Zork

Monday, April 7th, 2014 by eadodge

I decided to look at text-based games in order to examine additional parallels between programming and writing. Since I wasn’t able to make it physically to the MAL, I searched online for a lab-at-home experience and found trusty old Zork. I had played it once a few years ago, on prompting from my boyfriend. I immediately became frustrated with the set-up: an all text game in which only limited commands could be used to explore the environment and interact with it. But I mustered through this time and managed to get into the house in front of which one starts, take a few helpful objects, and descend into the dungeon.

I had originally set out with the impression that text-based games were fairly similar to choose-your-own-adventure books and imagined that the writing for both would be similar (if you choose this, then this happens). Yet I realized that in a CYOA, the interaction of the reader with the text is limited by the very object in front of them. All the material can be viewed at any time by flipping through at will. The writing does not necessarily conceal, it merely parcels information, offering a few pathways to the reader while trusting them to not peek at anything that would spoil the adventure. Having phrased it that way, I suppose there are some basic parallels between the genres, yet at a more specific level, the writing is transparent in a choose-your-own-adventure, to the extent that what the writer writes is then what the reader reads and there is nothing extra required by the writer to get the information to display to a reader.

With a text-based computer/console game, in which the game code is not accessible to a gamer as they play, the programming has to be more precise and also differentiated. For instance, because I had picked up a length of rope earlier, I was able to use that rope to get from a high vantage point to the ground level by tying the rope to the railing in the top of the room and climbing down the rope. Without that rope, I will not be able to access other areas now, unless I climb back up to the top and retreive it, but I also would not have been able to find my way down without having the rope in the first place. The complexities of collecting and using items suggest on a surface level the complexity of the code underlying it. I found this confirmed by an online source. Someone on Microsoft forums asked for help programming a Zork-esque game, and an engineer replied with this:

“I recall that game. We had tried to implement it on a DEC LSI-11, and later on an Apple II because we didn’t have our own mini-computer like an LSI-11. At the time it seemed rather complex because it consumed all of the memory on the Apple II many times over, even with the memory expanded to the full 64K. Writing such an program to day would likely require similar amounts of source code, something that today’s PCs could handle with ease. But, such a volume of code is far beyond the scope of these forums” (“How to Make A Zork Game in Text”).

Sources:

http://social.msdn.microsoft.com/Forums/vstudio/en-US/1b2d8374-8fd2-446f-9d02-8f21a7e4877b/how-to-make-a-zork-game-in-text?forum=csharpgeneral

Zork: http://thcnet.net/zork/index.php

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