This Featured World award is unique in that the world being bestowed the honor has more authors than any other recipient, and by a significant margin. With twelve entrants and four judges contributing material to the compilation, it blows the record out of the water, crushing the paltry four authors given star billing with Evil Sorcerers' Party. And it's that sheer number of hands tugging at the (metaphorical) trophy that makes The 2021 Make a Neat ZZT Board Contest-Jam Type Thing Compilation so deserving of some time in the spotlight.
What we have here is a ZZT game jam that garnered a solid response and number of submissions. That's something you'd see more frequently in the heyday of the 24 Hours of ZZT contests, where over a single day entrants would wind up producing more than two dozen games, but these days, that's significantly rarer. Organizing a jam and getting submissions well into the double-digits is an impressive feat that only a handful of ZZTers throughout its history can lay claim to.
This jam, organized by Zinfandel took a risk and went for a rather unusual approach that absolutely paid off. Rather than court the ZZT community exclusively, Zin played to ZZT's greatest of strengths: a learning curve so small that it would make a mole hill into a mountain by comparison. This jam didn't focus on seeing what existing ZZTers could come up with. Instead the plan was to bring ZZT to a new audience outside the community, to show them how easy it was to make something, and let them discover just how fun it could be to do so. By courting communities he was a part of that that might be interested in such creative endeavors, Zinfandel arguably was responsible for the best ZZT outreach effort since Tim Sweeney asked fans to send disks with their creations in the mail.
Something like half of the submitted entries were made by new ZZTers with new ideas, with a few returning ZZTers creating something with ZZT for the first time in years or even decades. The jam injected some life into the ZZT community, bringing it into contact with new faces, and in some instances, those faces even stuck around.
There's more to the jam's success though than courting the kind of folks that would maybe be interested in such a thing. My own attempt at a combined tutorial/outreach The Joy of ZZT in 2020 wound up being a ten episode series, expecting those interested to follow along from start to finish. That's closer to a college class than the chill vibes Zin wisely opted for instead. Resources were made available for those who wanted to dip their toes in deeper waters, but it was equally valid to get somebody to open up ZZT's built-in editor, place some of the items in the menus, and let them be satisfied with that.
The other major factor in what made this event such a success stems from its very basic requirements on what was to be submitted. Zin didn't ask people who were opening ZZT for the first time to produce a full game starting with zero knowledge. He asked for just one board. It really can't get any more low friction than that. "Please make it neat" was the guiding principle, and "neat" was very deliberately left open to wide interpretation. The only other requirements were to have a passage so players could leave the board which would be connected to the menu in the compilation release and for a purple key to be able to be taken out of the board as a way to track what boards players conquered.
Now, you can certainly create a complete game in a single board, though examples that are honest to goodness a single screen in ZZT are a bit hard to find. Those that are one board in spirit at least, are easy to point to. TriphEd's 3Tris, Herbie Piland's The Arena, and HM's Castle of ZZT all provide complete enough experiences on one board even if they have some additional screens. There's definitely precedent to believe that a single screen is plenty enough to keep players happy.
Because the task was to make a neat ZZT board rather than the higher-effort sounding "world" or "game", it didn't even matter if the submission wasn't a complete experience you would usually expect to be created with ZZT. The goal was for people who have never opened ZZT's editor to poke around in it and see what struck them. The compilation shows a number of different takes on what exactly appeals about making ZZT boards. There are full games, vignettes, art boards, engines, and just placing things from various menus just as one might expect a new ZZTer to have done twenty or even thirty years ago now. This approach meant that the biggest obstacle to overcome in getting something submitted was to actually download ZZT in the first place.
It's this smart idea and the success of it that makes me feel that The 2021 Make a Neat ZZT Board Contest-Jam Type Thing Compilation is well deserving of a purple key of its own and a permanent spotlight on the Museum of ZZT.
The Neat Submissions
Bank 2 of ZZT by Allie
Any fears that the submitted entries might not be all that appealing to play are quickly forgotten with this very first board by longtime ZZTer Allie playing homage to the Town of ZZT's baffling bank sequence. Just as one inevitably will in Town, players immediately break things by pushing a boulder next to a large sign that reads "Push".
