LOME: The Legend of Matt EatinghamBy: Leamas
Released: July 07, 2000
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Our Closer Look subject today is LOME: The Legend of Matt Eatingham, an early 2000s game that bills itself as an RPG, but means more in the sense that a Zelda game is an RPG. This is a game about exploring an island in search for your father, shooting lots of built-in creatures, and going from town to town helping people out with their problems to move the story forward. This may actually be the first ZZT world I've played by Leamas, a ZZTer who was pretty active in the community around this era. Leamas's games are pretty unknown to me, with me going into this one not knowing anything about it other than the title being familiar. Still, name recognition on both the title and author combined with the game having won a Game of the Month award when it was released make me at least optimistic. This one was a patron suggestion which usually means that there's at least one person who enjoyed it, and after playing it myself that total is at least two.
For a game almost entirely set on an unnamed island, it should come as no surprise that it makes for a pretty map!
Not bad at all for a game from 2000! The island is pretty sizable, a 5x5 layout that's open to the player pretty much from the start, though a lack of starting ammo means you're going to want to head straight to the first town of Kanon (the gray building towards the center-left) first.
Leamas does add in a geographical little variety with a raised plateau that takes up a considerable portion of the map. The path south of Kanon runs through a tunnel in the plateau that uses a somewhat buggy player clone based system that allows the player to pass through just fine. One of the hardest things about trying to navigate the island is finding out how to reach that plateau in the first place as it has just a single entrance east of the race track that leads up to the second town of Ganon. (This game definitely has its share of Zelda influence.) I do wish there was some other route though as it really cuts the island and makes for a considerable trip whenever you need to venture onto the plateau to talk with any of the people walking on top of it.
Scattered across the island are three "Bonus" houses. Oddly the one in the southwest is closed and can never be entered. The other two share an interior board and have dedicated passages for each house forming a rudimentary fast travel system. With just two bonus houses implemented and both north of the plateau they're not nearly as helpful for getting around as they could be. I would have loved if the third house was open and attached to the plateau, or if the third bonus house and race track building switched places. As it stands the time they can save is pretty insignificant, and the west coast offers very little reason to travel along it.
Other landmarks include a lake whose lone occupant claims it to be magical in some way, an abandoned mansion south of Kanon, a strange arrangement of flora in the southeast that the player can't actually reach until the plot advances sufficiently, a graveyard above that, a hermit's dwelling above that, and a cave that's the source of the monsters plaguing the island in the northeast.
There's not a whole lot to do on the overworld, just travel from one destination to the next either fighting your encounters along the way or as we'll see eventually giving up on the system entirely. Still, when the game first begins the island really evokes a wild setting that's a lot of fun to explore and find little odds and ends. You never really know what's going to be on the next board, and depending on your path taken you may be constantly teased by this plateau trying to find the way to get up there. The amount of time exploring the island is still novel and the time that the random encounters also hold the player's attention match up quite well. After everything's been charted you'll be about ready for the encounters to stop. There's a nice feeling of taming the wilderness a bit by understanding where you're going that feels like a lucky coincidence.
The Story and Quests
LOME opens with a little bit of background on the game's development and promoting some of Leamas's other games at the time before heading to a proper introductory cut-scene. It's not immediately apparent that this opening takes place in the distant past compared to the playable portion of the game which takes place in something closer to the present day.
The king as the leader of the assassins have little battle with each other, discussing their motivations. The assassin is after a long lost artifact created by "Armin Chawls" with which he can take over the island and the rest of the world. The king explains that the artifact has been buried such that nobody will ever find it. After some more back and forth sword-fighting, the king is decapitated and the assassin takes the king's necklace whose powers are unstated here, but should be able to help the assassin find Armin's artifact.
The joy of your blood flying across the
ground makes my day the happiest!
Hmm.. Since there is no king, maybe I'll
be the new ruler of this island!
No one will ever say a word to me, or
thier heads will be hanging on my wall.
• • • • • • • • •
The writing gets surprisingly intense. Leamas is not a native English speaker and is pretty young at the time of this game's release. There are plenty of spelling and grammatical mistakes throughout the game. Sometimes an expression will be slightly askew, but I had no trouble getting the actual intent of the text throughout. In turn though, the unusual English gives the game a unique voice which works quite nicely given that you're intended to be in kind of an odd place with unusual characters.
