In January 2016, Worlds of ZZT made its first tweet, running through its code, randomly selecting a zip file, taking a peek inside, and ultimately inaugurating its feed with a render of the beach from Red Isle, by Oof. I started the account as a way to show off the unique look that ZZT games have. I figured a few friends would politely follow it, and maybe an odd individual into the ascii aesthetic, but that ultimately it would go unnoticed.
Well, the attention the bot's received has far surpassed what I expected. More than 250 people follow it! Even in the late 90s/early 2000s when ZZT was at its peak (at least as far as when I was around), I'd have been shocked at 250 people being a part of the ZZT community. And looking at those 250 followers who grew up with ZZT, the game's influence is readily apparent.
When you look at those Twitter profiles, you see a lot of titles like "Game developer", "Computer historian", "Software engineer", "Speedrunner", and "Programmer". ZZT was always important to me, but it wasn't until Worlds of ZZT that I realized it was important to everybody. ZZT was important. ZZT is important.
In February 2016, The Internet Archive began hosting a complete copy of z2's collection of games. This was very much a pleasant surprise! ZZT was not something people could easily find without prior knowledge of its existence, and its ability to play games in a web browser on non-DOS compatible machines made ZZT more accessible than it had been for years.
But it also shined a light on many of z2's issues. The site launched in 2001, and still looks very much like it did back then. It was written by a group of dedicated, but inexperienced teenagers. Its latest news on the front page is from 2014 (by me, managing to get the old news posting system working on a more modern version of PHP). The second most recent news post is from 2010. The oldest news on the front page is from 2009. It's a dead site, kept alive solely by whoever is paying for its continued hosting. Frankly, I'm not even sure who is paying for its hosting right now. Most likely Quantum P.
I'm confident z2 won't be disappearing into the void anytime soon, but I'm also confident that something new needs to be done. ZZT may be preserved, but it isn't curated. There's no documentation on its games and their impact. There's no preservation of its community. It's all still a dusty tome of adolescent creativity, unknown to anybody who didn't contribute to it.
My name is Dr. Dos, and I am a ZZTer. Today I am launching a Worlds of ZZT Patreon to help make sure that ZZT is remembered with the respect it deserves.
Museum of ZZT - A New z2
As previously mentioned, z2 is outdated, and all but abandoned at this point. I think what's most important is for ZZT to have a proper home.
The good news, is that this is something which I've actually started some time ago, and would like to really be able to sit down and flesh out properly. It includes a simple responsive design, mobile friendly layout, and adds useful data on games including (estimated) release dates and screenshots. (Click for full images, apologies for not having a nice inline viewer)
Another major feature is the ability to explore a zip file, allowing visitors to read text files, and even render boards from a ZZT file without downloading a game. The current implementation of this also supports clicking on objects to examine their code.
Zookeeper - A Python Library For Working With ZZT Worlds
On the more technical side, working with ZZT files can be a bit of a pain. A more recent project of mine has been to create a Python library to make getting data out of ZZT files more accessible. This library already allows for full parsing of ZZT worlds, and with its functionality allows for easily rendering screenshots like those used by Worlds of ZZT, rendering scrolls and ZZT-OOP, dumping game scripts, and more.
I recently played through the ZZT game "Pop", and even a fan-made walkthrough did not have the location of the last secret gem required to get the special ending. While just editing the game to see it would've been simple enough, I wanted to find out where the gem actually was.
Zookeeper allowed me to comb through every tile on every board, find the ones with ZZT-OOP, and if they had a line with "gem" in it, print out the object's coordinates all in ten lines of code. (For the curious: The gem is obtained by checking your inventory during the hallucination sequence.)
One of my goals I'd like to accomplish with Zookeeper, is have it open every ZZT file on z2 and extract any URLs it finds and see what comes up on The Internet Archive's Wayback Machine. I'm certain there are lot of bits and pieces of old Tripod and Geocities pages out there.
Closer Looks - Articles Exploring ZZT Worlds And The ZZT Community
Most ZZT games have received very little attention. Most files on z2 were never reviewed, and the ten review limit means that many more notable game have very simple reviews that are all more than ten years old.
I promise I could do a better job explaining why Burger Joint is important now compared to when I was 13.
I would love to do more writing about specific ZZT games, explaining what they did, what techniques were used, and how they hold up in 2016. My blog here already contains a few posts on ZZT games, namely Let's Analyze The Town of ZZT, Revisiting Deceiving Guidance, and Revisiting Chase Bramlage's Operation: OBRIAN.
There's also potential for live streams, I recently did a small test playthrough of City of ZZT with a custom layout to essentially replace ZZT's sidebar with chat, and use a manually created HUD for viewers to see instead. Doing live streams (with audio commentary in the future) while also capturing screenshots for a written article would be a good way to better document ZZT worlds, preserving both my actual playthrough, and making it easy to reference when writing about the experience later.
I would like to make these three projects: Museum of ZZT, Zookeeper, and Closer Looks a reality, but I cannot do it without your support. For that reason I have decided to open a Worlds of ZZT Patreon. Any donation is welcome, and many come with perks letting you be more closely involved with the project.
Patron rewards include:
- Project development updates
- A regularly updating beta Museum of ZZT site
- Voting for Closer Look article subjects
- A Closer Look article on the game of your choosing
- A ZZT game made just for you!
Once again, the Patreon can be found at https://patreon.com/worldsofzzt.
Thank you for your support!