Causes of Zombification in Zork I--Light Spoilers. UPDATE: Ways to Die in Zork I

“zombification”=an act or event that puts a game into an unwinnable state other than death. Zombie games are not always detectable. A useful tool for evaluating such states is here.

I had an exchange today about fail states in Zork I, which left me wondering how many ways can it be zombified. These are the ones that occur to me:

  • Lighting the candles with the torch
  • Eating the garlic
  • Running out of lamp batteries before solving the coal mine puzzle
  • The thief stealing something necessary
  • Flooding the maintenance room before taking needed items
  • Killing the thief before solving the egg puzzle

Are there others? I’m excluding things like throwing items in the river.

Some of these scenarios are more vicious than others. The egg in particular is rather famous in this regard. Lighting the candles with the torch is, by contrast, an obvious mistake that will likely lead to an immediate restore. Likewise, the player will know if the lamp has been stolen, etc.

I’m trying to come up with similar lists for Zork II and Zork III but haven’t started yet.


Attempting to force the egg open with a tool will also make the game unwinnable. Or making the mistake of DROPping the EGG while up the tree.

Unless I’m missing something, I think the only way the thief’s actions can lock you out of victory is if he takes a light source, or steals so much it becomes impossible to get to a point where it’s safe to fight him. (The relevant rooms in the coal mine are sacred. So is the rope.) (EDIT: He could also leave bell, book, or candle in the Land of the Dead.)


Ah, yes. Breaking the egg counts for sure.

re: the thief, I was thinking of light source theft. I suppose it is remotely possible that he could steal both sword and nasty knife before the troll is defeated.

I didn’t realize the thief could venture into the Land of the Dead before the exorcism! I wonder what that could mean (I like thinking about the thief’s backstory).

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Whether or not the garlic is accessible, you can get the torch trapped on the wrong side of the gas room. If the thief is alive, you could get past this by giving him the torch and let him carry it out. But if he’s dead, or you don’t have a backup light source, you’re stuck. I believe dying makes the game unwinnable because it decrements your score and you need a full 350 points to get the map.

That’s a good one that I wouldn’t have thought of!

I have never been sure about the score thing, but I just checked and it’s true: the voice will not speak just because all treasures are in the case. You have to have the points.

(yes, I do have a collection of Infocom saves lying around :slightly_smiling_face:)

e: that dying one is probably the cruelest because the game makes a point of acting like it’s no big deal and there’s no message when the treasures are in place

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The candles can burn down (of their own accord) before you use them in the ritual. This is particularly nasty since, if I recall correctly, their timer invisibly starts the first time you pick them up.

You can destroy or use up quite a lot of things. Breaking the mirror. Eating the lunch. The bottle and lamp are smashable. Many objects are flammable if you want to go on an arson spree.

(The raft can be punctured, but I think you can fix the raft with the gunk any number of times.)

Looks like you can DESTROY the painting, making it worthless.

Anything can be vitrified into slag. There are several places to fling objects and lose them forever.

As for the thief: while his random juggling of (non-treasure) objects shouldn’t make the game directly unwinnable, he can easily force you to waste precious time (light) hunting around the map.

Yes, letting the candles burn is a good one. & they do start on pickup. I assume if you set them down and then walked away that would be an especially bad feel. After all, the player’s impression is that they’ve been burning for years.

Arguably the game is winnable without lunch/water, though I wish we could know the percentage of players who guessed “Odysseus.” I think the game would be over for most people (including me).

I think the punctured raft is ok unless you leave the gunk in the flooded maintenance room.

I do wonder if deliberately destroyed items count–or count as much–as other incidences of zombification. On the other hand, allowing the destruction of key items was a development decision–the game could have just as easily said no.

I think the most common issue with the thief arises when using the torch as a light source. I know that one got me, anyway.

The light wasting is bad, though at least it isn’t as obnoxious as it is in Zork II.

