Adventure Part 1: The Adventures of David Daron

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Closer Look: Adventure Part 1 (Part 2 Finale)

Taking one of the worst balanced ZZT games and turning it around significantly. Somehow.

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Mar 10, 2023
Part of Series: Adventure Closer Looks
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The Dragon Mountains


The mountains are a multi-board region that differs itself from Crescent Forest or the smaller grasslands by being open ended. It's technically a maze, with board names being divided into the main path, and a few "Lost" boards. Thankfully getting lost in the mountains isn't the game-ending status it is for the plains. Players just have to guess which exit puts them where, with the lost boards usually leading to more lost boards. It's unlikely that you'll even consider yourself lost as you're guessing your way forward regardless and only on the last board of the actual path can you end up really going backwards in progress. It just takes slightly longer if you do get lost.

This first board though, is a bit odd as the player is restricted from shooting on it. I'm unsure if this is an intentional choice, as the rest of the mountain allows shooting normally, or if Rivera originally didn't have any enemies on this board or had a different purpose intended for it and just forgot to reset it.

It's certainly an effective surprise when players try to shoot for the first time. Whether or not this counts as a good mechanic is another question entirely. To his credit, there are boulders here so Rivera still gives players the ability to crush ruffians to dispose them. Running is the far easier option.


To make the mountains feel like mountains, there are plenty of jagged triangular bits of land that are used to define the contours of the boards. The open spaces make this section of the game feel a bit like a less-pretty variation of The Lost Pyramid. Nonetheless, it gets the job done giving players some enemies to deal with and the surprise of winding up on a board already visited prior, but from a different side.


Through sheer luck, I managed to guess correctly every time, avoiding the lost boards entirely and having to seek them out later to see what boards I had missed. The hermit's hint was that lions were a sign of being lost, and as such all the lost boards have only lions for enemies. I like the idea Rivera had here as a clue to guide players around, but it's handled so that if you see lions, it's already too late. A better approach would have been to put lions near the incorrect exits on the main path instead. This way players could actually utilize the information.


The target is this extra large mountain with an extra large cave. It also has conveyors for some reason? Plus enemies, which have been dealt with before I took a screenshot.

The passage inside is blocked off, requiring players to shoot the odd spots in the walls and then a few breakables. It's such an obvious thing to try here that I'm not sure why Rivera bothered.

¥ This board is dark during normal gameplay. ¥

The first room in the dragon cave is very peculiar. The room has the usual assortment of dead bodies and lions, but the lions don't seem to be the cause of death here. Rivera tries to create an unsettling atmosphere through the details of the dead.


Next to the locked door on the left is this poor fellow who was just incredibly desperate to get through the door. It's an especially sorry fate as the other body when examined reveals itself to be holding onto the key. One body being a skeleton and the other a corpse makes me unsure if these two were supposed to have died together or this is the bad luck of two unique adventurers. Then again, the king did mention sending out others before David to try and rescue the princess.


Where it gets weird is with the other, much larger door on the right side. There is something sinister in this cave, and not even David is ready for it.


Insisting on hanging out by the door will result in it opening and David being swallowed by darkness, ending the game. It's a cool buildup to something, but the thing is that Rivera doesn't reveal anything more than this. There is no way to get past the door, and even if you could, the board has no connection to the east. It is here entirely to be a scary door, or "evildoor" as the object is named. I love it. David's adventure is really just beginning and there are things he very much is not yet capable of. Is this related to the Shadow Master or something else entirely?

The game's ending gives insight to David's greater quest, and I have to wonder if Rivera intended for players to return here and brave what lies on the other side in a later entry in the series.

As it is here though, it could just as well not have been included, but I'm so glad that it was.


Rivera also breaks away from form with the player being locked inside shortly after passing through the (not-evil) door. This has previously been reserved only for boss fights. Since nothing stops players from going to the Dragon Mountains earlier than they're required to, this means getting trapped inside and having to do the entire dungeon before confirming that you wasted your time. Rivera, you card.

Though, that also means that the objects seen here aren't boss enemies.


They're bats.

And this second room is the last time players will encounter them. As far as object-based foes go, they're very much a basic enemy, though they have some unusual coding decision that make me wish they showed up in in areas where they could be fought alongside other enemies..

They follow the classic ZZT enemy rule of moving mostly randomly until they catch sight of the player. At which point they swoop, making a few precise movements in the player's direction. Unlike most charging enemies, they don't keep going until they hit something. Just two steps towards the player is all they'll bother with. Afterwards they return to their main loop which starts by trying to move away from the player, making the swooping attack not very threatening.

Their movements have quite a number of odd directions, with a few instances of #try rndne and #try opp rndne, moving randomly north or east, or the opposite. If they're unable to pull off these moves, they jump to a different label and go towards the player instead. This is a soft-deterrent to keep them away from the walls, a place where enemies are usually easiest to deal with.

