In brief, I consider the original Infocom Zork games and their packaging to be the most authoritative. The Activision Zorks come next. The novels and strategy guides are terribly inconsistent, so they are not canon.

What's In

Infocom's games set in Quendor

The Infocom Zorks
1980 Zork I: The Great Underground Empire Marc Blank, Dave Lebling
1981 Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz Marc Blank, Dave Lebling
1982 Zork III: The Dungeon Master Marc Blank, Dave Lebling
1983 Enchanter Marc Blank, Dave Lebling
1984 Sorcerer Steve Meretzky
1985 Wishbringer: The Magick Stone of Dreams Brian Moriarty
Spellbreaker Dave Lebling
1987 Beyond Zork: The Coconut of Quendor Brian Moriarty
1988 Zork Zero: The Revenge of Megaboz Steve Meretzky

Classics of interactive fiction. Peter Scheyen's unofficial Infocom homepage is a good source of information about these games.

Infocom's InfoComics

The ZorkQuest InfoComics
1988 ZorkQuest: Assault on Egreth Castle Elizabeth Langosy
ZorkQuest II: The Crystal of Doom Elizabeth Langosy

ZorkQuest: Assault on Egreth Castle, by Elizabeth Langosy

In this story, Radnor, the evil wizard of Egreth, plots to obtain the Amulet of Egreth.

In the end, Dirinthrax becomes the ruler of Egreth, raising lots of questions. What is the extent of his kingdom? What of Vice-Regent Syovar over in the Eastlands?

ZorkQuest II: The Crystal of Doom, by Elizabeth Langosy

The sacking of Pheebor is 396 was a lot later than I expected, but otherwise it fits. A shame the series ended here, though. The world may never learn how the Triax was eventually defeated.

Activision's Infocom-brand games set in Quendor

The Activision Zorks
1993 Return to Zork
1996 Zork Nemesis Cecilia Barajas et al.
1997 Zork: The Undiscovered Underground Marc Blank, Mike Berlyn
Zork Grand Inquisitor

Return to Zork

For a long moment, Ur-Grue looked on incredulously. <What in the name of the Implementors are you?>

<Well, I should think it would be patently obvious that we're grues, now, wouldn't it?>, a 'grue' who looked a lot like John Cleese replied.

<You are not grues,> Ur-Grue growled.

<Oh, sure we are,> one who looked like Michael Palin countered. <The Antharian Blue species. Lovely spines, don't you think?>

<The spines fail to come into it! You are humans in cheap foam rubber suits!>

The Palin grue hesitated. <We've ... been sick.>

Unlikely Aliens #8, Scott Johnson

Goofy, awkward cousin of the Zork games. Initially, I had segregated Return to Zork to a separate table, like an embarrassing relative the Zork family sends to the kitchen so it won't ruin their Thanksgiving.

A few of my complaints:

  • Scenic FCD#3

    Plays fast and loose with canon, generally making a hash of Zorkian geography, zoology, and relics.

    For example, Zork I's biggest tourist attractions are much altered. In Zork I, the Frigid River begins flowing east from FCD#3, turns south to emerge from underground at the spectacular Aragain Falls, and continues past the White Cliffs. All that is gone in Return to Zork. The cliffs are replaced with forests and swamps, the falls with parallel aboveground and underground rivers. And the scenic dam looks like a stack of concrete blocks.

  • The poorly written and frequently erroneous Encyclopedia Frobozzica. I have so many issues with it, that I consider it not canonical.
  • I'm a troll! A troll! Leader of the trolls!

    Pathetic costumes. Trolls and orcs are shirtless men in armbands and black fright wigs.
  • Jason Hervey as the troll leader. Spectacularly awful. If he ever gets roasted by his colleagues, that's the clip they should trot out to humiliate him.
  • Some very weak puzzles deliberately spurn obvious solutions in favor of more illogical ones. For example, you have an ample supply of carrots and need to stave off blindness. Eating carrots yourself has no effect. Instead, you must feed carrots to a cow and drink its milk.
  • Some puzzles have even weaker clues. For example, to navigate a branching series of mine tunnels, you learn the route by recognizing that an offhand conversation between two dwarves has an inordinate number of direction words. Also, LUD.
  • Obvious actions are not allowed for several takable objects. For example, there is a box that contains an important puzzle item. The command interface provides no command for opening it, though it allows you to open other things. Since the game doesn't want you to open the box, it's easy to assume you never need to get at the contents. I got stuck and required a spoiler because of this.
  • An unsatisfying endgame consists of playing a strategy game that is no more than a simplified knight's-tour puzzle, followed by an abrupt and anticlimactic ending.