It's okay though, because the unnamed host of the board will work some magic to make sure you can still get by, even if you don't have the vault combination.
Inside, you'll find the expected rewards for such a feat, a pile of gems, and a coveted purple key. It's clear what about ZZT sticks with people after all these years. ...By which I mean the vault also contains two toilets to interact with.
It's short and it's sweet, and anybody that's played Town will be able to relate to the frustration of breaking the vault without even realizing you've made a mistake.
Apollo Station by LBC
This one is admittedly a bit of trickery. While experienced ZZTers were more than welcome to join in on the jam, LBC was a case of making up a new ZZTer to mask the identity of the old. Who could this mysterious author be? I'll never tell ;)
Still a fantastic entry though.
Taking on the role of an insurance underwriter, players control a remote-operate drone which boards the compromised Apollo Station in search of data logs to explain what exactly happened that resulted in the deaths of the crew and the station's abandonment. All, of course, in the name of finding reasons why insurance should not cover the damages.
Grim plot-line aside, Apollo Station is one of the more impressive entries in the compilation. Players are let loose in the now dark ship, relying on blaster and flashlight recharge stations to top off limited supplies as they slowly explore the labyrinthine layout of the station in search of seven terminals. The board is designed with many doors that only open from one side as well as ZZT's own keys and doors that serve to start players on a narrow path that slowly expands as the board progresses. The board even connects with itself from all directions making it easy to quickly return to certain areas, or to find yourself completely lost depending on how good your mental map is. (Mine is terrible.)
It doesn't take too long to figure out what happened: aliens have invaded the ship. An original and rather ingenious technique where slimes are used to quickly spread over the halls only to have their breakable trails erased and the outermost layer transformed into other ZZT creatures. This adds a lot of unpredictability to the game, as the slime spread and when it happens are impossible to fully predict.
The difficulty is high, perhaps even too high for a first time player. Your health, however, is infinite, with any damage taken resulting in the drone being destroyed and use of ZZT's re-enter when zapped board option to warp players back to the start. This is where the importance of opening all those one-way doors comes into play.
It's easy to imagine Apollo Station being expanded into a full game. This lone board feels very much like one of ZZT's many dungeon crawlers, with a sci-fi theme and clever technique to implement both random and infinite enemies. The one hit KOs for your drones lead to quite a bit of tension as you carefully try to navigate the station with little time to react once a monster appears in your torch's light. There's also the very real risk in the heat of battle that you might not even notice your torch is about to burn out, suddenly having to lunge for your keyboard's "T" key before being caught in the dark and losing your progress.
At the same time however, the ability to slowly open up the station eases the sting a little. You may be sent back to the start, but every door opened only makes it easier for the next drone to reach the same location in significantly less time.
Really the only thing to watch out for is that while there are highlights of various colors running through the board to help break the station up into sectors, the station is almost entirely stark white, making it easy to confuse exactly where something you were unable to reach before can be found. If you get a good run and open up some doors, you may find yourself still sticking to the main path just because you have a better understanding of the station's layout when retracing your steps versus wrapping around the screen via newly opened board edges.
Though if you turn the lights on, you'll laugh at how simple the layout really is. It's incredible how disorienting ZZT's darkness can be.
The Approach by JohnWWells
JohnWWells, acclaimed creator of the 2003 smash-hit Evil Sorcerer's Party returns from a nineteen-year hiatus to create a horror vignette.
Unlike most of the submitted boards, player interactivity is rather limited. The old man players control does little more than walk down a hallway and settle into bed before the remainder of the experience turns into a cut-scene.
