Classic text game Zork

I’m trying to play this game but I’m hamstrung by the fact that frequently the game doesn’t give you the NAME of things so there’s no way to apply commands to them. I just got killed by a NPC that the game didn’t identify. What to do?

Save often?

Usually you would just say something like “hit thief with knife” or “kill troll with sword”. I don’t remember very many NPCs in Zork… the thief, the troll, the cyclops, were there any others?

Ah I just remembered, the thief is described as a “shady looking character” or something like that.

It was the lead article on Wikipedia 3 days ago.

My first computer game, 1980 on a FIT mainframe (that or Empire).

Yeah, it was REALLY helpful. :unamused:

Also, maybe it’s my bad attitude towards failure and trying again, but if I’ve just been ignominiously* curb-stomped, starting over with all my equipment gone feels like failing a long jump and getting to try again with ten pounds of extra weight strapped on. :angry:

*humiliatingly; shamefully; laughably; etc. I’m really a poor loser.

Those games aren’t like modern games. You can die, a lot.

Remember…don’t wander in the dark. You can get eaten by a Grue. :slight_smile:

Yes, in fact my memory of the game was that if you tried to fight the thief, you were most likely going to lose. I also seem to remember that when you died, you could continue playing, but you were like a ghost and couldn’t interact with anything. So yeah, Save or Save As a lot.

I never did get anywhere near finishing the text-based Zork games, but the two point-and-click FMV Myst-style games they made in the '90s, Grand Inquisitor and Nemesis, are pretty much my favorite examples of that style of game. The latter is a pretty macabre story about a group of alchemists trying to discover the Quintessence and the demonic force trying to stop them… while the former is a comedic romp starring Michael McKean, Dirk Benedict, and Erick Avari.

They’re both worth playing if you can find them and have the time.

I loved Beyond Zork. They added statistics and made it into an RPG of sorts, where you roll stats and can increase them during play. Your stats determine success at getting past the various challenges in the game (puzzles and combat).

Brian Moriarty, who wrote the game, was an acquaintance of mine. (I won’t go so far as to call him a “friend” but we knew each other online through a web-based and text-based RPG and chatted noe and then.) Neat guy with lots of stories. He knew Douglas Adams (because they both did work for Infocom) and had some good stories about him. Once at a party, Adams filled a hot tub full of bubble bath soap which caused a huge flood of bubbles, and people were slipping all over the place. (That’s the only story I can still remember.)

This Zork talk brings back a lot of memories of my old text adventure days.

I wonder if somebody washed an elephant.


In the classic text adventure games, the expectation was very different from modern games. In most of them, you could get almost all the way to the end, and then discover that you screwed up something right at the beginning, and had to go back to the start and do everything over again. For instance, the flashlight has a limited battery, and after a set number of turns of being on, will die. If you’re as absolutely efficient as possible at getting a perfect score, you’ll have two turns of slack on it. Waste more than two turns with the flashlight on, and you absolutely cannot get the perfect score, and if you try, you’ll get eaten by a grue.

So you need to go through once, with the flashlight, and try things until you figure out what works, and maybe in the process of trying all those things, the battery dies on you, so you need to go through again, cutting out the things that you found don’t work, and maybe this time it takes longer before it dies, and then you figure out a way that you can save a whole lot of battery time, yay, and you can explore to your heart’s content… until that turns out not to work any more, and suddenly you need the flashlight again, and if you’ve gotten to this point, there won’t be much time left on the battery by now, so you have to go through the whole trial and error process again.

And that was just the way those games were.

That freaking grue.

LOL, I bet it looked like that! :laughing:

It must show my lack of “this time for sure!” thinking that I always died in the fighting and figured I just didn’t have some wonderful weapon yet and gave up. Besides somehow not being able to make sense of the maze.

When I read decades later that you could kill the bad things when necessary if you restored enough times to get lucky, I was pissed off.

I wonder sometimes whether those would all be easy to me as an adult who’s a more systematic thinker now, but then I don’t seem to feel that push to play a video game in practice anymore. Or maybe I should say easier as an adult no longer hamstrung by the world’s slowest disk drive.

