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Video Game / Zork

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West of House 
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.

>open mailbox 
Opening the small mailbox reveals a leaflet.

>get leaflet 

>read leaflet

Zork was one of the earliest works of Interactive Fiction, written in 1977-79 by Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling. In 1980, the game was split into three parts for home computers and sold on giant 5 1/4 floppy disks (remember those?), where it became an immediate success, launching game publisher Infocom. It eventually had no less than twelve sequels.

Most of the series takes place in The Great Underground Empire.

At the bottom of the leaflet is a list of games in the series.

>read list

The Zork series consists of:

Four novels set in the world of Zork also exist: The Zork Chronicles by George Alec Effinger, Enchanter and The Lost City of Zork by Robin W. Bailey, and Wishbringer by Craig Shaw Gardner. As well as four Gamebooks, The Forces of Krill, The Malifestro Quest, The Cavern of Doom, and Conquest at Quendor.

The mainframe original is freeware but for non-commercial use only. The original trilogy was offered as a free download as a promotion at one point, but redistribution was not permitted, and the promotion has now finished. Not that this has stopped fan-sites from offering them as downloads. If you're looking for a less legally gray alternative, sells most of the series.

A bag of tropes is nearby.
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>x all

The Zork series provides examples of:

  • Acme Products: The many, many subsidiaries of FrobozzCo International.
  • Affectionate Parody: Pork 1: The Great Underground Sewer System and its sequel Pork 2: The Gizzard of Showbiz.
  • Arc Number: 69,105 shows up in multiple places, such as the number of leaves in the pile in Zork I. It's a computer science in-joke; 69 in base 16 (hexadecimal) is 105 in base 10, and 69 in base 10 is 105 in base 8 (octal).
  • Artistic License Economics: During the reign of King Dimwit the Excessive, all internal trade in Quendor was between various branches of Mega-Corp FrobozzCo, and there was only one bank. Not that many people had much in the way of savings, seeing as Dimwit enacted a 98% income tax in order to fund his enormous tributes to his own ego, such as an 18 month coronation ceremony, a palace large enough to hold a significant fraction of the country's population, a massive flood control dam in a region that was never in danger of flooding, and a statue of himself several bloits high. This may be the reason why his brother General T.J. "Stonewall" Flathead had to fight three civil wars and suppress roughly 16,000 tax riots (Which works out to 2-3 riots a day on average) over the course of his reign.
  • Author Avatar: The Implementors in Beyond Zork.
  • Autocannibalism: The command "eat self" returns the message "Autocannibalism is not the answer."
  • Back from the Dead and Death Is Cheap: You; most of the games have a mechanism for bringing the player character back to life. Although dying made some of the games unwinnable - Zork I, for example. You lose 10 points for dying, and can only complete the game by getting all 350 points. If you die before visiting the altar, Zork I gives you a clue that the game's unwinnable by saying "I can't fix you up completely, but you can't have everything." Once you already have 350 points, you can die just for fun and still exit the game through the stone barrow.
    • The Wizard of Frobozz can end up killing you in Zork II in a way/location that makes completing the game impossible, since you can't get back to your gear to get into the area you were in. Worse than Zork I, in a way, since his appearances, and the spells he casts, are random, so you can do everything right and still lose.
  • Big Bad: The eponymous Wizard of Frobozz in Zork II, while the First Dungeon Master appears to be this for Zork III and the trilogy as a whole. But the Dungeon Master is simply testing you.
  • Black Widow: Lucrezia Flathead. Seventeen husbands, none of whom made it to their first anniversary (fourteen of them didn't survive the wedding night)!
  • Bottomless Pits:
    • There are a few of these. Played for laughs in Zork: Grand Inquisitor, where you don't immediately die when falling into one, and eventually start a family with someone else who fell in.
    • These were actually very common in the earliest versions of what was then called Dungeon; you were in danger of falling into one whenever you were in pitch black areas. At least, until one of the programmers questioned why someone would fall into a bottomless pit in the attic of a building. And that's how the grues were created.