    * I wonder about characters who think Survivor is as challenging as chess. Ah, the master strategist. You must teach me the finer points of tic-tac-toe.

We're stuck with it. Highlander has Highlander II. Zork has Return to Zork.

On the positive side, there are a couple good pieces on the musical score that contribute a lot to the game. For example, the mazes have atmospheric themes that you can listen to for a long time without getting tired of them. Maze mapping becomes a pleasant diversion with the right background music.

Zork Nemesis

Wow! What a comeback!

Instead of just wringing more cash out of the Zork name, Activision produced something different. Decent puzzles that fit into the story, skilled actors playing three-dimensional characters, Joe Napolitano to direct them, and game designers who cared.

It's not perfect, of course. Much of the back story is revealed in a great number of journal entries and letters. Arranging them all in chronological order reveals several continuity errors. However, only a superhuman editor (or a lunatic fan :-)) could keep all those dates straight. (A simple spellchecker would have caught the many typos, however.) I ignore a few of the letters that are inconsistent with the flow of events in the rest of the story.

One troublesome issue is difficult to dismiss. The undeniable truth of Brogmoidism doesn't agree at all with the Nemesis cosmology. (I wonder what the alchemists would think if, instead of climbing up to the Temple, they had ascended to the peak of Mount Foobia?) My top five explanations of this discrepancy, in descending order of tastefulness:

  1. Each of those planets exists, and their apparent movement is due to the perambulations of the brogmoids holding each of them up. The one holding up the sun is especially stoic. (So why isn't the one on Mount Foobia walking about? Because Zork is the center of the universe!)
  2. Ancient alchemists built a mythical cosmology around the elements. Though the cosmology is inaccurate, the planets are irrelevant. The elements are all that matters.
  3. There was a solar system in the distant past, until someone remade the universe into a more magical one with the Cubes of Foundation. The world used to be round, too, as the ancients believed it to be when Largoneth was built. The Nemesis cosmology reflects that earlier order, which is now just an ancient myth.
  4. Just repeat to yourself, It's just a game, I should really just relax.
  5. Oh, those Great Implementors! Always altering the universe for their pleasure. (Back in my day, them Implementors were content to just change the definition of spenseweed or move cities around. You got used to it. But now, they're getting too big for their britches, if you ask me.)

Zork: the Undiscovered Underground, by Marc Blank and Mike Berlyn

Activision released a prequel to Zork Grand Inquisitor written by two of the original Implementors. Buggy and breaks the fourth wall for a lot of its humor, but quite fun.

Zork Grand Inquisitor

I enjoyed ZGI, but the second phase seemed disappointingly brief. Once you finally get to use the time tunnels (which was frustrating for me since there was no clue I needed two spells, not one), you can barely explore places you visit there, and spend little time with the totemized characters you've toted around throughout the game.

I felt greatly gratified when I received a copy of an e-mail from Laird Malamed, director of ZGI, suggesting they check the Chronologue in the packaging against this timeline! (Looks like they didn't correct the date of the Krill incident, however.)

The story doesn't stand close scrutiny:

  • Its weak plot is better than Zork I, but it's no Zork Nemesis.

    Belboz and other enchanters had the foresight aeons ago to create time tunnels for the sole purpose of collecting the plot tokens to restore magic, just in case a tyrannical anti-magic despot one day eliminated magic from the Empire. It seems they also outfitted an ambulatory castle with the scroll to activate these tunnels and three plush cases to handsomely display said plot tokens. What do you know, it just so happens that a tyrannical anti-magic despot eliminates magic from the Empire. How convenient. Too bad they didn't have a similar contingency for megalomaniacal shadow enchanters, like the one that eliminated magic the first time.

  • Inconsistent time travel mechanics.

