The Final Pass
Some time has passed since we were last here. As a refresher, heading north requires a purple key (received from the wishing well), and a blue key that should be acquired here, but due to coding issues appears to be impossible to acquire without cheats. You also have to deal with the issue of the rescued victim of the plant blocking the doors completely which makes this board even more of a pain. I'm pretty sure the extra key here is just a trick and isn't meant to be obtainable.
Alright, this is a proper early ZZT board. We've got two puns and a puzzle to solve. The serpents here are a lot like the Purple People Eaters in that they constantly try to move towards the player. Except these ones very much do bite, instantly ending the game if the player gets too close. The objective is to use the arrows on the edges of the board to toggle the gates and flush the critters out, manipulating their movements to get them to bunch up in places where they can't readily reach the player as they go inside the two chambers.
It's not a bad puzzle, but it is a bit slow and tedious. It's definitely do-able at least. The blue key is the goal, with the other chamber on the left being optional, offering a paltry twenty-five health if you're willing to double the work you need to do on this board. It's definitely not worth the time, especially when the slightest mistake means death.
The seventh of eight statue pieces is in sight. This board strangely doesn't get any text on it, though the board itself is titled "Formal Garden". It's another puzzle of boulders and blinkwalls with a few bombs for good measure. Getting through this one requires finding a way to position the first two bombs so that you can actually blast away to the back of the garden.
Once you manage that, then you have to deal with a lot of blinkwalls with very haphazard timing. Boulders provided upfront at the start of the board need to be supplemented with some from the second to last row of the board and then very carefully pushed into place. There aren't enough boulders to make a clear path (note that the bottom two rows up top have blinkwalls on both sides) so your positioning needs to consider which blinkwalls have to be blocked and which can be ran through quickly enough.
In practice, this is a good idea for a puzzle that doesn't feel great to solve. When the time comes to push a boulder deeper, it's very likely that the wall will blink on and prevent that, leaving the player in a row to get zapped. Perhaps there is a perfect solution here that never threatens the player, but the brute force method is clearly viable if you're willing to give it a few tries.
What really surprised me though, was reaching the upper area in the first place. The "scrolls" at the center are objects that tell you that the puzzle can be solved despite its difficulty. The trick is that one of them disappears when touched which is required to get the second bomb in deep enough to breach the back wall. It reminded me of Flimsy Parkins's The Red Ruffian Puzzle.
My long nightmare is nearly over.
Getting past the final blinkwalls requires pushing some bombs as well that put everything on a timer. A clever idea. I'm not even sure if you can get back without just taking an explosion and letting "re-enter when zapped" return the player to the starting point of the board.
With seven of eight pieces returned, the ability to collect the final one unlocks. This hint is all you get to figuring out its location, but thankfully it's a quick search, file viewer or not.
The obvious idea that it's hidden in one of the trees on this starting board is an incorrect one. You'll need to head back to Puzzle Park instead.
And the park makes it very clear. The arrow is readily visible in one of the trees and some of the leaves are turned into fake walls so it can be collected. Fortunately no cleaning is actually required as that might require another trip down the drain.
YES... HA HA HA... YES!
Here's the statue in all its glory, identical to the title screen. The nearby crops hold the key to city hall to the south where our hero is about to become the mayor of this god awful place.
It's only when all the pieces have been found that you can get this key, and similarly it's only then that the door to the south actually turns into a white door. Otherwise, you'd be able to enter city hall with the key to the back of the club house on the golf course.
Of course there's one last puzzle. Why wouldn't there be?
And of course, Clark makes it look a lot easier than it actually is. For the grand finale, the player needs to ride a pusher into the center of the board and stop between the column of boulders. Once you're there, you're really done. It's just a short and simple walk to the room with the red key and then taking the long way around without blocking yourself by any of the other boulders. Nothing to it.
As is also tradition, hints are available, one of which offers the major advice of clearing all the vertical pushers out and not replacing them with boulders. Despite my best efforts, I was constantly getting caught by the vertical columns of pushers.
Luckily, I had my old fallback. Clark does not do well with pusher speeds.
The final puzzle can be defeated by mostly ignoring it. If the player pushes things instead, they get a one in four chance of moving into a vertical pusher's path while it's active. Not good odds if you're doing it four times in a row, but very reasonable if you just save after each pusher.
