Scarlet, Green

36.0 KB
2.25 / 5.00
(2 Reviews)
Board Count
16 / 37

Closer Look: Scarlet Green

A secret biological weapon has been set loose and only... the jerk who was well aware of it can save the day

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Oct 31, 2019
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Our poll winner for October is a game best known as "That other game by Johnathan Wellington Wells": Scarlet, Green. This is a pretty apt way of looking at it, since Wells has two wholly original ZZT worlds to his name, one being the critically acclaimed masterpiece Evil Sorcerer's Party and the other being this game he made in junior high and decided to publish in 2003, the same year ESP was also released.

Needless to say, there's a bit of a dip in quality between Scarlet and what many consider to be the best ZZT game ever made. It is because of this massive disparity that I decided to put it on the poll and get a glimpse into Wells's earliest known work. Would it be good? Almost certainly not. Would it be a window into the personality that gave us a ZZT world so memorable years later? Absolutely.

The timing for this could not have been better. In the middle of the poll (when it looked like it was going to be the definite winner), who would show up after a good decade of absence but Wells himself! He was invaluable in answering some questions about the game, and most important of all, he managed to dig up copies of the original unreleased game! As of writing these worlds have yet to be uploaded, but they will (hopefully soon) be available on the Museum.

Scarlet, Green itself, I'm afraid to say is quite dull. It's very short and fits into the very basic mold of a generic action/adventure game. However, there are just a few tiny little moments scattered throughout that are very clearly Wells. It wasn't quite enough to keep me invested in the game, but it does make this game feel a little more distinct by showcasing Wells's personality, which was quite peculiar for the ZZT community of the early 2000s as we'll see.

Scarlet, Green does have a nice title screen! Its name gives very little in what to expect, which I think is to the game's benefit. Some bubbling concoction animates as vapors rise from a test tube. I admit, it got me interested. It also suggests reading the text file that gives some context to the game's creation and how it is in fact an older title and Wells desperately wants to be clear that this game's quality is not to be taken as an indicator of what ESP will be like. One thing of note, is that like ESP, this game also received a graphical overhaul from Funk. These graphics are a big step forward from the game's original pre-STK graphics, but honestly this game is pretty ugly for the most part. I don't want to besmirch Funk's name or anything, but I felt his gameplay boards in ESP were probably the low point for that game's graphics. His portraits and boards where the bulk of them are safe from having to deal with a player running around are markedly nicer, but Scarlet, Green lacks those, leading to what we get instead.

Thing begins in a very generic manner. You start in the protagonist's home, get next to nothing on who you'll be playing as, and as many 90s ZZT worlds had, the game begins with a quest to "escape your own house". This begins with finding a missing key to the front door.

A few times throughout the game you'll see a series of "^N" repeating. Looking into it (with both Wells and other ZZTers), it looks to be a misunderstanding of an old bit of Usenet culture where misconfigured terminals would type Control+H (not N) upon pressing backspace, which in turn meant that people would deliberately type control+H's to communicate backspaces.

So it's the equivalent of "s/enemy/friend" or "<s>enemy</s> friend" in forms of communication where actually using strike-through isn't an option. Wells suspects he learned it from fan MiSTings and misremembered the character when it came time to make the game.


What a home this is.

While this house isn't honestly too terrible, it just has some unpleasant colors to look at for too long.

The choice of colors is bizarre to me. A dark gray living room that looks like the pavement outside, and some nasty blend of dark gray on dark purple for the bedroom.

Seeing as the first puzzle is to escape from the house, that means there's direct motivation to examine every object, starting with this wastebasket that has a pencil in it. Obviously it is needed to progress and taken immediately.


The room also contains a chair that can be picked up. I didn't expect this object to be a chair, or for a chair to be something the player can carry, but yeah sure.


The bookshelf is a proper ZZT bookshelf. Lots of titles to read, and a very good insight into Wells's thoughts on literature. (He's kind of a nerd.)


Time to solve the first puzzle, by throwing a chair through a window.