They have two more quirks to them as well. The code has a single #char 125 used during the swooping attack, but that's the character they already have. I imagine they were supposed to flip between brace characters or go from braces to parenthesis as a form as animation. It looks like the idea was scrapped for some reason.

Their second quirk is that they don't actually do anything until they're woken up by an external message. This keeps them from bunching up behind the door on the first board, requiring players to hit an invisible object as they enter to get them moving. On the second board, no such object exists resulting in a room with bats frozen in place until shot. It's an oversight that's even more strange as two of the bats on the second board had their code edited to drop keys for the doors out of the room.

¥ This board is dark during normal gameplay. ¥

From there, players will quickly realize this is just a rehash of the Shadow Master's level in the eastern cave. Each chamber features a new enemy, with silly labels making another appearance as well. In order to proceed every enemy has to be defeated. This was a pain the first time due to the lack of supplies. Here it's a rather underwhelming series of obstacles for something so late in the game. I mean it's still preferable to having to fight more worms or something.

And as the board is dark, it does do one clever thing, taking advantage of the lack of visibility to guide players to a transporter with no idea what's on the other side. Having a blind leap like this is an easy way to build a little tension for what might be on the other side. This is perhaps being too kind to Adventure here, as centipedes are the last basic ZZT enemy that could be included, and while a surprise arrival in a new room can be an opportunity for a memorable moment, it's just as likely here that you'll have the misfortune of transporting right on top of a centipede, probably taking several hits before you realize what's happening.

¥ This board is dark during normal gameplay. ¥

It all leads to the final boss battle against the dragon that has captured the princess. One last branching path can give players their final encounter with the bats for a few gems as a last chance to increase their health. These last bats do in fact animate between brace characters as they fly, making me really wonder why they have the feature half-implemented before when a complete variant exists.


The other dead-end is difficult to parse. What to me was a person lying on a large bed is in fact the grave of Thor Hammerhand.


The epitaph shows that he's been held in high regards. It must have been awkward when this dragon decided to roost next to the world famous dragonslayer's tomb. David, now possessing Thor's legendary Dragonslayer sword, pays his respects before attempting to carry on the man's legacy.


By which I mean, taking stuff. Not that Hammerhand is going to be needed torches anytime soon. The torches are a reward for players that inspect the tomb a second time, though all the objects that make up the tomb are bound to a single object and so any player that tries their luck at touching other parts of the tomb will discover them.

It's a good thing too. While Rivera has gotten a much better grasp at how to ensure players are adequately equipped for the task at hand, the lack of torches found in the caves has meant supplies were running low. I believe the final battle should have been possible with just four torches, but it would be quite tense. After the dragon is defeated, players still have to make it out of the cave as well. It wouldn't take much for players to end the game wandering blindly through emptied rooms just as they had done back in the first cave.


The last item of interest in the tomb is a fresco depicting Hammerhand's epic battle. No secret treasures, just a little detail to indicate the man's importance.


Now it's David's turn.


And once again Rivera has managed to make it all too easy to get locked outside of the arena if you don't rush straight at your opponent.

Though, you really don't want to do that as you can see by the sheer number of stars visible in the darkness alone!


I'm sorry. The labeling was silly enough when it was for lions and tigers, I can't get over "Horde" being written on the board only to be discovered by players as they fight the game's final boss. All that build-up of sulfur, scorch marks, and feelings of dread and then you get this clunky explanation as to why the walls are yellow instead of red here.


As for the dragon themselves, they are definitely a challenging foe, while being more reasonable than the game's early bosses. They're obviously a lot more star heavy, breathing fire frequently whenever the player is aligned. To mitigate this somewhat, there is a single solid wall (of gold?) in the middle of the room that can be used to try and get away from any stars. (The second one in the lit board doubles as the door that moves into place to lock players in.)

In order to inflict any damage, players must first shoot the dragon enough times, which with the star throwing mechanic can be difficult. Players need to fire their shot from a distance, and quickly get out of the way, hoping that if stars are thrown that they'll move out of the path of the bullet. The player does have a speed advantage here moving twice as fast as the dragon so running is safe as long as the stars don't pin you down.


It isn't easy. As a final boss though it feels fair enough. Were Tre 'La not so far behind, I'd have been inclined to spend all my cash on healing to prepare for the fight. Instead I was entering with less health than I would have liked, but enough where it felt like the fight should be winnable. This is a much better feeling than the worms and spiders at the game's start where it seemed no amount of health was enough to get through combat.

¥ This board is dark during normal gameplay. ¥

But, Rivera flubs it at the last minute. A bug causes the fight to break because of where the dragon moved after being attacked. Shooting the dragon causes an invalid movement command to be executed: #try rndne seek. I'm not sure what Rivera intended here, perhaps #try rndp seek to move perpendicular to the player. Instead, the dragon pinned in the corner tries to move north or east randomly. This will always fail and instead the "seek" is processed as a label to jump to. No such label exists and the object errors out and halts execution.

