PR-IF Zork flier
The PR-IF kicked off its collaborative IF-playing series on Sunday, with an old classic…

We selected the MIT mainframe version of Zork, or Dungeon. If you’re familiar only with the commercial Zork trilogy, this was the original — created by MIT students in 1978-9. Those students later joined the software startup Infocom, and divided their opus up into three games (to fit on the tiny personal computers of 1980). Thus were created Zork 1, Zork 2, and Zork 3, the first true hits of the text game industry.

But this version came first.

We did not try to resurrect the MDL source code or PDP-10 mainframe to play on. Instead, we played ZDungeon, a port of the original — ironically, ported to Infocom’s Z-machine format. The implementation was done by Ethan Dicks, using Inform 6, a free modern IF development language.

Play ZDungeon in your browser.

Enough with the technology. The event was a rousing success, drawing an audience of at least two dozen. We had old Zork fans, newcomers, teachers, students, and one nascent adventurer of age ten or so.

We had reserved the room for three hours. In that time, four people took the keyboard — none of whom had played Zork before. (Those of us who knew the game mostly sat on our hands, except to clarify parser problems.) Even with new explorers, the power of the mass mind became evident: suggestions flew like hail, and we progressed rapidly through the (twisty) Underground Empire.

I won’t say the group solved a majority of the puzzles, but I think we did visit a majority of the game’s areas. We managed to kill the troll, explore and escape the Bank (though not the vault), solve the bucket riddle, kick the bucket (oops), return to the land of the living, open the Land of the Dead, and pass through the maze. We ran out of light and had to start over. We visited the glacier and the volcano, and unto the Tomb of the Implementer we came at last. Our collection of treasures consisted of a platinum bar, a grail, a jewel-encrusted egg, and a painting. (Plus a pearl necklace and an ivory torch, if we’d bothered to cart them upstairs.)

Read the transcript of the game session.

We even managed to read the free brochure, although that was a bug and really shouldn’t have happened.

The thief, curiously, never made an appearance.

I particularly want to thank Pace Willisson, who showed up with an enormous binder of fanfold paper and a story. He had been an MIT freshman in 1980, playing Zork via 300-baud modem from the basement of Senior House. The binder had some of his sessions — and sessions of Colossal Cave as well — including the hint messages that he and his friends threw back and forth.

Binder full view Binder close-up

(Sorry about the fuzzy photos. It’s my old iPhone camera.)

Pace also did a sterling job of chalkboard mapping, following the game session and rendering it much less disorganized than it could have been.

Map board 3 Map board 1

Map board 2 Map board 4

As you might expect of our first session, some technical gremlins materialized. The screencast (via ustream) took some fiddling to get started, and was never really set up right — some of the text window was obscured. We had hoped to accept suggestions from remote solvers, but the chat mechanism didn’t work out. We’ll work on fixing that for next time.

And yes, there will be a next time. We haven’t picked a date or a game yet, but we’ll be switching to the other end of the IF continuum — we’ll play something short and recent, from the modern IF community.