Adventures in OakTown (v1.5)

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Closer Look: Oaktown

So much promise. So little ammo.

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Mar 12, 2017
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As soon as I stepped in, my mind was blown. This looked so cool! Oaktown does something that no other ZZT game has here: made a dark board interesting to look at.

It's using the Kangaroo Effect in 1993 when the concept wouldn't be codified and named proper until 2007, a good fourteen years before its "discovery"!

Because the kangaroo effect is not actually the most descriptive name, perhaps an explanation is in order: In dark rooms, as expected, most elements are obscured by darkness, with two exceptions, torches, and passages. Normally in a dark room the player has no real sense of direction as they can only see what's in actively within their torch's light radius. By having the outer bounds of a room filled with torches or passages it's possible to create a boards that can easily be navigated even in darkness.

For the Kangaroo Effect, specifically the idea is to use torches/passages with a matching foreground and background color to make them appear as regular walls in darkness (and with a border of actual walls that will be hidden in darkness to prevent the player from picking them up or entering a passage).

Here the torches are used to represent a forested environment, just like the forest seen in Town of ZZT, but with darkness to create this absolutely striking looking appearance.


Of course, while I can gush about this area being the prettiest looking dark area I have ever seen in a ZZT world, it's going to be ruined by Oaktown's sense of gameplay balance.


Here's the board with the lights on, which makes it significantly more dull looking.

The park isn't quite as bad as the zoo, at least at first. I'm entering it with about a hundred more ammo than I had in the zoo at least, and the enemies are more safely sectioned off by the forest tiles.


The mysterious beta character is revealed to be a water fountain that gives the player some health, but only once as they've been sufficiently refreshed afterwards.


Making a good dark room is extremely difficult, but the mix of the kangaroo effect, as well as the forest preventing the player from being sniped by tiger bullets from across the room does quite a lot to make things more approachable.

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I was so caught up in how nice these boards looked that I didn't even bother to take screenshots with the lights cheated back on. The good news, there's not exactly much to see. Lots of forest, with pockets of various enemies.

The second board has a talking tree who rather than give investment advice like in Town of ZZT opts to instead talk about needing a forest key to leave. Near the tree is a scared man who's been stuck in the park without any torches.

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If you help him out, you'll get a few torches. If you refuse, he not only takes away some points and shoots at you, but also drains your torches to zero. The morality is laid on a bit thicker here than in the zoo. You better help him or not interact with him at all.

He is competently programmed at least! If you don't actually have any torches to give he won't be upset and will just leave on his own.


The next board opens with a trap as the player is immediately (most likely) going to break through a forest tile and into the pocket of lions.


Up ahead is a river with a bridge to cross guarded by a single ruffian.


A little bit later, the same river winds requiring a second crossing, but this time the bridge is protected by a troll.


The toll is twenty gems, and attempting to kick his butt will result in getting shot a few times before making him disappear. Better to pay the toll.


Or at least, it would be if the troll was placed in a way that actually blocked the player's path. The player can just waltz on by.


The next board marks roughly the halfway point for the park. There's a transporter blocked by a white door with the key visible on the other side of the lake.


In addition to the ammo and gems scattered in the park (none of these torches are actually collectible), are some health objects which give 50 health back. The zoo had a few of these, but was much more difficult to get through. Here health has been holding fairly steady at least. My ammo is definitely approaching zero and I could only hope I'd be done with the park before running out again.

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Wait, I lied. This one torch has a fake wall I accidentally walked into which let me collect it!

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After reaching the white key, I get to turn around to discover where the transporter leads. While most of the earlier enemies had been shot, I did leave that giant centipede alone giving me something to sneak past another two times.

On this tiny island sits the forest key, which was said to be required to get out of here. With it, I can continue on the path I was following beforehand.


Immediately up ahead is the forest door. Though the park had a few optional areas so far, it's basically been a linear path to this point, and putting an extra door here really didn't add anything other than a small backtrack.

Ultimately though, I'm grateful that I didn't have to redo a huge chunk of the park because of a missing key or something.

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Up ahead is finally the end of the forest. There are a few passages to enter and some mysterious percent signs up above the starting area.

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They turn out to be some sort of berry bush which kills you for eating from it.


The board is cut in two by another river, and this time with no bridge to cross.

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The other path leads to the den of the ruffian. Take a look at that ammo count and realize I have no chance to not have to cheat some more. Despite my upcoming doom, I at least got the relief of having a board that wasn't dark.


I almost did actually make it through without running out of ammo, but then the ruffians in this last room blocked the door preventing it from opening all the way. Shortly after zapping the door away I got myself killed by these last few ruffians.


My second attempt went a little better. Pulling the lever opened the final door to the leader of the ruffians, but meant backtracking through the gauntlet.


Where I promptly discovered that the only way to pass was to kill all the ruffian enemies remaining.


Having done that I was able to pass and learn that these gems were blocked by invisible walls and that I would be getting no healing here.


The leader of the ruffians calls the player out for destroying everything in the warehouse earlier, and lets them leave. It's very clear I'm a force to be reckoned with and not a single hit from death.

If the player hasn't done the warehouse the events unfold the same, but with a comment about how you killed everybody in the ruffian den instead.


The other end of the den has a few doors with some supplies behind them which are locked and can never be obtained. Great.

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There's also a lever which allows the player to cross the river to the last portion of the park still unexplored.

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The player then eats a beehive.


There's another building up ahead, this time a ranger station. There's a very weird design decision here where it's blocked off by invisible walls and requires a transporter to get inside.