I want to call attention to the words Wells uses. "Placidity" is not a word you'll come across in ZZT very often. Wells is particularly "wordy", and I don't want that to be seen as a negative. His way of writing comes off very natural compared to a few more unpopular ZZTers of the era who came across as if they were trying to use the biggest words they could at all times to sound smart. Wells (to my recollection) was well accepted in the community back in the day. He was far from being a target of ridicule both in the sense of "wow we were assholes to this person for being different" as well as "wow yeah that guy was legit annoying to be around".


Unfortunately, it's never as easy as property damage. The bush outside the window is so thick that it requires a knife to get through. I don't think it counts as a puzzle if the game tells you to get a knife.


Next is the living room which consists of a telephone, a pad of paper, and a sofa with a TV in front of it.


Starting with the phone, Dr. Stein is unable to call the office prankster that hid his keys.


This is rectified almost immediately by rubbing a pencil on some paper to reveal said phone number.


I am amused by Wells refusing to let you keep anything. The pencil is just destroyed from all this rubbing.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
You call up Dr. Leber.


"This is Dr. Stein calling. Where did you
put my car keys?"

"I did nothing with them."


"Ask nicely..."


"Beowulf, page 134"

You hang up.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

With Dr. Leber's number, it's possible to learn where the keys have been hidden. Easy enough, they're hidden in Beowulf. Before collecting them, there's still the television to examine.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
You turn on the television:

"NEWS FLASH! Giant rodents are currently
beseiging Baille Labs! They are apparently
the result of an experiment gone awry!
The National Guard is powerless to stop

Baille Labs? That's where you work!

Your knowledge of ongoing experiments
could be valuable in stopping the
rodents. You should probably go and see
see what you can do.

Mondays. This is why you hate Mondays.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

And here we get the actual plot of the game. The lab the player works at has had an incident, and it's up to you to put your knowledge of these experiments to good use and help clean up the mess and rescue any survivors. I wonder how many people died because rather than rushing to the lab, Dr. Stein here had to cut through bushes and rub pencils on pads of paper.

Dr. Leber didn't mention any of this, so he must be off today. This got me curious if you could call him again, but you cannot. When I went to copy the text from the TV however, I then discovered you can keep watching and get a cooking show that's cooking rats, followed by Wells complaining he can't be expected to program every single channel.


Despite all the flags the game's used so far to track information and items the car keys are represented with a basic ZZT key.


In this otherwise empty room is a cane to pick up. Unlike the other items, this one isn't used on this board.


And for beginner mistakes, these door objects don't lock themselves, so it's possible to keep opening the door and moving it farther and farther away from its origin.

It's a really common mistake, and I can't really pick on Wells for missing it, but what's more blatant is the fact that all these vertical doors also reset to the horizontal character when they close. That one is impossible to miss.


The bathroom exists to have a bathroom. This is also one of the rare ZZT worlds where the player has a shower rather than a tub.

It also turns out to be an addition, as the original version of the game lacks the bathroom entirely.


Moving into the kitchen, there are the usual appliances. A fridge, oven, sink, and drawer can all be interacted with.


Hands down, the most unusual choice here is the use of the approximation character for the refrigerator. Never in a million years would I have interpreted that character as such.

It contains yet another puzzle solution inside.


I was going to say the rest of the kitchen is pointless, but the clogged burner (and the ability to turn it on regardless) at least give us some insight into Dr. Stein's personality.


In a lesser game, turning the burner on would be deadly. You'd almost think from this that Wells knows better, but this game unfortunately will have a few instant deaths throughout it.


Basically Dr. Stein's house sucks real bad.


And finally, we have a knife drawer in the corner. This guy works in a lab and cannot safely handle a knife.


All this time there's been a rather large centipede strutting about in the foyer. I'm suddenly reminded of Atop The Witch's Tower.


And finally, as far as furniture goes, there's a piano which can be played. I was shocked to find there was no puzzle here. No bonus for playing I'm Called Little Buttercup or anything!


Admittedly, seeing as how I threw a chair through a window within a minute of starting the game I'm not surprised to find out that the front door can't be opened. This is some awful house where you can't undo the lock from the inside.

