Jesus of Nazareth by Paul Allen Panks as Dunric [Comp05]

IFDB page: Jesus of Nazareth
Final placement: 33rd place (of 36) in the 2005 Interactive Fiction Competition

Between this game and Panks’ previous comp entry, Ninja v1.30, one year elapsed. Between that review and this one, the better part of 18 years has elapsed. In the interim, some things have happened, including the author’s death in 2009, just shy of his 33rd birthday.

Panks contravened many of the social norms in the IF community, and for that reason provoked reactions ranging from shunning to outright hostility. Jason Scott sums it up as well as anyone in the blog entry he wrote shortly after Panks’s death, and the comments from that entry (one of the few times I actually recommend reading the comments) flesh out the picture further.

Many things have changed technologically in those 18 years as well, which meant that I couldn’t just double-click the game file in order to run it the way I might have been able to in 2005. Jesus of Nazareth is a Windows executable, and Windows 10 wants nothing to do with it. I had to fire up a DOSBox instance to run it, and even once that succeeded there was certainly nothing like a scripting capability available, so I was reduced to taking the occasional screenshot so that I could remember notable moments in the experience of the game.

I wasn’t certain I really wanted to go through the bother, because I did not expect the game to be good, and it wasn’t. And if DOSBox had failed, I’d probably have given up. But when it succeeded, and I could at least play the game, I felt like I should at least give it a try, and in light of the author’s short and difficult life, I’m not inclined to be hypercritical.

Nevertheless, what we have here is not great. It’s a homebrewed parser game — one of Panks’ specialties — which is deeply player-unfriendly. Most anything the parser doesn’t understand (which is most things), it responds to with “You cannot do that here.”, giving a “Hello Sailor” feel to the proceedings minus any of the humor or sense of distant potential. In the very first scene, there’s a note, and if you try to read it, you’re told “You can’t make out the note.” If you type “x note” (not “X NOTE” because the parser can’t handle capital letters)… you read the note. You meet a centurion who is holding a spear, helmet, and shield. If you try to examine any of those things, you’re told, “That isn’t here.”

Technical flaws aside, the premise of this game made me smile. You play — not surprisingly — Jesus of Nazareth, and your goal is to get followers. The game knows and relies upon the command “convert”, as in “convert matthew.” The “score” command tells you this, at the beginning of the game:

Your goal is to convert at least 4 disciples to your cause.
Thus far, you have converted:
You still have 6 disciple(s) left to convert.

If you’re going to make Jesus the PC in a text adventure, this seems like a pretty logical way to keep score! On the other hand, if you’re going to make Jesus the PC in a text adventure, the parser should probably know the word “forgive”. See, I hadn’t wandered too far when I found myself trapped in a location with the aforementioned centurion, who was insisting on seeing my papers, and wouldn’t let me leave. I had no papers — no inventory at all. Talking didn’t work. Converting didn’t work. Forgiveness wasn’t even an option. And there is no walkthrough.

So I quit, and forgave the game its trespasses.

Rating: 3.5

Enchanter [Infocom >RESTART]

IFDB page: Enchanter
[This review contains lots of major spoilers for Enchanter, plus spoilers of various sizes for lots of Zork games. Also, I wrote an introduction to these Infocom >RESTART reviews, for those who want some context.]

Having finished all the Infocom games with the word “Zork” in their names, Dante and I turned our attention to the game we glimpsed when Zork III‘s Scenic Vista let us see the future, the game that would have been called Zork IV but instead became Enchanter. Infocom made a great call by keeping the Zork brand off this game, because its primary mechanic fundamentally separates it from the original trilogy.

That basic mechanic — spellcasting — is dynamite. Instead of accumulating more and more objects, the PC of this game accumulates skills, sometimes even superpowers. Sure, some of these skills are comically puzzle-specific, but even so, every new spell added to the spell book makes the PC feel more capable and powerful. Rather than just some wandering kleptomaniac who knows how to put rod A into slot B and goes around doing various versions of that again and again, the Enchanter protagonist feels like an organically growing and improving being.

