"Our doom is sealed."

Y'Gael turned away from the window overlooking the Great Sea. "The Guildmaster nears the end of his final quest," she said softly. "When he succeeds, for succeed he will, our powers shall cease to be."

The silence was unbroken for a long minute. Then a tiny voice near the door peeped, "Forever?"

"No." The old woman leaned forward on her staff. "The Age of Science will endure long; no one in this room can hope to outlive it. But our knowledge need not die with us -- if we act at once to preserve our priceless heritage."

"Wherein lies your hope, Y'Gael?" demanded a salamander in the front row. "What Magick is proof against the death of Magick itself?"

Y'Gael's dry chuckle stilled the murmur of the crowd. "You forget your own history, Gustar. Are you not author of the definitive scroll on the Coconut of Quendor?"

A tumult of amphibious croaks and squeals drowned out Gustar's retort. Y'Gael hobbled over to a table laden with mystical artifacts, selected a small stone and raised it high.

"The Coconut is our only hope," she cried, her eyes shining in the stone's violet aura. "Its seed embodies the essence of our wisdom. Its shell is impervious to the ravages of Time. We must reclaim it from the Implementors, and hide it away before its secrets are forgotten!"

The shrill voice of a newt rose above the cheering. "And who will steal this Coconut from the Implementors?" he scoffed. "You, Y'Gael?"

The violet aura faded at his words. "Not I, Orkan," replied Y'Gael, shaking the lifeless stone and replacing it with a sigh. "The fabric of Magick is unravelling. We dare not rely on its protection. Another champion must be sought; an innocent unskilled in the lore of enchantment, who cannot know the price of failure, or recognize the face of death."

Orkan's squeak was skeptical. "Suppose your champion succeeds in this hopeless quest. What will become of the Coconut?"

Y'Gael turned to face the sea once more. "It will await the coming of a better age," she replied, her voice trembling with emotion. "An age beyond Magick, beyond Science ..."

Thus started the game, Beyond Zork.

Released by Infocom in 1987.

Beyond Zork is a technically unique game. It's one of the latter releases from Infocom, and as such, it was a huge game (Version 5 file). I never got it because it required Commodore 128 and I've always been a die-hard C64 user =)

Beyond Zork was also interesting at the time because it used crude graphics (based on graphical characters) to display game map that is updated when the player explores the area. First Infocom game to feature graphics! Also, the game featured redefinable function keys. Also, the game had semi-RPG-style character stats that were displayed on screen. The game even featured mouse support (on platforms where mouse was available) to move on different areas by clicking there.

This 1987 Infocom text adventure, embarassingly enough, took me 10 years to complete.

Let me explain.

Beyond Zork was another one of those games my dad had obtained from Some Guy At Work, on one of those big floppy disks that do their name justice by being somewhat, well, floppy.

I grew up in a very computer-oriented household; we got our first computer, an IBM PCjr, when I was a mere five year old kindergartner. It had a color monitor and was good for playing wonderful Atari-esque games such as Stargate (a Defender clone) and Zaxxon. But alas, my brother and I broke the keyboard interface for this computer by messing around with the connector pins. A geek dad with two geek children does not a safe environment for electronic equipment make; my brother and I were ruthless button-pushers and take-aparters from a very early age.

I never played Beyond Zork on the PCjr; I played it on the super kick-ass whiz-bang Packard Bell 286! "Zork" is such a funny word, I though to myself. I popped the disk in.

I was greeted with one of the most horrible combinations of colors I'd ever seen when I loaded the game. Ouch. Pale cyan background with white text. To this day, I've never been able to figure out how to change the colors on this game.

The first thing you do in the game is set up your character. I was familiar with this process; my father was a D&D player, and had two books on the game that I would sneak peeks at when nobody was watching. (My mother was quite religious, and considered role-playing games to be "Satanic"; she disapproved of my dad's hobby, and often tried to talk him out of it.)

The character stats appear in the form of bar graphs. You start out with a single bar that is (I think) 50% full. This represents your potential. You need to divide this potential into the following categories:

It is good to divide your potential roughly evenly among these attributes. You might not think that characteristics such as "compassion" and "luck" are very important, but trust me, there are places in the game where such things are crucial. You can skimp on these a little bit, but not too much.

There is also the option of generating a character randomly; in this case, the process is similar to the dice-based character generation of traditional RPGs. I never used the random character generator; it seemed to produce characters that were very "unbalanced"; such as an oaf with excessive strength and next to no intelligence, or a nimble weakling with high dexterity but poor endurance. The character generator might be fun for people that like their characters to be more "realistic"; nobody in real life is likely to be as well-balanced in abilities as I preferred to have my characters.

You also get to specify the name and gender of your character. The default is a male named "Buck Palace". What a dumb name! thought the 11 year old ac_hyper. I can think of something MUCH better...like, um, Brightmoon Elvenblade! Yeah. And of course my character had to be female, because girls kick ass.

So I started the game on the hilltop. It took a while (I had no game manual; this is why the game took me so long to complete!) but I gradually figured out that you could type "l" to "look", and travel in any of the available directions by abbreviating "north", "south", "east", and "west" with "n", "s", "e", and "w". You can also go diagonal directions (e.g., "nw" for "northwest") and in special cases you can go "up" or "down" stairs and ladders.

One of the other writeups in this node mentions a "primitive graphical interface". It took me a while when playing the game to figure out what the little lines and rectangles in the upper right hand corner of the screen were; once I realized that it was sort of a map, the game became much easier. The central rectangle shows where you are, and there are lines radiating in every direction that it is possible to travel from that point. If you are near a ladder or staircase, there will be an arrow (pointing up or down) directly on the rectangle representing your current position.

In my preliminary exploring, I encountered some weaker enemies with funny names like "Eldritch Vapor" and "Guttersnipe". When an enemy hits you, your endurance goes down. The trick is (of course) to kill them before they kill you. Zork enemies often have very creative means of attack, some coupled with the ability to do things to you that don't hurt your health but are nevertheless annoying. For instance, the Eldritch Vapor can steal your belongings and hide them somewhere in the swamp, making it so that you have to go find them. What a pain.

Two of the more difficult enemies are the Cruel Puppet (which attacks by insulting you and your mother!) and the Monkey Grinder (which attacks you with bad smells and irritating noises). They are defeatable but will most likely kill you a few times. Save often in this game, and multiple save files at different points are highly recommended.

Like most adventure games, Beyond Zork's world contains many magical and useful items that you will find scattered about: there are staffs, sticks, and staves, and potions of varying color and clarity. It is up to you to find a means of identifying these items; it is not recommended that you simply gulp down any potion you find! Poison notwithstanding, there are some very useful potions that can actually raise your characters attributes. You just need to find (or buy) and drink!

The currency of Zork is, not surprisingly, the Zorkmid. You start off the game with a single Zorkmid; you obtain more money by selling items which you either no longer need or that have no practical use and are simply valuable treasures.

Beyond Zork is only loosely linear. There are a number of different areas you can travel between, and the order in which the puzzles are solved and in which the enemies are defeated is largely up to you. You just need to have the right tools for the job.

I finally completed Beyond Zork at the age of 21, after locating the text of the game manual online. There are parts in the game where you absolutely need the manual; I had stopped playing the game about two years after I initially found it because I'd hit a wall. I'm very glad I found the manual because the game is just damn fun! The puzzles are challenging and the game is quite complex. There is also some degree of replayability; you might want to try different character attributes to increase difficulty, or try solving the puzzles in a different order.

Altogether, Beyond Zork is proof that you don't need flashy graphics requiring an expensive video card in order to have a good time!

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