Afterwards, there's a jump to the present where the game's protagonist Matt is making a journey to that same island to reunite with his father. It's unclear how he wound up on this island, though a comment about forgetting his address book makes it a safe bet that he's aware his father is somewhere on the island. Matt's quest to find his father is the main driving force of the game, though his kind-hearted personality quickly leads him to helping out all sorts of islanders regardless of whether or not they can provide any useful information about his dad's whereabouts.
LOME shifts out of introductory cut-scene and into gameplay with Matt reaching the island just as the bridge to the mainland collapses. He's trapped here, and realistically so is everybody else on the island, but there's no concern for that. The islanders have no interest in leaving the island (despite the monsters plaguing their towns) and Matt's focus is on finding his father. Right away he meets up with a woman named Barbra who fled the nearby town of Kanon during a monster attack. Matt offers help, but explains that he has no ammo, and this is where the game begins to get peculiar.
Barbra says she has ammo at her place. Fine. Matt will have to make it to the town avoiding monsters along the way. Where it gets unusual is how Barbra offers up the ammo:
And so begins Matt's debt.
Except it's not even meant as some hook to force the player to do work. The ammo is freely taken and Barbera requests that you pay her back a total of 28 points when you're able. There's no rush or pressure.
The town is safe once you're inside, but from the outside here there are a significant number of highly aggressive tigers that have their intelligence and firing rates cranked up quite a bit. Matt will take quite a beating just getting inside, and suffer a bit more once he has the bullets to deal with the monsters. The fight is probably the most difficult part of the game. It's also the only encounter with enemies with cranked up stats as I'll get into later when I discuss how the game's combat works (and doesn't). It's a very difficult first quest though and definitely gave me pause for what I was actually getting into with this game.
Upon finally defeating them, Barbera thanks you and asks for repayment when you're able. Depend on how many tigers directly hit the player, they'll likely have enough points and leftover ammo to pay her back immediately which I did assuming that the repayment would be an important milestone. Perhaps she'd give Matt a new quest or something. Paying the debt gets Matt fully healed to 100 HP (an object caps it at that on every board). She'll also answer a few questions, though once you say you're done with your questions you'll never be able to ask them again as she'll only thank you for the help endlessly afterwards.
The questions are a mix of help within the game and help outside of it. Score is used for money for the sake of built-ins dropping cash, but can also be acquired from completing quests or finding tickets to play bonus games.
The text for why Matt has to do this is pretty comical.
The "I don't know, you just do." is such a rough thing to actually include. Get rid of that sentence and the rest of the dialog would fit in just fine. You're the new guy on the island. New faces are rare. Folks are going to assume you're the legendary hero who will put an end to the monsters. Is it brilliant? Is it original? No, but it doesn't need to be. Just being a nice guy wanting to help those in need while searching for your dad is more than enough motivation for Matt to take the actions he does throughout the game, even if he wasn't trapped on the island.
Barbra seems really on board that you're the hero the island's been waiting for. It's tough to say just how special Matt's abilities are or more accurately how helpless the villagers are. NPCs make it clear that things are getting worse for the inhabitants of the island, but they aren't exactly begging for help.
Most of Kanon opens up immediately, and there's a running theme between the locals that the cave that appeared a few years ago is the source of all their troubles and those who enter never return. Matt is interested in hearing their stories but has no intention of verifying any rumors for himself, at least not until he meets someone who asks him nicely. This next quest is to obtain a treasure said to be inside the cave. The quest-giver offers Matt a monetary reward and some torches to aid him. Matt is very adamant that he's just some regular guy looking for his father and there's no reason he should be able to survive when others perished. All reasonable arguments that give way to "well who can say for sure if everybody who went there died, maybe they just fled the island and used the cave as an excuse". A lot of Matt's troubles in this game boil down to him being unable to say no.
Of course, inside the cave Matt is accosted by a monster that has to be defeated in order to leave with the treasure.
After that things seem to stop a bit. There's a locked away mayor's house, and an ice cream parlor that's had its ice cream stolen both of which would seem like likely candidates, but to no avail. LOME's quests feel like they could be done in any order, but the player is really on a linear chain of events. This is justified by others hearing of his deeds and his reputation on the island growing, and with Leamas's liberal usage of flags it's kind of necessary in order to ensure people discuss what needs to be discussed at any given point in the story though it definitely results in a bit of aimless wandering until you get your bearings for what Matt should be working on next.
