Where can I get Oaktown?
Published Under: Pacific Systems
Released: Sep. 11, 1993
Today's game is Oaktown, a 1993 release by Shaun Taylor and Brian Keeler, a game selected based entirely on the Museum of ZZT's file viewer. When working on the site, most of the time I can just pick a world at random to use when testing the file viewer, which means picking a letter and choosing a game. Taylor and Keeler's Oaktown just so happens to be the first game listed under the letter O, and when I was browsing through its boards it looked like I had found a ZZT game which looked like it would be a lot of fun to play through.
It looked very traditional: explore various areas of a town, collect a few keys, and escape the town via the airport or something. The town itself had a lot of charm, and I just really wanted to play it.
And you know what? Oaktown really does have a lot of charm! Its a really fun world to explore for awhile. It has charm, but it does not have ammo. It does not have health. Oaktown starts off at its peak and only sinks lower and lower in quality as you try to play it. By the end I just wanted it to be over.
So let's take a look at what OakTown does right, and how its flaws drag down what would likely otherwise have been an early classic of ZZT.
The world's title screen takes an interesting approach. Most ZZTers would promptly erase ZZT's yellow borders placed on each new board. Newer creators might leave them behind, but Oaktown leans into it. The borders are made thicker on the sides, committing to them. With the yellow border I'd expect nothing from this game, but just by thickening some walls, the expectations for the game go up.
The title itself shows a nice city skyline in breakables, and conveyors below rotate gems along a path giving the appearance of flashy lights you'd find on an old-timey Las Vegas sign. It looks pretty nice in motion.
The game's authors are two friends who made this game together, and thus created "Pacific Systems". The game is also considered the first episode out of three, following a typical shareware model. The other two episodes aren't on any archives, and who knows if they even actually exist. Oaktown is the only known release by these two or Pacific Systems.
So it is your job as the player to explore
Oaktown, and track down Brian, find out
what he's done wrong! Remember, everyone's
counting on you!
If you like Oaktown 1: In Search of Brian,
then write to Pacific Systems at:
16330 S McKinley
Lathrop, CA 95330
To register Oaktown, send $10, payable to
Shaun Taylor (no credit cards, please!).
By registering Oaktown, you will receive
Oaktown 2: The Chase, and Oaktown 3:
The Final Frontier. Plus, you will
be placed on a mailing list for any new
and exciting games coming your way from
Pacific Systems! ZZT is only a beginning,
and I am beginning to expand. What does
the future hold for PS? Who knows at this
Thank you for taking the time to read
• • • • • • • • •
Oaktown opens with a blend of plot and information on the game's authors. The story is pretty vague, one of the game's programmers has gone rogue and is messing things up in the town. Unlike Town of ZZT, there's no explicit goal of collecting keys or anything, just a plea to find Brian who could be anywhere.
The starting board uses its otherwise unneeded space to give the player some advice and show off the game's name in large letters. It's a bit like what would be done by Aceland the following year with its hybrid boards of art and gameplay.
In an unexpected twist, the toilet can't be used!
The player has an ill-trained dog moving around in the laundry room. Searching the dryer gives a few gems as loose change. More gems can be found by rummaging through the couch cushions in the player's living room.
There's no television, but there is a stereo system which offers two songs to listen to, both of which are taken straight from Tim Sweeney's original worlds.
The fridge is full of rotten food, which will take away health when the player opts to eat any of it.
Except for the bran muffin which induces the need for a bowel movement.
Toilet puzzle solved. This game makes you work for it.
Out in the hallway, Zeke, the rock and roll loving stoner(?) informs the player of the mayor's decree preventing travel outside of town. Perhaps this is the work of Brian?
Stepping outside onto the streets of Oaktown, the game's visuals start off strong. Numerous colorful buildings line the street, all of different heights and using simple shading to give them an effective sense of depth.
The sidewalks are made of breakable walls (and the player can't shoot on these town boards), which gives Taylor and Keeler the opportunity to have doors on buildings look consistent, with their accessibility being what determines which buildings can be entered vs which are just for decoration.
The streets have life, with some street dancers and a boombox outside, but also other objects which are people going about their business who will walk to the edge of a screen and disappear, making a trip to somewhere else in town. It breathes a lot of life into Oaktown, which is especially necessary for a town of its size.
