From modern times, to pirate times, to tribal times. By chapter three of 4's four chapters (now the name makes sense) you might try to figure out what's going on. The best I could come up with, was that these gems were letting us see the player's past lives? Each one goes back farther in time after all, but really it's all conjecture because there's nothing offered to explain things until the ending.
Now the player is the hut dwelling native a pirate would be mad about existing.
Looking around the room gives some actual purpose for why they would be going out and doing their adventure game puzzles in the first place.
On the right side of the room is a weirdly shaped something or other which turns out to be a pouch with a digging tool inside to collect.
The forest looks like it's just a transition board, but as I had to discover later, that one solid patch of dirt can be interacted with to dig. So I guess this game still does have pixel hunts.
Now we go from a sea faring pirate's yearning for a life of sailing to some faux mysticism.
Expect a lot of praising of spirits and guardians and being communal with nature for this chapter. On the shore of the spring there's a scroll to collect that looks like it has writing done by the spirits. They're pretty literal. Pun not intended.
One of the board's exits is to dive into the spring. There's nothing in there save for a single fish, and a missed opportunity. Here the single object representation works fine, and there's a chance to add some much need interactivity to the world by having the fish swim around and require the player catch it with the cursor to interact with! Alas it just sits still and waits for the player to examine it.
Pocket full of dead fish.
There's a lot more abandoning of the requirement that things in a scene should be large and not a single object. Here in the clearing is a bush represented with the club character that you'd see represent a bush in dozens of other ZZT worlds. Contrast this with the park from the first chapter where you had to pluck off a rose from a bush. That level of detail being visible is intended to be the main benefit of using this sort of engine to present the game, and it's just casually being thrown out more and more often.
Inside the shrub/tree is a tiny deer sculpture, ripe for collecting.
There's a tomb that the player's culture would forbid him from entering. It probably has a pedestal inside. This board has a whopping three things to examine, all the decorative markings on top of the tomb.
So the player needs to make three offerings in order to be welcomed by the spirits of the tomb. There's still one more item to collect since I didn't realize there was a patch of dirt that could be examined in the forest from earlier.
With the tooth, it's time to go inside and hunt down the next gem and pedestal for it.
After making the necessary offerings, the player can enter and get this dungeon crawler looking screen. There's a hole that's too dark to see inside and a few exits to take.
One route is blocked off by a cave in caused by angry spirits. Always make an offering before you enter. Anyway there's a key in the rubble and probably a skeleton if you could dig around.
Four pillars! Wow!
Actually going into a burial chamber like this is pretty neat.
The key is of course for unlocking the coffin.
Likely due to a bug, at some point this torch on the ground turned into a circle character instead. I think something similar happened with the plank back on the pirate ship.
This is pretty wild honestly. It's also the real most minimal board in the game, but it makes sense for it to be.
Frame this scroll.
Speaking of scrolls, reading the one found by the spring opens up another area to explore.
Here's our gem room, but no gem yet.
I also accidentally shot to the right and brought up this area's map. I forgot that was a feature because it's not used in chapter two at all and you don't pick up a map in chapter three.
Well there's the gem. The torch immediately goes out as well, maybe to justify the coffin being dark? Of course, you can go into the coffin with it just fine if you do things in that order.
On to the final chapter. Now you are a cave man.
Credit where it's due, I'm just now realizing that all four chapters begin with you in your home.
Get ready for lots of cave man talk like this. Somehow, this chapter is the most dialog heavy of them all.
Again the objects become tiny. The last chapter had a big pouch hanging on the wall, but here we just get this dinky looking club.
I'm glad there's a specific message for trying to take the fire.
Is there anything in this chapter you can interact with that isn't a single object? In this case there's some dead animal on the path whose carcass is rotting. It's stuck to the ground and can't be collected just yet.
The bear flats continue the trend by offering a single bear tooth to collect.
The cliff here is probably the nicest looking scene. Again, no sky though. On top of the cliff is an unlit pile of kindle. Out in the distance on the river is a beaver (I assume) dam. This board is also guilty of using single objects for things, but it works well with the dam off in the distance, and also makes this board benefit from the first person perspective compared to a traditional ZZT game by letting the player look at what would be background.
At this point the game just looks like a cropped board of a regular ZZT game. This is exactly how you'd portray a river with a tree by it in general.
The tiny tree can be beaten a bit with the club for a sharp mineral. This will be useful no doubt. Like every other item, it seems once you use it once it's gone forever. It might have been nice to hang on to more stuff and possibly have items serve more than one purpose. As it is, 4 is basically just locks and keys for progression.
Well, the unseen museum employee was clever, but we're back to plain old smiley faces to talk to now.
One tooth for one fur. I think this trade heavily favored Ug.
And then right back to using people on the other side of doors to avoid smiley faces. Guess what we're going to do now?
Destroy one of our items to acquire a new one. That's right.
