Worlds of ZZT v3.56

Released
Oct. 4, 1991
Genre
Utility
Size
62.0 KB
Boards
30 / 30
Rating
No rating

Closer Look: ZZT's City + Interview With Stuart Hardwick

By: Dr. Dos
Date: Oct. 15, 2019
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So, obviously having a different name, we get a different title screen. The general layout remains the same with the parallelogram behind the text and all, but here there's an infestation of lions and tigers roaming around. City of ZZT is unique in that it's the only one of the four original worlds to be completely static on its title screen. Funnily enough, despite the words switching around between the two titles, "City" remains being made of yellow linewalls in both versions and the ZZT part is red in both as well. There's a typo here with "ZZT'z" in the bottom text and information on Softdisk rather than Epic or Potomac Computer Systems.

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Again, most differences are extremely minor, mostly pertaining to branding things with Softdisk, which marks the sole change here between City of ZZT's starting board.

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The Pawn Shop actually ends up holding something huge, though not immediately apparent. It's more insignificant changes, like the strange addition of a locked room with some lions (you can get a red key meant for the ZZT Bandit's hideout and open this door, breaking the game). ZZT's City has a definite lion problem, with the darn things scattered around in lots of places they aren't in City of ZZT, frequently in places where the player doesn't even get a chance to fight them. Other minor differences include the supplies that are locked away having multi-colored gems rather than just one color and clearing out some room so the lion inside can move around. Another change is that rather than have a solid background, it looks as if we're zoomed in, with a white sidewalk and the street outside visible in more detail than on the starting board.

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But it's the Broker where we get a revelation. I've done a Closer Look on City of ZZT before and pointed out a bug in the broker's advice. Purchase advice and 20 gems are correctly removed from the player's inventory.

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That brings up this list of questions. The money's already been taken and in a playthrough years before the creation of the Museum of ZZT site I had wondered if not picking a question would cause you to waste your money, or if there was code in place to refund it.

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Sure enough, the money is refunded, but you get more money back than you paid! My immediate assumption was that at some point Tim Sweeney adjusted the cost of the advice and forgot to update the refund amount. It would be a pretty simple oversight to make. Here's the thing though: ZZT's City gives you back 25 gems. City of ZZT gives you thirty. The "incorrect" value is uniquely wrong in both versions! Maybe you can say it's all circumstantial, but go back to the readme in the On Disk Monthly launcher and look closely:

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It is explicitly stated that you can cheat the Broker! This has to be a deliberate design decision whose specifics were modified for this version!

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The question however, is whose design is it. Did Hardwick catch the bug, and turn it into a feature? Or is this design Sweeney's own doing, and just a little too subtle to be treated as a deliberate feature? I'd put my money on the latter, and the next difference will be my justification. When I play City, I tend to start by heading west since there's a large pile of ammo there (already collected in the screenshot). This board is in fact not any different between versions, but it's necessary to show it to make the next change apparent.

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Downtown is almost entirely the same, and had my ZZT diff tool not highlighted it as being different I might have missed it entirely. I'm even stitching part of the previous board to the screenshot here to show it off. I'm talking of course, about the nice correct alignment of board exits. The leftmost and rightmost columns on both these boards line up properly, however in City of ZZT the northern exit of Downtown is just a little bit narrower, making it possible to not be able to move from the previous board to this one if you attempt to leave from certain tiles on the right side. It's a minor (albeit annoying) issue, but this being the only change to the board, and it not being in the 3.2 release of City would leave me to believe that it's an addition by the Softdisk team which obviously Sweeney wasn't using when making his own revisions. Had this change not been implemented, there'd be a lot more doubt as to whether the other changes were in the original release of City of ZZT, carried over into ZZT's City, and then removed for 3.2. The other changes are a bit more subjective as to which variation is the "better" one. Nobody's going to purposely break an exit and do nothing else to the board.

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This is the typical level of changes to expect in ZZT's City. Everything is identical save for a shout-out to On Disk Monthly in the corner. As long as I'm here, let me gush over the first purple button which makes several of the doors move and traps the player inside with it until they press it again. It's a perfect way to show the player they can interact with these buttons multiple times.

