Where the Frotz is Zork for the iPhone? - Macenstein

Where the Frotz is Zork for the iPhone?

While the iPhone is enjoying brisk sales and an avalanche of media hype, there is still one thing that is holding it back from being the kind of runaway “Tickle Me Elmo” hit that every red-blooded man, woman and child craves.

That one thing is, of course, a decent port of the 1979 text-based adventure game Zork.

“It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a grue.”

zork on the iphoneZork support is time and again the feature smartphone owners overwhelmingly cite as the catalyst for choosing their particular handheld, and the lack of a Zork iPhone port is just embarrassing at this point. As both a Mac user and iPhone owner it pains me to read the countless articles from the WSJ, CNET, CNN and others, bashing the iPhone for its lack of Zork support.

Sure, you can play Zork 1, 2, and 3 on the web via Safari on the iPhone, but it is hardly the same. The formatting is rough, the gameplay glitchy, and forget about saving. Odds are the iPhone will run out of battery before you get out of the cellar. We need a native Zork port, and we need it yesterday.

Above the trophy case hangs an elvish sword of great antiquity.

A call to arms

Apple made it a bit difficult to get Zork onto the iPhone, but not impossible. Frotz, an interactive fiction book and game emulator, runs on every platform under the sun, including OS X. Frotz is what powers the Zork ports currently enjoyed by smug Symbian UIQ owners as well as those blasted Windows Mobile 5.0/PocketPC/Windows CE users we all see playing Zork at the beach.

Now, despite the title of this article, Frotz is no longer the bees knees when it comes to text-based adventure games on the Mac. The real place the iPhone Zork-hacking community should be focusing their attention is on Zoom, the awesome open source OS X app by Andrew Hunter.

I recently spoke with Andrew about the possibility of porting Zoom to the iPhone. Andrew lives in jolly old England, so he says he can’t really even begin to think about it until the iPhone drops there this November. But, he claims there is no real reason why Zoom shouldn’t be able to run on the iPhone with a little tweaking. The real concern, as he sees it, is just how much Cocoa is available on the iPhone. ” I suspect that it would be no problem getting the interpreter running,” says Andrew, “but the UI could be quite a lot of work.”

Sounds like a challenge worthy of Frobozz himself!

So, what brave adventurer programmer out there familiar with the Sparkle framework, CocoaGlk and expat is going to help keep the iPhone from becoming the laughing stock of the smart phone world? Who will step up to the plate and bring the world of Zork to the iPhone?

It shouldn’t take you more than a couple hours, the way I figure it.

[UPDATE:] Apparently Frotz has already been ported to the iPhone (and has been since August!) with iphonefrotz. Yikes! I was half kidding!

While still not the seamless app install I envisioned, it certainly appears to be a nice implementation of the Z-Machine Interpreter. I guess if you’re geeky enough to want to play Zork on your iPhone, you’re geeky enough to follow the install steps.

14 Responses to “Where the Frotz is Zork for the iPhone?”
  1. richard says:

    Do you know I actually fired up Zork 1 on my Apple II this summer? Best day of my life.

  2. O'Doul's says:

    I hear that the embarrassing lack of Zork play is what caused Jobs to reduce the price of the iPhone.

  3. Will says:

    zork is actually available for the iphone.

    you are joking, I know, but it is available by the apptapp installer.

    it is called “Zork Z-code”

    you must first install “Frotz”


  4. Craig Smith says:


    It seems odd to me you wrote this article without verifying that someone actually HAD ported an IF interpreter to the IPhone.

    I’m the developer who ported frotz (2.43) to the iPhone, about six weeks ago now.

    It’s available at http://code.google.com/p/iphonefrotz/, or visa the AppTapp installer. You’ll also need to install ssh to be able to easily get arbitrary Z-code game files onto the phone.

    I actually started to port Zoom to the iPhone first, as it is definitely the best interpreter out there, and already has a Cocoa front end.

