Zork was one of the first interactive fiction computer games and an early descendant of Colossal Cave Adventure. The first version of Zork was written in 1977–1979 on a PDP-10|DEC PDP-10 computer by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling, and implemented in the MDL programming language. All four were members of the MIT Dynamic Modelling Group.
"Zork" was originally MIT hacker jargon for an unfinished program. The implementors named the completed game Dungeon, but by that time the name Zork had already stuck. Zork has also been adapted to a widely panned book series.
Three of the original Zork programmers joined with others to found Infocom in 1979. That company adapted the PDP-10 Zork into Zork I-III, a trilogy of games for most popular small computers of the era, including the Apple II, the Commodore 64, the Atari 8-bit family, the TRS-80, CP/M systems and the IBM PC. Zork I was published on 5¼" and 8" floppy disks. Joel Berez and Marc Blank developed a specialized virtual machine to run Zork I, called the Z-machine. The first "Z-machine Interpreter Program" ZIP for a small computer was written by Scott Cutler for the TRS-80. The trilogy was written in ZIL, which stands for "Zork Implementation Language", a language similar to LISP. Personal Software published what would become the first part of the trilogy under the name Zork when it was first released in 1980, but Infocom later handled the distribution of that game and their subsequent games. Part of the reason for splitting Zork into three different games was that, unlike the PDP systems the original ran on, micros did not have enough memory and disk storage to handle the entirety of the original game. In the process, more content was added to Zork to make each game stand on its own.
Zork is set in a sprawling underground labyrinth which occupies a portion of the "Great Underground Empire". The player is a nameless adventurer whose goal is to find the treasures hidden in the caves and return alive with them. The dungeons are stocked with many novel creatures and objects, among them grues and zorkmids. Perhaps the most well known location in the Zork universe is Flood Control Dam #3, a place that is returned to in Zork sequels. The Zork universe and timeline has been extended by several of Infocom's other works of interactive fiction.
Zork and its relatives are works of interactive fiction. Zork distinguished itself in its genre as an especially rich game, in terms of both the quality of the storytelling and the sophistication of its text parser, which was not limited to simple verb-noun commands ("hit grue"), but some prepositions and conjunctions ("hit the grue with the Elvish sword").
See Zork series for details about the series that followed.
In the Zork games, the player is not limited to verb-noun commands, such as "take lamp", "open mailbox", and so forth. Instead, the parser supports more sophisticated sentences such as "put the lamp and sword in the case", "look under the rug", and "drop all except lantern". The game understands a good number of common verbs, including "take", "drop", "examine", "attack", "climb", "open", "close", "count", and many more. The games also support commands to the game (rather than in the game) such as "save" and "restore", "script" and "unscript" (which begin and end a text transcript of the game text), "restart", and "quit".
In all of the Zork text adventures, the following commands apply:
> n, s, e, w
- Short for "go north", "go south", etc.
> nw, ne, sw, se
- Short for "go northwest", "go southwest", etc.
> u and d
- Short for "go up" and "go down"
- Reveals a player's inventory
- Gives full descriptions after each command (rather than omitting details already given to the player)
- Displays the player's current score, number of moves, and ranking
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