Thursday, February 3, 2011

Zork 1: The Forces of Krill

It’s a fine day in May, and adventurous types Bill and June are considering what to do with their afternoon only to come to the numbing realization that their old activities just aren’t exciting anymore. Lucky for them they discover the magical Sword of Zork sitting behind a random bush next to their school and as soon as they touch it, they’re whisked away to a world of wizards and dragons. Here everyone thinks they’re Juranda and Bivotar, niece and nephew of the hero Syovar.

There are four books in the series and none of them even try to explain how that works.

The kids learn Syovar is at war with the monstrous legions of the evil wizard Krill. Unfortunately, things look grim even for a hero like Syovar. If only some brave soul could find the three magic palantirs of legend, there might be some hope for the kingdom…

Bet you were expecting a joke about the krill whales eat. Happy to disappoint you.

Time for a confession: I’ve only ever played one Zork game, and that’s Return to Zork. I play all kinds of abandonware adventure titles, but for some reason text adventures just don’t do it for me. So I’ve heard of Grues and Flood Control Dam #3, but that’s about it. If you’re hoping for comparisons to the games, I’m afraid you’re out of luck. But hey, I thought enough of RtZ to write a walkthrough for it. That must be worth something, right?

The Forces of Krill isn’t a bad piece of interactive reading, but it suffers for including something that no writer should’ve ever gone ahead with in the first place: the first choice is basically whether you want to go on the adventure or not. Not the joking “do you buy this book or go home and watch stupid reruns” one, the “do you pick up the magic sword or pretend you didn’t see it and go home” one. Zork isn’t the only series that did it, and The Forces of Krill isn’t the only Zork book that did it. Yeah, I spent money on this book so I could refuse to read it. Thanks for giving me the option.

That's right, go on. We won't have fun vanquishing evil without you, promise.

Should you actually bail on the book that early, you might stick with it long enough to find out you got a score of 0 out of 10. The book does this with all the endings (except the one where it tries to catch you cheating), giving you a rough measure of how far you made it before getting whacked. It also gives you the option of going back and picking another option if you didn’t get to the one victory. That’s an interesting touch considering how unforgiving adventure games of the 80’s tended to be, but it also strips the book of all challenge if you get walked back to the exact spot where you died to try again.

The writing isn’t bad, but not much of it jumps out at the reader. One of the few exceptions is when the time comes to use the sole inventory item you’re asked to find. Bivotar gets all excited, “Hey, remember that key we found in that extremely random and weird place?! I bet it unlocks this trapdoor we just found!” One might think he’s an adventure gamer back home.

It may well have been in the style of the games, but really the most memorable things about the book were the score, the do-over feature, and being asked to find items in a gamebook without stats or dice. The mechanics being memorable might be okay in a videogame, but this is not, in fact, a videogame.

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