Wells's writing was what made ESP the masterpiece that it is, and here with just one board he demonstrates that he still has it. A frail old man in an equally frail home is plagued with fear and paranoia that someone or something is coming to get him. Wells uses narration to describe the sounds of creaking floorboards and doors, which the old man uses as an alarm system to great effect. The board builds up a tense (if admittedly predictable as noted by fellow judge PogeSoft) atmosphere. An impressive mix of fear of the unknown and fear of growing old make the board one of the compilation's most unique by far.
beach by davidjamesmc
Newcomer davidjamesmc arrives and instantly wins everyone over. "Beach" is just that, placing players in the corner next to an object informing players that they need to get to the toilets and find a purple key along the way before setting them loose into an open area to explore and harass all they come across.
It's very much a "fuck around and find out" game, littered with fellow beach-goers to talk to and plenty of other items to mess around with (including some literal litter). Where it truly stands out is in the quality of its writing. The text is formatted with heavy indentations that give everything an odd cadence, and why not? It's an odd beach.
As you attempt to reach the toilets you'll have to find loose change, ruin the days of several swimmers, and aid some incredibly grumpy mermaids deal with a seal problem. (The problem is that there is a seal.) More than any of the other entries contained within, this board really captures the bizarre interactions players get to indulge in (whether they want to or not) in ZZT games. It fits right in with lighter on gameplay exploratory games like the back half of The Search for the Ancient, the introduction to Code Red, and the curious adaption of a BBS to Super ZZT The Genesis Matrix.
There's plenty of fun to be had in being a little bastard as well. The player is the silent type, but their personality is learned by the actions they perform without hesitation to reach their goal. Who gets helped and who gets to be a victim feels arbitrary, but the fates suffered by those not on the player's side aren't anything so appalling as to make you feel too bad for causing them to happen. Getting a child off the beach by blasting some Cardi B music off an ignored Bluetooth speaker is more mischievious than anything else. Some older youth playing in the water are scared away by making the water suddenly much warmer, all in service of one of the mermaids that affectionately praises you for being such a pig. No one is truly safe from the player's antics, and realizing what the solution to a puzzle is only serves to hook players more on what they might do next and who they might meet in need of their services.
The stakes are low with no way to lose while the interactions are dense. Everything on the board has a purpose eventually, so you when something seems to only be window dressing for the scene, you should keep it in the back of your mind. Should you find yourself having trouble, a kind lady has thoughtfully been placed in a corner who will give the player some hints. These hints help new arrivals both get started on making progress and encourage players to retread ground when things seem to have come to a standstill, preventing players from being stuck for very long.
By the time it's over you'll wish there was still more.
"Title Screen" by bokonon_lives
Bokonon's board goes for a straightforward exploration of a maze-like cave system filled with bears and gems. At least, that's all it really seems to be at first.
As the player navigates, previously hidden portions of the board reveal themselves, giving the player more to check out while also keeping the initial layout from putting maze-averse players (me) off. Biases aside, mazes are hardly the most popular ZZT boards out there, often dragging down otherwise well-crafted games. Bokonon seems well aware of the uphill battle faced in enticing players with a board of this nature, and has unleashed a secret weapon to keep away the tedium it might otherwise induce.
A sick drum beat.
Shortly after players enter the board, a simple drum loop begins, adding just a tiny bit of background noise to hint to the player that this board has more to it than what you might find printed on the side of a Happy Meal box. Through the use of flags being set and cleared as progress is made, the beat unfolds into something more complex. By the end of it you'll be cursing every ZZT creature that manages to attack the player and interrupt the music with the "Ouch!" sound effect.
The music is by far the star of the experience. Any longtime ZZTer can tell you that good audio is hard to come by. Having a song play for the entire duration of a board is a rarity, let alone a song that elicits a feeling other than relief when it finally concludes. The PC speaker is a harsh instrument, one where no matter how good the tune may be, eventually your ears will politely ask for it to stop. This is one of those rare exceptions of a banger that gives the legendary title screen of Merbotia a run for its money.
The maze is really just the beginning as well. Eventually the board breaks off in a new direction, pitting players against a room full of ruffians before they then need to get past a hall of gnashing spikes, or perhaps teeth, before they get trapped inside them. It's experimental for sure, with some lessons to be learned on how best to handle a player that's gotten munched as you can get permanently stuck. Master the teeth though, and you'll leave quite satisfied with your time spent in a maze, Bokonon pulling off the incredible feat of making a maze board work.
