I mentioned in my last post how one of my first “computer projects” was playing a game called Zork Zero. It was in a genre of games called “Interactive Fiction” where the player would interact with a [mostly] textual world, solve puzzles, and advance the story line. Zork Zero was a game in a long series of zork games that were characterized by what I would call clever silliness. It was the first one in the series to have any sort of graphical component, and it came in the form of several classical logic puzzles.
I’ve sometimes wondered why the instructor allowed me to play a game for my project, but I think his goal was just to have us use a computer to really get used to it. If that’s the case, it was really successful for me. I spent endless hours playing this game, trying to figure it out. It helped once I got the documentation.
One of the ways the publisher of Zork Zero combated piracy was to require the use of physical documentation to play the game. The game came with several cool little artifacts, called “Feelies” back then. For this game, it was a torn piece of parchment with writing on it, an in game calendar, and some blueprints. To complete the game successfully, you need to have the documents, or at least that was the idea.
When I first started playing the game, I didn’t have access to these documents, but I was able to take the game very far. I even reverse engineered the blueprints, which took hours. This type of copy protection wouldn’t work very well these days, but I love the ingenuity.
The game was silly and clever, which I love. It was the first place I heard the phrase “So long, and thanks for all the fish.” There was a game called “Double Fanucci” that one had to win in order to advance the game. In order to win, you needed information from the Feelies, which I didn’t have. I played Double Fanucci so much, though, because it’s simply a silly game. I tried to reverse engineer some sort of rule set. It didn’t work that well, because as far as I can tell, there wasn’t really a rule set.
For a while, every time I’ve bought a computer, one of the first things I’ve done with it is install Zork Zero. Not because I still play it all that often, but I just like the thought of it being there, ready for me. Over the years, it’s gotten progressively more difficult to get it to run.
Today, when I was preparing to write this post, I discovered that I had failed to install it on this machine. After a bit of Googling, I discovered that it wasn’t going to be straight forward, either. It’s going to take some work.
This is known as “Bit Rot.” Over time, the bits that worked in the past no longer work as well, not because the bits change, but because we change. There is so much lost technology. _why came out of hiding to talk about it not too long ago.
It some ways, it makes sense. Technologies improves, why do we need to remember the past? Why do we need a text based game, when we have modern 3D games?
I think it is important for us to remember. I think it’s important for us to preserve. In meatspace, we mourn losses like the library at Alexandria, because we imagine the riches it held.
It’s possible that in the future, this blog post (and others like it) are the only documentation available for this game called Zork Zero. And maybe not even this blog post. Maybe some other thing in the future that references this, and this is no longer available, because wordpress and mysql have rotted out of existence.
For now, I know what I’m doing today. I’m going to get Zork Zero running on this computer.