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
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
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!