That sense of growth and improvement works well in tandem with the plot, too. That’s right: plot. There’s more story in Enchanter than in all the original trilogy games put together. Yes, wisps of story had started to appear with the Wizard of Frobozz and the Dungeon Master, but this game gives us a full-fledged quest plot with dramatic stakes, not just a shambolic treasure hunt.

As plots go, it’s fairly rudimentary and rather logically flawed — we’re really placing the fate of the realm in the hands of someone with almost no skills? Okay, I guess there’s a prophecy or something, but it’s all a little pat and strains credulity. (Comp99’s Spodgeville Murphy ably parodies this notion with its line, “Another champion must be sought; an idiot unskilled in anything but adventuring…”) Still, compared to the Zork trilogy, a plot framework like this is a quantum leap forward. And having established that the PC starts with very few skills makes the skill-building experience that much more exciting and rewarding.


So Enchanter distinguishes itself from Zork both by its level of character specificity and its level of narrative drive, and it’s clearly well aware of the comparison, because it plays up the contrast to hilarious effect via its inclusion of the adventurer NPC. He’s the source of most of the game’s best jokes, and we were exactly the right audience for them, having just played through five Zork games. Some of our favorite lines:

  • The adventurer stares at his possessions as if expecting a revelation.
  • The adventurer pulls out his map, a convoluted collection of lines, arrows, and boxes, and checks it briefly.
  • The adventurer asks for directions to Flood Control Dam #3.
  • The adventurer waves at you and asks “Hello, Sailor?” Strange, you’ve never even been to sea. [Even better, if you respond to this by giving him something, say your loaf of bread:] A wide smile comes over his face as he takes the loaf of bread, as though your action resolved for him some great mystery.
  • The adventurer offers to relieve you of some of your possessions.
  • [If the enchanter follows you onto the illusory stairs, which support you but not him:] The adventurer seems to have dropped out of existence. In a voice that seems to recede into the void, you hear his final word: “Restore….” You muse about how a mere adventurer might come to possess a spell of such power.
  • The adventurer attempts to eat his sword. I don’t think it would agree with him.

So this is clearly the Zork adventurer, and even the way you acquire him — from the other side of a magical mirror — has a wonderful resonance with the teleportation mirrors of Zork I. But in case you thought perhaps he’d warped in from another universe or something, the details of the Gallery location dispel that idea immediately:

The east-west corridor opens into a gallery. The walls are lined with portraits, some of apparently great value. All of the eyes seem to follow you as you pass, and the entire room is subtly disturbing.

>examine portraits
The portraits represent a wide cross-section of races. Elves, gnomes, dwarves, wizards, warlocks, and just plain folk are all here. Some of them are known to you, such as Lord Dimwit Flathead of the Great Underground Empire, depicted here in excessive detail, and the Wizard of Frobozz, shown in a typical pose of anguished bewilderment.

The adventurer himself has a satisfying reaction if you happen to catch him wandering into this location:

The adventurer stops and stares at the portraits. “I’ve met him!” he gasps, pointing at the Wizard of Frobozz. He doesn’t appear eager to meet him again, though. “And there’s old Flathead! What a sight!” He glances at the other portraits briefly and then re-checks his map.

The cover of the Enchanter folio package

So while the contrast between the enchanter and the adventurer makes it clear that Enchanter isn’t Zork IV (despite what the Scenic Vista suggests), it is an extension of the Zork universe. Dante and I, having skipped around in time a bit, had already seen the union of spellcasting-Zork and treasure-hunting-Zork in the later games, and in fact some of our discoveries here helped explain throwaway references in those games, such as Beyond Zork‘s casual mention that “Aggressive ad campaigns and the deregulation of ZIFMIA spells have made Miznia’s Jungle Skyway the fifth biggest tourist attraction in the Southlands.” In Enchanter, Zifmia can only summon beings of great magical power or beings you can see, but apparently later the rules loosen up enough that it can be used for casual travel. The idea that spell restrictions are largely the product of bureaucratic regulations is a funny one, considering that they’re really the product of technical limitations and the necessity to constrain combinatorial explosions in game design.


