Wednesday, January 29, 2020

Game 148: Zork III

Buy the Zork Anthology here:

Note, though, that the version of Zork I included isn’t the best or the original. Read about it and download both here:

Read the Zork III manual here:

Get Frotz (if native Windows execution is your wish) here:

The original Zork coded in MDL was simply too big to distribute to the underpowered personal computers of the time, and had big portions removed and tightened before it was sold as Zork I. I had played both versions back-to-back near the beginning of my blog, and more recently played Zork II which contained most of the leftovers cut from the original game. But the biggest portions, with the most challenging and most unconventional puzzles of them all, would be reserved for the trilogy's finale.

At the conclusion of Zork II was a secret passage in the Flathead Crypt leading to a statue-lined hallway, as if Infocom expected to build the finale of the Zork trilogy around MDL Zork’s lengthy endgame, which began in an almost identical manner.

But as Zork III begins, this lead-in is discarded; the player descends yet another dark staircase, deep into the lowest reaches of the Underground Empire, and is haunted by visions of things to come – foes, traps, statues, lakes, and a robed Odin-like figure, beckoning you to prove your worthiness. These visions fade, and you find yourself at the bottom of the stairs, your trusted brass lantern battered from the long journey, and your sword embedded in a nearby rock. A damp passage leads eastward to a cave full of ancient, undecipherable engravings.

As I Trizborted out the worlds below, it was clear that Zork had undergone a drastic tonal shift. The original and massive MDL Zork began as a light fantasy romp through a colorful world full of magic, treasure, and silly jokes, though it also had an air of menace seeping through the cracks below. Zork I played as a condensed version of MDL Zork without its grand finale, and Zork II had a similar tone as a mostly original game in the same vein. Zork III immediately feels gloomy and desolate. Room descriptions emphasize the crumbling ruins of the empire, the emptiness of the lifeless land, and the darkness of a place countless fathoms beneath the reach of daylight. My favorite example, so far, is that of a clifftop overlooking the Land of Shadow:

This is a remarkable spot in the dungeon. Perhaps two hundred feet above you is a gaping hole in the earth's surface through which pours bright sunshine! A few seedlings from the world above, nurtured by the sunlight and occasional rains, have grown into giant trees, making this a virtual oasis in the desert of the Underground Empire. To the west is a sheer precipice, dropping nearly fifty feet to jagged rocks below. The way south is barred by a forbidding stone wall, crumbling from age. There is a jagged opening in the wall to the southwest, through which leaks a fine mist. The land to the east looks lifeless and barren.

The Land of Shadow below is a bleak MOTLP made of identical rooms which can’t be navigated by using items as breadcrumbs, as there simply aren’t enough available, and took a long time to explore. The layout is logical enough, but this wasn’t apparent until after tediously mapping it out. Within this region, a specter attacked, causing my sword to materialize in my hand. This led to a long and drawn out fight, in which I repeatedly wounded it until it collapsed in a somber fashion, such as to suggest that this was not the correct course of action. The west coast of this land overlooked a misty sea from which I was able to procure a strange vial from a ghostly sailor. The north was bordered by a multi-level cliff from which a treasure chest was suspended, and a stranger there sought my help in retrieving it. For my troubles, he took all of its valuables for himself, but allowed me a simple wooden staff.

Further south was a great, icy lake, the crossing of which would ruin my lantern. A treacherous dive turned up a golden amulet buried in the sand below. On its north shore, the great imperial aqueduct could be seen to the east, crumbling from age and neglect. On the south shore, a dark passage remained unexplorable without a waterproof light source. On its west shore, there was a sparse torch-lit cave with a plain table cryptically labeled “Scenic Vista,” and an indicator which cycled through the numbers “I” through “IV.” As it cycled through each number, a different scene could be made out by examining the table closely:
  • A passage cluttered with timber
  • A tiny room with the number ‘8’ chiseled on the wall
  • A wide room blocked off by rubble
  • A temple with a blood-stained altar of basalt

Finally, to the east was a building blocked by a rusty iron gate, impassable at first. After some amount of time, an underground earthquake altered the geography, giving way to a passage around it, into the Royal Museum. This featured two exhibits – a “Technology Room” containing three inscrutable machines, and a “Jewel Room” containing the Flathead crown jewels in a secure display case.

Beneath the museum was the Royal Puzzle, a Sokoban-style puzzle originally featured way back in the original MDL Zork. This puzzle room worked exactly as I remembered it and as far as I could tell did not have a different layout. By carefully mapping out the room I was able to re-deduce the precise solution of blocks to push in order to find the treasure, in this case a magic book rather than a card, and to leave the way I came by pushing a climbable block up against the entrance.

I decided to check out the mysterious machines in the museum a little more closely. Two of them, grey and black, had no evident interface and besides that were badly deteriorating. The third, a gold machine, had a console with controls which would either do nothing or kill me. With a little more experimentation, I discovered that this was a time machine! 948 was apparently the current year, and a plaque in the jewel room informed me that the museum had opened in 777.

776 was the only useful year to travel back to. Any earlier, and I’d be fatally engulfed in stone, as the room had apparently not been dug out yet by then. From 777 to 882, I’d be instantly killed by guards. From 883 to 947, the museum is abandoned and deteriorating, and cleft letting me in or out of the museum isn’t been opened yet. From 949 onward, the cleft is filled with rubble.

Going back to 776, when the empire was still populated and the museum under construction, I overheard some guards rambling uselessly. The machines, now in good condition, were described as a pressurizer, a room spinner, and a temporizer, the former two of which I had encountered in the previous Zorks. The game told me they were all non-working models, which doesn’t jibe with the fact that I had literally just used the temporizer to get here, and would soon use it again to return.

After the guards left the museum, locking it for the night, I found I could unlock the Technology Room from the inside and exit into the lobby, but could not leave the museum or enter any other rooms in it. I couldn’t really see how anything here helped me, and there was nowhere to go except back to the present, so this is where I stopped.

I had scored 4 points out of 7, and found these items:
  • Vial
  • Wooden staff
  • Waybread
  • Sword
  • Ancient magic book
  • Lamp

Remaining mysteries:
  • What’s with the engravings?
  • What about the figure in the Land of Shadow?
  • Is there a way to cross the lake without losing my light source?
  • What’s the point of the Scenic Vista?
  • What do I do in the past?
  • Can I get the crown jewels?
  • What do my various inventory items do, aside from the lamp and sword?

My Trizbort map:

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