Wrong game. The flashlight figured into “Adventure”/“Colossal Cave”/“Collossal Cave Adventure”, which was a mainframe text adventure with a very simple parser that was the inspiration for the Zork mainframe game which used a more advanced parser. (And the mainframe game would be split into a trilogy of personal computer games with additional content added.)

In Zork, you use a “Lamp (Battery Operated)”.

The reason the “Battery Operated” parenthetical is important is two-fold for the first Zork game:

  1. It has a limited life. (And a far more forgiving lifespan than in Colossal Cave. Also, you don’t need a light source when outdoors in Zork. Also, there are other light sources available [e.g. the Ivory Torch–more on that in a bit] which can be used to save use of the lamp. However, unlike the flashlight, there is no replacement battery available. Not that the replacement battery was all that useful in Colossal Cave because while it allowed you to explore further, it cost you a treasure to buy and any treasure loss meant you could never reach the endgame in Colossal Cave.)

  2. There is a section in the game where if you carry in a lit source of flame you ignite sulfuric gas and die. So you absolutely must have the lamp for that.

The ivory torch which has an unlimited life span has one major drawback (aside from the flame thing). It’s one of the treasures of Zork. Which means the thief will likely steal it from your inventory. Although, for some reason, he doesn’t always take it, unlike every other treasure in the game when he enters the room you’re in.

Now for killing the thief, in the beginning of the game, it’s very difficult. However, you can do it through save scumming, and once the thief is dead, the torch is free to use for the rest of the game and you should never have to worry about the lamp giving out. However, as the game goes on, it becomes easier and easier to kill the thief. (And if you enter his lair, you have no choice but to fight him.) The reason is that your odds of killing the thief when you attack him is based on your current score. The higher your score, the higher the chance of killing him.

Speaking of the maze… I had a copy of Zork that I played on the first PC I ever owned. I spent a lot of time, and used a lot of paper, trying to map that stupid maze.

Years later when I bought the boxed set “Lost Treasures of Infocom”, they had maps for all the games! What a timesaver!

No, I said Zork, and I meant Zork. “Lamp” and “Flashlight” were treated by the game as synonyms. And between the mine full of coal gas you mentioned, the time it takes you to reach the torch, and the time after you use the torch to melt the ice wall, and extinguish it in the process, you use up all but two turns of the battery-powered light source.

And the other thing with the thief is that, oddly enough, you don’t need an uber-weapon to kill him. In fact, you specifically don’t want to use an uber-weapon to kill him:

The sword is the best weapon in the game, but it’s also a Treasure, and therefore something that the thief will steal. So it’s almost impossible to kill the thief using the sword. But if you instead use the rusty knife, you’ll almost always beat him.

But you still need to be careful, because

One of the treasures, the clockwork bird, starts off inside another treasure, the gilded egg. And the game explicitly tells you that you have neither the tools nor the skill to open the egg yourself without breaking it. The only way to get that treasure is to have it on you when you meet the thief, either give it to him (which distracts him long enough for you to get away) or hope he steals it, and then later recover the egg and bird both from him in his lair.

And, of course, there’s no way to learn either of those things except by yet more trial and error, or being told by someone else who went through the trial and error.

Not the rusty knife, use the nasty knife to kill the thief. The nasty knife is in the attic. The rusty knife is on a dead adventurer.

The rusty knife is a trap. It causes any weapon you attack with to kill you instead. (Which is why your sword briefly glows blue when you pick it up.)

Also, you can make a beeline for the torch early in the game and then walk around with it until the thief takes it or you kill the thief. The lamp can be turned off when you’re outside or have the torch.

And in fact, you must do this, in order to get the max score. Which means that you’ll have at least one sacrificial run just for mapping, to figure out what the beeline path to the torch is.

You’re right about the knives, though, I got those two mixed up. You do NOT loot the corpse of a fellow adventurer, as that’s professionally disrespectful.