Closer Look: Overflow (Part 2)

By: Dr. Dos
Published: June 30, 2021

Treasure, fortresses, and really big palm trees. Overflow continues to impress throughout its back half

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Welcome back!

If you missed the first part of this Closer Look at Luke Drelick's Overflow 2.0 you'll probably want to check out part one.

For a quick overview, Overflow is a non-linear action game in which you play as Charlie. The world has been flooded and is in a pretty sorry state thanks to a being that devours time known as Achalon. Charlie is searching for a way to travel through time and defeat Achalon before the planet can be destroyed. In the current time period (or "time zone" as the game clumsily calls it) pirates that travel around using flying fortresses harass the populace and are rumored to have a device capable of time travel within their base. Charlie, who has obtained a mini-fortress himself is on a quest to the various regions of the world to uncover the keycards necessary to board the pirate ship and acquire this time machine.

According to the game's text file, Overflow was originally a middle chapter in a lengthy Chrono Wars fangame before being scaled down to a standalone release. Despite the downsizing, the game still maxes out ZZT's board limit hitting 100 boards plus a title screen. It's the kind of game that could very easily be slow-paced and way too lengthy to enjoy, but the first half really won me over. As a patron nominated game, said patron has admitted to me that they too were worried about how big it was and opted to make me the guinea pig to find out if there was anything to it.

I'm very happy to say that this journey was one well worth taken. Drelick makes Overflow stand out with some of the best art I've seen in a ZZT world with some incredible backgrounds that personify the world like nothing else. Were it not for the immense struggles of the survivors of humanity, this ruined Earth would be easily seen as a tropical paradise instead. The backgrounds sell the game so well, and the style of the more dungeon-esque environments that Charlie fights his way through have a very distinct style of monochromatic linewalls which serve as excellent contrast between game-space and the background art.

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Overflow 2.0

By: Luke Drelick
Published Under: Duky Inc.
Released: January 01, 1997
Played Using: SolidHUD v3 via Zeta v33
Download | Play Online | View Files

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The previous article explored the first three areas of the game: Native's Isle, Smuggler's Shanty, and the Ruins (of New York City). We're resuming on board his mini-fortress and about to head off to the fourth location.

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Sadly the party's over as this next location is by far the weakest of the five. While this Closer Look is split in half, I did play the game entirely in one sitting so the dip in quality here isn't as rough as it's going to look in this article that begins with the more forgettable island.

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Admittedly, I get what Drelick is going for with this island. The first two islands are structured in such a way that Charlie starts in fairly safe territory, directly in a village or just one board away from one. The ruins upped the threat level by not really having a safe town, just an abandoned Friendly's restaurant. Here the dungeon and town aspects are merged into one resulting in boards full of creatures right from the start.

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It creates an awkward juxtaposition as lions and tigers rampage everywhere while all the people on the island are enjoying a relaxing day on the beach.

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The dialog of the occupants of the island (who don't really seem to live there) ranges from nonsensical questions about if Charlie speaks Swahili to more helpful information like the goal here of finding computer disks to get the keycard.

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Treasure Isle is split across a 3x3 grid of boards which makes for quite a cohesive space. Technically the player is free to explore however they like but this river at 3 o'clock and a large mountain in the middle make the actual shape of the island more like a "C". Internally though, the island begins in the southeast and goes counter-clockwise which means the player will have to experience backwards in the order it would have likely been constructed.

Drelick hasn't stopped bringing in new object based enemies, and these division sign "Gunners" stand out in that they actually shoot towards the player, something that while not new, is generally avoided. The very open boards that make up Treasure Isle definitely make enemies that shoot more viable as running around enemies is far more of an option here compared to the more cramped halls of the previous dungeon areas. It also works together nicely with the river that can be shot across but not traversed.

Of course, the use of shooting objects comes with the side-effect of enemies sometimes shooting each other rather than player. Tigers meanwhile on this very board perform the exact same function without the downside which makes these enemies kind of redundant.

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At the heart of the island is this large mountain and the three slots to insert the disks into. I really wish that the left edge of the mountain was shifted just a tiny bit to make the island faster to navigate, but instead not only does this mountain cut off access to the rest of the island, but it also splits this board into three sections forcing some very specific movement across the entire location to reach everything.

