John W. Wells's Board
Lab 2Original: Lab 2
"Whoops!" you say, "Dos messed up and used the original board instead of the remixed board for their screenshot here!"
Ah, but you'd be wrong. Wells joins the project and takes a rather peculiar choice for his one board. It goes without saying that some boards lend themselves better to remixing than others. The mixer, the bug maze, the rube board, Town of ZZT is hardly without its share of iconic locations. The labyrinth section is pretty low on the list. A multi-board dark maze that's very difficult to get your bearings in and tell any particular board from another. Even still, this one at least has the odd landmark of "Bill Lives!" a mysterious piece of text whose meaning has either been long forgotten or remains locked up in Tim Sweeney's head for eternity.
I don't think the ZZT community had any fixation on this Bill character. There is no evidence for any ideas, so much like this maze, any guess is a shot in the dark. Beta tester? Friend? Non-sequitur? Who can say?
Apparently Wells can. Upon walking onto this board there's an odd feeling that a board was missed. Maybe nobody wanted "Lab 2" for their first choice, but was it really so unloved as to have been missed entirely?
Despite the initial appearance with the lights on, Wells' board isn't entirely visually identical with the original board having a few more tigers by those white gems. Instead, Wells goes for remixing the board to almost be an Easter egg. The board size reveals something deeper is going on here, with the original board falling short of 1,600 bytes in stark contrast to the remixed version expanding nearly ten-fold to more than 19,000, lightly flirting with the traditional 3.2 board size limit. It may even be possible to break a save here if you let the other tigers spread out and start shooting, creating more stats and requiring runs of tiles to encode the board.
At the same time, Wells is quite daring, this board isn't a ruse whose true design reveals itself throughout the board. The gimmick here is that one tiger by the gems contains a mountain of text, the source of all the memory being used. It's quite a gamble because in my playthrough for this article I almost missed that tiger entirely, having to search them out from my memories of my original streamed playthrough.
This tiger is no ordinary tiger, but rather a scripted RPG fight played out entirely through text boxes (similar to encounters in games like Da Hood or a section in A Dwarvish-Mead Dream).This is BILL the WHIP-TIGER. A tiger with a whip that has been the scourge of far more beings than just the player here. What plays out is a rather silly fight as the player tries to get their gun back using distractions, physical blows, headpats, and the power of prayer.
Wells has long been most renowned for his writing, namely in Evil Sorcerers' Party, one of the most well-made ZZT worlds of all time. The dry wit lives on nearly 20 years later, and as the scene played out I couldn't help but think back to ESP's own deliberately silly RPG battle versus the Gaunt Thing where basic stage magician trickery is your only method of attack against a dangerous foe.
And, much like my battles with the Gaunt Thing over the years, I took quite a beating before figuring out the nature of this unconventional puzzle-fighting strategy.
There's a ton here in this fight, and it's illustrating with quite a bit of well-made monochrome yellow ASCII art. I might very well consider it my favorite board of the remixed castle, something I wouldn't have expected to be the case when dealing with one of several dark maze boards for the section.
It would have been simple for Wells to lock the player in the board after passing certain points, but he committed to the risk of his only content going unseen by the player. A sign in the castle's main lobby mentions Bill the Whip-Tiger, and the character is mentioned elsewhere within the castle, yet even if you're hunting him down you may still be stumbling in the dark for a bit before you claim your prize.
Lab FourOriginal: Lab 4
A deceptively simple board by Rboots goes from so forgettable that I honestly don't remember this board existing in the original, to a surreal journey as you walk down its halls. Much like Wells's previous board, this one is essentially identical in terms of play. The only adjustments here are colors, and the outline.
Actually playing the board in darkness shows off some of the fun visual effects Rboots has added here. All the inaccessible space outside the walls has been replaced with invisible torches. Since torches render in darkness this lets the player get a feel for the board's layout without any light source. This has somehow become known as the Kangaroo Effect, which while seemingly undiscovered until 2007 actually has been used in a few older titles which used torches as trees in dark rooms.
Additionally, more playing around with how ZZT handles darkness is used by some additional decorative trim along the walls made up of statless stars. The lack of stats allows the board to use as many as it wants, and also means that the draw function for the stars will trigger once when one first enters torchlight. As you race down the hallway here, you get to essentially unpeel the animation and look at a light show on par with the Detroit airport which certainly livens things up.
The actual layout of the board makes it very easy for this to be nothing more than a simple walk, but at least with the kangaroo effect revealing an area that's not attached to the rest of the board there's more of an impetus to explore things down below.
