Closer Look: The Underground Bugtown of ZZT

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Closer Look: The Underground Bugtown of ZZT

Nov. 13, 2016, 8:06 p.m.

Where can I get The Underground Bugtown of ZZT?

The Underground Bugtown of ZZT is available on z2 as well as playable in browser via


The Underground Bugtown of ZZT

By: Alexis Janson
Published Under: Software Visions
Released: 1993

Our first game full of fuzzy data! z2 refers to the game as just Bugtown, but both the game's title screen and documentation use the much longer title of The Underground Bugtown of ZZT. Not only that, but the ZZT file's last modified date is from 1995, while the documentation says 1993.

Nearly every Software Visions release has the exact same 1995 modified date, so most likely somebody split up a collection and uploaded the games individually at some point. It will quickly become apparent that this is almost certainly an earlier release by Janson, who was known for her top quality games and lasting influence on ZZT.

The real reason I decided to play Bugtown was that I had been playing a lot of the newly released Creepy Castle, a game with a predominately insect cast, so I was on a bug kick. As we'll see, it's a rough release, and very much inspired by Town of ZZT, and to a lesser extent the other registered worlds.


From the very opening the influence of Town on Bugtown is apparent. Going over a few of the various elements that make up ZZT worlds. There's also some details on the objects that will be encountered. Bugs, humans, and cops.

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The game opens with the player on a train, a box of objects which carries them to their destination on the other side of the room.


Demonstrating the fragility of ZZT's objects, simply moving to the right rather than the left at the start of the game instead causes the train to break horribly!

I'm rather curious as to why it breaks like this. The object's code is basic movement instructions and the player shouldn't actually have any impact on how the train moves. It's very bizarre.

Once past the gate, the player is unceremoniously locked in, forced to make their way towards the town.

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There are a few initial supplies handed out, making sure the player will be ready to go once they make it to town, but otherwise the room is pretty sparse.


The next screen is revealed to be a graveyard when the white keys are shown to instead be graves. Up ahead is our first insect friend to make.

I came about the quest. What is it?
Where can I find them?
What do I do with them?
Where can I buy supplies?
Why shouldn't I touch the graves?

The insect is the game's info dump. The player now has a goal, getting the three golden keys which will open the castle vault. There's a warning about the graves, but the only one that does anything is that one by the gems. The rest are purely decorative.


If you want to be a jerk you can get some more money out of them. Shooting a second time will cause the bug to chase you down and throw stars. Be nice to any bugs you meet.

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Disturbing the grave causes all the normal walls to be transformed into tigers! ZZT is limited to how many elements with stats can be on the board at once so only the top few rows actually become tigers, the rest just disappear.

A side effect of this, is that since the board is now at its stat maximum, neither the player nor tigers can shoot bullets as there's no room in memory for ZZT to spawn any. Thankfully this means the player can safely run to the exit without having to take any damage.


Having fled from the tigers, the next screen is the hub of Bugtown. Like town there are several open routes to take. There are also plenty more which are currently inaccessible to the player.


The mayor's house is locked with a cyan door, and from ringing the doorbell it's clear the mayor doesn't want to speak with the player.

The town's shop offers ammo, food (for health), and torches. As always, I'm apprehensive to spend any money.

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There's a roadblock with a bunch of policemen preventing passage into the town's jail.

The bank is a dark room, and using a torch reveals it to be a combination just like the one in Town.


The last building in the town is the hospital, where the receptionist will tell us we have to wait since we have no emergency. They also warn us to stay out of the vault.


East of the town is the castle and another locked door whose key is on the other side.


WOW. WHAT A FUN ROOM. I did spend some time trying to solve the puzzle, but was missing certain keys and unable to proceed.

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Heading south towards the kennel leads to an action board segmented by a few gates. Touching a checkmark opens the next gate allowing the player to proceed. Dungeons of ZZT also has a board called the kennel, segmented with keys and doors, but Janson's version doesn't feel like it's the same thing done again.

The reward for completing the kennel is two green keys, only one of which can be held at a time so there's going to be some backtracking.


The first key can be used to open up the mayor's house, and barge right on in.

Interrogate him.

But if you provoke him...

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Hello, police?
This is THE MAYOR.
I seem to have an intruder.
I would like you to pick him up.
You should know where I live!!!
OK, OK....
4... 8... 7... 5...
Sunset Avenue...
Please hurry!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
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Sure enough, all the police rush towards the mayor's house to arrest the player. They surround the player and haul them off to jail. Or at least, right next to the jail.

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There are plenty of choices, but not much to them. If the player begs twice, the guard will let them go. If they ask for death they will get a game over. Trying to bribe brings up a prompt asking for five, ten, or fifteen gems with ten or more getting the player out. Ignoring him brings up the prompt again a few seconds later.

If you tell him there's a giant worm behind his back he laughs at you.


But then a hidden object actually spawns a giant worm! Unfortunately, the guard has no reaction to it ever, but it's a cute joke.


Once the player is free, they can head to the town park, which is full of creatures to fight. There's enough forest on the screen that it's much easier and safer to just ignore the enemies and tunnel through the forest instead.


Heading west from here brings the player back around to the eastern side of town. ZZT's boards don't have to form a map that perfectly fits together. It would be just as possible to make going back east from here take the player to an entirely different board.


Going deeper into the forest leads to this screen which is reminiscent of the forest section in Town of ZZT where the player has to make it past enemies that are constantly being duplicated.

It's pretty standard stuff, but I'm unsure what the purpose of the duplicating boulders is. They could theoretically trap the player, but by the time the player reaches them, they'd be right be the way out that doesn't involve backtracking.

Instead, the boulders are extremely dangerous as if ZZT tries to duplicate a boulder but there's a player in the way ZZT has a runtime error and kicks you right back to the DOS prompt. The player needs to quickly go through the transporter in this segment lest they lose their progress.


The cave itself is a few dark rooms, but fortunately not a huge maze or anything. Pictured above is the last screen of the cave with the darkness turned off. It's mostly just shooting a few creatures.


What is neat about the cave, is that the walls regularly flash different colors. There's no design reason this needs to be happen, but this one piece of moss serves as an explanation for why it happens in game.


There's also the the first golden yellow key at the other end of the same screen. These get turned in at the castle, but I'll get to that later.


Next, I headed east of the park to this board with a lake. It doesn't look like much, but I spent a lot of time here. The board would appear to just be full of spinning guns which shoot out bullets randomly, but there's a clear path around the lake, so surely there must be some sort of secret.


But there isn't. There's not a single object on this board. It's just the player and the guns.

Except even worse, the board hasn't been linked properly! As touched on a bit earlier, in ZZT board exits have to be set each way, so the park connects to the lake, but the lake doesn't connect to the park or anything else. If you enter this screen, you are forced to quit the game.

I saved on it.


To avoid having to replay the game from the beginning I had to take my save, rename it to have a .ZZT extension, enable ZZT's debug mode so it would let me edit the save, link the boards myself, and then start playing the new ZZT world that was formerly a save file.

It was a process.


I swung by the castle figuring I could drop off my key now, but still found myself running into a spot where I'd be unable to proceed and unable to escape. This was more than slightly confusing.

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Instead, I went back to the bug town hub and headed north this time. The puzzle here may have looked scary, but as soon as you realize you only need to actually make only a few of the pushers move it becomes really simple.

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