  • Calvinball: Double Fanucci, a card game alluded to in the manuals and feelies with such ridiculously complicated rules that even advanced players are apparently at a loss to explain the game. You actually have to play a game against the Jester in Zork Zero in order to get an essential item. The only way to win is to remember the indefensible gambit mentioned in the feelies and Undertrump 3 times after the Jester discards a Trebled Fromp.
  • Classical Cyclops: Zork I has a giant, man-eating cyclops guarding the thief's lair. One of the ways to get past it draws on Classical Mythology — saying "Odysseus" or "Ulysses" will terrify it into fleeing.
  • Control Room Puzzle: Subverted in Zork: Grand Inquisitor. The puzzle was impossible to solve unless you used a certain spell in addition to pushing buttons.
  • Cutting the Knot: Several puzzles with extremely complicated solutions also had much simpler ways to "cheat" through them. Perhaps the most notable example was getting past the Guardians of Zork in Zork III. You could mess around with using the sliding mirror box to trundle past the Guardians while convincing them that their own reflections were actually the Guardian standing opposite them (apparently the Guardians had no depth perception), having to keep the box from wobbling and making sure the door didn't open into their line of sight once you got past them or... you could drink the invisibility potion and walk past them, rendering them somewhat of an Anti-Climax Boss.
  • Darker and Edgier:
    • Zork Nemesis, which abandons almost all pretenses of comedy and light satire in favor of Gothic horror.
    • Zork III had a much darker and more serious tone than the previous two games.
  • Darkness Equals Death: "You are likely to be eaten by a grue."
  • Death Is Cheap: At least it is in the gamebooks, where if you die you're given a chance to go back and try again. Unless you fell for one of the cheater traps.
  • Developer's Foresight: Unusually for such an early game, the parser had a surprisingly good vocabulary for the time, including several responses to things that take some odd directions. For instance, while you can kiss the princess, don't try to "grope", "rub", "touch", "feel", "screw", or "rape" her, or the Wizard will kill you. Kicking the bucket in the well isn't recommended either.
  • Disproportionate Retribution: When King Dimwit Flathead had a huge statue of himself erected in Fublio Valley, it inadvertently blocked the sunlight from the home of a wizard named Megaboz. Megaboz's reaction to this injury was to curse Dimwit, his family, and his entire kingdom! Dimwit and his eleven siblings died immediately, and the Great Underground Empire fell ninety-four years later. What's truly notable about this is that Dimwit was an outright Caligula who bled his kingdom and his subjects dry to sate his massive ego, and thus had a lot of people with a lot of good reason to want him dead, and Megaboz killed him for blocking out the sun over his valley of all things! Then again, Megaboz was no saint himself.
  • The Dog Was the Mastermind: You know the mysterious, whimsical and mischievous Court Jester who dogs your footsteps throughout Zork Zero? As it turns out he's actually Megaboz in disguise.
  • Dolled-Up Installment: Averted; one can be pardoned for thinking that Darker and Edgier Zork: Nemesis was not originally meant to be a Zork game, but it was.
  • Drop-In Nemesis: "Oh, no! A lurking grue slithered into the room and devoured you!"
  • Early-Installment Weirdness: Zork I featured more overt, RPG-like combat elements- of the three NPCs in the game (the troll, the Thief and the cyclops) two of them had to be overcome by equipping a weapon and killing them (the cyclops is too powerful to defeat and must be overcome another way). The game didn't have actual stats like HP or levels, instead your rough combat strength was based on your score- you would be strong enough to beat the troll at the start of the game, but fighting the Thief early in the game would get you killed. Of the various weapons in the game, the Nasty Knife was the most effective against him. Although Zork III featured a single combat encounter against the Shrouded Figure, this was more of a puzzle than an actual fight that you could win or lose, and other games wouldn't feature combat mechanics again until Beyond Zork (which was a hybrid of text adventure and actual RPG).
    • The Wizard of Froboz from II mutters spell words that don't match what the Enchanter Trilogy laid as the groundwork for performing magic, and instead of using a spellbook, you point and wave a wand instead. Justified, as the source of the Wizard's powers is his wand, rather than using a spellbook like the Enchanter Trilogy. He becomes powerless if the wand is taken from him, and when you have it, you can use all of the spells he could with no training whatsoever.
