Closer Look: Sivion

One of ZZT's finest - A detailed fantasy adventure through the kingdom of Bespin. (Oh, and the password is BARNEY)

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Nov 20, 2017
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For a nasty surprise, continue heading east into a bunch of lions. A magician on the other side quickly turns them into bears, before using the correct spell and turning them into trees as forest tiles. You'll easily be caught off guard and lose some health if you approach this board from this end.

It's also a dead end from this side at first, so instead the player needs to turn around and go south of the farmhouse.


This means passing by the Bespin graveyard.

Now, I enjoy some roguelikes, and a common theme in them is the ability to dig up graves. This is a good way to find hidden treasures, but risks running into undead and tends to be a very evil act for games with alignment systems.


Rook just immediately grabs a shovel and is fucking ready to do this.


There's also this interesting bit of backstory about Rook not really understanding death or religion. It's a bit dark, especially for somebody whose mother was killed in a failed coup.

Don't get too excited about the grave robbery. Each of the tombstones has a name and epitapth, but the act of digging doesn't amount to much. A few people were buried with gems which Rook will gladly take, but most are empty. Two of them do contain zombies that begin to wander the graveyard, leaving a trail of green water. It's possible to be trapped by this trail if you're not careful, but the zombies are slow and far enough away that you can just ignore them and keep digging the remaining graves if you're going in order.


Here at this gated up old shop is probably Sivion's most famous scene. At least, once the player gets inside.

On the outside however, there's a long conversation told in scrolling messages one line at a time.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Rook: Hello.

Man: This is private property.  You'll
have to leave.

Rook: Why?

Man: Because I said so.

Rook: But won't the owner get mad that
you're on thier property?

Man: I -AM- the owner.

Rook: I don't believe you.  Let me see
the title deed.

Man: What?!?  Why should I show it to you?

Rook: Because I asked for it.

Man: You can't see it.  Its in my house.

Rook: Okay, let's go get it.

Man: Why should I go get get my deed for
a complete stranger?

Rook: No, just go get it for me.

Man: But you're...oh nevermind.

Rook: I guess that proves it.  You're a

Man: I am not!

Rook: You are too!

Man: I am not!

Rook: You are too!

Man: I'm not!

Rook: You are!

Man: No, I'm not!

Rook: You are!!

Man: Not!

Rook: Are!

Man: NOT!!!

Rook: ARE!!!

Man: NOT, NOT, NOT!!!!

Rook: ARE, ARE, ARE!!!

Man: NOT!!!!

Rook: Not!

Man: Are!

Rook: Are not!

Man: ARE SO!

Rook: YOU ARE NOT!!!

LOOK!!  I'm a phony and I just escaped
from prision for murder and I was lying to
you and THAT's THAT!

Man: Oops.

Rook: Uh-oh...

Man: Looks like I have to kill you now.

Rook: Oh, well.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

I gave some praise to the detail in the writing for the early portion of the game, and while this is still early, these boards are actually towards the end of the file, away from the rest of Bespin. The copy of Sivion here is an updated version with no earlier copy currently being preserved, and I wonder if the writing got tuned up for the earliest portions and then Mothingos just stopped updating it.

Because while the Bugs Bunny routine is all well and good, Rook comes across as a major pest here. His nonchalant response to his life being threatened also comes off poorly, and we'll see a lot more of Rook being a sarcastic jerk in the latter half of the game.

The murderer begins to attack rook, and with a few well placed arrows is quickly dispatched. He drops a white key, but not a ZZT key. Instead it's an object to just open the gate.


Inside is a crying man and a wrecked storefront/home. Rook seeks to comfort him and listens to a very long story which I'll summarize after pasting the full text of it.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Man: Thank you kind sir!  My name is
Hivalin Elwain.

Rook: I am Rook Eldain.  Now...what's
the matter?

