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Subject: 69105 (number), Zork: The Undiscovered Underground, Zork III, Zork books, GUE
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For other uses, see Zork (disambiguation).
File:Screenshot of Zork running on Frotz through iTerm 2 on Mac OSX.png
Screenshot of Zork Gameplay
Series Zork
Platform(s) Atari 8-bit family, Commodore 64, Commodore Plus/4, CP/M, TRS-80, IBM PC, Apple IIe
Release date(s)
    Genre(s) Adventure, RPG
    Mode(s) Single Player

    Zork was 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. The authors—Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling—were members of the MIT Dynamic Modelling Group.

    "Zork" was originally MIT hacker slang for an unfinished program. 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. 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.

    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".[1] The goal is to return from the "Great Underground Empire" alive with the treasures,[1] 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.[2] FrobozzCo products are littered throughout all Zork games, often with humorous effect.

    Zork series

    The original Zork Trilogy

    Later additions to the series

    All of these are text-only unless otherwise noted.

    • Games that take place somewhere in the Zork universe:
      • Wishbringer: The Magick Stone of Dreams (1985, Infocom)
    • The Zork Anthology comprises the original Zork Trilogy plus:
      • Beyond Zork: The Coconut of Quendor (1987, Infocom)
      • Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz (1988, Infocom, text with some graphics)
    • 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 six 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.

    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 Avon Books between 1988–1991, four were directly based on Zork: Wishbringer by Craig Shaw Gardner (1988), Enchanter by Robin W. Bailey (1989), The Zork Chronicles by George Alec Effinger (1990) and The Lost City of Zork by Robin W. Bailey (1991),

    Infocom, now part of Iron Realms, published the Zork trilogy, along with downloadable maps and walk-through guides. The trilogy is available on the Iron Realms website.[3] It also published the Zork Anthology (featuring Zork I, Zork II, Zork III, Beyond Zork, Zork Zero and Planetfall) through, in a form of digital download.


    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]


    In late 1977 a hacker obtained a copy of the Zork source code, which was subsequently spread.[5] 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.[6] Late 1977 the Zork authors had decided to rename Zork to Dungeon, and Supnik subsequently released his port as Dungeon in January 1978.[7][8] 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.[9] 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.

    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.[10]

    In the Big Bang Theory episode "The Hofstadter Isotope", Sheldon mentions it as the game they are going to play on Friday "Chinese and vintage video game" night.

    In Call of Duty: Black Ops, there is an easter egg where, upon alternately pressing L2 and R2 repeatedly at the game mode screen, 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.

    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.[11] The Library of Congress took up a video game preservation proposal and began with the games from this list, including Zork.[12][13]

    See also


    Further reading

    External links

    • 404 error page.
    • Download and play the original mainframe version of Zork, as well as a 1982 map of the Zork universe.
    • MobyGames
    • DMOZ
    • Article at The Dot Eaters, featuring an extensive history of the Zork games and Infocom
    • The History Of Zork — Article by Matt Barton
    • Retroist Zork Podcast
    • Zork I, II and III — Review of Commodore 64 (disk edition) in Zzap64, August 1985
    •, September 23, 2013
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