  • Earth Drift: The first game features such things as Poseidon's trident and the coffin of Ramses II. Later installments in the Zork 'verse are plainly in a different reality to our own.
  • Exposition Fairy: Parodied in Beyond Zork (though the game predates most Exposition Fairy examples). A tiny nymph will sometimes appear and explain game mechanics or that you can't enter certain areas yet. And early on in the game, if it appears while fighting the Monkey Grinder. The Monkey Grinder will swat it dead.
    • Played completely straight with Dalboz.
  • Extreme Omnivore: Although a bug, early versions of Zork allowed the troll to eat anything you give to it. This includes compass directions. Giving the troll to itself will destroy it, but it will still block the room's exit.
  • Fan Sequel:
  • Feelies: As became standard for Infocom games, all the text-based Zork games after the original trilogy came with several feelies. Almost all were essential for completing their respective game.
  • Featureless Protagonist: Zork: Grand Inquisitor is the Former Trope Namer, as AFGNCAAP.
    What's your name? (pause) Okay. I'll just call you Ageless-Faceless-Gender-Neutral-Culturally-Ambiguous-Adventure-Person. AFGNCAAP for short.
  • Fictional Currency: Many of the games feature Zorkmids as the currency of the Great Underground Empire; one of the feelies mentioned above was a zorkmid coin.
  • Foreign Video Game Remake: In March 1991, about 11 years after the original Zork I, Japanese software development company SystemSoft developed and published its remake for the PC-9801. Unlike the original, this game has some of the most common verb commands ("look", "take", etc.) that can be accessed by pressing a corresponding button (the player still has to type the name of an object, though), and enhanced graphics, especially in the list of objects on which the text is super-imposed.
  • Fox-Chicken-Grain Puzzle: In Zork Zero.
  • The Ghost: Grues. You never see what they look like since they only reside in total darkness.
  • Global Currency: Zorkmids
  • Guide Dang It!: Some of the puzzles were ridiculous! For example, in Zork Zero a wizard casts a hunger spell on you which will eventually kill you unless you eat something, but the only food in the game is a granola bar (which is bird food). The solution? Turn yourself into a flamingo! And even THAT was absurdly difficult!
    • Notably, the Lighter and Softer and easier game Wishbringer has a bad one: the can with the rattlesnake has a false bottom which contains Wishbringer. The only hint is the item rattling even after it's opened, and considering that you likely dropped it after using it the first time, you're not likely to notice.
    • Spellbreaker was so hard the developers actually apologized and admitted most people would have to use a hint book to finish it.
      • Even most walkthroughs can't adequately explain the bank vault puzzle, and suggest the player just save the game (which resets the puzzle) and keep trying until the partial solution works.
  • Have a Nice Death: Suicide in text games is a wholesome and entertaining pastime.
  • Hello, Sailor!: A recurring Catchphrase in the first several games.
  • Hell Seeker: The backstory has the legend of Saint Yoruk, who traveled to Hades to meet with the Devil and learn the secrets of magic from him. When Yoruk died, his soul went to heaven, but as he'd gotten used to Hades, he fought his way back there.
  • High Koala-ty Cuteness: The minx is described as "an irresistibly cuddly animal which shares all the most ingratiating characteristics of kittens, koala bears, and piglets."
  • Informed Attribute: The competency of many of the Twelve Flatheads. Among their number were a General who once sustained 75% casualties assaulting an empty fortress, an Admiral who got his entire fleet sunk within two years of assuming command, an athlete whose opposing teams kept getting kicked out of the league by royal decree, and a painter whose patrons were escorted to his studio by his brother's militia.
  • Inventory Management Puzzle
  • Invincible Boogeymen: Throughout most of the Zork franchise, Grues are a very clear example of this: a breed of unseen monsters that dwell only in darkness, they will kill and eat anyone that isn't carrying a light with them. There's usually no way of fighting them, and the only way to avoid being eaten is to either leave as soon as possible or have a light of some kind ready. Averted in Beyond Zork (the one with RPG Elements and a defined combat system) where the Grues lurking in the Ur-Grue's barrow were the most powerful opponents in the game, but could (and in fact had to) be taken on and defeated if you found the magical helmet that let you see in the dark and had the best equipment available (a Honed Elvish Sword and Protected Plate Mail were your best bet).
