Thursday, 25 September 2008

A retrospective of 'ZZT', part Un

In this post I am having a long-form discussing about a particular videogame with a childhood friend of mine and fellow blogger, Bibliosimius. In this 2 parter we discuss our mutual affection for the game ZZT and it's profound impact on our underdeveloped teenage minds.

Ben fires his opening volley:

So in this blog post I'm discussing with my long time friend B'simius a game that is part of both of our shared gaming heritage, and has probably had the single biggest impact on my tastes when it comes to games. I am of course talking about the 1991 classic videogame ZZT!

ZZT was a game by Tim Sweeny, later founder of Epic games, who went on to make both the Gears of War and Unreal Tournament series. What is probably most notable about the game is that it's not quite your ordinary PC game - in large part ZZT was just a level editor for making your own games. B'simius, would you also agree that a large part of the attraction to ZZT was the fact that it was really just a cleverly disguised game creation tool?

B'Simius replies:

As far as I'm concerned, the editor was ZZT's primary point of appeal. I probably spent more time programming Objects and drawing giant sandwiches using nothing but ASCII than I did playing the games, even though some of them were pretty amazing feats, especially given the limitations inherent to the program.

In retrospect my many attempts at crafting masterpieces of ZZT-OOP were generally fairly shoddy, but I couldn't get enough of trying, and trying, and trying again because of that ever-present sense that I made this, this is mine; a sense that's generally out of reach to the common gamer. A bit of a melodramatic assessment, I must admit, but there is truly a warm, snuggly spot in my heart reserved for this game.


You're totally right about the feeling you get of owning your creations. I remember I once spent a good six hours scripting an EPICintro cut scene to a game that I never made more than a single screen for. It was fantastic!

Do you get the same sensation of ownership from Spore? I know you have been playing that game like a bit of an addict, does it reflect a similar attraction? I've been formulating this weird theory recently that ZZT (and the semi-sequel Megazeux) have been more of an influence on my gaming tastes than anything since.

I mean, how else do I explain why my favourite game ever is the batshit insane Randy Balma: Municipal Abortionist? I can only guess that the surreal games of ZZT (I'm looking at you Bernard the Bard & That Game With B-Fly Ptarmigan in it. For readers unfamiliar with this particular ZZT game, B-Fly was a Ptarmigan God who spewed up the universe).


Spore has a similar feel, although it pales in comparison to the scope and scale of ZZT. You can only go so far with creating Spores; eventually you have to set them loose in the universe, which is where the majority of the game really takes place. In ZZT, though, it's not just the majority but the entirety of the game that's forged in the editor's fires.

A thought's occurred to me. ZZT may have influenced your taste in games as far as the surreal and loopy content goes, but do you think your early exposure to ZZT has influenced the way you think about games as games - that is, the structure, outlay, design, etc. of games?


ha ha! I was actually hoping this topic would come up, because, yes, I think ZZT has totally influenced the way I think about and appreciate games. And not just games too - I think the 'ZZTOOPS' system of scripting burrowed deep into my impressionable mind as a child and is influencing the way I make music.

When we started working with a music program called Max/MSP in Digital Musics back in 2nd year Uni, I was one of those insane few people who actually got it. Although I wasn't super great at making cool stuff with it, I understood the underlying principle of the visual patcher environment as a programming language and that gave me a huge advantage over just about everyone else in the class.

When it comes to games, I think I also have that same rule based approach, hence my attraction towards the work of Ian Bogost & Gonzalo Frasca who both talk about games qua simulations or computations. It's all rules and instructions baby!

And thus concludes part I of our ZZT retrospective.


Jonathan said...

I would like to point out your GLARING ERROR that Bernard the Bard was in fact a MZX game not a ZZT one. :p

Anyhoo, I have many fond memories of ZZT/MZX and I would very much agree with you, a great deal of the appeal was that you were creating something that was all your own. I remember making lots of games that I never intended anyone to play.

The simplicity of the scripting made it extremely productive and it was almost limitless if you knew what you were doing.

It's funny that ZZT/MZX was my first foray into game programming (or any sort of programming), which eventually manifested to my desire to code Half-Life mods which turned into working on a Half-Life 2 mod, which is largely responsible for getting me the job I am in today, writing C++ games on today's consoles. O.o

Btw Spore pales in comparison to ZZT/MZX. Also if you guys are still interested in making quick games now a days, you could check out Torque Game Builder or Multimedia Fusion.

Ben Abraham said...

Okay Jon, you're right but I did it for simplicity. I didn't want to unnecessarily confuse my readers!

I'll definitely have to check out your recommendations, I have a very strong urge to make poor quality indie games.