Archive for the ‘Zork’ Tag

Zork (original MUDDLE mainframe version)   20 comments


ZORK is a game of adventure, danger, and low cunning. In it you will explore some of the most amazing territory ever
seen by mortal man. Hardened adventurers have run screaming from the terrors contained within!

In ZORK the intrepid explorer delves into the forgotten secrets of a lost labyrinth deep in the bowels of the earth,
searching for vast treasures long hidden from prying eyes, treasures guarded by fearsome monsters and diabolical traps!

No PDP-10 should be without one!

PDP-10, picture by Michael L. Umbricht

I wanted to play the next adventure game chronologically after the Crowther and Woods Adventure, but the history of mainframe games (on monstrosities like the PDP-10) is so murky it was difficult to tell what should come next. For one thing, the mainframe games did not have “release dates” — they were works in progress and in some cases earlier versions were more well-known than later versions. If it took 4 years to write something should I be using the end date or the start date? What if the later changes were only minor things dealing with source ports?

Additionally, even with testimony from the original authors, memories are foggy about exact years (something Dennis Jerz struggled with in his Adventure article) and the early history of electronic games tends to the wildly inaccurate anyway.

Fortunately, in 1985 the New Zork Times published a “History of Zork” which not only mentions not only years but months, so aside from one exception (which I will place next chronologically) it’s fairly clear Zork came next after Adventure.

Specifically, in early 1977 after the Crowther and Woods Adventure had gone viral on the ARPAnet (precursor to the Internet) and a group at MIT (Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling) got the urge to write their own game:

Dave wrote (in MUDDLE) a command parser that was almost as smart as Adventure’s; Marc and I [Tim Anderson], who were both in the habit of hacking all night, took advantage of this to write a prototype four-room game. It has long since vanished. There was a band, a bandbox, a peanut room (the band was outside the door, playing “Hail to the Chief”), and a “chamber filled with deadlines.”

This led through the summer and the fall of 1977 to progress on what was at the time called Zork, until Robert M. Supnik got the notion to translate Zork from MUDDLE to FORTRAN:

At any rate, shortly after the Great Blizzard of ’78 he had a working version, initially for PDP-11s. Since it was in FORTRAN, it could run on practically anything, and by now it has.

At the same time the name got changed from Zork to Dungeon because as Tim writes: “Zork was too much of a nonsense word, not descriptive of the game”. This held for around a year when:

Fortunately for us, a certain company (which shall remain nameless) decided to claim that it had trademark rights to the name Dungeon, as a result of certain games that it sold. We didn’t agree (and MIT had some very expensive lawyers on retainer who agreed with us), but it encouraged us to do the right thing, and not hide our “Zorks” under a bushel.

(He’s referring to TSR and its boardgame Dungeon! from 1975.)

So the name got changed back to Zork, and the rest is history which I’ll sum up via original logo and box art rather than words:

(Image from the Gallery of Undiscovered Entities.)

(Image from Ye Olde Infocom Shoppe.)

Just like Adventure there’s a bevy of ports, but I’m going to go with one based off the original MUDDLE code (rather than the FORTRAN rewrite) into Z-code by Ethan Dicks called ZDungeon. I compared it with the mainframe version on Twenex and it is accurate enough for me to be happy.

Actual gameplay will start in my the next post!

Posted March 31, 2011 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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