The Cliff

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Closer Look: The Cliff

By: Dr. Dos
Published: May 15, 2019

The cliff has killed another! Find the saboteur before they strike again

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My money is currently on this guy being the saboteur. Of course if you refuse to take his gun, he shoots you with it instead.


Joshua takes the gun, runs down the street, and turns right at the police station. Two buildings to explore this time. Now that Joshua has a gun he can go wherever he pleases I'm sure.


The bar is pretty empty, and only one person is bothering to have their seat be at a table. There's also no ZZT bar with lots of upside-down exclamation marks for bottles.

Unlike the stadium, everybody in here at least has something to say, if not a whole lot.


Definitely the most notable of the unimportant patrons is the drunk old person that immediately runs around the bar looking for their shoes, bumping into walls and saying "Ouch!" a few times before finally stumbling out the door entirely.


Rick, with his cool hat is friendly, but bored. By this point there have been enough parts of these fetch quests that you can start to see the way they're going to connect. Joshua will get a newspaper, give it to Rick, get his hat, give it to the hat collector in the apartment, and get something else to continue the chain.


The library is a pretty reasonable place to find a newspaper, but it's locked up.

Right now this means there's a store, restaurant (the Palace), police department, and library that Joshua is going to need to find some keys for somewhere.


There's not a lot of town left, as this street leads straight to Josh's house, having made the whole journey so far one large circle. From here it's time to head east to the last few boards that make up the town.


Josh's other next-door neighbor is the hospital. No doubt the victim of the cliff incident is still recovering inside. Will Joshua get some information? Or will he need to find a hospital key first?


The moment Joshua enters the hospital, he overhears a surgeon in a panic. Yes, the "blood tube" broke, and without a blood tube, there's no hope for the patient, who just so happens to be the victim of the car crash.


There's not really an explanation as to why Joshua can't go inside. I mean, he's an unaccompanied child in a hospital, but Joshua isn't the type to respect boundaries like this.

The code would actually imply the this may have been a change, since the door only opens when you have a replacement "blood tube" and the doctor operating has a line for talking to him when you don't have the tube which will never be seen since you can't get in without it.

This is likely because the TV in the back has Joshua comment on things that the victim is supposed to have told him, which wouldn't make sense for him to know if the surgery is still ongoing. So for now at least, the hospital is yet another bust.


As Joshua heads out of town and up to the cliff itself, let's take a moment to review what we know so far:

* A saboteur did something to the road leading to a car falling off the cliff
* Originally presumed dead, the victim is alive, but currently undergoing a failing surgery
* Colonies of "evil creatures" live on the cliff
* There was another crash on the opposite side of town with no survivors that may or may not be related
* One of the vacant apartments in town has signs that somebody was living there

It's not a lot as far as finding out whodunit. There are obvious leads that Joshua has yet to be able to explore in talking with the police or victim (plus investigating the crash site).

I want to give a (presumably) young Shipley here kudos for his mystery. This isn't groundbreaking stuff, but Joshua has met something like a dozen people so far, has been gathering info. Shipley is building up interest by creating a bunch of locations and locking the player out of half of them. The thought of eventually getting a key to something makes the fetch quests of "find a hat or newspaper" feel like they're important and not weird wastes of time when there's a dangerous saboteur somewhere in town.

This game isn't particular deep in its content, but I think Shipley shows off a lot of promise in this game, enough that I definitely wanted to check out some of his other releases.


Now here's a solid board design. The cliff itself! The roadblock! The guard rail that's been broken apart and the wreckage of the car down below! Shipley did a great job with this board, and my only real complaint is that he did cram the car wreck onto it since the full map has room for a board for the left and the ground beneath the cliff ends up looking very cramped.


I don't want to call the game tense, because it's a colorful adventure about a kid detective talking to people in stopped traffic and giving rap cassettes to strangers, but I was very curious what would be learned here! Especially seeing the passage to investigate the inside of the car.


Who knows what Joshua might find in here. Whose car is this? Were they chosen as a target or are they the first of many random victims?


