn scenes, the trilogy features many common societal places built and used by the Flatheads and extinct Empire denizens. Once the traveler descends out of the light in Zork I, he can find an art gallery, a coal mine, a lobby, a temple and a beach. Zork II harbors a bank, a library, a formal garden, a kennel and a weird kind of baseball game. The final installment has a prison, a huge treasury (your final target location), a magical scenic vista (common to Zork I's Aragain Falls in its tourist-trappy motif), a museum and the huge Royal Puzzle. A better job couldn't have been done at combining eerie, dungeonesque elements and natural locations with the spooky remnants of a long-dead society. The treasure-hunting feel shines in the combination.

In Zork III, the Flatheads' paranoia about security is especially noticed. Not only does the hero traveling back in time overhear the King discussing plans about keeping the Royal Jewels safe from thieves, but once it's discerned how to grab any before they're caged and bring them back to the present, re-reading the plaque in the Jewel Room indicates the Royal distress over the heist. Also, the entire Royal part of the map, comprised of the museum and the adventure-within-an-adventure of the Royal Puzzle, is guarded from the other bits of the game by an unopenable Great Door, and from the other direction a pitch-black cave full of grues that defies the introduction of light by its location near the small lake, over which the adventurer can't successfully bring any sources of luminosity. From another direction still, a river has to be crossed via an aqueduct. It's as if the Flatheads built their personal environment on a river-sculpted cliffside as an extra deterrent against intruders.

The third game also contains a parapet overlooking a bottomless pit of fire that nods back to Zork I's entrance to Hades and torch-fronted altar area, not to mention Zork II's dragon, volcano and crypt. The fire concept continues as torches light the final story's incredibly long hallway, and the Sacrificial Altar of Zork's sequel, Enchanter (not bad, but Spellbreaker's the best post-Zork game yet), can even be briefly visited.

Playing any part of the trilogy is quite an experience, especially if you're willing to look a little deeper beyond figuring out what the next puzzle is and how to overcome it. It remains a complete and harmonious environment throughout, a trick that couldn't have been easy to pull off while keeping the three episodes separate as tales. Zork remains less challenged by newer text adventures than its reputation often indicates; its legacy continues as more stories show up on the shelves (Zork: Nemesis has a fan base as manic and addicted as the very first trilogy did, if you'll notice the abundance of related websites). And it's no wonder -- very little other software has captured the imaginations of avid fiction readers who also like computers as the Zork series has, and none have held such a legendary status or maintained such longevity.

Even now, there's quite a lot that modern IF writers can learn from the original Zork trilogy, in terms of designing coherent, attention-holding worlds.


CF

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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by MacCentris » Thu Sep 16, 2010 4:43 pm

Awesome! I've played Zork 1, Zero, and Beyond Zork (I didn't pass them though). I had no idea Zork II took place in a volcano :D I need to get back to the text Zorks, the last place I was in Zork zero was the underground level with a combination door I could not open :-\

I read first two parts, unfortunately it is bed time for me :( Will continue tomorrow, so far I'm enjoying the interesting article! :)

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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Chris » Thu Sep 16, 2010 5:51 pm

Wow; thank you. I'm glad you find it enjoyable rather than ludicrously verbose. :) It's just fun to write about this stuff, y'know?

I've only ever played the first three original games, plus the Enchanter trilogy. Wait, one exception: I got about halfway through Zork Zero. I thought it was reasonably good, but the graphical puzzles kept yanking me out of the story; I admit that I lost interest unexpectedly quickly. Funny, I don't feel like a purist...

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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Siriusstar » Fri Sep 17, 2010 3:55 am

That was a great article! I shamefully never thought of layering the maps that way. (Shamefully because I've played the games countless times.) This is an excellent observation of an ingenious bit of worldbuilding and storytelling. There are many reasons why Zork has survived and those of us who were entranced by it have not forgotten it over the years. And while it seems that the Implementors themselves cared most about the puzzles, it is the world itself- thoughtful, intelligent, quirky, dangerous, unnerving, full of character and yet wide open to so many interpretations- that stand the test of time.

