Zork III: Patterns   14 comments

When playing adventure games — any genre of games really — I sometimes have “moments of recognition” where systems click together and a secret pattern is revealed.

With adventure games, this can include recognizing a technical restraint or common usage; a recent example would be Seek where it took some time to realize all action happened between rooms and USE worked as a verb with absolutely everything (even though other verbs were acceptable). Patterns might be a little more abstract, like recognizing a design tendency of the author; for instance, some of the Cambridge mainframe games like Hamil have very little in the way of “just scenery” rooms, so if there’s an unusual detail, there’s a fair chance it has some real significance (like dust on the floor being poison).

Katakombs might have went fully-on moon logic with its puzzle where you give sugar to a dragon, but once the pattern is established it becomes easier to recognize you might want to give salt to an elephant (even if still not terribly logical).

Art from the early Zork Users’s Group map. From the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities. Not how I envisioned the Dungeon Master.

With Zork III I already mentioned a scene where you go down a ledge, find a chest, and have someone ask about tying the rope to the chest. You then wait a bit, and climb up to find the man has already raided the chest and hands you over a staff he supposedly found in the chest. (The staff doesn’t fit back in the chest, so: suspicious.) There’s then a delay while he looks at his valuables and then leaves.

You can incidentally kill the man and take the valuables, but they are literally just described as valuables — there’s absolutely no point in having them.

The important thing on the sequence is that you have to WAIT. You not only need to WAIT for the man to come back with the rope, but you need to wait to have the whole sequence trigger in the first place:

Cliff Ledge
This is a rock-strewn ledge near the base of a tall cliff. The bottom of the cliff is another fifteen feet below. You have little hope of climbing up the cliff face, but you might be able to scramble down from here (though it’s doubtful you could return).
A long piece of rope is dangling down from the top of the cliff and is within your reach.
A large chest, closed and locked, is lying among the boulders.

>wait
Time passes…

>wait
Time passes…
At the edge of the cliff above you, a man appears. He looks down at you and speaks. “Hello, down there! You seem to have a problem. Maybe I can help you.” He chuckles in an unsettling sort of way. “Perhaps if you tied that chest to the end of the rope I might be able to drag it up for you. Then, I’ll be more than happy to help you up!” He laughs again.

Now, when I first ran across this I was examining things so it was quite natural to hang out for two turns, but it did start to lead me to suspect that there’s a general plot thread of patience, and in a practical sense, it may mean persistence and repetition could be the key to solving some puzzles.

I vaguely recalled seeing a ship somewhere in the game, so I went to the Flathead Ocean and waited. After six turns:

>look
Flathead Ocean
You are at the shore of an amazing underground sea, the topic of many a legend among adventurers. Few were known to have arrived at this spot, and fewer to return. There is a heavy surf and a breeze is blowing on-shore. The land rises steeply to the east and quicksand prevents movement to the south. A thick mist covers the ocean and extends over the hills to the east. A path heads north along the beach.

>look
Flathead Ocean
You are at the shore of an amazing underground sea, the topic of many a legend among adventurers. Few were known to have arrived at this spot, and fewer to return. There is a heavy surf and a breeze is blowing on-shore. The land rises steeply to the east and quicksand prevents movement to the south. A thick mist covers the ocean and extends over the hills to the east. A path heads north along the beach.
Passing alongside the shore now is an old boat, reminiscent of an ancient Viking ship. Standing on the prow of the ship is an old and crusty sailor, peering out over the misty ocean.

I did quite quickly come up with the next part, even though it is spectacularly unfair, or at least requires you to use some knowledge from Zork I.

The Land of the Dead, as depicted on the Zork User Group map for Zork I. Also from the Gallery for Undiscovered Entities.

Specifically, there’s a book that later gets used in combination with a candle and bell at the Land of the Dead.

COMMANDMENT #12592
Oh ye who go about saying unto each: “Hello sailor”:
Dost thou know the magnitude of thy sin before the gods?
Yea, verily, thou shalt be ground between two stones.
Shall the angry gods cast thy body into the whirlpool?
Surely, thy eye shall be put out with a sharp stick!
Even unto the ends of the earth shalt thou wander and
unto the land of the dead shalt thou be sent at last.
Surely thou shalt repent of thy cunning.

