Closer Look: The Genesis Matrix

Dial in to the Genesis Matrix! We've got Yahtzee we've got viruses we've got friends and family

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Nov 20, 2022
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One last Super ZZT game for the road, huh?

When, you all picked a rather unique one. At a glance The Genesis Matrix looks like standard Super ZZT fare. Explore a big cave, play around in an arcade, and get lost in the nearby woods. The name of course also makes this sound like a fancy science fiction tale, but it turned out to be a lot more mundane than that. Instead, The Genesis Matrix caught me by surprise when I realized this this is no Super ZZT Chrono Wars , Psychic Solar War Adventure , or Nexus . There's no elaborate story here about a ruined world. No time travel. Nothing a phrase as powerful as "Genesis Matrix" might lead the imagination to.

This one, if you're going to compare it to anything, is more of a combination of A Community X-Mas plus The Forests Will Echo With Laughter . This isn't science fiction. It's fan fiction. Fan fiction written for members of a BBS that happened to have a very cool name.

The ZZT community is no stranger to the idea of these games aimed at a very specific audience. In addition to A Community X-Mas, you'll find plenty of "sims" based on ZZTer IRC channels , games that arbitrarily put ZZTers in starring roles of otherwise typical adventures, and a number of games whose entire premise is putting ZZTers in the same room . It's a time-honored tradition that continues even to the present day .

The Genesis Matrix stands apart from most of these though. Partially because it's made in Super ZZT rather than the original, but also because it's a Super ZZT cameo game that isn't about ZZTers. Unlike The Forests Will Echo With Laughter, whose "Da Warren" BBS was a hot spot of early ZZT development, in The Genesis Matrix it's almost certainly the case that the majority of members portrayed don't have any idea what (Super) ZZT is. Instead it's a self-contained time capsule of a long gone era featuring various (non-ZZT) community members that lives on thirty years later.

Which IMO, makes this game an extremely cool find even if it's not the sci-fi shooter I was originally hoping for.

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The Genesis Matrix

By: Eli Tremblay
Released: February 02, 1992
Download | Play Online | View Files

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Eli's game is specifically set in the Genesis Matrix BBS as if it were a physical space occupied by its users. This isn't the usual adaptation of IRC channels converted to night clubs that takes free reign at inventing a place where there is none. Instead the BBS's different sections for chatting, file sharing, and playing games are all transformed into dedicated spaces that still serve the same purpose of the real thing. It's a bit like Tron perhaps? Although the conversion to more ZZT spaces isn't exactly logical. I mean, the file archives are caves with labels for the various types of files hosted.

This design means that the player gets to explore the BBS's contents by exploring a Super ZZT world. It's hard to say for certain how accurate the specifics are. It's one thing to label a corner of a cave as being where the GIFs are stored, it's another to give an overview of the stories being written by users. I'd like to imagine that when things do get specific that it's based on fact, but there's really no telling just how accurate, or exaggerated the world's contents may be.

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The player begins their exploration in an outdoor environment just outside a large castle for games, with a few smaller buildings for other areas of the BBS. This makes the insistence of files being put in a cave all that much weirder of a choice, though the SIGs (Special Interest Groups) perhaps have it even rougher as we'll see later.

While most of what the player does is exploring, touching objects, and seeing what text they respond with (a "Fuck Around And Find Out" game), there is an actual crisis to put an end to. As a new user, your job is to solve the mystery of who has been abusing the system by uploading viruses and causing problems within the community. There could be a genuine mystery here, but since the cast of characters is all based on real people, Eli wisely opts to have the villain be a made up entity rather than picking a user and flagging them as trouble.

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A unique idea that works quite well with the BBS theme is how Super ZZT's optional hint functionality is implemented. Hints are delivered from the sysops sending the player direct messages to offer advice and sometimes even provide additional health and ammo. Treating the hint system as an actual part of being logged into the BBS rather than a tool that exists outside of the game's world is a really nice touch.

The Games Room

The player is quietly nudged in the direction of the games room, starting with it partially in sight compared to the other areas of the BBS which require covering some ground on Super ZZT's large boards before you can find any of them making it a clear first choice for where to explore.

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The inside looks like it's trying to be a fun place. Signs point to "storyland" and "Yatzee" [sic], although what's visible at the start certainly don't appear to have anything to do with either of those. The Yahtzee quadrant (a pair of words that rivals "Genesis Matrix") immediately tests the player's patience with a maze made of forest elements and normal walls. The inverted characters mean that you'll need to look closely to see where you can walk, a very conscious choice that still boils down to yet another maze. (Luckily, the Super ZZT forest sound effects have a soothing effect on the human brain, making it easier to put up with.)

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With no ideas of what kind of game to expect, I had to know how Eli was going to handle a dice game that didn't make its way to ZZT until 2021 . Reaching the end of the maze didn't lead to any approximation of Yahtzee or even any decorative object like dice that would have fit the theme even if there was no playable game to be found. Instead, I ran into my first Genesis Matrix user: Yaz.

