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video game lifetime achievement award: xyzzy!

When it comes to reading a book that has been made into a movie, I always prefer the book, no matter how well made the movie is. The reason is simple - I like to use my imagination. I prefer to conjure up the scenery, the look of the characters. I have a definite vision in my mind of the world that exists within the story I’m reading and no cinematographer will ever match what I envision.

I thinnk this is why I fell in love with text adventure games. From the first time I loaded up Zork on my Vic 20, I was obsessed. It was a story, but with choices. I could direct which way a scene would play out. The hero’s life was in my hands. No, I was the hero!

There is a small mailbox here.

> look in mailbox

That mailbox probably looked different to everyone who played Zork. For some, it was made of wood, for others it was gold, or silver, or just a shabby, rusted box by the side of the road. I read the leaflet that was in the mailbox. I was on my way. I stood in the open field, west of the big white house with the boarded front door.

And thus my adventure began. And it was my adventure, nobody’s else’s. No matter how many people were playing Zork at that exact moment, no one was having the same adventure as me. I had a set vision in my mind of the way things looked in the house and in the cellar and underground. In fact, I dreamed about these places - in a precursor to the days when I would dream about falling Tetris blocks - and thought about them even when I wasn’t playing the game (yes, I did stop to sleep and eat once in a while).

I never wanted the game to end. I wanted an endless array of puzzles to solve. Yet I did want it to end because I had to prove I could do it. Once I finally solved it, it was like a piece of my life was missing. Pathetic, I know. But there were sequels to Zork and many other adventure games to keep me going once I finally got back to the mailbox and found the barrow.

You are in a twisty maze of passageways, all alike.


Colossal Cave Adventure was made before even Zork; it was the first known interactive fiction game, created by Will Crowther originally to simulate his cave exploring experiences. I played "Adventure" so often that sometimes I would fall asleep at the computer. So many days and nights meeting dwarfs and saying plugh, catching the bird and falling into a pit because I forgot to turn my lamp on. Again, I got lost in a world that existed solely between my head and my keyboard. There were other text adventures I played endlessly, but Zork and Adventure are the ones that I can still reenact in my head; every detail I gave to those worlds still exist for me (Later on, Level 9 would add graphics to Adventure).

Eventually, graphics were added to the adventures. I thought I wouldn’t like it, but I was amazed by the pictures that appeared on the screen before me (Hey, I hear you young whippersnappers laughing. Those pixilated graphics were amazing for that time!). Pirates convinced me that I could get used to having pictures to go with my games. Once you got into the gameplay, you were only concerned with getting to the end.

Some of my favorite graphic adventures came from Windham Classics. Sure, I felt a little odd sitting there playing games based on children’s books, but the puzzles were hard and the authors of the games kept them interesting enough so that you never felt like you were in a child’s world; there was something very adult about Alice’s adventures in this Wonderland. Same for Below the Root; the story was fascinating and the gameplay pretty hard.

Colossal Cave Adventure and the Infocom games paved the way for future generations of amazing role playing and adventures. From Zelda to Metal Gear Solid, they all owe a debt of gratitude to the simple command choice of north, south, east or west.

Of all the games we geeks played, of all the nights we never went to sleep because we had to find our way out of the chasm, for all the grues we met and treasure we found and all the times we had to say xyzzy, for the trolls and dragons, for the drafty room and for the trial and error way of getting that last point in Caves, and for all the reasons the readers have shared, I am giving the ASV Lifetime Achievement Award to both Colossal Cave Adventure and Zork: The Great Underground Empire.

You may make your testimonials now.


Listed below are links to weblogs that reference video game lifetime achievement award: xyzzy!:

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My favorite lines from Zork:

Talking to yourself is a sign of impending mental collapse.
Hello, sailor!
Bar... bar...
It is dark. There might be grues.
Above the trophy case hangs an elvish sword of great antiquity.

Can't argue with that. Especially your recounting of playing the games themselves...

My favorites were the Enchanter series. The main character had a bit more range of action and the puzzles were reasonably tough and contained their own consistent logic. Planetfall was great too, although I never made it through to the end.

I was alway enormously frustrated by those text games. Used to drive me insane! For the Hitchhiker one, I could never get out of the bedroom!

Wow.. Somebody else in the world has actually played Below the Root. Cool.

I could never get the Improbability Drive to work for me on Hitchhikers. :(

I loved Hitchhiker, and I finally managed to get out of the ship about two years ago. My little brother had the Hobbit, which I also never beat - I always got killed by the spiders or drowned in a barrel, and one called... Fool's Errand? That was my favorite.

In about 1980, there was a pseudo-internet that you could dial into via modem called "The Source." My parents had access to it for work - you actually had to put your phone into this special cradle to connect. You could play all sorts of text-based games on there, so I usually stuck to that rather than my TRS-80 or my brother's Commodore.

"It is dark. There might be grues." Heh.

remember Mask Of The Sun???? awesome text (w/ some graphics) game....

I absolutely LOVED Adventure. Played it on the big, shared office computer for hours after everyone left. My friends from those days still joke about it. To me, the fact that it was just text made it all the more absorbing. I probably didn't get that far into it, but I still was fascinated.

Thank you very much!


The wall is not granite.

You have been eaten by a grue!

You have died.

Play again (y/n)?


"XYZZY" is nice, but I was always partial to "plugh". And I impressed the hell out of my college room-mate when I told him how to circumvent the troll without losing any treasure. Very nifty!

What, no love for the Leather Goddesses of Phobos?

Dave Lebling? THE Dave Lebling? Is that REALLY YOU?

Below the Root... I forgot that one. I've played it too. Even made it to the end!
Lileks, you pervert. ;) I tried playing that one a couple of times but never got very far in it.

Below the root! Oh my god, someone else played htat? I still think about that game. (Does that make me sick somehow?)

I loved the Windham Classics. When I think of good games, those are the ones I think of. They do NOT make them like that anymore.

I think I've torn my shuba...

Oh, hell, some crackpot is going around claiming to be Dave Lebling...

In my searching I noticed a few posts here about the game "Below The Root". I am planning on writing an unofficial fan-created sequel to the classic game (free and open source), if anyone is interested in helping in this project, please contact me! I'm sorry if this is a little off-topic.

Wow! Below the root thats it!
I've been looking for that game & couldn't remember what it was called, I just did a search on SHUBA! now if anyone remembers an old computer game thats alot like the original metroid....
the main character looks the same but can breath fire