Visiting the code in depth afterwards, I think it would have been possible to get the dragon going again by touching them. As I remember it though, the dragon was stuck endlessly trying to move north or east into a wall after being shot, never hitting the #zap shot to allow the fight to advance due to the constant errors.

It is definitely possible to have the fight go as intended. As long as the dragon doesn't get caught in that corner the fight will play out fine. Instead I had to manually set a flag indicating the dragon had been shot enough times to become weakened. This is normally depicted by having each shot display a new line from the dragon going from calling them weak, to eventually complimenting their skills while still claiming they are going to die in this fight.

And again, if you happen to get the dragon in the corner while vulnerable, the fight becomes free, as each melee attack is intended to stagger the dragon away from the player with #go opp seek. Since this is #go and not #try, the dragon attempts to move into a wall forever. Or at least until the next melee attack inflicts more damage and gets them to attempt to move into the wall again from a different spot in their code.


The flaws (in the player's advantage for once) make the final fight a flop. Had I not ran into the issue with the corner-case of a dragon in the corner, this would have been a pretty solid way to close out the game. Instead, I got a free kill, with the Dragonslayer itself burning up once the dragon had been defeated. I hope I didn't just make dragons extinct.

The dragon drops a single gem, without directly giving the player any more, and produces the key to the princess's cell. Quest complete.


You're going to regret this once you remember how far away the castle is David.

Victory Lap

Princess in arms, the game is complete at this point. However, due to the vast size of the world and the multiple people that need to be talked to including the king, the old man, and the guild master, players still have a lot of work to do. At this point, most boards should have been completely pacified, which makes for a very tedious stroll. Two cave boards, three boards for the Dragon Mountains, the forest beyond the gate, the gate, outside the castle, inside the castle...

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
After a tearful reunion, the King speaks:
"You have surpassed all of my hopes. I
am forever in your debt, and I thank you
many times over. Alas, I know somewhat of
your quest, and I know that you cannot
dwell here as of yet. When your journey
is done, return here and marry the
princess! I also declare you my heir to
the throne. Tell the guild master what you
have done, and then speak to the old man
again. Farewell, and I look forward to our
next meeting!"

The princess says,
"Farewell, and I hope we meet again! Hurry
home, David!"
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

David gets what he came to the island for, fame, fortune, and a princess bride. It's very trope-y to be sure, with the princess really just being there to fall in love with David immediately and be his reward for a job well done. ZZT has seen more creative takes on the princess rescue that make this princess feel cliché and sterile. Just the most generic princess available.


Oh for fuck's sake.

Of course I actually died on the way back to Tre 'La with those boards filled with enemies I ran past to conserve ammo getting their revenge. It's funny, yes, but this walk is so boring! The game feels like it should be over, even when some boards can still be dangerous. I just wanted this to be done with. Let's see... from the castle interior there's the exterior, the bridge with the thugs, the tall grass, the crossroads outside Crescent Forest, four boards of Crescent Forest, the starting crossroads, and finally Tre 'La to speak with the guild master.


You can at least argue in favor of the walk through the forest. For completing the quest to rescue the princess, David receives a reward of another free night at the inn. This time its a frugal room at least.


Even David is sick of it.

And yet the reward is ANOTHER NIGHT AT THE INN. The peace between the kingdoms isn't actually handled by the guild master who seems to try to give David the same quest twice in a row.


It's an expensive room this time. This means Rivera has some fun decorating the place. There are hangers for coats, paintings on the walls, a large table, even a window that's clean on both sides!

Best of all, a fresh apple sits on the nightstand by the incredibly comfortable bed. The perks speak for themselves.


I think Rivera just really wanted to make sure players saw his inn rooms. We're still not done of course, as the old man said to speak with him after completing all the quests from the mercenary guild.

Meaning from Tre' La.... to the crossroads, four boards of Crescent Forest, the crossroads, the action board before the old man's house, the outside of the house, and finally going inside.


No thank you. I'll just warp.

Old Man
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
  "Excellent job! I knew you could do it.
I will tell you all now. The Shadow Master
is building up strength. It is time for
all the Kingdoms to join together. Your
quest is to join the Kingdoms- you have
already joined two. There are a total of
five left, and all must be united for the
battle against the Shadow Master. You
will probably recieve further instructions
when all is united, but that will not be
for awhile. You have
your Quest, now complete it. I bid you
farewell, and you may now pass through the
Great Road, for the boulders shall allow
you to pass. Go! Take the weapons in the
next room, and fufill your destiny!"
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Well, now we have the real plot. In order to defeat the Shadow Master and save the world, all the kingdoms must unite together. David's had a solid start with the first two here. To prepare, and to solidify David's status as a true hero, the old man gives him all that great stuff he couldn't steal earlier.