The other transporter is right below, along with some sliders in case the player removes the forest tiles that block the transporter and would cause the player to just be transported to the tile above them instead of to the other side.


Inside the ranger station are yet more items that can't be obtained. The doors are locked with no way to unlock them. If the doors are shot, they're destroyed and revealed to have invisible walls behind them preventing access still.


The ranger at least gives the player one of the keys to the beach ending this area.


Outside, I'm left with almost no health, or ammo, or torches. Somehow I don't think doing the park first and then the zoo would have gone any better, to be able to get through any section requires buying a lot of supplies from the shops, and the player won't have the money until they go through one of these sections.

Oaktown has so much promise, but it keeps wearing me down more and more.


This was the point where I got stuck, and had to look at the game's code to discover the missing key in the zoo.

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Backtracking through the zoo is rather unpleasant, and I just give in and zap through a bunch of walls to get this over with. My patience with this game has nearly ran out.


Shortly after stepping onto the dock, Brian appears and releases the sewer slime into the lake, ruining the water.


The next place to go isn't very obvious. The player can tunnel their way through the slime lake on to the next board. This is the only board in the town where the player can shoot making it easy to not realize it's even an option.


You better believe there are some ninja turtles living in the sewers of Oaktown. They all just move around randomly, though one of them pinned behind a slime gives you bonus points and pizza if you rescue him.

The bulk of the sewers consists of navigating a brief maze filled with short centipedes while trying to not get attacked by the sharks (described as sewer gators) in the water. There are two keys to pick up to finish the area, and both of them are green so there's some backtracking necessary due to the one key of each color limit.


The only way to proceed form here is through a sewage pipe, with no real idea where it will lead the player.


It turns out all of this was just a very elaborate way to get inside city hall.


Oaktown City Hall looks great. The zoo was busy, and the park had some nice visual touches, but this board is classic ZZT at its finest. There's a lot going on here, but the board doesn't feel cramped or chaotic. The line walls as pillars is a great effect that I can't recall having come across elsewhere, and it just looks like a fun board.

None of the toilets in the restroom have doors apparently, and the other person sitting on a toilet says they'd kill you right now if they weren't currently busy.

The top toilet offers some excellent star trek/toilet humor:


  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
How are toilet paper...
and the U.S.S Enterprise alike?
They both circle Uranus killing Klingons!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Despite just how much is going on here, I somehow missed a ton of it?

There's a small invisible maze full of fake keys and I apparently thought I had checked the red one and revealed it as fake, but it's very much an actual key.

The red key lets you into the room with ruffians who claim they're saboteurs deleting important records and they offer to pay you to detonate the bomb in the filing room. The reward is the yellow key to the security center.

In the security center you can steal an ID card from a sleeping guard, and use it to open the left wing of city hall where you'll run in with the good programmer of the game Shaun again.

The last area contains the town's actual mayor, who was imprisoned by Brian and another random captured woman who gives the player a kiss for being rescued.

But all of this is very easily missed as the white key obtained in the zoo opens up access to the mayor's office where the player will meet up with the evil programmer Brian.

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Brian breaks through the wall and the player has to give chase. He also lets some bears and lions loose but they can easily be avoided.


And here we get to a split of three passages to chase Brian through. Oaktown has been a flawed game, but one with clear potential up to this point. Right around here the game starts going all over the place, and really loses its cohesion.


Any expectations of a non-linear chase go out the window as two of the Brians place locked doors in the way turning this segment into a strictly linear affair, and one with a needless invisible maze.


The chase is a gauntlet and gets very abstract. I'm not going to pretend the layout of Oak Zoo was anything like an actual zoo, but it was still a video game take on what a zoo could be. Here we chased Brian from city hall to whatever the heck this place is.


The author openly admits as such. This part of the game is needless, dull, and takes the player out of what feels like Oaktown and into "some boards I made in ZZT".


There's a run through some spinning guns, and what appears to be a dead end, but if you look closely, the invisible wall from the start of the room has been erased, allowed the player to turn around and now access the rest of the level.


This consists of getting through some blink walls, an invisible wall maze, and another maze where some walls are fake and some are normal walls. The reward for all of this is the yellow key to the next passage, and exit from this first room.

I head back, open the door, and enter the middle passage which leads me to...


This rather strange board consisting of a drawing of a stick figure with a gun, two dozen or so invisible enemies, and a bomb salesman.

So now the player has to run to the stick figure's crotch to hit the button while randomly being shot at by invisible and bullet immune enemies.


The bomb salesman can give the player a bomb, or reveal the enemies, but for an absolutely massive price by this game's standards. The bombs are more reasonable, but can't be moved very far, and if the salesman is caught in the explosion, they'll throw a star at the player.


It's a bad situation all around, but it gets worse when I pick up the key and find myself trapped by one of the enemies. Again they can't be shot, and ZZT doesn't let you shoot objects at point blank anyway. The invisible stalker's code makes it so that that if jammed into this position, they will lock up and never be able to get out due to having a line where they try to move randomly either east or west, and if they're blocked in both of those directions they'll keep trying forever, pinning the player.


After zapping my way out of a softlock, I take the red key and open the final passage, and am pleased to find there is no third board to go with the other two.


No doubt, back on the streets of Oaktown I can finally enter the airport, the only place left unexplored and a fitting place for Brian to be since he's been on the run.


Ha ha ha. No. I need to go back to the park because I missed picking a flower earlier.

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