Let me relate the whole story to you.  A
while ago, I had this very shop up and
running.  I was doing rather well, other
than the fact I was short on money.  One
day, while I was fishing, I found a small
bottle.  Uncorking the top, a wisp of
black smoke poured out of the bottle.  The
smoke took an impish form, with two red
eyes.  It looked like an awful creature,
yet it still seemed to be harmless, since
it was made out of smoke.  My first
impulse was to throw into the river, but
the smoke spoke to me, saying it was Djinn
that could grant my wishes.  I thought of
the millions of possibilities involved in
the wishes, so I took it home and showed
it to my wife.  She thought it was evil,
and that I should throw it away.  That was
the first time I ever argued with my wife.
Finally, my wife gave up, and we made up.
My first wish, of course, was for money.
The genie conjured up a huge pile of gems.
I was overly excited, and my wife forgot
all about her evil claims.  We were about
to go out and invest our money in a new
store, when suddenly, a officer came to
our door.  He said that Jacob had caught
us stealing the gems.  I was outraged.  In
the end, though, my wife said to give the
gems to Jacob and his family and forget
the whole thing.  But I was in a dangerous
mood.  I needed money bad, and so I asked
for it a different way.  I wished that I
would have the most powerful business in
Bespin, and so the Genie used his power,
but instead he gave me the deed to Jacob's
place.  I freaked and ran over to Jacob's
to give him the deed back.  Strange
enough, he didn't recognize me, and we
were old friends.  He thanked me for
finding the lost deed.  Then I went around
town trying to get people to remember me.
No matter where I went, nobody recognized
me.  I later found out what it meant when
I got back home.  To my amazement, my shop
was in great disrepair and had a closed
sign on it.  Then I realized the Djinn had
to close our shop down to make Jacob's the
most successful business.  I ran inside,
but a giant gate formed at the edge of my
property, locking me in.  I didn't under-
stand why until I thought, if people can't
get into my shop, than I can't open it up
again.  Unfortunatly, I couldn't get out.
I didn't blame the Djinn for this, since I
thought it was my own folly.  When I went
inside, I found out that my daughter had
caught the plague.  That was when the
plague was going around Bespin.  Everyone
was catching the deadly disease.  I was
frantic and went to the Djinn to help my
daughter.  The smoke lifted her body, and
for a second we couldn't see her.  Then
out of the cloud dropped the SKELETON of
my daughter!  My wife screamed.  And I
pulled out my crossbow and tried to kill
the cloud.  But it just laughed.  I tried
to destroy the bottle, but it wouldn't
break.  My poor daughter River.  My wife
somehow figured her way through the gate
and said she would bury our daughter.  I
told her never to return to this place,
since I couldn't get through the gate and
couldn't get back in.  She protested, but
finally left.  I hid the bottle in the
back room, terrified of it.  I just hated
the evil cleverness of the Djinn to find
ways to twist my wishes so they hurt
people.  I've been trapped in here for
years, never getting out, and, strangly, I
haven't eaten yet, but I haven't died.
And that's my story.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

To make a long story short (too late), he was running a shop but ran low on money. He found a bottle with a djinn inside who offered him three wishes. His first wish is for money, and he receives it, only for the town sheriff to soon show up claiming that he witnessed him stealing the gems. His second wish is for the most powerful business in Bespin which results in the djinn materalizing the deed to Jacob's store (that's the one with all the weapons and armor from earlier). In a panic he returns it immediately. On the way home nobody recognizes him and he discovered his shop is closed as the djinn had to shut it down in order to make Jacob's the most powerful in town. Lastly, his third wish is to cure his daughter of the plague, which winds up being "well if she's a skeleton she won't have the plague". His wife leaves him and he's been unable to pass the gate ever since. The bottle with the djinn is still in the back room.


Rook immediately is given the shop while its original owner flees. His next task is to destroy the djinn.


The back room is empty save for a lone bottle against the back wall. Some pretty creepy music plays as Rook approaches it, and the djinn is quick to appear when the bottle is uncorked.


Rook is given a chance to make a wish, and is presented with a lot of options. Nearly all of them result in a game over with results ranging from Rook being transformed into dust to the entire universe collapsing!

If the player remembers their library studies, they'll know that a djinn can't remain outside of their bottle for long. The correct answer is to simply wait, and the djinn will disappear into nothingness.


The reward is pretty substantial! Since it was the djinn's magic that closed the shop, once gone everything inside returns to normal.


There's a surprising transformation of the shop as its brought back to life! It really caught me off guard and I was pleasantly surprised at how well the debris were placed to make me not notice the large chunks of space in the shop where the items all appear.


It's not immediately obvious (you can tell this screenshot is much later than the previous ones), but Rook can actually stand behind the counter of the shop and take customers!


A few customers will walk in, each requesting an item and inquiring on the price. This scene is really unique and not something you'd see in many games even outside of ZZT. All the purchases customers make do result in the player getting that many gems (and them losing that many arrows/torches). Charge too much and the customer will refuse and leave.


