Sunday, April 24, 2016

Zork: Agonising Progress

You may recall from my last post that this game had me snookered.  There were a number of puzzles I was stuck on, with little idea of what to do next.  To refresh your memory, those puzzles were:

1 - The Bank
2 - The Entrance to Hades
3 - The Machine at the Bottom of the Coal Mine
4 - Getting Down Aragain Falls with the Statue
5 - The Robot
6 - The Balloon

I've made progress on most of these, albeit painstakingly.  I am trying, desperately, to complete this game with no help.  I've been helped in that by vague memories of the commercial Zork trilogy, and I feel like I'm slowly getting there.

1 - The Bank: I figured this one out through dumb luck.  As I've mentioned before, in the bank is a portrait of the chairman, which is one of the treasures I need to collect.  The portrait can't be removed from the bank by the usual exits, but it can be taken through a curtain of light leading to the north.  In my last post I reported that this curtain took me to a small room with no exits.  If you wait long enough a gnome appears, asking you for something valuable to store in a deposit box.

I tried giving the gnome a treasure, and he teleported me to the waiting room.  You can exit the room to the south, which leads back to the regular dungeon.  This is one way of getting the portrait out of the bank, but it's not the best way.  You need to give up a treasure to do this, and as far as I can tell there's no way of getting it back.

If you don't give the gnome a treasure he eventually disappears, leaving you trapped in the room.  I spent a good long while in here trying every direction possible, searching for secret doors, praying, and even trying out the magic words from Colossal Cave Adventure.  Eventually I restored my game, and when I later returned I tried WALK THROUGH WALL, and got a message asking me which wall I wanted to walk through.  I typed SOUTH, and I was back in the bank, but I still wasn't abe to leave without the portrait.  Obviously I had missed something.

For some reason, walking through the south wall doesn't work after I meet the gnome.

I tried walking through the curtain again, wanting to find the gnome, but doing so didn't take me to the same room.  Instead I was inside the vault, with a stack of Zorkmids (the local currency).  I found out the hard way that hanging around in here results in a nasty death, so after a reload I tried again, scooped up the Zorkmids, and escaped by walking through the north wall.  Now I had two treasures, neither of which I could remove from the bank.  Walking through the curtain seemed to alternate between the room where 'd met the gnome and the vault.  I couldn't figure out what to do, so I left for a while and came back later.

When I did eventually come back, I found that walking through the curtain transported me to the waiting room, every time.  So I grabbed the portrait and the Zorkmids, walked through the curtain, and was able to escape the bank with both treasures.  I'm not sure what I did, but I'll take it.

2 - The Entrance to Hades: There's a gate to Hades, with spirits that block the entrance.  You may recall that I've had some trouble solving this puzzle.  I had the right idea, remembered from the commercial version: ring the bell, light the candle, and read the book.  And yet, no matter how many times I tried this it didn't work, and I was starting to get rather aggravated about it.

Rather than stoke my rage any further, I instead downloaded a different version of the game.  Previously I had been using the version found here, which had been written in Fortran.  The version I'm using now is based on the game as written in the MDL programming language.  I my have this wrong, but my understanding is that the game was written originally in MDL, and later translated to Fortran. Both versions were constantly revised through 1981, and although they are broadly similar there are some minor differences.  I've noticed some, like the MDL version having a welcome mat that says "Welcome to Zork".  The MDL version also responds to XYZZY and PLUGH (the magic words from Colossal Cave Adventure) by calling the player a cretin.

So, with a new version of the game at hand, the first thing I tried was getting into Hades.  Sure enough, when I rang that bell the spirits quailed, and I knew I was on the right track.  After I lit the candles and read the book the entrance was unguarded.  I have no idea why this didn't work in the version I'd been using previously, but it was gratifying to see that my memory had been correct.

