ZZT v3.2 (Registered)

Nov. 2, 1991
175.9 KB
158 / 162
4.60 / 5.00

Closer Look: City of ZZT

By: Dr. Dos
Date: June 19, 2017
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There's still one more path unexplored, the atrium to the east of the jail. This is a fun board where a single spinning gun fires bullets which bounce off ricochets all over the room creating chaos for the player who has to pick up the yellow keys in order to proceed.


The keys have to be carefully used as there are just enough to make a path through the doors to the next board.


I, of course, manage to misstep and open a wrong door. I also managed to not have saved during this board so I had to cheat my way through or do the entire thing again. I like this board a lot, but not so much that I want to do it immediately a second time!


My cheating is rewarded with 1000 points. The atrium is kind of garish looking, but the board works really well and is probably the best one seen so far. Or at least it would be if there was just a straight line of doors to open and not the extras that can make the game unwinnable without cheating.


Game #4 and there are still yellow borders. I'm kind of curious how early that stigma against them began. It sticks out like a sore thumb to me whenever I see them.

Aesthetics aside, "The Rat Race" is the last board on this eastern path, and it offers the unique reward of the only torches in the entire game. The way City relies on the use of things that aren't keys to give the player their markings of progress is a step towards a more robust ZZT. That torches of all things are hidden away stands out when later games would often shun dark rooms entirely. City may very well be the only ZZT game where the player will be excited to get torches.

The board is of course another action sequence consisting of collecting some yellow keys throughout a few different chambers in a somewhat mazelike environment. At this point I was stocked up enough on ammo that it was easy enough to shoot my way through, but a player that opted to head this way from the very beginning of the game would potentially enter with no ammunition. There's plenty provided on the board itself though, and I don't think it would be too much of a stretch to take it on from the start.


The board does have a few sort of traps, like these gems surrounded by bears. Like with the downtown area, you're better off shooting and destroying a few gems in order to not lose any health to a bear attack.


There's another little trap with this key as well. The only one to access it and the gems is to activate one of the bombs. The player will have to crush at least one gem to get inside, and then needs to move quickly if they want to collect the remaining gems before the bomb goes off and destroys them.


Everything else, is relatively straightforward. After collecting the torches the player has to backtrack out of what is most likely a very empty room. Town did a nicer job with preventing downtime like this by often arranging paths so that the last board winds up connecting to the first.


All that remains is exploring City Hall which actually makes up a large portion of the game. With the pass from the homeless person in the park the player can finally explore the area.


The clerk offers the player a choice of where they'd like to go. All the paths are available, but they can't all be opened at once. The clerk sends messages to the wall objects which open up a path or two at a time.


Our first destination is the executive washroom, a location of great historical significance to ZZT.


A flushing sound effect plays as the very first ZZT toilet makes its appearance. It all starts here.

There's a cyan door blocking the upper path, and cyan keys will come into play in city hall. I forgot about this one however, but it only leads to the other side of the bonus room from the jail where there are a few gems and another cyan key to replace the one used to access it.


Our second destination is the processing department, a location of great historical significance to ZZT.


Throughout the original ZZT series, objects have been pretty lightweight. Stores, signs, moving walls, and a simple dragon boss to name a few of their uses. Here however, Tim Sweeney peers into the future of ZZT and creates what would likely be considered the first ZZT engine.


Pressing the double exclamation point causes the walls surround the cyan object to slowly disappear. At this point the player can touch the arrow objects to remotely control the robot. Arrow shaped objects touched by the actual player in order to move another object are a core part of ZZT game design. Shmups, sidescrollers, racers, dungeon crawlers, and countless other types of games were made possible using the basic mechanics first demonstrated here.


Pressing the circle causes the robot to change to a smiley matching the player and adjusts the arrow objects to instead cause the robot to shoot bullets. Object bullets can't harm creatures so the centipede heads running around inside are just obstacles to get in the way.


They can however take out breakable walls just fine. The player needs to switch between shooting and movement (the lone right arrow below the circle for shooting) to blast open a container filled with boulders and blue keys, and then use the robot to push the keys through the conveyors in order to allow the player to collect them.


