Tuesday, November 5, 2013

"Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz", Apple II, 1981.

These recent ads have been of a Zork 3-shilling vintage (shilling as in "offering for sale", not as in "a kind of coin" -- that would have been "a Zork 3-zorkmid vintage" -- but were zorkmids ever minted in 3-zorkmid denomination?), but we can peel back the onionskins of time a bit further and yield an ad for Zork 2 which I took from the fine fellows over at Retro Gaming Australia.
Just when you thought it was safe to go back underground again.

ZORK
II

Your greatest challenge lies ahead -— and downwards. Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz, will be unlike any computer age adventure you've ever encountered. The underground world of Zork is designed to be lived and experienced in the most realistic sense. It features the largest vocabulary, the widest range of command options, the special capability to let you speak in complete sentences rather than two-word commands, and the most intriguing plot in the genre. And because Zork's mysteries are of the most challenging nature, it will take all your intellectual abilities to survive and emerge victorious from the Great Underground Empire.

Zork II is the extraordinary successor to Zork I, which hit #4 on the SOFTALK Top 30 in its first month on the market. Both run on 32K Apple II's with a 16-sector disk drive. And both are available now for Christmas.

The door to Zork beckons you. Look for it at your local computer store today.

Basically Infocom does for ads what they do for games: power-load them with dense, intelligent text. Sometimes it sounds like copywriters are digging deep into empty pockets looking for something positive to say about the game they're selling (eg. "features password save!" or "incredible arcade-adventure strategy!") while these are written more like a tight essay: here's what it is, here's what makes it special, here's our track record and since we already know you want it, here's some compatibility information. It's very confident and confidence is persuasive.

I'm sure that Zork II is actually very much like Zork I, the two being hewn from the same cloth, the original mainframe Zork game that included portions of all three games (and a bit of Enchanter, to boot!) The claim for the world's design to be experienced in the most realistic sense is understatement compared to their later Enchanter games (I believe Planetfall had it, too) which would implement hunger, thirst and sleep daemons just to weigh things down with a little unwanted strategy element. Turns out that realism doesn't always make for a better game (following a recent discussion at the intfiction.org forums about how the "mimesis" ideal has risen and fallen since the late '90s), gaming being what we do sometimes to escape reality. But it will stretch it out same as any maze, carry limit or Tower of Hanoi puzzle and give players the appearance of more gameplay hours for their dollar, even if it is spent negotiating design filler.

The parser is indeed formidable, Infocom's the greatest the industry ever came up with until amateur fans improved on it while reverse-engineering it some 15 years later. Like bubble memory or the ARM architecture, following impressive early leads, it's a field where very little research was conducted for quite some time after the initial forays. The Zorks aren't all that heavy on the plot (plunder dungeon, fill trophy case), at least not until Zork 3, but when you consider the Scott Adams material they were up against in "the genre", it's not hard to end up smelling like roses.

Edit: the blurb starts off with "ahead -- and downwards" -- how much z-axis travel is there in the Zork games, anyhow? Is it really underground in the sense of going down or just in the sense of preventing you from going up? Also I always dug the Zork logo, but given the state of the white house in the open field, wouldn't (SPOILER WARNING) an open window in the O make more sense?