While I prefer the Enchanter trilogy, I have always loved Zork III. The Shadowland is eerie and atmospheric and the battle you have there is an exquisite bit of foretelling. It is one of the first moments when the hero(ine) can see that everything that has happened in this adventure is part of the test given by the first DM to ascertain the worthiness of the hero(ine) to take up his position. (I have always considered the thief to be the first DM in disguise.)

I am envious of those of you who haven't played all the games yet! I've finished almost every Infocom game and all the graphical Zorks. I wish I had one to finish for the first time again!

Zork Zero was my first Infocom game. The trickiest thing about it is its sheer size. There is a lot of ground to cover and it takes awhile to go through even when you've played it a dozen or more times. As for that door... sometimes combinations are not the only way to break into a safe.

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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Chris » Fri Sep 17, 2010 5:53 am

Thank you; I'm really glad that you enjoyed reading it. That's a great observation about the third game's Land of Shadow -- I'm certain you're right about that being the first strong hint to the new player that someone's "testing" the main character for some final trial.

I haven't played Beyond, Nemesis, Return or Legends. What are your opinions of these, if you don't mind my asking? They certainly seem to cater to an utterly different sort of player than just the raw text adventures do.

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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by MacCentris » Fri Sep 17, 2010 1:46 pm

I think I can recognise many things you mentioned from some of the graphical zork games. Traveling through time, for example, was something that was seen first in the graphical game Zork Nemesis, clicking on certain objects on screen will play a scene of the past. Unraveling many clues, that you needed to solve the game later on (you could not interact with the past). In Zork Grand Inquisitor however, you didn't just travel through time, you needed to change certain things in the past (and get certain objects) through time portals; only then you were capable of continuing the game.

The part where you mention the individuals who played pranks on you, the Jester comes to mind from Zork Zero, he could kill you if you didn't do something quickly. I'm not sure if I remember any other characters, since in Zork 1, I became stuck somewhere after I killed a troll (or cyclops) and I think there was a big pit. I tried everything imaginable for about an hour or two, and thus didn't have hints or a walkthrough nearby. At some point I gave up (this must have been sometime around 1995 or so). I played Zork III very briefly, and same with Beyond Zork.

The train, or train carts you mentioned I'm familiar very well with all three graphical Zorks. Return to Zork in the Dwarven Mines, Zork Nemesis in the Temple's Dungeon, and of course the goofy traveling sequence of the GUE railroad from Inquisitor. Only Nemesis one could actually KILL you if you made a bad choice "burn baby, burn, burn!" :)

The pile of leaves! Who can forget the Pile of Leaves, well I must admit the last time I played Zork 1, a few months ago I stumbled upon them and didn't know what to do! Every attempt of anything logical, resulted in a display of goofy phrases as to how bizarre my options were. Well, in Return to Zork you must throw something into the pile of leaves, which springs up into a trap. Funny how most walkthroughs advice against throwing your sword into it. I found throwing your sword into it doesn't make the game impassable, as long as you have the Witch's stick. And vice-verse - you use the stick to spring up the trap, use the sword to retrieve the object.

Something similar, if you cut the Bonding Plant, you wont make the game impassable at all. You shouldn't need to use the bonding plant, until after you return to The Lighthouse (later in the game) anyway. All you need to do is eat it, and explore a bit - then the bonding plant with have re-grown by the Mountain Pass.

Another thing that sounds rather curious is the fact that several locations are adjacent to one another in the trilogy, yet inaccessible to one another. In the maps of the graphical Zorks, it was rare to be in a cavity in a dungeon, where there was such setting. I remember something like that in Zork Zero, a door you couldn't open, but yet you had to go around the ruins to the other side. I know something is escaping my mind. There was a place in one of the graphical Zorks in which there was a door or something similar that you had to access through another route. But which? Perhaps Nemesis... the Creeping Bogs in Return to Zork eventually met the Whispering Woods (so that wouldn't be a good example of this).