Since objects aren't pushable you can also move the robot into the control area, although there isn't much point to this!


With the three doors unlocked, a scroll warns that the player will need torches in order to survive the next room. Fortunately they've already been collected, but otherwise there would be a long walk to get them.


The dark room is filled with a lot of bears protecting a cyan key. It might not seem too bad, but there are some invisible walls in place which make it hard for the player to figure out when they're vulnerable to a bear moving towards them or not.


The text above the room says that the key is a key to the mayor's office. With torches it's not all that difficult to collect it, but going in blind would not be something the player would likely survive.


Each of the processing department is a storage room consisting of some supplies. The blue text at the bottom kind of gives the room a bit of a 3D effect, but I'd guess this is unintentional as there's nothing underneath the upper blue walls.


The scroll is blank. It's in storage after all.


Lastly, the player will need to take the elevator to the mayor's office.


The elevator is probably the most iconic board of City. Getting all of these objects moving together in sync like this was an impressive feat visually. This same board is also featured in the shareware ZZT's Tour world which showcases select boards from the registered titles.

This board is a wonderful example of style over substance. The player is forced to ride the elevator and has no control over its stops which are a preset route. They'll need to take the elevator to each of its stops to collect cyan keys, and use them to gain access to the mayor's office. This is a huge amount of waiting for the elevator, and if you miss your chance to board it can be a rather long wait to get back on again.

If you forget to use a cyan key before going to a different location from the elevator, you not only have to backtrack to use the key, but then have to get back to where you were in the first place. In practice, it's a lot easier to just ?ZAP your way through and destroy the elevator to gain free movement to each exit.


The mayor's office is well protected. Four cyan doors block access as well as a security mechanism that is set off when the player enters the screen. The blue sigma objects shoot bullets before disappearing, populating the main chamber with bullets which ricochet back and forth and have to be dodged by the player to make it across the room. In addition, there are two gates of sliders which can only be pushed aside by pushing in on all the boulders of this security system.


Without a second cyan key though, it's pointless to bother with any of that at this point.


The purple elevator passage leads to "The Spa". Here we have a puzzle where the player needs to ricochet bullets across the water and destroy the breakable walls so the sliders are moved out of the way of the path to the south.

This is made slightly more complex by the use of walls which can be moved by pressing the button near the passage. Most of the shots involve just tracing a path from the target backwards to find where the player should stand, with two exceptions. The first is the top left target by the "Trik" text. In order to hit this target the player has to time hitting the button again and essentially thread the needle before two of the walls would block the shot. The second is the middle right target which needs to be shot before going for the lower right one. The lower right target requires shooting through a breakable wall which frees a pusher and blocks access to the target above preventing the player from solving the puzzle if they go in the wrong order.

On the right side of the screen are some objects by the "Oof" text which simply shoot a new bullet south as they're all hit. This doesn't change how to hit the top right target at all, it just makes it a bit sillier.


The exit from the spa leads back to the elevator where the player can now obtain a cyan key for the mayor's office. You can also see my mangled elevator so I didn't have to ride it.


Back in the mayor's office I'm now ready to push all the boulders in place in order to open up the hall to the mayor.


A lot of these signs are redundant!


My next elevator trip is to the right exit which leads to the rest of the dark room accessed from the processing department earlier.


With the lights cheated off you can get a better idea of what the player is up against here. There are a lot of lions and a lot of boulders, with some bears for good measure. If you're daring you can try to just push a boulder in front of the player and dash down the hall without stopping to fight the enemies since any caught by the boulder will eventually be crushed when pressed against a wall.


I opted for something a little different this time, sealing off the passage completely and slowly pushing my way down without having to fight anything. The "Rodent's Revenge" strategy.


It worked pretty well, but since the hall does turn I couldn't use this method to clear the entire room safely. It was also kind of slow.


After getting past the lions and bears the player gets some respite by taking a transporter to a safe room with some gems before getting back into things and having to avoid tiger bullets that travel over water.