Lovers Hermit and His Stinky Friend
The lack of a new quest is a good time to really start exploring the island rather than just going where you're told. A hermit on the eastern coast is pretty miserable and demands Matt leave his home. Matt is a bit clueless as to why somebody who lives in deliberate isolation would be upset about an uninvited guest. Still, Matt insists in helping the hermit make a friend and learns that the hermit did have one in the past but they haven't spoken in ages. The next quest isn't explicitly stated. You just need to deduce that Matt needs to find the former friend and figure out how to reunite them.
This is where Leamas really tries to go all in on the game's humor. LOME isn't trying to be a comedy, trying to tell a more serious tale. Leamas however states in the opening that the game had a pretty significant reworking, changing things from comedic to serious and openly admits that some of the old content was still kept. This is undoubtedly the case here as for whatever reason the hermit's old friend smells really bad. Matt has numerous asides when talking to him trying desperately to hold his breath and cutting the conversation short to tell the hermit, named "IceBeagle" that his old friend "Chilly" would be happy to get together again. The hermit asks Matt to find some flowers and give them to Chilly which opens up another reason to keep exploring the island.
Flowers of course can only be found on a single board, and when Matt gives them to Chilly, he has to immediately run away before he can give directions to the hermit's home. Eventually the two are friends once more. The way they talk to each other is easy to interpret as being a bit more than just pals which realistically probably wasn't the author's intent at the time. Still, together once more Matt gets the hermit to write a letter to let Matt speak with the mayor of Kanon. I don't know why the hermit has this authority, but it keeps things moving.
The Mayor of Kanon
Unsurprisingly, the mayor is the source of the next quest. Although not quite in the way you might expect. This isn't a case of the mayor hearing about Matt surviving the cave or bringing IceBeagle out of his antisocial funk. The mayor is pretty confused and annoyed when Matt is let into his office and the two begin arguing only to be interrupted with news that monsters from the cave (who seem to have been riled up recently...) are on their way to Kanon. The mayor is told to evacuate with his guards to be moved somewhere safer, but it's too late as the leader of the monsters appears and kidnaps him.
Despite very clearly not liking this guy, Matt has a heart (and a guilty conscience since he's the one who disturbed the cave) and sets off to rescue the mayor. This involves going deeper into the cave than before and fighting several monsters in a row while also dealing with random encounters within the cave as well. Matt and the mayor make amends, but the mayor requests Matt to keep that he got a reward a secret. The reward is just some money given by his secretary who also points out that the mayor of the other town, Ganon wants to talk to him.
The Mayor of Ganon And The Demon
While Matt was kept away from the mayor of Kanon, the entire town of Ganon is off-limits. There's some excitement in getting to check out the new place. It's quickly revealed that Ganon is becoming a ghost town, almost entirely devoid of people and offering little to do other than speak with its own mayor, a creepy guy who gives Matt some bad vibes right from the start. This mayor says the town is becoming abandoned because of a demon in one of the homes. He requests Matt's help in having her killed. Again, being incapable of saying no to anybody, Matt reluctantly accepts.
This time though, something is clearly off. The demon claims she's not a demon and that she knows things about the mayor that the mayor doesn't want getting out. Her home is full of traps to keep her safe from outsiders, but she's a prisoner in her own home. Matt is conflicted about whether or not to trust her, until he sets off a trap himself and the "demon" pushes him out of the way, sacrificing herself to save Matt. With her dying words she tells Matt to speak with the "mountain man" to prove her innocence.
Having found the mountain man on the plateau of the overworld I headed directly to him and got nothing, only to learn that you're supposed to speak with the mayor of Ganon instead. Matt confronts the mayor about this lady not being a demon at all, but the mayor doubles down. He insists she was trying to trick him, thanks him for killing her and says goodbye. The mayors suck in this game.
The Abandoned Mansion / The Gem of Ebious
The mountain man meanwhile corroborates the woman's story, solidifying Matt's belief that the mayor of Kanon cannot be trusted. The mayoral drama is brushed aside momentarily when Matt has a bit of a breakdown over the guilt of unintentionally getting this woman killed when all he came to the island for was to search for his father. Matt shows the mountain man a photo of his father who is immediately recognized as being the guy who owns the big abandoned mansion on the southern beach. Finally Matt can actually make some progress towards his own goals for a change.
The mansion's front door has been overrun by plants which Matt is now willing to move aside and enter. The place has been long abandoned and is covered in dust with little more than some photos on the walls and filing cabinets remaining. Leamas creates a surprisingly sweet moment when one of the photos is of a young Matt with his father, realizing that even though the two have been apart for so long that his father still thinks of and cares about him.
