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.
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 , 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 ), and can be played with any pertinent interpreter, such as .
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Solution and map (spoiler alert!)
(Originally published 2017/12/14)