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Closer Look: Demos Without Finished Games

By: Dr. Dos
Date: June 15, 2020
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Wanting to do something a little different than the regular "pick a world and go", and having really enjoyed the last time I did a multi-game article with Six Games With Six Boards, I decided to return to the idea of covering several small games. This time we'll be taking a look at a lot of demos for ZZT worlds whose full game was never released.

Unsurprisingly there are a massive number of demos out there. It was an easy way to get some attention towards a game in progress, and hopefully with a little positive feedback on the demo, a boost of motivation to see the game through to completion. This is of course ZZT we're talking about, so it's also no surprise that so many of these demos didn't get finished.

A common flaw of finished ZZT worlds is how long they often drag on for. Author after author both good and bad has had something enjoyable that just didn't know when to quit. Unsurprisingly, teenagers aren't aware of scope creep, and so their games are frequently intended to be massive grand adventures unlike anything seen before. It's a recipe for disaster, and these demos give us a chance to look at these failed endeavors.

My method of picking was mostly just looking at title screens and seeing what sounded interesting. Apparently I'm on a fantasy kick because that's what the vast majority of these games fall under. Admittedly, RPGs in ZZT are probably the genre most likely to succumb to existing only in demo form. A key-collecting action game could drop keys and levels as needed, but the story requirements expected of an RPG make trimming things down far more difficult without abruptly deciding to go for a sequel. Plenty of full games end on cliffhangers (Legend of Brandonia, Angelis Finale, etc.), and sometimes quite abruptly as well. It's not an easy genre to see to completion.

But in addition to seeing stories untold, there's also some value in seeing the methods used to create demos in the first place. Some will be introduction sequences, others will be hand-picked scenes, and others will mix-and-match. Production quality may be as little as writing "DEMO" on a title screen, to providing context and author commentary on boards.

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The Legend of Zelda: The Land of Gannon Demo

By: EvilMario
Released: November 11, 1997
Download | Play Online | View Files

First up is The Legend of Zelda: The Land of Gannon. Nintendo properties in particular show up quite a bit in ZZT, and the Zelda series is perhaps one of the best to try and adapt to ZZT. ZZT's overhead view broken up into discrete rectangular rooms matches the original Zelda exactly, and its later 2D sequels closely enough that it's a great fit. ZZT has bombs, gems as currency, dark rooms, and manages to be a nice fit for a fangame.

{YEARS AFTER LINK THE HERO}
{DEFEATED GANNON IN A LINK }
{TO THE PAST HE SET OUT ON}
{AN ADVENTURE OF A LIFE }
{TIME TO TRAIN HIM SELF IN}
{NEW WAYS.BUT WHEN THE }
{SEA MONSTER FORCED HIM TO}
{SEEK SHELTER ON A MAGICAL}
{ISLAND HE DIDN'T KNOW THAT}
{THIS WAS THE LAND OF GANNON}

Bad news for Link who has once again been put in a rough situation when out at sea, this time landing on an island that just so happens to be Gannon's home turf.

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The nice thing about demos, is anything that stands out as lacking in some way can be brushed aside as not being incomplete. This small home Link starts in is placed on a solid black background? Well, maybe EvilMario hasn't gotten to it yet! The opening matches up pretty well to The Legend of Zelda: Link's Awakening. Link wakes up and wonders how this person knows his name, and is handed his shield with his name on it. In Link's Awakening the shield is an item the player can actively use to block projectiles. Here, it's... ten health, existing pretty much only to replicate the source material's introduction.

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There are some pots on the wall and each one opens up this generic message before opening another message with the contents. It gets kind of annoying and this sort of split message system is used throughout the demo.

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Leaving the home the player gets their first look at the game's actual visual style. The good news is that this isn't trying to copy the overworld from an existing Zelda and is an original one instead. The bad news is that by not copying Link's Awakening, I have no idea where to find a sword. Visually, it's pretty generic. It's nothing special to look at, but at least it makes clear where the player can and cannot go. There is something out in the water, but without flippers there's no way to reach it. For some awful reason though, if you cheat for flippers rather than just have objects on the coastline check for them, the entire path through the water is made up of objects which would display a message for every single tile. The item in the water is a "Quest Shield". Neither flippers nor "quest" shield come up in this demo, but half the fun of these demos is seeing what's in them that can't yet be accessed, which in this one turns out to be a fair amount.

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Following the beach, Link runs into his first enemies, some moblins that just step in a random direction, check if Link is next to them, and repeat forever. Without a sword Link can't harm them, and it's unclear if this is the kind of game where Link will shoot or touch enemies to attack. Again with weird design decisions, the answer is neither. To harm an enemy, link has to first get hit and take damage, and then the code checks if Link has a sword or bomb before destroying the enemy. This is not a good combat system. There's also different colored armors Link should be able to acquire in the full game to reduce the damage he takes, but with how this is set up, it seems like avoiding enemies is the better plan regardless of Link's equipment.

