The Lost Treasures of InfoCom: Zork I: The Underground Empire

| Free on iTunes

As hard as it is to believe, there was a time when computers had no graphics and you didn't interact with them by swiping, dragging, or pointing and clicking. Color on a display was either black and white or black and green (it was thought that green text was easier on the eyes. The court is still out on that one.) You used a keyboard to type in commands on a Command Line and the computer would respond depending on what you typed in.

Ahh, those were less harried times. What takes todays ubiquitous laptops and tablets fractions of a second to crunch took systems large enough to fill and power the average American home days, even weeks to muddle through. In fact, any smart phone users carries in his or her pocket more computing power than many countries had a mere 50 years ago.

Free on iTunes: Zork!

When computers started showing up in home offices then a new market opened, computer based entertainment. After all, there was a box that cost several thousand dollars in a growing number of homes that pretty much sat idle when owners were not text processing or number crunching.

But how much entertainment can one get from a box that could only display text? As it turns out, quite a lot. A company called InfoCom created a series of text-based adventures that only required commands entered via keyboard. These adventures were more like interactive novels, the environments and the characters were well thought out, and the plots were fun to go through. The first of these from InfoCom was Zork. In it you, as the adventurer, texted your way through an underground realm filled with creatures and treasure. The object was to get through the adventure alive and with whatever booty you could find.

Zork was a fun romp that I never finished. The problem with text games and even on todays über-graphic adventures is that you have to sit in front of computer screen or TV to play them. If you are like me sitting in one place for too long wears on the nerves. I played until I started getting antsy then ejected from my chair for real life adventuring. I sometimes thought how nice it would be to take Zork with me to play during those in a day when I have a few minutes to kill.

Well, thanks to Activision Publishing, The Lost Treasures of InfoCom is now available for your iOS device of choice. To those of you who remember playing the game and to those of your who have never heard of text adventuring, welcome to the world of Zork and it's good.

Zork

The entire game, Zork I: The Great Underground Empire, is free! No ads! Included are virtual versions of all the add-ins that came with original game, including the box.

ZorkZork I: The Freebie

Start the game and, true to its roots, you are presented with, "You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here." and a blinking cursor that's waiting for your commands.

What has always been nice about InfoCom text games is that the commands it understand were more like people talk and less like you were interacting with a machine. For instance, you could type in, "Look around," or, "Open the mailbox" instead the more mechanical, "Look," or "Open mailbox". This may seem trivial, but it made the game a bit friendlier and engaging.

ZorkUh oh! Things are getting tense already!

What's also nice is that you can save a frequently used command as a shortcut. Get enough commands and you seldom have to use the keyboard, simply tap the command then the "Return" icon in the lower right corner to execute the command. Slick!

But Activision didn't stop there, they've updated the controls to take advantage of the more modern mobile platform. Touch a word anywhere on the screen and it will appear on the command line. You can build sentences this way then hit Return to execute. There's even an auto-complete and abbreviated text feature to help take some of the tedium out of typing.

ZorkZork Maps!!

Of course, if you have to leave the game you can pick it up exactly where you left off, and, just as with the original, you can save your current place in one of ten "slots", then restore to that spot anytime.

This brings me to the first of two problems I have with Lost Treasures, if you have more than one iOS device, and many of us do, you would think that if you started playing a game on one you should be able to continue playing on another. This is especially true since Lost Treasures uses Game Center to track your scores and such. Unfortunately, that ability does not exist. I had hope that I could restore a saved game between devices, that would have made sense to me. But nnnoooooooooo! Start a game on your iPhone and you have to keep playing it on your iPhone. Bummer.

ZorkVirtual add-ins!

The second problem I have with Zork is that you can't annotate the maps or even take notes in the game. In the old days we had graph paper and crib notes to help solve the riddles. I should have something similar on my mobile device in the game.

Even with these glaring feature omissions Zork I: The Great Underground Empire is well worth the download. I call it up when I'm standing in line, eating lunch, or need a break from Words with Friends. There's even a good chance that you'll finish it since it's available where ever you go. When you're done and you feel like you want to continue the adventure, you can, but you'll have to cough up cash to do so. Activision grouped the InfoCom games into five collections, each is US$2.99, or you can get the entire game library for US$9.99.

OK happy adventurer, that's a wrap for this week. I've already lined up a nice list of freebie to discuss for next week so see you then.

Make sure you check out this week's featured freebie, Gesundheit! Your kids are gonna love it.

Comments

Andy Holleron

I think PlanetFall was my favorite although I do recall a certain risqué Infocom adventure called Leather Goddess that included a scratch and sniff card, rubber tubing and a Yak.

wab95

Vern:

I recall going to someone’s house in the early days of home computing and seeing amber text on a black screen. Amber! We all gathered about and wondered whether amber could be the future of home computing.

I am curious as to whether Zork could have an appeal beyond the nostalgic, specifically, could modern mobile device gamers get interested in a text-based game.

Empirical observation is required. I am going to suggest this to my son and see how he responds.

Vern Seward

@Andy: I didn’t do either PlanetFall or Leather Goddess of Phobos, but they are included in the for-purchase package. It’s a shame the add-ins are only virtual (no scratch-n-sniff).

@Wab95: I think the mobile environment is ideal for text based games. Graphics can be distracting and requires you to look at the screen continuously to play whereas text games only require you read the description after each command you’ve entered. Actually, you don’t enter have to read it yourself. It could be a group effort on a road trip. A diversion while waiting for an oil change. Something to do inflight that doesn’t annoy the guy next to you who’s trying to sleep.

In fact, I think Activision should team with Dragon Speech and make a voice activated version. grin

Vern

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