This one is an interesting one because you can read _so_ much into it, but I have nothing to back up any interpretations I can come up with other than my own gut instinct. Our poll winner for December is Algorithm Part 1: Disco For Justice, a game of my choosing after stumbling across it and learning a bit of what it's about.
Around 2003, a new ZZTer arrived to the community who, on any given day would go by the name Develin, ZZDevelin, or Dron. They showed up at the wrong time, being an annoying young teenager who didn't fit in with all of us cool slightly older teenagers. They pretty heavily ostracized for various reasons during their stay in the community ranging from general annoyance, to not shutting up about how Doom 3 was going to be the best game ever. Their ZZT worlds were pretty abysmal games about escaping from HELL and fighting DEMONS and there was BLOOD and basically your typical teen that latched on to something "subversive".
One other notable thing about them was that they frequently bothered fellow ZZTer Zenith Nadir, asking him for his "graphical secrets" as they also showed up shortly before Frost 1; Power was released. Nadir apparently tried to give them some guidance, but turned off by Dron's biggest-fan-ever behavior that went beyond wanting to learn and was mostly just endless praise to the point Nadir wanted him to just shut up and go away.
Their story has one more anecdote that needs to be shared. Dron participated in the Spring 2003 24 Hours of ZZT contest ran by Hercules and was disqualified for "violation of the 'Do not use pre-made ZZT stuff and do not rip stuff from other ZZT games' rule". Then in the Summer 2003 24 Hours of ZZT contest he won first place, and the victory is generally considered a good example of how much the 24HoZZT contests had fallen from their heyday.
But this game, with its quite nice looking title screen, by Aeris is by none other than Dron themself, making a return in 2008 out of nowhere and now named after, (but legally distinct from) Aeris, the pink cat from the webcomic VGCats by Scott Ramsoomair.
Did a few years of growing up lead to a better ZZT experience? Kind of. Algorithm is still a pretty bad game, whose humor would've fit in better in 2003 than 2008, and just falls completely flat in 2018. It's random and it's nonsensical, and it's not gonna be a fun ride generally.
The modified ZZT also sets an entry to display the game's name in the world list, replacing one of the entries for ZZT's registered worlds to do so. It being called "Pancakes of Justice" is likely another unauthorized edit.
The bar starts off reasonably high. I really do like the title screen despite it having nothing to do with the content of the game at all. Throughout the game, Aeris's graphics will vary wildly making it readily apparent where they put extra time and effort into it.
The game opens in a room in space which again, looks nice, and serves as a sort of menu to learn a bit about Aeris before starting the game properly.
I hope you're ready for 90% of the game to be this. Because it is a nonsense game that really wants monkey-cheese style random phrases to be treated as humorous. It never will be.
Before actually playing through proper, I spent a few minutes in the game just to get a feel for what I was in for without grabbing screenshots. The second time through it felt so good opening these messages, taking a screenshot, and immediately closing them knowing I did not have to read a word.
Sadly, nearly every object in the game can be touched for an interaction like this. I advise you to let your eyes just gloss right on over most of the dialog here.
Skipping over a penguin that quacks, a piece of wood that gets eaten to absorb it powers, and the first half of this cactus's dialog about being summoned by the pelican of destiny to answer 3 questions, leads to a prompt of a few questions the player can ask before beginning the game.
Who is Aeris?
Aeris doesn't shy from their past. The five year gap in time between this game's release and their previous would have honestly made it extremely easy to not bring up the connection and start anew, but for whatever reason, they opted to hide nothing from the player. It may be for the best, because I would have no idea what to make of this game if it was divorced of context to the rest of the ZZT community.
What is this game about?
I think there's a point in every teenager's life where they realize that what they are capable of is significantly worse than what "professionals" can do. Some folks dedicate themselves to improving, and others like Aeris and myself, took the approach of "Well, if it's purposely not good then nobody can make fun of it for not being good".
God, if these aren't words to live by though.
The credits are pretty short, and Nadir being listed for inspiration will be incredibly apparent throughout the game as his influence is extremely blatant on several boards. The other options are more random humor so I'll just skip ahead to the game itself which begins when the player enters the passage up top.
Can you spot the Nadir influences? Compare to this swamp home in Frost 1; Power and you won't get too excited. There's a jankier looking wardrobe similar to the one you see in a large number of Nadir's releases, but aside from that, everything else is still just a typical ZZT house.
BREAKFAST IS GOOD!