The mountain is also really bland looking. You'd be forgiven for thinking this was an entirely different game given how much darker and how less detailed this mountain is compared to what we've seen in earlier locations.

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Heading south to make a little square of what's been explored so far leads to another board of beach-goers and angry creatures that they're ignoring. This time the creature assortment brings us bears which really don't work on open boards like these. I had the misfortune of entering the board right by their starting position and getting chomped for it, but if you have any distance they'll mostly leave Charlie alone so he can ignore them just like the people here do.

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Scattered across this island are some of Dan's cats.

Who's Dan? Well, you might think this is going to be relevant to getting the keycard and that you'll run into this Dan and rescue his cats and get a disk or something, but no the only object named Dan in this game is at the little party thrown for Charlie when he defeats Achalon and returns home in the alternate ending seen earlier. They're just some cats that you think are tigers.

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Also they turn into actual tigers when you examine them. I'm not a fan.

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The people here have some interesting dialog to be sure.

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In a ZZT first, there's a ZZT world that plugs a MegaZeux game and the MegaZeux game was actually finished and even well-received.

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I suspect that a lot of why Treasure Isle seems so much more dull in general is because Drelick is forced to use fake walls for the player along with not being able to do much in the way of backgrounds due to the rectangular shape of the island. Parallels can obviously be drawn to Native's Isle where the more irregularly shaped jungle allowed for dedicating chunks of the board to things like a lava-flow that would just get in the way here. Admittedly this area only feels weak because it feels redundant. Flip the order of operations around and I'm sure I'd be praising the bright tropical vibes of Treasure Isle and being unimpressed by what Native's Isle offered up instead.

However, it can't be said that Drelick isn't trying here. Large beach blankets and umbrellas dot the coast, but these little sailboats out in the water do try to make use of the space that the player is barred from. Other worlds like WiL's Banana Quest and Rabbitboots's Faux Amis spruce up their coastlines with some objects that animate waves coming ashore. That kind of tech might be helpful here though I also am unaware of any animated ZZT coasts of this vintage.

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There's just one fellow here who has turned completely red from sunburn. If Charlie wants to be a jerk then he can expect a few stars to the face in retaliation.

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The only thing of note here is a note.

Well, one of Dan's cats is in the corner as well but I missed them. Their name is Blacky and they also turn into a tiger and maul Charlie.

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This is what I mean about the bears. As long as the player doesn't happen to enter this board by the two corners the bears are in there's no danger.

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This utter time capsule of a game. Just hold out for a little longer, RPGe will have a translation patch for you in 1998.

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This area is just too same-y. Running from object to object slows everything down and the large scale of the boards makes everything just move at such a laid-back pace that you finally just want this game to start hurrying up.

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A friendly robot mentions some potential allies onboard Captain Kurt's ship. Some less specific information was given on the topic back on Native's Isle.

And just like Native's Isle, running around and talking to everybody would work out a lot better if things were compressed to a board or two. Unfortunately, while Native's Isle could get away with that no problem, the fact that these environments have to perform double duty as a dangerous environment for the player means that a simple change of scale wouldn't be enough to move things along while maintaining the combination of dungeon/village that sum up the two halves of gameplay on the other islands.

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I suspect the lack of reactions to these enemies from the other objects isn't doing any favors either. It in turn makes the enemies feel like an afterthought and mere filler to give the player something to do since there's no real sense of progress here. There are just two more boards to see after this one and so far zero of the computer disks have been acquired.

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This is actually some vital information that I overlooked.

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Hey, something new here! The little volleyball net is great.

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I suppose this counts as a helpful NPC?

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Finally the first disk of three. It really doesn't feel like any progress is being made as Charlie explores Treasure Isle, so it's nice to finally have something that clearly moves things forward a little bit.

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RIGHT?!?!

Finally somebody is willing to speak up about the giant centipedes on the beach volleyball court or the bears watching the sailboats. This island is just weird.

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Charlie's jog around the island is finally complete making it to the other side of this estuary.

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I just need to stress again that the occupants of this island really don't justify nine boards, nor do the small pockets of creatures. This loop netted one of three disks and at this point there's nobody left to speak with and most of the boards have had all their enemies dealt with. Now it's just a lot of wandering to figure out the deal with the other two disks.