It was essentially a joke phrase in Zork I, and in Zork mainframe (which I was actually thinking of) the end game has the Dungeon Master ask where the phrase “Hello Sailor” is useful; the proper response is “nowhere”. Due to that, it was irresistible to try:

>say “hello sailor”

The seaman looks up and maneuvers the boat toward shore. He cries out “I have waited three ages for someone to say those words and save me from sailing this endless ocean. Please accept this gift. You may find it useful!” He throws something which falls near you in the sand, then sails off toward the west, singing a lively, but somewhat uncouth, sailor song.
The boat sails silently through the mist and out of sight.

There seems to be zero indication in Zork III itself to do this. I could check the Invisiclues to see if there’s an official explanation but I’ve managed to steer clear so far so I’ll wait until I’m done / actually stuck. (If this is really the case, the upsetting part isn’t the carry-over of knowledge as much as the lack of clarity it could even happen; Savage Island Part 2 uses information from Part 1 but it requires a password from the end of part 1 to even get started, marking it as clearly a continuity of work.)

The sailor drops off a vial. I’m not sure what to do with it yet.

>examine vial
It is a small, transparent vial which looks empty but is strangely heavy.

>open vial
The vial is open. There is a sweet odor from within the vial, apparently coming from a heavy but invisible liquid.

You can drink it with no apparent ill effect, but no apparent good effect either. I originally suspected it might be the grue repellent but there’s no way to apply it to the skin, and I vaguely recall the repellent is straightforwardly labeled as such.

Moving on: I was able to apply the patience pattern to another puzzle entirely.

The Land of Shadow, from the Zork III ZUG map.

The Land of Shadow had a figure that attacks. Repeated attempts at combat did not seem to be going anywhere, so I assumed this involved a puzzle of some sort. Maybe we’re not supposed to attack the shadow at all, but make peace with it?

Land of Shadow
Through the shadows, a cloaked and hooded figure appears before you, blocking the northwestern exit from the room and carrying a brightly glowing sword.
From nowhere, the sword from the junction appears in your hand, wildly glowing!

>kill figure with sword
A good stroke, but it’s too slow.
The hooded figure attempts a thrust, but its weakened state prevents hitting you.

>kill figure with sword
A quick stroke, but the hooded figure is on guard.
The hooded figure attempts a thrust, but its weakened state prevents hitting you.

>kill figure with sword
A good slash, but it misses by a mile.
You are wounded by a lightning thrust!

I decided, after the other events that involved WAITing, to just be persistent. After about 50 or so exchanges — certainly enough that it would indicate in most games we were barking up entirely the wrong tree — I finally won.

>kill figure with sword
A sharp thrust and the hooded figure is badly wounded!
The figure appears to be badly hurt and defenseless.
The hooded figure attempts a thrust, but its weakened state prevents hitting you.

>kill figure with sword
The hooded figure, fatally wounded, slumps to the ground. It gazes up at you once, and you catch a brief glimpse of deep and sorrowful eyes. Before you can react, the figure vanishes in a cloud of fetid vapor.

Now, even though this caused my score to go up by one, I’m not sure this is quite right — there’s the message right before about “badly hurt and defenseless” which may mean we need to do something special there. Even knowing that it is possible to reach that state with nothing other than KILL FIGURE WITH SWORD is progress, though.

Speaking of score: it is now at 3. One point for picking up the lantern (at the very first room!) one point for getting the sword (which involves doing nothing, more or less) and one from the combat I just mentioned. I originally thought it might be a set of 7 items but now I’m not so sure. The score certainly feels much different than any other Infocom game.

I did manage to solve one more puzzle. The old man that appears at the engravings I mentioned last time is also something of a patience-event; I only met him on a repeat visit to the room.

>ne
Engravings Room
You are in a room with passages heading southwest and southeast. The north wall is ornately carved, filled with strange runes and writing in an unfamiliar language.

