Friday, November 5, 2010

Game 31: Beyond Zork: The Coconut of Quendor (1987)

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.
Bumper sticker available from
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.


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.


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, and 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.


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.
Character creation in Beyond Zork.
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.


  1. I feel Zork can't be mentioned without linking to MC Frontalot:

    There, much better.

    I must admit, I never got into text adventures. My start was with King's Quest and that kinda spoiled me, even though you still use a text parser.

    I love reading about the puzzles and descriptions though, which were certainly more inventive than graphical adventures (as your examples above have shown).

  2. Well, there's Xoru and Advanced Xoru, but I don't think those were "commercial" and the latter was a BBS door.

    This one is tough -- I think it's one of the hardest of the Infocoms, although not at Hitchhiker's Guide or Spellbreaker level of insanity -- but it also manages to be fair.

    A plug might be timely for a current Kickstarter project by Andrew Plotkin, who wants to quit his job to write interactive fiction full time. He has raised $19,516 so far (!).

  3. Oh man I am going to be the best club in the world. YOU CAN COUNT ON THAT.

    ...I actually have not played many text adventures. Except the "Thy Dungeonman" series. But they probably don't count because they are both really short and parodies.


  4. Thanks for sharing that, Andy. I no longer worry that I play too many games.

    Jason, I am running into a lot of difficulties with the puzzles--more on that in my next posting. Thanks for posting the link; I had never heard of Kickstarter before. Maybe I'll try a project by which I write the CRPG Addict full-time.

    Zink, sometimes I wonder why you even read my blog. FYI, I replaced the wrong image with the correct one, so you can see me dubbing the shillelagh now.

  5. Well, don't be afraid to resort to the "can get help from blog comments" option on the puzzles.

    I can say one of the issues is you'll run across many puzzles long before you can solve them. If you're beating your head on something there's a good chance you just can't solve it yet.

    Also, don't forget this is still a CRPG and some puzzles have alternate solutions that are more CRPG-like than interactive fiction-ish.

  6. Also also: You absolutely do want to read the documentation, particularly the "Lore and Legends of Quendor" which is chock full of stuff essential for some puzzles.

  7. Thanks for the tip, Jason! You're dead right. I was just able to solve a puzzle involving a dust bunny thanks to the manual. I had skimmed it before, but I didn't realize how much good intel is in here.

  8. @CRPGaddict: Actually, my lack of familiarity with any of these games is probably EXACTLY the reason I'm reading this blog. It's fun to learn about a genre I actually have very little experience with. If I already knew everything about CRPGs, I probably wouldn't be enjoying this blog as much as I do.

    Besides, although I haven't played many ACTUAL CRPGs, I've played many related genres. Like, every other kind of RPG ever, for example.

    ...I just thought of something. If a game that's a different kind of RPG, like, say, Final Fantasy 6, were to somehow be available on a computer, would that count as a CRPG even though it is very dissimilar from other CRPGs in a lot of ways?

  9. I have Beyond Zork in my collection as part of the Masterpieces of Infocom set but I've never got very far with the game. I'm interested to learn more about the game through your postings.

    I really like the idea of an adventure / interactive fiction game with CRPG elements and have had a couple of attempts over the years trying to write my own using the TADS2/TADS3 authoring system.

    I've never finished any of the Infocom games with the exception of Enchanter. I nearly finished Zork 1 but decided I'd put it into an unwinable state. Must give these games another go.

    Infocom games (like Origin with Ultima) usually had interesting packaging and materials which helped set the scene for the game to come. I used to really appreciate the packaging and would spend ages reading through the manuals and background.

    1. Acrin, sorry for the years-late reply -- just discovered this blog! An excellent TADS IF/RPG hybrid is "Magocracy" --

  10. Zink, there are PC versions of FF7 and FF8. (I own both of them.)

  11. @Zink You mean JRPGs. There are plenty of them available on the PC. Go to Rampant Coyote's site. He has quite a few there:

  12. Woot! Better keep a running tally of how many ways my avatar "dies" and the manners of his gruesome demise.

  13. Yeah, I know what a JRPG is, and I know that many are available on PC. What I was asking is if they count as CRPGs or not, since they are, technically, on the computer, despite being very dissimilar from most CRPGs.

    Anyway I just checked Wikipedai and, according to their list, they do.

