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|Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands|
|Platform(s)||Windows 95, MS-DOS, Macintosh|
Zork Nemesis: The Forbidden Lands is a 1996 graphic adventure game developed by Zombie LLC and published by Activision. It is the eleventh game in the Zork series, and the first such title not to appear under the Infocom label. It features a darker, less comical story within the Zork setting. The story focuses on players investigating the sudden disappearance of four prominent figures and their children to the hands of a mysterious being known as the "Nemesis", and uncovering a sinister plot during their investigations that they must thwart. The game was released for Windows 95, and ported to MS-DOS and Macintosh by Quicksilver Software.
Players operate from a first-person perspective and use the mouse to control movement between locations, examining locations and interaction with objects, whether to use an item (i.e. a lift) or pick up something. Each location, ranging from corridors, small rooms, and vast halls, can be viewed in panoramic 360-degree to find objects to examine and interact with, with a still screen used when zooming in to examine an object in more detail. The mouse cursor changes when there is something to do – if an arrow, the player can either move to a new spot in the location or another location, or pan horizontally/vertically and change between the two; if a gold arrow, the player can interact with it, such as a book for example; if a hand, the player can pick up an item, or use an item being carried. Items can be picked up, and multiple items can be cycled through with the right mouse button.
The game takes place in the fantasy world of Zork, with players initially solving puzzles and exploring the Temple of Agrippa, a large complex situated in a mountainous region within the Forbidden Lands. Later the player has the ability to travel and explore the following locations: Frigid River Branch Conservatory - a musical school and performance hall near to Flood Control Dam #3; Steppinthrax Monastery – an abandoned monastery in disrepair; Grey Mountains Asylum – a mental institution in the frigid, frozen peaks of the Grey Mountains; Castle Irondune - a military fort with private museum of battles, situated in the Irondune desert.
- Madame Sophia Hamilton (portrayed by Lauren Koslow) - The head of the Frigid River Branch Conservatory, which taught young girls music, including Alexandria. Upon meeting with Kaine, she became infatuated with him to the point that she sought to find a way to be with him forever, which eventually culminated in her agreeing to help Sartorius with his experiments. Her work in alchemy allowed her to master Water, while seeking to purify Copper.
- Bishop Francois Malveaux (portrayed by W. Morgan Sheppard) - A religious man who ran the Steppinthrax Monastery, and the father of Alexandria, Malveaux discovered that he was suffering from an disease that was incurable and would eventually lead to his death. Seeking to avoid this, he agreed to assist Sartorius with his alchemical experiments in order to overcome his condition, eventually mastering Fire while seeking to purify Lead.
- Doctor Erasmus Sartorius (portrayed by Allan Kolman) - Head of the Grey Mountains Asylum, he specialised in trying to understand much of the world and the universe, developing an interest in alchemy like his father before him. Seeking to find the means of mastering it, but requiring help, Sartorius sought out aid and recruited assistance from Malveaux, Kaine and Sophia, in his experiments. Through his own work, he learned how to master Air while seeking to purify Tin.
- General Thaddeus Kaine (portrayed by Stephen Macht) - A decorated and disciplined soldier, and the father of his only son, Lucien, Kaine was the commanding officer of Castle Irondune, running his operations from it while designing the fort as a museum to cater for his love of battles with the inclusion of armour and weapons from previous ages. Upon meeting Sophia, he grew fond of her, enjoying her company while distancing himself from his son, showing no love for him. Eventually he became persuaded into assisting with Sartorius' efforts into alchemy, learning to master Earth while seeking to purify Iron.
- Lucien Kaine (portrayed by Paul Anthony Stewart) - The son of Kaine, Lucien was raised to be a soldier, but grew hateful and suspicious of the activities of his father and those he soon became associated with. These suspicions grew when he met with and fell in love with Alexandria during one of her concerts. He eventually sought marriage with her, but on the day the two were to be wed at the Steppinthrax Monastery, Lucien was promptly arrested for desertion of his draft posting. His fate after this became a mystery.
