A Partial History of Dungeon and Zork

The Wikipedia article on Zork sketches only a partial history of this seminal game from its origins in 1977 as Dungeon to its release by Infocom as Zork in the 1980s. Before and after there were many ports, branches, improvements and interpretations by hackers and geeks, some of which were only ever local to particular university computing departments. We've taken a stab at a somewhat fuller overview here. A complete history may be impossible — there seem to have been many dozens of variants! This timeline derives from comments in source files; readme and history files included in different distributions; Wikipedia; and the encyclopedic knowledge of Zork sources possessed by SmartMonsters' co-founder Gary Smith.

The original Dungeon was written in MDL in 1977 by Tim Anderson, Marc Blanc, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling of the Dynamic Modeling Group at the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science. It ran on the PDP-10.

Some time before 1979, this group ported their source to the TENEX and TOPS-20 operating systems running on computers connected to the ARPANET. It seems to have been this version which became so wildly popular and so frequently extended by the networked hacking community of the era.

In January 1978, the MDL source was ported to Fortran IV by Bob Supnik, described in Infocom's Zork history file as "a somewhat paranoid DEC engineer who prefers to remain anonymous." That Fortran version became the basis for Infocom's commercial releases, and is probably the one most widely shared among the hacker community. "No DECsystem should be without one!".

The Infocom commercial release is from 1980. Their TRS-80 version is from late that year; their Apple II version is from early 1981.

A port dated "17-nov-81" from Dec FORTRAN to the Unix f77 FORTRAN variant was done for the PDP-11 by Randy Dietrich, Lynn Cochran, and Sig Peterson. One of the sources for our emulation is a C translation of this version which we believe (based on how ugly it is) was probably created by the f2c program.

A VAX / Unix version dated "dec-85" was produced by Bill Randle.

John Gilmore produced a "cleaned-up" source dated "11-dec-86". Bill Randle contributed an amalgamation of the previously separate PDP and VAX sources dated "9-feb-87".

Gary Smith started his version in 1980 at New Mexico Tech by hacking the encrypted data files of Bob Supnik's FORTRAN port. The password was Supnik's DEC badge number, which Gary remembered after meeting him! His variation features more rooms; many new jokes; and a rather more sarcastic narrator. His enhancements were largely based on close observation of how players interacted with the parser and the puzzles. If he noted someone trying to solve a puzzle in an interesting or creative way, he'd implement their attempted solution. He took his version with him to Central Washington University in late 1983. Over the next two and half decades he's produced new versions in C and Visual Basic. We hope to bring Gary's most recent enhanced evolution online some time in 2020, perhaps fully-updated to the far richer TriadCity platform. We'll let you know!

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