Bip-bo-beep by Snorb
Snorb's entry had the misfortune of originally being unwinnable due to some coding errors. These have been fixed in the compilation, with the original preserved as an extra, allowing me to finally experience the game properly.
Set in a small forest filled with various species of tree in nearly all colors of the rainbow, the player takes on the role of a druid in charge of keeping the forest healthy over the seasons. Depending on how you look at it, the game is either a basic simulation or a puzzle game where players need to plant a tree and ensure that it can thrive and survive.
There isn't all that much too it. ZZT simulations, especially confined to a single board, can only be expected to do so much. Each season gives players can plant their sapling, water it, and feed it. As the seasons change, so to do the colors of the board: A warm green spring, a bright yellow summer, a crisp red fall, and a snow white winter.
A small dwelling next to the circle of trees holds all the items for players to interact with as well which includes the expected arboreal essentials and a water clock that can be used to advance the calendar to the next season. Snorb is also polite enough to allow players to travel backwards in time, in the event of a non-fatal mistake having been made, though I'm not sure how often practically speaking this would happen in a way that a sapling could be saved.
There isn't much to go on other than your own personal druidic intuition as to when to plant, feed, and water. In order to ensure success, Snorb also includes a fairly straightforward guidebook to tell players what should be done each season, which at one point involves alternating between feeding and watering. The guide turns the experience into following instructions as written. Not using the guide makes the experience mostly guesswork, with feedback only being displayed once the season changes.
Those mistakes feel costly too as you can only carry one of each item and any need to return to more requires wrapping around side of the building in order to reach the door. Simply moving the entrance to the side nearest the tree would be a great time-saver to keep players from dwelling on their mistakes for long.
Playing along though, you can see the groundwork (is that a pun?) here for a more intricate simulation. There's a sprout of an idea here that's ready to be grown.
Cat Trap by PSI Ninja
If "Title Screen" stood out for its unexpectedly good sound. PSI Ninja's board sticks out equally well with its great visuals.
Like the previous board players need to deal with ZZT's built-in creatures. Yet rather than take the expect approach of placing some ammunition at the player's feet and telling them to aim true, the assumed-action is revealed to be more of a puzzle than anything else. The lions are merely a red herring, serving as distractions to make the player's actual task more difficult.
Players must instead find a way to herd cats into traps where they can be safely exploded (as one does) with a limited number of bombs. Animal cruelty aside, this is a pretty solid foundation for a potential action-puzzler. The player's bullets are ineffective against the cats which means proper wrangling requires taking advantage of the kitties' instinctive behavior of marching towards the player at all costs. This allows players to catch them on certain corners where they'll be easy to catch in a bomb's blast radius as well as using sliders to lock them into certain spaces. Hopefully with the player safely outside the blast radius!
The challenge here is rather small, but easy to imagine being built up into a fuller experience. While you can potentially run out of bombs the ratio of bomb to cat is highly skewed in favor of the explosives making the task one that can be completed even with several mishaps.
The entire time, a giant one-bit cat face is up there in the corner taunting the player. The initial smiling face seems welcoming enough before being replaced with an angry expression that accompanies each war-cry of "Nyaa!". Once all the cats are defeated, the player gets to take on the giant beast itself with its weak point now exposed. Each hit reduces the on-screen HP meter and produces a rather sad looking ouch face that makes you feel quite bad about what you're doing and have already done.
DOGGY DOG DOG DOGGO by Dog in da Grass
Cats are out. Dogs are in.
A first foray into ZZTing that focuses on, well dogs. The ground you walk on is a photo of a dog. (Is this Zima? The visuals are peculiar enough that I feel like it must be, yet simple enough that they may be hand drawn.) The dog is barking. There are other dogs roaming around the board with rather elaborate code for what is random-looking movement. The purple key is yours for the taking.
You can of course pet all the dogs, sending them into a brief frenzy where they chase their tails for a moment before calming down. Accurate to the real thing for sure.