There's a gag on the board that I have to respect immensely where using the
?-DARK cheat is detected (as it also clears a flag named DARK) and in defiance, the board actually changes visuals to look exactly like the un-remixed version. It's so good, and something incredibly easy to miss.
That's not all though. The code in various objects on the board is littered with what at first seem like simple doodles in the margins, but then get more and more bizarre, resulting in something that looks more like it belongs in a remix of Flimsy's Town of ZZT. Frankly, the more I look at it the more I want to leave it alone.
The Mixer a.k.a. The Re-Mixer!Original: The Mixer
#endgame also finishes the project with a single board to his name. This board's source material is a more iconic one, thanks to its name being placed prominently on the board and unique set-piece of a chamber full of keys, lions, and conveyors. It's a difficult challenge that generally rewards patience and trying to stay as close to the walls as possible. These days, it's also infamous for being an exploitable source of the conveyor bug where stats can be swapped resulting in a situation in which the player is not just hurt by a lion, but erased from the game entirely due to one.
It's also the board whose altered name is the most obvious. The Re-Mixer keeps much of the aesthetic of the original with its split halves in blue and green. While the classic design is kept in spirit, the way the board plays is radically different. No longer an action sequence, #endgame has taken one of the five purple key rooms and switched it to a puzzle of unique design.
The puzzle here is one of mixing. Colors, that is. Up to two lasers are fired from some strange machines with a colored lens altering your output. The two beams meet in a prism which further combines the colors before shooting a special mold and creating a key or bomb of various colors. On the right half of the board are a few blocked off rooms which require some key-gen to be able to access and unlock greater control over the machinery.
The Re-Mixer isn't the first time ZZT has seen a color-changing puzzle. Mission: Enigma has one where the color of the laser determines its properties, and community grab-bag zztee includes a "Key Factory" board I made in my younger days. Despite the related puzzles out there, #endgame's take on the design has its own twists with changeable plates to determine not just the color of the element produced, the type of item itself. There's also a special breakable wall that requires itself to be destroyed with a bomb of matching color.
Like Wells' scene in the castle, there's actually plenty that can be missed on this board. For one thing, you are intended to use the device to make a purple key. If you're unaware of this being a purple key board, you might unlock the exit door and run off, only to later realize your blunder. Wells may have been taking a risk in letting the player go without seeing his creation, but here I think it's a bit of a nasty move to potentially let the player leave so casually. Hopefully any such player realizes the mistake quickly, as otherwise you may end up having to travel the entire eastern path of the town once more to get back here again.
An easy fix for this is the double-key approach. Place a purple key next to the exit passage, and a purple door in front of it. This would force the player to make a purple key in order to leave, and use the second one as their proper key for the palace. (The board keeps track of the keys you generate and will prevent the machine from working if you're trying to make extras.)
That's not the only thing you can miss however, that lone lion trapped behind a green door doesn't have to be let out, though it should be quite apparent that they're hardly a regular ZZT lion. Freeing them gives a little backstory on what happened here, with the town's council declaring the conveyors unsafe and having them replaced with this machine. Rescuing them does directly benefit the player at least, the newly freed lion will return to outside the guard station with the various folks being a little friendlier on their pricing as a way of saying thanks.
Again, Town is a game that has a balance between puzzles and action. Turning one into the other is a strong choice when there are (presumably based on board availability) other boards more fitting of a puzzle. Still, I can't say the change here was a bad one. These days playing the original Mixer is very much a game of waiting to shoot as many lions as possible before stepping anywhere near a conveyor. Thanks to the conveyor bug, the original Mixer is Town's most dangerous, and even if it weren't, I can't deny that this is a fun puzzle to get through and it doesn't even have to throw out the source material to make a place for itself in Remix.
House of Blue Dragons (with collaboration from: DarkMatt)Original: House of Blues
Bluey takes on the most appropriate board for his namesake, taking the House of Blues and transforming it into a thriving bar. The abstract space with a lone jazzman and handful of musical notes is modernized and looks more like something you'd see in a late 90s game, albeit with an abundance of blue paint on the walls. This is a fun board to get to breathe some life into. I suspect anybody's take on the board would have turned it into a proper club. Probably not everybody would have populated it with dragons, but luckily for Bluey, such creatures are already present in the original Town, and this is a nice chance to interact with them in ways that don't require the word "vaporized".
The clientele, while all draconic, is varied in their reasons for being here. A hipster dragon is here for the live music, playing off ZZT's earliest known version of 2.0 and most prolific 3.2 release as some unusual way of counting albums. Others are here on a date, and far more interested in each other than the player trying to get their attention. Another has had too many cocktails, making me wonder exactly what time of day it is in Remix anyway.