    Changes you make in the past don't stick when you return to the past. Every time you go back, everything you did on previous trips is undone. For example, if you leave the mailbox open on your first time trip, it will be closed as though you were never there when you return a second time. Yet, if you achieve one of two goals at the white house, that goal remains achieved when you return to do the other, even though it appears to have been undone like everything else.

    Artifacts will appear in the walking castle chronologically before it has collected them. Collect the Coconut of Quendor in 967, and it will be in the castle when you collect the Skull of Yoruk in 948. Then collect the Cube of Foundation in 931, and both the Coconut and the Skull will be there waiting.

Parts of the game are very polished, but others seem rushed. Since the linked play feature was not functional in the distributed version and added via patch, I assume the game wasn't finished by the deadline. It seems insufficiently proofread and playtested:

  • Game inconsistent with the Chronologue in the packaging. For example, Belboz says grues stole the Skull of Yoruk in 948, the Chronologue says the Skull of Yoruk game into the possession of grues in 950. The Chronologue has Gustar Woomax describe the three types of magic in A Brief History of Magic, though the evidence belies this, while the game ascribes them to Bizboz in On the Presence of Really Weird Things Going On.
  • Art inconsistent with dialogue. For example, a can of trebled Mead has 36 full zounces printed on the can, 36 gloops of Mead Lite according to Dalboz and Antharia Jack.
  • Spell effects inconsistent with their descriptions. For example, obidil is described make caster more attractive to other creatures. When casting it on the two-headed guardian of Hades, the (quite humorous) effect is closer to make creature feel attracted to first thing it sees.
  • Bizboz summarizes Bizboz's On the Presence ...

    Poorly rendered book pages. Lines of text are crudely curled near the spine to different degrees from line to line. Text always remains the same size instead of receding in perspective. Lines have no uniform margins, wandering left and right down the page. It looks as if someone pasted words individually on a prerendered graphic of a page.

  • Plausible spell uses were not anticipated. For example, your spell lamely fizzles when you cast igram on a purple two-headed guardian of Hades, golgatem on the river Styx, rezrov on a sealed envelope, or margi on a GUE Tech identification card that Dalboz cast turn embarrassing photo invisible on.
  • Remnants of incomplete puzzles. Once you use a subway token to pay your fare on the Underground Underground the first time, you can, unexpectedly, go in and out without paying forever after. Judging from a small hole at the top of the subway token, this seems to be a puzzle that was never completely implemented (or perhaps turned into a similar puzzle in Zork: The Undiscovered Underground).

Finally, there are quibbles that purists like me raise:

  • Hello! No magic.

    Death becomes Y'Gael. In Beyond Zork and Wishbringer, Y'Gael is a dry-voiced old woman leaning on a staff, who speaks with portentious gravity. In ZGI, Y'Gael is a flaky young woman who talks with breezy familiarity. A jarring disparity for such a important figure.

  • Belboz also rings false. His personality and manner of speaking is at variance with his dialogue in the Enchanter trilogy and the Popular Enchanting interview.
  • Return to Zork cheapened the end of Spellbreaker by matter-of-factly causing a return of magic. ZGI further cheapens it by nerfing the Cube of Foundation.

    In Spellbreaker, the magic Cube of Foundation is a universal building block from which all Magick derives its very existence. In ZGI, in order to make more items for the scavenger hunt, it has been degraded to merely containing the essence of spells of divination. It also doesn't power up your spellcasting like it does in Spellbreaker.

  • Long Life spells have survived the end of magic, allowing The Grand Inquisitor, The Dungeon Master, and Antharia Jack all to survive to ripe old ages of over a century, not that any of them show it.
  • Blue sky over underground dam

    There's a sky above Flood Control Dam #3! Part of the humor of Flood Control Dam #3 is that it lies underground, where it never rains.
  • GUE Tech seems to have moved from Borphee to the Frigid River Valley.
  • The arbitrary magic divisions don't work. Much of the magic in Zork doesn't fit into the pigeonholes of creation, enlightenment, and transmutation. Even the spells in ZGI are unnaturally forced into them--what has obidil to do with creation, or narwhile with enlightenment? Why is rezrov enlightenment and not transmutation?

