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Zork: The Great Underground Empire

aka: Zork, Zork I, Zork I: Le Grand Empire des Ténèbres, Zork I: The Great Underground Empire, Zork I: The Great Underground Empire , Zork: The Great Underground Empire - Part I
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Description official descriptions

Zork: The Great Underground Empire is a classic text adventure game. The player begins as an "adventurer" standing near a white house in a nice forest, but soon descends into the Great Underground Empire, where most of the game takes place. The player's quest is to collect the Nineteen Treasures of Zork.

As was typical for adventure games of its era, Zork does not use graphics. Instead, it communicates with the player via text, and the player interacts with the game by typing commands, such as "examine mailbox" or "take torch". For movement, the player types in geographical directions (such as "north" or "east" - or just "n" and "e"), and can check what items are being carried with the "inventory" command (or just "i").

The game was adapted from a larger mainframe version from the late 1970s, and is one of the first examples of its genre.

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Credits (TRS-80 version)

Quality Assurance
Cover Artwork



Average score: 84% (based on 17 ratings)


Average score: 3.5 out of 5 (based on 173 ratings with 11 reviews)

You are standing in an open field west of a white house, with a boarded front door. There is a great game here.

The Good
Zork: The Great Underground Empire (also called Zork I) is a classic text adventure game from text legends Infocom. The sparse plot casts you as a nameless adventurer placed without ceremony near the entrance to a vast underground empire. Your goal: Explore and get stuff.

As simple as it is, the game pulls you in from the beginning. There is a real sense of a large world worth discovering. Getting to the next room is a goal in itself.

Probably the most famous aspect of Zork is its humor. The game is full of delightful little jokes and details. For instance, famously, when the player enters an area which is pitch dark they are warned that they could be eaten by a grue. Asking what a grue is yields hilarity.

The lack of graphics can be an asset if you allow yourself to be sucked into the game. There is a certain experience to entering the theater of your imagination and Infocom knows how to guide you there. Even if a graphical version of the game were available, it would lack that character which is apart of Zork's very nature.

The Bad
There is really only one issue I have with Zork, though it is a big one: It is possible to "break" the game and not know it.

In other words, actions which you take can make it so that you cannot win the game. And, as stated, the game will not tell you that this has happened.

The Bottom Line
Zork is a very challenging but very fun game. It is a legend among text adventures and a game which every gamer should try at least one.

DOS · by Steelysama (82) · 2009

Zork?!? Zork What? Zork you too, pal.

The Good
That's what I said when I uncovered this relic from my disk box when I was eight or nine. Maybe younger. Zork? What kind of a weird name was that? It had to be a stupid action scroller, I figured. Or maybe one of those Ultima rip-off rpgs. Or maybe it was a curse-word. Back then I guess it was my surmise that in the gaming community there were only a few types of games 1) action 2) rpg 3) the sparse graphical adventure games 4) text-adventures with limited parsers. Well... I was wrong. Zork was a great game with an unparrelled (at that time) parser. There were no graphics, which put me off at first and it took me a while to discover that I didn't even need my joystick. Sadly, I set it aside and began tentatively typing orders. And, as I deciphered more and more commands, it showed me the light. The landscape surrounding the seemingly innocent white house was inhabited by few characters, most memorably the thief (with his trademark stilleto), a cyclops, and a troll. The descriptions provoked wonderful images in my mind. So I was content to wander around and push buttons rather than solve the puzzles.

The Bad
I dunno. Everyone should take a look at it once. It might not be your thing, but it's still a large chunk of gaming history.

The Bottom Line
CAUTION: Zork could spark a love for interactive fiction. I didn't even know what I was doing, but somehow I managed to find my way to a certian room and type [jump off the cliff], and I've never looked back since.

DOS · by rs2000 (13) · 2001

A great introduction to interactive fiction.

The Good
Great images/descriptions, a huge world to explore, a variety of puzzles ranging from simple to agonizingly difficult, a great text parser, and enough random events to make it replayable.

The Bad
The thief, who had a tendency to steal your items and move things around (even before you could find them, sometimes). Also, the main light source is limited and, unless you plan ahead, you can get yourself irrevocably stuck in the dark. But these are just minor annoyances.

The Bottom Line
Zork I was my first REAL computer game. I originally played it on an old TRS-80 Model III with 4k of RAM. Most of the puzzles were challenging enough to keep my 10-year-old brain busy for hours, and the vivid room descriptions still create detailed images in my mind to this day. This game is truly a timeless classic... it is available as a free download (Infocom officially declared it freeware) from the Unofficial Infocom Homepage (http://www.csd.uwo.ca/Infocom/).

DOS · by Mirrorshades2k (274) · 2000

[ View all 11 player reviews ]


Subject By Date
Be honest about Zork Brian Shapiro Apr 3rd, 2023
You are likely to be eaten ... DJP Mom (11318) Sep 16th, 2007


1001 Video Games

Zork I appears in the book 1001 Video Games You Must Play Before You Die by General Editor Tony Mott.

Covermount release

In the December 2001 Issue of PC Gamer, the original Zork trilogy was shipped on the CD included with the magazine.


