Zork III: Some of the Words Seem To Change Colour as You Read Them   21 comments

Definite progress!

From the Commodore cover of the game, via Mobygames.

Some of this progress was, admittedly, sheer luck in timing. The game continues its pattern of having time be important, and one particular moment I solved what would was potentially a very tricky puzzle by accident.

Last time I had left off on killing a shadowy figure, who I still haven’t fully figured out yet. If there’s something special to do there I figured I might need an item elsewhere, and I still had puzzles to nudge at. Specifically, I took the opportunity to puzzle over the Scenic Vista.

Scenic Vista
You are in a small chamber carved in the rock, with the sole exit to the north. Mounted on one wall is a table labelled “Scenic Vista,” whose featureless surface is angled toward you. One might believe that the table was used to indicate points of interest in the view from this spot, like those found in many parks. On the other hand, your surroundings are far from spacious and by no stretch of the imagination could this spot be considered scenic. An indicator above the table reads “IV”.
Mounted on one wall is a flaming torch, which fills the room with a flickering light.

I thought there had to be something else to the table, so I kept trying out verbs until hitting paydirt…

>turn table
You can’t turn that!

>feel table
You touch the table and are instantly transported to another place!

Sacrificial Altar
This is the interior of a huge temple of primitive construction. A few flickering torches cast a sallow illumination over the altar, which is still drenched with the blood of human sacrifice. Behind the altar is an enormous statue of a demon which seems to reach towards you with dripping fangs and razor-sharp talons. A low noise begins behind you, and you turn to see hundreds of hunched and hairy shapes. A guttural chant issues from their throats. Near you stands a figure draped in a robe of deepest black, brandishing a huge sword. The chant grows louder as the robed figure approaches the altar. The large figure spots you and approaches menacingly. He reaches into his cloak and pulls out a great, glowing dagger. He pulls you onto the altar, and with a murmur of approval from the throng, he slices you neatly across your abdomen.

**** You have died ****

You find yourself deep within the earth in a barren prison cell. Outside the iron-barred window, you can see a great, fiery pit. Flames leap up and very nearly sear your flesh. After a while, footfalls can be heard in the distance, then closer and closer…. The door swings open, and in walks an old man.

He is dressed simply in a hood and cloak, wearing a few simple jewels, carrying something under one arm, and leaning on a wooden staff. A single key, as if to a massive prison cell, hangs from his belt.

He raises the staff toward you and you hear him speak, as if in a dream: “I await you, though your journey be long and full of peril. Go then, and let me not wait long!” You feel some great power well up inside you and you fall to the floor. The next moment, you are awakening, as if from a deep slumber.

Endless Stair
There is a lamp here.

…or at least a very amusing death. This indicated I could use the table to teleport to the four different places being viewed. Other than the instant-death one there was one in the main dungeon proper (which can be used to transport objects out of the area, since ordinarily you have to jump in the lake which doesn’t let you).

>touch table
You touch the table and are instantly transported to another place!

Damp Passage
This is a particularly damp spot even by dungeon standards. You can see a crossroads to the west, and two nearly identical passages lead east and northeast. A stone channel, wide and deep, steeply descends into the room from the south. It is covered with moss and lichen, and is far too slippery to climb. The channel crosses the room, but the opening where it once continued north is now blocked by rubble.

Additionally, I found a room which I think comes straight out of Zork I. Remember I mentioned the crystal ball from mainframe Zork showed an area that was in Zork I so it couldn’t quite match the puzzle; this seems to be at least a nod to that.

Timber Room
This is a long and narrow passage, which is cluttered with broken timbers. A wide passage comes from the east and turns at the west end of the room into a very narrow passageway. From the west comes a strong draft.
There is a broken timber here.

From Reddit.

Finally, most importantly, I found the Grue Repellent I had been looking for!

Room 8
This is a small chamber carved out of the rock at the end of a short crawl. On the wall is crudely chiseled the number “8”. The only apparent exit, to the east, seems to be a blur and a loud, whirring sound resounds through the rock.
A spray can is in the corner. In large type is the legend “Frobozz Magic Grue Repellent.”

This room is adjacent to the Carousel from Zork II.

From a Zork User Group poster, via Andrew Plotkin.

While, again, you can’t jump in the lake with objects, what you can do is apply the repellent right before popping into the lake (which I imagine rubs some it off, but not all of it) and then head into the dark cave where I remembered walking through some grues.

From the Zork 3 manual.

While they don’t hold particular terror now I remember this being one of the most unnerving parts of the game back when I was 12 or so, which is how the existence of repellent stuck in my mind in the first place.

