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1001games Part 2: 1980


Zork, inspired by the first text adventure, 1975's Colossal Cave Adventure, is the first game by Infocom, a Massachusetts-based company now legendary for producing some of the greatest text adventures or works of "interactive fiction" as they are also known. Infocom released 35 such games between 1980 and 1989, five of which are on this list. A fansite called The Gallery of Zork refers to the 35 titles as "The Canon."

I've seen a fair few sources dismiss text adventures as obsolete, but I strongly disagree. No graphical video game can ever give you the freedom to act provided by a well-made text adventure. In other games, there are a certain number of stock actions that you use to interact with your environment. In the best text adventures, however, you can do just about anything you can think of - you're in a world of pure imagination, yours and the author's. Also, since you're reading, the storytelling potential is as high as it gets for the medium - it's like an interactive book. There is still a dedicated community of amateur authors of IF, as they like to call it, and they turn out some pretty good stuff.

The text of the book admits that Zork I "may be the worst possible place to start" in Infocom's canon, and indeed it may. It's a simplistic treasure hunt with some wonky puzzles and features a less friendly parser than later titles (requiring look at x rather than just look x, for example). Still, this list clearly gives lots of points for historical relevance, and this game is too iconic to leave out - the white house, your dear friend the brass lantern. The phrase, "It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue" (this is not an idle threat).

Zork is a game in which you enter an enormous underground series of tunnels, discovering the remains of an ancient underground civilization called the Zorkers. The object is to retrieve all the treasures you can find (in some cases solving pretty obtuse puzzles to get them) and put them in a trophy case back above ground. Probably the most annoying aspect of the game is a thief that wanders the underground halls, stealing your treasures and killing you if he catches you off guard.

Using a guide - I salute those out there with the patience and fortitude to gut their way through an arcane title like this unaided, but it isn't in me - I got pretty far. I didn't beat the game - if I insisted on doing that all the time, I'd never finish this blog - but I killed that goddamn thief, which feels as good as winning. To get to his lair you have to navigate a near-impossible maze; "This is part of a maze of twisty little passages, all alike" is another oft-echoed phrase. This game, though lacking the complex story of later adventures, has quite a bit of personality and can be fun to explore.

0021. Warlords (Arcade)

Warlords is a four-player riff on Pong. Played in a "cocktail" table cabinet, players move a tiny shield-shaped paddle around their corner of the field, protecting their little fortress from the ball, which is actually a rolled-up dragon. As the game goes on the number of balls goes up, so it gets quite hectic. You can play as two teams as well as in a free for all. It's an interesting concept, but I never got within a mile of winning against the computer opponents. Yep, I still suck at Pong.

0022. Centipede (Arcade)

This is the first shmup to take things in a different direction than space and aliens; centipede takes place in a garden, your enemies the centipede, spiders, fleas and scorpions, a field of mushrooms your obstruction. When you shoot the centipede, it splits into multiple chains, and each shot segment leaves behind another mushroom. The shrooms get in your way and increase the speed with which the centipedes advance, so you have to balance between attack and clearing them away. There's also some nice risk/reward gameplay with the spider, who gives between 300 and 900 points depending on how close it is to you (and therefore how dangerous it is). Controlled with a trackball, Centipede allows you to move up and down a bit as well as left and right, which is important when the centipedes make it to the bottom. After a few tries I managed to snag the first 1up at 12000 points, at least.

The book mentions that Centipede was programmed by a woman, an interesting tidbit. However, it then goes on to spend the whole space devoted to the game arguing that it was the first to bring women into gaming, kind of an odd way to treat such a well-worn classic if you ask me. I find the argument not only overstated but false, as Pac-Man had already brought gaming a considerable female audience; my big sister used to draw crowds with her skill at that game.

This one was intense! Join me next time for 1981, featuring Donkey Kong, Galaga and Ultima I!
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About tim333one of us since 5:53 PM on 12.11.2007

Regarding my 1001games project: There's only one deadline. I haven't hit it yet!

I'm a 90s gamer and Sega kid for life. I like platformers, adventure games and JRPGs. I'm not that into first-person shooters or sports games.

I spend more of my time playing older games than new ones. I do have a PS3 now, though, and I like buying games on PSN. I like the Wii and have a ton of games for it. I'm encouraged by some of the stuff out on Wiiware - to me, games like Bit.Trip Beat are more appealing than the "triple-A" titles coming out on the HD consoles.

Some of my all-time favorite games are Sonic 3 & Knuckles, Dragon Quest III, Heroes of Might and Magic III, The Curse of Monkey Island, and Dance Dance Revolution.