Zork was the first game created by the great Infocom, and one that would influence an entire genre. Inspired by the example of Colossal Cave Adventure, the first text adventure to gain any kind of attention in the computer scene of the 1970s, Zork is a sprawling piece of interactive fiction initially developed by four friends and programmers at MIT on the PDP-10 computers. . It was first released in 1977 for the PDP-10, before the original developers and other contributors formed Infocom to polish, expand and release it as a commercial product for personal computers.
The game was not only the starting point for Infocom in general, but an entire genre. This wasn’t the first text adventure, but the sophistication far surpassed what had come before (adventure used two word commands). The text parser was designed to allow players to enter ‘natural’ language and the game would interpret these commands and act as a narrator or dungeon master of sorts, explaining what happened and the current situation/local. Zork is not only responsive, but also funny, managing to create that sense of personality in the computer talking to you. It inspired a deluge of similar games, very few of which came close.
Advanced text input and output is a hot topic, and since Zork is a completely text-based game, the inevitable has happened.
“Some adventure game fans at Google wondered what would happen if you took the output of the classic text adventure game ‘Zork’ as input to Imagen, Google’s text-to-image diffusion model,” writes Google chief engineer Matt Walsh.
“To support the desired results, we made some additions to Zork itself, which was a fascinating journey through an arcane language and a lost (but redesigned) toolchain”.
The results are below.
So here we have the descriptions of a fantasy text adventure for the player used as prompts for an AI image creation tool. As Walsh’s voiceover explains, it wasn’t that easy, and the team working on this project had to combine elements of how Zork presents information and how Imagen interprets and remembers things. And the team went further and showed that it could implement a visual inventory for the player, for example.
The strangest thing about this, however, is that Imagen is capable of generating a wide variety of artistic styles. The example shown in the video is a white house rendered in a variety of ways, from a Rembrandt pastiche to a mosaic to a painterly pencil drawing. The various other locations shown also vary from photorealistic to impressionistic in style.
So this is not one visualized version of Zork, but a countless number of different variants of what this world could look like. Zork 2 is also shown briefly, along with the promise that the work from this project can be applied to other Infocom titles with relative ease.
As Walsh says, it sounds like this is a project that’s meant to be released someday, though it’s not currently available to the public. Activision eventually owned Infocom, and Zork was the company’s only brand to actually use it, so an agreement may be needed before this can happen.
It’s downright weird to “see” Zork for the first time, a world that only existed visually in the imagination. And not because I think this is a particularly good visualization of it: as you might expect, some rooms look atmospheric and interesting, some locations seem a bit uninspiring, and of course there’s that range of styles that makes it impossible to tell. as one coherent Zork.
But it is in its way a striking example of the new paying homage to the old. No one knows where we’ll end up with these AI tools, but using them to revive the interactive past certainly seems like one of the more benign uses.
Strange name, Zork. It came from a piece of jargon the developers used among themselves: unfinished programs were called “zork”. And it looks like we’re not done with Zork yet.