Am I ripping off Zork too much?

I’m making a game with a house and mailbox in a forest, and a trap door in the house (or maybe somewhere else) leading to a series of caverns…

Do you think I’m ripping off Zork too much? Aside from the house, mailbox and the fact that there is a dungeon nothing else is the same. Except maybe a glowing sword, but that was also in Lord of the Rings.

I already got really far and the game is cool, so I am loathe to change the beginning. Already several puzzles depend on the house in the forest, and the mailbox even.

So what do you think?

What I think is that I don’t care what you are ripping off as long as it is good. I don’t really believe much in originality, anyway; the more you think about where originality comes from the more it starts to fall apart. Everything came from somewhere; it’s just combined with something. So what are you combining that stuff with, and does the combination work? It’s all about the execution, for me. It could be great or it could be boring; I have seen games where there was nothing I recognised but it was so poorly executed that I was crying for something like a mailbox and a house and a trap door, so that stuff is not enough for me to tell, either way.

BTW the white house stuff in Zork was not original, either; it was basically a reimplementation of the opening of Adventure (Colossal Cave). In fact not much in Zork was original at all if you just list the elements like that. It was the execution that killed.

I will say that the old Zork-style puzzles are not quite as interesting to me anymore, but they are still better than most attempts I see to involve the player. There is something to be said for the item-collecting quest narrative: it never leaves you wondering WTF the author is up to and why does he/she even need my input. But I tend to like games a little thicker with story, nowadays, and in which the puzzles don’t all line up neatly in the same direction (like pointed at a trophy case, etc).

Puzzleless games can be good too, as long as what I am typing into the game matters in some way, and it feels like it matters as I am typing it (not just after the fact). But that’s tough to achieve; so classic-style puzzles are still OK by me if I am enjoying the actual story.


Actually I started some writing on a game that rips off the X-Files, just changing the name of the protagonists. But that is too hard for me.

The puzzles will be just physical item interaction like in Zork. I want to make sure they are always fair, because some of the Infocom games have unfair puzzles without enough clues.

As with any creative influence/inspiration, whether or not it “works” is entirely dependent on what you do with it. The results of a quick search of the IFDB for “zork-like” include at least one good straight-up Zorkian game (“Enlightenment” by Taro Ogawa) and one good joke Zorkian game (“Zork: A Troll’s-Eye View” by Dylan O’Donnell); several of the other ones sounded pretty fun, too. “Shrapnel,” by Adam Cadre, is downright brilliant.

That said, it would probably be good to avoid and learn from the various mistakes made by “zork: buried chaos” from last years Comp. Notably: if you make it so that comparisons between your game and Zork are inevitable – like, by naming your game anything with “Zork” in the title, or by starting the game in an open field west of a white house – then you need to make sure your game comes out favorably in the comparison.

Wow I just played Zork. I remember it as being super awesome but now it seems really bland and mechanical. But it’s still pretty cool…

I feel better about my game now…

One thing that always cheers me up and helps me get work done is to tell myself I will create another game (or story, or performance, or whatever) after this one. It gives me the freedom to come up with ideas that might not fit in my current WIP, or to finish something that might not be the best thing I ever did. It also gives me a chance to review what worked and what didn’t, and to learn from the criticism of others. That’s stuff you just can’t get before you finish at least one project of your own, and it’s super valuable.

For me? Yeah, that sounds too derivative, unless you’re doing something with it.

If you’ve got a straight forward physical interaction exploration game, what does it add to have a mailbox? It sounds like you’ve got a few too many elements for it just to be a reference (the way many authors implement xyzzy, for example.) If you’re using those elements to bring out a story or build expectation or something, that’s one thing, but I didn’t hear that in your initial post. Having things that are emblematic of someone else’s work without a good reason seems like an invitation to disaster on a number of fronts.

Clearly, some players don’t care, but I’d react pretty negatively to something like that.