We Are Still Out Here

By: Dr. Dos
Date: Sept. 19, 2020

Hello! This is Dr. Dos once again.

We are still out here.

It's 2020 and you found your way to z2, the premier ZZT archive from 2001! The site is best viewed at 800x600 resolution in Internet Explorer 6. Quite a lot has happened to ZZT since that last news post from 2014. ZZT is very much alive, and we're happy to have you visit, whether you're returning to the community or joining it for the very first time. Quite a lot has happened over the past six years!

The ZZT community as you may have known it throughout the 2000s in particular slowly moved on. We grew older and matured. Some have families. Some make games for a living. Some write about games. If you remember hostile teenagers dedicating an unhealthy amount of their time to harassment, never letting mistakes be forgotten, or screaming slurs, those days are long past. What you'll find instead is small (but growing) community of people who still love ZZT, creating worlds, and sharing them with ZZTers and non-ZZTers alike. It's a community that strives to be welcoming and helpful to those who are new and learning their way around ZZT.

In June of 2014 Anna Anthropy published a book titled ZZT as part of the Boss Fight Books series. In it she interviews various ZZTers she was able to get in contact with. She discusses their games, the importance of ZZT, and the dozens upon dozens of game developers that ZZT gave us. The book details how it gave many of us a voice, the ability to create games, and allowed us explore our identities when we were teenagers struggling to understand ourselves. ZZT documents this unique subculture of teenagers-turned-developers who sent an ASCII smiley face on countless journeys in ZZT games that were unlike anything seen on other platforms.

"Not everyone has played ZZT, but everyone who played it became a game designer." — Anna Anthropy

Looking at the date of that last z2 news post, it's quite likely that the previous post was inspired by my own reading of her book.

In January of 2016, inspired by Tumblr blogs like Text-Mode, I created a Twitter bot called Worlds of ZZT. Every three hours it would select a random ZZT game and render a random board from it. Five years on, it continues to share the skillful, surreal, humorous, scary, and sometimes just plain weird content you can find if you explore the many worlds of ZZT. Some of these worlds are fondly remembered, some lay forgotten in the archives. It has since became a main hub for sharing information on ZZT.

In February of the same year, archive.org launched their ZZT Software Library. By using an embedded copy of the MS-DOS emulator DOSBox, this collection allowed people to play nearly any title hosted on z2 straight from their web browser. Partially motivated by a fear that z2 wouldn't be around forever, a dedicated team of archivists downloaded everything and created an environment for people to discover ZZT for the first time, without requiring a vintage computer or knowledge of how to configure DOSBox. Though their fears turned out to be unfounded (if you're reading this, z2's still around), the work they put in is admirable, and makes me confident that ZZT worlds will be available to those who wish to find them for decades to come.

In August of 2016, I launched my next project: The Museum of ZZT. z2 was collecting dust and occasional forum posts, so I decided to create a new site dedicated to archiving ZZT and its worlds with the respect they deserve. If you're reading this post because you were looking for a ZZT game to play on z2, be sure to check out the rest of the museum afterwards. The Museum was formed using z2's collection (reviews, featured games, and all) and exhibits ZZT worlds in order to highlight these dusty old games that most would overlook, and to offer a space where they can be appreciated.

The Museum of ZZT

(Almost) all the worlds hosted on the Museum are playable from your web browser. In addition, you can explore the games' zip files from within the Museum's file viewer. The file viewer is built for ZZT, and is a great tool for exploring ZZT worlds. You can view rendered boards as images in your web browser. You can click on objects and read their ZZT-OOP code. You can double click passages and jump to their destination boards. You can search the world's ZZT-OOP, finding where flags are set, dialog is spoken, or cheat your way through an Impromptu Quiz. Alternative rendering modes can show you fake walls, highlight hidden objects on each board, and even look for deleted on-board text. There's kind of a lot!

A museum needs exhibits, and that's where the Closer Look series comes in. Twice a month (typically), I play through a ZZT game and write about my experience with it, showing off the game to an audience who may have never seen it before, pointing out clever tricks, stylistic choices, and conventions invented, adhered to, or broken. As of this writing, there are over one hundred articles on ZZT games from all eras and levels of quality. There are works by iconic ZZTers like Alexis Janson's The Secret of Cannibal Island; long forgotten titles such as Jerry Ellis's Baloo Episode 1; and works by ZZTers who are sadly no longer with us like Flimsy Parkins's Shades of Gray.

There's a Python library called Zookeeper, which can read and write ZZT worlds. If you're dedicated (and a bit foolish), it's possible to even create ZZT worlds programmatically. Most famously it was used by Asie to create Bad Apple!! ZZT

If the Twitter, Museum, Closer Look series, or Zookeeper sound like something you'd like to support, development is funded at the Worlds of ZZT Patreon. Those who can contribute are allowed to vote on the next game I'll give a Closer Look, and higher tiers can directly nominate games for the poll. It's supported by ZZT enthusiasts new and old, and even by Tim Sweeney himself!