The heartwarming moment is quickly cut short when the mayor of Ganon shows up, claiming to have seen Matt enter the condemned building and demanding he leaves immediately. Matt absolutely does not buy this with how far away Ganon is from the mansion and the two have another altercation.
The unfettered rage captured here, especially in such contrast to the picture from just moments ago makes this a really memorable scene. There's a lot of emotions being flung left and right here and it really demonstrates that despite Leamas's English not being the greatest, he's still quite capable of creating a story that the player will find themselves very much invested in.
Of course, then the mayor points a gun at this kid to prove he's a good guy so what do I know?
The next lead is the "Gem of Ebious" mentioned in a file as being the key to the nearby pond. The person standing at the pond claims that it's magical in some way. No details are offered on this until Matt asks him about the gem which supposedly when thrown into the pond will let its owner have a question answered. Remember way way back in the intro when there was a king killed by an assassin? The gem of Ebious was the item the assassin was after. The search is tied to the graveyard as well as the spooky cave that keeps being relevant. Matt eventually suspects that the jewel might have been one of the gems in the treasure he acquired at the start of the game. Luckily for him not only was it part of that treasure, but its current holder is happy to part with it after all the help Matt was in getting the rest of the treasure.
The Tower, The Warp, and The Alternate Island
With the gem now his, Matt chucks it into the pond and is greeted by "The Lady of the Water". Matt doesn't actually get to ask her anything, she instead is just already aware of his quest for his father and reveals to him that by crossing the water on the coast he can reach a tower that is critical to his success.
Despite the name, the tower is only two boards long. The first of which is a boss battle against "Eatingham", the owner of the tower. After defeating him and lamenting that they had to fight instead of just talking, Matt explores an office for some more files. This time we learn the details on the artifact created by "Armin Chawls". The device is a gun which can destroy matter. It was intended for peaceful purposes like clearing debris, but of course it has been used as a weapon. Eatingham and his men have been searching for the device so that they could take over the world! Oh no.
That's not all though! There's another book about a "Warp Machine" which will send people backwards in time to when the king was killed by the assassin leader. This is definitely one of those ZZT games that takes a turn for the weird in the third act. Of course, the next action is to reach the the hidden warp point and travel through time to a barren wasteland that I assume is intended to be war-torn which doesn't mesh with the introduction only talking about a single battle. The alternate island is shaped considerably differently as well for what little you see of it as fencing keeps Matt restricted to a small area.
Despite endless searching, Matt pretty quickly stumbles across the odd dirt where the anti-matter gun was buried. You even get to do a test shot and turn a nearby stick into dust. Anyway there's a guard working for the villains who won't let you beyond a certain point and well, whatever guilt Matt had for the woman in Ganon he doesn't have nearly as much of for the guard now that he has an immensely powerful weapon.
So the next thing Matt runs into is the mayor of Ganon standing over a dead body. The mayor tries talking his way out of it and assures Matt that he only killed the person because they were evil. The two fight to the death with the mayor constantly trying to get Matt to stop and listen, claiming he's not evil.
That's about as far as I can go without getting into big spoilers. Exactly what the mayor was up to, what the "demon" knew and didn't know, and the people responsible for everything are soon revealed. The ending actually resolves quite a bit, including Matt's search for his father. As far as ZZT dramas go, again, Leamas really does an excellent job. Everything is handled far better than your typical ZZT adventure of the era would. I didn't expect too much from this game's first chapter. Barbra kind of forces the game to get moving in a way that set me up to not expect much in the way of story. By the end, I was honestly pretty invested. Granted, that investment wasn't in the anti-matter gun of Armin Chawls or the time travel that only come into play in the last half hour or so. I was definitely interested in what the whole deal with the mayor of Ganon was. They're a surprisingly complex character when you play through the game yourself. It's a nice change of pace to have an antagonist that isn't just blatantly evil. He's weird enough that you really don't know what to actually expect from him and since he carries the back half of the game it really helped keep me interested in advancing the story.
While the story is what kept me rapt, undoubtedly the most unique feature about LOME is its combat system. The game bills itself as an RPG, though it's less Final Fantasy and more Legend of Zelda. There are no RPG battles like you'd see in other ZZT games like War-Torn, Warlord's Temple, or Psychic Solar War Adventure. Fighting of basic enemies is done by just using built-ins. Boss fights are objects that run around and shoot making for fairly straightforward combat scenarios. Where it gets unusual is that Leamas implements an encounter system rather than pre-populating each board with some enemies to fight. On the vast majority of boards on the overworld (mostly excluding boards where some more technical wizardry is in use) the player's gem counter will rapidly tick down. When it reaches zero the player gets in an encounter and a hidden object will spawn in a handful of lions or tigers.