Most of the items just display a simple message about being taken, or how they fit perfectly. The sword is the odd one out being given the name Angerthas, which seems to be the Dwarven writing system in Middle-earth.


David also only gets to take a single silver arrow for his cool new bow, which is good for a laugh, and then a sigh for old-timey ADOM-heads who know the pain of having just one good arrow.

Rivera of course wants players to walk all the way back through Crescent Forest again to reach the canyon at the start of the game. Boy it sure would be nice if there was a shortcut outside the old man's house that let you quickly get from one location to the other!


Upon arriving (via cheats), the boulders recognize David's greatness and just get out of his way. The bears continue to protect the ammo that I really wish I had noticed hours ago. It's onward to the next adventure...




Leaving the pass behind him, David ventures onward to the next kingdom, ready to fulfill his destiny and defeat the Shadow Master. The game concludes on this lovely art board with the text (and sun) changing colors in a glorious celebration for those who have done the impossible. Those who have actually beaten Adventure.

Final Thoughts

And that's a wrap! What an incredible journey this game was. I've never seen a game start so poorly in the way Adventure did. Luckily my mushy child's brain deflected its disgust with the player by being too oblivious to realize, instead causing me to become infatuated with this unusual title. Now knowing better, I can safely say Adventure is front-loaded with awful design choices stemming from a variety of sources. The intricacies of ZZT's parser causes trouble with the early bosses. Rivera's insistence that players play with immaculate precision makes anything that adjusts a number on the sidebar one of grave importance. Though a few NPCs will provide insight on what's required to defeat certain enemies, there's still the one time Rivera locks players in a room and tells them to perish to learn that it's time to go shopping for a ring. Which ring to buy remains unstated.

The discovery of the ammo cache on the canyon board does rectify things to some extent. I knew from the start to save every shot, and don't doubt that you can lure the bears away from the ammo and collect far more than you shoot on that board. Even so, it requires catching on to board connections that seem deliberately hidden away. Maybe that one's on me though. Even if I had some extra ammo, it wouldn't have done much for the bosses down there.

The problems go beyond just resource management anyway. No matter how much the player has on them, the mirror maze is going to be atrocious. It's possible to skip it, but that skip is surely a bug. It's easy to get rid of your dynamite before opening the next door and getting stuck that way. The game just feels spiteful.

Which is why the abrupt turnaround is so unexpected. Somehow, the rest of Adventure cleans up its act significantly. Crescent Forest will no doubt have players walking on eggshells out of fear that the design seen in the eastern cave will continue. Afterwards, players suddenly come to realize they're in decent shape, and can explore a world with forests, castles, mountains, caves, plains, and swamps and actually enjoy themselves in the process. Rivera is able to take a narrowly defined world of a generic guild to hand out quests and transform it into a fantasy setting where the birds will befriend you, the guards need to drink some coffee, and a great danger is lurking. I couldn't believe it when I realized I wanted to see where the story would take me.

While things do soften up considerably, it's still no paradise. Rivera still likes to end the game for players on a whim, talking to guards who instantly declare you a spy, when your role sounds more like that of a messenger makes the Zahn chapter aggravating at times. Peeking at the plains is an instant reload. Boss doors love to close in your face and lock you out. You might walk onto a board and step on a ruffian. There are bugs throughout the game where talking to a now-pacified thug gets them riled up again, objects will randomly throw errors, and edge cases aren't properly handled as with the spiders if you buy your short sword before defeating them all.

If you disregard the brutal first chapter, Adventure is still a winner overall. It has its share of problems, sometimes fatal ones, but these are to be expected in ZZT worlds of this era and can be easily rectified with the occasional ?ZAP cheat. It's certainly not idea that this is the state the game is in, yet even with those issues I still found myself wanting to see where David would venture to next and what obstacles he would encounter there. There's an entire side to this game that I never saw as a child that was capturing my interest now. Adventure actually does have a sequel which I never played. If it sticks to the style of the latter portion of the game, I think it could actually be quite fun to explore.

Yet the beginning of the game gives it a terrible first impression. These adventurers set in fantasy worlds like this one are some of ZZT's most common types of worlds. The rest don't have this nightmarish start to scare players away from enjoying the rest. I can't really recommend anybody play this game for the back half when the start is just awful. There are so many alternatives available both old and new. I feel like cheating is the only way to make the introduction tolerable, which is really a shame as the rest of the game did leave me wanting more. I'm tempted to just pick up the second game right now while this one is still fresh in my mind, so there's obviously something positive here. Another adventure for the pile overall perhaps, but Adventure's faults make it one of the most unique ZZT worlds I've come across. Just brace yourself if you dare to see it for yourself.

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