The last board on the eastern half is the mine entrance, except this time somewhere the player can access it. The miner in charge will refuse to let Rook enter at first since a dragon has taken up residence inside and has begun to attempt to eat the miners. In order to get him to leave, Rook needs to point out a more promising cave, which can be discovered by killing that troll tribe and taking their cave. This makes the miner leave and opens the mine up.

The magician is also important to talk to as he speaks of a new invention that Rook might be interested in. He says to find his home and runs off. It's not readily apparent, but this lets Rook pass the tree in the back of town. Again there's an issue of not realizing that something's changed, and the tree now disappearing when touched instead of blocking the path is just an arbitrary roadblock without much hint that it will behave differently now.


There's not much to the mine, a single dark room with a large centipede and a glimmering giant gold vein. What's more important is that there's a secret entrance into the jail! This lets Rook free one of the prisoners inside and collect one of the seven keys for his troubles.

After the mine, I've explored all of the first half of the game that's accessible and it's time to start piecing things together. A lot of this involves just talking to people again and discovering that some arbitrary thing done earlier means they'll now act differently.


Remember the peaceful troll tribe that wants to assassinate the leader of the other one? They mentioned needing a poisoned needle for the deed, and by talking to Jara, Rook can at least get a regular one. Back in the mines there's another path that leads to a dead end with a poisonous spider which will kill Rook instantly if touched, but after killing it the poison can be collected with the needle.


After all this time, the first quest for strawberries is finally complete! At this point it's time to get serious about collecting the remaining keys which basically means revisiting everything to find out what you missed. There are still four keys to collect and it's not really obvious where to be looking.


The forum doesn't have any keys to collect, but in one of the coolest details in the game, now that time has passed there's a new band playing! I absolutely love this.


Now that the tree behind the town will disappear, Rook can enter the magician's house and see their marvelous invention. However, in order to use it Rook has to give up all of his score.


The invention is a pair of duplicators, one for ammo and one for gems, essentially giving the player infinite resources. For the sake of not wanting to worry about these in the future I cranked up ZZT's gamespeed to maximum and harvested a ton of supplies. I wouldn't say it's necesary to go this far, but it's easy to do and saves having to return here again later (and past a certain point you won't be able to anyway).


The exchange of all the player's score is actually mandatory as its necessary to get the wizard to next offer a magic spell in exchange for completing some trials. The trials are all pretty bland, picking a correct mirror (which is arbitrary, but the wrong mirrors kill you in different ways), navigating an invisible maze in a dark room, and a boss fight with an evil shade that summons monsters in addition to shooting at the player.

For completing the trials the magician deems Rook worthy of a scroll with the spell of reflect.


Another key to collect comes from back in Lord Charles' manor where the tour is over and Rook is now free to enter the museum which consists of a room filled with statues and paintings. It also has Rook's roommate Dulcis who mentioned getting a new job there at the start of the game. Rook starts up a conversation with him about having been attacked by Aprithians multiple times today. Dulcis suggests reporting it to the authorities, but is then called into a back room to speak with his boss. Rook, being a rude noble, can place his ear to the door and listen in on their conversation.


Betrayal! It turns out that Dulcis has been responsible for all the Aprithians in Bespin and is planning to conquer the world. This is all a bit sudden for Rook, who is immediately caught by the two and locked up in a storage closet to be dealt with later.


This is about the point where the game's writing starts to fall apart.


The closet is still filled with supplies, and also a peephole for spying on Lord Charles who is still discussing things with the traveling merchant from the start of the game. Rook notices the merchant is carrying a dagger and pushes against the wall hard enough for it to break and put a stop to the assassination attempt!


For more flavor, the fight here is against an object that throws stars, which are magic daggers that home in on the player! I like it. I don't like the stars themselves though...


When the assassin is defeated, Lord Charles wants to know what's going on. Rook explains and Charles talks about how Dulcis lives with the tour guides in the room on the right and that he has one of the keys to that room. This contradicts the opening where Dulcis is described as Rook's roommate, but it doesn't really matter. Finally, after all this time Rook has motivation to collect all those keys.

By this point the player will have several of them and the few remaining are quick to collect. For a quick refresher:


And this is our chance to learn Dulcis's plans and how to put a stop to them.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Rook rips open the chest and uncovers
aparchament titled: PLANS.  He begins to
Description:  Make Bespin a ghost town.
Objective:  To make search of land more
unnoticed and unhindered.
Action: Raids, introduce monsters, etc.

