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Remembering Zork

11 Jan 2007

Did you ever play text adventure games years ago? They were the sort of command-line games where you would type simple directions and work your way through a story. I played these for hours and hours as a kid at my friend’s house on his dad’s teletype. I remember feeding the green and white paper back through as many times as we could to use all the available space. Later I moved on to the Zork series and other Infocomm titles, staying up way to late at my Commodore 64.

I don’t know what made me remember Zork recently, but it was a pleasure to find that they’re playable online. Here’s an excerpt from one of my favorite puzzles:

>look
Tiny Room
This is a tiny room carved out of the wall of 
the ravine. There is an exit down a precarious 
climb. On the north side of the room is a massive 
wooden door, which has a small window barred with
iron. A formidable bolt lock is set within the 
door frame. A keyhole covered by a thin metal lid
lies within the lock.

>open door
The door is locked.

>inventory
You are carrying:
 A sword
 A lamp
 A place mat
 A letter opener
 A newspaper

>examine door
The door is made of oak and is closed.

>look in keyhole
No light can be seen through the keyhole.

>open lid
The lid is now open.

>put newspaper under door
The newspaper crumples up and won't go under
the door.

>put placemat under door
The place mat fits easily under the door.

>put letter opener in keyhole
There is a faint noise from behind the door 
and a small cloud of dust rises from beneath it.

>get placemat
As the placemat is moved, a rusty iron key falls
from it onto the floor.

>get key
Taken.

>unlock door
What do you want to unlock the door with?

>unlock door with key
The keyhole is blocked.

>get letter opener
Taken.

>unlock door with key
The door is now unlocked.

>open door
The door is now open.

Success! I can distinctly remember the feeling of first pulling that place mat out and seeing the key on it. Such a sense of accomplishment for a 12 year old.

Today, people still write and explore interactive fiction, though I pretty much gave it up when I hit high school. These days, I solve tricky problems by typing into an email client rather than a green-screen game. The skills, however, are pretty much the same...