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Zork /zork/ /n./
The second of the great early experiments in computer fantasy gaming; see ADVENT. Originally written on MIT-DM during 1977-1979, later distributed with BSD Unix (as a patched, sourceless RT-11 FORTRAN binary; see retrocomputing) and commercialized as `The Zork Trilogy' by Infocom. The FORTRAN source was later rewritten for portability and released to Usenet under the name "Dungeon". Both FORTRAN "Dungeon" and translated C versions are available at many FTP sites.
- from _The New Hacker's Dictionary_ by Eric S. Raymond
The concept for Zork was initially conceived in the late 1970s. Infocom itself also had its roots at this time, in the form of a computer science research group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. The members of this group (Marc Blank, Dave Lebling, Tim Anderson abd Bruce Daniels) began developing an interactive fiction game (at this stage a text-only game) and lo and behold, in June 1977, "Dungeon" was born.
This mainframe version of Zork became popular at MIT, and not soon after developed a cult following. Apprently, in 1994, the original Dungeon was still on some college computer networks, and even on BBSs and commerical online services. That itself attests to the popularity of the game, and you can still find it floating around.
By the end of the 70's, our heroes at MIT had finished their studies and entered the Real World. Discussions of the "good old days" at MIT amongst the group some time later revealed that Zork was one of the more prominent highlights. Eventually, many members of the group got back together (sounds almost like a Beatles reunion) and formed their own corporation, with the name Infocom. Infocom began looking for ways to start obtaining income, and many projects were outlined including electronic mail, database programs, word processors and the like.
But Zork was not to be forgotten. It was up there in the list of projects of revenue realisation, and Infocom ultimately agreed that by bringing Zork to the home computer market, they would be on to something rewarding. At this time, the majority of home computers were unable to cope with running the whole Zork game, so a method to compress the game was required. Joel Berez (another one of our heroes) and Marc Blank then began working on this way of compressing Zork. Some changes were made to the game, and portions chopped off, with the excluded portions to be used again in the future, in other Zork games. Dave Lebling also took to cutting down the geography and Zork locations and dividing the game into different sections. These sections later became the 1980 release of Zork: The Great Underground Empire, Parts I and II.
The first installments of Zork were immediately popular and to quote Peter Spear, they were "an instant sensation. The folks at Infocom received countless glowing reviews from their peers and the press. Sales of the game were beyond expectation. Eventually over one-million computer users worldwide would bring Zork into their own homes... Zork indeed was around to stay".
Zork I, II and III were text-only, leaving the player to use their own imagination to visualize the rooms, the objects and the other beings in the games. There were no onscreen mapping facilities available, so adventurers had to rely on pencil and paper, I certainly remember going through reams of paper just trying to map the Maze from Zork I.
The mid to late 1980's saw enormous growth in the home computer market and technology. This growth thus enabled Infocom to create more than just text-only products, by Frobs we had graphical interfaces! And so in 1987, the next installment of Zork called "Beyond Zork" employed a graphical interface, and an onscreen mapping facility that would change with each new room location. New elements were added to the game, such as percentage ratings for attributes such as strenght, dexterity, endurance and so forth. Beyond Zork also allowed the player to create their own male or female character, with that character being personally referred to in parts of the game.
One year later, Infocom fully utilized these new-fangled tools of text intertwined with graphics and animation, in the form of their largest game ever at the time), "Zork Zero". Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz also attempted to sift through the previous ten years of the Zork games, and tie up all those loose ends and open questions that never seemed to have a concrete answer such as the origin of the white house with the boarded front door.
Sadly, for Infocom fans, it would be another five years before the next installment of Zork. But when Return to Zork was finally released in 1993, it was worth the wait. Audio-visual technology, a cast of Hollywood stars and even a soundtrack fully exploited what multimedia had to offer. Finally, fans were able to fully experience what they had only been able to imagine with the earlier Zork games, that being sounds and sights. By this time, Infocom had been "taken over" by Activision, so Return to Zork and subsequent Zork games bear the Activision label.
The most recent installment in the Zork family is Zork Nemesis. This is a truly beautiful game, with fabulous graphics, and a soundtrack which reflects the visual settings (the Asylum music and sounds are pretty creepy). Zork Nemesis employed Z-Vision Surround Technology which enabled the player to move around 360 degrees.
Perhaps it should be noted that the two recent Zork games (RTZ and ZN) were not largely embraced by diehard Zork fans, who felt that the true essence of the Zork legends could only ever be contained in the original Infocom Zork Trilogy. It is even arguable amongst Zorkers whether or not BZ and Z0 are "true Zork".
- Zork FAQ