Platforms: MS-DOS
Genre: Action/Adventure/Game Creation System
Format: One 5 1/4" or 3 1/2" floppy disk
Developer: Epic MegaGames
Publisher: Epic MegaGames
Staff Notables: Tim Sweeney
Release Year: 1990

ZZT (which supposedly stands for "Zoo of Zero Tolerance", but most likely was just chosen so it would be easy to find on BBSes) was created in 1990 by Tim Sweeney, who would later be lead programmer of the well-known Unreal engine. It was programmed in Borland's Turbo Pascal 5.5. The game was released by Epic MegaGames (now called simply Epic Games), then known as Potomac Computing Systems. Saying it was simplistic is a gross understatement. It used the 80x25 VGA Text Mode and its ASCII graphics comprised of a mere 16 colors. Its only sound effects used the PC Speaker. The included game worlds (packed in individual .ZZT files) were mediocre at best, with such clever titles as "Town of ZZT" and "Caves of ZZT". It was essentially Kroz without a plot. Nonetheless, the game flourished on BBSes and online services like CompuServe.

What made ZZT special was its inclusion of a game editor. Of course, other games at the time had such things available, but as far as I know, ZZT was the only one that allowed the user any kind of real creativity - in the form of programmable "Objects". Like everything else in ZZT, the scripting language for these objects (badly misnamed "ZZT-OOP", giving some users the false impression that this is what object-oriented programming was) was very simplistic, consisting of a mere 32 commands. Oh, but what you could do with those few commands...

Literally thousands of game worlds have been created by users, though many have been lost, especially due to AOL's deletion of its ZZT section some years back after a dispute between two gamemaking groups. The current ZZT archive, Z2, has over 1700 games as of this writing. (Its URL is listed below.)

In 1993 Greg Janson, a teenage fan of the game, went about hex editing various built-in items (ZZT's equivalent of sprites) to give them special properties, particularly color schemes that weren't previously available. (Using the built-in editor, the user could only create certain objects in one of the seven 'light' EGA colors with a black background, and many items had their own set colors that could not be changed.) He released a game world with these modified items, along with examples of some hidden tricks in the game itself. (Most of these tricks are based on utilization of unfixed bugs or half-finished features; as it is, if someone ever fixed the bugs involved, many user-made games would no longer work properly.) This gave ZZT a whole new dimension; while still very limited, many of its larger deficiencies (the inability to have proper color shading, for instance) were solved with this "Super Tool Kit". Since then, other users have discovered many more tricks and provided more edited items that have helped make more interesting games.

Also in 1993, Epic released a sequel of sorts to ZZT, cleverly titled Super ZZT. The game flopped; while having a few interesting improvements on the original, it suffered from use of an ugly low resolution textmode and several severe bugs and limitations (and these could not be worked around as they were in ZZT). In 1999, Epic released ZZT as freeware.

Quite a number of hacks and clones of ZZT have been created over the years. Among these are MegaZeux (Greg Janson's game creation system), ZIG, KevEdit, and Enhanced ZZT. There are also projects underway to port ZZT to Windows, Linux, and (oddly enough) Sega's Dreamcast console. Meanwhile, there continues to be a somewhat substantial community surrounding the now 13-year-old game. As of this writing, the center of most of this activity is at the website Z2, at http://zzt.the-underdogs.org .

Official Game Worlds

There were three collections of games worlds sold by Epic. All of these have since been released into freeware. The original ZZT series consists of Town of ZZT, Caves of ZZT, Dungeons of ZZT, and City of ZZT. The game design on them, frankly, is not very good, especially in light of later games.

In 1991, Epic ran a contest in which ZZT fans could submit levels of their own. The best of these levels were linked together into two coherent games. The two games, entitled "The Secret of Headhunter Isle" and "Royal Treasures" were available on the "Best of ZZT" disk. The sad part is that the games demonstrated very well that the fans were better at designing game worlds in Epic's software than Epic istelf was.

Finally, in 1992 Epic ran another contest, in which fans could submit their own game worlds. The winners (of which half, curiously, were Epic employees) had their games put on the "ZZT's Revenge" disk. The games were:

- Darbytown by David Bishop (who would later make a sequel in MegaZeux)
- Ezanya by Todd Dagger (a kind of primitive RPG)
- Fantasy Land by Allen Pilgrim (a game consisting mostly of block puzzles, with an annoying piece of evangelism at the end)
- Manor by Alan Zeman (a huge shoot 'em up; at 250K, the largest ZZT game at the time)
- Smiley Guy by Al Payne (a cute action/adventure game; best of the lot in my opinion)
- The Crypt by Adam Rixey (intended as a kind of horror game)

Fan-Made Games

The meat of the ZZT library, however, has always been fan-made games, first distributed on BBSes, newsgroups and AOL, and later on websites. While ZZT really only lends itself easily to shoot-'em-up type games (with some slider puzzles thrown in for good measure), fans went to great lengths to tweak the game, taking advantage of bugs or using certain items in the level editor in unexpected ways. Thus there is a full library of games from a variety of genres. Below is a list of some of the best.


Action
- _Death_ by Darren Hewer (emmzee)
- Dogfight by Jessamin Yu (yenrab)
- Escape From Planet Red by Jessamin Yu (yenrab)
- Jami's Underworld by Anthony Testa (BlueMagus) and JamiJo
- Operation Mother Assault by RoboJim2
- Rocket X-Night 1 by KuoYen Lo (Koopo)
- Run-On by WiL and KKairos

Adventure
- Buck Russel: Private Eye by Almighty Cow (Unfortunately, this was never finished - only the first two parts are available)
- Burger Joint by Matt Dobrowski (Madguy)
- Chrono Wars by Chronos
- Code Red by Gregory Janson (quite long and nonlinear game; has eight different endings)
- Coolness by Matt Williams (Spectrum12)
- Freak Da Cat by Hydra
- Gem Hunter Series by tseng
- Jeebie's Quest by Darren Hewer (emmzee)
- Mission: Enigma by Gregory Janson
- November Eve 1 & 2 by tseng (technically Gem Hunter games)
- Teen Priest by Draco

Humor-Centered
- Fred! Episode 1: Space Fred! by Adam Parrish (myth)
- Fred! Episode 2: Ffreddiannia by Adam Parrish (myth)
- Kudzu by clysm
- Life of a Scotter by Sanders Pieterse (Hercules) and Hydra
- Merbotia by Sonic256
- Mr. Shapiro Cares Not For Lies by Eurakarte
- Mr. Shapiro Cares Not For Snakes by Eurakarte
- No Point by Noctrocide
- You vs. Stupidity 2 by AKNeutron

Puzzle
- Koopo The Lemming by KuoYen Lo (Koopo)
- Little Square Things by craNKGod
- Nightmare by Barjesse
- PoP by Tucan
- ZapZak in Epsilon 9 by Tim Gallagher

RPG
- Asmodeus by Anthony Testa (BlueMagus)
- Dragon Woods by Zenith Nadir
- King's Quest ZZT by Hydra and MeBo
- Sivion by Clint Nielson (Monthigos)
- Warlord's Temple by Matt Williams (Spectrum12)
- Wartorn by Matt Dobrowski (Madguy)

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