The line about "learning to use the control without being electrocuted" reminds me, Nemesis had a puzzle in the asylum that was somewhat illogical. A dead hand to crack a combination to an electrified lock that would lead the player into... the 21st floor was it? Being a mother myself, it was disturbing to see the skeleton of a baby hanging in one of the glass displays, at the tip of a sharp object. Certainly not Alexandria, but one of the unfortunate babies born (or aborted) in the asylum. Just don't play Nemesis while you're alone at night and you will be all right!

All in all, the "Deja-Vu" feeling is not limited to the trilogy. As you can see, the graphical games had a lot of "Deja-Vu" moments. It didn't spoil the game one bit. If someone can remember the Lighthouse Keeper, warning the player not to even think about trying "Swordfish" for a password, you will see that it just doesn't end there; it's basically welcoming to see something familiar to remind us about how the artists remain loyal and educated about Zork. What point would a game have, if you see no relation with the overall canon history of Zork? So basically, I can't say there has been any "bad" Zork games yet.

And this one "defies the introduction of light" and "the adventurer can't successfully bring any sources of luminosity" sounds petrifying! Eeek! D:

One of the reasons in which I associated the Zork games with the Exile Trilogy from Spider Web Software (from Jeff Vogel), was the fact that they had lots of similarities. And I waited and waited for years for Activision to re-release the Zork trilogy in a game similar to the way the Exile games were (that would have been a sellout). The Exile trilogy has their own story, and includes a race of creatures (Vahnatai) that were similar to aliens, all living underground and it took place in caves, and underground passages lighted up by fungus; these creatures hated humans, until the hero (the player) let them know we all-humans, were not evil.

If there's anyone who just can't seem to identify with Activision's new game "Legends of Zork", I invite them to give the Exile Trilogy a try (link at bottom). I bought the CD about 12 years ago when the Zorks seemed to have died down and there was no hope that Activision would bring them back. I do not regret playing Exile, I actually enjoyed the trilogy very much. I like Legends of Zork quite a bit, but it's definitely not the ultimate game experience. It has too many repetitive moments, although they are improving a lot of things in it.

Link:
Spidweb is a family based company from Seattle Washington: http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com/
The Exiles are here: http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com/productsOld.html

Thanks for reading,
Liliana

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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Chris » Fri Sep 17, 2010 3:42 pm

Thanks for the observations! How interesting. You make me curious to try some of those games.

Thanks also for the links. I'm looking forward to checking this stuff out...I've never even heard of the Exiles games!

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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Siriusstar » Sat Sep 18, 2010 1:57 am

Chris wrote:Thank you; I'm really glad that you enjoyed reading it. That's a great observation about the third game's Land of Shadow -- I'm certain you're right about that being the first strong hint to the new player that someone's "testing" the main character for some final trial.

I haven't played Beyond, Nemesis, Return or Legends. What are your opinions of these, if you don't mind my asking? They certainly seem to cater to an utterly different sort of player than just the raw text adventures do.
Beyond Zork was the second Infocom game I played. I have always been very fond of it and, really, it isn't so much different than the other textual Zorks. Starting out with balanced stats with an accent on endurance and intelligence served my character well. There are still plenty of puzzles and treasures and an interesting story, especially when taken as an alternate view of the events in Spellbreaker. (Which it is.) I LOVE the little moral lesson at the end. Some don't like the RP elements but they never bothered me. It still fits the world perfectly in tone, character and spirit.

It has been a long, long time since I played Return to Zork. No matter what installation walkthrough I've tried I can't get it to work on any of my recent computers. What I remember is that I found the tone and characters a little... off... for lack of a better word. It IS set very far in the future, though, and that give the differences some logic. It has an especially good soundtrack and some nice challenges. I, oddly, especially enjoyed its mazes. That is what I remember best!

While Nemesis is a very good game and one of the best post-Myst graphical adventures, it doesn't really feel like Zork. The Zork-y things don't fit very well and seem a little forced. Like they wanted to do this fantasy/mystery/romance game but thought it would sell better with the Zork name attatched. As a graphical adventure it is well worth playing, and there are some great Zorkish moments. It just isn't truly 'Zork' in my opinion. It is Zork: Grand Inquisitor that is the closest to the true Zork spirit and tone. Yet, in a way, it also ties in Return and Nemesis. It ‘bridges the gap’ so to speak between the graphical games and the text games. About the only major disappointment in Z:GI is FCD #3… It isn’t NEARLY impressive enough and it is outside! It does have the best sidekick since Floyd, though. Dalboz is great.