  14. Acrin, manuals and packaging are a dead art, I agree. Both Origin and Infocom definitely excelled in the quality of their physical materials, from Origin's cloth maps and beautifully-written game manuals to Infocom's wonderfully humorous and original clue books.

    Zink, I hope it was obvious I was kidding you. I'm very grateful for your comments.

  15. Beyond Zork is one of the IF games I spent massive amounts of time in as a teen... It was too difficult for me to finish, but it had the most colorful characters & monsters of any game I think I've played, and I had a lot of fun.

    I looked it up: Discworld #1 was out in 1983, and Zork was written in 1977 for mainframes. I've figured something in the UK influenced Sir Terry Pratchett, Douglas Adams, John Cleese, etc. -- while Zork's creators were influenced humor-wise by merely being college kids & perhaps by whatever late-70s British humor was getting to MIT?

    1. Definitely Infocom was on the British humour wavelength, as evidenced by their bringing Douglas Adams on board for two of their games.

  16. There was at least one text adventure/RPG combo released before Beyond Zork. That would be The Wonderful World of Eamon, released originally in 1979/80 (depending on who you ask) on the Apple 2. I believe that it also has the honor of being the first CRPG to supply you a construction set to make your own adventures.

    The gameplay is very similar to the old Scott Adams adventures - two word commands, lame parser, but with the addition of spells and combat. There are around 250 adventure modules made for it, too, so it would probably be difficult or trivial to "win" under your standards, depending on which subset of adventures you consider to be a victory condition.

    There is a port to DOS called Eamon Deluxe, available somewhere on this site:

  17. There is another text adventure/RPG hybrid: Zyll, written by Marshal Linder and Scott Edwards, two IBM employees, for the IBM PC Jr in 1984. It was marketed as an adventure game, but it has character classes, equipment, a selection of spells for the wizard. IIRC there is no character development however.

    It was originally released as a booter, but has been patched to run under DOS. Ideally, it should be played with an XT keyboard (with the function keys to the left, not on top), since the menu choices are arranged to match the function keys that trigger them.

    1. Already covered in the blog (and it looks like a very interesting game):

      That "booter" bit is interesting though: it probably means that you insert the disk and *then* boot your PC, and instead of the operating system, the game loads directly? That's how it works/worked on consoles and home computers, and now I'm struggling to remember if any of the old, old PC games that I played on 086 or 286 machines worked like that..


    2. My memory of wizardry was that we had to boot with it in the drive. That was on a 286 or 386 I forget which we had back then.

    3. Yeah, even Wizardry V: Heart of the Maelstrom, at least in its first release, was loaded as a "booter" (I had not even heard the term, but it certainly makes sense). This may be the reason I was never able to stand to play it for long.

  18. This is, to my knowledge, the only text/CRPG hybrid like this in existence.

    Barring, well, virtually every MUD for 30 years.

  19. I think this game and Braminar are in wrong order in the game rankings sheet

  20. I interviewed at Blizzard for a designer role on WoW back in the early aughts. Like most developers, they had a written test to fill out asking this and that about game design. The only one I remember was the last, and only non-technical question. #15: "It is dark. What is likely to happen?"

  21. I just finished the game and have written my rating for TAG, but I wanted to quickly look around and see what others felt about the game. I hadn't discovered your blog yet when you wrote this and missed it somehow.

    The key confusion you had here which is a criticism that was lobbed at Brian Moriarty at the time within Infocom was that "Beyond Zork" wasn't a sequel to Zork. The original Zork trilogy had been followed by a lesser-sales "Enchanter" trilogy in the same universe. ("Enchanter" was originally called Zork 4 and even has references to that in the code, but the next two were "Sorcerer" and "Spellbreaker"). That series took the three Dungeon-derived games and built a larger world around them with a lead who would see a lot more of it. It ended with the destruction of magic in Quendor and the ending scene of that final game leads right into the opening of this one. ("Wishbringer", also by Brian Moriarty, was also set in the same universe.)

    The fact that Infocom made their first Zork game in years a sequel to a game that wasn't even called Zork no doubt confused many players, including a 14-years younger version of you.

    Now onward to look at your rating. Mine is pretty mediocre.

    1. I actually played Spellbreaker when I was younger, at the time not knowing that it was a sequel to two other games, nor that it was set in the same world as Zork. I did remember that destroying magic was a possible ending in Spellbreaker. I didn't put two and two together with the beginning of this one.


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