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Zork I Atari ST cover art

Developer(s) Infocom
Publisher(s) Personal Software
Designer(s) Tim Anderson
Marc Blank
Dave Lebling
Bruce Daniels
Programmer(s) Tim Anderson
Marc Blank
Dave Lebling
Bruce Daniels
Engine ZIL
Platform(s) PDP-10, Atari 8-bit family, Commodore 64, Commodore Plus/4, Commodore 128, CP/M, TRS-80, IBM PC, Apple II, Apple IIe, Amiga, Amstrad CPC, Amstrad PCW, Apple Macintosh, Atari ST, DOS, TRS-80, NEC PC-9801, MSX, PlayStation, Sega Saturn
Release date(s) 1977 (PDP-10)
1980 (Zork I)
1981 (Zork II)
1982 (Zork III)
Genre(s) Text adventure
Mode(s) Single-player
Distribution 3½" or 5¼" disk

Zork is one of the earliest interactive fiction computer games, with roots drawn from the original genre game, Colossal Cave Adventure. The first version of Zork was written in 1977–1979 using the MDL programming language on a DEC PDP-10 computer.[1][2] The authors—Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling—were members of the MIT Dynamic Modelling Group.[3]

When Zork was published commercially, it was split up into three games: Zork: The Great Underground Empire - Part I (later known as Zork I), Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz, and Zork III: The Dungeon Master.

Zork distinguished itself in its genre as an especially rich game, in terms of both the quality of the storytelling and the sophistication of its text parser, which was not limited to simple verb-noun commands ("hit troll"), but recognized some prepositions and conjunctions ("hit the troll with the Elvish sword").



Zork is set in "the ruins of an ancient empire lying far underground". The player is a nameless adventurer "who is venturing into this dangerous land in search of wealth and adventure". The goal is to return from the "Great Underground Empire" alive with the treasures,[4] ultimately inheriting the title of Dungeon Master. The dungeons are stocked with many novel creatures, objects and locations, among them grues, zorkmids, and Flood Control Dam #3—all of which are referenced by subsequent Infocom text adventures.

FrobozzCo International is a fictional monopolous conglomerate from the game.[4] FrobozzCo products are littered throughout all Zork games, often with humorous effect.


Zork I

The game takes place in the Zork calendar year 948 GUE (although the passage of time is not notable in gameplay). The player steps into the deliberately vague role of an "adventurer". The game begins near a white house in a small, self-contained area. Although the player is given little instruction, the house provides an obvious point of interest.

When the player enters the house, it yields a number of intriguing objects: an ancient brass lantern, an empty trophy case, an intricately engraved sword, etc. Beneath the rug a trap door leads down into a dark cellar. But what initially appears to be a cellar is actually one of several entrances to a vast subterranean land—the Great Underground Empire. The player soon encounters dangerous creatures, including deadly grues, an axe-wielding troll, a giant cyclops and a nimble-fingered thief. This man makes mapping the maze difficult because he removes things you put down in the rooms to navigate by. Yet he has an important use.

The ultimate goal of Zork I is to collect the Twenty Treasures of Zork and install them in the trophy case. Finding the treasures requires solving a variety of puzzles such as the navigation of two brutal mazes and some intricate manipulations at Flood Control Dam #3.

Placing all of the treasures into the trophy case scores the player 350 points and grants the rank of "Master Adventurer." An ancient map with further instructions then magically appears in the trophy case. These instructions provide access to a stone barrow. The entrance to the barrow is the end of Zork I and the beginning of Zork II.

It is possible to score all 350 points in 223 moves (and win the game completely in 228 moves)[5] by exploiting a bug.

Zork II

The player begins in the Barrow from Zork I armed only with the trusty brass lantern and sword of elvish antiquity. The purpose of the game is not initially clear.

The Wizard of Frobozz is soon introduced. The wizard was once a respected enchanter, but when his powers began to fade he was exiled by Dimwit Flathead. Now bordering on senility, the wizard is still a force to be reckoned with. Your goal, as you venture into the wizard's realm, is to avoid his capricious tricks and learn to control his magic.

Like its predecessor, Zork II is essentially a treasure hunt. Unlike the previous game, the ten treasures are tied together by a crude plot. Finding the treasures does not end the game, nor are all the treasures needed to finish the game. Instead, the adventurer must figure out a way to use the treasures in order to reach the game's finale.

Zork III

The player begins at the bottom of the Endless Stair from Zork II.

