Zork: A Love Story

You are sitting in front of your computer. It is on.
There is a blog post here.
There is a link to a Gamasutra article here.

>read post
You do not see that here.
>read blog

A retrospective on Zork brought back many fun memories — all without the benefit of graphics. It’s interesting to think about what we’ve inherited from those earlier games. It was one of the first games to include a villain who was actually a character, rather than an “anthropomorphic obstacle.” The thief worked against the player and at one point, you could exploit him to solve a puzzle. Even today there seems to be a tendency to put in obstacles without real character or story behind them. To some extent, this is due to game design time constraints, but not always.

The initial Zork games were also praised for their writing and humor. Nowadays, you’d have to wonder if most would be willing to slosh through so much text. Text MUDs still exist, of course. However, the biggest inheritor of Zork’s text love has to be the Bioware games. It just goes to show that not all gamers are graphics-only players. We have Zork to thank for that.

What other games or gameplay do you think Zork has influenced?

>go back to work
You do not see that here.

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Published in: on July 2, 2007 at 11:43 pm  Comments (4)  

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  1. Sorry, late (you’ll notice I always am).

    Strange, as far as Zork is concerned, I did an (I hope) interesting writing exercice a couple of days ago.
    I was trying to find, for all the brilliant people at the Making Light blog, a story which might benefit in a quirky way from being rewriten in LOLcatz, MUD style, or 1337.
    It hit me that (according to my definition anyway), since games are above all a volitive medium, it might be interesting to couple game-writing with a story which would completely negates the player’s will.

    Which gave Roald Dahl’s The Swan>/i>, in MUD form:


    You are standing beside a group of bushes and trees, near a railway line.
    There is a bird in a tree nearby.

    You are carrying:
    a pair of binoculars.

    It’s a male green woodpecker.
    He’s tapping the trunk of an old dead tree, searching for grubs.
    You hear someone shouting “hands up” next to you.

    You’re still using the binoculars.


    Ernie and Raymond are standing next to you. Ernie is holding a .22-caliber rifle. Raymond has a string with fourteen tiny dangling dead birds slung over his shoulder.

    “We’re givin’ the orders round ‘ere!” barks Ernie.
    “I’ll count to five, and if they’re not up by then, you get it in the guts”.

    You raise your arms slowly above your head.
    Raymond snatches the binoculars.

    They’d catch you in seconds.

    Ernie grabs you and throws you to the ground.
    They tie your wrists together tight.

    You receive a punch in the stomach.
    You’re now trussed up like a chicken.
    They drag you to the railway tracks and lay you down right between two rails.

    The only parts of your body you can move are your head and feet.

    Ernie and Raymond sit on the grass behind some bushes.

    They both lit up a cigarette.

    The end of your nose is sticking up about four inches above the rails. Not very much clearance these modern diesels have above the ground.

    You gradually make a small hole in the gravel. Two inches gained.

    They now lay almost flat.

    You wonder if the noise of the train will be deafening, or if there’ll be a vacuum suking you upward.

    You’re still stiff and tense.

    It’s blue. A single huge cumulus cloud is drifting slowly from left to right.

    You find a one-eyed man with a beard.
    You can hear the train coming.

    Your eyes are closed.

    There is an explosion.
    A gun has gone off in your head.
    You’re being eaten alive and swallowed up in the belly of a screaming murderous monster.
    The train has gone.

    The sky is blue. The cloud is still drifting.
    Raymond cut the string around your ankles.
    “Get up” says Ernie.

    >GET UP
    You get to your feet.

    >LET ME GO
    You remember when Ernie once broke little Wally Simpson’s arm after school. You think you’d better remain silent.
    “Walk toward the lake”.

    You’re in front of the lake.

    The lake is beautiful, long and fairly narrow with tall willow trees growing along its banks. There’s a mallard drake with a curvy spoon-shaped yellow beak and a head of emerald green with a white ring around its neck. Ernie raises his gun.

    Ernie shots.
    The duck crumple in the water.
    “Go get ‘im!”