At least by now I've collected all the puzzle pieces and can escape the house through its less conventional exit.


Every item has its purpose and once that purpose is fulfilled it must be eliminated.


Stein is really bad with keys. The keys to get back inside are under the welcome mat. You can just go through the bushes again so this isn't really necessary. Using the front door just isn't as funny.

By this point, the player likely has everything they need to leave so they probably won't have any reason to re-enter the house.


Outside there's also a single tree, which is presented as a Town reference through it's description. Unfortunately this one doesn't give you investment advice.


Strangely, unlike the items in the house that are used for puzzles, this dog gets no description if the player already has the meat needed to get past the dog and into the very ugly car.


Arriving at the labs, we get what's actually a really good looking board. Honestly, I completely missed the details in the shading on the building playing through the game and only just noticed now that the dark spots are supposed to be shadows of other buildings in the city! That's so good! This is Funk at his best on cleanup duty.

The car is also vastly more car-like here, and I wonder why it didn't look that way on the previous board.


Is this a Manhole reference?


From the outside, things look fine. There's a lone policeman and some traffic cones closing off the entrance, no crowds, no media, and no national guards watching the perimeter. It's time to enter the lab and really begin the core of Scarlet, Green.


On the inside, the situation is looking a bit worse.


The mutant rats move pretty quickly, and the player entered unarmed. Thankfully there's a gun on the ground with a few bullets, but there are too many rats and they take multiple shots to kill. This isn't a balance issue as all the bodies throughout the room have ammo to collect which provides plenty to take them all out.

Still, on the first attempt you won't know this and will likely lose a lot of health as the rats close in while you futilely fire your five bullets.


One things calm down the room can be explored at a more leisurely pace. The southwest corner contains some seats and here in the northwest there's an empty water cooler.


Other items do their best at providing some dark humor.


Here the cane reveals its purpose and allows access to your office.


The action continues at much less frantic pace as the fast moving rats are exchanged for slow lurching ZZT bears (mutant ants) which have been feeding on a victim.


The goldfish is another victim, killed not from this whole mutant outbreak but from a science experiment gone wrong.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
The ants were apparently guarding this
body. It appears to be a National
Guardsman in full uniform. Poor guy.

You find a note in the uniform pocket:

"Received anonymous report confirming
attack by giant rodents of Baille Labs.
They may be a hybrid of some sort,
possibly an escaped experiment. G Platoon
is to report to Baille Labs to destroy the
rats and a reported biological weapon.

You are to toss a grenade through window
1 floor 1 and follow it in after it
explodes, distracting the occupants."

Clearly, the mission was not a success.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The fish isn't the only dead thing of course. Another national guardsman is here and a note reveals a bit of what the plan actual was. Unfortunately for him, the grenade didn't go off and he just went inside anyway.


There's your own personal bookshelf here, which once again has several unique titles.


A good amount of which serve as blatant foreshadowing and/or puzzle hints.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
A book of Baille Labs security warnings:

Projects marked "TOP SECRET" are not to
leave the building. Materials that are
no longer to be used should be burned.


Enhanced Rat Breeding (Client: 3683)
Superfusion Bomb (Client: 5821)
Green Plague Culturing (Client: 3683)
Jerry Lewis Marathon (Client: 4261)
R.O.G.U.E Mutagen (Client: 5821)
Airdrop Glider (Client: 5821)
Giant Ants (Client: 4261)

Baille Labs does not officially
acknowledge the existence of these
projects. If it were to be made public
that we engineer weapons, Baille Labs
would suffer a severe publicity blow.

(Yes, your character knew about this all
along. Yes, I didn't tell you until now.)
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The player also gets to learn that absolutely none of these dangerous experiments were unknown to Dr. Stein. He's just cool with working on all this awful stuff which honestly makes it pretty difficult to like him.


Wells loves to include literary references that are a bit more in-depth than acknowledging Beowulf exists. The ending to Evil Sorcerer's Party includes poetry being read as well.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
A guide to ZZT programming.

