Closer Look: Escape From Zyla Island

By: Dr. Dos
Date: Oct. 15, 2020
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This month's poll winner is Escape From Zyla Island, by Raichu. For most folks that have a bit of knowledge on ZZT games and the authors who made them, that's a generic name and a generic author. Lucky for me, despite the game being picked by a patron, I actually am probably a little more familiar with this game than most! It's a straightforward action game about shooting bad guys and bosses, but it enamored me as a child although I never actually completed it. Less lucky for me, is that what I really remember is the later Special Edition of the game which changes things up pretty heavily.

Raichu and Zyla aren't that notable, nor is the company, "Ground Zero Interactive" whose releases are almost entirely Raichu's works. Yet I have some more knowledge of the group that most since GZI was a company I was in when this game came out! Raichu, as the company president, was the only person to ever publish anything under the label in a timely manner. (The sole other release for the company is a game I had made as a child and never actually published until I found a copy earlier this year.) Sadly, despite my involvement in the company, there actually isn't that much to say about it. ZZT companies aren't exactly serious businesses to begin with, but this was one where I suspect nobody in the company was older than fourteen, and that's being generous.

I definitely used a WYSIWYG website designing program called "Cool Page" to make a company website whose URL I cannot begin to remember in hopes it's somehow on The Internet Archive.

But this isn't about the rich history of ZZTers who liked Pokémon, this is about Escape From Zyla Island.

Actually, one last thing before I begin. The world nominated was Escape From Zyla Island, a demo and not the full game. This is likely because the full version of the game was published as EFZI, making it easy to miss that there was a full game. Plus in 2001 there was that Special Edition of the game released. I wound up playing the demo, realizing there was a complete game, and then switching to that. Luckily the differences between areas shared by the demo and full release are extremely limited (and will be pointed out when the switch between worlds happens).

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Escape From Zyla Island

By: Raichu
Published Under: Ground Zero Interactive
Released: December 12, 1999
Download | Play Online | View Files

As a young ZZTer, Raichu's only releases prior to this were two versions of Sailor Moon Destroyer. A weird fixation with hating Sailor Moon was kind of Raichu's thing. Needless to say, Raichu was not exactly somebody whose work people would look forward to and this game was quietly released and forgotten about.

hydrosulfuric bicarbonate
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Escape From Zyla Island
an Action-type Game
By Raichu
Copyright 1999 GrndZroIntrctv/SrvSft

Alo. This is my first game that doesn't
have anything to do with killing sailor
moon. This is a blant ripoff(literally)
of Zenith's Libnsirum, or Lebensiurm, or
whatever, like you step in a room and
you're flooded with enemies and such.
Have fun playing.

░▒▓ Kwedeets ▓▒░

everything:

Raichu

sound:


...sound?


Testing:

...testing?


Yada yada:

Janson, Sweeney, Gates, Clinton, blah
blah.

Special:

Freezerburn(GZI) ZZTbenco(GZI) Spazm(GZI)
Stalker(non-confirmed existance)

bye
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Raichu includes this helpful description on the title screen which doesn't sound too confident. This sort of action game is fairly common and a genre where it's hard to stand out. He cites Nadir's Lebensraum as inspiration, but it falls quite short of the reputation it has. (Nadir indeed did make an action game that stood out, and if I haven't by the time this article is published, it's definitely a game I intend to check out at some point.) The credits are the usual gag about ZZT's poor sound and a lack of testing (thankfully this game isn't particularly buggy). This is the first time I can recall seeing Bill Gates and Bill Clinton thanked. Also a rare glimpse into history with the list of members of GZI. Freezerburn made it a little higher up in the rankings of ZZT eventually with some unique art worlds. Benco became a staple of the community for years, and these days I constantly yell at everybody to play Ana. Me and Raichu were the dorks of the group stuck in it while the others moved on to more prestigious companies. Stalker was a guy who posted on the ZZT archive's company message board wanting to join, got accepted, and then nobody ever heard from him again. bye

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After cramming the information and credits on the title screen, EFZI gets right to it rather than having a menu board to start on. The player is in some sort of jail, there's a guard standing in the hallway, and there's a toilet.

Swes Chies
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Guy: Hello. I'm your cellmate. You're very
unlucky to come over the hands of the
Evil Zyla..

Who?

The evil Zyla. She is the leader of an
elite force of high-tech criminals, all
of them girls under 15. They call
themselves the Evil Girls.

..And why am I so unlucky? Is she like,
a dictator of something?

Close. This is a slave camp. I don't
know why but that Zyla has an interest
in slavery.

But slavery is banned already! For
more than 100 years!

I know... But this little 11-year old
is so powerful, she has her own set
of laws. She has a whole storeroom of
nukes and missiles, ready to be launched
at anybody at anytime. She would even
kill to get the smallest things.