>apply can to me
The spray smells like a mixture of old socks and burning rubber. If I were a grue I’d sure stay clear!

>enter lake
The shock of entering the frigid water has made you drop all your possessions into the lake!

On the Lake

Southern Shore
You are on the south shore of the lake. Rock formations prevent movement to the west and thickening swamp to the east makes the going all but impossible. To the south, where the beach meets a rock formation, you can make out a dark passage sloping steeply upward into the rock.

It is pitch black.

There are sinister gurgling noises in the darkness all around you!
It is pitch black.
The ground continues to slope upwards away from the lake. You can barely detect a dim light from the east.
That horrible smell is much less pungent now.

(I had to repeat this sequence a couple times until I found “south” was the appropriate exit. The dim light from the east makes the next step easy.)

Key Room
You are between some rock and a dark place, The room is lit dimly from above, revealing a lone, dark path sloping down to the west.
To one side of the room is a large manhole cover.
The light from above seems to be focused in the center of the room, where a single key is lying in the dust.

The key is one that’s always shifting if you try to examine it. It seems to be a “master key” of sorts.

>examine key
The key is round and thin, more like a pencil than a key.
Strange, though. The key seems to change shape constantly.

>examine key
The key is a long and heavy skeleton key.
Strange, though. The key seems to change shape constantly.

Past the key is the bit where I got very, very, lucky. Normally you can then just walk your way to a water slide which goes down to the Damp Passage viewable from the table earlier. After X turns in the game (this is a global timer but I haven’t bothered to figure out what X is) is an earthquake that hits the caverns. If you wait too long to get through this section the passage is cut off. I managed to view the event while it was happening:

Water Slide
You are near the northern end of this segment of the aqueduct system. To the south and slightly uphill, the bulk of the aqueduct looms ominously, towering above a gorge. To the north, the water channel drops precipitously and enters a rocky hole. The damp moss and lichen would certainly make that a one-way trip.
There is a great tremor from within the earth. The entire dungeon shakes violently and loose debris starts to fall from above you.
The channel beneath your feet trembles. At once, the channel directly to the south of you collapses with its supporting pillar and falls into the chasm!

I might have puzzled out that this was essentially a softlock from my being too slow to get through this section, but I’m not so sure. I might also have caught on due to the earthquake also having a positive effect, as you’ll see in a moment.

Incidentally, if you don’t set up the torch first in the Damp Corridor the room is dark and you inevitably become grue bait. However, revival is forgiving and doesn’t drop score. This is doubly odd given the softlock I just mentioned. I think it isn’t about gameplay cruelty (or lack thereof) as much as plot; it makes sense the Dungeon Master is trying to help, but he can only do so much.

Moving on, I decided to try my newly-found key out on the rusted door branch I couldn’t get through. The obstacle seemed like rust, not the lack of a key, but I thought it was worth a try anyway.

Great Door
This is the south end of a monumental hall, full of dust and debris from a recent earthquake. To the east is a great iron door, rusted shut. To its right, however, is a gaping cleft in the rock and behind, a cleared area.

The “cleft” is new! It happens when the earthquake damages the caverns.

Museum Entrance
This is the entrance to the Royal Museum, the finest and grandest in the Great Underground Empire. To the south, down a few steps, is the entrance to the Royal Puzzle and to the east, through a stone door, is the Royal Jewel Collection. A wooden door to the north is open and leads to the Museum of Technology. To the west is a great iron door, rusted shut. To its left, however, is a cleft in the rock providing a western route away from the museum.

To the north is a time machine (!) which I’ll talk about next time. I instead want to discuss the royal puzzle.

Royal Puzzle Entrance
This is a small square room, in the middle of which is a perfectly round hole through which you can discern the floor some ten feet below. The place under the hole is dark, but it appears to be completely enclosed in rock. In any event, it doesn’t seem likely that you could climb back up. Exits are west and, up a few steps, north.
Lying on the ground is a small note of some kind.

>read note
The Royal Puzzle is quite dangerous and it is possible to become trapped within its confines. Please do not enter the puzzle after hours or when museum personnel are not present.
The Management

Room in a Puzzle
You are in a small square room bounded to the north and west with marble walls and to the east and south with sandstone walls.

So: this is Sokoban. The actual puzzle game was designed in 1981 and released in 1982, but this puzzle was present wholesale in the mainframe Zork, so it came beforehand. (I’m almost 100% certain Hiroyuki Imabayashi, inventor of Sokoban, had no chance to see the game. The Sierra On-Line Apple II adventures made it over the ocean early but not Zork.)

