It's April! That means I'm legally permitted to play games that aren't actually ZZT games! Really I should allow Super ZZT worlds at any time as well. It's certainly close enough.
Previously, the only Super ZZT world that's been covered was the official Monster Zoo world via a livestream. There's a few reasons for this. First, Super ZZT has boards larger than the game's visible screen, which makes it a bit more difficult to get pleasant looking still images. Second, Super ZZT has roughly 30 total worlds made for it. The Monster Zoo video goes into more detail as to why Super ZZT never took off, but in short:
- Super ZZT's editor was hidden behind a command line switch
- Despite having much larger boards, the maximum number of boards was reduced
- Despite having much larger boards, the maximum number of stat elements remains the same
- It feels very incomplete! The editor offers several new enemies that don't actually do anything in game.
It's kind of a mess, but just as ZZT has its own set of limitations which tailor how games are made for it, Super ZZT has its own unique limits. You wouldn't be able to easily adapt a game made for one engine to another without losing a lot of what make those games work in the first place.
With that said, I took a look at the various Super ZZT worlds available, and decided on Chris Jong's War of ZZT. Jong is a name that shows up a lot in ZZT's early days, with nearly a dozen titles released in 1992 alone. He also made the excellent classic adventure The Lost Monkeys and that's what definitely pushed me over the edge. I went in with some high hopes for a game I never heard of and knew nothing about!
Like nearly all Super ZZT worlds, the title screen is created by placing the player on Super ZZT's new directional water which automatically carries the player along. This would serve as an overview for the game, but as you'll soon discover, it's not particularly accurate. I do love the sort of pirate looking guy with a big dagger. They're clearly prepared for the War of ZZT!
The war begins... at school?
There are a lot of people roaming the halls and a whole bunch of lockers. It's very loaded with a lot of things to explore right away, although from the introduction and game title, I feel like this is the high school AU fanfic of War of ZZT rather than the correct game.
The first person I talk to turns out to be one of the teachers, who I immediately rebel against by defying their authority.
This results in an instant game over. You are powerless in this school.
Exploring my options, I receive some stolen goods, annoy some students, and eat a tasty apple. Later on this game will offer a lot of choices on these sort of things rather than just deciding for the player, and you can gain or lose points depending on whether or not you do the right thing.
Next to some of the lockers which connect to the rest of the school's halls are a gem and some ammo. One of the lessons Tim Sweeney learned from ZZT when making Super ZZT was a better balancing of resources. Ammo gives ten shots rather than five, reducing the need for piles of ammo or having to use objects to give supplies. Likewise, gems now restore ten health. This is a welcome change, though ironically now gems go from being good for currency but bad for restoring health to the opposite. You'd definitely want to use objects for giving out gems as currency now that they have such a huge effect on the player's health.
So I'm not going to get too heavily into it, but needless to say, the prospect of bringing guns to school hasn't aged very well, and makes this game from 1992 feel kind of chilling giving when this is being written. Of course, how things are portrayed can really make a difference, as our protagonist collects the ammo for their own gun which they too have brought with them. When the protagonist does it, it's because they're the hero of a ZZT world, and guns are pretty much expected.
Speaking of being made in 1992...
Inside the room, things get pretty abstract. Sierra land, which I could only guess was the same Sierra behind games like the King's Quest series, is blocked off. I don't know what Sierra land is doing in a room in a high school.
Touching the one odd barrier removes it, giving the player a new and strange place to explore. So far, other than the water, this game could very easily have been made in regular ZZT.
The water current wraps around the room, funneling the player to this one lone object off to the side.
It's Larry from Sierra's Leisure Suit Larry series! He's cruising for chicks as usual. Just, at a high school.
Telling him that you're Bart Simpson will get a response of being told to eat his shorts.
Back in 1992, the best source for information on new video games in development was fan made Super ZZT worlds who had zero affiliation to the company that was making them. Larry 6 (the fifth game in the series) did come out the very next year though!
Then there's this jerk.
And also Roger Wilco. Jong was very clearly into Sierra adventure games at the time.
The last person to talk with is the tour guide in the middle of the room. They're a generic character and also excited about Sierra games, stating that other Sierra characters couldn't appear because they're all working on new games.
Back outside and entering one of the other open classrooms, the player can check out some science projects the students made. This is not much of a war here.
The science teacher is nice enough to not instantly kill the player at least. Instead, they give a single trivia question. Jan Hammer is a good name.
Answering incorrectly results in losing two gems, but the gems are only useful in one place which contains all the gems needed save for one, so it doesn't matter much. Naming Tim Sweeney gives the player fifty points.
The first experiment is a fan blowing stuff around? In Super ZZT terms it's just a pair of conveyors which will spin endlessly. They didn't push the player around when I got next to them which really confused me until I realized it's because fake walls block things from pushing.
The second experiment seeks to answer the age old question of whether or not worms prefer to eat apples or oranges.
The last experiment are some musical keys. The player can listen to a few random notes if they'd like.
The white key is free to take, but the purple one is off limits for some reason.
Back in the hallway, there's this student, whose locker was raided earlier for ammunition. They'll begin to attack, wandering aimlessly and shooting towards the player if aligned. It takes 3 shots to cause them to turn into a gem. You can also just not engage and skip having to deal with this sort of thing in a Super ZZT game.
There's also this locker whose combination can be guessed once. It's filled with fruit and money.
You can also dunk on this small child and gain five dollars, but lose ten score for being a jerk. Despite the ten dollars from a moment ago being translated as score, here there is nothing for the five bucks at all. Your score decreases by ten and that's it. It's like there's a lesson to be learned or something.
A locker reminding you of the importance of registering your copy of ZZT and Super ZZT.
outside of the school is the pool which pushes the player around wildly, which for as few Super ZZT games as there are, is something seen in a few other Super ZZT worlds as well.
Dropped near the pool is a whole dollar. This one is worth fifty points compared to the ten dollars in the earlier locker which were one hundred points. No consistency!
Swimming in the pool isn't just a fun way to watch the player move around for a few seconds, but is in fact the entrance to a secret area! This is actually the bottom right corner of the board visible here, and all it amounts to is four gems.
There's not a whole lot of the school remaining, just a garden and some bullies committing the crime of loitering.
The gang will get hostile if the player keeps bugging them, but they give a warning to the player not to mess with them the first time they talk. Telling the leader to get out is of course another game over.
The writing in this game is very poor, and while The Lost Monkeys wasn't exactly stellar either, there's definitely a big leap in quality between the two titles.
The player can eat eat eat some apples and bananas from the garden for some more points. I wonder if this school was modeled after Jong's, as the outside seems to have some oddly specific features, but at the same time the interior seems way too small to be based on an actual school.
There's this one last alcove to explore by using the key from the science project. It's got a thankfully non-murderous teacher, a lot of gems, and a key to one of the other classrooms.
Also the marching band is gonna be pissed.
There's just one last passage to explore.
Oh yeah, remember how this game is called War of ZZT? Suddenly, all that school stuff is thrown out the window and the game becomes something a bit more like the official Super ZZT worlds.