Video Game of the Day is a daily show available on Amazon Alexa devices and here on this website. Each day, we briefly discuss the history of a single game, randomly chosen. If you would like to listen on your daily flash briefing, you can enable Video Game of the Day here: https://amzn.to/2CNx2NJ.
Hello and welcome! My name is Katosepe and I’ll be your host for today’s Video Game of the Day.
We’ve talked about most genres on this show. Platformers, RPGs, sports, shooters, the list goes on and on. Today’s game though is in a genre that I don’t believe we have yet covered and yet, it’s one of the earliest in gaming. Today’s game is Zork, developed by Infocom for the PDP-10 mainframes in 1977.
Zork is a text adventure, meaning that there are no graphics to speak of, only words on the screen. Zork describes to the player where they are, such as “You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.” The player will then write into the game what they want to do, such as “Open Mailbox” or “Move East” The game then responds with the results of that action and so on.
The story of Zork puts players next to an abandoned house that leads to a vast underground cave network. While the objective of the game isn’t immediately clear, the purpose of Zork is to gather up several treasures and take them back to a trophy cabinet in the house. The game will not keep track of the map for you, however, so players are encouraged to try mapping out the world so they can keep track of where they are. Puzzles have to be solved as well, typically by finding items that can interact with other items. A locked door may have a key somewhere so players will have to go hunting for it.
You may have heard that Zork was originally developed for the PDP-10 system and may be thinking, “I don’t recall a computer or system like that.” You’d be right. The PDP-10 is actually a mainframe used primarily by large businesses or college campuses. In 1975, Will Crowther created the first adventure game, Colossal Cave Adventure, and it started circulating around colleges. When MIT got the game, students Dave Lebling, Marc Blanc, Bruce Daniels, and Tim Anderson became quick converts and by 1977, believed they could make their own game in the same style. Thus, development for Zork began.
It wasn’t until 1980 that Zork became available in any kind of commercial form, the first version being for the TRS-80 personal computers. Since Zork was previously built for a mainframe which had significantly larger hard drive space, when it was sold commercially, Zork had to be split into three parts. These became known as Zork 1: The Great Underground Empire, Zork 2: The Wizard of Frobozz, and Zork 3: The Dungeon Master.
Game critics didn’t exactly exist back then as they do now but sales for the game were remarkable for the time. The game was quickly ported to as many personal computer systems as they could manage and they continued to make sequels throughout the 80’s. In 1986, Infocom was bought by Activision, who had them continue to make Zork games until 1989. Today, Zork is still owned by Activision who has made many entries in the series themselves. Many of the Zork games can be purchased and played on modern hardware through GOG.com.
Thank you so much for listening! If you liked this episode and want to hear more, head to videogameoftheday.com where all of our episodes are archived. You can also learn more about Zork by following me on Twitter @vg_oftheday. Don’t forget to check back here tomorrow for another Video Game of the Day!
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