The player's goal here is essentially the same, but with a lot more dialog, and a lot more challenge if so desired. The jazzman needs some help with his next show, the musical notes from the original house of blues bought them out and they've long since left. The player will be tasked with playing one of two songs, either the classic tune from Town or a newer, lengthier composition.
When asked for help, the player can opt to ask why not just get one of the dragons here to do it, which normally wouldn't be worth going out of my way to present, but the scales pun is too good to not share.
The intent here is for the player to accept the job, pick a song, and then ask the audience to get some clues as to how to perform it properly, as unlike the original game you can't just talk to the jazzman to go through things one line at a time. To make up for the extra challenge you're first given a chance to play the notes as much as you like without entering puzzle mode, allowing you a better understanding of which object corresponds to what section of the music. When you actually start playing, you're also allowed one mistake before having to start over, making it more generous than the original's immediate need to start over.
While I really like how this builds on the original, in practice this is way too hard for me. I don't know if I'm just bad at following directions (I am), incapable of remembering what objects play which sounds (I am), or too stubborn to just play the easier original song (I am), but this board wound up being incredibly challenging for me to get through, with me giving in and just brute forcing my way through via constant saving and loading.
The new vs. old song option does offer a chance to make things easier by virtue of being shorter, but this is a remix, so I can't imagine anybody would want to hear the old song again here. The original puzzle consists of hitting each of five notes once. The new song gives you seven riffs to play and requires you press those notes a total of twenty times.
The song itself is cute! It's a really fun scene when you actually get the song down and play it back properly, but when you're working your way through the solution and making endless mistakes you just get a mess of noise and an occasional new lyric. Plenty of puzzles in Remix were made more challenging than originally, but this one feels like the only option is to just blindly stumble your way through. I'm not sure if I'm missing something here or what, but even after writing down the solution it's still unclear to me if there's any sort of pattern I'm not seeing to it.
Song Solution: (click to reveal)
After helping out the Jazzman will repay you by opening up passage to what was originally the Mixer. Given the difficulty in actually hearing the songs as intended, I would've liked a CD to be able to play and listen to song with proper timing, as even if you try to play it back with the solution known in advance there's a lot of dead air as the player has to run from note to note.
One last object of note is the blue dragon running the bar. I imagine this is intended to be Bluey, though the object is named "Blue". Perhaps it's a case of feeling pushy putting oneself into the main game when nobody else has done such a thing. I don't think anybody would have minded had that been the case, but regardless, of whether there should be a "y" in the name or not, Blue here provides two things: cocktails and rumors.
The cocktail menu is great, not merely a list of ZZT community references to games, catchphrases, tropes, and companies, but having a little bit more detail given when purchased. Not so precise as to be actual recipes, but with enough of an ingredient list that you could reasonably try mixing up something yourself. Personally, I'm not a drinker so I unfortunately haven't given any of these a shot, but I'd still be very curious if any of these are any good in real life.
In Remix at least, they're a very cheap source of healing. Three gems for a flat twenty health, absolutely a steal compared to the food available in the opening board's café, and still beating out the one time drink purchase in terms of value. It's worth taking the time to get smashed (actually the player has a liver of steel) while you can, as despite the great prices, you certainly won't want to have to cross so many boards to back here later. Ironically, the now-removed exit from the armory to the house of blues would have made this more viable. I'm curious how such a connection would have been explained within the world!
And, I'm sorry, but is this a reference to the Interactive Fantasies boulder-blend of all things???
The rumors are free and offer some basic hints for a few boards in the game. They're nothing to substantial, although that may merely be because at its core, Remix is still a pretty simple game. At the very least some subtle advice for the "ZZTech Star Lab" to the north and a clue for the upcoming "Re-Mixer" isn't exactly useless information. The documentation includes some more detailed advice for specific boards akin to the hints for Town included with ZZT itself. As is, this is just some fun flavoring, and it's nice to have a dialog option here to match the "Advice" obtained in the armory.
Though the puzzle itself may overdo things a bit for my tastes, this board does a great job of filling in details that just weren't present in the original. A few remixed boards of Town opt to take the original and make it somehow more, and I'd say Bluey was definitely successful with this.
Mahour Shoujo Magical Moestar's (a.k.a. Lancer-X's) Board
Sliding PuzzleOriginal: Sliding Puzzle
Glow-up of the year award here.