OKAY MRS. PIGGY WIGGY
WHY MUST YOU TELL ME THIS EVERY DAY, EVIL
DISEMBODIED VOICE OF DEATH?
OKAY GOOD SIR!
• • • • • • • • •
Okay. So things take an unexpected turn right away. The player plays Dron, Aeris's former name, and also is now a furry. The massive overlap between furries and ZZTers is pretty well noted these days, though I don't recall Dron ever labeling themselves as one back in their early days in the community.
Just how much of this is meant to be a self-insert is hard to say, but that the cat has nothing better to do than watch Cartoon Network, I'd say the fiction likely isn't too far off from the reality.
The very interactive game has a lot of random messages when the player touches an object such as:
And still more. Before the player can leave their bedroom, they need to touch the wardrobe to get dressed.
The layout of the home is weird enough that even Aeris comments on it. It's very large and very pointless. There's a house because where else would Dron the cat live.
This first joke here breaks the mold by being something you'd see a bad comedian make in like 1991 rather than saying MOON PLATYPUS or something.
The dark purple star on the ground is some magic powder to collect which replaced ZZT's torches. This game features RPG battles (of course it does) and it will prove handy there. Dron however never learns any spells, so it'll all go towards the game's other protagonist who shows up later.
The bookshelf on the northern wall has several books to see the titles of. They're all basically this.
Similarly to the magic powder, gems are now just plain money. The depth of modifying ZZT itself is something that's pretty shallow, so the player still gets one health as well.
Every single cupboard in the kitchen has something wacky inside! Waffles, rhubarb, a bunch of reindeer, nuclear warheads... all the essentials are here.
And just as the author demanded the player get dressed before leaving their bedroom, they also demand breakfast be consumed.
The hilarity never stops in Algorithm.
It all keeps going with the rest of the kitchen appliances and utensils, and none of it has any impact, neither on the game itself nor as attempted humor.
The outside world is a bit muddy with the shading. Nadir this ain't, but it's not awful or anything. Frankly just having a sun in the sky that isn't solid yellow is enough to put it ahead of a lot of games.
A sign appears to have sprouted out of
the concrete overnight.
..Why is Nevada bordered by Canada?
And what's that?
While Dron's home had plenty of furniture to examine, the outside world makes up for its lack of obvious things to interact with by just having a ton of signs everywhere.
WHO ARE YOU AND WHY DID YOU TAKE MY EGGO
GOOD ANSWER, YOU HAVE PASSED THE
IMMIGRATION TEST TO SOMEWHERE!
WOULD YOU LIKE TO GO BOWLING WITH ME?
That was the last person who visited
here in the past 4 years!
• • • • • • • • •
One of the tougher things about documenting these old games is that I'm so reluctant to not show everything, perhaps out of a fear that I'll overlook something and later portions of the article won't make any sense. Aeris is doing an excellent job of teaching me that not everything is equally important.
I swear "Plothole ninjas from Denmark" is a reference to something.
The street continues with more signs and pointless objects, and eventually ends here when the road abruptly changes into a forest. This, is rather unexpectedly, actually "explained" later on.
One of the signs brings up Cartoon Network again, and that proceeding forward is necessary to fulfill Dron's destiny. In 2008 Cartoon Network would be airing shows like Flapjack and Chowder, which sound like more fun to revisit than continuing this adventure honestly.
Oh. Right. I thought Aeris would likely be a little old for Cartoon Network in 2008. He's watching ~anime~.
Okay. Now this is totally a Nadir board. The forest is very heavily inspired by the one seen, once again, in Frost 1; Power.
I knew I should've went back home and
watched Cartoon Network!
• • • • • • • • •
And so we get some traditional ZZT gameplay where the player can attack objects by touching them, but they can also be harmed if they stand next to enemies for too long.
The enemies generally move towards the player, and it's easier to just try and avoid them since they take three hits and will definitely hurt the player in that time. Making matters worse, is that killing one results in a pop-up message about them exploding into mango juice when killed. This happens for every single enemy in the forest time and time again.
The forest goes on for a bit before stopping to dump some "plot".
Which continues being meaningless, but does have this incredible time capsule of a line about having read something on Digg.
I could include a transcript of all the dialog, but nobody would read it. In short, "Neo-Atlantis" is the place Dron is from. It's going to be nuked for no reason by uh, Bob Dole. That's definitely a timely politician to include in 2008. But maybe I'm being misleading, it's Bob Dole who is controlling the Dole Food Company, which makes most people think of bananas, and bananas are an eternal staple of comedy.
