Closer Look: Turmoil

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Closer Look: Turmoil

Dec. 10, 2016, 6:34 p.m.

Where can I get Turmoil?

Turmoil is available on z2 as well as playable in browser via
You can also explore the world yourself on the Museum of ZZT Public Beta.



By: Clysm
Released: Jun. 24, 1996

During my recent stream of "The Simpsons" and "The Simpsons 2", one of the viewers made a comment that they were glad to see some "average" ZZT games, and not just focusing on the best games out there. This comment surprised me since I think excluding the previously looked at MST3K game, the worlds I've been writing about and streaming have mostly been average or slightly above.

I don't want to be assigning review scores or anything, but I do think that if I had to put ZZT worlds played for this project into a box labeled "awful", "subpar", "average", "good", or "great", that it would be a pretty easy task.

"The Simpsons" would be bottom of the barrel, "MST3K" would be subpar, "Merbotia" would be average, "King's Quest" would be good, and so far I don't think I've covered anything truly exemplary. Maybe Toucan's "Pop". Actually probably "Pop". It's almost like trying to boil a game down to a number is not a good use of my time. Heck I'm already thinking "Wait maybe Merbotia should be good and King's Quest great?"

Anyway, putting aside trying to objectively rate creative expression, I opted to play Clysm's "Turmoil" because I do think it's a very good baseline for trying to grasp the difference between a "good" ZZT game and a "bad" ZZT game. It splits the difference and is about as average as a ZZT game can get.

So recalibrate your perception of average to whatever I think it is, and let's check out Clysm's "Turmoil"!


The world opens to this cool looking title screen with white text and colored highlights. It slowly changes the color of the highlight to match the colors of each of the cast. I distinctly remember browsing people's websites that had some of the ZZT games they enjoyed and choosing to play this one based on its title screen. The typography is on point.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
"hello, welcome aboard the plecostamus.
I'm the captain of this vessel. my name
is boris. I am an ai-64 intelligent

"you will have time to get used to the
ship later. first, I have something for
you to do..."

"in scanning the planet we are currently
passing over, I picked up a sentient
lifeform. It seems he or she is the
only one on the entire world.

"I also located the wreckage of a
spacecraft, which probably belongs to
the lifeform."

"I want you to go down and check it out.

"the transmitter that will take you down
to the surface is in the east room."

"I have placed a portal near the
lifeform. when you locate him or her,
use it to return to the ship."
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Turmoil is a sci-fi action game, framed around your ship's computer Boris giving you a mission, then beaming yourself onto the relevant planet to complete that mission, and making your way back to the ship. It's a simple structure but it allows things to be flexible. Each mission is self contained, with very little connecting plot, but for a game about exploring alien worlds and fighting off bad guys with lasers, it does exactly what it's trying to.

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You can speak with some of the crew before heading off, though there's very little personality to the characters. The pilot didn't even get a name or spot on the title screen.

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The crew quarters contain nothing more than a lot of bed and a few weird critters which *sneep* at the player. Sam seems more interested in finishing up nap time than a rescue mission.

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The east wing of the ship contains the transporter, as well as sources of health and ammunition.


A player greedy for more gems/health/points will soon break the machine, spilling gems out into the room. Once fully supplied, they can enter the transporter and beam themselves down to the first world, which the editor refers to as "Chert".

A cool little detail is that your ship is drawn floating over the planet not just off in a black void with some stars. Clysm will continue to update the backgrounds for the ship throughout the game.

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The player arrives on Chert and shortly afterwards Felix materializes in, guns blazing.


The next screen features a split in the path, with a hut (which I thought was a cave) on the left, and more wilderness to the right. Most likely the player is going to want to check out the hut and will head right on in.


Only for the hut to stand up and attack!

The monster doesn't do anything on its own, but those gray creatures sap away the player's health when they come into contact. Unfortunately for the player they don't disappear after hurting the player like ZZT's built in creatures, nor can they be killed with your gun.

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The player has to shoot at the hut's weak spot to defeat it and destroy the other enemies on the screen. This can be a bit frustrating as the gray monsters will block shots and it's very easy to just get surrounded and be unable to do anything but die.