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Moving towards the center from this side of the island means getting to pick up this one weird gem which is in fact a "Supergem" that gives 500 points and 50 gems, but no health.

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The other side has what's now recognizable as another disk, but this puddle can't crossed and is in desperate need of being something else to obstruct the player who was wading in shallow water on the first island.

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Consider for a moment how I had to visit this board three times in a row just now and every time I had to exit the board to approach from another side. It's not fun. It's just tedious.

When you touch one of the disk drives, the object checks for the correct disk and will insert it if Charlie is carrying it. If Charlie doesn't have the right disk but has an incorrect disk it will be rejected and a star will be thrown to zap Charlie.

As the one woman said though, a disk can get rid of the "flood" which in this case means the puddles. You can see the water is gone in this screenshot which means that it's time to immediately loop around to this board to collect the next disk and then loop around immediately after to insert it.

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Disk 2 causes a shovel to appear. Not what I was expecting, but that one weird lump of sand on the west coast was obviously going to get dug up sooner or later.

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What a shock. I'd be amazed if this thing worked.

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I think it says something that my thought at having access to the mountain is relief that I'm finally done here. The stairway up the mountain leads to its peak on the next board and Charlie enters the mountain.

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For a brief moment, there's some excitement at a return to normalcy. We've got a nice sky background and a wiggly interior section.

This is really it though. There are gems and some more uncollectible dollars, but as far as the dungeon on Treasure Island goes, it's done.

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There's a little more to it with these two brief puzzles where Charlie needs to figure out how to clear a path to the exit, but these two puzzles are over almost as soon as they begin. Drelick's puzzles haven't been complex brain teasers, and generally serve as just a moment of respite from the shooting which makes them work. They're breaks, but not brick walls to stump the player for very long.

Here though they feel a lot more half-hearted which I suspect is because the context they're being seen here isn't as a break from the action. Treasure Island's shooting is significantly more laid-back than any of the previous regions and the backtracking for the disks means the player will be running around a de-fanged island so they're not really a break from anything.

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Cool boss art though.

This boss is "Robotic Armageddon" which is a pretty badass name. I just wish these bosses had some dialog or something because while the art on these boards remains great, it doesn't really leave any impact when the actual fight is just a somewhat more aggressive version of the kind of enemies you'd come across throughout the rest of Overflow.

Robotic Armageddon basically alternates between moving on the Y and X axes with a healthy dose of shooting at Charlie. Six shots takes them down and they'll turn into the next keycard, bringing this chapter of the game to a sadly welcome close.

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"Palm Tree" is the final location which I'll say in advance is more interesting than Treasure Isle. For one thing, it's really just a palm tree.

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It's a really really big palm tree.

This one also breaks away from the town and dungeon design seen in the earlier areas. I guess you can't really call it a trend when we've had two areas that fit the mold, and now three that don't. Palm Tree is more akin to Treasure Isle's structure of "You're in danger right away" but does it in a much better way sticking with the dungeon style gameplay seen previously in Smuggler's Shanty.

And to start off Charlie is quickly forced to deal with some Greenbeans! They're definitely more aggressive than the Beanmen of Native's Isle, though really none of the object enemies stand out too much from one another. These beans mostly just run around randomly and only deal five damage when Charlie does get attacked. With the resources at this point they're more of a joke than anything.

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What I do like about Palm Tree is how the gameplay area feels like it's actually a part of the tree, as if Charlie is running around on giant branches shooting beans and ruffians. Due to the sheer size of the tree the layout feels more... rooted in the world and not so much as a board drawn over background art.

The clear comparison here is between the tower climb of Smuggler's Shanty. The Shanty is still the game's big winner owing to the opportunity for more unique looking backgrounds versus the commitment to "a big tree" here. Though that doesn't mean that Palm Tree is just a rehash. The structure is pretty different as well with rooms... branching into different sections. They tend to be either loops that make either choice lead to the same endpoint or outright dead-ends with gems and ammo to reward the player for exploring.

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Whoops those red fakes are left behind when charlie kills "Dogs". Perhaps the lack of an in-game bestiary isn't so bad if it keeps this knowledge hidden away.

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There's nothing to guide the player forward. You just pick whichever passage seems most appealing (so whatever one you're closest too after collecting everything you want to grab on the board).