There isn't all that much to say, but it's exactly this kind of board that demonstrates the brilliance in Zinfandel's idea for the jam. You wouldn't get this board in any other scenario. It is the specific combination of a newcomer to ZZT experimenting with the tools available, focused not on making a "game" so much as finding the joy purely in creating something, and that's certainly neat.
This is a first step on a journey which the author might not have any interest in taking, but should they ever decide to do so so, they can begin with that much more confidence that creating a game isn't an impossibility.
But Is It Neat? by raekuul
Another first foray into the world of ZZT. This one more interested in action than visual art. Race around the perimeter of the room loading up on a ton of ammo and gems while watching some duplicators create the cast of ZZT's monster menu.
Players need to venture into the monster house, snag the key, and race towards the exit.
In practice, I'm not quite sure that the way it actually plays out is what raekuul was going for. Slimes are positioned close to the duplicators so they don't really get much opportunity to create more monsters for the player. A nearby bomb also allows the vast majority of enemies to be destroyed simultaneously.
It's another board whose author got to play around in the editor and try their hand at creating something, and so yes, it too is a first step board experimenting with what possibilities ZZT exposes, and checking out some of its quirkier options with duplicators.
The board asks "but is it neat?" and answers it with some blocks of breakables with gems placed inside using Commander Keen's Standard Galactic Alphabet to answer "This is neat", a sentiment shared by anyone discovering how easy it is to create a ZZT board for the first time.
Revenge Wears Purple by Sam
Another rather impressive first impression. I frequently use the term "playaround" for the kind of creations where I get the feeling that the author was more interested in seeing what ZZT's editor allowed them to do regardless of how cohesive an experience is.
And I do mean that in a positive way. Whether it's a stepping stone to more complex work or not, there's nothing wrong with creating something for yourself to see what you can do. Plenty of more complicated and cohesive (or sometimes purposely incomprehensible) ZZT worlds are still built with this kitchen-sink approach to design.
This isn't one of them.
Sam's board crams the experience of a typical ZZT adventure into a single board. It has a clear start and end, a story to justify the player's actions, and feels very much like a piece of a lengthier game. This is one board where I worry the author would have enjoyed themselves more if they were free to create as many boards as they needed. It weighs in at more than 19,900 bytes out of the standard 20,000, suggesting that Sam either got very lucky with stopping when they did or they wound up having to ask about ZZT's memory limitations. This makes it the largest non-judge submission in the compilation. (And of course I'm the maniac that used more memory. It's what I do for some reason.)
The story is an old standby. There's a tyrannical king. He's been leading his people to ruin. Something needs to be done. As the player, you're a rebel with a mission to find a way to steal the source of his magical abilities: his Purple Key of Power. Luckily for you, today the kingdom is celebrating The Purple Ruler's Festival, with the king and his key on display for all to worship. This is your chance.
As a first time foray, and limited to just a single screen, it can't be expected to hit the high notes of more iconic works in ZZT's immensely popular medieval-fantasy genre. It's a bit closer to early ZZT worlds like Ezanya or The Crypt, albeit considerably condensed. The former of which is considered a definitive work, so to be headed in that direction is a great sign that Sam is doing something right.
Tiny as it is forced to be, what you get here is a very well thought out puzzle with multiple solutions to reach your purple goal. It is possible to acquire the key through two different paths. Players can take the stealthy approach, grabbing the key when the coast is clear, or they may choose violence. This choice makes the board one that can go quite differently on an additional visit, and is one of only a few submissions that can be played multiple times without things going the same way. For the peaceful route, players may render a guard unconscious (peacefully), acquire a fishing rod, and befriend the locals. Violence means acquiring a knife and not being afraid to use it.
Being a festival, there are plenty of characters to speak with, both fellow visitors (without ulterior motives) and vendors hoping to make a profit by selling their goods in such a crowded space. Not every person exists to move things forward, but the variety in characters does quite a bit to build up the greater world outside of this single board. Some characters will sing genuine praise to their king. Others clearly do so out of fear of punishment. Putting on the uniform of a royal guard changes some characters' behavior, with shopkeepers timidly stating that all their papers are in order and that their stands all follow proper protocol.
