The tough thing about playing Beyond Zork is resisting the temptation to go back and play Zorks I, II, and III. Actually, to be fair, I didn't resist. I downloaded the original Zork and played for about 20 minutes before I realized I still remembered the entire game by heart. I figured the time it took to type in all of the commands and win all three games--just as a prologue--would probably tax my readers' patience.
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.--Opening to the original Zork (1980)
I do love text adventures, though--not as much as good CRPGs, but I definitely have a soft spot for them. A world of commands at your fingertips, no images or sound except what your imagination conjures. The key to the Infocom text adventures (the Zork series, the Enchanter series, the Planetfall series, Deadline, and the inimitable Leather Goddesses of Phobos among many others) is that they were well-written. Playing them was like a combination between a good RPG and a good novel. They were also extremely funny; I don't know if Terry Pratchett ever played Zork or if the creators of Zork ever read the Discworld series (the games and the first books were published contemporaneously), but they both share a humorous subversion of traditional fantasy tropes.
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So to get properly into Beyond Zork, we should at least recap the previous games.
- In Zork, you play the role of an ageless, faceless, gender-neutral, culturally ambiguous adventure person (there is a "special topics" posting coming up on TVTropes) who starts out next to a house but soon finds himself exploring part of the once-flourishing, now-collapsed Great Underground Empire. The purpose of the game is to find 20 treasures and install them in a trophy case in the abandoned house. This grants you access to a tunnel that takes you to Zork II.
- Zork II: the Wizard of Frobozz picks up where Zork left off. Here, you must recover 10 treasures while contending with the mad wizard of the title.
- In Zork III, you solve a series of puzzles to become the new Dungeon Master of the Great Underground Empire and gain access to its vast treasure chambers.
The seaman looks up and maneuvers the boat toward shore. He cries out "I have waited three ages for someone to say those words and save me from sailing this endless ocean. Please accept this gift. You may find it useful!" He throws something which falls near you in sand, then sails off toward the west, singing a lively, but somewhat uncouth, sailor song.--The most rewarding moment in the Zork series. Trust me; you have to play it.
Throughout all of this, of course, you control your ageless, faceless, etc. character through the use of typed commands. Here is a transcript from the original Zork:
You are in the kitchen of the white house. A table seems to have been used recently for the preparation of food. A passage leads to the west and a dark staircase can be seen leading upward. A dark chimney leads down and to the east is a small window which is open. On the table is an elongated brown sack, smelling of hot peppers. A bottle is sitting on the table. The glass bottle contains a quantity of water.
Brown sack: taken. Glass bottle: taken.
Opening the brown sack reveals a lunch and a clove of garlic.
You are in the living room. There is a doorway to the east, a wooden door with strange gothic lettering to the west, which appears to be nailed shut, a trophy case, and a large oriental rug in the center of the room. Above the trophy case hangs an elvish sword of great antiquity. A battery-powered brass lantern is on the trophy case.
>TAKE SWORD AND LANTERN
Sword: taken. Brass lantern: taken.
With great effort, the rug is moved to one side of the room, revealing the dusty cover of a closed trap door.
>OPEN TRAP DOOR
The door reluctantly opens to reveal a rickety staircase descending into darkness.
You have moved into a dark place. The trap door crashes shut, and you hear someone barring it. It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue. Your sword is glowing with a faint blue glow.
The brass lantern is now on. You are in a dark and damp cellar with a narrow passageway leading north, ad a crawlway to the south. On the west is the bottom of a steep metal ramp which is unclimbable.
The Troll Room. This is a small room with passages to the east and south and a forbidding hole leading west. Bloodstains and deep scratches (perhaps made by an axe) mar the walls. A nasty-looking troll, brandishing a bloody axe, blocks all passages out of the room. Your sword has begun to glow very brightly.
The troll isn't much of a conversationalist. The troll pauses for a moment, perhaps thinking that you should re-read the manual.
Fiddling with the troll has no effect. The troll's mightly blow drops you to your knees.
>KILL TROLL WITH SWORD
Your attack is ineffective. The flat of the troll's axe hits you delicately on the head, knocking you out. The troll scratches his head ruminatively: might you be magically protected, he wonders? Conquering his fears, the troll puts you to death.
Thank God the troll killed me, or I might have just kept transcribing all the way to the end.
I didn't play the Zork trilogy as part of this project because they're not CRPGs. But Beyond Zork changes all of that. Although the interface is still controlled by text inputs, you have a named character--a named character with attributes like endurance, strength, dexterity, intelligence, compassion, and luck. You also gain experience points as you slay monsters. This is, to my knowledge, the only text/CRPG hybrid like this in existence.
Beyond Zork also reboots the story, making my summaries above a bit superfluous. The action moves out of the Great Underground Empire and to the land of Quendor, where the Age of Magic has given way to the Age of Science. To preserve their heritage from the future, the enchanters and enchantresses of the land have decided to hide away the Coconut of Quendor, a mysterious artifact that "embodies the essence of their wisdom." Your role in this quest is unclear at the beginning, as you start as a nameless peasant. Working through the winners of my "Guess the Game" posting, I named my character "Adamantyr."
I start at a hilltop next to a tree with nothing but a pack and a single Zorkmid (the game's currency) to my name. But soon I've ambled down the hill to where an old sailor is creating a painting on a canvas, and I've pulled a bit of driftwood out of the water to use as a club. Since "shillelagh" (what the game calls it) is too easy to misspell, I use the game's NAME command to dub my new club "Zink."
Note the little automap in the upper right-hand corner. It doesn't save me from having to actually create a map, but it helps to know what ways I can go.
Up the path a ways, I find a ledge with an inscription: "My tines be long, my tines be short, my tines end ere my first report. What am I?" Confidently, I answer "lightning," and in true Infocom style, I get my "reward":
Kerblam! A blast from the sky sends you sprawling over the brink of the ledge! You grab onto a rocky outcrop and manage to drag yourself back up to safety.
Oh, I know I'm going to like this game.