You start at the upper left, and push sandstone blocks (the lighter ones on the map). The X has a depression which contains a book with an elegant description.

The book is written in a strong and elegant hand and is full of strange and wondrous pictures. The text is in a tongue unknown to you and is penned in many colours. Some of the words seem to change colour as you read them. The book itself is very old and the pages dry and brittle.

(Why British spelling, I wonder?)

You can use the book at a door with a narrow slot to escape (that’s on the bottom row of the map) but it consumes the book. The right way to get out and keep the book is to push the block with a ladder attached to the west side so it is positioned in a way you can climb back up the way you came.

You need to clear space more or less as shown. What makes this interesting in a puzzle sense is both blocks in the top row are restricted to that row via Sokoban-rules, so you don’t have enough room to push the ladder over via a direct route.

With the help of the ladder, you exit the puzzle.
Royal Puzzle Entrance
Lying on the ground is a small note of some kind.

I’ll get into the other exits from the Museum (a Technology Museum and a Jewel Room) next time, and possibly get all the way to the endgame? I’m still worried about another secret or holistic timing element (like the earthquake) I haven’t run into yet.

Posted March 13, 2023 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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21 responses to “Zork III: Some of the Words Seem To Change Colour as You Read Them

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  1. The British spelling of “colour” is a curious detail. I can’t think of another instance in the six games (counting the Enchanter series, too), though I may do some digging. If it IS unique to Zork III, I wonder what it means. Perhaps it is meant to make it seem more arcane to a primarily American audience?

  2. General question re Infocom’s parser vs. everyone else’s (especially re: Apple adventure games).

    Was Infocom’s parser as dramatically more advanced as I remember from my childhood? Having played through the vast majority of Apple adventure, I don’t remember any other text parser coming close to understanding (or appearing to convincingly understand) whole sentences and creative input outside the USE/LOOK/GET/TAKE/EXAMINE/TALK verb-noun inputs that every other game used. Were there any other companies out there with a comparably advanced parser, or was Infocom a lone wolf in the night?

    • Magnetic Scrolls had a parser on par with Infocom, but we won’t get to them until 1984.

      Some of the Synapse stuff I remember being relatively advanced, but they were also 1984.

      I remember the Telarium parser stuff being ok (but I’m fuzzier here), also also 1984.

      So, for 1982, not yet? Amongst the mainframe games even Warp which tried to be a better Zork and had a whole mainframe behind it had parser difficulties not present in Infocom.

      • I’ve got to find interviews about the development of their parser. When you think about how early it was developed, and that it was able to run on the extremely limited resources of an Apple ][, it seems nothing short of a miracle of programming.

      • Telarium was fine – but I think it was also because they pretty much told you the entire selection of verbs in the game in the manual, IIRC (at least in Dragonworld and Fahrenheit 451)

    • From what I remember, The Hobbit (1982) got some praise for its parser. Some example sentences the manual claims it handled:


      I remember that led to very high expectations for their subsequent Sherlock (1984) and Fellowship of the Ring (1985), but none of them seem to have left anywhere near as deep an imprint. Except that Sherlock is supposed to be legendarily buggy, but for very understandable reasons. Shadows of Mordor (1987), and The Crack of Doom (1989) pretty much passed under my radar.

      I believe Level 9 had a pretty good parser too, but I haven’t played their games. Their first was released in 1983, according to Wikipedia.

      Others have already mentioned Magnetic Scrolls. I remember they seemed particularly proud that their parser could handle “PLANT THE POT PLANT IN THE PLANT POT WITH THE TROWEL”, and it would correctly figure out that “pot plant” and “plant pot” were two different objects. Also, that command involves three objects, something I don’t think Infocom ever did?

      Torbjörn Andersson
      • I’ve played Level 9 games (not just the one I wrote about here already). Their parser is functional, but I wouldn’t put it anywhere near Infocom’s.

        I’ve seen mixed reviews on the Hobbit parser, but I don’t want to judge since I’ve never played it before and will hit it in 1982, I’ll find out soon enough.

      • I’d never mistake The Hobbit for an Infocom game, of course. In fact, it’s a bit of a mess, but it’s such a glorious mess that I’m willing to cut it some slack. It aimed high, and the result was memorable to me. (Though it probably helps that I was quite young when I played it.) According to The Digital Antiquarian, it was a nightmare to debug, and I can believe that!

        Torbjörn Andersson
      • I remember Sherlock being a bit of a running joke in the ZX Spectrum scene for all the ways you could exploit the AI to make terrible things happen to Watson, but not much else.

