tribute to text-mode games


Author: Tim Sweeney



ZZT has the distinction of being the only game in this collection (to my knowledge) to have a user-supported home page. Nearly twenty years after its release, it still has an active and loyal fan base whose members continue to play, discuss, and build web sites in its honor. So, just what did ZZT do to earn such long-lasting devotion among its fans?

Certainly, ZZT is a superb game in its own right. It pushes ASCII to its limits, creating a stunning range of graphical effects that set a new standard for text-mode games. Its complex, detailed rooms offer a combination of arcade-style action and mind-bending puzzles to solve. Most impressive is the fact that all of its rooms are arranged to form cohesive “worlds” that provide a strong narrative drive to the game play.

But what really gave ZZT staying power was that it was one of the first games to come with a level-editor. For the first time, average players (not just hackers) were encouraged to peek inside the game, understand its inner workings, and design their own add-on modules that could be played by others. This simple innovation allowed ZZT to tap into the creativity and enthusiasm of its fans. A network of players built and distributed hundreds of unique “worlds” that added years of life to a game that otherwise would have been quickly forgotten. You can still download these add-ons from a multitude of fan-supported web sites; of these, zzt heaven is one of the oldest and best.

One final note: if you download ZZT, you may see a message to the effect that, “This is the registered version; please do not distribute”. However, Tim Sweeney was kind enough to release the registered version of ZZT as freeware a few years back, therefore the warning messages can be disregarded.

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