The end is truly in sight now.
It's finally over.
All your resources are drained for bonus points, and you are bestowed the title of mayor over this town. It's one last fun scene before this game finally stops. It's a powerful ending sequence, exactly as you'd expect Clark to create.
Before we wrap up this ZZT game and ideally encase it in concrete and develop elaborate warning systems for future generations to stay away, I want to flip through a few deliberately omitted moments of humor that I hadn't bothered to discuss.
A Comedy Of Errors
One thing I neglected to mention was that Shootwrong is abundant with humor. Given the general attitude shown towards the player, this was a bit of a surprise to me, but the game definitely has the charm of early ZZT worlds, that seem to realize if everybody is going to be smiling, they should have an attitude that warrants the expression..
Early on in the drain maze there's a recurring theme where the player will find something gross in the tubes, and just eat it without comment. The narrator meanwhile is more than happy to call attention to the weird thing you just did.
I mentioned earlier that I liked the store having its inventory on display. In addition to supplies and the mandatory rope/backpack items, the shop also sells two items that serve no purpose, but to hopefully give you a laugh despite wasting your precious money.
Buying water means buying it in bulk, a whopping 200 gallons (757 liters) that causes the water on the left side of the store to vanish after the purchase. This is made even better by the fact that the player can just apparently carry 200 gallons of water at all times, but needs a backpack to pick up a statue piece. The candy bars go for the same joke, presenting the player with exactly 110 of them, though their presence on the board is a lot smaller.
In church, you're given the option to not merely decline to make a donation, but to say that you already gave at the office, resulting in this cutting response:
The usher will also call the player out if they claim to have already made a donation here, being fully aware of whether or not they actually did so.
By far the most hilarious thing in the game, that did genuinely make me laugh out loud is what happens if you jump in after the person stuck in the carnivorous plant without the handle to cut yourselves free.
This is the best possible dialog. I'm excited to start a new life with them.
After breaking into the military base and giving the guard a radio, they're happy to let us come and go as we please, you know, despite regulations.
As if that wasn't enough, the radio plays a rendition of "Stars and Stripes Forever".
And the second it stops the guard immediately falls asleep again!
Inspecting the golf club in the cave brings up this excellent way of declining to take it.
Puzzle Park offers this absolutely incredible hint once I returned from the dictionary. It's The G-String for this musically themed pattern.
You're probably wondering how I got in this situation...
Clark has a love of trapping the player with slimes. The pro shop offers not one, but two ways to flood the place: knocking over the spittoon or flushing the toilet and causing it to overflow. This may be one of the worst ways to go in a ZZT game out there.
The bizarrely colorful antlered beast on the wall in the bar has some colorful commentary to match.
Or you can operate the tap yourself and flood the room with beer. Clark even makes the keg under the bar visibly drain as the slime spreads!
Speaking of the bar, I mentioned how accepting a drink would soft-lock the game. Doing so sets a flag named "beer" which doesn't come into play right away creating an awful dead-man walking scenario. When does it come up?
When the player tries out their new driver of course!
This one isn't all that funny seeing as how the game ends and the player has likely ruined their save, but the joke is fine at least.
1992 Versus 1997
One final note before wrapping this up for good. This version of the game, while it is the only one we have, looks to be an updated release. It's very easy to not notice a few oddities that don't fit in with a game from 1992, but they are there if you really look closely. Whether the 1997 date attached to the ZZT file itself is accurate or not can't be determined, but this game definitely saw additional work after 1992.
The evidence comes from a surprisingly minor oddity. The drain maze has one of its exits lead to this house, but the drain maze has two exits on the right side that have to lead to the board. The discrepancy is handled via a fully invisible passage on the left border of the board that warps the player back to a maze board.
This brings up the question as to how a non-standard colored passage was created prior to STK, and more bizarrely, if somebody else had been hex editing ZZT files to get additional colors, why they didn't share the technique? While STK is credited with bringing extended color support to ZZT, the discovery of ZZT Library serves as a reminder that in theory anybody could have been doing what Janson did. Could Clark have discovered ZZT's ability to render colors its editor withheld? If so, why only use it for passages?!