Tell me about this place. And how
long have you been here?

I have been here a "wonderful" 3 years.
But I already know alot. They send people
they call "lucky"---we're two of them--
to her base right here. Then the prisoners
were made to work like slaves, as I said.
But it isn't just regular work. She
makes them build things.. Day and night..
to expand on this large base. Those
who couldn't work like the sick, old,
or young, were slaughtered right away.
Then she, and her 12 subjects, will force
stronger and healthier prisoners to work
until they became sick or injured. Then
they kill them too. Most die in gas
chambers, or the "torture rack". Some
get sent into this dark room and they
never come out.

That's....horrible......

I know... She began her like of blood
when she was born a spoiled brat. She
lived in foster homes, 7 of them. In
one of these places, she met up with her
friends and became this group. Then,
at 9 years old, she managed to get a copy
of the nuclear missile plans. Then they
started building them. Now they're
able to force anybody into doing
anything...

Any way to stop her?

Here. Take this gun. It's the only way
TO stop her--to kill her. And 10
shots to start out with. Good luck on
your journey.

Good luck to you too.

Why? Bu the time you make it out of this
place, I'll be inside!

Meet ya inside!

If you want more information, go to the
blue guy outside. He's one of the
rebel guards that only pretend to
scold the prisoners.

Okay. Seeya inside.

Bye.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Your cellmate offers all the answers and motivation you need to bust out of this place. An evil little girl has managed to acquire nuclear weaponry and will kill anyone who opposes her. This base is used for slave labor to work on constructing her various projects and you'll be killed as soon as you're unable to work. Luckily he's got a gun for the player to have. All they need to do is break out of their cell, find Zyla, and kill her. She also has a bunch of evil underlings and you can probably guess that you'll have to kill them first. Given the author's age and games about killing Sailor Moon, it feels right on the cusp of being a little too unsettling. He's old enough that all these games about killing girls seems a bit troubling, and young enough that maybe he's just overreaching into the well of "pop culture icon should die because pop culture icon". This game feels a lot like it just has "Sailor Moon" replaced with "Zyla". But shoot I'm no child psychologist and this game is more than 20 years old. I'm gonna hope we're just dealing with a dumb kid who needed to grow up a little quicker. The content of the game isn't too wild for a ZZT game, but it's easy to play with a modern eye and raise an eyebrow at it sometimes. Throughout the game, I refer to the bosses as "they" since you don't get pronouns for the majority of them. The ones you do however are all girls and I think it's very likely that every boss is supposed to be a yucky icky girl.

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This is what you get if you talk to your cellmate again so you can see what I mean when I say it's hard to take this game's themes as a perfect mirror into the author's worldview.

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Getting back on track, our hero needs to get out of his cell. Step one, take half a roll of toilet paper.

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Step two use the key to... pick the lock.

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Escape From Zyla Island is structured into levels which to some extent works in its favor. This keeps each segment concise enough that there won't be a bunch of backtracking as you pick up keys to access new areas or anything like that. Each level has a name, difficulty, and amount of enemies. The meters of course are very difficult to interpret what the difference between a 1/10 and 2/10 is. After a certain point, Raichu kind of just gives up and stops including these meters entirely.
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All of the other cells are locked up a little better than your own, so this is just going to be a one-man army and not a slave rebellion.

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The cell-block guard just so happens to be the only sympathetic guard in the game. They are 100% on board with the player just walking out and going to kill Zyla. This dude is just gonna pretend they didn't see anything and hope for the best.

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The niceguard doesn't really offer up much information that couldn't have been shared by our cellmate or talking to the other prisoners through the bars instead.

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They do offer up this excellent advice about what to do if you find a pikachu. I find it odd that Raichu won't actually say "raichu" here and refers to it is "the evolution of pikachu".

niceguard
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Items are self explanatory. Here are a
few.

Heart: Several kinds. One is the ripped-
from-your-chest kind, another is the
strawberry flavored fruit candy, super-
size. The above gives 50 health. the
fruit candy gives twice that.

Ammo: ammo. 5 shots. 10 shots if you
get it from a guard.

Key: Self-explanatory. Unlock stuff with
it. Duh.

Bonus Items:

Pikachu: Yellow ruffian. There's 5 of
them in the game. Some are out in the
open, some are hidden.

Raichu: Brown ruffian. There's 3 of them
in the game. Some are in view, some are
not.

Pikablu: MEGA BONUS POINTS IF YOU FIND
THIS ONE! THERE'S ONLY 1 IN THE GAME!
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Lastly is this list of items. I do appreciate the gag that hearts picked up for health may be strawberry flavored candy or human hearts. Either way they will be consumed. Now here Raichu isn't afraid to bring up raichu collectibles, and even the mythical pikablu, which really dates this game to a specific time period. I do like that these special bonus items are fun things and not generic loot like "gems" or "cash". Keep an eye out for hidden pikachu!