Lancer's choice for a single board is "sliding puzzle", the forgotten puzzle of Town. The original is bland to look at, easy to solve, and completely overshadowed by The Rube Board. In terms of the original versions' quality, this board rates higher than the castle's interior boards, and little else. Lancer's demonstration how ZZT puzzle board design has evolved over the past thirty years transforms a small roadblock into what I would argue is the most well-made puzzle board in Remix.
First off, it's got its own iconic look, dark colors fade in and out of each other like a trippy ZZT world of the 2000s. These muted colors in turn allow the bright puzzle elements to really pop! This board successfully unites the pre- and post-STK design sensibilities, and makes a fiendish puzzle in the irregularly-shaped space.
Plus, the colors are animated, making for a bright neon sign, and giving the previously self-loathing sliding puzzle some self-esteem as it promotes itself more prominently than any other puzzle, without turning it into a joke. This puzzle can be quite challenging, and took an embarrassingly long time in my initial playthrough before an audience. On my second go of it, I made progress much more steadily, having more fun working my way through its spikey harpoons than any other puzzle Remix had to offer.
The puzzle itself consists of pressing various buttons that will cause spikes of the matching color to switch between an expanded/contracted state. With carefully thought out button presses you'll be able to slowly unravel access to additional buttons and hopefully clear a path all the way to the left side of the screen so your adventure can continue.
Lancer knocks it out of the park here with a puzzle that I can't recall having seen in ZZT before. A sign at the start of the board call this the "Puzzle of the Seven Gates, redux" (with an apology to Alexis Janson) named for a similar style of puzzle in the MegaZeux game Zeux 4: Forest of Ruin. It works very well with ZZT's slider elements, gives a good challenge, and does so without the player being able to soft-lock themselves. No reset button is necessary here, you're always able to recover from your mistakes, quite the change of pace from Town's own design philosophy.
Lastly, I do need to point out that if you look close you'll have to wonder how the sliding puzzle text changes colors the way it does when various solid walls and objects of bright colors are found throughout the board and there's no latency between the solid tiles changing color and the half-blocks. Lancer uses a clever trick here where that entire sign is not a mixture of objects and solid walls, but rather bombs. By setting them to cycle zero, their fuses won't tick, and by setting them to unusual fuse-lengths, ZZT will pick later and later characters to represent the "countdown" with. They still cost a stat (as statless bombs won't have a fuse value to adjust), but they can be a clever way of getting to interact with them via ZZT-OOP without collateral damage in the colors of everything else.
This isn't Remix's prettiest board, nor is it its most complex in code, but it does take a board that's easy to forget and make it a memorable experience both in terms of being nerve-wracking and general kewlness.
You know, Town does have a blank board in the world. Fittingly, this was used an opportunity to include a secret cameo board with the numerous authors who worked on the Remix project. As soon as the player enters this board from the convenient gap in the two halves of the Re-Mixer, they'll be treated to a rendition of Stairway to Heaven, a proper homage to the original armory board. The numerous cameos here range from short sentences to mini-interviews. You can learn quite a bit about folks' history with ZZT and this project plus their interests outside of ZZT.
Some important history is enshrined here, such as Zephyr's discussing of the origins of the project on Discord. The player can learn some of the inspirations for the various remixed boards, or some outright puzzle hints. These kinds of boards are ones that I really appreciate more these days for providing an insight into how the creators felt at the time. When so much ephemera related to games disappears from view as the years go on, moments like these which are forever baked into the world itself, provide a welcome reminder that games are made by real people with their own thoughts and feelings about the project, its potential, and its legacy.
Not Yet Final Thoughts
That should wrap things up for now. The authors who have yet to make proper appearances are those who either had quite a few boards to their name or those who did work on the palace and ending sequence. Galarian Slowpoke, DarkMatt, Agent Orange, and Snorb will have to wait.
I'm sure I don't have to say it, but the boards covered here have been great. There's a wide range of interpretations as to what it means to "remix" a board on display here. You have the delicate modifications of Labs 2 and 4, the turn-it-up-to-eleven bold enhancements of boards like The Four Lakes and House of Blue Dragons, the radical rewrites of the Armory and Re-Mixer, and in each one it's always a treat to see how things unfold versus the original incarnations.Town Remix has been nothing but a celebration of the best aspects of the ZZT community's spirit, and I hope the good vibes of this project can continue in the still ongoing Caves Remix project.
For now, well, hopefully you've played this one already, but if you haven't it's still not too late. You've yet to see the arranged versions of The Rube Board, The Palace, the fight against the dragons, the jailbreak, and still more. Town is a game whose designs have become iconic after all these years, yet these remix variations are equally memorable.
See you in part two!