        Melbourne’s LOTR trilogy were even less memorable – they were adequate enough for cassette-based adventures of the mid 80s, but no more than that. The gonzo ambition of The Hobbit was completely lacking.

      • I remember a friend of mine saying he had played through the first of the LOTR games, which impressed me because what I saw of it on the ZX Spectrum was horrifyingly slow and tedious, at least at the start of the game.

        Other than that, about the only thing I ever heard about it was some magazine making fun of the “heavy metal Orc band” mentioned in one place.

        Torbjörn Andersson
      • We’ve played recently to a faithful port of The Hobbit in Spanish, and oh it is a glorious Trainwreck.

        Fascinating and very frustrating stuff.

  3. You don’t explicitly mention it here, but I assume you figured out the whole deal with the Scenic Vista and the places it takes you?

  4. You certainly can carry objects across the lake. You drop them from the shock of the cold, but you can dive and retrieve them. It ruins things like the torch, of course, but others are unharmed by the water.

    The earthquake happens somewhere around turns 85-130 (it’s semi-random). Catching it by chance is a bit rare. If you want to be sure to see it, you can just go to the Aqueduct View right off and simply wait there. Or it may amuse you to try being on the aqueduct itself at High Arch.

    • Do you remember if you got stuck by earthquake damage when you first played? (That is, was it a puzzle you worked out?)

      • Short answer is no, or at least probably not. But the long answer is that my best recollection of trying to play as a child or tween was that I mostly just floundered around in the places that you can reach before the earthquake, like the Land of Shadow, not really understanding what I was supposed to be doing, and making little if any actual progress. Also around this time I read the Invisiclues like a book, yet somehow never put the two together to try to actually solve the game. (And also, because I thought they were funny, recorded myself reading them aloud on my little tape recorder like it was some kind of radio show. Look, I was like 12-13, what do you want?) So the greatest likelihood there is that I never noticed the earthquake changing things. When as an adult I was playing off the Masterpieces CD, I went into it armed with that complete foreknowledge of the hints, and so was not trying to “solve” it in the usual sense, rather to optimize it.

  5. The aqueduct ruination is rightly criticized for being unfair and unforeseeable, but as others mentioned, you can retrieve items you drop by going down when at On the Lake. Thus you don’t have to apply the grue repellent until you’re in the dark on the south side of the lake. It lasts 4 turns, which IIRC is just enough time to get the key and make it back to the lake before it wears off. You can then dive down to retrieve the key on your way back through the lake.

    This is the second time in the Zork trilogy that determining that you are able to preposition a light source and then determining how to do so appears as a puzzle, requiring a geographical deduction. I think they are some of Infocom’s best.

    If you put the book in the door to escape the Royal Puzzle and later you die, does the book reappear in the puzzle? If not, it makes that temptation horribly unfair. The book should reappear in the puzzle after placing it in the door regardless IMO. That aspect ruins an otherwise fantastic puzzle. I guess you’re supposed to figure out that it’s not worth the risk of losing the book under any circumstance.

    I don’t remember if you mentioned this in your Zork 2 review, but while not required, the grue repellent is useful in that game, too. If you wear it in the crypt, you can see the final door without having to turn off the lamp (which is rightly criticized for being impossible to guess). The hint is that the label says to use it only in place of death (meant to be interpreted literally!) and the fact it hadn’t been used in the game until then and seems an unlikely red herring.

    • huh, I didn’t even think about moving the grue repellent, but you’re right, that gives a second route through

      I only realized you could dive in the lake until a fair bit after solving all that

      You technically don’t need to position the light source — you can just eat a death instead, and it causes your lamp and yourself to both warp back to the start. I actually had a save file that got through like that for a while but I needed to restart (for the hooded figure, which I’m through correctly now) so the second time I placed the torch as needed

      • Well, after looking at the map again for the first time in years, I was only half right at best. The repellent lasts for 4 turns. So once you go south into the first dark area room, then apply it, you still have to go south, then go east, then get the key, then go west (repellent expires) then go north twice. The second move north leads to guaranteed survival since you’re moving into a lit area, but on the first move north, you’d still have to get lucky enough to not be eaten by a grue. Each time you move in the dark, you can get lucky and survive, though it seems to be more often than 50% of the time that you die (if someone knows more precisely the odds, please chime in). This solution isn’t even mentioned in the Zork III invisiclues, so I wonder if the fact it works at all was just an oversight. But it does give you a chance to still solve the puzzle even if you get to this area too late in the game.

      • at least it isn’t like the “put the lantern in the chest to protect it” solution from earlier versions which was clearly a bug (the dark rooms have no description when lit up)

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