If only Infocom had done a little deregulation of their other limits. For whatever reason, designers Marc Blank and Dave Lebling decided to impose three different timers in this game: one for hunger, one for thirst, and one for sleep. That’s on top of the never-stops-being-annoying inventory limit, which felt particularly draconian here. Infocom’s previous game, Planetfall, also inflicted these three timers on players, so I guess Enchanter just had the misfortune to fall into the period of IF evolution between, “Hey, these timers make the game more realistic!” and “Hey, these timers make the game a lot less fun.”

The thirst timer isn’t terrible — there’s an endless source of water available, though occasionally you may have to trundle over to it. Still, it’s mostly just an annoyance. Food, on the other hand, has a hard limit — there’s a loaf of bread that lasts something like 7 meals, and when it’s gone, it’s gone. Enchanter continued Infocom’s streak of making us replay games, and that hunger timer was a big part of how it did so. (The other part was finding out we’d locked ourselves out of victory in our first few moves — more about that in a moment.)

Then there’s the sleep timer. While not as unforgiving as the hunger timer, it did introduce a whole new way to suddenly lose — you can get robbed while you sleep! Apparently this is the best use for the Blorb spell, but you have to learn that the hard way. Incidentally, Dante and I played a bit of Enchanter together when he was much younger, and this bedtime theft (combined with me saying, “We’ve been robbed!”) upset him so much that he dropped the game completely.

On the other hand, Enchanter does a few things with its sleep timer that make it almost worth having. For one, there’s a puzzle that flat-out requires sleep. Fall asleep on a beautiful bed, get rewarded with the location of a new scroll you’d never have found otherwise. That’s easy enough. Even more enticing, though, are the hints you get while dreaming. These dreams make perfect sense with the character, a novice spellcaster with the potential for greater power, and a connection to the mystical forces of the universe. Plus, they can help get you unstuck — always appreciated. One of those dreams brilliantly hinted us toward the solution to a puzzle:

After a while, your sleep is disturbed by a strange dream. You are wandering in a darkened place, for you have no light or other possessions. You feel that you are being watched! You are surrounded by faces, their eyes following you. They drift in and out, staring at you with proud indifference. One face, brightly lit (unlike the rest), draws you closer and closer. As you touch it, you wake.

It took a few repetitions of this before we caught on — and the game gets increasingly insistent about signaling that this is a hint — but finally we understood that it referred to the Gallery, and further understood what we had to do, given that a nearly identical puzzle appears at the end of Zork II. Unfortunately, that was also when we realized that we’d locked ourselves out of victory.

See, one of the most satisfying parts of Enchanter is the way it obviates some of the recurring frustrations of earlier Zork games. For a player who has struggled with one lock after another, possessing a Rezrov spell feels marvelously empowering. Never again, locks! (Not true, but it still feels great when Rezrov pops something open.) Similarly, the Frotz spell meant that our days of struggling against light limits were over at last! “Frotz me” was one of the first commands we typed once we understood that the PC could finally be its own light source. Which is great… except when you need darkness. It wouldn’t be until Spellbreaker that Infocom would allow the “Extinguish” verb to undo a “Frotz me”, so… RESTART!

Photo from the Enchanter package showing the disk and feelies

Unfortunately, there was no spell that improved our carrying capacity, which meant that we were frequently told that we were carrying too many things already. Usually an annoyance, this behavior became downright infuriating with a grabby fellow like the adventurer around — when we opened up a new location, he would charge right in and take everything we hadn’t been able to pick up, which tended to be most things, given the game’s insistence on inventory limits. One silver lining: there was a lot of comedy value to be had from checking out the adventurer’s inventory, which besides his own sword and lamp was generally made up of our castoffs:

There is a bedraggled and weary adventurer standing here. He is carrying a sacrificial dagger, a lighted portrait, a dusty book, a purple scroll, a sword, and a brass lantern.