The game is very much structured around this system which serves it well in some regards and hinders it in others. Score is used rather than the typical gems as currency so Matt has to fight these encounters in order to buy ammo for future fights as well as paying to rest at an inn to set his health back to 100. When you're first exploring the island, this is a pretty cool system. By making encounters reusable it keeps the player from exhausting enemies and eventually have to trek around a now much emptier island. LOME is a game with considerable travel as you progress through quests and have to relay messages back and forth for the bulk of the game.
The encounter system has a few problems though. Firstly, when you place enemies via ZZT-OOP you're stuck with the default stat so every encounter feels pretty much identical. You'll never run into lions with high intelligence that are better at advancing on the player or tigers that throw stars instead of shooting bullets. (Okay, that one is probably a good thing.) The lack of variety quickly takes its toll. When the encounter timer got low, I'd find myself seeing if I could reach a board where I knew where the enemy spawn point was to be able to quickly clear them out and get on my way.
Some randomization of spawn points on each board or having a smaller number of enemies spawn from every spawn point would have at least made things more engaging. I suspect with how much time is spent on the overworld that prolonging the encounters by not grouping foes together might make players get tired of it even faster.
Early on things are interesting enough and your money and supplies are low enough that you're absolutely going to be fighting off every encounter. After finishing a few quests and getting piles of cash for rewards it gets a lot more feasible to ignore encounters and just run away from them. Even getting tired of fighting lions that mostly ignore the player entirely I was still reluctant to run away from a fight. After all, when you're in a fight, your encounter timer remains at zero. Running away to another board would likely just immediately start a new encounter on that board. Soon enough the island would be overrun with lions and tigers making travel a lot more dangerous. Ever more-so when you realize the island is large enough that you won't have a perfect mental map of it. Walk over the edge of one board and you might find yourself immediately in the thick of enemies you left behind earlier, mistakenly thinking that you'd be going to a still safe board.
The reality of the situation is much sillier. Perhaps being afraid of creating an island with enemies everywhere Leamas sets a flag when you're in an encounter which suppresses the timer. (Or maybe it's just to avoid the next timer ticking down during your first encounter.) This means that the island itself can only have a single random encounter at any given moment. Activate a fight in a secluded corner, walk away, and never have another encounter unless you opt to go back and complete the current one.
This is kind of dumb and really defeats the entire point of preventing an empty island devoid of enemies from occurring in the first place! Still it's hard to say that not allowing this would improve the game. These basic encounters really just slow the player down, adding very little to the game. They're a brief obstacle, but devoid of any impact beyond giving the player some more money.
The way the encounter system ends up playing out is that you fight some fights for a bit, and then right around the time you start getting sick of all these encounters, you can just opt out. The empty world instead continues to make travel tedious, and I don't know if I'd feel as comfortable disabling the encounter system as I did were I playing ZZT without
?PASSAGE custom cheats available. At the same time though, the encounters really just feel like busywork once they stop having a major impact on your cash. The weird and obviously not idealized implementation of this system feels like it just has the good fortune of stumbling into working out.
Secrets, Keys, and Bonuses
Leamas proves himself to be a big fan of secret hunting throughout LOME. Hidden objects yield either bonus points or keys to the bonus games within the bonus houses. These are the sort of secrets that would be quite frustrating if they were mandatory in any way. By keeping them optional Leamas invites the player to really explore the island to the fullest. It's a fun idea, but it's a challenge few would bother with. Resources are abundant after a point, and you'll likely earn points faster by just grinding out encounters rather than actually inspecting every little nook and cranny or inspecting the messy blending to find the one tile that doesn't quite match. It's a bit reminiscent of what Tseng does with the Gem Hunter series, except those offer up different endings and extra boss battles. In LOME, Leamas is offering up a hook but never puts any bait on the line.
The secret spots across the island can be found in the following places (click to reveal spoilers):
- The leftmost dead tree outside the hermit's home.
- One of a dozen identical fence tiles outside of Kanon
- A breakable wall that makes up a mountain wall to the left on the upper plateau east of Kanon
- A breakable wall just left of the race track building
- A green normal without a background on the board with the circle of trees
- A chair that's pulled out from the rightmost column of seats at the ice cream parlor
- In some papers on the mayor of Kanon's desk
- Trying to enter one of the boarded up homes on the east side of Kanon
- On a bookshelf in the tower's upper level
- Touching a tile that silently changes the normal wall below it into a fake so you can then touch the hole in a large tree in "The Otherside". Really???
