The Inherent Problem

Posted: November 9th, 2010 | Author: | Filed under: Text Adventure History | 8 Comments »

So, Activision did a strange thing, recently – they re-released Zork.

Specifically, they released the entire game of Zork I as an easter egg inside their new title Call of Duty: Black Ops.

This video from G4TV about the easter egg (as well references to other easter eggs available in the same location) is very informative.

PS3 GamesE3 2011Call of Duty: Black Ops

First of all, it’s definitely a real Zork – specifically Revision 88/Serial Number 840726, the “canonical” Zork I, which was compiled on July 26, 1984 and the final version Infocom released commercially. (Infocom sometimes quietly upgraded the software to reflect bugs found or writing errors or any other discovered issues.)

What unintentionally happens here by this easter egg being included is an in-your-face argument of the uphill battle text-based games face in the modern gaming world, at least in terms of bringing in new players from the pool of first-person games. You are strapped in a chair in a small room where monitors and machines blaze and swap around, providing tons of stimulation, and once you break free of the straps in this, the menu, you can walk entirely around the room, interacting with objects, seeing fully-rendered angles of all the material that previously looked like drawings, and then choose to log into a terminal which gives you a variety of choices.

Going from that and finding yourself sitting at your game which itself is sitting at a terminal, which is then playing a game of Zork, the contrast is just blistering. It’s like being in the middle of a football game and picking up a book. To me, it seems a head-on approach towards the people who find the first type of game fun is not the way to do it.

On the other hand, the mere existence of Zork in the game starts a conversation like this one. “What do you mean ‘Zork’, people in forums will say. They’ll look around, find it, and maybe of the thousands who happened to see what everyone is gabbing about, a few will find they actually like this book in the middle of the field. And read it.

A very interesting development. Activision had a good part in killing off Infocom and what was good about it, but this latter-day maneuver is worth watching.

8 Comments on “The Inherent Problem”

  1. 1 Sean Huxter said at 7:49 am on November 9th, 2010:

    That’s cool. I’m intending on buying Black Ops, and now I have an extra reason.

    This does remind me, however, of a wonderful Easter Egg in the game “Maniac Mansion – Day of the Tentacle.”

    They were the first to do this – they also had a computer terminal in the game, and if you logged in you could play the entire original “Maniac Mansion” game from there.

    Love this stuff!


  2. 2 Allen Garvin said at 8:33 am on November 9th, 2010:

    Very nifty. I’m supposed to get a free copy of Black Ops today, for some work we did for Gamestop.

    Also, 840726 wasn’t the final release. You forgot about 871125, the “Solid Gold” z5 recompile and release.

  3. 3 Jason Scott said at 1:12 pm on November 9th, 2010:

    Yeah, I should have said last commercial release of Zork I before the re-issue period. The Solid Gold edition had in-game hints and was mixed around a bit, so I internally don’t count it, although I am sure others think differently.

    Regardless, Activision either agreed with me or that’s all that was easily hanging around within reach (if they grabbed it off the Lost Treasures disc, that’s what was on there, I believe).

    Scuttlebutt “on the street” is that the instigator of this cognitive dissonance was one Laird Malamed. Thanks, Laird!

  4. 4 Dennis G. Jerz said at 4:07 pm on November 9th, 2010:

    Amazing. Not worth stealling 100 copies at gunpoint, but still pretty cool.

  5. 5 >SHOOT TROLL WITH AK-47 « Lavonardo said at 11:15 am on November 10th, 2010:

    […] Today’s release of Call of Duty: Black Ops packs an unexpected easter egg, Zork. […]

  6. 6 Matthew Clark said at 6:01 pm on November 10th, 2010:

    By re-releasing Zork, they can demonstrate that they are continually using the Zork name in a commercial manner. They’re demonstrating that it’s not abandonware and protecting their rights in case someone would infringe on them in the future.

    Easter egg? Maybe. But I wouldn’t be surprised if there were some lawyers involved somewhere.

  7. 7 Rich said at 6:52 am on November 12th, 2010:

    That may be true from a trademark view, but not copyright. Legally, there is no such thing as “abandonware.” They don’t need to demonstrate anything.

  8. 8 Sean Huxter said at 7:56 am on November 15th, 2010:

    That’s not entirely true. Anyone with a copyright who doesn’t use it over time can have that infringed legally.

    In the 1990s, Gerry Anderson had a fight with Nintendo over the use of his 1960s trademark “Supermarionation”, a technique that used marionette puppets with electronic mouths that moved to the impulses in the audio soundtrack, making them speak their lines for various epic TV series including “Thunderbirds”, “Captain Scarlet”, “Stingray”, and many others.

    In the 1990s Nintendo began to grab up a bunch of copyright and trademark terms with “Mario” in it, and one was “Super Mario Nation”.

    Experts had to be brought in to testify that even though the name wasn’t being used everywhere, that in pockets around the globe, the “Supermarionation” trademark was still in active use.

    So yeah… that happened.


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