Long Lost Zork Source Code Uploaded to GitHub, but Good Luck Understanding It

Long Lost Zork Source Code Uploaded to GitHub, but Good Luck Understanding It

All glory to Zork.

While Zork and its two sequels were part of a larger trend of text-adventure PC games, Zork stood out for its sophistication in the genre. So when Zork's publisher Infocom was later purchased and then shut down by Activision, it was feared the source code for Zork was lost. Until now.

Zork is a classic text-adventure game developed in 1977 by four members of MIT's Laboratory for Computer Science Dynamic Modeling System. Text adventures require players to directly input their actions and hope the computer recognizes it. So, for example, the text says the player comes across a fork in the road, and the player can choose to go to either left, right, or turn back. What made Zork such a popular text adventure game was that it understood more complex inputs from the player.

Now, we finally have the source code to the original Zork games thanks to digital archivist Jason Scott, who released the source codes on GitHub earlier this week. But Scott warned interested parties who were diving into the code about one thing. "If you don't understand ZIL, and you probably don't, read this instruction manual."

ZIL, or Zork Implementation Language, is the unique programming language used to make the Zork games and was based on another old coding language called MIT Design Language (MDL). Speaking to Motherboard Scott said, "[ZIL] is written to create adventure games in an enverionment people haven't used commercially in over 25 years. And even then, it was about 15 people."

ZIL then is a pretty niche coding language with a niche group of followers. There are actual online communities that teach and carry on ZIL, but it's not a modern coding language like C++. Luckily for you, there is a guide on ZIL published on Archive.org, written by Steven Eric Meretzky.

Activision does technically own the source code to Zork, so don't be too surprised if it disappears from the internet one day. In the meantime, you can see the code on GitHub here.

Header image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

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Matt Kim

News Editor

Matt Kim is a former freelance writer who's covered video games and digital media. He likes video games as spectacle and is easily distracted by bright lights or clever bits of dialogue. He also once wrote about personal finance, but that's neither here nor there.

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