My boulder strategy was effective, but managed to make me run out of torches. City has no more to be obtained which could be a problem, but if you're not moving at a very tepid pace like I deliberately was, you'll find yourself with plenty of light for this one board that needs it.


After using the second key to get closer to the mayor's office, the next elevator path taken is the right passage. This leads to a room that's not themed after city hall at all and looks like a board you'd find in Dungeons more than City.

This room uses a fairly common setup in early ZZT worlds where in order to exit the room, the player needs to do something like defeat all the enemies or collect some items. Here the object blocking the exit requests that the player gets all the gems before they leave.

This room is full of ammo and the vast majority of the enemies are trapped in the smaller compartments until the player either picks up or shoots at the gems on their borders. If the player wants to play things safe they can eliminate the enemies on the outside first before taking on each compartment one by one.


As always its easy to just shoot through the gems and not have to worry about the risk of a nearby enemy. City has been pretty generous with gems given how many I've destroyed to avoid risking damage. We'll soon see why at least.


After completing that last room, the player can obtain their last key and finally pay a visit to the mayor.


The mayor is corrupt, if that's a surprise to anybody. This city is awful, but with an ID card and the train ticket from the ZZT Bandit's hideout the player can finally get out of the city. All those gems everywhere were to ensure the player would have enough to bribe the mayor and be able to finish the game.


There is one more thing to do before boarding the train. Shoot fourteen bullets to reduce my ammo.


nice. nice. nice.


Back at the train station it's time to say goodbye, not only to the city, but to ZZT itself. Though Tim Sweeney would create Super ZZT's "Lost Forest" and "Proving Grounds" worlds, this is the end of his work with ZZT itself.


There are no more purple keys to collect.


It's all over. The train slowly accelerates and the player is pushed along to the western exit.


It's a short commute.


A fellow passenger leads the way, guiding the player into "The ZZT Pub".



Final Thoughts

As far as the official ZZT worlds go, City shows a more clearly defined world than the overly abstract spaces of its predecessors. There's also a lot to say about its vastly expanded use of objects. They're put to use in a large number of boards and begin to show the sort of mechanics ZZT excels at with objects communicating with each other. At the same time, this ability is pretty heavily used just to make walls that move. They're even all the same character.

In addition, City starts to use ZZT's flag system much more heavily. I believe Town's only flag is the scepter in the castle. City uses ID cards, train tickets, and city hall passes. Again, all of these boil down to replacing keys with flags, but it's enough to get a sense that Tim was beginning to grasp what ZZT was capable of that wasn't coded into the executable directly.

It's also kind of fun! It doesn't feel as good to run through as Town, but it does offer some more traditional puzzles like maximum security and also action based ones like the atrium. You won't be using your head as much to get through City, but you won't be shooting your way to victory everywhere like Dungeons. City falls somewhere between Town and Dungeons which makes it the most accessible by never leaning towards action or puzzles as strong as those titles do.

The simplicity of its design can also be a mark against it as well however. City doesn't feel as iconic as Town. Its designs of city streets are some of the most lifeless you'll find in ZZT. The lack of colors or workarounds like using text to get dark colors with the space character or using fake walls to create something like a sidewalk path or lines in the road make the city feel empty. Town certainly doesn't look like a Town, but it didn't really seem like it was trying to be one. City's locations and writing make it seem like Tim wanted City of ZZT to be an actual city the player explores, but it lacks Town's colorful abstractness or later releases' willingness to exploit ZZT features like fake walls to better create environments. Fake walls are still hidden secrets in City, strictly used for their original purpose rather than repurposed by other ZZTers. City is an original world and you wouldn't mistake it for anything else. (Oaktown, which was previously covered, is an excellent example at designing a city in ZZT without the use of extended color support.)

So if you happen to play through the original ZZT worlds yourself, City won't be a showstopping finale. You'll get a fun game that will likely leaving wanting a little bit more. And the good news is once you're done all you have to do is press "E".

The Closer Looks series is a part of the Worlds of ZZT project, committed to the preservation of ZZT and its history.
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