I have not played Legends of Zork yet. I’m just not much of a multiplayer games person. I do plan to try it out someday, though. I know I will regret it if I don’t.

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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Siriusstar » Sat Sep 18, 2010 2:19 am

MacCentris wrote: One of the reasons in which I associated the Zork games with the Exile Trilogy from Spider Web Software (from Jeff Vogel), was the fact that they had lots of similarities. And I waited and waited for years for Activision to re-release the Zork trilogy in a game similar to the way the Exile games were (that would have been a sellout). The Exile trilogy has their own story, and includes a race of creatures (Vahnatai) that were similar to aliens, all living underground and it took place in caves, and underground passages lighted up by fungus; these creatures hated humans, until the hero (the player) let them know we all-humans, were not evil.

If there's anyone who just can't seem to identify with Activision's new game "Legends of Zork", I invite them to give the Exile Trilogy a try (link at bottom). I bought the CD about 12 years ago when the Zorks seemed to have died down and there was no hope that Activision would bring them back. I do not regret playing Exile, I actually enjoyed the trilogy very much. I like Legends of Zork quite a bit, but it's definitely not the ultimate game experience. It has too many repetitive moments, although they are improving a lot of things in it.

Link:
Spidweb is a family based company from Seattle Washington: http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com/
The Exiles are here: http://www.spiderwebsoftware.com/productsOld.html

Thanks for reading,
Liliana
Those look very interesting! It is surprising that they haven’t come up before when I went looking for new things to play. I will check them out.

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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by MacCentris » Sat Sep 18, 2010 8:22 am

Siriusstar wrote:While Nemesis is a very good game and one of the best post-Myst graphical adventures, it doesn't really feel like Zork. The Zork-y things don't fit very well and seem a little forced. Like they wanted to do this fantasy/mystery/romance game but thought it would sell better with the Zork name attatched. As a graphical adventure it is well worth playing, and there are some great Zorkish moments. It just isn't truly 'Zork' in my opinion.
Perfectly understandable, I know I felt like that, but the faithfulness for Zork told me to give it a chance. I remained with that thought for many years until one day I realized, by studying the depths of the history of Zork; that Zork is not a history about a town, a city, a country or even a continent. Zork is a history about an entire world, as you look at the map the place is actually huge. Well it occurred to me that a world has many things: languages, cultures, races, etc. If you look at it from that perspective and also add the fact that all games were at least 100-400 years apart (in the history) then you will begin to understand why people and the environment were so different, for each Zork game. Nemesis locations had many connections with the Zork history, although it appeared to be completely different. I should mention Nemesis is not my favorite, I'd have to say RTZ and Inquisitor are preferred by me. However, after seeing FCD #7 in Nemesis, the view of FDC #3 (as you mentioned was also illogical where FCD #3 is the biggest and oldest - it just didn't make sense).
Siriusstar wrote:I have not played Legends of Zork yet. I’m just not much of a multiplayer games person. I do plan to try it out someday, though. I know I will regret it if I don’t.
I like it, you don't quite notice you're in a multiplayer game until people battle your character. But since the battles are not live (they either beat you or not depending on your attributes), I sometimes just ignore them, I let them have their fun while I keep adventuring. You get an in-game message "you character has been beaten in battle by blah, blah" not much to worry about. Lately, I've been focusing in upgrading my characters at my own pace, so if all else fails, at least they will be of a high level enough not to be attacked as often. Characters above level 60 are rare, I wont rest until mine are at least level 50 :)
Siriusstar wrote:Those look very interesting! It is surprising that they haven’t come up before when I went looking for new things to play. I will check them out.
They are a small company, and the games were a big thing mostly in computer user groups. Jeff Vogel was a Mac nerd, and his wife Mariann Krizsan was a PC nerd. They have been releasing games in both platforms since 1995. I also tried Geneforge and Avernum, and I thought they were too advanced for me, but the Exile had that underground theme that I was so familiar with. The "Exile" people were rejects (due to rebellion toward the Empire government), so the Empire army dug a hole on the ground and tossed about 5,000 of them in there. They somehow adapted and were looking for ways to get back to the surface, the tunnels were already there and they just accepted that as their new home. Later they found the tunnels were not abandoned, they were built by a race of highly magical intelligent creatures. It's a big game, you can easily spend a good six months (2-3 hours a day) on it, and there is no ending to it (you can complete the missions, which renders your objective as "successful") but you will likely find more underground towns, more craters and people even after your objective is met. You can only meet one of the dragons when you have "passed" the game (so to speak). You can read many reviews in the web, if you'd like, they are the only thing that I'd consider as well done as the Zork history.