- Alexandria Wolfe (portrayed by Merle Kennedy) - Born to a woman being held in the Grey Mountains Asylum, Alexandria was raised by her father Malveaux at the monastery he ran, unaware of who her mother was. Eventually she was moved to the Frigid River Branch Conservatory to be taught by Sophia, where she demonstrated a talent for producing wonderful music, but also fell in love with Kaine's son until he was arrested on their wedding day. She mysteriously died at the hands of an unknown figure in the Temple of Agrippa, although her soul contacts the player for help when they arrive at the temple.
- "Nemesis" (voiced by Bruce Nozick; portrayed by Paul Anthony Stewart) - A mysterious entity that took over the Temple of Agrippa, torturing Sophia, Malveaux, Sartorius and Kaine after entrapping them. The Nemesis seeks to find the fifth element so that it can grant it what it desires, and sees the player as nothing more than a problem.
- The Player - A nameless adventurer, charged by Vice Regent Syovar the Strong to enter the Forbidden Lands and investigate the disappearance of four prominent citizens. Additionally, they also have to investigate the rumour of a curse put on the Forbidden Lands by a being known only as "Nemesis," taking over from their predecessor, Agent Karlok Bivotar (whose diary, included with the original release as a feelie, provides additional back-story, a few clues and a numerical solution that allows the player to bypass a particularly gruesome puzzle). The player character in Zork Nemesis is never identified, but the hint book provided in the game refers to the character as "she".
Following the demise of Agent L. Bivotar, Vice Regent Syovar the Strong assigns the player with the task of continuing their investigations within the region known as the Forbidden Lands, in which Bivotar had been instructed to discover what had happened to four prominent figures of the Empire who went missing – Doctor Erasmus Sartorius, General Thaddeus Kaine, Bishop Francois Malveaux, and Madame Sophia Hamilton - while determining if rumours of a mysterious curse that had emerged from within the region were substantiated, and investigate possible illegal magic being conducted. Travelling to the Temple of Agrippa, an ancient temple within the Eastlands that Bivotar had learnt about during their investigations, the player uncovers a message left behind by the spirit of Alexandria Wolfe, a young woman who seeks help to deal with a great evil that resides within the temple.
Entering the main building of the temple, the player finds that Sartorius, Kaine, Malveaux and Sophia were, unbeknownst to the public, Alchemists, with each one dedicating themselves to the study and perfection of one the four elements: Air, Fire, Earth, and Water. Prior to their deaths, they were seeking to uncover the mysterious fifth element of alchemy: the Quintessence, which would give eternal life to those who found it. Before their work could be completed, however, they were struck down by a mysterious entity known as the Nemesis. All four were subsequently killed before being held in a state of eternal torture within coffins in the main chamber of the temple, in order for the Nemesis to decipher their research and utilize it for himself. Helping the Alchemists by purifying their respective elements in special laboratories, the player learns from all four that the Nemesis not only subjected them to considerable torment, but also took the lives of two children - Kaine's son Lucien and Malveaux's daughter Alexandria. After using magic in their weakened states to subdue the Nemesis before he can stop the player, the Alchemists task the player with using a special magical planetarium and traveling to each of their private dwellings – Steppinthrax Monastery, Castle Irondune, Grey Mountains Asylum, and Frigid River Branch Conservatory – in order to find their personal laboratories and retrieve pure samples of their elemental metals so that they may be revived.