Defeating the cabin means obtaining a green key for later use.

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The other path leads to an area where Frog and the stranded Masher can be rescued. The area they're contained it is made up of objects rather than breakable walls preventing the player from just shooting into the cell.

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Frog makes an appearance, but with the mission complete it's time to take the portal back to the ship. Mission accomplished.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
"welcome to the ship, masher. I've
checked your bacground in the space
marine database. you have an impressive

"you're welcome to join the crew. in
fact, you'll be a big help on this next

"I picked up a distress call from the
nearby red planet. a small scout ship
has been trapped there, and its crew
imprisoned in some sort of underground

"all you have to do is get them to the
surface. I'll then transmit them to
their ship, and bring you back up here."

"the planet is densely populated, and
just about the entire population is at
war, so be careful down there."

"oh, by the way, don't go into the sleep
sector. it seems sam caught a rare
disease while on vacation right before
this flight. I should be able to cure
her within the next few hours."
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Lucky for us Masher turns out to be a space marine as found in the space marine database. Mission 2 is essentially the same as the first, just in a more hostile environment.


The gem dispenser is still broken. It'll be broken regardless of whether or not the player breaks it the first time.

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The landing immediately puts the player into danger this time, dozens of objects wander around randomly shooting. Your teammates do the same, but are specifically coded to shoot only in the opposite direction of the player to prevent a friendly fire situation.

Frog and Masher are invincible, but if Felix is shot too many times she will die, but don't worry, it's only for this board.


Making my way into the passage leads to this board with some monsters and various holes scattered around. Some of the holes contain gems and one of them contains the red key needed to open the locked door at the end of the board.


The enemies are like those from the previous mission, which means they'll end up packed together in a corner as the player approaches. Fortunately this time a single shot is all it takes to defeat them so the player can safely blast their way through the room.


The reward for completing this room is ammo and gems, along with a second red key to replace the first. It's not really much of a reward given the infinite ammo supply on the ship, and the gems being useless since they're not giving any health here.

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This giant god-knows-what helpfully directs the player and crew on where to go.

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But keep talking, and you'll get a white key necessary for finishing your mission.


This is the part where I managed to open the save prompt between being brought to 0 health and ZZT triggering a game over. It's the first time I've ever seen that happen! I didn't know it was even possible.


Heading south from the battlefield leads to another group of trapped people to rescue. The red key from the eastern path is necessary as well as the white key from the giant creature's mouth.

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The people are grateful for being rescued, although I still haven't unlocked the back door so they all get stuck in front of it.

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The white door shows off something that I don't believe we've seen in any of the ZZT worlds explored so far. This board connects to itself, which allows the player to run off one edge to another. It's a bit of an unnecessary design decision here, but definitely something worth noticing.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
"the prisoners have been returned to
their ship. good work."

"I transmitted felix back up here as soon
as she fell. she suffered a fairly bad
hit but I think she'll recover."

"your next job is very simple. It won't
require the whole team, so anyone who
wants to stay behind is welcome to do
so. in fact, I could use some help
around here. a few circuits need

"your mission will be to visit an asteroid
and gather a sample of a mineral that is
mined there. I've talked to the head
miner, so he'll be expecting you."
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Whether Felix is shot or not in gameplay, the story assumes that she was. The third mission is a simple one, just a simple pickup of some mineral for reasons unstated. Masher opts to go with the player, while Sam and Frog stay behind to help with the rewiring.


In the crew quarters, Felix is resting up. The crew's genders aren't directly stated, but we find out that Felix is a she here.


After resupplying on health and ammo, Masher and the player are transported to the surface of the mining colony and speak with the mine's leader.

head miner
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
"hi. we've been expecting you. my name's
van. I'm the head miner around here."

"we seem to have a slight problem...

"this morning, we arrived to find the mine
full of nasty little creatures. we've
never seen them before, and we have no
idea where they came from. but we can't
dig with them all over. they attack
anything that moves."