The Palm Tree is so huge that it looks to have more trees growing off of it.

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What really makes this area cool is that it breaks the division of linewall-bordered playspace and background art with Charlie getting to break free of the established boundaries and just start running around on the giant fronds!

I'm also really impressed at how labyrinthine Drelick manages to make a tree. Seven passages on one board! Obviously several are for backtracking to lower levels, but it really makes the place feel massive in how much there is to explore and not just in the scale of the tree to Charlie and its inhabitants.

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The boards being frequently shared and restricting where Charlie goes based on where he entered work great here. There's a big treasure room in the middle of this path and the only real hint you get is to make note of passage colors.

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Oddly enough, the money can actually be collected here for bonus points.

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Down below are some cubs to fight that are a bit tougher than most enemies. They still only move randomly, but they take three shots to kill and deal 16 damage with their attacks (that don't result in their own destruction either).

Taking the frond here presents Charlie with two options for moving forward.

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Three options if you want to break the contract between the author and the player and shoot out the walls that just so happen to be breakable for shading purposes. (The purple passage only leads back to the previous floor from the other side so this isn't exactly a clever skip).

It's pretty reasonable to assume that the player will ultimately want to ascend to the top of the tree so I checked out the other side-path first which splits again into a white and cyan passage.

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It's such a maze! It's harder to chart my path via these screenshots that it is during gameplay not that it's all that easy to make sure you see every path when you're playing.

Things split still further and there's a goofy American flag made out of gems in the center area which looks like it's meant to be a big reward room for getting in there.

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It ends up being a ruse with both passages leading to this same region that's loaded with gems. The background consistency isn't strong enough to really say for certain, but I like to imagine that these alternate paths are intended to be Charlie wrapping around the tree. Nothing about the positions of the background elements of the playable spaces offer up much evidence of this, but ZZT's graphical fidelity is low enough that you can kind of just run with it.

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Going back to the last unexplored split and taking the white passage goes back to the American flag board which again does a split into two more passages, though this time they both lead to separate areas just to make things a little more confusing.

And the little green circle in Charlie's path? That's a "Roly-Poly"! This guy actually runs a hard-coded path with no randomness or seeks. They take a few shots to kill, but if the player gets close it's just 10 health and they're gone. It's a surprising amount of effort for a one-off enemy like this.

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This leads to: More gems. The other path obviously leads to the blue passage where a few wild cats who do wild things are hanging out.

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And here things look like they're about to get a little dangerous, and I don't just mean that Charlie is about to lose 10 health by stepping on a lion.

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Because when you step on a creature while leaving a passage it causes the passage to turn white. Passages use their color to determine which passage on the connected board to place the player on, and if there's no match the player will be left where they were last on the board. This is most infamously encountered in the first Best of ZZT world where a passage turning white soft-locks the game as the player is no longer able to properly backtrack through the board.

Overflow has been really solid in terms of its coding (excluding the issue of leaving an area early potentially soft-locking mentioned in the previous article) so it would be a real shame for it to go down because of a bug that Drelick could only work around rather than something that can be fixed entirely.

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Luckily continuing forward reveals exactly what will happen. Through sheer luck the blue passage that turned white will keep the player in the same left path of this board. They'll wind up on the white passage and have to realize that the white passage leads back down, but there's no need to cheat to progress if this happens.

And hey, it's time to pick up the flag.

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My biggest issue with Palm Tree is that the branching design means that you're going to be backtracking. Previously this has only really been a part of the game when leaving a completed area. Here it's just a bit of downtime and not in a fun way with a puzzle to shift gears on. My convenient shortcut helps minimize it, but I hesitate to consider blasting away scenery as something to recommend.

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It's still not time to go up the tree either. This path has also yet to be explored.

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It in turn leads to a path I've already completely forgotten about.

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Which loops back to this board, and hey, I forgot to mention that I also love the one frond overlapping the play-area here and having the player run through a transporter to move past it. Some nice layering to be sure.

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And that in turn leads to... hut.

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Huh, so there are people after all here.

...They're kind of strange though. The outer ring of people just endlessly move at random. Talking to them actually causes the player to take 10 damage, but they only bite if you touch them so just walking past is fine.

You can't shoot them either. Charlie's too nice.

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