Hint #1: Generally, mazes are annoying.
Hint #2: Don't overuse invisible walls.
Hint #3: Star throwing enemies can be
         rather annoying.
Hint #4: Give ammo with objects, not
Hint #5: Check you grammar and speling.
Hint #6: Don't fill a room with creatures
         and call it a "puzzle".
Hint #7: Have some form of plot other than
         "get a high score".
Hint #8: Don't use too many instant death
Hint #9: Make sure that the player has
         enough ammo and health to win.
Hint #10: Test, test, test!

Good Luck!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

And finally, there's this very practical advice for ZZTers. It's pretty sound, except for #8's which argues there's a number of instant death traps greater than zero that isn't "too many".


Playing with the grenade will cause it to turn into a ZZT bomb and let you blow up the rest of the window. The grenade is in a corner so it can't be pushed anywhere, and my assumption was that I'd need some glass shards or something for a puzzle, but the only change after the explosion is the character of the window. (Touching the window says "this is your office window" and bombing should change it to "this was your office window" but a bug prevents the second message from displaying.)


Dr. Stein's desk is pretty dense as far as things to interact with. A phone with its cord chewed off by rats plus a computer and keyboard with a lack of power exist for cosmetic purposes. The drawer on the desk can be opened to get a key for the opposite hallway, and most importantly a plot related memo sits in Stein's inbox.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
A memo:

To all Baille Labs Personnel
Re: Green Plague
    We have completed testing of the
Green Plague (GP) bioweapon. Rats in
the main lab area have been successfully
infected and should be considered level 5
biohazards. GP is airborne. If you work
in Lab 2, the Test Area, or any other area
containing these specially-bred giant
rodents, wear a protective suit. If you
are exposed to GP, you have a very
short time to live. The antidote must be
administered quickly!
Uh-oh. You have been feeling a little odd
since your encounter in the lobby. I
strongly suggest that you get that
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Now we know what we're dealing with. This is the "Green" part of Scarlet, Green, an airborne bio-weapon that's fatal in humans and mutation inducing in animals apparently. There's no doubt that Dr. Stein is infected, and now it's critical to administer the cure and ensure that the disease doesn't make it outside.

Astute readers may be pondering the implications of the smashed office window in this very room.

In fact, the whole "airborne" thing never comes up again, and I suspect it's not actually supposed to be airborne. If it is, then Dr. Stein's quest is kind of pointless.


Of course, there's also a filing cabinet which contains plenty of reading material about the plague, the rats, as well as the tragic demise of Dr. Stein's goldfish.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
The Green Plague(GP) is a virulent
combination of pneumonic, septicemic,
bubonic, moronic, simplistic and lymphatic
plagues. It can kill within hours,
and can only be cured with an antidote
containing the antibodies necessary to
remove the germs from the bloodstream.
Red blotches on skin
(You notice some on your skin at this
Violent fits of coughing
(You choke, then read on.)
Abdominal pains
(You wince, then continue.)
Swelling of lymph nodes
(The back of your head feels like it has
two golf balls embedded in it.)
Irrational love of Gilbert and Sullivan
(You hum "We Sail the Ocean Blue",
but quickly snap out of it.)
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Dr. Stein is doomed. Aside from the vintage joke about describing symptoms and then immediately experiencing them, we also get a Gilbert and Sullivan reference.

Is the average person familiar with Gilbert and Sullivan's works? Anybody who was in the ZZT community when Wells was active undoubtedly picked up a few things. He's released a collection of their works converted to PC speaker. His ZZT worlds contain all sorts of references, sometimes just outright stating the thing, others including snippets, parodies of, or even full reproductions of their songs, and of course there's a meeting of the Gilbert and Sullivan Society in the second chapter of Evil Sorcerers' Party as well. (With Wells appearing as himself!)

For most people I suspect the familiarity with the two begins and ends with The Simpsons episode "Cape Feare" where bits of several of their songs are sung by Sideshow Bob. This was certainly my first exposure, though it wasn't until running into Wells through the ZZT community that I heard their names. But also I hope I'm wrong because I definitely saw a high school performance of Pirates of Penzance in high school and loved it. Modern Major General caught me very off guard.