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Heading to the west there's the first actual combat. With two guards and ten bullets it's important to close the gap before- oh who am I kidding.

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I waited for them to line up and had one shoot the other for me. This is what I do. This game is definitely one where it's a legit tactic and not a scuzzy exploit of ZZT's limitations. It took me five shots to kill the other guard (they have three health), but that means I likely would've used all my ammo on defeating them both by myself. Just as the nice guard from earlier said, their bodies can be looted for 10 ammo so it's still a net gain. This also removes their corpses and turns them into red fakes meaning there won't be any soft-locks where a dead enemy blocks a critical path. Lastly, there's a very big key that I'm quite fond of the design for in one of the cells, but it's locked like all the others.

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Oh the right third of the cell-block are just more empty cells with no guards this time. It's been two minutes and I'm already unsure of where to go.

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Perhaps not too surprisingly, you can shoot this set of identical looking doors. The only hint is that there isn't a message when you touch these ones, but I'd sooner see that as meaning they're unimportant than meaning "try shooting". It's only because the options are so limited that shooting naturally rises to the top of possible actions to take.

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This nets the player the key to the next area of the compound, and a few standard ZZT ammo items to bolster your ammunition count.

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The next level gets a bit uglier with the lack of any sort of background. Again there are two guards, but now they're positioned so that them shooting each other is inevitable. Once again the obvious exit is blocked. This time two keys are required and they'll just be regular ZZT keys and not giant objects.

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Now Raichu gets a chance to show us how deadly the situation is. There's just a room full of corpses and viscera and a whole lot of blood. Good time to save, maybe?

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Who hasn't made an ASCII spinal cord in ZZT at some point? The other bits of pieces and people can be examined as well, with the usual implications of torture and mysterious teeth marks on many of the bodies. More importantly is the heart which is very much a ripped out human heart that the player unquestioningly consumes for 50 health.

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Now we're still dealing with these blank backgrounds, but it works a bit better here. There's the transition from gray to red and the bright colors mean the room gets to stand out a little. A yellow ruffian that's our first pikachu (providing 25 health), and there are some ammo and gems scattered around as well alongside a weird division made out of linewalls.

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Some of the ammo is made out of "Ä" characters, which in most ZZT worlds would just mean "large ammo" and give more than the standard five shots. It's ammo for a gun the player has that can't be collected. My next assumption was that this game would have multiple weapons where you'd find more powerful guns as you progressed, but that's not the case either. This is just ammo you can't pick up, for a gun you can't acquire. It's weird to include this level of detail for something that doesn't exist. If Raichu was just going for realism and saying that not all bullets are the same, there wouldn't be a need to namedrop the "T-F Blaster". So instead it's this really weird moment that sets up expectations for the player, but in reality just drops them immediately.

yummac
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Unknown voice: Whee. More fooooooooooooooo
ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
oooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo
ooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooood for me
to eeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee
aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaa
ttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttttt
tt!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

What was that...?!

Unknown:I AM YUMMAC, THIRD QUEEN OF ALL
FOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
OOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO
(times 300).......OOD!

Um... Okay..Try not to use too many
O's... kay?

Yummac: I WILL EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE
EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE(again, x300)...AT
YOU!

DIE!!!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Thanks to the helpful pikachu system of foreshadowing, I'm not surprised to cross over the the seemingly empty right half of this room and be attacked by the first boss, Yummac. Raichu really likes to do that thing where he's not sure if his game is supposed to be silly or serious. So we've got an all-powerful child-genius dictator running an oppressive regime on a quest for global domination, and her first underling just says words funny.

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The first thing Yummac does is charge straight at the player, and into a wall. Kudos for actually having the boss react to smashing into a wall like this. Unfortunately, that's kind of all the boss will do until the player gets closer as part of the boss's code is to walk towards the player until they hit a wall, then walk towards the player again.

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Once the player rounds the corner they can actually be more of a threat that actually fires bullets, but you can just fire away and they won't really get the chance, leading to a fight where I took no damage. Once defeated they unceremoniously say they lost their "foooooooooooooooooooooooooooood" and turns into a green key for the level exit.

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The second path has a scroll warning the player that the next boss takes a lot of shots. Then two invisible guards begin to attack. They're not the boss and one will probably die just getting the player into the main room as they line up and shoot each other.

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Despite Raichu saying brown ruffian = raichu, this one is very much not. My first assumption invalided, my next thought was that this critter would be the boss and it would bust out of this beat up looking cage. But it's not that either. It's just a weird decoration. The cage never opens. It never gets out. It's just there and vague and devoid of any meaning. beyond "not raichu".