Maybe I’m conflating things here (I have played the different mainframe versions of Zork instead of Zork 1 lately), but is it possible to get max score without using “Odysseus”? As I remember, you get points for entering “Strange Passage” and it doesn’t open up if you use the other solution for the Cyclops.

(In the earliest versions of mainframe Zork “Sinbad” was the magic word. Wonder if it was the authors mixing up the legends and that is why they later changed it?)

I think in Dave Lebling’s GDC talk, he mentions that Marc Blank mistakenly chose the wrong name. Maybe it was somewhere else. I’ve looked at so much Zork stuff lately that it’s hard to keep straight. Someone please correct me if I’m mistaken

EDIT: It was the GDC talk!

In commercial Zork, you don’t have to enter the strange passage for points. This must have been a point of confusion for this and other reasons (the passage is on the Invisiclues map), so the Invisclues booklet has a specific question about it.

Aside: this has always bothered me–one solution is inferior to the other because the passage is useful–a straight trip from case to granite wall.

Really appreciate all the help, everyone. I may additionally try to put together a list of ways to die and categorize them (joke, legitimate hazard, etc).


Update. I went through all of the deaths in the source code. I was able to recreate all but two of them. I think this is interesting data. I Many deaths result from unmotivated actions. I realize this is subjective. May only be tangentially related but since deaths render games unwinnable…



I’m pretty sure that “die while a ghost” is a backstop case. It should be impossible, but if a player manages it, the game throws up its hands and exits.

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It’s been a long time, but how about puncturing the boat with the sceptre? I seem to remember if you are carrying the latter this happens.

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Makes sense. I think the generic drowning message might be the same way.

Is gverbs.zil common to all trilogy games or just an overly enthusiastic copy/paste? I see version messages for each game, and I’m pretty sure one of the grue messages is specific to the room in Zork III where the repellant is required.

Making a dead game by puncturing the boat: you can fix the boat with the gunk unless you left the it in a flooded room at the dam. If so, the game is dead.

You can puncture the boat while riding it if you trick the game (stow sharp object in a container then take it out). This results in death.

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Motoring slightly through the banlieu of tangential city, but possibly the nastiest example of all the Zork trilogy is in Zork II. If the Wizard casts “Flouresce!” on you all seems wonderful as light sources are subsequently unnecessary. Until you get to the final room and…

Ah sorry my memory failed me there! To be fair I last played it on an Atari 800 with 1050 floppy disk drive in 1985

I’d like to make a list for the whole trilogy so it’s still useful. I think this is probably the worst. I know people don’t like the earthquake in Zork III but at least you know what happened. It’s also easy to redo everything but the royal puzzle. Only takes ten minutes or so to do everything else.

I think the “fluoresce” situation’s closest competitor for most nasty is the egg in Zork I, but it’s possible to figure out what happened. Can’t recall if there are any clues for Zork II, but I don’t think so.

Yes I always struggled with The Royal Puzzle as my visual spatial abilities are somewhat compromised. It was plagiarised in the end game of another mainframe effort called Warp. Mind you in that case it was part of a very long endgame sequence in which saving was disabled; you had to go back hundreds of moves to the start of the endgame when you inevitably screwed up.

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Both and neither? They wanted to keep the core parser files consistent between Zork 1/2/3, but they didn’t really. But they never cleaned up all the differences either.

Code in a %<COND (<==? ,ZORK-NUMBER 1> ...)> conditional is game-specific and gets compiled out if ZORK-NUMBER doesn’t match.

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ZORK-NUMBER 4 and 5 are also used in later versions of Enchanter and Sorcerer, which seems appropriate given the glimpse Zork III gives you of Zork IV.

Apart from the obvious benefits of updating the parser, the downside is that some new bugs were introduced. For instance, the effects of the “Fantasize” spell appear to have been lost in release 48 of Zork II. It was implemented as a special case in PRINT-CONT to randomly add a dummy string to the list of objects you see. I can see how it was missed, since it’s a rare random effect caused by another rare random effect.

The last (unreleased) version of the game, tries to fix it but still gets it wrong.