Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz

Posted by Matthew Murray.
First posted on 29 March 1999. Last updated on 13 August 2009.
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Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz
Despite its name, Zork Zero is not the first game in the Zork series.
Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz
The Encyclopedia Frobozzica is a must read for all adventurers in the world of Quendor.
Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz
Double Fanucci is a card game in disguise.
Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz
A graphical interface delivering a text description marks the transition from textual to graphical game design.
Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz
The Snarfen game is an example of the many logic games scattered among the main quest.

Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz is the last game bearing the name Zork that holds the unmistakable stamp of the original Infocom Implementors. Written by Steve Meretzky, acclaimed author of some of Infocom's most classic titles, Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz remains ensconced completely in the world of Quendor. With ties to the original Zork trilogy, lots of in-jokes, and a large number of surprises, this is unquestionably an important game for understanding the fabric of the Zork universe. It is also of great importance for being Infocom's first game that uses graphics in an integrated way without sacrificing the wit or text that has made Infocom famous. For much the same reason, Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz is labeled as the last real Zork game.

In the year 789 GUE, the great mage Megaboz unleashes a powerful curse on the land of Quendor. Though the royal sorcerers have been able to delay the full effects of the curse, namely the destruction of Flathead Castle and all of the Eastlands, for 94 years, they have been unable to prevent the death of the ruler of Quendor, Lord Dimwit Flathead the Excessive, and his 11 siblings of the ruling family, the Twelve Flatheads. Now, it is the 14th of Mumberbur in the year 883 GUE. The castle has been evacuated and the village of Flatheadia has been abandoned. You are left alone in the castle, the only chance the empire has of averting the curse. Your sole hope of succeeding where so many others have failed is a small scrap of parchment discovered by your ancestor who has witnessed the placement of the curse. With time running out, are you be able to remove the curse and save Quendor from destruction, or are you doomed to fail and be destroyed with the Eastlands?

Although Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz is published after both Zork III: The Dungeon Master and Beyond Zork: The Coconut of Quendor, it is not a sequel in the truest sense. Rather, this game is the prequel to the original Zork I: The Great Underground Empire and its trilogy. Regardless, the game shares much in common in design with the other games in the Zork series. The screen consists mostly of text through which the majority of the action in the game is communicated. Actions are performed generally by typing in commands, using full English sentences and the famous Infocom parser. This is often expedited by the use of user definable function keys. Zork Zero also dabbles into the arena of graphical user interface. While the new design allows such customization options as changing the text and background color onscreen, the graphics mostly consist of decorative borders to provide atmosphere. They are all removable, especially if you prefer to play the game without them. Just about everything of great importance is communicated in the text. There are several times in the game when special graphical interfaces are used. These occur mostly in conjunction with games or puzzles such as Peggleboz (a peg jumping game) and the much touted game of Double Fanucci. The graphical system also offers an auto-map feature which records locations you have visited.

Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz is the largest and most ambitious game in the Infocom Zork series. The game contains over 200 locations and as many puzzles as the entire Zork trilogy combined. Unlike the Zork trilogy, the game is not written by Marc Blank and David Lebling. It is based on the concept of interactive fiction told through a story interpreter pioneered by Infocom. The Infocom story interpreter is platform independent, and the game themselves are complied for a virtual computer architecture called the Z-Machine. Zork Zero marks the debut of a graphical interface based on 256 color VGA graphics and the next generation of text parser. There have been four versions of this game released since 1988. The last version dated 1989 uses Version 6 of Z-Machine. The game supports 215 rooms and 106 objects, with a vocabulary of 1,624 words and 23,567 opcodes.

Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz is very well designed from a gameplay standpoint, improving again upon all of the enhancements the previous games have innovated. Though you can use the keyboard to type in directions as normal, you can also move around by using the compass rose at the top of the screen or by clicking on locations on the online maps. The maps are very useful to have. The geography of Zork Zero is extensive, so keeping track of yourself as your travel between regions of the game can often be quite a chore. The parser, as is expected from Infocom, is extremely intuitive and mostly forgiving. There are practically no situations in the game when you are stuck because you cannot think of the word to move on. Being the pinnacle of Infocom's creative achievement, this game incorporates everything the designers have learned about parsers and game interaction to spectacular effect. Communicating with an Infocom game is never easier than it is here.

On merit, Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz has a lot going for it. It covers an enormous amount of area with many excellent descriptions for the rooms, and each of the regions of the game have a distinct personality and flavor. There is plenty of humor in the game, though much of it is often subtle. There are quite a few number of in-jokes and references to other games in the series to be found. The court jester, who pops up to help you in your quest and offers a few jokes or taunts along the way, manages to be entertaining and helpful without being annoying. The onscreen hint system, auto-map, and graphical puzzle interfaces are all well thought out and integrated into the game seamlessly. The value of this pseudo-graphical interface is noted by Meretzky, "The graphics simply add one more level of excellence. I tried to use them in a different way; rather than illustrate locations, the graphics are integrated into the puzzles themselves. I'm really pleased with the result."

There is an extensive, fully functional Encyclopedia Frobozzica in which dozens of topics can be studied, all within the context of this title and other Zork related titles. Perhaps the best part of this game is that its story not only serves to explain how the stage is set for the Zork trilogy but also manages to put a cap on the entire Zork series itself. The game seems to have been designed with the intention that it is the last true Zork adventure. Despite the eventual release of Return to Zork and further sequels, playing this game still gives the same feeling today. The packaging includes a replicate of the scrap of parchment that is central to the game's story as well as a calendar featuring excerpts from "The Lives of the Twelve Flatheads" and illustrations featuring the painter Leonardo Flathead. Incidentally, the Zork calendar for the year 883 GUE is also usable as a 1989 calendar.

Perhaps the biggest disappointment of this game is that the story does not really develop well as the game progresses. The story as established in the prologue is truly fascinating and entertaining, but little else happens with it until the final moments of the game. In addition, since this game is mostly a treasure hunt, it may not always provide the high level of excitement or challenge that some gamers may be expecting. Many of the puzzles, while definitely Zorkian, are not always very involved or difficult. Quite a few puzzles in the game actually revolve around copy protection which has been woven into the gameplay, albeit this fact is not really explained within the context of the game.

An entertaining and fulfilling beginning (or end) to the Zork series, Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz represents the best of interactive fiction that Infocom has to offer during its glory days gone by.

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