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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I just plow through the forest again, turning on the lights everywhere to get this darn flower. At this point I want Oaktown to be over.

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Entering the airport the player catches a glimpse of Brian heading towards one of the gates.


The first segment of the airport consists of a lost baggage claim, a gift shop, diner, and some newspapers. The newspapers plug "Oaktown 2: The Chase" which isn't exactly giving me high hopes for this game having a satisfying conclusion.

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The shops serve as replacements for the ones in town which is important since once the player is in the airport they're unable to leave it. As always, the costs are overpriced.

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The next portion of the airport consists of a whole lot of hare krishnas who will surround the player causing a game over. The solution to this puzzle is of course to open fire in an airport. Shooting one of them will cause them to panic and attempt to run away from the player.


Entering either of the bathrooms brings back painful memories of the sewers, but you do get more Star Trek/toilet humor!


  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
"What did Spock find in Kirk's toilet?"
"The Captain's Log!"
"Geez, tough crowd!"
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The woman on the toilet isn't happy with a man in the women's room. The player's gender has gone uncommented on up until this point, and it's a bit strange for it to be revealed now, but I doubt the authors were explicitly trying to keep the gender ambiguous.

The men's room is much more dull with nothing more than an alka-seltzer joke.


Attempting to enter the security station results in a tripwire alerting all of security and causing them to begin shooting at everything. There's one guard who doesn't attack because they're stuck with a desk job and thus aren't allowed to see any action. They complain about this, but they're also the only survivor.

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The lever allows access to the rest of the board, which is of course loaded with yet more invisible mazes, a heart that can't be picked up, and also no exit? I have no idea if I missed something, but it really doesn't look that way.


I zap my way through. I know there can't be much more of this game left. It's got to be over soon. There's a row of blink walls and star throwing spinning guns, and it's going to hurt, but I'm going to cheat. I must end this.


I can see the gate Brian went to! It's almost over.


Then there's this pointless game ending puzzle. Pick the right transporter or get stuck behind an invisible wall. Earlier in the security station there was a note with the correct solution to this puzzle, but I had already forgotten about it, and it's not much of a puzzle in game where you can save at any time.


In the waiting area, we get to something that could be pretty interesting. Each of the six objects here gives a little statement about who they were with at the time of the incident and the player has to figure out whose story doesn't match up.


I zap through the puzzle.

Not because I'm sick of Oaktown! Oaktown has a nasty habit of using flags for things and not clearing them, just like what happened with Yapok-Sundria, the game eventually runs out and things start breaking as flags get overwritten with new ones. The game uses a flag to make sure you talked with each person in the waiting area which is 6/10 flags right there. Needless to say, this segment couldn't be completed without manually clearing some old flags.


Disabling the security system from earlier allows the player to tamper with the security field here and proceed through. There's a passage to the luggage carousel which no doubt will be necessary so I head there immediately.


The goal here is to pick up the purple key to the back of the ticket sales desk, as well as the two cyan keys needed to escape the carousel itself. It's not really a difficult board, but maneuvering on conveyor belts can be annoying.


Alas, there's a bomb on the carousel, which is VERY BAD. In this case it's not Shaun and Brian's fault though, but a bug with ZZT. Something about ZZT's conveyor code and bomb code can cause things to get all jumbled up, resulting in the player being destroyed and ZZT softlocking.


This of course happens to me, and I'm forced to restart Dosbox entirely.


Back outside the player can just move through the crowd and behind the ticket counter. There's one ticket lying out in the open, but it's an old ticket and won't be accepted by the employee at the gate.


There's another bug here with the plane ticket. The employee checks if you have the fake ticket first, then the actual ticket. This means if you pick up the fake ticket at all, you'll always trigger the fake ticket message and have to manually clear the flag to remove it from the player's inventory. It's one last cruel joke for Oaktown to play.

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The player catches up with Brian, who boards the plane just before it takes off. There's a nice effect here with the stairs to the plane disappearing and then the visible portion of the plane as well, followed by that tiny dot in the sky that is the airplane flying off to wherever.

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Oaktown draws to a close with Brian's escape and some weird explanation of just what powers as a programmer and sentient being in a ZZT world are available to him.

It's an unhappy ending really, and unfortunately the game's sequels aren't uploaded anywhere. On the one hand, I'd love to see what these other episodes are like, but at the same time I am so glad I am done with Oaktown.

Final Thoughts

Oaktown is a failed classic, and it's such a shame. It has so many fun ideas, wonderful graphics for a 1993 ZZT game, and memorable locations. Oaktown goes well beyond Town of ZZT and does a solid job at creating a world that while still very clearly a video game is also grounded in reality enough to feel like an actual place.

But for how much it does right, it all crumbles when you actually sit down and play it. There are simply not enough resources to beat the game without using cheats. The shops are expensive, and what's provided for the player to collect can't stave off the inevitable drain of resources.

The worst part of all this is that quite simply, it's a numbers problem. All of this could be averted by just starting the player off with 1000 health and 500 ammo. It wouldn't be a particularly elegant solution compared to properly balancing the game, but even such a quick and dirty fix would've elevated the game to a much higher level.

There are definitely some other issues that could have been caught in testing, with bugs from flags or the invisible walls blocking off the airport exit. Oaktown feels like its authors went through the same feelings I went through playing it, an exciting start leading to just a slog at the end. I didn't want to keep playing it, and from the "I got bored" comments in the chase sequence, I don't think the authors wanted to keep making it. There's definitely some material here that would've been best left on the cutting room floor.

Oaktown could've served as a learning experience for Brian and Shaun, but with no other released ZZT worlds by them available, it looks like there never was anything to come from the game. If an episode 2 and 3 do actually exist out there somewhere, I wouldn't expect them to play any differently from this first episode. With a few tweaks here and there, and perhaps some scaling back on the end, I feel like Oaktown would be one of those iconic early ZZT games like Aceland, but it winds up leaving such a bad aftertaste that by the time it's over you don't want to go back.

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