But this is all in the past, right? ZZT is important, but it's old, dead and there's nothing to see but nostalgia for one's youth spent making and playing ZZT worlds, or curiosity towards a strange little internet community that many missed out on entirely.


Not one bit.

ZZT Lives!

Anna Anthropy's book, Archive Team's preservation efforts, the Museum's curation, and the Twitter bot's broadcasts all helped to stir up interest in making something new. It started slowly. At the end of August 2016, I released a new ZZT game, Ruins of ZZT, for a Ludum Dare competition. In 2017, Benco released Ana, a combination of story and puzzle that is both an expertly-crafted ZZT puzzle game, and an excellently written story told through text messages, e-mails, and other written messages. (The soundtrack comprised of entirely original pieces is great, too.) John Thyer released Atop the Witch's Tower, telling a story of a witch, a princess, and anxiety. Thyer had never used ZZT before and discovered ZZT through Anna Anthropy's book. That's right: in 2017, somebody downloaded ZZT for the very first time and created a game with it.

ZZT lives.

I can't list all the new releases and keep this (reasonably) brief - from 2017 to today there have been about fifty new ZZT worlds. The revitalized community is producing new worlds of unmatched quality. A news post isn't the place for recommendations, but whether you're new or returning to the community, there's so much to enjoy. Many of these worlds would have turned heads in the early 2000s, showing a love for the medium unthinkable back then.

Making things even easier, you no longer even need DOSBox to play these amazing worlds! To run ZZT on a modern machine, we now have Zeta. In 2019, Asie released this lightweight emulator that covers just enough DOS functionality to run ZZT (and Super ZZT). Download it, drop it in a folder with ZZT.EXE and the .ZZT world files, and double-click. You're playing ZZT again without fighting DOSBox configs, weird key repeats, or poor PC speaker emulation. Zeta makes ZZT as accessible as it's ever been. For games on the museum, jumping into a game is easier still. Zeta has an HTML5 build, so any game on the Museum is playable within your browser. You can also embed your ZZT worlds on your own website, or publish a ZZT game on Itch.io.

Maybe you remember KevEdit, a popular external editor for ZZT? It's still around and saw a new release in May 2020.

ZZT has been reborn. Not only do we have Zeta and many wonderful new games that can be played in it, but there's also a renewed focus on recovering old ZZT games. Asie and others have done a remarkable job tracking down dozens and dozens of old worlds, alternative versions, and even a previously unknown version of ZZT itself! You'll find a good 700 more files on the Museum that aren't on z2 including unreleased games, prototypes, alternate versions, new creations, and worlds which were all but forgotten.

Preservation efforts are ongoing, and you can greatly help Asie, myself, and the history of ZZT by sending us that old ZZT folder from your old backups. Disks are failing, hard drives are clicking, optical media is rotting, and our time to preserve ZZT worlds for the future is running out! Don't hesitate to get in touch and share that data! Myself and others are happy to comb through it, find what hasn't been preserved, and get it out there! Donations of backups of people's ZZT folders have resulted in the recovery of several ZZT worlds and even some previously lost MegaZeux versions!

The Reconstruction of ZZT

The one thing that has eluded everyone all these years is the fabled source code to ZZT. (You can probably guess where this is going.)

Well, sort of. Tim Sweeney's original code remains lost, and probably no longer exists in recoverable form. Once again, Asie has us covered. In 2020, Asie quietly embarked on his most challenging project yet: reverse engineering the ZZT executable and reconstructing Pascal source code that could then compile into a byte-for-byte identical file. His Reconstruction of ZZT gives us the ability to understand ZZT's inner workings in a way we've never been able to before. From this base, work is underway to port ZZT to modern machines (no Zeta needed), as well as modifications to change the HUD, add cheats, or in the case of WiL's Variety, to break the rules of ZZT and surprise the player in previously-impossible ways.

Tim Sweeney gave his blessing to the reconstruction efforts, and the reconstructed source code, as well as a reconstructed Super ZZT, are now available under the MIT License. You are now free to make a ZZT world, package ZZT with it, and sell your creation so long as you abide by (very generous) terms. ZZT in 2020 is a shockingly adept tool for game creation, and the community hopes to see you create something wonderful with it. Whether it's your first time ZZTing or a return to the days of your youth, welcome to the modern ZZT community.

So yeah, quite a lot has happened since that 2014 news post.

If you would like to keep up with ZZT news, follow the Worlds of ZZT account on Twitter. I post newly-published games, ZZT-related news, new articles on the Museum, and links to live streams of ZZT worlds on that account. If you're interested in creating ZZT games, playing them, or (re)joining ZZT's friendly and welcoming community, you'll want to join us on Discord. You'll see old and new faces, find folks who'll help make your creations be the best they can be, or perhaps someone will be able to tell you what that half-remembered ZZT game you last played as a child was called.

We hope you'll join us and make ZZT's future an even brighter one!

====== A Worlds of ZZT Production ======

The Worlds of ZZT project is committed to the preservation of ZZT and its history.

This article was produced thanks to supporters on Patreon.

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