He’s like a sillier version of the Zork I thief, or maybe a deranged magpie who doesn’t restrict himself to just the shiny objects.

The adventurer focuses entirely on objects, while the enchanter cares much more about scrolls, whose physical presence is ephemeral, but whose contents can be used over and over. Put another way, the adventurer’s power comes from having things, while the enchanter’s power comes from knowing things. For kids whose knowledge greatly outstrips their wealth, this is a pretty appealing formulation.

The mind-body split between these two characters also figures into the game’s puzzles, in which the adventurer can ignore mental barriers such as illusions, breaking through with a basic physicality that can pave the way for the enchanter. On the flip side, the enchanter can use a spell (not an object) to change the adventurer’s mood, so that he’s willing to cooperate. I would totally play a game (or for that matter, watch a TV show or movie) in which these two team up for a whole story to solve problems.


The puzzles in Enchanter overall are quite clever and fun on average. We particularly enjoyed the Unseen Terror puzzle, with its ASCII art and its multi-step luring and trapping mechanic. Figuring out the right combination of spells and objects to get the sacrificial dagger was another favorite. Oh, and the rainbow turtle! That one was a little awkward with its syntax, but once we understood how to tell the game our idea, it was quite a thrill seeing it work.

The final puzzle, however, stymied us for quite some time, and here is where Enchanter‘s spell-specific puzzle gimmick shows its weakness. See, when there’s one spell and only one spell that can resolve a situation, you’re at an impasse unless you’ve found that spell, but you likely don’t even know you’re at that impasse. Now, one could argue this is really no different than a Zork game, in which there is often one and only one object that can unlock a puzzle, but I think there’s a qualitative difference.

Because objects are concrete items that tend to have very specific or limited capabilities, it’s more clear when you’re missing one. Say you find a bolt that needs turning — it’s pretty certain that a sword or a hot pepper sandwich is not going to do the job. You clearly need a wrench. Now say you find a fire-breathing dragon. Could you make it your friend, or change it into a newt, or talk to it? Well, why not? Those all seem like reasonable solutions to the problem, and if they don’t work, it’s only because the game rather arbitrarily decides that they don’t. When it turns out that you must have a “quench an open flame” spell, you might justifiably cry foul, especially when a dragon is much more like a hostile creature than an open flame. By building the skills and powers of the PC, Enchanter comes closer and closer to risking logical breaks by deciding that those powers are only allowed to apply to some situations and not other, very similar situations.

The other weakness of this scenario is that the Gondar spell (the open-flame-quenching one) is only available from searching a second-level noun — that is, an object mentioned in the description of another object rather than the description of a room. Given how many first-level nouns go undescribed in Enchanter and all its predecessors, expecting that kind of search behavior seems a little beyond the pale. We needed a hint to get there.

Once we got that hint, and were sufficiently Gondared, the climactic sequence of the game became finishable, and we finished! Banishing Krill was as satisfying as we’d hoped, and we were excited to know that much more IF with this fun spellcasting mechanic awaited us!

Zork I [Infocom >RESTART]

IFDB page: Zork I
[This review contains lots of spoilers for Zork I. I also wrote an introduction to these Infocom >RESTART reviews, for those who want a little context.]

Legends grow in the telling, and so it was with Zork in Dante’s mind. He had seen so many references to it, so much appreciation for it, that he had begun to think of it as some kind of platonic ideal for IF. Within minutes of playing, that expectation crashed against the reality of a vintage text game.