Description:  Stake out where Aprithia
is dormant.
Objective:  To carry out PLAN THREE.
How:  Place one thousand scouts around
Bespin after to PLAN ONE, ten scouts
during PLAN ONE.

Description:  Awaken Aprithia.
Objective:  Use his power to rise an army
and begin conquest, PLAN FOUR.
How:  Use spell REFER to SUBPLAN.


Rook puts the plans into his pouch and
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

50% through and we finally have our central conflict. All the attacks have been to get people to flee Bespin and make it easier to search for the location of Aprithia to awaken him. And he would've gotten away with it too if it wasn't for that meddling Rook. I may tease, and the sudden thrusting of the plot of the game being thrown on the player's shoulders is a bit abrupt, but I think it's worth giving Mothingos a lot of credit for how well he managed to hold the player's interest with all these quests without the player having a greater purpose.

When you play this far into Sivion, it's not because you want to see the story unfold, it's because you're just having fun exploring Bespin and its countryside. It's about as open world as a ZZT game gets.


Once the player has discovered Dulcis's plans, the northwestern cave becomes open (as the tribe of trolls has all been slain by Aprithians in their search for where Aprithia has been sealed).

The initial room of the cave is this empty void that's more than it appears! In reality there's a hallway lined with ricochets and bullets bouncing between them. The player will undoubtedly be randomly damaged walking up the hall. This would be kind of cruel, but the gem machine means the player can easily stock up on health and the hall is wide enough that you'll only take a few hits.

The empty room with random damage as you move deeper into it definitely creates a sense of unease! Who knows what's going to be inside the cave?


Or maybe I'm just building things up, since the next room is an invisible maze. Mothingos really likes these for some reason, and is at least generous enough to use the technique of having the entire maze flash when a wall is touched. The rest of the cave is just shooting some tigers and a simple boss fight. Nothing is particularly notable until we get close to the fight with Dulcis.


The magician shows up again to give us a deus ex machinae weapon in order to be able to defeat Dulcis and Aprithia.


The fight with Dulcis begins with an instant kill attack where he shoots a bolt of lightning at Rook. The reflect spell from the magician's trials is necessary to survive it and proceed with the fight.


Dulcis starts off with a phase where he spawns Aprithians endlessly. This could be a tought fight, but he doesn't move at all. The player just has to defeat every ruffian on the screen to advance to the next phase. I don't think it's possible to do this other than by standing directly below Dulcis, preventing his #put s ruffian code from working.


The next phase involves fighting him directly. He constantly dashes a few spaces to the side, back and forth endlessly, shooting a barrage of bullets at the endpoints. The narrow confines of where this is all happening can make it tough to actually hit him since bullets travel slower than he does. You have to time your shots very well in order to hit him before he starts shooting. It takes more shots than I'd like, but feels different enough for a boss fight in ZZT that I think it's an interesting enemy.


As Dulcis said, it's too late and Aprithia is awake already. He also has a few phases, the first being similar to Dulcis's, where you need to defeat several ruffians (though not endlessly spawning this time).


His next phase is far more interesting, as suddenly the room fills up with slimes that overtake the board, forcing the player to shoot through the breakables they produce in order to move. What might not be immediately noticed is that the player's ammo is drained rapidly during this. It seems as if Apritia needs to be shot before the player's resources are depeleted entirely, but this isn't the case.


The actual task is to erase all the breakables on the screen by using the bombs placed around. It's still important to use the arrows while they're being drained to clear a path to them, but there are enough around that it's merely REALLY TEDIOUS to do rather than a challenge. Dulcis's side-to-side phase was a good way to create a unique feeling boss fight. Waiting for bombs to explode is a bad way to create a unique feeling boss fight.


Finally Rook has to fight Aprithia proper, using 100 ammo that given to him with the explanation of these arrows being the enchanted ones he was given earlier. Aprithia is just the standard run around and shoot a lot boss that we've seen plenty of times both in Sivion and other ZZT worlds.

Aprithia eventually gets fed up, changes all the empties on the board to water, and teleports away. Now Rook really is stuck, until one of the villagers from earlier appears and clears away the water before deciding to head home.


Rook emerges from the other end of the caverns where Aprithia is destroying a forest using bombs. He's very evil. Aprithia runs off and the magician from earlier appears once more to restore the forest and admit he messed up the spell with the enchanted arrows.

The actual way to defeat Aprithia is revealed to be to actually give the enchanted arrows to him which will make him vulnerable to his true weakness, garlic arrows. Of course. Rook's quest is now to find some garlic, oh and Aprithia again.

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