Whilst in each of these locations, the player slowly uncovers the truth regarding the Alchemists' work and the so-called "Nemesis" that haunts them, through visions, and various letters by them, Lucien, and Alexandria. It slowly transpired that all four Alchemists came together at the request of Sartorius, who sought to complete the research begun by his father on the Quintessence. In continuing his father's research, Sartorius learned that he could not master all four elements by himself, nor could he single-handedly purify their corresponding metals, and so needed help. Malveaux, seeking to avoid death from an incurable disease, was the first to join and later helped to recruit Kaine, who sought greater power to help him win a war against a rival, and Sophia, who sought eternal life so she could be forever young with Kaine. The group soon learned that they needed to create a child, who had to be born during a special celestial event when an alignment of planets, corresponding to each Alchemical element, occurred at the same time of a solar eclipse. The mother of this child was chosen from the Asylum, and soon gave birth to what they needed – Alexandria. In an effort to purify her soul, she was taught the violin song "Harmony of the Spheres", and was initially raised by her adoptive father, Malveaux, at his Monastery. When she came of age, Malveaux sent Alexandria to a boarding school at Sophia's Conservatory to sharpen her musical skills and purify her soul further. However, the Alchemists did not anticipate Lucien falling in love with Alexandria when he attended one of her concerts and, fearing that her soul would be corrupted, proceeded to imprison him on a false charge of draft-dodging. With another eclipse coming at the time they were due to harvest the fifth element, the group lured Alexandria to the temple to begin a ceremonial sacrifice. Lucien, however, learned of what they were planning, broke out of his cell in Irondune, and raced to catch up to the Alechemists at the temple before they could kill her. He arrived a mere few seconds too late, and Alexandria was killed right before his eyes. In a blind rage, and before the Alchemists could complete the final stage of the ceremony, Lucien murdered all four of them. Lucien, his heart broken and his soul shattered at the loss of his love, turned into the "Nemesis," and began searching for the fifth element himself in order to bring Alexandria back to life.
With the Alchemists freed by the player's actions, the group immediately resumes their ceremony, leaving Lucien to beseech the player to stop them from finding Alexandria's body and completing their work. He passes on a gold ring to the player. Entering a hidden chamber below the temple, the player creates a special Alchemy symbol, representing Infinity, from both Lucien's and Alexandria's rings. With the rings now purified and imbued with the fifth element--pure love--the player quickly uses it to stop the Alchemists, which kills them, revives Alexandria, and destroys the temple. This ends the curse in the Forbidden Lands, and the game ends with Lucien and Alexandria walking away together to live in peace.
Zork Nemesis employed technology Activision dubbed "Z-Vision Surround Technology," which gives users a simulated 360-degree view of each location visited. It was one of the first games to employ such technology, though Zork Nemesis only allows panning in either horizontal or vertical where both panning options are available, unlike in later games such as The Journeyman Project 3: Legacy of Time or Myst III: Exile. Furthermore, details were far more difficult to make out in the panoramic scenes than in the still screens; the sequel, Zork: Grand Inquisitor, made significant improvements to the Z-Vision system. Technical director Laird Malamed felt the game suffered from time constraints, saying that once the advanced game engine was completed, the team didn't have enough time left to implement anything more than simple control panel puzzles.
Like other adventure games of its time, Zork Nemesis made use of live actors. The game features a significant amount of screen-time for the actors, thanks to its use of flashbacks at key locations (or objects) and the use of monologues in which characters address the player explaining and justifying their actions.
The game's plot was written by Cecilia Barajas, Nick Sagan and Adam Simon and is a departure from the series usual comedic treatment in its games, by featuring a much darker and less humorous story than previous games. The budget of Zork Nemesis surpassed $3 million. The live-action scenes contributed to this cost, which ultimately rose to around USD$3.5 million. The game was heavily marketed, with an estimated $1 million spent on this aspect.
Zork Nemesis placed 10th on PC Data's monthly computer game sales chart for April 1996. It secured positions 12 and 11 the following two months, respectively. By November 1996, Zork Nemesis had sold above 100,000 units. According to Activision, strong sales of the game during the 1996 holiday shopping season contributed to high revenues in the company's third quarter, which increased 78% over the third quarter of 1995.
The game received "favorable" reviews according to the review aggregation website GameRankings. A Next Generation critic lambasted the puzzles, remarking that since the player's actions produce results which are illogical even in the context of a magical world, it is impossible to solve the puzzles by following any normal, rational train of thought. He also was critical of the lack of stylistic or continuity-based links to the rest of the Zork series, but was very impressed with the innovative sound and graphics technology demonstrated by the game engine.
Zork Nemesis won the 1996 Spotlight Award for "Best Prerendered Art" from the Game Developers Conference. It was also nominated for the 1996 "Adventure Game of the Year" awards of Computer Games Strategy Plus, PC Gamer US, CNET Gamecenter and Computer Game Entertainment, but these went variously to The Neverhood, The Beast Within: A Gabriel Knight Mystery and The Pandora Directive. The editors of PC Gamer US highlighted Nemesis's "charm and vitality", and called it "graphically gorgeous".
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