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ZZT

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ZZT is an ANSI-based computer game, created in 1991 by Tim Sweeney, of Epic Games (then Epic Megagames), a company famous for creating the Unreal Game Series. ZZT remains one of the most popular DOS game creation systems. ZZT is not an acronym - the name was intentionally designed to allow the game to always appear at the bottom of newsgroup listings. However, many people mistakenly believe ZZT is an acronym for Zoo of Zero Tolerance, after "enthusiast" John Beck suggested this name to Tim Sweeney, who then jokingly mentioned it in an e-mail newsletter [1].

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[edit] Basic Information

Graphic-wise, ZZT was obsolete before it was ever even released, as it used text-mode graphics similar to many other games before it, the most well known being Kingdom of Kroz, released 4 years before. However, ZZT quickly became popular thanks to its integration of a simple but effective object-oriented scripting language known as ZZT-OOP. At the time this was ground-breaking, as most functionality in prior games had been hard-coded. The language allowed extensibility that no other game was able to provide, and allowed a large degree of community involvement that extended far beyond simply creating level terrain with the built-in editor, but rather involved writing programs to make the game run.

Originally ZZT was shareware, with only one of the four level-sets or "worlds" released without payment. The shareware versions also included Demo of ZZT, which displayed the basic features of ZZT worlds, and Tour of ZZT, which allowed the player to view select rooms (some playable) of the four worlds. Three different versions of shareware ZZT were released, with three corresponding registered ZZT versions. With about 30,000 registrations worldwide, ZZT was successful enough to finance the production of Jill of the Jungle, a game seen as Epic Megagames' answer to Apogee classics such as Duke Nukem. However, when the game became obsolete it became freeware, with all four worlds of the registered version released for free. The worlds are: "Town of ZZT", "Caves of ZZT", "City of ZZT" and "Dungeons of ZZT". They can best be described as adventure games.

[edit] The Editor

This Section needs expansion - J-Dev 20:49, 16 April 2008 (UTC)

In the newsletters for the registered version of ZZT, it is apparent that Sweeney initially had not expected the editor to become the most popular feature of his game. Fans' letters to him quickly established this, and Sweeney responded by encouraging registered users to make their own worlds and submit them to him. The best material from these was released in The Best of ZZT.

[edit] Third-Party Worlds

Third-party worlds for ZZT are diverse; they range from shoot 'em ups to complex role playing games to a Lemmings clone. They range from the simple to the complex, from inane to brilliant. One of the more fascinating aspects of the game is the culture that has built up within and around it, such as catchphrases, programming tricks, and even some rather remarkable internet personalities. Many other games have been inspired from ZZT such as MegaZeux, and ZZT's sequel: Super ZZT. Mods to ZZT itself are rare, because Tim Sweeney lost the source code in a hard drive crash years ago; however, there have been independent hackers who have made some modifications to ZZT since it's last official release.

Popular worlds from past years include Burger Joint, Sivion and Kudzu, all three of which have regularly received 5.0 ratings (the maximum possible rating) at the Z2 Archive [2]. A more recent release of note is Evil Sorceror's Party - a four-file epic released April 2003, that is still held by many ZZT addicts to be the best ZZT game ever made.[3] Even today, many third-party worlds are still under development, though with significantly less output then in its heyday.

[edit] DreamZZT

In 2006, a software developer by the name of Sam Steele began a project called DreamZZT. The aim of the project was to revive ZZT by giving it enhanced graphics; support for Linux and Unix environments as well as platforms such as the Sega Dreamcast and Nintendo DS; and online capability [4]. DreamZZT also supports Super ZZT games, eliminating the need for two separate programs to play both kinds of game. However, the project has not been worked on since late 2008, presumably because Sam Steele has since become a licence Apple Developer, and has shifted his focus to writing apps for the iPhone App Store.

DreamZZT v3.1 (the latest version as of writing) very closely matches the original ZZT, with an interface that almost carbon copies the original ZZT interface (although slightly out of proportion); matching graphics; and identical gameplay. Minor details, however, such as loading Worlds and saved games; the lighting effect of torches when used; and the look of explosions and water noticeably differ, and for torches can have a real effect on the game. Very few glitches are known about, and those that are known are relatively minor - the only exception is one where the game is known to crash if text should be shown as soon as the game is loaded, which is considered "Critical" [5]. By contrast, support for Super ZZT Worlds leaves much to be desired. Many bugs are known to exist, some of which render certain Worlds unplayable or cause crashes on certain events. The gameplay area, which was smaller in the real Super ZZT, is stretched to fit the same space as a ZZT room, although it still follows the scale of Super ZZT. The interface differs drastically, as DreamZZT continues to use a more ZZT-style interface (with only minor modifications, to fit the changes made in Super ZZT), while Super ZZT itself used a vastly different interface compared to ZZT.

DreamZZT also has the bare bones of an Editor, which allows editing of ZZT Worlds in a similar fashion to ZZT. However Worlds created or edited in this way are often rendered incompatible with other editors or with ZZT itself, because DreamZZT does not place objects in the World in the same order as ZZT expects them to be in so as to initialise them correctly. Sam Steele has admitted that the Editor may never be fully backwards-compatible, as he has little understanding of ZZT's structure with creating Worlds. The Editor also lacks a large amount of functionality at present, and has not been recommended for use.

[edit] ZZT's Future

Although it has been many years since Sweeney created ZZT, it still has a cult following. Many ZZT resources and communities exist on the internet, the most famous being Z2, which maintains a list of just over 2000 games and utilities to date (2110 as of 4 August 2009). However, interest in ZZT has dwindled, with z2 estimating that less than 50 games were made per year between 2005 and 2008, compared with nearly 75 games in 2004 and nearly double that in the years before [6]. Despite this apparent lack of interest in ZZT as a whole, there are still small communities of die-hard fans who continue to use the program, and even today a slow trickle of new games continue to be submitted.

It is likely MegaZeux will end up as ZZT's successor, as it follows the same concept, but with added power. Indeed, MegaZeux has already stolen a large amount of ZZT's audience[citation needed], and many ZZT games can be recreated in MegaZeux with little effort - some of the more popular ones actually have been. However, MegaZeux is still under continued development and has recently taken numerous paths, many of which are quickly differentiating it from ZZT.

[edit] References

  1. What's a "ZZT"?, Epic Megagames Newsletter, issue 1, January 2002. A screenshot is available at http://zzt.belsambar.net/zzt/zztnl2.gif
  2. http://zzt.belsambar.net/
  3. http://zzt.belsambar.net/zu/wiki/ZZT
  4. http://dev.c99.org/DreamZZT/
  5. Bug #104 (DreamZZT crashes if object code executed while paused)
  6. "ZZT is dead. Long live ZZT. Posted by Dr. Dos at 10:35PM, December 18, 2007"
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