Zork II (1981)   7 comments

In 1980, Infocom sold the TRS-80 version of Zork I through Personal Software (it didn’t sell very well). By Februrary 1981, they released an Apple II version, also through Personal Software (it did much better).

By mid-1981 Infocom was preparing to release Zork II (they signed a contract in June) but Personal Software’s VisiCalc spreadsheet software hit such big sales that they decide to drop publishing games entirely. This led the founders of Infocom to decide to become their own publishers. By the end of the year they had released Zork II in time for Christmas.

The manual for Zork II gives credits to Marc Blank and Dave Lebling. It includes some of the material cut when Zork mainframe was ported to Zork I, but is still very much its own game, most notably for replacing the thief antagonist with the Wizard of Frobozz. From the back of the package:

EXPECT THE UNEXPECTED WHEN YOU TAKE ON ZORK II: THE WIZARD OF FROBOZZ.
As you explore the subterranean realm of Zork, you’ll continually be confronted with new surprises. Chief among these is the Wizard himself, who’ll constantly endeavor to confound you with his capricious powers. But more than that, you’ll face a challenge the likes of which you’ve never experienced before.

It begins right where Zork I left off, at the ancient barrow.

Inside the Barrow
You are inside an ancient barrow hidden deep within a dark forest. The barrow opens into a narrow tunnel at its southern end. You can see a faint glow at the far end.
A sword of Elvish workmanship is on the ground.
A strangely familiar brass lantern is lying on the ground.

I appreciate the “old friend” feel of having the lantern and sword awaiting.

Path Near Stream
The path follows the south edge of a deep ravine and heads northeast. A tunnel heads southwest, narrowing to a rather tight crawl. A faint whirring sound can be heard in that direction. On the east is a ruined archway choked with vegetation.

>sw
Carousel Room
You are in a large circular room whose high ceiling is lost in gloom. Eight identical passages leave the room.
A loud whirring sound comes from all around, and you feel sort of disoriented in here.

Here I reach my first quibble with Zork II compared to Zork I — I really dislike this room. Trying to leave sends the player in a random direction.

>e
You’re not sure which direction is which. This room is very disorienting.

Topiary
This is the southern end of a formal garden. Hedges hide the cavern walls and mosses provide dim illumination. Fantastically shaped hedges and bushes are arrayed with geometric precision. They have not recently been clipped, but you can discern creatures in the shapes of the bushes: There is a dragon, a unicorn, a great serpent, a huge misshapen dog, and several human figures. On the west side of the garden the path leads through a rose arbor into a tunnel.

The opening of Zork I had a wide airy space, the iconic house, a slow entry, and an intriguing mystery with the trap door being locked behind the player. The RNG spinner here is essentially the first element of Zork II, and I don’t think I’m too fussy in saying it’s less compelling.

Still, I remember Zork II being fine otherwise, but it’s been a long time since I’ve played, and while no doubt some puzzle solutions are identical to Zork mainframe (which I do mostly remember thanks to me writing about it) I’m likely in for some surprises.

Downward to danger!

Posted February 20, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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7 responses to “Zork II (1981)

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  1. By coincidence I was recently tackling “Mirror Of Khorontz” which was an unreleased sequet to “Gateway To Karos” by Derek L Haslam from 1984 via the BeebEm emulator and it has a Small Round Room with eight identical exits where you feel dizzy. I wonder where he got the idea for that from?

  2. IIRC, according to the Invisiclues, the chance of actually leaving the Carousel Room in the direction you specify is 30%, so a bit better than random, but still annoying.

    • Oh, I’d forgotten that! Checked the source code to see if they were telling the truth there, and it’s close enough (about 31.1%) as long as you don’t try to go west.

      The exact logic is (from line 77 of 2ACTIONS.ZIL onward): when the player tries to leave the Carousel Room, if they’re going west or an 80% chance succeeds, send them in a random non-west direction. Otherwise, let them go through unaltered.

      So if you try to go north, you have a 20% chance of being unaffected, and an ~11% chance of being affected but ending up randomly going north anyway (80% × 1/7).

      (Turns out also, “GO OUT” is treated as “GO EAST” for all this logic. Didn’t know that bit either.)

  3. My memories of Zork II shall forever be “that game I owned and played as a young lad where I got almost *nowhere at all* until many years later with hints in hand.”

    Ironically, one of the very few things I *did* manage to solve way back then, without hints, was either its most-infamous or its second-most-infamous puzzle (depending on where you place the Bank of Zork) (no I did not solve the Bank of Zork).

    • I never solved it, even Invisiclues in hand, as a child or teenager. It took some dedicated plugging away later in life (though what I was trying to arrive at by then was not merely finishing the game at all, but a stab at a “best” or at least methodically “good” path through the game, solving it without flailing around). At about 13 years old I did have great fun tape-recording dramatic readings of the Invisiclues with their sometimes sarcastic remarks, though…

  4. Pingback: Zork II: Either the Most-Infamous or Second-Most-Infamous Puzzle of Zork | Renga in Blue

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