>sw
Damp Passage

>ne
Engravings Room
An old and wizened man is huddled, asleep, in the corner. He is snoring loudly. From his appearance, he is weak and frail.

Going by the logic maybe we are supposed to “prove our worth” and the usual fairy tale thing of proving kindness to strangers, I took the bread that had been laying out in the open by the tree and gave it to the man.

>wake man
The old man is roused to consciousness. He peers at you through eyes which appear much younger and stronger than his frail body and waits, as if expecting something to happen.

>give bread
(to the old man)
He looks up at you and takes the waybread from you. Slowly, he eats the bread and pauses when he is finished. He starts to speak: “Perhaps what you seek is through there!” He points at the carved wall to the north, where you now notice the bare outline of a secret door. When you turn back to the old man, you notice that he has gone!

This leads to a new area that I recognize from the mainframe Zork endgame.

>n
Button Room
You are standing at the southern end of a long, dimly lit hall. To the south, stairs ascend into darkness. To the north the corridor is illuminated by torches set high in the walls, out of reach. On one wall is a red button.

>n
Beam Room
You are in the middle of a long north-south corridor whose walls are polished stone. A narrow red beam of light crosses the room at the north end, inches above the floor.
The corridor continues north and south.

>n
Hallway
This is a part of the long hallway. The east and west walls are dressed stone. In the center of the hall is a shallow stone channel. In the center of the room the channel widens into a large hole around which is engraved a compass rose.
The hallway continues to the south.
A large mirror fills the north side of the hallway.

The button normally just goes click with no effect. I remember having to block the beam with an object, for some reason.

>put lamp in beam
The beam is now interrupted by a lamp lying on the floor.

Putting the lamp in the beam and then pressing the button again:

>push button
Click. Snap!

This has an effect in the mirror room:

Hallway
This is a part of the long hallway. The east and west walls are dressed stone. In the center of the hall is a shallow stone channel. In the center of the room the channel widens into a large hole around which is engraved a compass rose.
The hallway continues to the south.
A large mirror fills the north side of the hallway.
The mirror is mounted on a panel which has been opened outward.

I haven’t had time to investigate further, but I can say: glorious forward progress! The game does seem to be aiming at a compact experience, so I don’t expect this to go much longer than two more posts.

One last, brief note for now. You can download any version of an Infocom game here, but if you download Zork 3, do not download the last one listed (r25-s860811). Instead download the one right before, marked “Masterpieces version”. I’ve found r25 to sometimes crash when taking an object (one you aren’t allowed to, but the game isn’t supposed to crash!) and the prior version I have had no issues with.

Posted March 9, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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14 responses to “Zork III: Patterns

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  1. I think what you have said about patience is spot on. Zork III is really a subversive game (at least the new parts of it that Blank created are), as it turns the traditional aims and tropes of adventure gaming (that Zorks I and II helped solidify) on their collective head.

    The sailor bit isn’t fair or unfair. It’s just an Easter egg for old fans. It isn’t required.

    I always thought the hooded figure was too difficult, but your explanation makes perfect sense.

    • I would have eventually stumbled upon the ship by accident I’m sure, but I didn’t think to be super-persistent on the combat until after I made my meta-theoretical observation as to what the game was going for. Which I guess means it was kind of successful, even if it was easy to miss the point in practice.

    • Addressing the sailor isn’t essential for completing the game, but it does make another part of the game much easier.

      • Difficult things in Zork are often welcomed! I think the real problem is that the mainframe stuff in Zork III just isn’t as interesting as the new content. Some of it feels like a bit of a chore. Infocom’s desire to use EVERYTHING from the mainframe Zork backfired a few times. The Bank of Zork could have used some tweaks, for instance.

  2. Without wanting to spoil anything – doing the right action upon defeating the figure gives a hefty hint as to what Blank was probably thinking of when he designed that sequence.

  3. The “Infocom Fact Sheet” – http://pdd.if-legends.org/infocom/fact-sheet.txt – is a useful resource for finding out which versions are official releases and which ones are in various stages of development / tinkering.