Or perhaps I'm just uncultured for ever thinking the average person might not be aware of G&S and everybody reading this is an expert on Iolanthe.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Antidote ingredients:
1 mg Sodium Chloride
10 cc antidote culture
3 mg sugar substrate
Blood of infected rat
(You have some splashed on your clothing.)
1 mL Bunthorne's Solute

Seperate plasma from blood in centrifuge
and take remainder. Mix with sugar
substrate and NaCl in a beaker at a
temperature above 0 degrees Celsius (Room
temperature is acceptable). Pour in petri
dish and use a sterile "hockey stick"
to coat it with antidote culture. Add
Bunthorne's Solute to culture and place
in incubator for 5 minutes. Fill syringe
with liquid. Inject it. Dance the hula.
(The last step is not necessary, but
is rather amusing to watch.).
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Next is the ever important file that explains how to cure the infection. This puzzle makes up a large portion of the game, finding the necessary components and lab equipment to process everything. The good news is this isn't a memory puzzle where you'll get prompted for specific chemicals and times to incubate. If you have the ability to work with a component or piece of equipment, there will simply be an added prompt on the object to do so.


The rats are your usual genetic experiment you see in these sort of games. They got big and are very bitey.




One last decorative object, one of those Kit-Cat Klocks.


With the key obtained from the desk, Dr. Stein can head a bit deeper into the labs and get a chance to explore a little. There's also something lying on the ground as well.


This is a good start on the whole antidote thing.


Now Dr. Stein has four rooms to explore. The cafeteria sounds pretty irrelevant, so I go there first.


Wells! Come on! What happened to "Test, test, test"?

Thankfully whatever object begins by throwing an error and halting its execution isn't actually important.


Actually, when the cure involves salt and sugar, perhaps I shouldn't have been so hard on the cafeteria.


Attempts at pilfering some cash fare more poorly.


Still the cafeteria continues to provide! A microwave can be used for making the sugar substrate


And lastly, there's the door to the kitchen, which is technically open, but is very much off limits.

That object that threw an error on entering this room? It's what appears to be a passage above the door. There's no way to actually open the door, but the object checks for the door being gone, and if it is, instantly kills the player as they're attacked by a baby wolf-bear. So this is a programming error in our favor. Or would be, if it was possible to open the door.


With the cafeteria explored, I planned to head to the president's office next since it was right across the hall, but attempting to do so causes a message about needing to prioritize curing yourself before you figure out the truth about what happened here.

So instead, I opted to check out the office prankster's office. This is the guy who hid Dr. Stein's car keys prior to the game beginning.


It is not what anybody would have expected. That's for sure. It's extremely bright and colorful and honestly I do love how it looks, and though it's quite out of place in Scarlet, Green, that's kind of the whole point.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Well, after ten years working here, you've
finally entered Dr. Leber's office. It
looks more like a funhouse than anything
else. Oh well... What do you expect from
the evil mastermind behind the Jerry
Lewis marathon project?

Hmm... Now that he's out, you might be
able to get to his car keys or something,
or better yet, find something for that

You hum a few bars of "In Enterprise of
Martial Kind", then prepare for the ordeal
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Here the weirdness exists to add in some puzzles and materials for the antidote.

And of course, the Gilbert and Sullivan symptom reoccurs with In Enterprise of Martial Kind.


The task is of course to get all the yellow keys and make it to the actual "office" area. Like a classic ZZT game the keys can be collected in whatever order the player chooses.


This giant Frodo the clown mostly exists to take up space. More important are the arrows next to them and the manual that explains how they can be used to control Frodo. Frodo the small red object at the bottom of the room that is. This giant statue will remain fixed in place.


The puzzles, are not very puzzling here either. Simply pushing the key out of the conveyors is enough to get a first key.


Next I went with the path on the right since each key has to be turned in before picking up another. This meant a room just full of tigers, the mark of an experienced game-designer. Thankfully Wells gives the player a large health kit which restores 100 health.


