Zork III: The Dungeon Master

Posted by David Tanguay.
First posted on 19 June 2000. Last updated on 13 August 2009.
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Zork III: The Dungeon Master
Zork III: The Dungeon Master is the third game of the Zork trilogy.
Zork III: The Dungeon Master
Unlike previous games in the Zork series, the sequel tosses in a story along with a good dose of puzzles.

The opening Zork trilogy has very little plot or even background story. You are just a fortune seeker wandering about a mostly underground maze. The game makes up for this shortcoming with its wonderful settings and fiendish puzzles. Zork III: The Dungeon Master is the third game of the Zork trilogy. In this sequel, however, a bit of story has finally been tossed in to give some meaning to the entire trilogy.

Zork III: The Dungeon Master continues on directly from the end of Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz. You find yourself in a heap at the bottom of some stairs. A vision of an old, or maybe not so old, man appears, telling you to seek him out when you think you are ready. You then proceed to find your way through the Great Underground Empire, passing obstacles and finding secret passages, until you finally meet the man and your fate. Before you can rest with your booty, however, you have to deal with yourself.

Zork III: The Dungeon Master is a text only adventure. It uses Infocom's standard game engine. The parser is extremely flexible, and I never have any problem getting it to understand my commands. The location descriptions are short yet evocative, guiding and inspiring your imagination without drifting into longwinded boredom.

The game is 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. The first version of this game uses an updated Z-Machine first seen in Zork I: The Great Underground Empire. There have been 5 versions of this game released since 1981 using the standard (3) version of Z-Machine, with the last version dated 1984. The game supports 89 rooms and 23 objects, with a vocabulary of 564 words and 5,952 opcodes.

In some ways, Zork III: The Dungeon Master is the original Myst clone. There is a sliding blocks puzzle and some mechanical puzzles, all in the context of little plot and lots of ambience. There are also some standard inventory based problems, and a few very strange people to deal with. As such, there is not much of a story to propel you through the dungeon, just your love of exploration.

The puzzles are devious and clever in a way seldom seen in graphic adventure games of past and present. They are generally rational, but a few seem to require saving and restoring to figure things out. There are also a couple of long dead ends. The first follows bad behavior by the player, so it is somewhat forgivable. The second (related to an earthquake) is likely, occurs early, and is not detectable until near the very end. In the latter case, you can find yourself having to replay almost the entire game.

There are also some problems with randomly appearing characters. Some characters that you need to interact with have a too low chance of appearing. You can visit a location a dozen times before the character appears, which is excessive when you know neither that the location is special nor that there is anybody to meet there.

The great puzzles make Zork III: The Dungeon Master, and its series, a classic. The locale is both dark and whimsical, amazingly well established with so few words. All this and a lonely sailor, too!

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