    Ernie hits you across the face hard with his open hand. A small trickle of blood begins running out of your nostrils.
    “You refuse me one more time and I’m goin’ to knock out every single one of them shiny white front teeth of yours. You unnerstand that?”
    “Go get ‘im!”

    He fell into the muddy water.

    You go go into the muddy water.
    The duck fell the other side of reeds.

    You go through the reeds.

    You picked up the duck.

    You came back.
    Raymond takes the duck from you.
    “Lookit in there!”

    There is a magnificent white swan sitting serenely on her nest like a great white lady of the lake. Her head is turned toward you, alert and watchful.
    Ernie raises his gun.

    Ernie start pulling the trigger.

    The gun goes off.
    The bullet hits the swan right in the middle of her elegant head.
    The long white neck collapses onto the side of the nest.
    “Go get ‘im!”

    “For the last time, go get ‘im!”

    Tears are running down your face.

    You slowly go into the water.

    You pick it up tenderly with both hands.
    “Any eggs?”

    Underneath the swan were two tiny cygnets.

    >SAY NO
    Ernie and Raymond seems to believe you.

    You come back.

    You place it on the ground.

    You stand there, as tall as you can, splendid in your fury, facing the two boys.

    You tell them they’re a couple of ignorant idiots that ought to be dead for that stupid, pointless, filthy act of vandalism.
    Ernie says he’s a magic man that can make the dead swan come alive and go flying all over the sky again.

    Raymond grabs and slaps you.
    Ernie cuts the swan’s wings and give them to you.

    Ernie threatens you with his knife.
    “Put them on”

    You need a string to do that !

    Raymond gives you some of his.

    You securely attach the wings along the entire length of your arms. They dangle at your side, grotesque and bloodied.

    You can’t just end the game like that !

    >ASK END
    “Swans don’t talk”
    “Climb up to the top of this tree”

    The tree is fairly easy to climb.
    “Keep goin’!”

    You arrive at a point where it is impossible to go higher.
    You are now standing on a branch about as thick as a person’s wrist.
    It reaches far out over the lake.
    The leaves give you no cover at all.
    “Keep goin’ and fly!”

    You hear the crack of the rifle and the zip of the bullet as it whistles past your head.

    You hear the crack. The bullet hits you in the thigh.
    You’re falling.

    The branch breaks.

    There is a light of such brilliance and beauty shining over the waters of the lake that you are unable to look away.

    The light beckons you, drawing you on.


    ***The game has ended***


    Don’t now about you, but I do think the impact from the (already powerful) story is changed in an interesting way. Which I do think comes from the failed expectations you have from, upon reading, picturing it a game log.

    Hope you won’t find that a complete loss of time.

    Also hoping to come back tomorrow about why I think there aren’t that much new games you could really link to MUDs (unless I prove myself wrong in the meantime ^_^”).

  2. I thought your take on the Dahl story was interesting.

    Have you ever looked at hypertext stories? They are difficult to write and are not exactly game writing, but require the same type of non-linear thinking.

    As for MUD’s, modern MMORPG’s are linked to them 🙂

  3. Argh, Sorry for italic hell !

    And thanks for the enccouragement. 🙂

    I’ve kept a side interest in hypertext ever since I read Twisty Little Passages, but I must admit I still don’t know what to do with it on a theorical level.
    To me it’s a form of interactivity that isn’t a game per see, which goes in the same direction I do, and I find that all too convenient.
    I feel like I must have missed something.

    My thing with MUDs is that they’re one of the few (if not the only) video-game type in which you have no other object on which to play than the narrative elements in themselves. They’re basicaly a puzzle game in which you play by proxy agaisnt the game maker, trying to find how s/he assembled the whole thing.

    MMORPGs may be historically linked to MUDs, but in them the game lies elsewhere.

  4. Some people, most notably Raph Koster, state that MMORPGs aren’t games per se, but game worlds.

    In terms of narrative, hypertext novels are an interesting exercise. You can’t control where the reader will click off to, so your entries become a bit encyclopedic. Or you can take the tactic of making them mini-vignettes in themselves.

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