    Gratuitous references to this misconceived taxonomy abound, even being retconned as having been described by Bizboz himself. The frequent self-justifications become unnecessary reminders how poor a fit they really are. The only time in the game when they have any importance is when positioning the plot tokens at the end of the game.

  • Glorf should be superfluous. You go to a great deal of trouble to obtain a glorf spell to untie a simple knot, which you should be able to rezrov from the start of the game. Though rezrov works on a disenchanted rope in Enchanter, it cannot untie a simple knot in this game.
  • Effects of the reversed spells dratsay (willfully avoid sending spirit through time) and givans (make a conscious effort to stay out of other bodies) are simply failures of the imagination. More obvious and useful opposites to yastard and snavig come readily to mind.
  • Anachronistic zorkmid

    Anachronistic zorkmids with the likeness of Idwit Oogle Flathead are dated 657 GUE. The first zorkmid was minted in 699 GUE, and Idwit Oogle reigned from 845-881 GUE. They also misprint the motto as IN FROB WE TRUST.
  • Whoever rendered the Cave's Notes on On the Presence of Incredibly Weird Stuff Going On by the enchanter Bizboz blundered, heading the pages in the book 'CAVE'S NOTES' by the enchanter Bizboz as though Bizboz wrote the crib notes for his own book.
  • The three-dimensional chess puzzle was fun, but what's it doing in a grue's nest? Those are some awfully strategic grues.

Despite its flaws, the game was genuinely fun to play. Its installation program stands out as the most entertaining I've yet experienced. If only that attention to detail carried over to the whole game.

News articles from the GUE (as reprinted in Infocom's newsletter, The New Zork Times)

Peter Scheyen has produced HTML versions of The New Zork Times issues, and The Infocom Documentation Project has produced PDF recreations of them. Selected articles are also available in text form from the Interactive Fiction archive.

Unofficial freeware text adventures

Unofficial Zorks
1994 Balances Graham Nelson
1996 Frobozz Magic Support Nate Cull
SpiritWrak Dan S. Yu
The Meteor, the Stone and a Long Glass of Sherbert Graham Nelson
1998 Zork: A Troll's Eye View Dylan O'Donnell
Enlightenment Taro Ogawa
1999 Perilous Magic David Fillmore
2000 Return to Zork: Another Story Stefano Canali

These games were written by amateurs in the true sense of the word--written out of love, not for money. As this chronology is meant as a continuity guide, I include them but mark them as unofficial.

All of the above are available from the Interactive Fiction archive. Baf's Guide to the Interactive Fiction Archive has reviews and links to the individual games.

Balances, by Graham Nelson

Since the entire game is a dream sequence, there's only a single datum to add for this one.

Quibble: Errs in making the filfre spell gnustoable.

Frobozz Magic Support, by Nate Cull

Delightful game! A Zorkian game written in TADS, fancy that! :-) Great fun.

Quibble: Grim old Helistar has warmed up considerably and become a consultant for FrobozzCo.

SpiritWrak, by Dan S. Yu

SpiritWrak shows a lot of affection for the Quendor games. D.S. Yu has put a lot of care into making it agree relatively well with the canon, though magic is weak rather than absent. At its best, this whimsical nostalgia trip brought back warm memories. I especially enjoyed the queue of dignitaries presenting their cakes.

However, saving is essential, since there are a few ways to cut off any chance of completing the game without warning, or get trapped somewhere without access to items you need to leave.

I held out for some weeks but finally resorted to hints when I got completely stumped on a puzzle that required the illogical, unexpected result of an unmotivated spellcasting to solve. A misconstructed truth teller and liar logic puzzle has no logical solution.

Several things will help you reach a successful ending: relentless experimentation in the face of bland parser responses, a willingness to talk to other characters about minor details half a world away even though they have no response for major features of their immediate environment, and telepathic contact with the author.

The Meteor, the Stone, and a Long Glass of Sherbet, by Angela M. Horns [Graham Nelson]

It won first prize in the 1996 Text Adventure Competition. No data points, because I haven't played it. I'll include it in the timeline if it fits.

Zork: A Troll's Eye View, by Dylan O'Donnell

You take on the role of the troll from Zork I, standing around the Troll Room killing any adventurer that walks in. Well done for a one-room joke game. Nothing to add to the chronology, though.