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Finally, there's this bodyguard that's protecting the next actual boss. They're similar to Yummac in that they just rush the player and shoot, but they move slowly enough that you can keep your distance and get your shots in. Simple enough, and plenty of blood when you hit them.

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Raichu really has some odd design sensibilities here. Just like the other path it ends with a brightly colored room with a boss hiding inside. This room also has this very strange structure with transporters and what are described as yellow trees. If the player takes a transporter to get inside, they're permanently locked in. It exists solely as a source of frustration.

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Once the player lines up with a certain point, Weirdae appears and claims to be the first miniboss. A bold assumption when the game's levels frequently have non-linear paths.

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And you might think that the boss would appear once the player is in the tiny room on this board, but for some reason the alignment check is for entering this horizontal row giving the player ample time to react to Weirdae. Again, the boss just alternates between going towards the player and shooting towards the player. This kind of brute force approach would be more dangerous if the player was trapped in the smaller part of the board, but all the trees and even just the upper walls make it simple to get Weirdae to run repeatedly into a wall while you decide how to best approach. Raichu actually does lock the player inside the board as a whole at least, something oddly missing from the Yummac fight.

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The only other thing worth noting about this boss is that they throw a star away from the player when they get shot. This has no effect if the player stays aligned with Weirdae since they'll body block it.

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I guess this is a little more dramatic than Yummac. They drop the green key and that's going to be it for level one. Both Yummac and Weirdae also have melee attacks that are pretty impossible to notice as you'll also be getting shot at point blank range and the "Ouch!" message will quickly replace whatever they had to say, but Weirdae gives us some lore at least by "injecting weird fluid" in the player if they get close. Should this kill them they are then turned into one of the yellow trees in this room so I guess they do have some explanation, just one that only comes up if you die under very specific circumstances.

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So yeah, of course this game has an asylum where you deal with crazy people. That's not surprising given the time this came out and the tone it has throughout. At the same time, because of this game's tone, the characters on this level really don't feel "crazy" in a way the previous enemies haven't. Raichu also claims this level has nothing but two bosses, which is a mixed-truth as we'll see soon enough.

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Just draw some grass outside! I hate these empty voids. The structure is once more two paths to the side, and an exit to the south. Just as before I checked out the western path first where a scroll warned me to save before even entering the board.

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And the warning appears to be there for good reason. Escape From Zyla Island isn't entirely an action game thankfully. Here we have a simple puzzle to use keys properly to unlock specific doors to get more keys as needed.

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As it turns out, there's not actually much of a puzzle here. About the only mistake you can make is opening the green door to get a bunch of ammo. The object at the end turns into a blue key, which I think is a bug because it doesn't actually help you proceed, so opening that door is another softlock. It's kind of a shame because I'm going to run out of ammo fighting the boss on this board!

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Appearing in purple is "Destroyla", the next boss who mixes things up by throwing stars as well! Great.

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It's not as bad as it could be though. Raichu is smart enough to make the stars turn into fakes after some time passes, cutting their lifespan down quite a bit.

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Or so I thought. The narrow arena leads to trouble with stars frequently blocking shots. I managed to run completely out of ammo in the middle of the fight. (That pikachu that was at the bottom gave 25 ammo as well!) Almost as if he was aware this would happen, Raichu doesn't actually lock the player inside here like with the previous bosses. If I were fighting an enemy boss and ran out of ammo, I would simply leave.

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Taking the right path leads to this very scary looking room. The main chamber here is packed with fast moving objects that will doubtlessly be easy to get pinned in a corner by and stuck. If I'm meant to shoot them, well, the zero ammo situation isn't going to help me out there.

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However, there is an odd spot on the wall that can be touched to reveal a secret path around the crowd and directly into whatever is at the end of the hall.

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Okay, so it's another boss and I still have no bullets. I honestly was expecting to be unable to recover when I ran completely out of ammo.

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I ran backwards, fully aware that this was going to necessitate a reload of an earlier save, but while I was hanging on by a thread I figured I could at least check out that big crowd in the middle and get an idea of what it was about for next time. Akak meanwhile saw fit to summon tigers.

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I actually made it to the end of the room. The majority of the objects inside aren't actually able to hurt you, just shove you around. Not that it mattered since the passage looking characters were neither passages nor openable doors. It's a dead end and the player is required to find the hidden passage.

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All of these dudes say pointless things like this when you touch them. The red ones here are the ones that can actually harm the player, removing 10 health if you do accidentally bump into one. This was enough to finish me off and let me try all this again.

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Reloading a save, this time I was a bit more aggressive with the Destroyla fight in order to not let stars force me to keep running away.

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She drops a dark purple key, and it's only here that I realized I could also have headed along the bottom of the screen into the blue passage at the end on my previous save. This time I have ammo for it though so I'm sure it's better than going in with none.

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