Source code for seminal adventure game Zork circa-1977 exhumed from MIT tapes, plonked on GitHub

Revisit what it’s like to run a PDP-10 and be eaten by a grue

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Source code for seminal adventure game Zork, dating back to 1977 and recovered from MIT tapes, was published this week on GitHub.

While classic adventure games (aka interactive fiction) are well represented in the Internet Archive – there’s plenty of playable Zork versions here – this latest trove is source code retrieved from the US university's Department of Distinctive Collections (DDC)'s Tapes of Tech Square (ToTS) collection.

If you access the repo and its README you’re told the source was written “in the MDL programming language written on a PDP-10 timeshare computer running the ITS operating system.”

Dungeon-exploration adventure games existed before Zork, but the game’s four developers advanced the genre beyond simple noun-plus-verb commands to allow reasonably complex statements involving multiple in-game-objects. That made it more playable, which generated interest and eventually saw the code make it onto ARPANET where it found an appreciative audience.

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The game’s developers eventually created Infocom, a software company that did not set out to champion text adventures but became synonymous with them as it spawned numerous Zork clones sequels and spin-offs. Zork therefore acquired something of a cultural footprint. Classic lines from the game such as “It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a Grue” were geek identifiers years before “The cake is a lie” took on the same role.

The code in the repo comes from 1977, before the game was commercialised but at a time when it was mid-development and informally distributed; other versions of the source for Zork have been floating around the net for years.

If you get it running, let us know how you go – with the reproduction of the PDP-10 environment and the game! ®

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