You're reading part two of a Closer Look at Adventure: Part One! I hope that's not confusing. If you haven't seen the previous article, you'll probably want to check that one out first. Although, this is kind of a weird case where it would almost be interesting to read this one before the other. Probably don't actually do that, but who am I to stop you?
Part one can be found here.
For a quick refresher: Adventure was a staple ZZT world for me as a child, that ticked a lot of boxes that got my attention when I was younger. It had a variety of unique items to acquire. The game is broken up into very clear chapters via its quest system. It was too hard for me, so I always had a fascination of what lay out of reach. As I grew older I realized that it wasn't me being bad at the game, but rather Adventure being pretty miserably balanced.
Sitting down with it to play from start to finish for these articles, I realized, that while plenty of ZZT worlds could do with a little more health or ammo, Adventure was player-hostile in terms of resources to such a degree that it's perhaps the most unbalanced ZZT world I've ever played. It even manages to rival the now infamous Dan Shootwrong in terms of the demands its puts on the player. I've never seen a ZZT game where I regularly ran out of health, ammo, torches, and gems. Author Tony Rivera seemed to take a twisted pleasure in making sure players did exactly as he wanted them to. Even the slightest amount of resource mismanagement via purchasing too many items, taking too many hits from enemies, missing your shots, or wasting too many torches by moving not moving quickly enough through the caves would result in an unwinnable game.
As for the game's story, players take on the role of the adventurer David Daron, who has come to this uncharted island in hopes of finding the usual adventurer things: fame, fortune, and a lovely princess to marry. Starting just outside the town gates of Tre 'La, David signs up with the local mercenary guild where he's tasked with destroying the eastern cave and the many dangerous monsters that live within. This includes worms that breathe fire (stars), spiders that shoot webs (stars), and evil knights that didn't even get an excuse as to why they too could throw stars.
For once though, it wasn't the stars that were to blame for a ZZT game going off the rails. Rivera's game instead suffered from how any mistake could result in an avalanche of resources consumed. This combined with some nasty quirks of ZZT-OOP causing most attacks on boss enemies resulting in the player instantly being harmed as well result in a game where players would constantly have to reload in order to play without any mistakes being made. In Adventure, just getting through the first quarter of its boards took me longer than most ZZT games that focus on action and adventure did to complete in their entirety.
After finally conquering the cave after all these years of trying, I was able to seal the deal, return to Tre 'La, rest up in a crummy hotel, and then set off to Crescent Woods on the way to the castle where the king would give me my next quest.
This second half of the game is when things get really weird, not because Rivera somehow makes it worse, but because he has a completely unexpected change of heart. The rest of Adventure disregards its incredibly miserable initial impression and instead becomes a lot of fun. I still don't know what happened here, but I am so very thankful that my suffering didn't continue.
Well, for the most part at least.
Adventure improves considerably as is progresses, easily to a level of quality where the rest of the game is a solid ZZT adventure, but still one of its time. It remains flawed, and the damage done by the first chapter, isn't something that can be forgotten. This game hurts people that play it, and no cute castle scenery can heal those wounds. Yet if you were to look at the adventure solely from here on out, you'd have what would be a classic well-made adventure that shows its age here and there. A tremendous improvement from how it started. Let's see what Rivera does differently here to make Adventure Part 1: The Adventures of David Daron, almost worth recommending despite its cruel introduction.
The first quest took David through "Mystery Woods", a single board south-east of Tre 'La occupied by friends in the form of talking trees and a group of beavers willing to help repair the bridge to the cave, as well as foes in the form of ZZT's lions, bears, and centipedes. Starting with just a few ammo, and a few gems to maybe spend on more ammo, (Don't. You'll make the game unwinnable,) players would find themselves going to such extremes as not missing a single shot and luring bears into the breakable walls used to represent the road stopping and being overtaken by the local vegetation.
In contrast, right from the first of the several boards that make up Crescent Forest (no doubt named for that one crescent moon looking shape on the left) things are just immediately more kind. While you would probably expect players that have been playing a world for more than an hour and a half to have some ammo, I managed to come up short. Even so, Rivera suddenly sees fit to provide more than enough to get through this initial board safely. Five lions and four tigers versus twenty ammo is enough for players to clear out any enemies, and even do so haphazardly.
All the same, you can't just recover from what Adventure inflicts the moment you see some ammo on the ground. Rivera trains players to consider their ammo, and all their resources really, to be sacred. I took the stealth approach, not firing a single shot and leaving every creature alive. This is something that again is only possible due to the differences of how Crescent Forest compares to Mystery Woods. There's no requirement to defeat all the enemies, so players can play this board as they would had it been in pretty much any other ZZT world out there.