Zork III is somewhat less of a straightforward treasure hunt than previous installments. Instead, the player—in the role of the same "adventurer" played in Zork I and Zork II—must demonstrate worthiness to assume the role of the Dungeon Master.

The player must get past the Guardians of Zork, with the complete garb of the Dungeon Master, and then endure a final test. The player must be wearing the amulet (found at the bottom of the lake), the cloak and hood (received when the player chooses to look under the hood of the vanquished opponent in the Land of Shadow rather than deal the final blow), the staff (received from the man at the Cliff for helping him retrieve the chest of valuables; attacking the man in any way or trying to take the valuables from him inevitably breaks the staff), the strange key (found in the Key Room when the player uses the grue repellent (from Zork II) to get past the dark places), the royal ring (retrieved from the Royal Museum by using the gold machine to travel back to the year 776 GUE), and the black book (found in the Royal Puzzle).

Unlike Zork I and Zork II there is a time-sensitive event, an earthquake which is randomly triggered about 130 turns into gameplay. The player must retrieve the key before the earthquake (when the Aqueduct is broken, leaving no escape route from the Key Room) and can't complete the Royal Puzzle or retrieve the ring until after the earthquake (when the unopenable Great Door breaks). Also unlike the previous two Zork games, the lantern is of little relevance. It is needed only to walk through the dark areas of the Junction, Creepy Crawl and Foggy Room at the beginning of the game (often done after completing the Land of Shadow, Cliff, and Flathead Ocean—saying "Hello, Sailor" to the Viking yields an invisibility vial—tasks). Another light source, the torch from the Scenic Vista, is used to retrieve the repellent from Zork II and deposit it in the Damp Passage via the teleportation table to provide a light source for the return journey after retrieving the key.

Once the player has all the items, they must give the waybread to the elderly man in the Engravings Room to find the doorway leading to the final hallway. Here the "elvish sword of great antiquity" is used to block the beam in the Beam Room. Next the adventurer must get through the Guardians of Zork. This can either be accomplished by using the complicated Mirror Box or by simply drinking the invisibility potion in the vial from the Flathead Ocean. When the player knocks on the Dungeon Master's door he will only open it if the player is fully equipped (see above). He then tells the adventurer that he will obey their commands. The corridors lead to a parapet which overlooks the fiery cells. Reading the book here reveals a map of "The Dungeon and Treasury of Zork" which has 8 cells, one of which with a bronze door that leads to the Treasury of Zork. The eight positions of the dial in the parapet correspond to the 8 cells. The adventurer must use trial and error at this point to summon the cell with the bronze door and have the dungeon master return it to its original position by replacing it with any other cell. The key will now unlock the door revealing the Treasury of Zork, which contains the wealth of the Great Underground Empire as well as a controlling share in FrobozzCo International. After this victorious discovery, the Dungeon Master appears and transforms the player into a duplicate of himself, signifying the player's succession to his position.


Screenshot of the beginning of Zork

In the Zork games, the player is not limited to verb-noun commands, such as "take lamp", "open mailbox", and so forth. Instead, the parser supports more sophisticated sentences such as "put the lamp and sword in the case", "look under the rug", and "drop all except lantern". The game understands many common verbs, including "take", "drop", "examine", "attack", "climb", "open", "close", "count", and many more. The games also support commands to the game directly (rather than taking actions within the fictional setting of the game) such as "save" and "restore", "script" and "unscript" (which begin and end a text transcript of the game text), "restart", and "quit".[4]


"Zork" was originally MIT hacker slang for an unfinished program.[1] The implementors briefly named the completed game Dungeon, but changed it back to Zork after receiving a trademark violation notice from the publisher of Dungeons & Dragons.[6] Zork has been adapted to a book series.

Three of the original Zork programmers joined with others to found Infocom in 1979. That company adapted the PDP-10 Zork into Zork I-III, a trilogy of games for most popular small computers of the era, including the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the Commodore Plus/4, the Atari 8-bit family, the TRS-80, CP/M systems, and the IBM PC. Zork I was published on 5¼" and 8" floppy disks. Joel Berez and Marc Blank developed a specialized virtual machine to run Zork I, called the Z-machine. The first "Z-machine Interpreter Program" ZIP for a small computer was written by Scott Cutler for the TRS-80. The trilogy was written in ZIL, which stands for "Zork Implementation Language", a language similar to LISP. Personal Software published what would become the first part of the trilogy under the name Zork when it was first released in 1980, but Infocom later handled the distribution of that game and their subsequent games. Part of the reason for splitting Zork into three different games was that, unlike the PDP systems the original ran on, microcomputers did not have enough memory and disk storage to handle the entirety of the original game. In the process, more content was added to Zork to make each game stand on its own.


