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ZORK

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Does anybody else remember ZORK?

It was something I played briefly in my youth. It was one of my very first adventure games. This was long before anything like graphical user interfaces had made a big splash in computing, let alone PC gaming, so the action and suspense played itself out in the form of lines of text.

My first ‘MMO’ experience was similar. It’s not strictly a massively multiplayer experience, as I have no idea how many simultaneous players the server supports, but MUME – Multi-Users of Middle-Earth was perhaps my first real foray into online gaming, happening about the same time I really hit my stride with Trade Wars.

Speaking of which, I’m still interested in getting some kind of iteration of that thing going on my local server with friends and stuff. I just haven’t had the time.

Anyway, text-based adventuring. These are actually more intricate and deep than you might expect. Instead of relying on glitsy graphics or gameplay powered by a few quick button-presses, the designer has to include common command ideas such as “LOOK”, “GET” and “INVENTORY” while being ready to respond to unknown commands like “RESPAWN”, “SPONTANEOUSLY COMBUST” or “TEABAG”.

There’s also the fact that it’s the player who populates the game world, at least in a sense. By reading the text of the adventure, it’s your imagination that are giving the characters, settings and threats of the world flesh, weight and meaning. This requires the setting to be well-written, with clear descriptions and consequences that matter. It also means that the designers need to lay out a path to victory for the player, with obstacles and misdirects placed carefully so that once the player gets the hang of which commands work, there’s still plenty of challenge to be had.

How might a text-based adventure if it were programmed today, say using a popular IP?

I give you “You Awaken in Razor Hill.”

I can’t assume that every reader who passes by here knows enough about World of Warcraft to get all of the in-jokes, but pay attention to some of the longer descriptions. This is well-written, cleanly described and carefully directed work. More than just an exercise in “trolling the forums for the lulz,” it’s a great example of good writing, good design and a fantastic result.

It also had me laughing so hard I was crying. So, there’s that as well.

2 Comments

  1. My first text based game was infocom’s Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I played alot of the hybrid text/sprite graphic games when I was younger too. That and being a MUD admin now after playing on the same one since may of ’99 this post caught my attention 😉

  2. Meh. Call me a youngster but I dislike text based games. That’s just not the optimal way to use a visual medium. Plus I’m easily irritated when the game refuses to pick up my suggestions or ends up having me do something I really didn’t mean to because of a vague phrase. And memorizing a set of directions like north north east open trap door doesn’t fall under my definition of fun (Why exactly is it that in Zork I can go east, then west and not end up in the same place again?).

    Still, even I know it should be “You’re likely to be eaten by a grue”. Sir, I am disappoint.

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