Perhaps most impressive of all is that the board also makes use of an engine to adjust gameplay. Rather than give players a
gun and bullets crossbow and bolts, ammo is used to activate the tools the player finds, mapping each one to shooting in a specific direction which is picked up by a player clone surrounded by breakable walls, forming a makeshift set of C-Buttons you'd see in a 3D Legend of Zelda game.
These tools can be a bit difficult to use though as exactly where you should be standing can be somewhat unintuitive. A little awkwardness aside though, this is an excellent example of how quickly one can go from zero knowledge to creating a brand new experience with ZZT.
GEM SHOOBY 6000 by WiL
Ughhhhh. WiL is at it again.
I'm almost tempted to let that be it. WiL enters the jam directly with ZZT's first clicker-game, no mouse required. Gem Shooby has the odd distinction of being too fragile for vanilla ZZT, and is the sole reason the compilation is designed to be played with ClassicZoo where its comparatively infinite memory availability along with a few bugs with #bind being patched allows one board to hold more than could have been done previously.
In Gem Shooby, your task is produce Shoobies, little circular characters that give a gem when touched or shot. A small field of is provided to players to get their Shooby farm started, with a middle plot where each tile can be used to purchase upgrades that allow Shoobies to be amassed faster.
You've got boosts, so you can harvest more gems per Shooby. Speed to reduce the cool down between Shooby blossoms. Autoshoobies to self-harvest with no interaction needed, a Shooby Shop to buy additional upgrades and limit the need to use one of a limited number of upgradable tiles for basic upgrades. Ammo, to open up Shoobies that have to be shot to be harvested. Plus repeaters and randomizers to multiple the effects of shooting.
It's a kind of game which never really interested me, and the first time I played it I recall bouncing pretty quick, being impressed on a technical level, but hardly interested in sinking my time into seeing the game through. This time I decided to stick with it for a little bit to see if it could hold my attention better now that I wasn't in a rush to get through the submissions and found myself getting hooked!
I did in fact reach the final ascension. I wish I had paid more attention to how long it took, but it is undoubtedly the longest ZZT board ...I've ever finished. (kristomu's Longer ZZT Games make me apprehensive about not having that "finished" clause.)
Once you hit a sweet spot with the cool down time where you can just harvest your initial six and be back at the first just as it becomes ready to harvest again, you can get really quite a groove going!
ZZKey Machine by junk
junk brings us some more traditional ZZT action and puzzle elements with a large contraption that modernizes the experience a bit. Players are dropped into a blue cave filled with boulders, sliders, and centipedes. In the center, a rather imposing piece of machinery can have ores of various colors (the boulders) inserted and refined into new materials.
A scroll provides a one time peek at a conversion chart revealing yellow ore converts to gems, five purple ores into the purple key that is your goal, and the red ore left unexplained to give players a surprise to look forward to.
The machinery is a simple conveyor powered device that reads the color of boulder inserted and stores it for further processing (purple) or spits out the refined material (the rest). The challenge is managing to get the ore where it needs to be in the first place. Much of it is surrounded by sliders that need to be taken out of the equation. These aren't mind-bending puzzles, nor or they intended be. It's more like an unwrapping process.
Moving quickly is key though as other less helpful devices known as CENTI-MATICS will run on their own, occassionally letting loose a few 'pedes to wreak havoc on your plans. Oh, and some spinning guns are placed in a few spots to make sure players are never completely safe when they work.
It makes for a fun enough little romp with a few ways to approach it. You can try and group your purple ore together, or go one at a time instead moving around and blasting centipedes as needed. It does have a small flaw in that you can use boulders to block the centipede producers off, dramatically reducing the engagement required. You'll have more fun playing it as intended.
Other boards in the compilation have crammed more content, and while this one doesn't feel like a sizable game limited to a single screen, it very much feels like the kind of board you'd see in a Town inspired world. It's very much a purple key board that would fit right in with other retro-styled ZZT adventures.