Instead of typing “X”, you have to type the full word “EXAMINE”. (Well, technically only “EXAMIN”, or even just “LOOK”, but nevermind — this was about 1980 IF breaking modern expectations.) Locations are almost immediately mazy, with pieces of the forest connecting in unexplained nonsensical ways to each other. The status line sports no handy exits listing, and when travel in a direction is blocked, it’s often blocked with no explanation. For every “Storm-tossed trees block your way”, there are dozens of “You can’t go that way”s.

In what became a running joke for our playthrough, many incredible things have the description, “There’s nothing special about the [incredible thing].” A non-exhaustive list of things about which Zork I claims there is nothing special: an elvish sword of great antiquity, a pile of mangled bodies, a painting of unparalleled beauty, Neptune’s crystal trident, a sceptre (possibly that of ancient Egypt itself), a beautiful jeweled scarab, a golden clockwork canary, and a solid rainbow complete with stairs and bannister. I had to explain to him that Zork was operating under a draconian space limitation — they simply didn’t have room to include descriptions for anything that didn’t directly contribute to a puzzle. For him, this limitation was almost unthinkable. I mean, it’s just text! How could they not have room for it?

Space limitations also show up in a lack of scenery objects, a problem that can manifest in a fairly benign form or a fairly malign one. For instance, in the Shaft Room, one sentence of the room description reads, “Constructed over the top of the shaft is a metal framework to which a heavy iron chain is attached.” Try EXAMINE FRAMEWORK and you’ll get the response, “I don’t know the word ‘framework’.” Fair enough, the framework apparently wasn’t implemented as an object. On the other hand, try EXAMINE METAL and you’ll get the much more problematic response, “You can’t see any metal here.”

This happens because elsewhere in the game, there are objects that legitimately can be referred to as “metal” — the metal ramp in the Cellar and the metal bolt in the Dam, for example. The framework isn’t implemented, though, so while it’s described as “metal” in the room description, there’s no game object in that room for the word “metal” to reference. This has the story-breaking result that you’re told there’s a metal framework in front of you, but also that there is no metal in the room. Our favorite manifestation of this:

Land of the Dead
You have entered the Land of the Living Dead. Thousands of lost souls can be heard weeping and moaning. In the corner are stacked the remains of dozens of previous adventurers less fortunate than yourself. A passage exits to the north.

You can't see any dead here!

Another modern feature that we missed awfully: UNDO. For instance, when you type OPEN EGG WITH WRENCH, and get a response which begins:

The egg is now open, but the clumsiness of your attempt has seriously compromised its esthetic appeal. There is a golden clockwork canary nestled in the egg. It seems to have recently had a bad experience…

…the natural response is to type UNDO. Oh how painful to receive the reply, “I don’t know the word ‘undo’.” Again, the microcomputers of 1980 couldn’t really have supported such a state-management function, at least not without sacrificing too much text and parsing capability. Instead, games of that era tried to make a virtue out of compulsive SAVEing, and called their game-closing responses part of the challenge. Seen from today’s perspective, they simply invoke the tedium of forcing a RESTORE, or worse yet a RESTART. Replaying up to the game-closing point isn’t challenging, just time-consuming.

Zork I logo, with the caption "Your greatest challenge lies ahead -- and downwards."

In what became a running theme of our Infocom replays, we had to restart Zork I. In fact, we had to restart it twice — the first time because our light source ran out and we hadn’t yet found a permanent one, and the second time, very far into the game, because we realized that we’d killed the thief early on through a “lucky” fluke, but we still needed him to open the jewel-encrusted egg. I ran both of these replays on my own — Dante had no patience for retreading miles of known ground just to get to something new.

All of these pain points served to illustrate clearly the distance that text adventures have come since 1980. I sometimes hear it argued that IF isn’t really all that different now from how it was in the Infocom days, but Dante’s experience with playing modern IF and then going back to Infocom puts the lie to that claim. I mean, yes, it’s still essentially getting a parser of limited vocabulary to cooperate with your traversal of a fictional world. Some of the parsing innovations we might have imagined arriving in 40 years have not come to pass — there’s no intelligent computer DM to respond reasonably to anything you type as it takes you through the dungeon. But as far as the moment-to-moment experience of playing a text game, the state of the art has improved a great deal.