There's still danger, and the matter of collecting the necessary keys. In the first article I did praise Rivera for using some descriptive language to help build up these scenes more than just calling it a forest and making it green. That's going to make a return, though another decision of his pulls me out of this fantasy world he wants players to immerse themselves in. Namely, the use of doors on a forest board! From a gameplay perspective, sure, keys and doors guide players in a specific way through boards. As a part of a living breathing world they always come off as out of place. They're just out here vibing in the wilderness?
My personal suggestion would be to just work with the talking tree aspect and have some little item serve as an indication the player is fit to pass some otherwise obstructive trees. If it was good enough for Lost Forest, it's good enough for Adventure.
As you approach, the leaves of this great
tree begin to stir. To your amazement, the
tree begins to speak!
"I am the Great Redwood, of times past.
Many a year have a stood. I have
knowledge of much- the birds are my
messengers, the beavers my friends, the
trees my sheep. I know why you are here
and what you are looking for. I will give
you a key and tell you this; you have been
through much, yet more is yet to come. Do
not be decieved by apperances and there
is always more than meets the eye. Your
quest shall be long and difficult, but,
if your valor and courage prevail, you
shall suceed. I give you my blessing.
• • • • • • • • •
Instead players just work with the basic key/door model. The first door leads players to the "Great Redwood", guardian of the forest. They know what David has done to get here, and what he must do next, offering some generic wisdom and their blessing.
I actually quite like the Great Redwood as they end up being much more involved with the events of the game that transpire from here on out than the old talking ZZT tree trope would usually lead you to believe. Rivera isn't trying to hide when the redwood places a root on the scale to weigh things in David's favor, but it's always presented subtly enough that it makes the blessing actually feel like it has an impact on David's journey. Players can catch on easily enough, yet NPCs and even David himself never seem to realize what's going on.
Up ahead players get to navigate this hairpin turn and take a brief pass through some ruins made mostly out of line walls. Such a simple thing is all it takes to turn a bog standard board into a scene that fits into a greater world. There's a little history here, hinting at something no longer there, instead of just "On this board, you shoot some bears" as it would be otherwise.
Rivera is aware of this , making sure players are able to take in the scene properly, not leaving the interpretation of ASCII to the player. The use of small descriptive text like this remains a regular occurrence in Adventure, and not once is it unwelcome.
Beyond the ruins here, well, it really is merely a board where you shoot some bears. Or, if you've been appropriately traumatized by a lack of ammo, where you run away from some bears. At least that's all there is to it from this side. There is something along the bottom edge of the board, which serves as a further commitment to creating a scene...
The difference in length between the first forest and the current one makes the trip through Crescent Forest feel like a journey. By the end of it, David will be quite far from Tre 'La which had served the role of a home base. Only the travel serves to deter players from taking the long road back. If they want to, they can.
The action here is turned up a bit with players being forced through a few sections of enemies. Duplicators encourage players to get through the board quickly. The duplication rate is set to something reasonable at least, another generosity I wouldn't expect to see based on the early game. Once more ammo is gleefully distributed to the player instead of being in short supply, though Rivera does fall back on some of his old tricks again. Some of that ammo is placed so that trying to grab it requires players to move directly next to a bear, hoping that the bear doesn't get a chance to attack. While not a fantastic moment of gameplay, it is significantly less of an issue than what's been seen before.
A few stray bears aside, this is a lovely walk through the forest. It's enjoyable to navigate, and doesn't feel malicious at all!
Still think the use of doors is dumb though.
A branch in the path leads back to the previous screen allowing the strange object to be examined. It's a mysterious statue covered in runes. Precisely the kind of thing players will undoubtedly make a careful note of for later. Will it be a mandatory part of a quest to pacify some bears? Will it reveal a secret recipe for porridge? For players, only time will tell.
For readers, I will reveal its secret immediately: It does nothing. There's no code other than to display this text. It's just another strange structure to make the forest feel like there's more to it than exactly what David needs from it. The fact that this exists without a dedicated purpose in game isn't too unusual, though I can't help but respect Rivera's call to set it aside like this, to make it come off as something important when it's really just decoration. David's adventure doesn't have anything to do with the bear statue, but surely it's important somebody out there in this world.
The forest eventually leads back to a road and a new crossroads. The river, which has been wonderfully consistent between board connections, pours out into a vast lake. This is the first time the player's had the ability to choose where to go next since the very start of Adventure. Even then, the southern path to the canyon is nothing more than a dead-end. Here, the game does genuinely open up just a little bit, with both paths allowing the player to make progress.
Even though there's no penalty for heading south first, the forest creatures that follow the Great Redwood do offer their own suggestion to continue east.
