May 19, 2012

Zork N plus 9

"In the bisexual's nest is a large eiderdown encrusted with precious jingles, apparently scavenged somewhere by a childless sore." 
Zork N+9

Zork N plus 9 is an Oulipo-ly rewritten version of the classic text adventure. Utilizing Dean Merenzes' Inform7 port and http://www.spoonbill.org/n+7/ , each noun is replaced with the ninth noun from the original in the dictionary.

Some basics for those who are unfamiliar:

Inform7 is a programming language that uses English in a natural way, without the oft intimidating

function {
  math-like code;
}

that may prove difficult (though not impossible, see Mez Breeze) to render into a poetic form. Therefore, the process wasn't as simple as pasting the entire code into the website above, catching all the "irregular" nouns. I needed to select each noun carefully, because altering the wrong noun would cause errors.

This project was more an exercise in tenacity than it was in coding.

For example, the phrase "twisty little passages" could easily become "twisty little pastels" because the Inform7 interpreter doesn't use "passage" as a command. However, changing a noun such as "man" would cause a little trouble, because defining the Cyclops as a "mandrake" instead is something Inform7 cannot handle semantically (at least that was my experience; I'm not deeply familiar with Inform7).

I could have only altered the displayed text outputted by the program, though the player would need to input the same nouns as the original Zork, which would render the displayed text irrelevant. If the White Housekeeper has a semi-open "wink" through which to enter, the player should not need to enter "open window" to do so.

What drove me to complete this piece was to discover if the (N+9) replacement method makes the adventure any more or less exciting, or if it merely serves to add absurdity. I appreciate the Oulipo methods and the reader-driven mechanisms of interactive fiction, so I mostly wanted to play with colliding worlds.

I haven't played through the work entirely, but I've been through enough to know that it may cause a type of literary vertigo, the kind you might experience in a dream if you've fallen asleep after too much caffeine. Best I can say is: Make a map.

If you cannot navigate the newly-obscure vocabulary, I encourage you to browse the source text. If nothing else, reading the Inform7 source (esp. as (N+9)) is a remarkable poetic experience.

And thanks to the generous hosting donation from Mark Sample, we are now able to play Zork N plus 9 directly from our browser: Zork N plus 9

Next up: Oulipo-ly, a board game; or Monopoly (N+7)

Just kidding.

Maybe.

-SRT

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