You’ve Been Eaten By a Grue

While I never quite consider myself as being old, I am constantly reminded by my kids exactly how ancient I am. I must be getting older because I find myself using the phrase “Back in my day…” more often. I remind my children about how difficult it was when I was growing up and although I haven’t reached the point where my entire childhood was spent fending off bears in the snow as I trudged to school uphill it is getting close.

Recently for my son’s birthday I bought him an iPod Touch with 16GB of memory and a touch screen and built-in wireless networking. When I gave him the gift it came with yet another story of my childhood. I explained to him that when I was a kid there was no such thing as a personal computer. I may as we have just admitted that I was actually an alien and was transported to this planet in some kind of time vortex.

He had no concept of not having a computer. I went on to explain that the iPod he was holding in his hand was exponentially more powerful than the first computer I owned after I graduated from college.

I remember the first time I sat down at the keyboard of my Apple ][. It had a whopping 48K of memory and could display a full line of 40 characters all upper case. The monitor was a huge 12 inch CRT and I had my choice when I bought it. I could have green letters on a black background or the cutting edge orange text on black background.

Storage on this device was a cassette player and I was grateful for that. Before I hooked up the cassette player I had to program the computer every time I booted. I remember the day that the 5.25 inch floppy drive was introduced. I could not imagine filling an entire disk. I mean 160K was like having the entire world on a drive.

My son’s mouth dropped open as I described what I thought were the good old days but to him sounded more like I had been sent to Hades to live out eternity. “What kind of games can you play on a machine like that?” he asked.

What kind of games? As far as I was concerned that era produced the greatest game ever created. “We played Zork!” I stated quite proudly. “What’s a Zork?” he asked. How oh how could I have failed as a parent that my son had no idea what Zork was?

I tried to explain the concept of interactive fiction and how the developers at Infocom had taken the original Adventure game and created an alternative universe. I explained to him that you typed in responses to text prompts and became part of the story.

Clearly I had completely lost him. He had no frame of reference that would be equivalent in his terms. Kids have become so used to realistic graphics and quick action that the thoughts of reading a screen of text and trying to visualize where you were in a story were completely foreign to him.

It was a fairly depressing conversation as he commented on more than one occasion that I had to be making this up, there was no such thing as Zork. I have to admit, after the snipe incident I did lack some credibility with him. Still I was determined to prove to him that Zork existed and show him what he was missing.

After a brief search on the Internet I learned that Infocom actually have the Zork series available for download for Macintosh. The downloads included Zork I, Zork II, and finally Zork III. There is also an online version based upon the original MIT version of Adventure.

I was glad to learn that I was not the only person who grew up playing Zork. The games have gotten almost a cult following. Still if I was going to win over my son it would require that the game be available on his iPod Touch.

After a little research I found that there was a tool in place that basically gave the iPod Touch a Z-machine interpreter that would allow the iPod and the iPhone to run interactive fiction programs. I headed to the App Store on iTunes and found Frotz a form of the sourceforge Z-machine interpreter. Not only did Frotz give you the interpreter but it also came with Zork?

In just a few short minutes I had installed Frotz on his iPod Touch and launched Zork. The screen went dark and words appeared.
West of House
You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door.
There is a small mailbox here.

It was as if I had been teleported back in time. I remembered the countless hours wandering through mazes and figuring out clues.

After a few short moves came the inevitable “You’ve been eaten by a Grue”. I wonder if I can get my family to put that on my headstone when I die. Now that would be funny.


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