4.3 BSD from the University of Wisconsin, running Zork and displaying the introductory leaflet for "Dungeon"

In late 1977 a hacker obtained a copy of the Zork source code, which was subsequently spread.[6] The leaked Zork source code was later used by Bob Supnik, a programmer from Digital Equipment Corporation, to create a Fortran IV port, which allowed the game to run on the smaller DEC PDP-11.[7] In late 1977 the Zork authors had decided to rename Zork to Dungeon, and Supnik subsequently released his port as Dungeon in January 1978.[8][9] Somewhere in 1978 the Zork developers received notice from Tactical Studies Rules, who claimed that the name Dungeon infringed their trademark rights, and they subsequently changed the name back to Zork.[6] When Zork became a commercial product at Infocom, Infocom agreed that if an Infocom copyright notice was put on the Fortran version, noncommercial distribution would be allowed. This Fortran version, and C translations thereof, have been included in several Linux distributions.

The Fortran version of Dungeon was widely available on DEC VAXes, being one of the most popular items distributed by DECUS. It went through multiple modifications both to incorporate more features from the original and to track changes in the MDL version. In the late 1980s, the Fortran version was extensively rewritten for VAX Fortran and became fully compatible with the last MDL release. It had one extra joke: an apparent entrance to the Mill (a reference to DEC's headquarters) that was, in fact, impassable.

It also had a gdt command (game debugging technique, a reference to the DDT debugger) which enabled the player to move any object (including the player) to any room. Use of gdt required answering a random question requiring deep knowledge of the game. The game's response to a wrong answer (“A booming voice says ‘Wrong, cretin!’ and you notice that you have turned into a pile of dust”) appears in many "fortune cookie" databases.

The Fortran version was also included in the distribution media for some Data General operating systems. It was used as an acceptance test to verify that the OS had been correctly installed. Being able to compile, link, and run the program demonstrated that all of the run-time libraries, compiler, and link editor were installed in the correct locations.


The original version of Zork I was published by Personal Software and simply called Zork. It was distributed in clear plastic bags containing only the game disk and a 36-page booklet. Infocom's first "self-published" version of Zork I was in the so-called "Folio" format which included a single piece of paper describing how to run the game. The feelies noted above were only introduced when Zork I was re-released in the "Grey box" format.

Zork I was one of five Infocom games that were re-released in Solid Gold format with in-game hints.

There is also an abridged version, called Mini-Zork I, dated November 24, 1987. It was released free of charge as a promotion.

A German language version was developed, but never released. An unfinished version of this story file, dated January 13, 1988, has made its way into public circulation. The German is evidently non-native, containing many spelling and grammar errors. It is known that Jeff O'Neill worked on this version.

A remastered version of Zork I: The Underground Empire (name in Japan:Zork I 大きい地下帝国) [ was released by Activision for the Sega Saturn and PlayStation in 1996. This Japanese version includes graphics, sound effects, auto-mapping, and music by Yuzo Koshiro. This version was never released outside Japan. It was also included in Call of Duty: Black Ops—there is an easter egg where players can get out of the chair at the title screen and walk around and there is a computer behind you and when you get on the computer you type in "zork" and you are playing the full version of Zork I: The Underground Empire.


Infocom did not begin their tradition of including feelies, or extra items related to a game, until the 1982 release Deadline. Later re-releases of the game, however, were packaged with:

  • The booklet The Great Underground Empire: A History, by "Froboz Mumbar"
  • A map roughly corresponding to a portion of the game's area

Although the back of the Zork I "Grey box" depicted a zorkmid coin included with the other feelies, production difficulties led to the coins' omission from the packages. Zorkmid coins were not included as feelies until the release of the Zork Trilogy boxed set.