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The next area I explored was the jail. The puzzle of using boulders to push bombs in place is unchanged, but up ahead in the Maximum Security area we get a rather odd one.

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With all the empty space in the original board going to waste, an opportunity for some literal gallows humor was added. Linewalls as nooses is a tad morbid for classic ZZT, and a crowd of lions is penned in thanks to invisible walls in the bottom row where they aimlessly wander and I guess cheer at the deaths. Honestly, for early ZZT art it's not bad at all. There's also a sign for the mortuary, which isn't a location in either version.

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More text labels get added indicating an inaccessible museum which has a collection of rare nooses (I suppose that's what the previous room was), and rare moose(s). God that's such a stretch to make for a joke. Rhyming. The morbidity of the gallows and the non-joke here are the sort of things that would make me think "I get why these were removed" if I was still under the impression that these weren't additions for this version specifically.

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Fast forward again to City Hall, as the rest of the outer city portions to visit before the end of the game are all identical.

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An actual change! And it's another one on the level of Dr. Bob's Hideout.

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Yet more Softdisk/ODM plugs help break up the empty space.

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Here we do get some more interesting changes. The layout of the elevator is the same, but the colors change. Although we don't have registered copies of any version of ZZT earlier than 3.2, we do have copies of Tour that are included with shareware versions of ZZT to show off some boards from the registered worlds, and the elevator is one of them. In Tour, the elevator is branded with the old Potomac Computer Systems branding from a pre-Epic era. It's completely yellow rather than cyan, and also has enemies at each of the elevator's destinations. In 3.2's Elevator, the enemies are removed, the PCS branding remains (despite being published under Epic MegaGames), and the room is mostly yellow, with some cyan for the same cyan walls in the upper half of what you see in ZZT's City. So this one is a bit of a mystery as to exactly when the cyan was added. I have no idea what an old copy of City of ZZT would look like color-wise. Did Hardwick paint a yellow board cyan only for Sweeney to later adapt the mix of color? Was it already in it's yellow and cyan finalized state with the edit being to make the whole board cyan? Somebody find a registered copy of ZZT 2.0 please. Thanks.

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The rest of City Hall remains unchanged. The player collects a bunch of cyan keys, bribes the mayor, and gets an ID card needed to travel by rail.

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The train station is no different either. The game is over, and the only thing left to explore is the ending.

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The ending is visually different. You and the person from the train still walk to the pub, but it's a bit gloomier. The background has been mostly erased. A fence is erected around the pub, and yet more wild lions prowl around the premises. More odd are the sharks. They're not in water so they remain perfectly still. Should the blue here be interpreted as water? Should the black in the corner? Heck, are we supposed to see the sharks as sharks even? Let's go to the pub and have a drink.

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The pub is more detailed! There are as-primitive-as-it-gets tables rather than an empty room. Signs in the corners advertise soda and what I assume is supposed to be beer but it's also a ZZT world so there may be bears there.

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This final change is such a fun one though. In City of ZZT the text ends with the passenger offering to buy the player a drink. Instead we get one last look at the types of shady people who live in the city as we learn they stole a wallet. The player shuts them up and the passenger suggests partying together. The promo material says "romance" so it's absolutely got to be this person the player meets on the train who offers to buy drinks and then party together with. It's a valid ship.

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Oh, and a high score file is included with a single entry. Whether this came on the disk or the disk had been modified by the original owner before it was uploaded is yet another mystery that won't be solved anytime soon.

ZZT's City was a rather cool find, and of course once it was found, some digging was done to see if we could get in touch with the editor listed in this version of ZZT's credits. Fortunately it was a pretty easy search, and it didn't take long to discover that Stuart (as he goes by) Hardwick is still around as a science-fiction author that mentions his time at Softdisk as part of his online resume. I got in touch with him via Twitter and asked him a few questions which he was happy to do his best to recollect some answers for!

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