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More moblins are on the next board where the beach gives way to grassland, and there's a split path. The sign up top points to a town and the bridge leads to parts unknown. I 100% missed the sign when I played this at first (probably glancing over and assuming it was yet another moblin), and took the bridge.

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You probably get the gist of Land of Gannon by now. Big green rooms with moblins and maybe some pots to smash. It's not the most exciting demo.

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Finally, some "variety", in the sense that these enemies are different. This time, instead of moving randomly, they move towards the player. That's it. Link still has no offense at this point so the run away and pray strategy remains in effect.

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Making things worse is that this is unintentionally a dead end. The board to the north doesn't exist yet, and while there is an exit to the south, I was quite surprised to walk off the screen and have ZZT instantly crash!

missed-connection

EvilMario you fool! Don't you know that Super Locking your world corrupts the last board? It's unfortunately not too uncommon for ZZTers ignorant of the mechanics behind the Super Lock to have a board get ruined, but most games are created roughly in order so the final board is often end credits. Here in this demo, it's not only a part of the overworld, but one that has passages to more boards still! These are entirely locked away from gameplay.

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Well, at least by crashing I got a shorter walk to town. There's a single towns-person standing around who explains how weapons and armor work.

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This is the kind of thing that's surprisingly common in ZZT worlds even though it's pretty simple to code in a check for better items when purchasing inferior ones. ZZT has this enough limitations that I didn't bat an eye at this remark since it's so common to come out and ask the player nicely to not break things.

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Another interior on a black void. It probably wouldn't be so bad if it the outside wasn't this bright green landscape. It makes the buildings in this game seem very depressing.

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There is at least reason to smash all the pots you come across as you can actually buy a bomb. It's a pretty bad idea to buy one for offensive reasons since you can only carry one at a time and getting hit once is enough to cause the player to lose it. The shovel costs more gems than are available in the demo, which works out in EvilMario's favor because the message for purchasing it says that Link bought an arrow (though a flag is set for a shovel).

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The advice is pretty great. Link doesn't necessarily need to defeat Gannon. He can just ask him nicely to leave and hope he says yes.

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Buried in the advice of a random shop is the actual quest for the game. It's all the usual Zelda affair, but it's something. The phrase "Gannon Here!" without any indication that it was Link talking made me first think this was going to be some comedy bit where Gannon calls the shopkeeper on the phone to yell at him or something.

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Breaking a pot in the shop results in the shopkeeper getting upset. Given the iconic scene in Link's Awakening, this was the most excited I was about anything in this game. What would EvilMario do to have link killed for thievery?

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Oh. Uh, well. The shopkeeper explodes into slime which floods the room, and since the player won't have any ammo, they're trapped forever. It's a hard price to pay but I feel more bad for the shopkeeper than Link in this situation.

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The only other place that Link can go is this house that just so happens to belong to Yoshi! Recently, he seems to be showing up in many games!

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At least he offers the player a chance to do something. I ran back to the shop, purchased a bomb, and approached the obvious crack in the wall.

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There's no explosion or danger of being caught in the blast. Some ticking sounds play, then another explosion sound, and then the wall simply disappears. Well, the first part of the wall does. You're supposed to then run back to the store, buy a second bomb, blow up the next part of the wall, and then do it a third time.

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Now I opted to just cheat for the other bombs and get into the rest of the house without the repetitive trips. I was shocked that this was the method to obtain a sword. Doing this legit would mean finding 30 rupees from various pots to afford all the bombs. To get that much money you'd pretty much have to explore the whole demo and avoid all the enemies. I have no idea what EvilMario was thinking with this.

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There's still one last part to the town up north where the path east is blocked by the excellently named "Forever Rock". The last villager is a fisherman in need of some bait. He explicitly offers Link a reward for getting him some. The demo doesn't offer a way to do this which is a shame because of what happens if you cheat to get some bait and talk to him:

sword

Yikes. Link can just go full Baloo and threaten this man's life with a sword (that he may not even have). Actually making the threat does give you a reward, so it pays off at least.

As far as the missing content due to the super lock goes, it's still not a whole lot. The board is another building with a sleeping guard outside who has a bag of money. If Link takes it the guard wakes up and then acts like every other one.

In the library is a librarian and if Link has an unattainable library card item he can go to a backroom to see a large map. This at least uses a clever technique where the map is hanging on the wall and the bottom row is made of passages so Link can approach for a closer view, but the full map board isn't there so the passage just jumps to some random outside board.

Final Thoughts

Not uh finding myself interested in this one. It doesn't feel very Zelda, and the demo itself has so little to show (and even less due to the corrupt board). A lot of what is here is perfectly bland Nintendo-flavored ZZT, but the demo doesn't do anything to entice me into wanting more. While it's possible there could have been some more ambitious content in dungeons, what the player is actually presented with here isn't memorable at all. This is the sort of game that if it had been finished would show up on a late 90s Geocities fan website listing a bunch of Zelda games made by the fanbase with a 50/50 chance of "ZZT" being mentioned as a requirement to play.

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