Zork I

BYTE declared in 1981 that "No single advance in the science of Adventure has been as bold and exciting" as Zork. The magazine praised the sophisticated parser and quality of writing, stating, "That the program is entertaining, eloquent, witty, and precisely written is almost beside the point ... Zork can be felt and touched—experienced, if you will—through the care and attention to detail the authors have rendered." It concluded, "Somebody, please, let me know when [the sequel is] done."[10] Jerry Pournelle wrote in the magazine in 1983 that he played the game with his sons, stating that "If you liked Adventure and wanted more after you solved the Colossal Cave, I guarantee you'll love Zork".[11] In 1992, Computer Gaming World added the game to its Hall of Fame, waiving the normal criteria "in favor of honoring this venerable classic."[12]

Zork I was the best-selling game of 1982, with 32,000 copies sold by the first half of that year.[13] It sold 378,987 copies by 1986.[14]

Zork II

Softline praised the game's well-balanced mix of humor, wit, and wry puns". The magazine warned of its difficulty, but concluded that "Zork II is recommended to any novice or master adventurer who wants a feeling of satisfaction upon completion of a well-thought-out and imaginative adventure".[15] PC Magazine stated that "Zork II '​s appeal is universal" and that the game was "a challenge. It is interesting, difficult, frustrating, and most of all, enjoyable. For those who have plenty of time, the game is endlessly amusing".[16]



The Enchanter trilogy:

Games that take place somewhere in the Zork universe:

The Zork Anthology comprises the original Zork Trilogy plus:

The Zork Quest series:

  • Zork Quest: Assault on Egreth Castle (1988, Infocom, interactive computer comic book)
  • Zork Quest: The Crystal of Doom (1989, Infocom, interactive computer comic book)

After a five year hiatus, the following games were produced:

The Enchanter trilogy and Wishbringer occupy somewhat unusual positions within the Zork universe. Enchanter was originally developed as Zork IV; Infocom decided to instead release it separately, however, and it became the basis of a new trilogy. (In each trilogy, there is a sense of assumed continuity; that is, the player's character in Zork III is assumed to have experienced the events of Zork I and Zork II. Similarly, events from Enchanter are referenced in Sorcerer and Spellbreaker; but the Enchanter character is not assumed to be the same one from the Zork trilogy. In fact, in Enchanter the player's character encounters the Adventurer from Zork, who helps the player's character solve a puzzle in the game.) Although Wishbringer was never officially linked to the Zork series, the game is generally agreed to be "Zorkian" due to its use of magic and several terms and names from established Zork games.


A parody titled Pork: The Great Underground Sewer System was also released.[17]

Compilations and adaptations

Among the games bundled in The Lost Treasures of Infocom, published in 1991 by Activision under the Infocom brand, were the original Zork trilogy, the Enchanter trilogy, Beyond Zork and Zork Zero. A second bundle published in 1992, The Lost Treasures of Infocom II, contained Wishbringer and ten other non-Zork-related games. Activision's 1996 compilation, Classic Text Adventure Masterpieces of Infocom, includes all the text-based Zork games; the Zork and Enchanter trilogies, Wishbringer, Beyond Zork and Zork Zero. Activision briefly offered free downloads of Zork I as part of the promotion of Zork: Nemesis, and Zork II and Zork III as part of the promotion for Zork Grand Inquisitor, as well as a new adventure: Zork: The Undiscovered Underground.

Four gamebooks, written by S. Eric Meretzky and taking place in the Zork universe, were published in 1983-4 by Tor Books in the US and Canada, and Puffin in the UK: The Forces of Krill (1983), The Malifestro Quest (1983), The Cavern of Doom (1983), Conquest at Quendor (1984). Together, these are known as the Zork books.

Infocom adapted the games into a series of books. Of six novels published as "Infocom Books" by Robin W. Bailey (1991),

References in media

In the TV series Chuck, Zork is mentioned as a game that the title character and his friend, also a CIA agent, used to play when they were younger. Commands from the game were used in operations by the characters.[18]

In the

In Call of Duty: Black Ops, there is an easter egg where the player can wiggle out of your torture chair and then walk over to an old computer behind the game mode television. If the player types zork at the first command line, it will boot up the actual game.

In Call of Duty: Ghosts, the filename "zork.exe" appears during the download of files from a computer.

A 3D, immersive version of Zork appears as the "quest" to complete for the Jade Key in the novel Ready Player One by Ernest Cline.

On March 12, 2007, The New York Times reported that Zork was named to a list of the ten most important video games of all time, the so-called game canon.[19] The Library of Congress took up a video game preservation proposal and began with the games from this list, including Zork.[20][21][22]

In Peter Carey's 2014 novel Amnesia, Zork is referenced heavily, including the characters of Gaby and Frederic hacking the Zork code and creating their own Zork world.

