By Jason "loonyboi" Bergman
t's strange to think about, but when Zork I was first released, I was all of four years old. I can't remember that, of course, but it's the truth.
I was a late-comer to the Zork series, actually. My first actual Infocom game was titled Seastalker, and was part of the short-lived Infocom "kids adventure" series. If I recall correctly, it was a birthday present, actually, which would have been my seventh.
Looking back on that game, I have to admit that it wasn't the greatest adventure ever created, but luckily for those Infocom guys, it was enough to show me the world of the text-adventure. That game was about a sea monster, and while it wasn't especially difficult, it certainly did the trick to an overly imaginitive geek-to-be like myself.
After completing Seastalker, I was amazed to discover that there were plenty of other text games out there. So, I set out to play them. Play them all. I have no problem saying that those titles represent (to me, at least) the finest game design in the short history of this medium. The sense of adventure, the visions, the whole experience...was (and remains) unsurpassed.
When I look back at those games, many fantastic titles come to mind...The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, (in my opinion, the single greatest game of all time) Suspended, Stationfall, hell, even Shogun was pretty damn good (and when was the last time James Clavell made a game, anyway?). But while some games were better, none has the historical significance of the original Zork.
Not to mention the personal sigificance...Zork was the first game I ever played that mixed humor and adventure successfully. It's actually laugh-out-loud funny, and provides a thouroughly enjoyable experience. Zork is, of course, for those who can't recall (or who didn't grow up with the game) an adventure that is completely open-ended. While it has a linear (well...somewhat) plotline, it's actually more fun to just walk around and explore...there's always something you overlooked. Being a text-adventure, you're limited only to your own imagination...unlike later games, where technology stands in the way, the minimalist nature of Infocom games alows for much more freedom.
The game opens rather simply (hmm...I wonder if this is technically a screenshot):
...and with that begins an epic journey into the dark recesses of the white house (and the Great Underground Empire). You'll encounter the infamous Grue, figure out how to make a broken mechanical bird fly, and eventually walk off into the inevitable sequel, Zork II.
The Zork series has been resurrected many times, from its first foray into graphics (the somewhat average Zork Zero) to last year's Zork: The Grand Inquisitor (which, despite its return to the roots of Zork I, failed to live up to its name). Fortunately for us Infocom evangelists, when Activision released Zork: The Grand Inquisitor, they also made the original freeware (along with Zork II and III) making it available to a whole new generation of Frobozzians. Today, Z-machine, or Infocom text game, interpreters are available for just about every platform you can think of...from Linux, to Win98, to yes, even the Palm Pilot (there's nothing like Zork on the subway...trust me).
If you're wondering why I chose to spotlight Zork I in this Bargain Bin, it's because I don't think these games are recognized for being the groundbreaking titles that they are. And since the goal of this column is to point out great, affordable games that can run on just about every system any of our readers are likely to have (well...short of a WebTV) then this just qualifies too well. So if you've never played the game, download it. If you're disappointed...well...e-mail feedback and let us know. I don't expect many people to react that way. :)
- Jason "loonyboi" Bergman is the editor-in-chief here at loonygames.
|Credits: Bargain Bin logo illustrated and is © 1998 Dan Zalkus. Bargain Bin is © 1998 Jason Bergman. All other content is © 1998 loonyboi productions. Unauthorized reproduction is strictly prohibited and like, in poor taste, dude.|