    I backed off for two reasons:

    1) The codebase is larger and more ambitious, and expects to be able to open multiple windows (Skein, Blorb viewer, etc.), and was thus more work to port. I wanted to be able to get something out there quickly. Although Zoom is Cocoa-based, the UI would need to be completely rewritten.

    2) The Objective C part of the original toolchain for the iPhone was buggy; in particular, it couldn’t handle float and struct return values from ObjC message calls correctly. Finding and working around all the problems caused by this in an existing Cocoa codebase without a debugger was seriously daunting.

    3) The iPhone hasn’t been released in the UK yet, and it seemed unfair to port Andrew Hunter’s work to a platform he didn’t even have access to yet.

    I plan to consider retargetting the iPhone UI in iFrotz to use Zoom as a backend instead when I get the time, allowing it to play newer games written in Glulx and open zblorb files.

  5. Sorry about that Craig,

    I actually did a half-assed search, but I guess I should have used my whole ass.

    Now I just look like an ass.

    I’ll definitely check out your solution.
    Does it withstand software updates? I see it was released back in August (ugghh) so I assume you’ve seen the effects, if any, of the last 2 updates?


    -The Doc

  6. Craig Smith says:

    Well, software updates force you to restore your entire phone first because it first verifies the “integrity” of the phone’s software, and refuses to install because checksums don’t match.

    This has nothing to do with iFrotz — it happens if you’ve installed anything at all on your phone that doesn’t live in the phone’s Media directory that iTunes writes to.

    The solution so far has just been to make a backup of anything customized you want to save on your phone, including 3rd party apps and game files and such, and “re-hack” your phone after the update. It’s annoying, but fortunately doesn’t happen often.

    The worry is that Apple’s upcoming update (the one w/the WiFi music store) will re-do the way the firmware update process works and disable people’s ability to install 3rd party apps at all. If that happens, you could always choose not to upgrade, though, at least until the hackers figure out a way back in.

  7. Alex V. says:

    iPhonefrotz does not work with ipod Touch rev 1.1.4 (4A102)

    I’ve installed the apps from Zork Z-code, and Frotz just reports “No Story Files Found”.

    I’ve verified the existence of the Story files in /private/var/root/Media/Frotz/Games whith no luck. Craig, any idea when an update to this cool app might be under-way?

  8. Andrew says:

    Try:- http://www.web-adventures.org it’s online but displays fine on my iPhone and it auto saves.

  9. michel says:

    any chance that this will be released officially on the apple app store?

  10. ML says:

    Hi all,

    OK, am I crazy? I used to play Zork 1 on my high school boyfriends computer back in the 80s. I got all excited when I found Frotz, which has Zork 1 for the iPhone. I have been enjoying the game, but there are odd differences. I found the old map online that I used to have, but it dosnt fit. I went online and found a different map someone had drawn back in 1981, and there are even different rooms and treasures! Here is that map (that works with Zork 1 on my phone) :


    But this is the map that came with my order from Infocom back in the 80s that I remember:


    What the…? They are different. Directions from some rooms to some rooms differ.

    And I knew I didnt remember a volcano!

    I am not a techno geek but I got hooked on this game and noticed immediatley. Not really complaining, just looking for answers. Anybody?

  11. Nathan says:

    ML, looks like the hand-drawn map is from the original version of Zork which ran on big mainframe computers of the late ’60’s. I guess that version would only have been seen by people who worked at a University or Institute that owned such big hardware. (Not sure how widely distributed the original Zork was.)

    When Infocom was formed and they split the game up into three separate titles (the Zork trilogy) so it would be small enough to run on personal computers. (for example, the Commodore 64 version was limited to 64k of RAM and a 170k disk-drive.)

    Here’s the Wikipedia link if you want to read more about it: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Zork

  12. Bob Homes says:

    You can grab this from the app store in itunes now.

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