In the TV series Arrow (season 3 episode 5 "The Secret Origin of Felicity Smoak"), Zork is mentioned as a game that Felicity played in college—she wrote a Linux emulator for it.

See also


  1. ^ a b Tim Anderson (Winter 1985), "The History of Zork – First in a series", The New Zork Times 4 (1): 7–11, archived from the original on 2006-04-27 
  2. ^ "Dave Lebling on the Genesis of the Adventure Game - and the Creation of Zork", US Gamer, August 2014 
  3. ^ "The making of 'Zorkl", Retro Gamer ( 
  4. ^ a b c Dave Lebling and Marc Blank (1984), .Zork Trilogy Instruction Manual, Infocom 
  5. ^ Haha, Jimmy (2009-02-22). "Zork 1 - 228 Move Solution" (Text file). Retrieved 2009-02-24. 
  6. ^ a b c Tim Anderson (Spring 1985), "The History of Zork – Second in a series", The New Zork Times 4 (2): 3–5, archived from the original on 2006-04-27 
  7. ^ Roger Firth (2002). "InfLight – Inform debugging". At the MIT AI-Lab, Mark Blank, Tim Anderson et al played Adventure; they were sure that if an adventure game could be written in Fortran, a better one could be done in MDL (a Lisp-like language). The result, around 1978, was Dungeon, (from which Bob Supnik at DEC created a Fortran version); the MDL original, however, was soon renamed Zork. 
  8. ^ Michael Feir (2007). "Zork Turns 30". In the brief time that Zork was known as Dungeon, the Fortran version of Dungeon was widely circulated which caused the name Dungeon to stick in some circles and sectors to this day. 
  9. ^ Peter Scheyen (1996). "Dungeon". Version FORTRAN IV Zork (Dungeon) Release Date January 1978 Authors A somewhat paranoid DEC engineer 
  10. ^ Liddil, Bob (February 1981). "Zork, The Great Underground Empire". BYTE. pp. 262–264. Retrieved 18 October 2013. 
  11. ^ Pournelle, Jerry (June 1983). "Zenith Z-100, Epson QX-10, Software Licensing, and the Software Piracy Problem". BYTE. p. 411. Retrieved 20 October 2013. 
  12. ^ "Computer Gaming World's Hall of Fame". Computer Gaming World. 1992-11. p. 193. Retrieved 5 July 2014. 
  13. ^ Sipe, Russell (1992-11). "3900 Games Later...". Computer Gaming World. p. 8. Retrieved 4 July 2014. 
  14. ^  
  15. ^ Repstad, Tom (1982-05). "Zork II". Softline. p. 17. Retrieved 15 July 2014. 
  16. ^ Leibson, Steve (December 1982). "Space Wars and Earth Games". PC Magazine. p. 165. Retrieved 21 October 2013. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Chuck: Yeah, if I could only I could remember what was in my hero's satchel... (Morgan looks at him quizzically) The weapons I would use to kill the Terrible Troll."
  19. ^ Chaplin, Heather (2007-03-12). "Is That Just Some Game? No, It's a Cultural Artifact".  
  20. ^ Ransom-Wiley, James. "10 most important video games of all time, as judged by 2 designers, 2 academics, and 1 lowly blogger".  
  21. ^ Owens, Trevor (2012-09-26). "Yes, The Library of Congress Has Video Games: An Interview with David Gibson". Retrieved 2013-01-18. 
  22. ^ Yokal, Kathy (October 1983). "Marc Blank - The Programmer Behind Zork". Compute! Gazette. pp. 64–66. Retrieved 4 December 2013. 

Further reading

  • Montfort, Nick. Twisty Little Passages. MIT Press, 2003. ISBN 0-262-13436-5.

External links

  • Zork Trilogy at MobyGames
  • Play Zork online at THCNET's interactive 404 error page.
  • Download and play the original mainframe version of Zork, as well as a 1982 map of the Zork universe.
  • Zork sites at DMOZ
  • at The Dot EatersZorkFeature on text adventures including at the Wayback Machine (archived May 14, 2013)
  • The History Of Zork—Article by Matt Barton
  • Zork I, II and III—Review of Commodore 64 (disk edition) in Zzap64, August 1985
  • Zork's entry for
  • Zork's entry for
  • Zork's entry for
  • reviewZork I at Adventure Classic Gaming
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