Zork Wiki

Zork I: The Great Underground Empire is an interactive fiction computer game written by Marc Blank, Dave Lebling, Bruce Daniels and Tim Anderson and published by Infocom in 1980. It was the first game in the popular Zork trilogy and was released for a wide range of computer systems, followed by Zork II and Zork III. Selling more than 400,000 copies,[1] it is Infocom's first game.


The game takes place in the Zork calendar year 948 GUE (although the passage of time is not notable in gameplay). The player steps into the deliberately vague role of an "adventurer". The game begins near a White House in a small, self-contained area. Although the player is given little instruction, the house provides an obvious point of interest.

When the player enters the house, it yields a number of intriguing objects: an ancient brass lantern, an empty trophy case, an intricately engraved sword, etc. Beneath the rug a trap door leads down into a dark dungeon. But what initially appears to be a dungeon is actually one of several entrances to a vast subterranean land--the Great Underground Empire. The player soon encounters dangerous creatures, including deadly grues, an axe-wielding troll, a giant cyclops and a nimble-fingered thief.

The ultimate goal of Zork I is to collect the Nineteen Treasures of Zork and install them in the trophy case. Finding the treasures requires solving a variety of puzzles such as the navigation of two brutal mazes and some intricate manipulations at Flood Control Dam #3.

Placing all of the treasures into the trophy case scores the player 350 points and grants the rank of "Master Adventurer." An ancient map with further instructions then magically appears in the trophy case. These instructions provide access to a stone barrow. The entrance to the barrow is the end of Zork I and the beginning of Zork II.

It is possible to score all 350 points in 231 moves (and complete the game completely in 236 moves).[2]


Infocom did not begin their tradition of including feelies, or extra items related to a game, until the 1982 release Deadline. Later re-releases of the game, however, were packaged with:

  • The booklet The Great Underground Empire: A History, by "Froboz Mumbar"
  • A map roughly corresponding to a portion of the game's area

Although the back of the Zork I "Grey box" depicted a zorkmid coin included with the other feelies, production difficulties led to the coins' omission from the packages. Zorkmid coins were not included as feelies until the release of the Zork Trilogy boxed set.

Scans and photographs of the box's feelies can be seen here.


File:Zork I computer game.png

Screenshot of Zork I running on a modern interpreter.

The opening text of Zork I is among the most famous descriptions in computer games:

West of House
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.

This is quite simplistic when compared to Infocom's later games, many of which started with screenfuls of introductory text.

Several of the game's situations and descriptions have become iconic within the field of interactive fiction, such as the brass lantern and the "Elvish sword of great antiquity".

Zork I also introduced the famous grue, a "sinister, lurking presence" who kills adventurers who go exploring in the dark. Grues appeared (or, at least, were mentioned) in many subsequent Infocom adventures, right up to the 1997 graphic adventure Zork Grand Inquisitor, published by Activision.

"Fweep" is the sound that the vampire bat makes. In Sorcerer, "Fweep" is also the name of a spell that changes the caster into a bat. According to the Sorcerer InvisiClues hint book, the bat is repeating the last word he ever heard as a human—if the bat was previously a human, of course.


The original version of Zork I was published by Personal Software and simply called Zork. It was distributed in clear plastic bags containing only the game disk and a 36-page booklet. Infocom's first "self-published" version of Zork I was in the so-called "Folio" format which included a single piece of paper describing how to run the game. The feelies noted above were only introduced when Zork I was re-released in the "Grey box" format.

Zork I was one of five Infocom games that were released in Solid Gold format with in-game hints.

There is also an abridged version, called Mini-Zork I, dated November 24, 1987. Mini-Zork was released free of charge as a promotion.

A German language version was developed, but never released. An unfinished version of this story file, dated January 13, 1988, has made its way into public circulation. The German is evidently non-native, containing many spelling and grammar errors. It is known that Infocom's game designer, Jeff O'Neill, worked on this version.

Two Japanese versions were released. The first, in 1992, by SystemSoft for the PC98 computer system. The second, about five years later for the Sega Saturn and PlayStation in 1996. Both versions are quite different from one another, but both use a more graphic interface for displaying and interacting with the game and inventory items. The PC98 version uses the standard text input parser, adapted to Japanese, while also allowing for a "function key" based quick input, where function keys are mapped to well-used commands (read, take, inventory, etc.). As well, the numeric keypad can be used to traverse the map. The Playstation and Saturn versions were developed by Shoeisha, are controlled without a keyboard, and include more graphics (images for locations, notably), sound effects, music, and auto-mapping. Both versions were only released in Japan.

Zork I was included as a minigame in the games Call of Duty: Black Ops and Call of Duty: Black Ops Cold War.

Fans remade Zork I as a 3D game using the Neverwinter Nights game engine. The remake is titled Zork I: The Great Underground Empire.[3]


Zork is a source for many famous quotes. These are sometimes used in other interactive fiction games, or as a knowing identification between fans.

  • [upon entering a dark place, initially the attic or basement] "It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue." - The idea of dark places being dangerous because of a grue is well known in interactive fiction. Wil Wheaton used this line as a form of recognition in the opening of his keynote address at the Penny Arcade Expo.[4]
  • [message on an inside wall of the house] "This space intentionally left blank." - A play on the last name of author Marc Blank.
  • [when entering the command "plugh" or "xyzzy", magic words from Colossal Cave Adventure] "A hollow voice says 'Fool.'"[5]
  • [Wandering a maze in the basement] "You are in a maze of twisty passages, all alike." — This phrase, also from Colossal Cave Adventure, has inspired a number of references, including inspiring the title of Nick Montfort's scholarly work on interactive fiction, Twisty Little Passages. That the rooms are all alike and thus difficult to map is a common problem, one discussed by Graham Nelson[6]. The phrase is also found in Dunnet, the built-in text adventure game for Emacs. Dunnet was written by Ron Schnell in 1983, and offers subtle variations on the "Twisty Little Passages" theme for humor and gameplay.


  1. Simon Carless (2008-09-20). Great Scott: Infocom's All-Time Sales Numbers Revealed. GameSetWatch. Think Services. Retrieved on 2008-09-23.
  2. Piercy, Bill (2006-11-11). Stylin' Through the GUE (English) (Text in ZIP archive). Retrieved on 2007-04-25. This is a plain text file packed in a ZIP (file format). It is from Solutions S-# (English). Classic Adventures Solution Archive. Retrieved on 2007-04-25.
  3. Fan-made remake for Neverwinter Nights from the Neverwinter Vault
  4. http://www.joystiq.com/2007/08/26/pax-07-audio-from-the-wil-wheaton-keynote/ at the 2 minute, 30 second mark
  5. ">xyzzy" "A hollow voice says 'Fool.'" Zork I: The Great Underground Empire, Infocom, 1981, Revision 88, Serial number 840726 http://www.ifiction.org/games/play.phpz
  6. The Inform Designer's Manual, Fourth Edition 2001, Chapter VIII: The Craft of Adventure, section 50 "The design of puzzles" p385 http://www.inform-fiction.org/manual/DM4.pdf. Also available in HTML: http://www.inform-fiction.org/manual/html/s50.html

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