Alright. Not what I was expecting to find.

Problem: Nobody wants a rock, and at this point I've explored the entire town. Obviously I missed something and my personal detective skills were unfitting of the name Joshua Fury.

One trip to the file viewer for a code search later...


Remember how I said seemingly identical boxes. Yes, turns out one of these boxes in Joshua's attic is different from the others. Turns out there's a key that can open EVERY DOOR* up there. That might come in handy.

*It only opens one of the doors.


Just think, Joshua could've gone to the store this whole time. Not that the store has a lot to offer, since yes everything on the shelf is an empty box.

The cash register however is fair game I guess. Joshua is free to just rob a store while he solves this mystery.

Although it's a trick, Joshua is allowed to proceed with taking the cash as long as he can avoid the now very active security system. There's no flag set, or gems/points given. It's just a morality test. Except there are so many objects trying to shoot that ZZT can't actually keep up which leads to gaps in the bullets so Joshua can rob the place without any consequence.


There's still the issue of dealing with the security in the corner that's been armed this whole time however, which involves operating a robot named "AirShark", which I admit is a very cool name.


Even in 1992 this engine isn't anything new, being nearly the same as City of ZZT's Processing Department. It's got that sort of clunkiness these things have by making the player move multiple steps to hit buttons. Where it differs is that the AirShark changes which direction it faces when moving left/right. Additionally, compared to City where an object is used to toggle between moving or shooting, the AirShark has a fire button that makes it shoot in every direction.


Although City's version of this mechanic ultimately is more fun to play by having there be more of a need to move and shoot. Here, just moving the robot across the room and shooting once is enough to destroy the security system and let Joshua proceed.

I'm also just now realizing that Joshua has 5 bullets and can use one here to bypass the robot entirely. Although at the time, it's not really known what those bullets are for so you can hardly blame me for not wasting any.


The backroom is originally blocked by the store owner who won't let anyone through. They don't mention wanting anything specific as a bribe, but offer to make an exception if Joshua has a pipe to give.

Like the attic, there's a pile of seemingly identical boxes, but this time with the context of there being nothing else in the room it's a lot more obvious that they're hiding something.


One of the boxes has a rubber tube. Perfect for blood.



With the blood tube, (I'm guessing it's supposed to be some tubing used for a transfusion,) the operation can be completed successfully, and Joshua finally gets to do some proper sleuthing by talking to the victim of the crash. This mystery can finally get somewhere.


Except he won't talk until he gets his rock back, and that's a rock fact.

Conveniently, I had collected the rock already and could immediately return it in exchange for... a library key. Not what I was expecting the point of talking to this guy to be, but I guess it's something.


There's somewhat more to explore in the hospital. A bunch of busy doctors who don't want to be bothered, an eye chart, a box of medical supplies, and this room with a bed and TV.


Even with the door preventing Joshua from entering without the tube, there's still this line which breaks chronological order. Also Joshua was invited to a cliff party which sounds like a lot of fun.

At this point things move really fast since it's just a big chain of trading items.


First, going to the library, opening its door, and then grabbing a newspaper from the corner. As expected, trying to talk to the librarian gets nothing but a "Shhhh!!!!!" message.


The newspaper of course, can then be exchanged for a cool hat.


The cool hat is then given to the hat collector for a flashlight.


And with that flashlight, it's time to venture into the creepy basement.


The basement is finally something new! It's pretty cluttered, and not actually dark, though I suppose you can say the flashlight is lighting everything up as needed.


A weird scroll lies, since there are clearly a ton of boxes down here. There is a chain though! I don't like this apartment.


Honestly, this vacant apartment being loaded with boxes and a bed make it seem like the previous occupant fled for some reason...


But none of that matters. Joshua picks up the chain and can avoid this place for the rest of his life.


At this point I felt kind of stumped. I couldn't remember anybody asking for a chain until I recalled the tow truck way at the start that was missing one.