In addition to the secrets there are also the hidden keys to the bonus rooms. The credits say one is easy to find while the other may take some time. I'm not sure which is supposed to be which though. You get one by inspecting a specific pine cone twice and the other by noticing a wall with a dark blue instead of black background. Buying a crowbar, and prying the crack open. Needless to say I didn't get either of these in my playthrough.
When I went back to try the bonus games I was left unimpressed. The first game has the player chase an object around in a big empty room, catching them five times and getting a random key each time. This is done by having the room be full of differently colored empties so where you catch the object, named "Winkle", determines what you get. Interestingly and infuriatingly, if you catch them next to a wall they'll cry foul and it won't count.
After getting your keys which hopefully don't have duplicate colors because that means backtracking due to the one key of each color limit ZZT has you can head over to the treasure room which offers up columns of three treasures per key color. You can't tell what the reward is until you pick it up, which for the most part is fine when you get ammo or bonus points, but you can also get "free healing" when the game has that 100 max HP cap, potentially wasting it depending on your health at the time.
Some prizes are also inaccurately described. A 10 point bonus I got actually meant 10 health, which was then wasted since I was already at 100 in the first place.
The second bonus game is quite similar but streamlined. Instead of catching Winkle, Matt gets to operate a device that moves in an enclosed space and plot down five boulders wherever he likes. The same system of multicolored empties is used and depending on what color boulder ends up appearing determines the prize. It moves fast at least. Plus while you still won't know what you'll wind up getting, it does at least list the possible prizes before you start. This can at least get you to hold off playing until you're injured so as not to waste a full heal.
All in all these games aren't important at all. You won't notice if you miss them, and the only real benefit is that if you play them early you might wind up with a big stockpile of ammo and be able to stop fighting random encounters a little earlier than usual. I managed to snag 400 ammo from the second game which is probably enough to finish the game on.
The Dev Cycle
A nice thing about LOME is that Leamas is both pretty upfront about the troubles of creating it plus there's a LOME Intro archived that serves as a non-playable demo that lets us see some of the changes that occurred in the last four months of development.
For starters, as mentioned earlier, the opening to the official release spends a bit of time discussing the game's development and major overhaul. The game was intended to be a comedy before Leamas decided to turn the story into something more serious. He mentions scrapping plenty of story that no longer fit in the more serious world. At the same time, if it didn't get in the way of the new story, he kept it. There are a few instances where you can kind of get a feeling that something was originally going to be more important in the original comedic plot.
The town of Kanon has what ends up being a completely pointless and unresolved side-plot of an ice cream store that's been robbed. A small child is constantly sad about the ice cream being gone throughout the game, and the store is one of the few buildings in the game that can be entered. Inside Zelly's, you'll find the owner Janez quietly crying to themselves about how their dream of running an ice cream parlor has been ruined. Early on it's easy to assume that this will be important, but to no avail. This is somebody who Matt simply cannot help, which makes it stick out even more with how ignoring the problem goes against everything we learn about Matt's personality.
There's also the racetrack on the overworld. In this case, it seems less like a plot change and more of LOME just not quite being as finished as Leamas may have wanted it to be. Like Zelly's, Matt is free to go in. This time the person behind the counter has a fancy looking "RACING MANIA" header to their dialog, but explains the racetrack has closed down due to a lack of visitors. Again, it's framed as something vaguely questy. There was business, but the islanders are scared to travel. No matter what enemies are defeated there's no way to participate in, gamble on, or even just watch a race.
The intro world is a bit more curious. There's really not a whole lot to it, just a few boards to met the cast, and a brief tour of some of the island. What's notably here is that the graphics received a pretty big overhaul from the intro to the final release. The shading far more flat which truthfully makes the boards a bit more legible. I kind of like its simplicity. You can also get a look at the first board of Ganon where the buildings do look a little worse. It's not much, but it's pretty rare to have in-progress ZZT boards like this. It's something to check out after you play the actual game, but as a marketing tool to get you to want to play the game it's not doing all that much. Lastly there's a very fun little cast board where a bunch of the game's characters walk out and have their name appear and explain what they do. Janez of the ice cream parlor shows up here and even mentions that maybe you can help them recover the stolen goods, lending more credence to the idea of a scrapped quest.
