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Zork: The Undiscovered Underground

by Marc Blank, Michael Berlyn, and G. Kevin Wilson

Zorkian
1997

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Number of Ratings: 27
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- Denk, January 1, 2017

- Xavid, December 7, 2016

A small nugget of nostalgia by original Infocom implementers, April 26, 2016

Years after Infocom died and Activision was about to put out a graphical Zork game, this parser game was commissioned and then produced by two Infocom writers (Marc Blank of Zork and Mike Berlin of Infidel).

The game is almost pure nostalgia, and fairly short. It compares to Unnkulia One Half, which was similarly a small promo game riffing on older material.

In this game you find an undiscovered part of the Great Underground Empire and explore it. The game is very small, with one big square that has doors leading to three smaller areas, each with 3-5 rooms. There are little models of Zork items, Grue references, and the heads of the two implementers waxing nostalgic. There are references to the IF MUD (essentially an elaborate chat room that was once a multiplayer online parser game) and so on.

If you have nostalgia for infocom, this game could be lots of fun. If you have just barely learned about ibfocom, maybe not so much. The actual games themselves are more fun.

1 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
A bit of a disappointment for die-hard Zork fans in 1997, September 18, 2015
by mjhayes (Niagara Falls, NY)
The '90s was a turbulent decade for quite a few game franchises, Zork being no exception. Infocom was on its way out, but fortunately or unfortunately, along came Activision to the rescue. Return To Zork was the first multimedia Zork game, but sadly what would seem to be the last game that was truly Zork. Zork Nemesis was a beautiful game with an interface that wowed laypeople and seasoned gamers alike, but was Zork in name only.

So when Zork: Grand Inquisitor came along the following year, it seemed to be the best of both worlds. It had the same next-gen panoramic interface that Nemesis had, making it forgivable for falling into the "Myst-wannabe" genre, but had the same characteristic quirkiness of classic Infocom titles. To make things even better, a few guys now at Activision thought to throw a bone to the IF crowd by co-releasing this free IF piece.

I downloaded it with the expectation that it would be a true "Zork IV" (not Enchanter or Beyond Zork) but I was quickly disappointed. There was no sense of carefree spelunking with this one, if only because the player is commissioned by the Grand Inquisitor to explore a newly-discovered section of the Great Underground Empire. It's short too, more so than I was hoping for. What really ruined it for me though, was getting an actual verbal description of a grue, and also walking into a room that turns out to be a Grue Convention Hall. I know that other Infocom games like Journey had made the connection between orcs and grues and had illustrations of the orcs, but because those weren't Zork games, I looked the other way.

Another thing that irritated me was the description of the entrance to the hallway "the size of a large boulevard." I knew that a central character in Zork history was Lord Dimwit Flathead the Excessive, famous for his outrageous sense of proportion, but this over-the-top description shattered my "suspension-of-distaste." I will also refrain from talking about the rat-ants that make their return from Beyond Zork.

Now that it's not 1997 anymore, I can say that in hindsight, I'm glad this game was developed, since I believe it's better to have something mediocre than nothing at all. I just wish it had been better among the original Zork games.

- Thrax, March 11, 2015

- shornet (Bucharest), February 21, 2015

- Janice M. Eisen (Portland, Oregon), November 10, 2014

- JAlbertzzz, August 16, 2014

- Robb Sherwin (Colorado), June 21, 2013

- DJ (Olalla, Washington), May 9, 2013

SPAG

The mechanics of the collaboration aren't clear--to me, anyway--but it's skillfully done: there are very few slips that I can see 'twixt writing and programming (a room description beginning "As you step through the door...", for example). The game is awash in references to Zorks of old [...]

The main problem is that the whole thing is a little directionless--your initial instruction is to "explore, enjoy yourself, and bring back news," though the objective soon becomes getting out. But you don't plan your escape so much as solve a series of puzzles, the last of which happens to give you a rather unlikely escape route (clued, but not in a way that most would guess). This isn't a huge setback--after all, it's consistent with the "go-wander-around" feel of Zorks I and II--but given that the game never really goes anywhere, plot-wise, it's a little odd to consider this a "teaser."

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- Puddin Tame (Queens, NY), October 28, 2012

- André St-Aubin (Laval, Québec), May 31, 2011

- Rotonoto (Albuquerque, New Mexico), May 16, 2011

- Walter Sandsquish, February 2, 2011

- NoiselessPenguin (London, UK), January 27, 2011

- Mr. Patient (Saint Paul, Minn.), December 29, 2010

- Muskie, August 11, 2010

- AmberShards (The Gothic South), April 3, 2010

4 of 4 people found the following review helpful:
If you liked Zork: Grand Inquisitor..., April 2, 2010
by tggdan3 (Michigan)
So Infocom (oops, Activision!) has returned to its roots with Zork: The Undiscovered Underground. But the game is more parody of Zork games than a Zork game itself, but therein lies some of its appeal.

For one, you start out with a plastic sword of no antiquity, and a battery powered plastic lantern which totally sucks. Finding a way to get it to stay alight long enough to complete the game is a puzzle in itself.

Basically, you're exploring a new cave on assignment from the Grand Inquisitor himself, because all the other (better) adventurers are busy for one reason or another.

Despite some obvious continuity errors (Spoiler - click to show) Such as a grue with glowing fur! The game is a fun mini-zork, complete with 2 different endings. Expect appearances from the implementors and the grues (which appear much smarter in this one than in any previous installment).

The puzzles aren't extremely difficult, and many of them are at least logical, which is a nice change of pace from the ECHO room of Zork I. (Yes, there was a more practical solution- added well AFTER the fact as the "real" solution did not appear in Dungeon).

Overall, it seemed like the game was made as a commercial for Zork: Grand Inquisitor, but it is nice to see another offical Zork after all these years, even if the years have not been friendly to the GUE.

- DallasBrianK (DFW Area), August 15, 2009

- Mastodon, March 26, 2009

- Stagrovin, November 10, 2008

- schifter (Louisville, KY), August 17, 2008

- Miron (Berlin, Germany), December 10, 2007


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