Zork: The Great Underground Empire

The other day I drove past the house at the end of the street and noticed that it had been painted white. This reminded me of Zork, probably be of the most famous text adventures in history.

The premise of Zork was a relatively straightforward one: you started off standing outside a white house with no real idea of what you should be doing other than looking for treasure and not dying (laudable aims in real life, too). Soon enough, after breaking into the seemingly abandoned property, you find an entrance to an underground world: the great empire of the game’s subtitle. From this point onwards, the game begins in earnest and you’re off exploring the wondrous – not to mention exceedingly dangerous – world of Zork.

Text adventures obviously succeeded or failed based on the strength of the writing, as well as the perceived intelligence of the parser that interpreted your commands; Zork was excellent in both respects. The world the game presented was intriguingly unique, and the narrative style was a wonderful mix of dark humour and seriousness.

There were plenty of other Zork games that came later (without bothering to look them up I think there were at least two text adventure sequels and then a couple of FMV and Myst-esque titles that came out many years later), but the original is the only one I’ve ever played.

Now, if you’ll forgive me, I’m about to go off and be eaten by a grue.

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