The Pawn
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(This is a continuation of an earlier article about Zork I)

In the later years of the 8-bit era computer magazines like Your Sinclair and Commodore Format were sold with so-called cover tapes, usually containing a number of games. The November 1990 issue of Zzap!, number 67, came with "Magnificent megatape 11", featuring Rimrunner, Thunderforce, SWIV, and, interestingly, Zork. The latter title, advertised as being provided by Activision, was not the full game of Zork I, but an abridged version made for distribution on cassette tape. It is also known as Mini-Zork.

Zork on cassette The "Magnificent megatape 11" cassette distributed with Zzap! issue 67 (cassette purchased on ebay in 2017 for UKP 1.50). The adhesive tape used to affix the cassette to the magazine front has caused some of the print on the front face to come off, but with some difficulty the words "Zork (Activision)" might just be discerned near the top right. To the right of the cassette and in a significantly smaller scale is shown the front cover of the ZZap! magazine.


Some observations playing the game
Solution and maps (spoiler alert!)


The interactive fiction games published by Infocom were supplied on floppy disks. The machines for which these games were written often had less capacity than the size of the game, so a random-access external medium was required to accomodate the non-linear style of playing often associated with the text adventure. But some years after Infocom was acquired by Activision and after the once venerated company had been demoted to an existence as a mere label, a cassette-based version of Zork I surfaced. According to the Infocom Fact Sheet, it was brought out for the Commodore 64 only, and first with the December 1990 issue of Zzap! 64. It has been converted to a .z3 story file since (get it at the IF Archive), and can be played with any pertinent interpreter, such as Frotz.

Some observations playing the game

As mentioned before, Mini-Zork is an abridged version of the earlier and famous Zork I. Being released on the sequential cassette medium, it is a single-load program; this means that the game must fit in the 64 kilobytes of memory available to the Commodore 64. To achieve this, prose and puzzles must have been reduced compared to the original.

Playing the game is an interesting experience for the Zork enthusiast, and, if playing the original on the C64, delightful oddness already starts while loading. Horizontal "loading stripes" flashing in the screen border are associated with cassette titles and were, until now, foreign to Infocom games.

Mini-Zork loading screen on C64
The incongruous sensation of flashing cassette loading stripes in the screen border while loading an Infocom adventure. Mini-Zork is played here through the VICE emulator of Commodore machines.

The loading time of Mini-Zork is about five minutes. Interestingly, the loading time of the disk versions of Zork I is 1:40 minutes for release 30 (the first release for C64), 1:15 minutes for release 88 (which was published on many platforms), and 2:20 minutes for release 52 (the "Solid Gold" and last version). Unaccelerated disk drives were notoriously slow on the Commodore 64, but apparently still faster than loading from cassette.

Mini-Zork opening screen on C64
The opening screen of Mini-Zork on the Commodore 64.

When the opening screen finally appears the player is informed that this is release number 34, and the copyright year is set to 1988. If the serial number is what it seems to be — a date — it implies that the game has been kept on the shelf for a few years before it was first published in late 1990. Following this information the introduction to the game is given, describing the White House in the same way as in Zork I, with the addition of one new navigational note.

Leaflet in Mini-Zork
On the leaflet found in the mailbox Mini-Zork tells about itself.

The well-known leaflet in the mailbox is also found in this game, and it reveals that here in fact is a trimmed version of the disk-based Zork I. Whatever the purpose of this message, it does give the player the feeling that he is playing the wrong game.

Striking out from this location, the game leads the player to many of the well-known locations, such as the Flood Control Dam #3, the Maze, and Hades. But as advertised in the leaflet, descriptions are somewhat compressed and a number of rooms has been removed or merged with others. The Great Underground Empire feels a little less sprawling, and even somewhat cramped if the player has played regular Zork I before visiting Mini-Zork. Despite the limitations compared to Zork I, the maximum score is still 350 points. To arrive at this number, the surviving puzzles have been assigned more points.

Leaflet in Mini-Zork

Leaflet in Mini-Zork
An illustration of the edited text in the tree location in Mini-Zork (top). The scene is described less verbosely than in the original text (bottom). Screenshots of the Frotz interpreter.

On the other hand, as the game is kept entirely in memory, it is noticeably less sluggish on the C64 than regular Infocom titles on that machine due to the lack of interactions with a disk drive (interpreters on more modern machines obviously don't suffer from slowness in this regard).

Just like in Zork I, the thief is the major opponent on account of his larcenous attitude. As the accessible area of the Great Underground Empire is smaller than that in regular Zork I, the circuit that the thief makes is also smaller; consequently the chance of an encounter is greater.

350 points
The maximum score is 350 points, just like in the full version of Zork I.

Solution and map (spoiler alert!)

Some areas have been significantly simplified in Mini-Zork, such as the maze and the coal mine. The map and the walkthrough given below reflect this if compared to those I made for Zork I.

Mini-Zork map Images
Full map of Mini-Zork, showing all rooms and most objects. Based on release 34 and drawn using Dia. Mini-Zork walkthrough, organized in 10 parts. Includes list of treasures.

The thief poses a real threat to winning the game. His movement pattern may be of use.


(Originally published 2017/12/14)