The Towns of Kanon and Ganon
With the game structured around an open overworld that can be explored however you like, the two towns serve the function of being a place for Matt to get new quests, resupply on health and ammo, and learn a bit more about the island and its inhabitants. Kanon in particular has a surprising amount of extra places to explore. Plenty of homes that can't be entered are used to fill out the boards that make up both towns and help make the towns feel like spaces people occupy rather than just a board entirely designed around catering to Matt's goals.
The back end of Kanon has all the places the player may need to visit, with an outdoor shop selling ammo and torches. I've seen plenty of shops in my time, but never have I seen pricing like this:
19? 37? 57? Are these numbers even real? There are minor saving for buying larger quantities, except for the largest quantity which is actually the most expensive per bullet. At the same time the amount you save is so minuscule that it hardly matters which of the options you actually pick. I think I bought 80 rounds a few times as it's enough ammo that you won't have to think about it for a bit. By the end of the game I just spent a whole bunch of cash buying the largest quantity to eliminate any chance of running out. The money for supplies coming from encounters makes the shops actually a place you'll return to quite a bit. The pricing may be strange, but Leamas made a ZZT store worth shopping at.
Meanwhile over in Ganon there's a second shop with abysmal prices. The numbers are rounder and the torches are cheaper, but by the time the player is able to enter Ganon there's no way they're going to buy from here unless they've completely forgetting what the prices are like in Kanon. What's really fun about these two shops is that buying anything from them sets flags that you've done so and makes the owner of the opposite shop get all pouty that you wasted your money at the inferior store.
Also the two store owners are ZZTers of the time, Viovis and genie500. Leamas includes a handful of cameos throughout LOME, all of which are handled by putting a ZZTers name on a generic NPC. There are no catchphrases or community references to be found, just some names you may recognize.
These stores aren't the only two. Kanon has a second store meant to sell general items. It takes on the form of a bunch of shelves with objects to examine. None of them can be bought until Matt has a reason to do so. Even then only two of the roughly dozen items can be purchased. It's probably for the best to not have the player buy unusable items like a gray key or blue diamond, but Leamas could pull it off. This is game whose random encounters mean that it would be quite difficult for the player to get put in a situation where they can't afford to buy more ammo to keep the game's economy running. The lack of being able to buy things combined with the lack of anything to resolve in the ice cream parlor made me assume that you couldn't buy anything, resulting in my having to dig through code to figure out how to get past a certain point where the solution was to finally do some shopping.
Kanon also offers an inn, which I'm surprised you can't find in a Ganon as well. Perhaps I'd have been more willing to buy overpriced ammo if I didn't have to run back to Kanon for health anyway. It's a simple forty score to set your health back to 100. I can't say this with much confidence, but I can't think of any earlier ZZT worlds that do the 100 health maximum and healing that sets your health to exactly 100 than LOME. If it's pioneering the technique, great. I think the system works quite well in ZZT.
Lastly, Kanon has an arena. It's weirdly out of place and is entirely optional. You have your choice of three foes, a rattlesnake, a fairy, and a wizard. There's a timer to defeat each enemy and doing so fast enough gets you some ammo and cash as a reward. The encounter system of LOME necessitates the use of built-in enemies, so this gives us a chance to see what Leamas would have done for more object based fights, and let's just say we're better off with the lions and tigers we got. These fights are not entertaining in the least and are just completely lacking in having any sort of impact. You just, shoot a bunch until you win, which to be fair equally describes all the boss fights in LOME, but at least you have motivation for those fights. The risk and reward and even the name of your foe is all entirely unstated. Just going in blindly makes the arena feel like an afterthought.
The stronger opponents offer a bit more in terms of rewards so you can technically use it to farm ammo and points. It's just that without knowing how the rewards scale you're probably not going to want to bother. Is it worth spending 40 points and fighting a wizard to get 100 points and 60 ammo? Not really. Just hanging out by a tree that spawns encounters towards a corner is probably going to be safer and faster, plus to some extent you'll be doing that naturally just through normal play. Mostly the arena is just an oddity in that it happened to be finished when the racetrack and ice cream quest didn't.
In the end, much like ice cream, LOME was a treat worth having. I didn't know much about it going in. Leamas was a name I recognized, but more for his participation in the ZZT community via forums and IRC than through his games. I was expecting something reasonable at least. We are talking about a game that won a Game of the Month award when it was released, and in the summer months, when competition is typically a little stronger thanks to the school-aged ZZTers having plenty more time to work on their masterpieces. Really I was just happy that it wasn't like the "game whose abbreviation is the title" I frequently mixed it up with that is MADF (the Misshap Adventures of Daniel Fogerbockie).
