Recommended ZZT Games

By: Paul Eres

On: October 26th, 2008

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The ZZT is an ANSI-based game with a game editor, and that editor was probably the first important piece of game creation software. The editor wasn’t even intended as its most important feature, but its popularity eclipsed the game itself. It’s still used to create games even today.

Clysm, the author of the classic Game Maker game Seiklus, has put up a nice list of the ZZT games he recommends. You’ll need to download the ZZT runner itself to play them. I recommend trying them all out, they each have something interesting about them, and playing them is a good insight into the history of independent games (if you care about that).

Trivia: one of the games there, Rhygar, pictured above, was created by the writer of the story of Immortal Defense (long before I met him). I’ve never actually finished it, but I like how it arranges the colored text characters into almost photograph-like scenes.

EDIT: Dessgeega has created a similar list of recommended ZZT games that is worth looking into, over at The Gamer’s Quarter.

  • Mayor McCheese

    Oh My God, I haven’t played Burger Joint for probably 10 years. I’m gonna have to download that right now. That game was so epic.

  • treelike

    I was so close to bringing up ZZT when you posted about OHHRPGCE a couple of days ago. There are too many good ZZT games for me to recommend here, but a relatively recent one is Eli’s House. The number of games seemingly worth playing can become overwhelming when you take into account less widely used game creation systems.

  • Gregory Weir

    Any mention of ZZT is incomplete without mentioning its smarter and less popular big brother, Megazeux. It was prettier, more versatile, and it’s where I got my start in programming and game development.

  • jotty

    Good review of Rhygar, Paul. It is a pretty awesome achievement in ANSI graphics.

  • here’s another list that i put together a few months ago.


  • Pyrrhon

    Heh, i don’t agree that the graphics are photo realistic :p

    But anyway, this sounds interesting and i will check out the list right now.

  • Ambergris

    “Of all the games that Cave Story has influenced, Insignificant Studios’ inaugural project The Underside is perhaps the most obvious (and the most honest). . . . The color, character design, and art style owe everything to the seminal platformer. . . .”

    Most honest?! LULZ

  • Paul Eres

    Well, as photo-realistic as you can get with ANSI, anyway :D

    And thanks for the link, I’ll include that one too.

  • Paul Eres

    Note: there seem to be several comments that got lost in the spam filter. I don’t know how to unfilter them. As a rule, don’t put links in the body of the comments here to avoid that. Instead, just put them in the ‘leave url’ option, the way auntie did.

  • Mark

    My two favorites were Code Red and Mission Enigma.

    They all look so dated now…

  • Trotim

    I still don’t get what kinds of games these are. Adventures?

  • Bob

    Um, how was Sivion not on this list? That was the game that pushed ZZT to it’s limit! And why on earth is Code Red listed under “other games worth checking out”?

  • Paul Eres

    Trotim: It varies by the game. The ZZT has been used to make games of many different kinds of genre.

  • MisterX

    By the way, an interpreter for ZZT, DreamZZT, is also available for the Nintendo DS :)
    I have only played one of the games for a few minutes, I think it was Burger Joint. Frankly, I didn’t like it very much, but I should’ve probably spent a bit more time with it. It was still very impressive to see just how many good ZZT-games games there are :)

  • Jim

    Greg Janson’s Code Red is especially notable. Janson took the multiple endings meme, in which you have an otherwise linear game that forks into multiple endings near the end, and moved the fork all the way to the beginning. The result is that from a single starting point, you have nine essentially independent story lines. All of them, from what I recall, took a mundane setting and added some sort of conspiracy theory more-than-meets-the-eye twist. I don’t think this was so much a unifying design decision as it was Janson’s schtick, but it’s a good schtick.

  • Greg

    Also especially interesting to note is that ZZT was written by Tim Sweeney; the same guy who made the Unreal Engine, and my personal fave, Jill of the Jungle. ZZT was Epic’s first game in fact. So basically, this guy started a video game empire with a roguelike.

  • undertech

    And then there’s Scott Miller with Kingdom of Kroz. As far as what’s going on currently with his empire, let’s not go there…:P

  • Bran

    A few weeks ago I started randomly humming the theme song to Code Red to myself after not even having heard it for at least 8 years.

    I remember I emailed the guy who made Burger Joint and War-Torn to tell him his games were awesome.

  • qrleno

    Smiley Guy and Toxic Terminator are (to my knowledge) the first ZZT games that don’t completely rely on sokoban puzzles and the built-in enemy roster.

    They’re nonlinear adventures with ingame hint systems, written within a year or two of the program’s release. You can die easily, but I do not remember any unwinnable states, something rampant in a lot of ZZT games. You have to adjust the speed to pass through some long distances, but it’s criminal that nobody seems to remember them.

  • poewwo

    I actually found ZZT off of a shareware CD Rom collection, and got hooked to it because of the fact that I can create my own games with this engine.

    Code Red was one of my favorite games… that someone else mentioned above.

  • Eli’s House

    is a good one which was released this year. (I posted about this earlier but it was filtered out.)

  • TheSpaceMan

    Doh forgot to add my name.

    Like i was saying the last time, this is the reason i got in to codeing and game development. The editor is still one of the easiest editors to get into and with the help file there is little you can’t do if you have the imagination.

  • Imaginarythomas

    Oh the time I’d spend with ZZT’s older brother MegaZeux.

    I’d totally forgotten about it until now. I guess that was my first game programming language.

  • auntie

    hey, i mentioned smiley guy and toxic terminator. (scroll down!)

    i like eli’s house because each tim sweeney’s original zzt episodes (not counting the super zzt series) requires the player to gather a bunch of arbitrary purple keys; just about every drawer or cupboard or piece of furniture in eli’s house spits out a purple key at you when you search it.

  • Moose

    I’m sure it helped a lot that Town of ZZT (the “default” level pack) was actually a pretty awesomely designed game in its own right.

    I also have to admit that there are some ZZT packs which are so bad they are worth getting just to laugh at. The most memorable of those was “Death Copiez” – in which somebody has planted an item in your office photocopier which kills anyone who touches their copies. You eventually break into a competitor’s business (which, this being a bad ZZT game, is full of lions and tigers for no reason at all) and hear someone at a meeting saying “With reprogramming the copier, we can advertise that they suck, and they’ll go out of business!” Um, right. Not “With reprogramming the copier we can KILL EVERYONE IN THE COMPANY.” WTF.

    And yea, Code Red was really good – it was essentially, as I recall, six separate games in three files, with each one containing two branches, based on whether you a) left your house at night or in the day, and b) peeved your brother by unplugging his game console. ;)

  • AlexMax

    Fun fact: the guy who made Code Red and all those other classic ZZT games and utilities (such as STK) eventually went on to make a ‘sequel’ to ZZT called Megazeux.

    He developed it for a bit and even made a game or two for it before vanishing. I heard rumors that he was pretending to be a girl in other IRC channels and various people from the MZX community found out about it and outed him, but I don’t have any sources to back me up.

    Anyway, Megazeux is basically ZZT with character and color set modification, module music support, a greatly expanded scripting system and more. In addition, modern versions of Megazeux run natively on Linux and Windows using SDL, and while I’m sure you can run ZZT through DOSBox I know of no modern interpreter that can replicate it bug-for-bug.

  • Cooper

    Wow, I had kinda forgotten about ZZT. Spent hours and hours when I was about fourteen putting a game together. Got half way through the second chapter and kinda stopped.

    The scripting language (ZZToop – ?) was so easy to pick up, and after a bit of practice, getting good images out of ANSI wasn’t too difficult.

    Thanks for reminding me of how great ZZT and the homebrew games for it are!