A scroll and a sign object give players a bit to check out after they've dealt with the lions prowling the coastline. The scroll feels like a kludge to convince players that despite the forest tiles leading south, that it's merely tall grass, and NOT a forest.
The sign continues to show off just how "old" this island really is. While there are terrible monsters living in its caves, and plenty of dangers that have yet to be seen, the surface world isn't all that scary, making it a bit surprising that the forest and castle outskirts see travelers so infrequently. Also whoever put this sign up was kind of rude. Don't actually label the eastern road "OLD MAN'S HOUSE". He has a name!
The bird wanted me to go east, but then I looked to the east, and decided that maybe I would come back later rather than dealing with all these tigers and centipedes. My health and ammo weren't unreasonable, but walking onto the board and starting so close to one of the tigers put me off on committing to this path without even looking at the alternative.
The Kingdom Without A Name
Ugh, you were doing so well Rivera.
This board is designed so players using the natural entrance between the breakables will immediately enter the board next to a ruffian and be attacked before they even get their bearings. I guess what he was going for was the "tall grass" being the breakables and needing to be shot down or moved between. To take this board on safely, the forest path needs to be taken instead.
One poorly positioned ruffian aside, I don't think I've ever seen a board like this that has a defined path while also allowing players to carve out an alternate one. It's actually quite unique in terms of gameplay with a few rewards and dangers to be found for players that do head through the forest instead, and it allows them to use forest to slow down traversal of enemies that have to move in specific ways to follow the path and reach the player.
The use of bears and tigers also impacts how players get through the board as these enemies are capable of destroying breakables as well which makes them useful to keep alive to create extra connections to the forest instead. Running through it once, most of what makes this board unique doesn't get to make itself apparent, however this board is one that players will actually be crossing frequently. For players that are still trying to play conservatively, the safest path through the board will change with each trip as forest tiles are erased and the tigers have more time to navigate the space.
Beyond the tall grass players will encounter a double river crossing forcing them to stick to the established road. Here David will have a run-in with some thugs that demand a toll to cross. If players are willing give up all of their gems, the thugs step aside to allow for safe travel.
As a reminder, at the end of the previous article I did cheat for some gems to buy a long sword in Tre 'La. This is the game's final purchase, though players won't know it at the time. Nor will players that make the purchase in Tre 'La know that part of the game's story will give them a long sword for free later. Because of this, actually paying the toll isn't a bad option, since the only shops are in Tre 'La which is a very long walk through the Crescent Forest and back. Even if I hadn't cheated in those gems, I'd have enough now to go and buy that sword as well, getting away with giving the thugs just a few gems and still getting to cross.
However, there's no indication of any of this for the player, so the prospect of losing everything and knowing there's a weapon to buy in this game that will undoubtedly be required later makes fighting them seem like the much better idea.
Even when I tried paying the toll to see if it would really cost all my gems, I still wound up getting into a fight as touching any of the other thugs even after paying will trigger their attack script for players that didn't pay. ...Only for the ones that didn't have to move to clear a path. This whole sequence is a mess of code compared to what Rivera's done up to this point, where dreadful quirks aside, it's all been functional at least. The thugs that do move out of the way lock themselves afterwards so the fight is a little easier through this broken method, but if you're going to fight them, you're not going to want to give up all your money for the privilege.
To actually kill the thugs, the player must have a long sword in the first place. Attacking without one will instead have David punch out their "almost completely rotten teeth", only making them angrier, leading to a counterattack. They are immune to bullets and offer no response to being shot.
The leader though, has some obtuse rules for vulnerability that made me think he was coded incorrectly. Simply touching the leader will only cause the player to be shot from point blank. In order to actually defeat them, you have to wait until there's enough friendly fire instances (or shoot the leader yourself) that they get angry with the underlings, setting a flag indicating they've been called morons.
If you touch the leader after this happens one of two things happens depending on whether or not David is equipped with a long sword. If he has one, the leader will fall, dropping some gems, and the others will run away. If he doesn't have one, a "YOU LOSE" is displayed and the game ends on the spot, without any grisly description of David's demise.
With the leader pacified or killed this board becomes completely safe for the player. As I didn't realize the leader had become vulnerable, I assumed they were (hopefully) un-intentionally invulnerable. As this road has be traveled a few times, it made for some dangerous trips. One where making use of the forest and breakables to try and guide the leader away from the bridges becomes a critical skill to have.
It's been said that the castle on the title screen of Best of ZZT Part II looks like it's flipping off the player. I think this one has similar energy.
While the path continues to the south, this is David's next destination. The guards outside are friendly, familiar with David and letting him know the king is waiting. The wandering without a clue is about to be over as David will finally get to hear all about this next quest.