The same is true of the puzzles, at least when it comes to the damned mazes. This was another area that I ran on my own — Dante was interested in the first few rooms of maze-mapping, where we’d drop an object, go a direction, and see whether we’d found a new room. But it just. Kept. Going. Hundreds of moves’ worth of this, painstakingly updating our Trizbort map as we went. This is a test of bloody-mindedness, not complex thought. Luckily, the thief didn’t confound us, due to his aforementioned dumb luck defeat. Still, the Zork maze was another perfect example of something that may have passed as fun in 1980, but could make no such claim today. Actually, make that the Zork mazes, as there’s another one in the Coal Mine, albeit not nearly so tortuous.

On the other hand, many of the puzzles have lost no sheen whatsoever. Flood Control Dam #3, for instance, is just as marvelous as always. There’s an aspect to it that is simply mechanical — figure out how to unlock it for changes, and then figure out what tool is needed to make those changes happen. But then once you make those changes, they imply new relationships and new attributes to various parts of the landscape. I was impressed to see that Dante intuitively grasped these implications, moving quickly not only to the emptied reservoir, but also to the quieted Loud Room, for instance.

In general, I was fascinated to see how he reacted to puzzles I remembered. He immediately grasped puzzles I remember struggling with, like the Loud Room, the Cyclops Room, and the deranged bat. On the other hand, we were quite a ways into our playthrough before he figured out to tie the rope to the railing, which I remember doing pretty immediately.

Dante’s intuition and experience led him more astray on the combat-style puzzles. He’d already embraced a different branch of retro gaming, having logged dozens of hours on Angband, but while Zork is no Angband, the inclusion of D&D-style combat very near the beginning of the game makes it seem as though there’s going to be quite a bit of overlap. Consequently, Dante snapped into the mode of looking for weapons and armor, evaluating the axe vs. the sword vs. the knife, etc., when that’s not really what Zork is designed for. This becomes especially apparent when you find what seems like a magic trident, except it can’t even be used as a weapon at all.

It makes historical sense to me why this randomized combat is in here — IF at the time was still in the shadow of Adventure, which in turn sat in the shadow of D&D. But the combat sits uneasily against the rest of the game, and Zork I‘s commitment to it is pretty half-hearted. The only fightable “monsters” in the game are the troll and the thief. Moreover, the fights with these monsters don’t expose any of the typical RPG mechanics — you can’t see numerical representations of attack, damage, or defense, and consequently you may not know that randomization is happening behind the scenes. The first time we fought the troll, we knocked him out immediately, which seemed like just what the game had “intended” — imagine Dante’s shock when next time around, the troll killed us! Unlike the elegance of most Zork puzzles, the randomized combat can contribute both to sudden losses out of the player’s control and to “lucky” wins that cut off victory. Both happened to us.

The opening screen of Zork I

Then there were those puzzles that we both had trouble with. I have a strong memory of playing Zork I as a kid and flailing around at the Entrance to Hades. I rang the bell, mostly out of sheer desperation, but could make no sense of the response. I was talking through the problem with my Dad when he asked me, “Hey, do you happen to have a book and a candle as well?” Well yes, but how on earth did you even come up with that question to ask? He explained to me then the cultural reference of “Bell, Book, and Candle”, which was entirely lost on me as a kid. Now I can report that the passing of a generation has made that reference no clearer, and Dante’s dad had to explain it to him.

Of all the Zork I puzzles, the gold coffin gained the most in my estimation from this revisit. The puzzle, for those who may not remember, is this: you’ve descended from a rope into a temple chamber. You cannot ascend back up the rope, as you drop from it into the temple and it ends several feet above your reach. The only exit from the temple is through a small hole in the floor, next to an altar. Within the chamber you find (among other things), a gold coffin. You can get through the hole with the other treasures you find, but if you try to take the coffin, Zork says, “You haven’t a prayer of getting the coffin down there.”