But I'm too clever to run in, guns blazing. I'd much prefer to open the door and then race back to the Frodo controls, hopefully pinning the tigers inside and ideally crushing a few with Frodo, sparing some ammo and ideally health as well.


Sorry, not tigers, gun-toting birds pi symbols. Jokes about literal interpretations of ASCII characters in ZZT are a time-honored tradition that aren't the least bit out of place on a board that looks like this.


I love it when a plan comes together. Frodo takes out a reasonable number of tigers, and helps bottleneck them from moving towards me. I manage to defeat every last one without taking a single hit.


Too bad this is followed up with a completely random spinning gun gauntlet. I reduced the odds of being hit slightly by once more using Frodo as a shield, but had I thought up this plan from the very beginning, I could have used Frodo's key to block another gun and reduce the odds even further.


Heading into the west chamber there's a warning to save. This is because of course, one of the keys is behind a door which only opens when you answer a riddle.


This isn't a terrible riddle by any means, and ZZT always makes these things a little easier by virtue of turning them into a multiple-choice question.


With under a dozen choices, even if you're completely stumped you might find it faster to just run through the list than to crack open the editor.

(The correct answer, is the 8th one.) Answering incorrectly is an instant game over and I'm thinking back to Well's little advice for ZZTers.


And just beyond the Sphinx is possibly the world's easiest slider puzzle.



There's just one key left, which involves taking a tiny detour in the spinning gun room to grab it. Again, Frodo can mitigate potential damage.


Finally, Dr. Stein reaches his goal of Dr. Leber's actual office.


The first item is the important one, with one of the needed ingredients form the antidote.


The rest are for resolving this prank war. The natural order to explore this room involves the player not being aware that there's a fish in the back of the room prior to touching the diploma.


The fish fits in with the bizarre theming of this board.


I'm quite thankful this isn't an instant kill. Especially since the player gets nothing out of it.

Anyway, agar acquired, silly times are now over. It's time to check out the rest of the building and get back to the science side of things.


The last room to check in search for an antidote is the lab.


Actually getting inside requires a very brief scan in an airlock before proceeding in or out. Thankfully, despite being very much infected with exactly the sort of disease the company would want to be scanning for, Dr. Stein is free to move as he pleases.

Even as simple a puzzle as finding a screwdriver or something to break the scanner might work a little better.


It's full of equipment that will soon be very handy to have around. Though the quest for pure water is still ongoing.


Whenever you can make progress in mixing up some antidote, Wells has you do so automatically. This is probably a lot better than constantly running back to Dr. Stein's office or taking notes on what to do, but it does mean I was definitely shutting off my brain and just touching objects haphazardly to make progress.


There's also this cute little joke about ZZT mirrors where this one has the player's reflection appear in the wrong spot as it's an Escher mirror.


So I've got salt and agar and plasma and I don't know what else. It's just difficult to be invested in the process and I'm not sure if that's on me or Wells.


In the back of the lab (past the once again now-horizontal door) is an emergency rinse area with several showers, sinks, and empty paper towel dispensers. This game sets the record for number of ZZT showers by far, and also is the first time I've ever seen lab safety equipment in a ZZT world.

Again though, the building no longer has running water so nothing in here is of any use with one exception.


At the bottom of the room is another first aid kit. This one is significantly less well-stocked and only restores 20 health compared to the previous one restoring 100.


At this point, I was out of places to explore, and went back to the office to check the antidote formula again before remembering that I had some new items which meant finally getting the water needed.

And with that water, it was time to do some chemistry.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
This is an incubator.

It could be used for the preparation of
the antidote!

You place the dish in the incubator. Now
you need to add something...

You put the water on the culture and
start the incubation. After five minutes,
you pull out the culture and inject it
into your body with a syringe. You feel
better already...

Now you can find out how those rats
escaped, and who infected them with GP.
Someone is trying to sabotage your work!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Phew! That was a lot of touching objects. The first half of the game is over and now it's time to figure out what actually happened and why.


And here I learned if you mash the bio-scanner buttons fast enough you can break it and force both doors open. Nice.

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