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)

Old is Gold

The Good
Very deep game, with hundreds of room to explore and days worth of play material. Engaging story line across the series. The text parser is surprisingly advanced for its age, with contextual parsing.

Another positive aspect about this particular text parser is that there are so many fun things you can do and so many extra commands that do not help to advance the story in any way but yield some very funny results. Try typing JUMP or SCREAM or ATTACK THE HOUSE; type LOOK AT ME, KISS ME, TAKE ME, and EAT ME for more laughs. If you’re the masochistic type, there are plenty of ways to kill yourself off with the various commands at your disposal.

Superb and detailed writing helps set the atmosphere and paint a vivid picture but is just vague enough to allow you to use your imagination.

Humour is abound in this game(provided you type in absurd commands) and I discover a new dialogue every time I replay it.

The Bad
Honestly, this is as close to perfection as it gets. But if you’re not fond of text parser, prefer objectives clearer than “go get some treasure,” and dislike such a great degree of freedom to explore, then maybe you won’t like the game as much. If the lack of graphics and sound, the need to draw maps (or use someone else’s, especially for navigating the mazes), the limited amount of items allowed in your inventory, the possibility of dooming yourself to failure without realizing it, and the lack of a driving story is a deal breaker for you, then maybe skip this one.

The Bottom Line
Perfect for all types of gamers. Play it blind if you want a challenge. If you're a novice, the official maps and manual are a great help, which makes the game much easier while still presenting a fun enough challenge. Include save options so you don't have to start over again an again.

I bought my copy from GOG, which comes with a DOS-Box, so no setup required.

DOS · by Sam Vulcan (18) · 2020

The most eclectic and interesting of the series

The Good
Zork: The Underground Empire shows its long gestation period on seventies mainframes. Unlike the two immediate sequels, Z:TUG is wildly eclectic and rambling, with very little overall structure. Surprisingly, this is to its advantage. From the famous opening, down into the passages, through some nastily ingenious puzzles to the final confrontation, Z:TUG retains a strange, compressed energy. Completing it is extremely satisfying, and for years being able to say "I finished Zork" was a badge of merit in gaming circles.

The Bad
The problems with Zork are really only those of text adventures as a whole. The puzzles are frustrating, it's possible to be stuck at four or five different points simultaneously, and gamers used to such extravagances as "graphics" and "sound" may find this blast from the past annoying and pointless.

The Bottom Line
Zork is both an excellent introduction to text adventuring and a piece of computer-history royalty in its own right. Despite the myriad other Infocom releases, and the release of two immediate sequels, Zork has a flavour and excitement all its own.

DOS · by Colin Rowsell (43) · 2002

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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Zork: The Undiscovered Underground
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Zork III: The Dungeon Master
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The Zork Legacy Collection
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Zork Trilogy
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Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz
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Zork: Grand Inquisitor
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Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands
Released 1996 on DOS, Windows, Macintosh

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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. CP/M, Atari 8-bit, TRS-80 added by Kabushi. Mainframe, Browser added by Pseudo_Intellectual. Commodore 16, Plus/4, Amiga, Macintosh added by Terok Nor. Tatung Einstein, Amstrad PCW 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 24th, 2023.