    Of course, even official releases can have usually minor bugs, and in that sense the Zork games probably suffered a bit from being updated with newer parsers, because some hacks from the older ones may have been accidentally left out. E.g. the Fantasize spell in Zork II never seemed to do anything in the version I played. Though even in older versions the occasional hallucinated objects were almost unnoticeable if you ask me.

    So when you get to Planetfall and Wishbringer, I’d avoid the “Solid Gold” versions. The diary added to Planetfall (if you are still carrying it) makes it hard (impossible?) to use the elevators, and Wishbringer no longer has time limits. (Though if you play spectacularly badly, it’s possible to trigger a time limit early!)

    Torbjörn Andersson
    • looks like that particular r25 one for Zork III is marked “F” for “unreleased final internal version”

    • The fantasize spell is dangerous if you enter the Topiary IIRC.

      • Isn’t the topiary always dangerous? The only thing I could see (though I could easily have missed something) is that when you’ve been “fantasized”, there is a random chance that you will see an object that isn’t there. The possible objects are: “pile of jewels”, “gold ingot”, “basilisk”, “huge demon”, “bulging chest”, “yellow sphere”, “silver sword”, “grue”, “convention of wizards”, and “copy of ZORK I”.

        But the special case to print that was accidentally (I assume) lost, probably when updating the parser for the later releases. The last preserved version of the source code (which was never used for any official release) tries to reinstate it, but ends up still not working and can even crash the interpreter.

        It’s pretty maddening to try and reproduce it (without hacking the source code), because there’s a random chance that the Wizard appears at all, followed by a random chance that he will cast a spell at you. And if that spell, by random chance, happens to be Fantasize you still only have a limited time for the spell to introduce its random effects on you.

        Torbjörn Andersson
      • As Torbjorn said, I think the Topiary is always dangerous; you just have to hang around a while.

  4. “looks like that particular r25 one for Zork III is marked “F” for “unreleased final internal version””

    Judging by the leaked source code, someone at Infocom was tinkering with creating a standard library for the Zork games. So they would all use the same parser and syntax definitions, but game-specific things (e.g. the spells in Zork II) would be conditionally included or not based on a ZORK-NUMBER constant. I guess that’s when some of the new bugs crept in.

    The last preserved versions of Enchanter and Sorcerer are ZORK-NUMBER 4 and 5 respectively. Spellbreaker does not have a ZORK-NUMBER, so I guess either work never got that far, or the extra overhead would have pushed Spellbreaker over the size limit.

    Torbjörn Andersson
  5. As the Zork trilogy seems indelibly printed onto the pathways of my brain from a young age, it’s interesting seeing someone looking at it with fresh eyes.
    With respect to the “Hello, sailor” puzzle referencing back to Zork I, I should say (without revealing too much) that there’s more ‘back referencing’ in the game.
    Also, a shout-out to some of the beautiful descriptive text. There’s the cliff top where a hole up to the upper world brings in sunlight and even some trees; the shores of the underground ocean; the view of the ancient, crumbling aqueduct; and the caverns with a stone wall of unknown usage, all giving glimpses into the old Empire. (The ‘stone wall’, BTW, gave rise to a joke in Zork Zero, where one of the Twelve Flatheads – “Stonewall” Flathead – got his nickname from leading a disastrous battle at that location)

  6. Many players have complained about having to revisit the engravings room to meet the old man, and that such action is without motivation. Examining the runes at the engravings room does provide a subtle hint however, so it’s not totally random, though still unfair IMO.

    Games of this era really seemed to expect you to revisit areas when you were stuck to look for changes in the environment, and also rewarded a near obsessive attention to detail such as remembering the black book from Zork 1, but the fact that was an optional puzzle helps a lot. Heck, the Wizardry series requires you to remember subtle clues from several games prior and there’s no other workaround or possible way to guess besides consulting a walkthrough, which was almost impossible without internet access (and given how much bigger those games are than the Zorks, such things are much less likely to be remembered, too). But such puzzles do also help create the sense of a connected game world across the entire series and as such are a nice touch IMO.

  7. Re: the Viking ship, I think they just expected players to be in on the joke. IIRC the Invisiclues say something like “You’ve been waiting three games for this! Say HELLO, SAILOR.”

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