The Judge's Neat Boards
The Make a Neat Contest-Jam Type Thing Board by Zinfandel
One of the requests Zin had for the jam was that anybody that signs up as a judge should make a non-judged submission themselves as a little bonus. This adds four more boards to explore, all of which were made by well-experienced ZZTers.
Zin opts to go first, and plays things meta, transforming the event's origins into the subject of a board itself.
This means there isn't all that much to do, but I suppose it's a good thing that organizing the jam didn't involve stealing from corrupt royalty, being repeatedly destroyed by aliens, or converting ores into posts.
Instead players get a little depiction of Zin's home, where he uses his computer to promote the idea and build interest in various discord servers that seemed like they would be receptive to the idea as well as just contacting a few friends via direct message before making a dedicated server for the event.
It's cute! And nice to have the jam's origin immortalized in some way.
QRANQ by PogeSoft
Poge's entry also sticks to a home for its setting. This one isn't nearly as chill though. Players take on the role of "Chad Chandos", a hitman for the Mean Girls Mafia who recently botched a job to take down a target from "Digital Börger" has led to them sending their own team of assassins to return the favor.
So it's an action scene, defending your home from numerous invaders. However, Poge deviates from the usual run and gun style that is the basis of most ZZT combat. As your opponents are ruffians, melee combat is also right out.
...or is it?
Thanks to the frequently overlooked energizer, Poge goes for the most frantic action imaginable, requiring players grab an invulnerability item, and continue grabbing them as they run through the home clearing room after room. If your energizer should ever run out though, it's an immediate game over as Chad gets overwhelmed by the opposition.
Add in a few other surprise characters, as well as a hidden alternate ending, and you've got a board that's both fast and fun.
BIG MAZ ON THE BRD by KKairos
If you do want tried-and-true action, then KKairos's board is what you're after! The board is a sprawling maze set in darkness, littered with built-in creatures, with dead ends offering players consolation gems. ...At least if players don't get too trigger-happy and shoot them by mistake. Something that can be easy to do once you realize that being bitten by a beast will boot you back to the beginning.
That alone would make for a great starter board by one of the jam's many newcomers. With KKairos though, you should know enough to expect the solid fundamentals to be shaken up to make things a little less 1991. So the maze isn't merely finding the route from Point A to Point B. Instead players need to add several more detours as various locked doors hiding keys for said doors require players really explore their surroundings.
A few gates comprised of sliders further restrict where the player can go, opening up paths to keys or just minimizing the requirements for backtracking, something I'm always grateful for.
But the mechanic that separates this from Caves of ZZT is the adjustments to how ammo and torches are handled. Players receive an infinite amount of both resources, a great way to ensure new players won't run the risk of being left in the dark, or find themselves being forced to run into a monster and be sent back to the start should they run out of ammo.
The torch system is easy enough, give the player a single torch, and when that drops to zero torches remaining give them a new one immediately. All the benefits of ZZT's torches creating scary moments when your light goes out unexpectedly without any sense of urgency to get through dark rooms as quickly as possible.
Ammo is a little more involved. Your shots are still infinite, and the board caps the number of shots that can be on screen at once to six (a tough limit to reach given the length of most hallways). Players are asked at the start of the board which difficulty they wish to play on, which is done by choosing how much ammo is held in the player's clip: six, twelve, or twenty-four. Notably, there's no labels here to call a difficult "easy" or "hard", so there's no "correct" answer.
Players are given this much ammo and when they hit zero, there's a forced delay before it replenishes instantly. This really discourages firing too wildly as there's no telling when a creature may pop up from a different path, and you certainly don't want to be caught unable to react! Combine this with your torch burning out, and you can be in for a rough time when suddenly you are indeed left completely vulnerable.
I played with 12 per clip and found it to be well-balanced. Six doesn't feel like it would be impossible or anything, just a little more slowly paced, and at twenty-four you can really feel safe to blast away.