At is heart LOME is your typical ZZT action-adventure title. It's a fairly saturated type of game, and one that by 2000 took a bit of extra effort to turn heads. Leamas pulls this off by having a few aspects working in his favor. The unusual writing that comes from Leamas's inexperience with the English language works beautifully with the low-key surrealism of the island. It probably goes without saying that a game with a town named "Ganon" elicits some Legend of Zelda vibes. In particular, I suspect this game had influence from Link's Awakening where like Matt, Link is trapped on an island with some strange characters that frequently have some weird quirkiness to them. When I reached the point where Matt was wondering why the islanders seemed so uncaring about being stuck on the island I was fully expecting the game to end with a reveal that Matt dreamed the island and everything on it up. The characters add in the much needed personality that makes the island so memorable rather than just being a big empty world.
Then there's just the sheer luck that the game's gimmick, it's random encounter system is both compelling early on and quickly discarded when the player tires of it. I still can't get over the good fortune Leamas had with this. The idea of random encounters allowing for an overworld that doesn't stop being dangerous as the player explores is a good one. It's just one that the limitations ZZT have make really difficult to balance without making those repeated encounters get tedious quickly. It would have been very easy for a game like this to use a per-board timer for encounters and opt to use gems as currency as is traditional in ZZT games. If this was the case for LOME I'd have very rapidly wanted to stop shooting at the lions and tigers Matt repeatedly runs into. Instead you get a nice gameplay loop encouraging the player to keep fighting these fights in order to get a buffer of ammo and some spare change to rest at the inn or grab some extra torches.
Like other more gimmicky engines in ZZT games, the moment the novelty wears off, you begin questioning what it was adding in the first place. Fighting basic enemies clumped at a specific tree or rock can't carry the action for the entire game. The luck behind Leamas deciding to let the player just run from an encounter and completely stop the system from functioning for the rest of the game unintentionally(?) lets the player engage with the system as much or as little as they want. Now I'm here saying it's a cool system while also being thankful that it eventually stopped being a part of the game entirely.
My only real complaints with the game are that sometimes the order of events isn't quite what you'd expect. Being specifically told to find the mountain man only to immediately run to him and have him say his usual cheerful hello and nothing else was a bit annoying when it meant several boards of walking to actually talk to who I need to speak with before turning right back around. In this instance it's a case of thinking you need to go to point A when you need to go to point B, but you'll likely run into other moments of not having any idea what to do next and just hoping to talk to the right person. The advances in story don't always connect cleanly, so finding a gate suddenly unlocked won't be because an NPC told you they noticed that gate that's always closed was open or anything like that. It's just a matter of finding the exact spot you need to be in next.
I imagine this is meant to be mitigated by having Matt get in encounters as they explore the island, relying on them to keep the player engaged, but the repetitive nature of the fights in comparison to the fun writing you get when you are moving the story forward make it feel like it's just getting in the way of the good stuff after the earliest portions of the game when it's still a fresh idea.
Modern tools make it easier to deal with. Modern ZZT 3.2 replacements such as SolidHUD or ClassicZoo make it easy to turn up the game speed, walk through walls, or just outright change boards which streamline the experience in a way I think ultimately benefits this 20+ year old game. The file viewer can help you track down the right flags to move things along with minimal effort. Otherwise you're looking at a game that might end up with you frequently glancing at the clock when progress is slow.
The story also goes a little off the rails towards the end. It's a risky move to introduce time travel and anti-matter-based weaponry as late game plot points when Matt's just looking for his father. The game offers plenty of comic relief, though Leamas's stated goal of making a more dramatic game holds through in the end. It wouldn't have taken much for the end to fall apart introducing all this stuff at the last minute to raise the stakes. Leamas pulls it off though. You'll sometimes laugh at things Leamas wants you to laugh at and other times at things I don't think were intended to be funny. Despite some hiccups though, by the end of the game I genuinely was invested in seeing how everything played out. The mayor of Ganon is a great character who ultimately steals the show turning the case of the missing dad into a very real curiosity as to what this dude's deal is.
Overall, I really would recommend this one. It doesn't feel exemplary in any aspects, but it hits the right notes and keeps your interest from start to end. If you enjoy wandering around and discovering new places to see and people to interact with, this game gets quite a bit right. There's a genuine appeal to the world of LOME that captures your attention without just being a silly mess.
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