Zork II: The Wizard of Frobozz (hereinafter referred to as Zork II) was the second game released by interactive fiction pioneers Infocom, and the first also published by Infocom. It was the sequel to Zork (or as it was later retitled and will hereinafter be referred to as, Zork I).
The story of Zork begins with another game, called Adventure (or Colossal Cave Adventure), written in 1975 by Will Crowther. It was inspired by Crowther's real-life explorations of Kentucky's Mammoth Cave. Don Woods came by chance across a copy of the game and, with Crowther's permission, expanded it further.
By 1977, Woods's (freely distributed) version of Adventure was the talk of computer science departments across the world. One of those departments was that of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). MIT students Tim Anderson, Marc Blank, Bruce Daniels, and Dave Lebling collaborated to create Zork, essentially an even further expanded version of Adventure. All of these figures except Daniels would later become founding members of Infocom. Blank and Lebling, in particular, would be responsible for many of Infocom's classic games.
Zork was housed on a mainframe accessible via ARPANET, the predecessor to the Internet. It too became popular, and was freely distributed to ARPANET administrators to run on their systems.
When Infocom was founded, the expectation was that the company would create business software. However, since Zork already existed, it could be brought to market much quicker than a new project, and it had already proven its appeal. Since the then-newly-popular microcomputers (most notably the Apple II and TRS-80) had far less storage capacity than mainframes, the mainframe version of Zork could even be divided into multiple games for the microcomputer. All three of Infocom's Zork games would use material from the mainframe version, although the amount used decreased with each game.
Development and Reception of Zork II
Lebling was the main game designer/programmer (or as Infocom called it, "implementor", or "imp") for Zork II. It would ultimately consist of about half material from the MIT mainframe version, and half new material.
Zork I had been published by Personal Software, who were also the publishers of the spreadsheet program VisiCalc. Although Zork I sold well by the standards of games of the era, its sales paled in comparison to VisiCalc, which had become a phenomenon and the "killer app" for the Apple II. Not long before the scheduled release of Zork II, Personal Software informed Infocom that it was getting out of the business of game publishing. Infocom bought back all unsold copies of Zork I from Personal Software, and quickly set about becoming a publisher themselves.
By 1986, Zork II had sold 173,204 copies.
As promised by the final ending to Zork I, Zork II begins with the player within a stone barrow, near the "white house" that was the center of Zork I. (The player, however, cannot return to the Zork I area.) The goal is still to travel through an underground empire and collect treasure. However, this time, rather than being required to bring the treasures to a certain area, they are retained by the player, for use in the endgame.
At random intervals, the Wizard of Frobozz will appear and attempt to cast a randomly chosen spell on the player. The spells (other than "Fluoresce") are of either instantaneous or temporary duration. Sometimes, the spell will fizzle out, and thus nothing happens. All of the Wizard's spells begin with the letter "F" ("Fumble" causes the player to drop an item, "Freeze" prevents the player from moving, etc.) It's possible, if the player is hit by the wrong spell at the wrong time, for the player to be killed instantly, or perhaps even worse, to be placed in a position where the game is rendered unwinnable. Nonetheless, the Wizard is presented as more of a comic adversary than a true villain.
A section of the game is heavily inspired by Alice in Wonderland, by Lewis Carroll.
Similar to its precedessor, Zork II ends with the player finding a passageway that is described as the beginning of Zork III.
Zork I did contain some notable non-player characters. But for the most part, the player proceeded through deserted areas, with little story connection between the various areas. Zork II creates much more backstory for the Great Underground Empire. It also is written in a more comedic style, and contains many colorful characters derived from fantasy tradition.
Zork II has been criticized for its non-intuitive puzzle solutions, particularly for non-American players.