Perilous Magic, by David Fillmore

You play a civil servant eager to go home, but first you have to fill out this one report in triplicate, and you're out of paper.

The game has a few bugs and lacks some obvious verbs and synonyms, but let's not judge a one-joke quickie too harshly.

What's Out

Dungeon (the mainframe Zork)

Leaving no stone unturned in my attempt to create the ultimate Quendor timeline, I consulted the original mainframe game that split and grew into the Zork Trilogy. However, as Zork evolved into the Zork Trilogy, there were many changes made to geography, characters, puzzles, and events. Too many differences to reconcile.

For example, Lord Dimwit Flathead's planar pate appears on two pieces of currency in Dungeon, a 100 zorkmid bill dated 719 GUE and a gold 10,000 zorkmid coin dated 722 GUE. But in the official Zork canon, Dimwit wasn't born until 723 GUE.

Infocom's science fiction games with grues

The grues are merely an homage, like when Infidel refers to Frobozz Magic Village Industries.

Besides, a computer in Planetfall describes the Zork series as Interlogic fiction, implying that it's not set in the same universe.

Infocom What-Do-I-Do-Now books by S. Eric Meretzky (published by Tor Books)

The What-Do-I-Do-Now Books
1983 #1 Zork: The Forces of Krill S. Eric Meretzky
#2 Zork: The Malifestro Quest S. Eric Meretzky
#3 Zork: The Cavern of Doom S. Eric Meretzky
1984 #4 Zork: Conquest at Quendor S. Eric Meretzky

The What-Do-I-Do-Now books are a pastiche of the Zork and Enchanter trilogies, telling a substantially different version of the Zork legend using familiar objects and settings.

For example, in book #1, Zork: The Forces of Krill, the Sword of Zork transforms Bill and June from Earth into Bivotar and Juranda. They explore the caverns under the House of Ellron to find the Three Palantirs at Flood Control Dam #3. Syovar puts these three spheres in the trophy case, summoning the legendary Warriors of Zork to battle the forces of Krill. In the climactic battle, Syovar kills Krill with the glowing Sword of Zork. The spheres are reduced to ash.

Book #2 borrows other elements from the games. Bivotar and Juranda fly a magic carpet with a loose label, scare off a cyclops (named Walter U. Smith) with the name of his father's deadly nemesis, perform an exorcism to pass through the gates of Hades, and release a demon imprisoned in a black sphere to wish Syovar back to life. In Book #3, they make a diamond in a Frobozz Magic Compressor, trick a dragon into melting an iceberg, and avoid being killed by a lean stiletto-wielding thief or trapped in the crypt of the Twelve Flatheads. In Book #4, they are taunted by Jeearr, wave a scepter to solidify a rainbow, tame Cerberus, fly a balloon up a volcano, and solve the locked door with the key in the keyhole puzzle.

Though Activision used the names Bivotar, Syovar, and Ellron from these books in Zork Nemesis and Zork Grand Inquisitor, the characters are dissimilar. So is the geography: Syovar is the king of a realm called the Land of Frobozz, and Quendor is a city in the northlands.

I choose to treat it as an alternate universe Zork. (For more about the difficulty of integrating the What-Do-I-Do-Now books into the canon, see my response to Andy Harrington.)

Chris Boraski has converted Zork: The Cavern of Doom into a website.

Infocom novels (published by Avon Books)

Wishbringer, by Craig Shaw Gardner

Well, Simon remarked reasonably, I could see where you might be upset by that kind of misrepresentation--

Oh no, the Grue interrupted. It is a reputation based on fact, pure and simple. No human being has ever seen a Grue and lived. We in Gruedom are quite proud of that reputation.

Does that mean, Simon said, forcing the words out, that you are going to have to kill me?

Is that what it sounds like? The Grue chuckled. From the power projected by that voice, Simon imagined this particular Grue might be quite formidable. But you haven't seen me, have you?

An interesting take on Wishbringer as a recurring story visited on generation after generation of letter carriers in Festeron. Detracts from the game, but it has its good moments.