Dig this interior too! Rivera does an excellent job on this board of making one board feel like a small part of something much larger. These little side rooms, the two towers, and a mysterious passage behind a locked door are give the impression that the castle is going to be a large part of the game. He even went so far as to make all the different passages different colors, a convincing argument for players that there's a lot to do here.
It's all for show though. The guard-less rooms have no objects, the guards in the top right are just copies of the ones in here the say to speak with the kind, and all the obstructed passages point back to this same board. It's an illusion, but a convincing one for sure.
As for the king's quest, (no, not that King's Quest,) there's more to it than the case of a missing princess. The kingdom is in peril as scouts have discovering the neighboring kingdom of Zahn is amassing an army to conquer the land. People are fleeing before war breaks out, and nobody has managed to discover the princess's whereabouts. An adventurer is needed...
While still technically operating under the quest given by the guild master in Tre 'La, the king wants David to do more than just find his daughter. He wants Zahn dealt with, and unexpectedly, he wants the solution to be a peaceful one. Rather than the usual ZZT solution of regicide, David is given a scroll to identify himself as an ambassador of this kingdom (which really needs a name) and see if he can negotiate peace before lives are lost. Surely the good people of Zahn won't have any misunderstandings about this scroll.
Finding the princess has to take a backseat for this other quest to stop a war for the time being. The path forward to Zahn lies beyond the southern gate of the castle. The guard won't allow David to cross without the quest being accepted. It was at this point that I decided maybe I should turn back and check out that old man's house before I strayed too far from it. The gate is a literal division between this section of the game and the next, so tying up any loose ends seemed like a good idea.
The Destiny of David Daron
Scrambling my way back north past the thugs and the stray tigers in the tall grass, I made my way back to the eastern path to finally deal with this very busy action board. My nervousness about Rivera's first chapter had worn down considerably, so I felt a lot more confident that I could in fact get away with playing this board and not worrying about missing shots or taking too many hits.
It plays as you'd expect. The tigers are the main threat with the loose centipede heads having an annoying habit of dodging shots instead of letting themselves be hit. The larger centipedes and narrow paths are a good combination here as there's usually a route that remains clear to get through without having to slowly shoot away centipedes that skitter diagonally piece by piece. It's probably the most well-designed action screen in the game, even if it's not as creative as the tall grass section leading to the castle.
The followup to a more intense action board, is to take the opposite approach with one in the bear minefield. It's possible to avoid going near any of them in all but two instances. As long as you're patient, things aren't that dangerous.
What's more noteable about this board is the very obvious path through the mountain to the east.
This path loops all the way around back to the canyon board directly south of the crossroads where the game begins. I didn't bother showing off the board before, describing it as a dead end even though it does connect with this board (from the west at least). Of course, the ammo trouble early on meant that shooting out the path to here wasn't an option. That being said, it is still very much a dead end.
One of the breakable walls is actually an object that triggers an avalanche when shot causing an instant game over. It's near Tre 'La so this is from the old bad part of the game.
And it's really a shame, since Tre 'La is so far away now that it's not worth the time and effort to return. If there was a way to actually connect the western half of the world with this eastern half and avoid Crescent Forest after the initial trip, it would be really useful. Compared to the complaints of the first part of Adventure, the complaints here seem so much smaller. Connecting these two boards properly would be nice, but it's not that important.
The bigger complaint is that this fake passage to get players' hopes up exists at all. Just leave the walls to be walls and nobody will have to feel bad.
WAIT. SHIT. WAIT. FUCK.
I MAY HAVE RUINED THE ENTIRE CONCEIT OF THIS GAME BEING AWFUL
LOOK THERE'S AMMO OVER THERE. AND A FEW GEMS.
I want to cry right now.
I did not make this connection until just now, writing this article. This whole time there's been thirty ammo just sitting there for the taking. You'd need plenty of it to deal with the bears, but some clever crop-circles in the forest could flush a bunch of them out without shooting everything. There's the potential for a snowball effect here where this would have allowed me to spend less money on ammo, which would have meant fewer trips to the shops, which would have meant fewer wasted torches, which would have meant more gems for the mandatory weapons and rings, and maybe being able to afford healing! I cannot believe that I did this game dirty.
Don't get it twisted though. This is still a secret area that's effectively mandatory to stand even a chance at getting through this game. This ammo is not enough to fix all the game's problems, and even if it were, this is the sort of thing a lot of players would miss. That's not me trying to save face. Getting to the forest tiles on the opening crossroads is effectively going out-of-bounds. You wouldn't think you were meant to get there anymore than you'd think there was a way to get the torches that fill the backgrounds of so many of Adventure's forests.
Actually redeeming Adventure as a whole will take more than some ammo surrounded by bears, but I am kicking myself for missing this. It might have made the first cave go from basically impossible to merely brutally difficult.