The dancers will perform for the player for a gem, but can also be attacked if the player wants to be a jerk. Punching the bro results in the two dancers attacking the player for a bit, but no lasting repercussions
Paying for the dance results in the cyan dancer moving around in a plus shape, and some more music made with ZZT's "drum" sound effects. The player is also given a password, though for what exactly is currently unknown.
Down the road is city hall, where the person from the previous board walks past the guards and into the building.
The player unfortunately can't enter the building, and needs to find an alternative entrance to city hall.
The center of Oaktown is packed with buildings, two of which are stores the player can enter to buy supplies. These stores share a board, which comes off looking pretty sparse.
The prices are... not good. And the ammo dealer is overcharging us! A lot of money will be spent in these stores throughout the game, and every gem that can be scrounged up is essential.
To the west is the Oak Zoo. Oaktown offers some player freedom in which areas they'd like to explore in which order, but unlike Town of ZZT, it opts for fewer locations with larger paths.
The vast majority of ZZT's enemies being animals means zoos are a common location in early ZZT games which still relied on them for their action scenes.
It costs five gems to take a tour of the zoo and good god is this board visually noisy! Bears, boulders, sliders, ammo, gems, all strewn about everywhere. Bears in ZZT don't move until the player is with a certain distance of them, which makes them typically the easiest enemy to fight. It's a good thing too since my ammo is so limited.
Getting through most of the room clears out a lot of the visual clutter. Past a certain point the player gets cut off from the left half of the room and locked in the right. The second passage towards the middle of the screen actually leads to this same board and is used as a crude checkpoint.
ZZT offers a board property that the editor labels as "Re-enter when zapped". When set to yes, if the player takes damage by bullet or creature, they're warped back to the tile they entered the room on. This second passage updates those coordinates to the new passage's location preventing the player from having to traverse the entire board again.
And it's a good thing it's here, since there's a duplicator creating more bears. The more time spent wandering cleared sections of the maze, the more bears can be spawned.
This part here is just cruel. There are no other false gems like this in the game either. The only way you'd be able to identify a gem was actually an object like this would be if there was a boulder or slider to push it with, since the only alternative is that if you shoot a gem it will be destroyed.
The board ends with the tour guide warning about the next board being full of lions instead.
I'm a big fan of the TOURISTs CAGE. The good news here is that most of the lions on this board are just objects. Some are chasing around the other tourists, and after shooting them leads to this incredible dialog:
I'm pretty sure this is a Dril tweet circa 1993.
Another human in the cage is Shaun Taylor, one of the game's programmers. He reiterates the goal of finding Brian, but offers no advice on how to actually go about it.
But you darn well better agree to help out lest you get this amazing advice and an instant game over!
The last person in the cage will give you the key to escape it and explore the lion village.
Some of the lions are spectating the cages, turning it into a zoo of their own.
Oaktown gives the player a lot of opportunities to be violent towards random objects, and it never ends well. Asking to learn from him gives the player a quest to obtain a "Mystical Torch" in order to leave the lion's realm.
Oaktown has a few moral choices like this one throughout the game. The player can steal some gems and they will get away with it, but they'll lose points for doing so. Meanwhile, if they act responsibly, they'll receive bonus points instead.
A few other lions add some flavor the environment and they do a good job of it.
There's a restaurant selling some meat the player can use to regain 16 health, which at 4 gems is a decent enough price. Pond water however is dirty and results in the player losing a single point of health.
Lastly there's a shooting range that the player can either buy ammo from or play a simple minigame to try and get more gems.
The shooting gallery features a target that moves up and down in a set pattern. The timing is unfortunately rather precise, and the reward for a hit is only a single gem. Missing the target instantly ends the minigame until more money is paid.
Even if a player can reliably shoot the target, the rewards are too small to be worthwhile. You're still consuming ammo so even after breaking even in gems, you still need to spend money to replenish the ammo it took to hit the target in the first place. In fact, more than 20 hits on the target are needed to turn a profit of a single ammo.
And you'll need 20 gems to be able to proceed with the game.
This dark room is a long winding path to get the Mystical Torch. There's not much to it, but I did manage to run out of ammo three-quarters through and have to run back through the dark to buy more.
The lack of ammo is already hurting this game, but it was still early enough that I could brush it off as me not having been expected to enter the zoo first. Still poor design, but design that could be worked around by having picked a different location to explore first.
With the torch obtained, the player can return it to the
king of red lions ruler of the lions and procure an exit to the next zoo
exhibit, but there's still an unexplored treasure room to pillage.