  • Kleptomaniac Hero
  • Large Ham: Y'gael the Enchantress from Zork: Grand Inquisitor. She tries as hard as she possibly can to sound ridiculously whimsical.
  • Lean and Mean: Catch the right glimpse of the man and the thief in Zork I is described with such a build.
  • The Magic Goes Away: Occurs at the end of Spellbreaker, setting off the plot of Beyond Zork.
    • This is The Grand Inquisitors' M.O as he wishes for an more realistic industrial world as opposed to a fantastical magical one. Also the fact he was horrible at magic and held a grudge against all those who weren't.
  • The Many Deaths of You: Zork probably pioneered this trope in computer games.
  • The Maze: At least once per game in the text-based games, though only the first game really has straight examples.
  • Methuselah Syndrome: Many characters, justified or otherwise: Dalboz and Yannick, Lucy Flathead, Zylon the Aged, and Antharia Jack. Not to mention Megaboz.
  • Mirror Boss: In Zork III, the shrouded figure is revealed to be this. But you have to remove its cloak when it's near death, (as opposed to the killing blow) to discover that.
  • Mythology Gag: In various games, you can see the exploits of the player character in a previous game and either travel there or bring the character to you.
  • Nintendo Hard: 3 from the original trilogy was notoriously difficult to solve without a guide.
  • No Celebrities Were Harmed: Almost all the Flathead Siblings are based on famous historical figures. As well as in Zork Zero, checking your inventory while wearing the glove, the game says you resemble "Famous singer Michael Flathead, formerly of the Flathead Five".
  • No Fair Cheating: Most of the interactive Zork books had a selection that asked for an item that doesn't exist and called you out for cheating if you went for it.
  • Non-Linear Sequel
  • No Name Given: Not only is the Featureless Protagonist nameless, but virtually all characters in the original trilogy have no names beyond their professions ("the Wizard of Frobozz," "the Dungeon Master").
    • The Thief, however, is an aversion: According to the Encyclopedia Frobozzica, his name is Lucien Kaine, who lived as a thief from 947 to 948 GUE, which is when the original Zork trilogy took place.
  • Nothing Is Scarier: "It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue." The trope is amplified by the fact that to date, an official visual depiction of a Grue has never been made, so nobody knows what they really look like. The closest we get is a design of what is implied to be a Grue's eyes on a stained glass window in Return to Zork. The only descriptions mentioned in any of the games include "slavering fangs" and razor-sharp claws, and they can apparently slither. Given that they only reside in total darkness and our imaginations work out the rest possibly makes Grues one of the scariest video game monsters in existence (that is, when their scariness isn't being downplayed for laughs; see The Taming of the Grue below).
  • Oh, Crap!: The reaction the Wizard of Frobozz has should you release the demon that he enslaved and imprisoned, who is now a small tribute from you away from engineering his demise. He also has a more subdued reaction should he appear and notice you carrying the black sphere, in which case he will make a hasty retreat.
  • Our Ghosts Are Different: In Zork I, if you complete the exorcism process in the Entrance to Hades, but then get killed, instead of being recalled in a forest, you find yourself in the Entrance to Hades. The only difference is that when you diagnose yourself, you find that you are a ghost (i.e., you are dead) and that you can't pick up items due to intangibility. The only way to be brought Back from the Dead is to go to the altar and pray. Though you can go up to a cave, you can't go back up to the altar; you'll have to find another way there instead.
  • Percussive Maintenance: The "impact revitalisation" that the lamp has undergone in Zork: The Undiscovered Underground.
  • President Evil: Lord Dimwit Flathead the Excessive. Though he seems more oblivious to anything that doesn't involve his own ego than being actually evil, as he can't comprehend that the things he does and enjoys, are hurting other people. As he assumes that if it makes him happy, logically everyone else must be happy as well. So it's more stupidity if anything. Notably, his descendants proved to be much worse than he was. They kept his tradition of excess but spent all their money on extravagant parties rather than public works.
    • The Grand Inquisitor
