The City of ZZT

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6 / 6

Closer Looks: Six Games With Six Boards

All cop-outs are bastards as we explore Police Quest plus five other extremely short worlds of dubious quality

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Feb 15, 2020
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I found myself with a challenge for this one. These articles have had their fair share of bad games, but even worlds as rough as Final Fantasy 2 had some length to them. Police Quest has been biding its time on the poll for months now and I had no idea how to tackle it since it's so absurdly short at a mere six boards long. Sure, it was a patron nomination, and I could follow the letter of the law if not the spirit and write my five paragraphs about the game and be done in 10 minutes. If I did that, I can't imagine feeling anything other than guilt over half-assing it.

Only when it finally won on the polls did I realize a solution to my dilemma. A patron wanted me to play and write about the ZZT game Police Quest, but there's no rule saying a dog can't play basketball it's the only game I had to play and write about.

I've decided instead to multiply my problem six-fold. Brace yourself for Six Games With Six Boards (or fewer). This way, I knock out several of these rough titles from potentially being nominated in the future, and by playing them as a group I can at least do some comparisons between them instead of putting them awkwardly in a void by themselves.

(Keep nominating bad worlds, I don't actually mind.)


We begin of course with Police Quest which starts with this wonderful disclaimer that you may not be satisfied and that you might still think it's awful even if you're played Sierra's own Police Quest series.

I've never actually played one of these games. I know they're very pedantic and you'll die for doing things like not checking the pressure on your tires before leaving the police station or not looking both ways before crossing the street.

I also know there's an incredibly awful one that was made with the help of the chief of the LAPD during the 1992 LA riots, Daryl F. Gates. There's a fantastic article on that that's well worth reading over on Vice.


But this is ZZT which offers its own unique brand of sub-par game design.

A mess of gems, a building whose left wall seems to have accidentally been drawn over with said gems, and an ugly road are what greet the player.

A nearby scroll provides the critical plot information.


In this game your task is to extra-judicially execute "Don the Dealer". I at least think the earlier Sierra titles are a bit better about not being about going in guns blazing.

The scroll reveals the two objects to be body armor and a box of ammo. These provide pretty substantial amounts of health and ammo, bringing the totals to over 600 HP and 1000 bullets.


There's very little to actually do in this game, and when you see something that's got this rough of an opening, you may want to actually pick up every last gem because there are reasonable odds you'll need as much health as you can possibly get.


Before stepping inside, it's worth noting that there's an opening credits board that gives a little insight into the game. This is meant to be the starting board but the game starts outside the crack house instead.

Chris Kohler is thanked for MegaZZT which is where this game's boss fight comes from. Lax also thanks the authors behind ZZT Objects from which he took the health and ammo objects from (with tweaks).

It's worth pointing out that Police Quest contains a grand total of four objects, and these other worlds are responsible for three of them. Granted, these are worlds explicitly meant to provide objects for others to use in their own games. I'm honestly more impressed that a game was made almost exclusively using pre-made objects.


Okay heading inside we get to see Don's many guards. A massive number of bears and a few tigers. Duplicators continually pump out more bears as well, but if you're not aligned with them they won't really move.

Again you can see the way that items were distributed by just turning on the editor's "draw" mode and moving the cursor around.


I hoped the missing wall would let me skip having to bother with picking up the key in the top right, but it turns out that there are a bunch of invisible walls around the upper area.

It's not even a maze, just a few random rows and columns. They do however prevent the player from skipping out on the key.


Here's Donny.

His arena has a few spinning guns to keep the player from hanging out on the bottom rows (though the passage and items will just block the bullets).


Once Don stops screaming he transforms into a lion and begins spawning vast quantities of them.

As mentioned in the unused opening screen, this isn't an original boss, but one taken from Chris Kohler's Mega ZZT, a collection of objects to be used when making worlds. It fits right in with the overall quality of this game at least.


After spawning some lions, the boss just stops moving and I feared for programming errors until I checked the code and learned it was just going to idle in place until all the lions were defeated. If that sounds like it's not a very fun way to fight a boss, you're right.


So of course after defeating the lions, Don wakes up and changes tactics to bears. Again a bunch are placed around the room until a set amount of time elapses and then the bear-Don hibernates.


I decided to start collecting some gems because the obvious pattern of cycling through ZZT baddies like this probably meant a room full of tigers at some point which actually would be significantly more dangerous than the other creatures available.


Next up are the ruffians, which are such a massive pain to fight just because the erratic movements mean they're much harder to hit.


I braced myself for the tigers only to be relieved as the fight ended. Don the dealer and his bears and lions and ruffians were defeated. The tough on crime ZZT police officer was victorious.

Even outside of this game, what a weird idea for a boss.


Upon entering the next screen the game immediately ends. That's all there is to it. There isn't a sequel and it's probably for the best.

Note the pattern of gems which I'm taking to mean the author didn't know that ZZT had a flood-fill command.


This release of the game includes a high score file, so some poor soul named David had to play this.

Final Thoughts

You can see where my issue was of just covering this game. This one is absolutely awful and really has nothing positive I can say about it. It's ugly, it's not fun to play, even the boss it took from someone else wasn't good!

I try not to be too harsh on these things, because it's almost certainly made by a young child who saw or played Sierra's Police Quest and wanted to make a game of their own. That's cool and it's cool that we have this mess.

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