The chain can be exchanged for a key to the Palace nightclub. Joshua is still no closer to solving this mystery but he's been everywhere now except the club and the police department, so things need to pick up soon, and fast.


Upon entering "The Palace", Joshua is immediately assailed by somebody shooting an arrow at him! The board is engineered so that the player can't dodge it and is forced to take the hit.


But religious symbolism 101 prevails as the metal cross deflects the arrow and oh hey it's the saboteur. Mystery solved.


Or is it?! The saboteur confesses to the crime, but claims to have been acting under orders by the chief of police! This is big.


The other people inside are staff who don't want to be of any help. Joshua takes the time to complain about disco floors. Once STK became an option and blinking fake walls could be made, disco floors became an extremely common staple of ZZT nightclubs. Here though, nothing flashes, and it's just a white and black checkerboard that I'd sooner associate with kitchen tiling.

Anyway it's time to confront the chief of police.




He doesn't move, so Joshua just needs to dive into the line of fire and shoot a few rounds back himself. One hit is all it takes to make the pig squeal and confess everything.


Not that I would have any sympathy for the chief even if his crime didn't result in the near death of an innocent person, but on the same day as this multiple people died in a car accident just down the road! How awkward must it have felt for the chief to learn about the other accident?


The other officer not complicit in attempted murder thanks Joshua for the help and opens the door to the ending.


This art rules. I'm also glad the saboteur is mentioned as being convicted as well since I feel like a lot of games with this caliber of storytelling would just kind of ignore them.

The heads of these guys are really something else. It's really difficult to draw people in ZZT, especially with just the default colors.


Despite the huge number of people Joshua met while solving the case, the credits list just four other people. Qiopawen and Josh's nameless mother didn't even do anything.

Final Thoughts

To me at least, The Cliff wound up being a pretty important game. Not so much on its own, but Shipley's works in ZZT in general. It's very emblematic of what ZZT is. Something more than abstract action and puzzles you'd see in the original worlds, but nothing so complex as ZZT worlds made in the 2000s. This game feels so familiar and would serve as a great introduction as to the kinds of worlds people made with ZZT.

The game is very safe, with very few instances where Joshua can be harmed, and even fewer instances where he needs to inflict some harm himself. It captures that early ZZT charm of bright skies and fields, stories which are more complex in the author's mind, and as a good example of what a young programmer could accomplish when given the tools to make their own game.

Shipley isn't brilliant. This game suffers from hidden objects and a whole lot of nothing happening. The mystery that inspires everything doesn't develop in a meaningful way until the hospital and then once more with meeting the saboteur and getting into the police station. Yet there's nothing wrong with it. It was fun to run around town and see what strange people Joshua would meet next. The art is cohesive and there's clear promise here. The one downside to Josh's games having these 1997 updates is that it's tougher to piece together their actual order of release, but this game absolutely left me wanting more. Right now I've streamed Caves of Fury and announced plans to stream Final Quest of Fury. Something about his games really clicks with me and I really want to go through all of them.

This isn't the first time I've leaned heavily on an author. Commodore has had five of his titles either streamed or written about, and Zenith Nadir has had four, but both over several years. Shipley here is getting three in a row. What's different about him is that he was a pleasant surprise. I know the level of quality to expect from ZZT greats like Nadir and Commodore, but there's nothing on Shipley. The history of ZZT seems to have passed him by. The Worlds of ZZT project is all about sharing these games with people who haven't seen them, and it's been great to get that feeling of discovering something special for myself this time.

The Cliff doesn't really excel at anything, and if you've made it through this article there's not much of a point to playing it yourself, but Shipley is the real star here demonstrating a solid grasp of design (with some small exceptions) at a young age. This is from an era of ZZT that has its fun worlds, but often turns into shooting a hundred lions on every other board. This game goes beyond expectation for both what I expect from a ZZT game made in 1992 and from a ZZT game made by a young game maker. From what I've seen of Shipley's other works so far, I think that he's author whose works are definitely worth checking out for yourself before I get to them.

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