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Yaz is known for high scores in Yahtzee. Is the name a coincidence? I suspect users in 1992 were also wondering the same thing.

Unsurprisingly, Yahtzee was a bust, but the suggestion of getting ammo before playing another game kept my spirits high that I'd be able to partake in some of the mini-games in here.

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Storyland was a quicker trip thanks to water currents that deliver the player into the tiny corner containing the texts.

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There's another user to speak with as well. Psycho here is (presumably) a young poet capable of reaching an otherwise inaccessible audience thanks to the Genesis Matrix. The poem isn't the most elegant, but when asked for feedback I couldn't help but relate. They were unsurprised by this.

More importantly are the numerous stories to check out. None of them are actually readable beyond a brief synopsis, which given the ages of the authors and the subject matter some of them are trying to write about is for the best.

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Going into storyland, I was expecting it to be a place for users to share their writing and get feedback. Instead, it's much more collaborative! I wonder if these stories are early internet role play with each user having their own character, or a shared setting where anybody can do anything with the characters.

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When all submissions are canon, I suppose this is what you get. As the player learns more about some of the users on the board, these insightful political discussions show up frequently.

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Sometimes, tragedy occurs.

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Tell me more!

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Ah, now this is what I assumed these stories would be like. Bring back forum battles.

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The funny thing is when you try to create chaos, nobody is interested.

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The framing on this one seems wild. Using both original poems and pre-existing ones to form a story and not just a collection? It sounds bizarre, and I'm not surprised it's overrun with limericks from users like Psycho.

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Ah, there it is. Salacious stories by teenagers trying to be adults. I love Eli just being so upfront that it is not worth your time to read, especially since his profile later will state that he's sixteen, so he too couldn't resist the temptation to peek behind the curtain.

I really love the inclusion of this story section, scandalous sex stories by children aside. Sharing creative efforts to your peers offline, especially in teenage years, can be terrifying. It's a wonderful thing to be able to find a group you can share your creativity with. Heck, that's a considerable part of the appeal of ZZT in its younger days when the audience was mostly under-20s. When the person engaging with what you've created is also creating the same type of media, it's so much easier to feel comfortable knowing that your struggles are their struggles as well.

The bulk of these shared stories are almost certainly messy and strained, but they give folks a chance to get started and to be able to develop into more competent writers. Probably of dirty limericks if these users are any indication.

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Continuing down the hall leads to three more games. To the left are the locked up Forbidden Lands. From what can be seen beyond its door, that ammo the player got in the Yahtzee area is going to be quite useful.

Up top another key is required to enter a rather unique looking area with a number of gems on a blue background. Perhaps something space themed? For now, it's left to the imagination as it contains no signage.

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The only area open is Hangman, where I was confident I'd get to actually play the game. Hangman in Super ZZT would still be a bit rough to try and code if you're going for repeated play with a lengthy list of supported words. It would hardly be a stretch for somebody code just a single pre-defined word with the player selecting letters via touching objects or from a list. Eli's coding abilities haven't done anything wild just yet, though I wouldn't be surprised to see him pull it off even based on what's been seen so far.

What I got instead of playable Hangman were these startlingly creepy little gallows. If you're on team "square characters" for 40-column mode Super ZZT, the next time somebody says they prefer VGA rendering of 40-column graphics you can point out how incredible the characters to make a noose look in this style.

Alas, there isn't any way to actually play a round of Hangman. The entire area is devoid of life with only a few levers that can be interacted with. Pulling a lever drops the platform below the noose. How macabre!

A cyan key seems in some way connected to the gallows which are all wired up together with some repurposed web tiles. The obvious solution is to drop the three platforms and race to the end before they reset to their starting position. After a few attempts, this didn't seem to be the solution, so I began to suspect they had to be flipped in a specific order and that while it would be possible to just try every combination, I'd probably be given some clues or the order outright later on and left for the time being, unable to explore the games room any further.

As I would later find out, I did have the right idea the first time. The door doesn't open automatically when the three levers have been pulled, instead relying on the player to touch it while they're active. Attempting to open the door without the levers thrown just describes the object as a locked closet door. The time provided to open it is reasonable enough, though you can't have all three levers visible so it's very easy to feel like you just weren't quick enough at running across the room upon reaching the last lever and watching nothing happen as it's pulled.

Main Street

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Instead I left the castle and began exploring the surrounding area a bit more before stumbling across this group of small buildings. From left to right the buildings consist of "Casa Del Chat", "Taglines Anonymous", and the "Matrix Registry". Between those first two buildings the player can wander into "Napoleon's Alley" as a unique outdoor location. These four passages make up the bulk of the BBS here and give a much better idea of the kind of people that were active on the real thing.