I'm going to start playing Zork 1 soon, I have to make it past the point of the big pit, that was so long ago but I have to, I owe it to myself! :)

Liliana

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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Chris » Sat Sep 18, 2010 2:45 pm

It seems that the folks here wouldn't have a problem giving you extremely subtle hints if you get stuck, which would be more fun for you (accomplishment-wise, certainly) than the direct answers found in walkthroughs, etc.!

Thanks for the words about the other games, S.S.! You make Beyond Zork sound intriguing. I should have a go at that one. Maybe I can find a working version that can be played in WinFrotz.

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Re: The G.U.E. Tour

Post by Siriusstar » Mon Sep 20, 2010 1:29 am

MacCentris wrote:Zork is a history about an entire world, as you look at the map the place is actually huge. Well it occurred to me that a world has many things: languages, cultures, races, etc. If you look at it from that perspective and also add the fact that all games were at least 100-400 years apart (in the history) then you will begin to understand why people and the environment were so different, for each Zork game. Nemesis locations had many connections with the Zork history, although it appeared to be completely different. I should mention Nemesis is not my favorite, I'd have to say RTZ and Inquisitor are preferred by me. However, after seeing FCD #7 in Nemesis, the view of FDC #3 (as you mentioned was also illogical where FCD #3 is the biggest and oldest - it just didn't make sense).
You have an excellent point there. It is a big world with many cultures and that is how I reconciled it in the end. (I ignored the stuff in the Nemesis backstory about the Enchanter’s Guild because that really made no sense at all.) Had they put Nemesis at a different time I would have accepted its differences much more easily. RTZ works better because a lot can change in 600-700 years or so. Nemesis takes place in 949, alongside the Zork and Enchanter trilogies. That is what made for the awkward fit with the world.

I always had the impression of pointless immensity with FCD #3 in Zork I. That itty bitty thing in Z:GI had to be some sort of poor replica.
MacCentris wrote:I like it, you don't quite notice you're in a multiplayer game until people battle your character. But since the battles are not live (they either beat you or not depending on your attributes), I sometimes just ignore them, I let them have their fun while I keep adventuring. You get an in-game message "you character has been beaten in battle by blah, blah" not much to worry about. Lately, I've been focusing in upgrading my characters at my own pace, so if all else fails, at least they will be of a high level enough not to be attacked as often. Characters above level 60 are rare, I wont rest until mine are at least level 50 :)
Hm. I didn’t realize that was how it worked. I may have to give it a shot sometime soon. I would like to at least see what it is like.
Chris wrote:It seems that the folks here wouldn't have a problem giving you extremely subtle hints if you get stuck, which would be more fun for you (accomplishment-wise, certainly) than the direct answers found in walkthroughs, etc.!

Thanks for the words about the other games, S.S.! You make Beyond Zork sound intriguing. I should have a go at that one. Maybe I can find a working version that can be played in WinFrotz.
I’m always happy to help with hints of any ilk anytime. 8)

Playing Beyond Zork can be a problem, unfortunately. My versions will not play on my desktop at all because it won’t do ‘full screen mode.’ I have a netbook and a laptop around when I want to play it. I know there used to be a site where you could play all the games in every version, but I can’t find it now. It may have been removed. ??? If I can find it, I’ll let you know if I find it. I’m pretty sure even Beyond Zork was playable there.

Joline

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