  • Press Start to Game Over: All but the last of the gamebooks based on the games have an option early in to just not bother going on the quest. As if to meet a certain number of choices the author had to include.
  • Save the Princess: Rescuing a princess from a dragon is a required puzzle in Zork II.
  • Schizo Tech: Zork technology is roughly WWII level, augmented by magic.
  • Sdrawkcab Name: Aragain Falls. Lampshaded by the hint book: "By the way, have you ever taken a close look at the word ARAGAIN?"
  • Screw the Rules, I Have Money!: At least a few of that Flatheads thought this way. In Zork II, the sign at the bank says as such: "I'm rich and you aren't, so there."
  • Secret Test of Character: Pretty much the entireity of Zork III was one of these by the titular Dungeon Master to see if you were worthy of succeeding him. A specific example was the encounter with the Shrouded Figure, the only combat encounter in the game- after defeating it and rendering it helpless, finishing it off is the wrong decision. Instead you're supposed to remove its hood, revealing it has your own face and causing it to disappear, but leaving you with the hood, which is part of the costume you need to assemble make yourself resemble the Dungeon Master.
  • Series Mascot: Grues. Makes it all the more impressive since nobody, in-universe or out, knows what Grues look like.
    • Except the protagonist of the Enchanter trilogy (in Sorcerer) and of Wishbringer, both of which make it through a grue lair intact.
    • Also in Beyond Zork (the one with RPG elements) you actually have to fight and defeat several Grues in the final dungeon before you confront the final boss. They're the toughest opponents in the game (that you can engage in normal combat anyway) and you need the enchanted helmet to be able to see them, but you still get no real description of what they look like.
  • Set Piece Puzzle
  • Stock Puzzle: Nearly all of them, at one point or another. Special credit must go to Zork Zero for including the Fox-Chicken-Grain Puzzle, Towers of Hanoi, Game of Nim, 3 + 5 = 4, and Knights and Knaves all in one game.
  • Stolen Good, Returned Better: One of the treasures you find is a jeweled egg... but if you let the thief (i.e., Lucien) steal it, when you find his lair later, you find that the egg has been opened, and it contains a golden singing bird — much more valuable!
  • The Taming of the Grue: The trope namer, grues, first appeared as the unseen (and, because they never leave pitch-dark areas, unseeable) monsters who would eat adventurers careless enough to wander in dark places without a light source. Later works such as Wishbringer and Zork: The Undiscovered Underground would play grues for laughs; Wishbringer featured a grue lair with a refrigerator whose light goes out when you open it and a mother grue with an apron, while Undiscovered Underground had a grue convention where grues would discuss topics such as 'Surviving the lean years'. The grues were still dangerous, but played less seriously than in earlier works.
  • Theme Naming: Almost all Wizards (or even former wizards) in the series and expanded universe have names that end with the word "Boz": Dalboz, Megaboz, Shuboz, Choboz, Gumboz. (Zigzagged with "The Wizard of Frobozz".)
  • Text Parser: See You Can't Get Ye Flask.
  • Title 1: With Zork I (the Divided for Publication variant).
  • To Hell and Back: Zork I, Zork Grand Inquisitor
  • The 'Verse: In addition to the main games, the Zork universe contained Enchanter, Sorcerer, Spellbreaker, and Wishbringer. There are also a couple of hints that The Lurking Horror, another Infocom game, may also take place in the same universe, but nothing concrete. There have also been subtle nods; in Planetfall, it is mentioned that in the far future, Grues were brought to our Earth and eventually spread across the universe due to stowing away in a ship from Starcross when it once visited Zork.
  • We Have Reserves: Stonewall Flathead's military campaigns suffered 98% casualties on average (Replacing casualties with his powers of unlimited conscription), which makes his taking a mere 75% casualties when storming an empty fortress at the start of his career seem impressive. With casualties like that (combined with the fact that his army was pretty much continuously in action due to his brother's inept rule), the amazing thing is how long it took before he got killed in a 'friendly fire' incident.
  • Worldbuilding: While mostly a parody of the trope with comical history texts and ridiculous lore, what was established was surprisingly consistent across the series and generally stuck with its own currency, fictional races, history of a world-spanning Empire, its downfall, and the Guild of Enchanters' attempts to rebuild it.

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