The mystery is solved upon looking at the world's last board. An empty room named "Blank". Due to the way strings are handled in ZZT, if you name your board "THE GARDEN OF EATEN", and then rename it to "Garden", internally ZZT will store the length of the board title, and then reserve the space for the maximum possible board title. Remnants of old names can live on in this no longer needed data with the actual bytes allocated for the title now reading "GardenRDEN OF EATEN".
Looking in a hex editor reveals that this board was indeed taken from Super Tool Kit.
This script finds that passage and that passage alone as the sole STK element in the entire world. (Due to a mistake in its special exceptions, the non-blinking white on black passage to the medical tent that I assumed was an object is also STK only, making two instances.)
I had planned to bring this up as yet another weird thing about Shootwrong before discovering the STK residue, but that lets me swooce on over to a different question: What other changes were made?
Shootwrong, as we have it, has a fatal bug that makes it unbeatable. It also has a very inconsistent attitude towards its puzzles. You may have to pay for hints, receive them freely, or in some cases, the game is willing to outright give you the solution. Were these hints in the original release? Was the corruption in the extra boards of the drain maze always there?
Until we come across an earlier version, we may never know. Please send in your rips of 1992ish disks right away. It's now on top of my list of alternate version of existing games I'd love to find.
The Silly World of Dan Shootwrong finally brings itself to a close.
This really was undeniably the most frustrating ZZT world I've experienced. There are plenty of games that have more egregious issues, yet I will say again and again that Clark knows fully well what he's doing here. Shootwrong is a game that is loaded with memorable locations, goofy writing, and genuinely brilliant puzzles. There's no doubt in my mind that had this game been submitted to Tim Sweeney's original ZZT contest, that Shootwrong, even as it is, would have found its way into the winner's circle. I was continuously impressed all the way through this game. Clark demonstrates some really impressive code for the time. His minesweeper engine is one of the more complex boards I've seen from this time period. The mirror puzzle is one of the most creative boards I've come across.
Clark is putting tremendous efforts into animations long before most would consider going to such lengths. Dripping stalactites, and leaking faucets are a special touch that make those boards feel less like abstract boards and more like actual spaces. Ordering a beer in the pub is beautiful to watch. When things break, they fall to the ground in multiple pieces, bouncing a bit upon impact. The way that Shootwrong feels so animated is on a level that even modern worlds struggle to match.
Shootwrong's lack of easy availability meant that its modern discovery could have so easily turned it into a once-lost classic. Fans of Jong, Janson, and the various official ZZT worlds should have found exactly the kind of game they'd love. The charm is through the roof. The puzzles are perfect for those early days when people were more open to the idea of being stumped on a board for a lengthy period of time. The graphics are the kind that you can show somebody unfamiliar with ZZT and immediately get their attention with.
But that's not the way the story went. No, instead the memories you'll leave this game with are of puzzles deceiving the player with invisible walls or pushable elements that are actually objects. You will find statue pieces and be unable to take them. You will be confounded by the sewer rats that may or may not decide to die. You will shoot wrong, destroying critical items when the last breakable you need to get past turns out to actually be the item you're after in disguise. You will solve puzzles only to discover you weren't meant to leave just yet. You will be trapped in a shooting gallery against your will, and don't you dare have a nice beer to unwind after getting through it.
What should be a classic, is instead a harrowing experience that constantly tries to make things harder on the player. This isn't a game you play, this is a game you watch somebody else play. A Kaizo Mario of ZZT. The number of restarts needed to get through this one without any spoilers or hints is immense. I'm still not even completely sure on what the actual order to do things is, requiring gems and ammo in addition to slowly opening up a locked down map.
Just the fact that "Oh yeah the game is unwinnable without cheats due to a bug in the carnivorous plant room" isn't even on my radar for issues speaks volumes with regards to how mishandled the experience is. There are so many ways for this game to become unwinnable that are intentional that for one to be accidental is so easily glossed over. "You just have to use the zap cheat, sorry" is far easier to comprehend and move past than "You need to open the present in the house before you throw the rope".
No amount of jokes in the dialog or gasps of awe upon seeing what a new board looks like can make up for the fact that this game is constantly doing its best to make sure that you're not having fun with it. Dan Shootwrong is one of ZZT's harshest letdowns. Its potential is undeniable, but what you see and what you get are two very different things.