You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a small mailbox here.
So begins the text adventure game “Zork”, written by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling between 1977 and 1979. Although not the first computer game (Spacewar almost certainly claims that prize), Zork marks the emergence of text adventures games from University projects, to the mass market. You can trace the likes of Skyrim and Uncharted directly back to them.
I can still remember the first text adventure game I played. It was a version of “The Hobbit” on the MSX in about 1984. The game presented a scene drawn in front of you, along with a description, and the invitation to issue commands via the keyboard. Typing commands such as “open door”, “go east”, and so on would describe changes to the world around you via the printed word, and your imagination would do the rest.
If Steven Spielberg has retained the roots of the novel, Zork is about to become a LOT better known, because it features in “Ready Player One”. The game was referenced in a riddle half-way through the novel – “The captain conceals the Jade Key, in a dwelling long neglected. But you can only blow the whistle, once the trophies are all collected”. I won’t ruin any more than this, because Zork is really there as a background for the rest of the riddle. I will give you a clue though – if you know what Steve Jobs and Steve Wozniak nearly got arrested for before starting Apple, you’ll be on the right track.
Seriously though – go and read Ready Player One before the movie comes out. Just do it. It’s by far the most entertaining book I have read in the last few years, and remains one of the few books I have read more than once.
I can still remember playing the Infocom text adventure “The Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy”. I got it for my birthday one year, and remember nerding out over the contents of the box. You received a set of protective glasses (made of black cardboard), a microscopic space fleet (labelled, in a ziplock bag), pocket fluff, and of course a 3.5" floppy disk containing the game. Oh, the hours I spent arguing with Mr Prosser – trying to talk him out of letting my house be bulldozed before heading to the pub with Ford Prefect, and drinking rather heavily in anticipation of the end of the world.
I also remember receiving a hooky copy of “Leather Goddesses of Phobos”, which promised all sorts of debauchery judging by the advertising artwork, and caused me to spend rather too long running around in circles in the hope of reading something vaguely erotic. Of course the game contained nothing of the sort, but that didn’t stop my teenage mind from obsessing over it just a little bit too much. I guess this was a few years before the internet, and before we all started watching photos of our favourite movie actors or music artists scroll slowly down the screen as the modem did it’s best to keep up.
Who remembers the sequence of sounds their modem used to make when connecting to the internet? Or the sound of the mail client announcing new messages ?
If you do ever find yourself playing zork, try throwing the dagger at the thing in the dark. You’ll realise what I’m talking about should you ever find yourself in that situation. Trust me.