Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Midweek Music Box: Return to Zork

You are likely to be eaten by a grue...
Once again I was standing in a field west of a white house with a boarded door.  The mailbox was still there, looking battered and worn as ever.  As I opened the mailbox I found an envelope and a strange glowing orb.  A face appeared in the orb and an enthusiastic voice spoke, glad to finally meet me, the sweepstakes winner.  Suddenly he yelled in terror looking wildly around at some unseen threat and then...

Than I found myself lifted into the clouds and traveling, traveling with immense speed over land and sea as a booming pipe organ belted out an ominous tune.  I was ready to begin my adventure in the Great Underground Empire.

Now grab that bonding plant and let's go!

Here is the entire soundtrack in all its glory, and trust me, it is glorious:

Entire Soundtrack.
As soon as those horns start you know it means danger is on it's way.

Good grief that intro music alone brings back memories!  From the bonding plant to golden Zorkmids to maze-like forests to misty isles and a crazy wizard turned into a duck; Infocom's Return to Zork was the first chance we had as gamers to really "see" the world of Zork and the Great Underground Empire.  Prior to Return to Zork, there wasn't much (or anything really) in terms of music and sound.  With the exception of a few pictures for Zork Zero, we had never seen what the Great Underground Empire had looked like.  Little did we know our first real glimpse would offer some of the most spectacular game music of all time to back it up.

It's kinda a shame really that I can no longer play the game.  My computer wouldn't run the disk even if I had it, but I still remember that opening tune:  The ominous pipe organ accompanied by the deadly-sounding crescendo of drums.  Several years ago I tried hunting down the soundtrack on Youtube, but at first this was all I could find:

Seriously, it's just awesome to hear this played live. 

As they say, "The dude nailed it," I was transported back to that time, back to that place, playing Return to Zork on my dad's computer.  It was a great effort, albeit a short one, on the guy's part.  I just wish there was more.  Nobody was doing covers of the theme from The Fool's Memorial.  There weren't even any brief riffs, beyond the one featured here, of selected tracks.  No one had done a tribute to the album and it looked unlikely that anyone would. 

Thankfully, just a couple years later, Youtube seemed to explode with music from video games beyond the NES which is why we have the video provided above.  Not that I have a problem with that, and I am sure your electric guitar cover of Mega Man 2: Dr. Wiley's castle is very metal thank-you-very-much.  But, whether they were direct rips from the soundtrack or interpretation--people were doing a greater variety of game covers and rips.  One of those musical rips was Return to Zork.  I just can't convey how much joy I get from hearing this soundtrack, and most especially that intro.  It takes me back to those days when I would spend hours on my folks PC and be playing games like Zork.  It was like being transported to another world, especially with Zork's intro.  To this day I have the soundtrack in regular rotation and it's helped inspire my story writing when I need to be put into an epic mood.

Back in 1993, hearing a full blown orchestra was pretty darn cool.  Yes, Myst and the gang from Cyan had done this as well and the music for it was fantastic--but there was just something about Zork that had the feel of a high adventure which as a long-time Lord of the Rings fan I love to hear.  There are themes for nearly every section of the game from the carnival sounds at the Fool's Memorial to the inclusion of a haunting flute and guitar melody called Pavane by Gabriel Faure' as you wander a mysterious forest.  The game was as frustrating as all get out and you could easily screw up the whole of your game right at the start and not know it.  But the soundtrack was just killer.  

I know, I know.  PC's could almost always blow consoles out of the water when it comes to stuff like that.  But I wasn't always up for the sometimes seemingly absurd things required of me doing a PC game.  Feelies were neat and all, but needing them as proof of ownership was a tad frustrating.   Especially when I had to dig out the Encylopedia Frobozzica to answer some silly question from Ms. Peepers. Not saying the game was frustrating at all did have some minor draw backs.  

But full marks for creating a soundtrack that really takes me back to my childhood and reminds me of that first time I dug up the bonding plant and---

YOU DIDN'T DIG UP THE BONDING PLANT?!!  You just went in and pulled it up by the roots like a chump, didn't you?  

So much for going in...
Well, only one thing for it then:

Now don't go eating the plant either...not yet anyway. least you get to hear all that sweet music again, right?

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