War of ZZT

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Closer Look: War of ZZT

By: Dr. Dos
Published: April 23, 2018

War!! W-War is breaking out fast!

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So now it's time for action, beginning with my having to barrel into a bunch of tigers that throw stars, making for a painful opening fight. One issue Super ZZT suffers from is that the health displayed is now a bar rather than a numeric value. If you have any amount of health over 100, you can't tell. This makes it very difficult to judge how much damage you took in a fight.


The next area is full of "trolls" which don't do anything until they've been attacked.


The code for them is inconsistent. There are these objects that turn into bombs when touched, which I assumed were meant to fight the trolls with, but only one of them seems to be programmed to react to being bombed. When the bombed troll attacks, they'll shoot at the player (and other trolls), who also become aggressive once shot. Unfortunately for the player, when they first wake up they also throw a few stars before beginning their main loop. They'll mostly take themselves out, but it's easy to think that you need to use the bombs instead.


I thought there was a hilarious oversight here, but Chris Jong got me good.


There's only one other path to take really: through this guardian who will only let you pass if you give them 10 gems.


The only other route leads to a small room with some supplies, a lion, and a snake/bear. It's also got plenty of invisible walls, but some of the outer walls are fake making it easy to get everything. It makes for a total of nine gems on this board alone, so there's not much danger of not having collected enough, and if need be you can always go back to the school. Just don't constantly answer trivia wrong I suppose.


The guardian also will share information that the boss can be found on a spaceship. So that at least gives the player a goal.


Since water in ZZT now has a current, the original purpose of water (blocking the player and monsters while allowing bullets to cross) has been given to the new lava element.


The path is very straightforward, and the only real danger is a centipede that can easily be taken out in a narrow chokepoint.




Talking works, and gives you a score bonus. Killing also works, but the player is punished and loses 10 score. This is still better than the instant death I was expecting.


Continuing along the path is a flow of water to follow, or some items to collect. Taking the lazy way downstream is a trick however, as the reeds alongside the river have a blue key hidden in them that's needed to get past the trolls.


Then there's a dragon pup, one of Super ZZT's new enemies that doesn't actually do anything other than animate in place, the accent on the "o" constantly changing.


The real challenge comes from the fact that you have to kill something called a dragon pup.


The path splits, and the right path has more supplies, as well as two more of Super ZZT's new enemies. The dark blue "pairer" up top, that doesn't do anything, and the purple "roton", which moves erratically towards the player.


Taking the other path leads to another dead end. I do wish Jong wouldn't leave board edges open like this since it makes it look like there's another board connected to it. Super ZZT's oversized boards tend to shy away from actually connecting like this, and there'd be no harm done just by adding those last few walls.


The player is instead supposed to backtrack all the way to the start of the level with their blue key and proceed past the trolls.


The player encounters some new bee enemies that are coded by Jong himself. Alas they continue the trend set by pairers and dragon pups and don't move, so the only real difference is that when you touch one you don't step on top of the creature like you would with built-ins.

Just ahead is one more split. The path to the right leads to an old man who offers some more "trivia" for bonus points.


Except the trick is that he's hard of hearing, so you have to answer incorrectly to make him hear the correct answer.


The correct path is through the spider web. Spiders and webs are a new mechanic introduced in Super ZZT that I think are a pretty cool idea. The web is a floor that can be walked on, but spiders are confined to only walking on webs. They move as fast as the player making it very dangerous to actually stand where they can get the player.


You don't need to travel across them for long, as the exit is very close by. The player can stick around (pun not intended) and travel deeper across the webs to get a few more gems and ammo, but there are so many spiders at first that it's not really worth it.


Level two is a lot more sinister looking, with the opening area being filled with a lot of spinning guns.


Make that M16 machine guns.

To the left of the start is a British pound character which is used to represent food that gets eaten to restore health. I'm a bit curious as to why this character was chosen as I've never seen it used for this purpose before, other than often used function symbol.


Super ZZT's oversized boards make it difficult to get a feel for the best path to take through the machine guns since you'll be shot at generally from all over and can't see half of the guns until the player picks a direction. Fortunately, just going straight down is pretty viable.


It's very easy to forget that you're supposed to be playing a game with a war in it. Jong helpfully reminds us of this, and to be fair to him, the second level does feel more like a war zone.


Following the prescribed path takes the player down a road filled with centipedes, rotons, and a lot of lava. It reminds me a little bit of Forrester's later areas which begin to fall apart at the seams.


There's also this guard blocking the door. Again the player is given a choice of talking to them or just trying to kill them. If you try to kill them, you'll just get laughed at, which is an improvement over the usual instant death. Talking however, makes them move out of the way of the door to taunt the player about their lack of a key.


The joke's on them though, as all the destruction has led to the door itself crumbling at the slightest touch. For once the player doesn't need to keep following a path to its end and can just move on.


But it's worth staying on the first path as there's an energizer (renamed to shield in Super ZZT, perhaps to avoid conflict with the battery brand?) worth picking up to streamline the next area beyond the crumbled door.


Or maybe not. There's a bunch of invisible walls which will slow the player down and ensure that they only get through one or two trivial to deal with dragon pups.


The maze is pretty short, and only really exists to keep the player from obtaining a bunch of gems right away.


Going along there's a current of water to move the player forward, with a looping wrong path that the player will only wind up on if they deliberately move onto it. The path ends with an extremely fake dead end with a hidden passageway through.


This in turn leads to this secluded area accessed via transporters. The design here feels very "because I can", with no real answer for why it's detached from the main level.

It also includes Super ZZT forests, which leave a trail of floors when cleared, and have some of the best sound effects in the engine where each successive step plays the next note in a short looping series.


*Ron Perlman Fallout voice* War!! W-War is breaking out fast!


Attempting to help make her comfortable in her final moments results in some extra ammo and bonus points for being so nice. If you ignore her pleas, she dies and the player loses 100 points.


The war zone is the home stretch of the game, full of enemies before the player will reach the UFO and fight the game's final boss.


The most dangerous portion here is this blinkwall that's blocked off by forest tiles. The player has to run through when the beam is off and make it to the main chamber. Normally being struck by a blink wall ray results in the player taking 10 damage and being pushed aside, but with the spaces to the north and south blocked off Super ZZT (and ZZT alike) are forced to instantly end the game.


It's probably for the best that I got a game over as I'd have to run through the blink wall a second time to go back for this key I missed by not exploring far south enough.


I thought I'd be smart and use a boulder to block the blink wall, but boulders can't be pushed over floors, ruining my plan.


Not that it ultimately mattered, since breaking through the blink walls only leads to more ammo and gems. You only need to get the white key and turn around.


Choice interface!!! I don't know what this means!!!


A lot of this game comes off as just Jong playing with the editor to see what it has to offer. This is demonstrated quite well here, by giving the player a Stone of Power, a new Super ZZT element that is intended as a MacGuffin in some of the original worlds as opposed to purple keys. Here it will do absolutely nothing but make a 1 show up on the sidebar.


There's another set of blink walls, along with some lions who will be long gone by their aimless wandering into them. You can see some weird coloration due to a shared bug with ZZT where destroying creatures with a blink wall can result in an off by one error, which makes the walls exhibit some weird properties at times.


And that brings the player to the end of the level, where a UFO and tractor beam are depicted, giving the player a chance to rise into the ship for the final level.

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