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The Casa Del Chat caught my interest most of all. I really wanted to get to mingle with the users and see how Eli portrayed them. I was instead surprised the first thing to greet me was another game room, this time one that I could actually participate in!

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The lobby for "Flash Attack", as a scroll refers to the game, provides a key to the game map so the player can better envision things. I wouldn't be surprised if the ASCII visuals fared better in the real deal without having to worry about sticking with Super ZZT floor tiles so objects could run around on them.

Wait a second. I can just look up the actual game and find out!

Sure enough, you can actually take a look at the original Flash Attack on the Internet Archive. Entering "SOLO" on the setup screen allows you to run around and get a feel for the game. It looks like you actually control several tanks and can fight with up to five opponents! Let's get a game going of this somehow please.

A scroll provides a lengthy explanation on how to play. Granted, it probably only feels lengthy due to the fact that scrolls in Super ZZT basically fill the entire screen.

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The player, upon entering the arena, will face off against Napoleon (there's that name again) in some crude tank warfare. They'll be surrounded by arrow objects to control their tank, which in addition to moving when an arrow is touched, will also shoot a bullet in that direction. The goal is to shoot the enemy base three times while defending your own. Shooting the enemy tank will destroy it, leaving the base undefended. The same applies to you, so the best defense is a good offense.

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What's here is very very basic. Even so, it is a playable early engine. Remember, this world is dated early 1992 so even this is still quite original. With ZZT barely a year old and Super ZZT less than half a year, Eli very well may have come up with this without having encountered it in any ZZT or Super ZZT worlds out there.

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The rest of the building is a bit more chat focused. There are two rooms, a main room with a number of active users, and the "Hello Room" which houses just a single new user who doesn't quite seem to understand how this BBS thing works.

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Our protagonist remains silent and offers no advice to the noob.

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The main room is the busiest place around. It's just not particularly detailed with every single member being given the exact same gray smiley face for an avatar.

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It is a chance to learn about some actual people. Squaw and their mother are both regulars. The idea of sharing an online space like this with one's parent terrifies me.

The player actually met momma Yaz in the Yahtzee room and can help this non-noob out and get some gems as thanks. Just like in the official Super ZZT worlds, gems have no real purpose beyond the score and health bonuses (aside from a single toll booth in Monster Zoo), so being given them directly via an object is almost meaningless. They're not entirely worthless though as a maybe-sorta-kind-of programming oversight lets the player stack things in their favor a bit if they collect gems outside of the game room.

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My buddy "Skillet" provides the info needed to solve the Hangman puzzle that had somehow managed to stump me. It is as easy as they say.

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Caesar. Striker. Blue. Trebek. The AD&D crew! I wanted to comment on what early online DnD must have been like before remembering BBS communities would be far more likely to consist of locals to avoid long distance calling. They very well may be meeting up in person for this. Either way, DnD also never changes and getting a whole crew together regularly only gets more difficult with each passing year.

Most of conversations are this brief. Others include "Striker", whose own BBS is getting a lot of callers from all over the place after they placed an ad for it in a magazine! Then there's Bluejay who is sad that they're always ignored. Michelle who hopes you can stop the hacker that's been uploading viruses. Elwood who describes the band Aerosmith as "wicked cool" and also shows interest in The Who.

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Remember when the bright future promised by computers was that people could name themselves after famous military strategists and discuss Ulysses S. Grant?

Also this is the guy that was defeated in Waterloo Flash Attack. Beating him will earn his respect and he'll quietly give you a blue key to his private chat. For those that haven't played Flash Attack yet, Suntzu will reveal to the player that beating Napoleon will earn them the key to his private chat.

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Another fun bit of text comes from Rogue who has been developing a Super ZZT "module" called "Scourge of Sorania" with fellow user Avatar (the alias used by the game's author, Eli). Now I can be confident that Super ZZT wasn't a completely foreign concept to the members here, which likely means at least a handful of members did probably play The Genesis Matrix back in 1992.

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Blue is another ZZTer. I'm loving this focus they have on Super ZZT over the original. I suppose early 1992 is about the only time you'll ever manage to see such a thing. This might be the largest Super ZZT group around. Do they just all know how to access the editor and prefer it? Or do they just only have Super ZZT available to them?

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Using the key acquired from Napoleon to open up his room nets the player some gems and a cyan key. The scroll says that it's for Suntzu's room and explains that it will be full of ammo that the player can help themselves to. Since that ammo stockpile is truly all that's there you can also use it instead of the key from the Hangman room to open up the Forbidden Lands game. (Or use that key to open up this room I guess.) Doubling up on key colors like this is a great way to potentially create a whole bunch of unintended paths through a game. Fortunately, The Genesis Matrix isn't all that complex of a layout so the effect is pretty minimal even if you were to purposely try and exploit key overlap.

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