In exchange, the player gets a raft to ride down the river on. The lack of a background really hurts here as at first I thought this was a view of the side of the river rather than realizing the brown is a dam blocking it. It's not something I'd have understood were it not for the room description. I also got very stuck by this point since there was a locked exit but nothing on the board that the cursor could interact with.
Heading back upstream I figured I could light the soaked fur which turned it into a torch.
The torch can be used to light a fire which quickly burns out and reveals a hidden gem. So there's that, but there's still the issue of getting past the dam and to wherever the next gem altar would be.
I got stuck at this point unable to figure out what I was missing to proceed and worried the game was just bugged, but no, you can proceed.
You just chuck a rock off a cliff and destroy a dam with it! Obviously.
Pictured: The dam. Smashed to pieces.
The worst puzzle was at least the final one. This chapter is over. Do you know what this game is about yet? What the player was doing? Why they were doing it? All will be explained in just a moment.
Haha alright sure. The player is a "Soul Jumper" that occupies the bodies of people and fights "Soul Killers" who want evil souls to rule... and this is complete nonsense.
Thank you for playing 4, this game took
alot of time to complete, not because it
is big just because of out of my control
Programming, Art, Music, Story
What would I do in this community without
the talks we have, my games usually
arise from them!
We will rule the world someday..
Yes you left Lame Game but you helped me
make some decisions I had to make and
have always been a good friend.
No I am not a Purple Ape.
You support my programming ways, though
you have questionable feelings about
Lame Game, your still neato.
I mean come on, what would we do without
You and Ringworm pull out some neat games
regardless of the belief of some..
Cause I am jo.
Look out for Soul Jumper/Soul Killer
next in this series, but I don't know
when. River City 2, Gems and Pipes V2,
and the Road of Flames.
With that out of the way I have a little
to say about stuff, (oh no close the
text box now)
Lame Game has been taking quite a few
blows lately and for a little time I was
being swayed by them, then I remembered
the truth. Lame Game made me a member
before I even made River city, that's
right, my total newbie days. I had nothing
to show my talent yet they still let me
join. When my zzt skills got better other
companies started to give me offers of
membership, but I remember back to my
newbie days. Lame Game is more then a
company it is a democratic group of people
no one is president really and everyones
opinion matters. A person only gets in if
all members say they should. and it works
well, we get newbies with talent like me
and legends like Zenith and Viovis for a
time. It doesn't matter if they leave
because we are just happy that they
thought enough to come. Sure it's not like
we wanted them to leave but we aren't
angry. This is the info I've gotten from
various members and this is the reason
I stay with Lame Game.
Thank You and Good Night.
• • • • • • • • •
And that's the end of it. As usual there's a setup for a sequel that never happened. There's a nice little ramble about being honored to be a part of the ZZT company Lame Game, and the game ends without a game over.
Final Thoughts4 won itself an award back when it was released and it goes to show you how far a unique engine could carry you back in 2001. Jojoisjo wasn't the most prominent name in ZZT, but he had a handful of titles under his belt, and would release one more title, Rebirth: The Uprising which also found success with winning a MadTom's Pick award. In the end though, 4 is an experience very easily forgotten. The engine never feels like it's used to its full potential, and by the time you complete the first chapter you've really gotten everything out of it you're going to get. The only motivation to continue is to maybe figure out why you're jumping in space and time, but even that couldn't keep me interested by the end.
The engine is solid, if quite limited graphically. It's definitely slow to work with though, and ZZT's mouse controls are clunky enough that it doesn't feel smooth to actually control the cursor with it. The obvious solution would be to adjust the game speed, but sometime in the second chapter I actually tried that, only to find that this causes issues where after every command, the default "that didn't work" message would pop up, which was a rather frustrating way to keep playing. If the game could handle faster speeds I think it would be a lot more approachable. A ton of time is spent in this game moving the cursor or the actual player to something, and even with the small window size it still feels very tedious.
The graphics are all over the place. So many empty voids that feel incomplete, and then a handful which do a lot with the restrictions the game requires. The game's writing is pretty lousy. You will not become invested in any of these characters you control or the few people you get to interact with. The puzzles are all mostly quite obvious, with the most confusion (until that final dam puzzle) coming from finding a conspicuous tile somewhere or perhaps wondering if the relic or ring should let you into the back room of the museum.
The two reviews for the game share these complaints giving the game a 2.25/5.00 rating. "An engine in search of a game" is how JohnWWells put it, and it's an apt description. 4 isn't a case of a mediocre ZZT game where you can see how it can be improved today, it's a mediocre ZZT game where the flaws are very apparent and its success comes from having been released at the right time to win a game of the month award by having an interesting engine to mess around with.
I'd honestly advise staying away from 4. It's a tech demo that tries to stretch itself into something more and just can't cut it. The engine is novel, but visual tricks aren't enough to support what's actually here.
The Worlds of ZZT project is committed to the preservation of ZZT and its history.
This article was produced thanks to supporters on Patreon.Support Worlds of ZZT on Patreon!