What I found beyond the gate was weird, and the sort of weird that is very specifically rooted in 1978.  I've mentioned before that games of this vintage love to include self-referential stuff about coding and programmers, and this might just take the cake.  What I found was "The Tomb of the Unknown Implementer", with the heads of four game developers on spikes standing before the doors.  There was a pile of empty coke bottles, and a faded printout that revealed some code.  I haven't been able to figure any of this out yet, and it seems that I can't touch the heads or the crypt without being annihilated.  Something tells me that I probably need to come back here much later.

3 - The Machine at the Bottom of the Coal Mine: At the bottom of the coal mine is a machine.  It has a compartment where an item can be placed, and a start switch.that's too small to be manipulated by my fingers.  I suspected that I could place a lump of coal inside the machine, press the button, and it would be transmuted into a diamond.  To this point I hadn't been able to turn the switch, but I thought that perhaps something from my inventory would be useful.  The first thing I tried was the screwdriver, as it seemed the most logical option.  For once logic won out in an adventure game, and my suspicions were proved correct.  I had my diamond, and one more treasure to add to my list.

4 - The Robot: And now, to another machine, found in a series of rooms at the top of a magic well.  This machine has three buttons, and pressing any of them results in electrocution.  To the south of this room is a closet, and inside the closet is a crystal sphere (another treasure).  Taking the sphere causes a cage to drop, and the room to fill with deadly gas.  It's a predicament, but luckily there's a robot nearby that will follow your orders.  Getting the sphere is a simple matter of ordering the robot into the closet with you, then telling it to lift the cage once it drops.  From there it's a simple matter to take the sphere and escape.

I'm not sure what the purpose of the three buttons is.  You can tell the robot to press them, and they seem to change the intensity of the magnetic field in a room nearby.  I'm not sure if this is important, or if I've conquered this room already.

ADDENDUM: I figured out the buttons, mostly because commenter SyoShinozaki gave me a hint that they weren't related to retrieving the sphere.  One of the buttons (I think it was the triangular one) causes in increase in the magnetic field in the room closest to the machine.  After getting the robot to press it, I left to do some more exploring only to find that the Round Room (the one that sends you to one of seven random exits) had stopped spinning.  A box had also been jarred loose from somewhere, and inside it I found a violin.  Another treasure for my collection!

5 - Aragain Falls and the Statue: Near the top of Aragain Falls is a sandy beach, and digging in the sand with a shovel uncovers a statue.  Unfortunately, the only way to get to this location is via boat, and there's no way to sail back upriver.  The only other way on is over the falls (either in a boat or a nearby barrel), which results in a messy death.

The only other thing of note at the top of the falls is the end of a rainbow.  I had previously found the other end at the bottom of a canyon, and I was sure that the rainbow could be traversed somehow. 
In the commercial version of Zork I remember using a magical sceptre, but that item is nowhere to be found in this game.  The closest thing I had found to that was a broken stick, so I picked it up and waved it.  A message came up that said "Very Good", so I felt like I was on the right track.  I took the stick to the end of the rainbow  at the bottom of the canyon and waved it once more, and this time it caused the rainbow to become solid.  Now I could traverse it from the canyon to the falls, and it was a simple matter to get the statue back to the house where I store my treasures.  I even found a pot of gold on the way back, just lying on the ground.

The presence of an "NBC Commissary" on the rainbow is an odd one.  It can't be interacted with in any way, so I gather that it's an in-joke or a reference of some sort.  The NBC logo is sort of like a rainbow, I suppose, but beyond that, I got nothin'.

6 - The Balloon: There's a hot air balloon at the bottom of the volcano, but I hadn't figured out how to get it flying.  Obviously I needed to put something flammable in its receptacle, but none of the items I had tried so far worked (coal, timber, guano).  This honestly proved much simpler than I had expected.  I tried a newspaper, thinking that it couldn't possible produce enough fire to inflate the balloon.  But, real-life logic be damned, it worked, and I was soon rising up into the volcano shaft.

Trying to fly out the top of the shaft results in death, but there are two ledges you can land the balloon on.  You need to be careful to tie the balloon to a hook when you land though, or it will float away and leave you stranded.

