The Infocom story originates in the 1970's in MIT's fledgling Laboratory for Computer Science (LCS). In 1977, a team of LCS students began writing what would become the legendary Zork in the MDL programming language. Students Marc Blank and Dave Lebling wrote some of the objects and the game's text parser, respectively. The bulk of the game, was written by Blank, Tim Anderson, and Bruce Daniels while Lebling was on vacation. In 1979, Zork was finished.
Zork ran on an LCS mainframe and was open to any user with an account. Since anyone who could access the machine could get an account, soon people were logging into the server from all over the world. The machine was able to let six people play at one time; usually, all six slots were full. The first article on Zork appeared a scant two months after the last puzzles were added to it. It would be the first trickle in a massive wave of incredible publicity to come.
The game had a very simple interface: a player's screen consisted simply of text and a command prompt. Despite its apparently simplicity, Zork had a very sophisticated English parser. The player could enter natural language commands at the prompt, anything from the simple, "Go north" to the comparatively complex, "Hit the ugly troll with the double-bladed axe." The system would then in turn return more text-room descriptions, results of actions, etc.
Instead of providing the player with the blocky, pixilated graphics available at the time, Zork's lush prose described a medieval-era underground world. Players didn't see this world on the screen, but they could imagine it in their minds. They could wander around this world freely, interacting with many different parts of each room, until they solved the puzzles at hand, and in doing so, they would unearth the story buried deep beneath the game's surface.
Not convinced yet? Then why not:
View a sample Zork transcript
Or even better yet:
Play Zork online right now! (Requires a java-enabled browser.)
Now that you've seen what Zork is all about,
find out how it made its way to the personal computer.