Sunday, June 03, 2007

Zork month!

Malinche is declaring June to be the month of Zork. Not sure why, as Jam doesn't even have the Double Fanucci Championships. Something to do with selling legends of Quendor's greatness to surface dwellers. One concludes then that while its not a holiday IN Zork, this is a decent remembrance season for those of us who have visited GUE and its outlying tributaries. Yay! I'm in!

When I was in high school, Zork was the heat - and the coolness - and all those hip phrases. It had been discovered by the fortunate geeks some years before us and was hitting its stride as a mainstream phenomenon at our area high schools, computer clubs, spawning imitators and innovaters, and even attracting its share of badly made movie scripts. [That's when you know you've made it.] Everyone I knew seemed to have gone through that little white house -- maybe that's why the door was boarded over before my party ever arrived LOL

Seriously, we had a lot of fun playing with Infocom's games. Zork was the biggest and best known, the first for most of us. My school had actually bothered to get group licenses for those of us in the computer club - though you had to pony up your own cash to get all the little goodies that came with each box. My most treasured possessions in high school included a funky fake coin called a zorkmid, a tiny lantern that reminded me of Zork (never confirmed if it really was from a Zork game) and a cardboard sundial gnomon (and a penguin with a big nose, a Tardis cup, and a few other things that weren't Zork-related:-)

[You can still read a digital copy of the New Zork Times here, get all kinds of pictures & music from the series here, and play the games for free. You can even write your own! I have pretty much all the games on one cd collection or another.]

Zork was offered as a treat for those of us who had already done their work for the day on those lovely AppleIIe's. A mental 'last lap' around the digital track after all the hard stuff, but it often didn't work out that way. How do you get past the cyclops is a different problem than programming in Pascal, yes, but not necessarily an easier one!

Once I moved on to Hitchhikers Guide, Planetfall, or Bureaucracy, I was hooked on adventure gaming for life. Those mental worlds just sucked you right in, left all your real world problems on the doorstep, and left you wandering those endless twisty passageways with only your trusty adventurer's lantern as guide (though you could sometimes get as nudge from a friend or an invisiclues hint book). Many of us never completely returned - saving this backdoor exit from our lives on one hard drive after another. Zork's influence on adventure gaming continues to the this very day.

Interactive Fiction games began as text 'books' that changed and answered - that seemed to come alive on the computer, responding not only to your proper commands, but your yelps of frustration and nonsensical spoutings. Suddenly your computer talked back, amused & irritated you, became a companion on endless journeys. You made decisions, discovered long lost places, read silly books, found treasures, you could do about anything - all by yourself but not quite alone. If you ever doubted you had company, all you had to do was yell - or turn out your light.

There's still nothing quite like it, though I honestly feel that Myst came the closest to rediscovering that early magic. That may have had something to do with its success. It was a pleasure for me to discover my purpose while exploring my surroundings, wondering what had come before. Delighted to discover they had anticipated these reactions, that there was more to find out wherever you looked. It wasn't all just nonsensical eye candy. There was a story to find and a choice to make, and suddenly your chance wanderings mattered.

It was no surprise to me to hear that the Miller's were also Zork fans back when. Their D'ni city and its cavern world is much more 'real,' much more serious, than about any of the Zork tales (except maybe for Zork: Nemesis) but here and there you can see some Quendorian magic - especially in Uru Live. I suspect some small portion of their souls is also hidden away in a pleasant valley beyond the reach of this world's humbuggery.

Am I still a Zork fan? Yep, I even have lantern-shaped soap dispensers. Oh, what's that? What good eyes you've got. Yes, that's the IF folder on this compy. Looks so small, so innocuous, does it not? You can hardly imagine the universes within universes that hide within.

and that's the secret.

Here's a link for those of you who still feel the lure of a swinging lantern...
(its a freeware screensaver)

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