Zork was born on the mainframes of MIT in 1977, and saw its first commercial release on the TRS-80, under the Personal Software (releasers of VisiCalc) label in 1979. The title was a nonsense word used by the creators to label works in progress. Infocom was founded by these creators, Marc Blank, Dave Lebling, Tim Anderson and Bruce Daniels, to create Zork II.

Freeware release

As part of the release of Zork: Nemesis, Activision released Zork I as freeware on their website. (As of 2001, the links to download the game at activision.com are dead, but the game is available at numerous fan sites.)

Game Boy port

One bedroom programmer actually ported the game to the Game Boy of all things, using the basic code of the Sinclair Spectrum version, as both systems were powered the Z80 processor. Inputting words involved cycling the cursor through one letter at a time, similarly to inputting initial for high scores on a joystick. Surely the ultimate case of "right game, wrong format".

German version

Infocom started to translate this game into German, but found it rather difficult to re-program the parser. Therefore, only a German beta version exists.

Hello, Sailor

The well-recognized Infocom phrase "Hello, Sailor!" got its start here. Type it in, and you'll get the response "Nothing happens here." Type it in almost any room in any Infocom game, and you'll get the same response. This may be one of the oldest Infocom red herrings around.


You can find out how many leaves are in the pile of leaves covering the grate in the clearing by typing "count leaves". Strangely enough, it only takes 1 turn to count all the leaves. The actual number of leaves in the pile is 69,105. It's an hex/octal inside joke for programmers.


  • There is a location in the game called "Aragain Falls." Spell ARAGAIN backwards, and you'll see something more familiar.
  • Typing in "xyzzy" and "plugh" (magic words from an earlier text adventure game), the game comes back with: "A hollow voice says 'Fool.' "

References to the game


The first commercial release of Zork I (for the TRS-80, distributed by Personal Software) was simply called Zork. The game disk was packaged in a plastic bag with a large manual showing an adventurer outfitted in barbarian guard attacking the troll, with the white house in the background. Such early versions are quite difficult to come by and are highly prized by collectors.


(From The New Zork Times Vol.3 No.2 Spring 1984)

Some statistics about Zork:

  • Number of rooms: 110 Number of different ways to die: 28 Number of words in vocabulary: 698 Number of takeable objects: *59 (The raft is actually three different takeable objects: inflated, uninflated, and punctured)

Zork User's Group

The demand for Zork maps, tips and, eventually, memorabilia for game enthusiasts and veterans, led Mike Dornbrook (Infocom's first product tester, hired to debug Zork -- later better known for leading Harmonix) to establish a service that provided (in the beginning, personalised, type-written) hints and maps to would-be adventurers of the Great Underground Empire.

In September 1981, the organization was formalised as the Zork User's Group (run out of his parents' Milwaukee basement), and their product line expanded to include buttons, bumper stickers, posters, t-shirts and a Zorkian newsletter... as well as their most permanent contribution to the Infocom legacy, InvisiClues hintbooks. In July 1983 -- by which time their mailing list had grown from 700 to over 14,000 -- it was folded back into Infocom, Dornbrook hired on again by Infocom, this time as Product Manager in the Department of Consumer Marketing.


  • Computer Gaming World
    • November 1992 (Issue #100) – Introduced into the Hall of Fame
    • November 1996 (15th anniversary issue) - #13 on the “150 Best Games of All Time” list
    • March 2001 (200th anniversary issue) - #9 Best Game of All Time (Readers' Vote)
  • Game Informer
    • August 2001 (Issue #100) - #70 in the "Top 100 Games of All Time" poll
    • October 2004 (Issue #138) - one of the "Top 25 Most Influential Games of All Time".
  • GameSpy
    • 2001 – #39 Top Game of All Time

Information also contributed by Adam Baratz, Belboz, Big John WV, Chris Martin, Chris Mikesell, Droog, Martin Smith, Mirrorshades2k, Mo, Nélio; [PCGamer77](http://www.mobygames.com/user/sheet/userSheetId,1717/), [Pseudo_Intellectual](http://www.mobygames.com/user/sheet/userSheetId,49363/), [Ye Olde Infocomme Shoppe](http://www.mobygames.com/user/sheet/userSheetId,631/) and [FatherJack](http://www.mobygames.com/user/sheet/userSheetId,244870/)

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Contributors to this Entry

Game added by Brian Hirt.

Commodore 128 added by Trypticon. TRS-80 CoCo added by Slik. PC-98 added by Riemann80. Apple II added by Droog. TRS-80, Atari 8-bit, CP/M added by Kabushi. Mainframe, Browser added by Pseudo_Intellectual. Commodore 16, Plus/4, Macintosh, Amiga added by Terok Nor. Amstrad PCW, Tatung Einstein added by Игги Друге. Amstrad CPC added by LepricahnsGold. PC-8000 added by vedder. Commodore 64, Atari ST added by Belboz.

Additional contributors: Dietmar Uschkoreit, Ummagumma, Tony Van, Jeanne, Pseudo_Intellectual, Maw, Nélio, mo , formercontrib, c64fan, Patrick Bregger, FatherJack, Joe Pranevich.

Game added March 1st, 1999. Last modified September 12th, 2023.