It all combines to make a tidy little action-maze game revolving around ZZT's non-object features, with a little pizzazz in the form of the player's supplies and how they manage them. Would I want to play a full length game with boards of this scale and these mechanics? Probably not without more to sweeten the deal, but for a short dungeon crawl, KKairos will certainly keep you entertained.
The Great Museum of ZZT Caper by Dr. Dos
I do not want to dwell too much on my submission as a judge for the event because this is supposed to be a featured world review. Even so, with a year behind me, replaying this board feels very different from how it did then. I was still in my "I have 20,000 bytes of memory on this board and I'm going to use every last one of them" era so of course the board is jam packed.
Raid a ZZTified Museum of ZZT, hauling out all the artifacts you can. Players are on a strict time limit before the police arrive, and move slower the more they carry (handled by decreasing time at a rate greater than one second per second). To accomplish this task, you'll need to find one of a few potentially entry points into the museum.
The board was designed for multiple replays to try and get a high score. Many interactive elements of the board have a fixed time cost for using them, so players need to learn the best way in and out, as well as planning their route carefully. Security laser blink walls can boot the player back outside, but the tapes will need to be erased if you're caught on them, preventing it from being a quick exit tool.
Each room in the museum is filled with artifacts that reference iconic (to me) ZZT worlds. Older players will likely get a kick out of a few, though in retrospect, new players aren't going to comprehend things like "One object fire", or think to check the treasure chest from Link's Adventure multiple times for extra gems. The board's credits do list the source of all the artifacts, though I don't think they're going to be effective tools to entice players to check out more ZZT games.
The gameplay is frantic, and until the blinkwalls have been disabled even navigating the interior can be a challenge. I still enjoyed it now, but no longer had the patience to try and max out my score. For those up to the challenge however, it is possible to pull of a perfect heist.
The player clone trick used to get the player into the museum on one path is also a lot buggier than I remembered! If the clone isn't properly destroyed your run is pretty much over. Oops. This author is hopeless.
Still not content with the content contained within, Zinfandel also included some bonus materials. Snorb's original bugged release of his board (the one submitted to the judges, rather than the fixed release for everyone to enjoy), an example board by Zin that helps set expectations for new ZZTers, and a different LBC board with a similar design to the final variant.
All of which are good have included! Snorb's board being broken won't have much appeal to players, but for preservationists, its inclusion is a blessing to make the judge's comments make sense.
Though one small issue comes up where not all of them have passages to actually leave the board and continue playing. This is warned in advance on the judge's submission board that also contains the bonus material, but it seems silly to omit the proper integration for so few boards.
Yeah, It's Neat
The jam was very much a success, with vague murmurings of trying to run another sometime, which I'd quite like to see. There's a huge variety of boards submitted, all of which had something to offer, and a few which really blew my expectations for newcomers out of the water. Zinfandel struck gold with the idea here. Clearly the formula works.
For ZZTers new and old, everything is easy to understand, well explained in the rare instances it might not be, and a great sampler pack of what ZZT has to offer still in the modern day. On a replay I was struck not only by how good the entries I remembered really were but also how good the entries I hadn't remembered so clearly were. There's really nothing in here that will frustrate anyone. If you've yet to check these boards out, you'll be in for a lot of fun, and even if you have, I bet it's been awhile. Treat yourself. Enjoy a wipE cone, crush some boulders, or try and optimize your shooby farm. You won't regret it.
-  The board says that it can be ran in vanilla ZZT, and that would be a sight to behold, but every time I've tried to do so, the board begins to corrupt itself very shortly after starting. The time investment for any individual ascension means you really ought to use ClassicZoo rather than risk losing everything in a freak crash.
-  Okay, I have two complaints, but neither relate to the submissions themselves, just the compilation process. For one, the menu to select a board is just numbered making it difficult to find specific boards without reading each and every signpost object. Then, the judges board requires all twelve user submissions to be accessed
and I feel the need to 100% everything is asking a bit much. Edit: I completely forget that you can type ?+SKIP on any board to bypass the need to play it. Sampling just a few should have been sufficient IMO rather than needing to at least access all twelve, but neither issue is really any more than a minor gripe.