The treasure room is another action board, though one that is optional. With how starved I am for resources, it looked like I'd be able to get through it with more ammo than I started with at the very least.
Immediately the player need to run through a gauntlet of spinning guns, and there's nothing the player can do but hope for good luck getting through unscathed as there are no safe tiles to stand on that aren't being shot at by a gun.
From there the player will have to run a short relay to some buttons to open up further passage through the treasure room, keeping in mind that there are three duplicators on screen producing more and more lions as time goes on.
There's also this guy who starts talking about how he likes cats.
It uh, takes a rather unexpected turn.
Once in the main portion of the room it becomes a test of the player's ability to hit lions without wasting too much ammo in the process. Eventually the player will make it into the treasure room and be able to pick up the supplies as well as a bonus of 40 gems from the lion's treasure.
It's still not over however, as the player will need to backtrack through the room again.
And that didn't pay off at all. I left the treasure room with one fewer ammo than I started with, and with nearly 200 health fewer than before.
Next up is the snake cage. The lion doesn't say anything when you present him with the torch, just quietly opens up the door to the next room.
The snake cage is the final section of the zoo and is officially where my playthrough fell apart completely. It's another maze, with another person who talks about snakes the same way that guy from earlier talking about lions.
Despite my best efforts, it became clear that I did not have the resources needed to get through the board without cheating. The big boa was too big to shoot and too long to take a bunch of damage to get through.
The room is a single tile wide, ensuring that every snake meant taking 10 points of damage. Duplicators meant that there was simply not enough ammo to get through.
I gave in and zapped straight to the exit bypassing the rest of the screen entirely.
And just like that, the player is unceremoniously dumped back outside of the zoo. (Okay, turns out there's a gem that turns into a key in there that I missed, but at first I was unsure if the entire zoo was optional. After all, I had no guidance other than "find Brian" and now I've learned he's not in the zoo.)
In the southwest corner of Oaktown is the airport, with its very tiny little runway. The player can't yet enter, for reasons unstated and on par with a Pokémon game for roadblocks.
The southernmost section of town has nothing of interest but a locked gate. The player won't be leaving town anytime soon while the mayor has forbid it.
On the center right screen (I went back to the center to spend my gems on supplies), is the town bar and part of an American football field. The two objects out on the field will shoot a ball back and forth at each other for a fun little detail.
The bar is a private club, and requires the password provided by the dancers from earlier to be let in.
Lending the drunk some money foreshadows that the park won't be any better for supplies than the zoo was. Things aren't looking good for my enjoyment of Oaktown.
The bar offers a few items, beer will restore 1 health for _three_ gems, (The bartender cites a tax on beer,) a meal will restore 4, and beernuts are just a waste of money.
The bar's other patrons are just for flavor.
In the top right corner of the bar is a pay phone! The first time the player interacts with it they'll find a gem in the coin return and make the first call for free, but if they want to see the others they'll each cost a gem.
They're all of course basic crank calls for Stu Piddiot, Hugh Jass, and Isabelle Ringing. Thankfully the bartender never makes the connection that the call is coming from inside the bar.
So the bar ultimately serves as a third store to purchase health from, but there aren't nearly enough gems to go around for the supplies the player will need to complete Oaktown without cheating.
The northeast corner of town contains a really fun sequence with these two neighboring buildings.
The savings and loan has been closed down and the security system is broken...
The ACME co. warehouse meanwhile is full of ruffians, some ammo, and a very convenient bomb.
I expected the explosion to just wipe out a huge chunk of the wall since it all appeared to be made of breakables, but most of it is an object. There is consistency in the breakables representing the tops of the walls being replaced with solids are the player is now seeing the sides. It's a mix of good detail work but also creates the appearance of a perfectly clean break in the wall from the explosion.
Though the bank's electronic security system's wall blinks on and off, the tigers seem to be working just fine.
At least until ZZT's glitch with blink walls mangles things.
The player is free to rob the bank and gets a decent amount of money from their crimes.
The final corner of town consists of the rest of the town's football field and entrances to its lake and park.
The lake is locked away behind two doors, one from the zoo which has been skipped so far, and the other to be obtained in the Oaktown park. There's also a slime sewer with a release lever that hopefully nobody will pull because that would be awful.
With no place left to go, it's time to check out Oak Park, a massive series of dark rooms.