Oh yeah there's a village up ahead too. It's full of mayors.
Despite the end of the forest being on the edge of the board, the player takes a passage in order to get this extremely short cutscene that happens outside the village of mayors. Nothing moves, the player just automatically reads a sign saying it's the village of mayors and the player announces surprise that there are in fact people living so close to him.
And the cutscene immediately becomes an odd choice since the next board is a gameplay board that's nearly identical to the previous, but with the scene shifted over slightly. The player even starts inside the village walls and has to backtrack to read the signs and then regret taking the time to read the signs.
On my preliminary playthrough I followed the path into the town, but apparently the player can actually move to the south as well! The visuals of the game do have a path extending south, but the way the board is framed, combined with the previously "head right" streets and forest don't do enough to make it obvious. After all, there's a sign outside the player's house explaining what's to the west and south, but those areas are inaccessible.
The lower village being partially out of the way may be deliberate, since it's also got the only home that can be entered that doesn't have a big sign on it.
The ammo being uncollectible seemed like yet another goof, but apparently you can actually find a gun in Dron's home if you use the rhubarb on one of the books in the bookshelf. This will make the game's RPG battles a little easier, but they're still extremely easy without a gun and ammo.
The other bonus items have no requirements to collect, and offer one of the game's only sources of healing and some money which I think is usable on only a single board in the entire game.
The real "reward" for the taking the lower route is the tavern. If you wanted to see Aeris make some cameos to ZZTers and non-ZZTers, this is the place.
The bar's design is about the same as any other ZZT bar with a row of iconic upside-down exclamation points taking on the role of bottles of various alcoholic drinks.
It's easy to forget that by 2008, a ZZTer was almost certainly around elsewhere on the internet, so I have no idea who a lot of the people in the bar are. Here's Aca getting mad about furries, and here's the anthropomorphic cat Dron agreeing with this dialog written by Aeris, the person who named themselves after an anthropomorphic cat protagonist from the webcomic VGCats. It's a classic example of the "Furries are bad, but I'm one of the good ones" attitude that was extremely common of the era.
They then go on to wet themselves.
And here's CSonicGo, a MZXer who got made of fun for a lot of the same reasons as Aeris. I think they became friends, and there's a 50/50 chance whether this is supposed to be CSonicGo making a joke or being made fun of.
As mentioned at the start, Aeris was into Doom and participated in its community. Kate is a GIRL on the INTERNET which should never have been a noteworthy thing, but when so many online spaces were (and often still are) so shitty to women in general it's no surprise that a woman sticking around is seen as this bizarre and unusual thing.
Surlent joins Aeris in being someone we all made fun of mercilessly. He was one of a handful of ZZTers who was big into fundamental Christianity for awhile, so while we were all pretty shitty teenagers towards him, I can at least feel correct that his homophobia _was_ shitty and something that should have made him unwelcome in the ZZT community. This is again, more than a decade ago now and like the majority of the ZZT community, he mellowed out considerably from his youth. Him befriending Aeris here is a good example of the downtrodden sticking together.
Here's Dron talking to Dron, in this game by the ZZTer formerly known as Dron.
See, I'm not grasping at straws when I say the trees are clearly the trees from Frost.
There are plenty of other ZZTers I skipped over and a few (of what I assume to be) Doomers as well. Most of the conversations are very poor at capturing the person's personality and basically amount to "Hi, I'm <ZZTer>" to which Dron responds "DO YOU KNOW THE MUFFIN MAN" and the ZZTer says "What".
There's still plenty of this among the other mayors of the village.
Just like the tavern, the mayor house of mayor village is also distinctly labeled and welcoming.
Oh yeah, and Flimsy may be involved with all this too. There are two Algorithm games on the Museum, "Disco For Justice!" and "Disco For Justice! (joke)". The latter (at a glance), changes "Aeris" to "Drong", and replaces a lot of object based enemies with centipede heads, as well as some alterations to the character art. I have nothing to point to Flimsy for this, other than him having done so with DavidN's Castle of ZZT and it seeming like something he'd do.
You'll notice that this is is a modified ZZT executable, AZZT.EXE made just for the game that changes the player character and colors, alters some default message, and changes the icons and names of counters on the HUD. It's not necessary to play the game with it, but it's included so I have done so.
I bring up Flimsy because both the real Algorithm as well as (joke) make the author say "Drong" rather than Aeris here.