Enchanter, by Robin Bailey

The survivors of the Endless Fire, as the event became known, later rebuilt Mareilon on the south side of the Backbone Hills, though it has never regained the glory of the original metropolis.

The voice faded in a tiny, quavering echo, and the images of burning structures shimmered and merged into the general swirl of color, which also gradually faded as the infotater's blades slowed and stopped.

Moral of the story, Humble Bellows commented with a leer. Be safe: don't play with fire.

Not at all, Fidget interjected. The moral of the story is, Leave it to a civil servant to really foul things up.

I haven't read all of it yet. However, the protagonist seems to be a relative of the protagonist in The Lost City of Zork, so I've lumped it together with that.

The Lost City of Zork, by Robin Bailey

You know, I keep thinking about all those scrolls we left in the tunnels, Sunrise confided as he sipped from his glass of wine ...

Satchmoz swallowed a small bite of potato and took a drink. I have the darnedest feeling, he confessed thoughtfully, that those scrolls are going to turn up all over the kingdom, and in the darnedest places, for many years to come.

Entertaining, but very inconsistent with the games. There are many gaffes in geography and zoology. Its abundant anachronisms contradict canon, so I consider it another alternate universe Quendor. For example, though the book takes place in 660 GUE:

  • Spell scrolls, used extensively in this book, were invented by Davmar in 755 GUE or not long after.
  • Gold zorkmids are common currency, although the first one was not minted until 699 GUE.
  • Satchmoz has berzio potions, although the potions were not invented until after Berzio's famous discovery of 769 GUE. (Also, a minor quibble: the potions are not tasteless as in Sorcerer, but instead taste like your favorite food.)
  • Much action takes place at the Borphee Guild Hall, which was designed by Frank Lloyd Flathead sometime after 758 GUE.
  • King Kwisko, Entharion's great-great-grandson, ruled almost 500 years ago (a bit after 160 GUE), instead of Zylon the Aged.

The Zork Chronicles, by George Alec Effinger

Here, said Glorian, raising the window with a great effort. It made a loud, shrieking sound. He looked around, but none of the workmen were paying them the slightest attention.

By Thrag! cried Mirakles. I've been an assassin, a mercenary, a bodyguard, and a kidnapper, but this is the first time I've ever been reduced to breaking and entering.

It's all part of the mythos, said Glorian. Trust me. Someday, they'll sing songs about this. These crummy little events will be glorified beyond all recognition.

A fun book, playing with James Campbell's Monomyth and mixing Zork together with lots of other lore into a metamythological stew. Not canon, though.

The Return to Zork Encyclopedia Frobozzica

Sigh. This was never written to be part of the Zork universe, and it shows. The articles are not written in the voice of a Quendorian researcher. (Incidentally, Barbel of Gurth's Double Fanucci handicap is 42.) Nino Ruffini attempted to squeeze in every bit of data from the games and their packaging, so many articles are hodgepodges of insignificant random trivia. (For what it's worth, Nate's scroll house advertised in the well-known magazine Popular Enchanting in the year 957.) They also go out of their way to provide unnecessary spoilers.

Nino corrected a few of the factual errors I brought to his attention in the revised online edition, though several remain. (Like conflating the spenseweed with the morgia!) John Holder has converted Nino's second edition to a website. Ominous Bells added Zork Nemesis and ZGI entries to make another revised edition.

When I quote the Encyclopedia Frobozzica, I refer to the authoritative Zork Zero edition unless otherwise noted.

(Nothing personal, Nino. You did a much better job collaborating on Bivotar's journal.)

The Brady Games strategy guides

Return to Zork: The Official Guide to the Great Underground Empire, by Peter Spear

Trivia fans: this book includes a 108-page chapter containing the original scripted dialogue from the game.

The Official Zork Grand Inquisitor Strategy Guide, by Margaret Stohl

Not only is it inconsistent with canon, it's inconsistent with itself!

Unofficial freeware parodies

1988 Pork 1: The Great Underground Sewer System
1989 Pork 2: The Gizzard of Showbiz Bill Larkins

Pork 1 and 2

Sophomoric parodies of Zork I and II. Low humor on the level of Pyst, Parroty Interactive's parody of Myst.


Special thanks to the Zork team at Activision for their support and for keeping the Zork universe alive.