The first ledge has a priceless Zorkmid coin on the ground, and a passage leading to a library.  There are four books in the library, each of a different colour, but I wasn't able to read any of them.  Instead I gathered them up and dumped them in the balloon's basket.

The other ledge you can land on leads to a bare room with a metal box embedded in the wall.  The box has a hole cut in it, but for whatever reason you can't reach inside, or take a peek.  I didn't figure this out right away, but I got there eventually.  You might remember that the house on the surface contained a brick made of soft clay.  Well, it isn't made of clay, and I found that out the hard way, by burning it with my torch.  One messy explosion later, and I had discovered that it was a plastic explosive.  It seemed that I needed a fuse if I was going to use it safely, and this came in the form of the wire coil found near the stream.  Thus armed I set about blowing up all sorts of things in the dungeon.  I even tried to blow up the Thief, but the timing on that proved to be too difficult.  Eventually I hit on the idea of blowing up the box, and that dislodged it from the wall.  Inside I found a crown, and a card warning me that the area was unstable.

What followed was a comedy of errors, because there are a few ways to die here.  First the room collapses.  Then the ledge outside collapses.  I died in both of those.  I also died because I forgot to untie my balloon from the ledge, and got pulled down.  After many saves and restores I made it to the bottom, but I think I messed up anyway.  The balloon gets destroyed she you land, and the four books that I had left in the basket were still in there.  I'll probably need to go back and replay this section again, because I'm certain those books are there for a reason.

Some Other Things I Worked Out:

Earlier in the game the Thief had opened the Jewelled Egg for me, revealing a clockwork canary inside.  I hadn't twigged initially, but when I was wandering around outside I heard some bird calls, and it all came flooding back to me.  I retrieved the canary, took it into the forest, and typed WIND UP CANARY.  Sure enough, it summoned a bird which dropped a brass bauble at my feet.  I'm convinced that this puzzle lay dormant in my memory because of the extreme mental anguish it caused me in my younger days.  It's a logical puzzle, and I think enough clues are there, but it took me forever to figure it out the first time.  It's almost the perfect adventure game puzzle: obvious in retrospect but so hard to figure out beforehand.  Well screw you canary, I won this time!

After finding the sphere, I tried looking into it, because what else is a crystal sphere for?  I honestly didn;t think it would do anything, but it gave me a vision of a Dreary Room, with a red glow and a door with a key in the lock.  I have no idea where this is or how to get there.

So far, I've found the following treasures:

  • A priceless zorkmid coin
  • A crown
  • A ruby
  • A burned-out ivory torch
  • A beautiful brass bauble
  • A clockwork canary
  • A trunk of jewels
  • A jewel-encrusted egg
  • A chalice
  • A huge diamond
  • A white crystal sphere
  • A statue
  • A pot of gold
  • A jade figurine
  • A sapphire bracelet
  • A pearl necklace
  • A grail
  • A platinum bar
  • A crystal trident
  • A gold coffin
  • A stack of zorkmid bills
  • A portrait of J. Pierpont Flathead
  • A painting
  • A bag of coins

That's 24 treasures.  Dare I hope that I only need 25 to win?  I have 481 points out of a possible 646, so it seems unlikely.  It's back to searching, I suppose, but I am somewhat out of ideas.  Hopefully next week's post won't just be a gif of me slamming my head through my keyboard.


  1. Burning the newspapers to inflate the balloon is one of the many illogical puzzles of Zork. I remember having stuck at that puzzle for exactly same reason, thinking some newspaper can't possibly provide the heat enough to fly a balloon, yet this is the answer here, forcing us to think not in logical way but "Catoonish"? way.

  2. You're missing the gold card, a stamp, and 2 other spheres

  3. You may have gone and looked it up yourself in the 2 years since you posted this, but do you want to know how the Bank of Zork works?

    1. Go ahead and spoil away! I didn't look it up, but the solution may save me some frustration if I ever get around to playing Zork 2.

  4. Hey! I know this post is 5 years old now, but if you are still active here, do you have a link to the newer MDL version of Zork you started playing? You link to the older version, but I would love to get access to the newer version that was more helpful to you!