When you're making your very first game, it can be quite difficult to know where to start and what to do. In 1996, ZZT was at a turning point. The early days of kids uploading games to AOL file archives or BBSes often in isolation from other ZZTers had passed, and the community was there with its own IRC channels and forums. The community was solidifying, and with it came standards and expectations of what makes a ZZT world "good" or "bad". Super Tool Kit was going from novelty to necessity, with special colors becoming the norm. Games without it were beginning to feel older and downloading STK or an early toolkit was essential to producing games that would get noticed. But there's more to a good ZZT game than purple ammo or dark brown caves. You didn't just need to know the available tools, but how to use them wisely.
Barjesse was here to tell the community how to do that, with ZZT Syndrome, which became a staple on any list of worlds to play for new ZZTers to learn the ropes of the engine just as much as Alexis Janson's STK. Playing it today, you have to wonder how game design advice that's more than 20 years old holds up today. It's easy to go in expecting a basic like list of dos and don'ts that are entirely the author's personal opinions, but Barjesse honestly does a pretty good job of identifying flaws that plagued many ZZT worlds, and by giving a vocabulary to describe them, made it that much easier for people to avoid them or call them out when they encountered these syndromes in other worlds.
Follow the path north. I will demonstrate
some of the more common ZZT Syndromes that
plague ZZT games, gamers and players.
These Syndromes are conditions which, if
they persist through a large part of any
one adventure, become tedious. Or boring.
Or frustrating. Or unbearable.
In short, these are the things that may
cause someone to quit halfway through
your carefully constructed adventure.
I have given these conditions names, thus
coming up with the list of ZZT Syndromes.
• • • • • • • • •
As I mentioned, this path demonstrates
Syndromes that are not necessarily fatal
to your adventure. Instead, they will
(at worst) annoy the player and (on
occasion) discourage them from downloading
any more of your creations.
another over there, then you're alright.
You will notice two major similarities
amongst the next few boards, and they
demonstrate the first two of our non-fatal
• • • • • • • • •
Behold the Big-pile-of-monsters Syndrome.
It's often found combined with the Big-
empty-room Syndrome. This syndrome is
especially self-explanitory -- it is a
frequent reccurance of boards with a big
pile of monsters in the middle.
the adventure doesn't suffer from Not-
enough-ammo Syndrome. Finish off the
monsters. Go to the next board. Start
the routine all over again.
It can make action boring. Shooting fish
in a barrel isn't really fun -- even if
the fish are trying to kill you.
Have you ever felt like you've just GOT to
put something in every part of the screen?
You've got to use all that space -- even
if just to be efficient or economical or
for no good reason at all?
Let me reassure you -- feel free to waste
space on any given screen: There's plenty
more where that came from. Use creative
contours to shape your screens and your
world, like those seen on the next screen.
This board demonstrates Creative Contours,
a solution to Big-empty-room Syndrome and
The idea is to give the board some shape.
A huge rectangle is mind-numbingly boring.
To see a marvel in creative contours,
download and wander around "Pirate Perils"
• • • • • • • • •
One-way-board Syndrome is a condition in
which the designer of the adventure failed
to complete all the board connections.
Consequently, sometimes you can move from
screen A to screen B, but you CAN'T GET
BACK! This can range from extremely
frustrating to fatal. It becomes fatal
when it stops the player from winning the
game. (Talk about a structural flaw!)
To demonstrate, take a quick look at the
boards set up just north of this one.