There is just so much wrong with Legends of Zork.

April 5, 2009

Before we get uber major xtreme hardcore into the next Spring Thing game, I’d like to take this time – and I can, you know; I’m a doctor – to extend a large amount of kudos to Jim Zubkavich and the rest of the Legends of Zork art team:

Legends of Zork Logo Design: Indigo Kelleigh
Map Design/Icons: Will Makra
Map and Additional Creature Colours: Espen Grundetjern
Location Designs, Additional Creatures & Double Fanucci Line Art: Greg ‘Cornflake’ Brown
Additional Creature Designs: Julie Faulkner
Location Colours: Chris Oatley
Colour Flatting: Tom Liu

Congratulations, guys, the bit that you did was very nice and not at all shit and we are all very proud of you!  Also Indigo needs to finish that 8-bit tarot deck and get it printed up so I can buy it because hot damn WANT.

On the subject of Legends of Zork – oh, and I’m not really a doctor – there is a rather sad little post on their development blog which begins with some denial about their critical reception (“the art looks good; I haven’t played it yet” is cited as an “extremely nice thing” someone said about them) and ends with promises of exciting new features, just buckets of ’em, and entreaties for feedback.

Oh, little babysitter precious, I got some feedback.  Get yourself a sandwich first.  I’ll wait.  (What is that, pimento cheese?  No eating in the pool!)

Okay.  This, you poor sad bastards, is a list of your crimes.  Mark them and mark them well:

Association with Offerpal. “We don’t think Offerpal’s skeezy at all actually,” you say.  Dude.  Offerpal’s pretty fucking skeezy.  I don’t care if they sell your cell phone number to people who read you lovely bedtime stories about kittens, they are just skeezy skeezy fucks.  Honestly, I would be more likely to play your game just to watch the numbers go up (whee numbers going up!) if I weren’t just absolutely icked out by this.

Underestimating casual gamers. You like Bejeweled?  I like Bejeweled.  Even people who hate Bejeweled like Bejeweled.  You know why everybody likes Bejeweled?  It’s got actual fun mechanics that make it actually fun to play, is why.  Gameplay motherfucking mechanics.  Oh, they’re simple enough; no one is sitting there with a spreadsheet trying to optimize their gem-swapping (well, you never know, I guess), but there is strategy involved.  Do you start at the top to keep from fucking the bottom up, or at the bottom in hope of a cascade?  Should you go for that five in a row?  Would that blue gem be best swapped horizontally or vertically?  Sure, people also like clicking on pretty shiny things and making numbers go up, and there is a chunk of your market that won’t ask you for more, but most people like things that are fun, and without fun gameplay you’re not going to steal any housewives from Peggle.

Your game sort of has mechanics, sure, it’s just that they’re curiously divorced from the combats which are the meat of the gameplay, and despite the fact that they’re simple enough to be boring, it’s not immediately apparent how they work. (That’s right, hit chance after modifiers, I’m looking at you.  Care to explain yourself?)

Automatic combat. People like to make their character do things.  It’s sort of like they’re doing that thing.  Imagine a Tony Hawk game where you picked out a helmet and then the computer did all the skating for you while you watched.  Now imagine a Tony Hawk game where you picked out a helmet and then the computer did all the skating for you offscreen while you watched it roll dice.  This is your game.  This is what you hath wrought.

A very simple thing you could do would be to give people the option to keep fighting or run away.  An awesome thing you could do would be to let them actually use their magic.  (The primary purpose of magic is to zap shit.  The secondary purpose of magic is to go “WHOO I’m zapping shit!”)

Boring automatic combat. I used to play a DOS game called Castle where you’d run your little ASCII smiley face into another ASCII character, one of those Eastern European d thingers maybe, and on the bottom of your screen would flash “You hit the monster!  The monster hit you!  You hit the monster!  You hit the monster!  You killed the monster!”  The reason this was so much better than “Random roll #1 (1-100):  15 / ENCOUNTER RESULT:  YOU WON” was that it actually made some effort to pretend you were fighting a monster.

Pointless items. Nothing that drops in the game is more than a glorified pile of zorkmids.  There are no healing potions, no weapons, no armor, nothing to collect x number of for a quest (there are no quests), no crafting ingredients, no nothin’.  I found a wand-shaped dagger earlier (there are like three images for loot, assigned seemingly arbitrarily – you’d expect a cup to use the goblet image, but you’d be expecting too much) which I autosold along with everything else, completely indifferent to its potential as a weapon.  The one thing items have going for them is that their names are one of the few actual content vectors in the whole game.  (Riff actually spent his skill points on +item specifically so he’d see more item names, because there was not much else to read.  Do you see how this is sad?)

Y’know what?  I’m losing the attention span to keep this list going.  What is wrong with your game, in a nutshell, is that a turn-limited browser-based Zork game could have been awesome and your game isn’t.  It’s not even very good.

Edit:  Yes, I’m cranky.  I’m afraid this is one of those occasions where you’ll just have to deal with me being cranky.  I would feel worse about it if there were any reason to think this game was a labor of love on someone’s part as opposed to an attempt to exploit glitches in the human psyche, the ones that make us enjoy clicking on shiny things and watching numbers go up, in order to separate people from their money.

Tsk bloody tsk.


  1. Hello new favorite gaming blogger. 8)

  2. I agree with so much of this it’s unbelievable. I’ve been playing LoZ since mid-April, and it went from being the next coolest thing ever to twenty minutes I feel obligated to spend while hoping things get better. They just dropped some quests today, which are glorified versions of “Our princess is in another castle,” along with a bunch of new zones that my character won’t be high-level enough to go to until like Christmas. I’d be more annoyed at that if there was any point at all to fighting in different zones. As long as a zone has the right monster level available to you, it’s no better or worse than the others.

    Somebody might mention the face cards, which are area-specific, but the face cards are just another thing the designers did wrong. You don’t have to be skilled or clever to get them, you just have to reach the minimum level for the card, then wait for the RNG to bless you.

    All of it basically boils down to this for me: LoZ does not allow for a player to be good. You can make some good or bad choices with the skill tree (or read the forums and not even have to think about dumping your first 30 into Warrior), and you can sort of almost be smart with your zorkmids, but really the only big difference between the powerful and the weak is how long you’ve been playing and how much money you put into buying extra turns.

    I still play it, but I just use it as a twenty-minute break from my day where I don’t have to think or care, hoping that it will get better. I hope it does, but I’m pretty sure that sooner or later I’ll get sick of waiting.

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