What to do? The failure message, along with the religious trappings of the room, hint towards the solution: PRAY. When you do that, this happens:

This is a forest, with trees in all directions. To the east, there appears to be sunlight.

The command instantly teleports you out of the underground altogether, along with all your possessions — including the coffin. Besides the puzzle being well-cued, it also has a quality of awe, possibly deriving from the suddenness with which everything changes from dark to light. There is no sweeping transition text, which almost any author (including me) would be tempted to put in today — just an instant shift with no explanation. That shift prompts a more mysterious feeling of religious wonder, at least in me — it’s immediately apparent that there are greater powers at work in this world than simply an adventurer manipulating mechanisms, and those powers do not care to explain or announce themselves.

That’s one of the magic moments of Zork I, and there are many. Another, for us, came at the Mirror Room, where we had visited many times and looked at our bedraggled image. That night, there was a thunderstorm outside while we played, and as we reached out to TOUCH MIRROR for the first time, two things happened simultaneously: Zork I said, “There is a rumble from deep within the earth and the room shakes” while outside there was a loud CRACK of thunder. I felt aligned with the universe at that moment.

In replaying this game and its successors, I’ve come to the conclusion that there are two fundamental things that make Zork special, and that are reliable sources of delight in subsequent Infocom games: moments of humor and moments of magic. Sometimes they are one and the same, or at least right alongside each other.

Consider, for example, inflating the boat. There’s a moment of satisfaction when you realize that the hand-held air pump connects to the valve on the pile of plastic, like finding two jigsaw puzzle pieces that connect to each other. That satisfaction turns to magic with the appearance of the boat, which suddenly recontextualizes parts of the landscape you’ve already seen. Rivers, streams, and lakes that once seemed like scenery have become pathways to traverse in this new vehicle, opening up new vistas of the map for exploration.

A partial map of the Zork I landscape, including the Frigid River

This is one of the best tricks that IF can pull — revealing a new dimension within a familiar situation, one which expands the possibility space of the entire game world. Previously ordinary aspects of the scenario jump to life with vibrant new potential, and the player sees everything fresh. In the case of the Zork boat, this exciting development comes with a laugh, as the boat contains a label reading:


Hello, Sailor!

[…and then some instructions for how to use the boat.]

Aside from the comical quality of the exclamation points and the capital letters, this label squeezes in two different running gags that thread through most of the series — “Frobozz Magic” products and the phrase “Hello Sailor”, introduced by the prayer book on the altar.

This the other source of pleasure in Zork and its progeny: unexpected unity. Both drama and comedy use the basic structure of a setup leading to a payoff, and that structure finds its place in text adventures as well. The very first underground location in Zork I, the Cellar, contains the bottom of a metal chute, too slippery to climb: setup. Many hundreds of moves later, we find a Slide Room — part of a coal mine containing “a steep metal slide twisting downward.” Of course, enter the slide and you find yourself back in the Cellar: payoff. In that moment, the game unifies two pieces of itself, yielding the satisfaction of a question answered.

In the case of Frobozz Magic products, the structure is more like a single setup leading to a series of payoffs, each building on the last through the long series of games. Each new appearance of these products, especially as they grow in ridiculous specialization, is a comedy callback that enriches the joke. Sometimes, as in the case of HELLO SAILOR itself, the payoff occurs several games away from the setup, and contains both drama and comedy. But more about that in a later post.

The ultimate (meaning both final and best) example of such unity comes when all the treasures are collected, and a voice whispers that there is one final secret. The map we find brings us back to the very first location of the game, encircling the experience in a great dramatic unity. I found the appearance of the secret path to the stone barrow unexpectedly moving, probably because it was a thrilling moment that I was getting to re-experience alongside Dante, while he saw it for the first time. As Zork I both wrapped itself up and invited us to further adventure, I couldn’t wait to continue delving further with him.