"here's your mineral that boris wanted.
you don't have to dig it out yourself.
from what I heard from boris, you
guys seem pretty tough. do you think
you could help us clean the pests out
of the mine?"

"anyway, we're going over to the other
entrance. if you decide to go in, we'll
meet you there."
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

As soon as the player enters the mine, they're trapped inside by a landslide. Fortunately, all the creatures are on the other side of the wall cutting across the center of the board so they're not in direct danger. The landslide is actually a cinematic effect, that destroys the passages back out and creates some breakable walls for rubble. It's actually a bit of a surprise when it happens!


Heading east the player will run into the monsters, which just like the yellow creatures on the last planet, charge at the player and are defeated in one shot.

Although all the game's enemies are extremely similar, just the use of varying colors and characters to represent them honestly adds to the atmosphere. I think the use of non-conventional characters makes them stand out despite their simplicity. ZZT is full of abstraction in its graphics, but enemies being green triangles stands out as weird and gives them an alien feel.


Traveling deeper into the mines there are still more triangular aliens, and a set that gets spared since I didn't go left from the entrance immediately.


Through the passage lies the boss of the mines, a large creature that rains down bullets on the player. The player's first instinct is probably to run to the cyan box on the left, which is just a trap that shocks the player and takes away health when touched. Rude.


Not surprisingly, fighting the monster involves shooting its weakpoint. Since the player's bullets can destroy enemy bullets, there's no real danger once you're lined up and firing.


With a splorch and a splat the monster is defeated, and the player can now safely collect the gems and proceed to the next area. I'm not sure if this room looking like a skull and crossbones was intentional or not.


The creature turns out to have been blocking the rear exit to the mines, allowing the player to make their escape and find Van and Masher awaiting them.

head miner
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
"thanks for your help. sorry about your
getting trapped in the mine. we'll
have to put up stronger supports. I
really owe you one."

"boris asked me to give you a ride back
up to the ship. we can go any time
you're ready."
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
"I thought something might have
happened to you. I found a way out,
but when I tried to go back in to
tell you about it, a bunch of purple
slime was blocking the way.

"yuck. you've got it all over you.
oh, well. we can go back to the ship

"boris says the transmitter only has
power for one of us, and I really have
to use the bathroom, so I'll take it if
that's all right with you. you can
catch a ride in van's van. ha ha."
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

I love this line.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
"welcome back."

"sorry about the trouble in the mine.
I heard all about it from masher. that
was supposed to be a routine mission.
I should have scanned for lifeforms,
but I didn't think it was necessary."

"felix is doing much better now. she's
conscious, but not yet ready to move
around. she'd probably appreciate
some company."

"the others are on the surface of
this abnormally bright planet. I've
picked up some very strange readings
from it, and want to see what it's
made of."

"the atmosphere messes up my sensors, so
I can't tell you what's down there, nor
can I keep track of where you go. I'll
put a transmitter due north of where
I drop you off."

"use the position of the ship as a guide
to stay on track."
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Boris proceeds to tell the player about the next mission, which the rest of the healthy crew is already working on. The bright planet is called "sun" in the editor, which is probably not a good place to beam people down to.

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Felix is able to speak with the player, mostly to complain about being bored stuck on the ship with nobody to talk to other than Boris. She also gives you a pendant, which physically appears on the screen by means of an invisible object moving into position and appearing.


Meanwhile in the transporter room, the gem device is fixed! It's slow, but the player can fill their health up one by one as much as they like before they head to the bright planet below.

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The planet is indeed quite bright with the ground being solid white and having to be tunneled through


The next screen is a sort of boss fight. Like the monster in the mines it shoots down bullets at the player, but here you can just shoot it apart piece by piece until you've created a safe path for yourself.

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The next two screens involve dodging bullets that ricochet back and forth across the player's path. I doesn't take much to get past them and the player is permitted to fire their own bullets as well if they want to safely destroy the bullets rather than try to time their way across.


Bad news up ahead as the player runs into Sam and learns that Masher may have been killed!

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The monster continues the trend. Bullets shoot down, player shoots up. Once the boss is defeated, Masher can be found inside.

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