The Legend of Aelk (demo of course), is the closest thing ZIG has to a killer app. It looks good, takes advantage of ZIG's features, and doesn't try to overdo things by falling into the trap of "netplay". It's a singeplayer action RPG that could probably be done in ZZT, but not nearly as nicely.
Kuja (aka Mrs. Clause) partially created a ZIG title that feels like the sort of thing Jacob Hammond had in mind when creating the engine.
There's a flashing company logo, very ZZT but with various shades of pink and purple prior to the game starting.
You play as a mailman named Aelk who has a letter to deliver.
And so Aelk begins with the player taking control of him just before reaching the location the letter's been addressed to. Aelk himself stands out already compared to the other ZIG titles by making use of a 2x1 character. His pants are the main object, what would be the player in ZZT, and his head and body are on a higher layer allowing Aelk to partially obscure what he's walking in front of. It's the sort of thing you'd see in NES titles like Crystalis.
Some skulls hop around after him, and he can stab with his sword to attack them. One complaint is that the sword is only a single tile long which makes combat very dangerous.
Another complaint is that objects can push the player, severing Aelk. This unfortunately happens quite often. Here Aelk is facing left, stabbing right, and the sword's hitbox is to the right of his pants rather than where the sword actually appears.
With no response and a broken door, the postman enters.
Okay, second complaint, these palettes were not chosen with message boxes in mind. The house is a mess and Aelk can only assume the home's occupant is down in the basement.
Gone are the blocky kitchens of ZZT. Aelk takes advantages of adjustable charsets to create an actual kitchen with clearly defined counters, cabinets, and shelves. You can even have chairs that face north or south without having to shrug and settle for the ^ and v characters.
There's a pearl to pick up which is the game's currency, but otherwise nothing else to explore but the stairs to down below. Upon descending the game shifts to a cutscene.
We get a nice overview of Galshina for a moment, and it's a very nicely detailed board. The castle walls and towers look fantastic for something that small. The trees and plants add some greenery and look far smoother than anything ZZT offers.
The scene shifts to inside the throne room where the dark knight Terek is called to figure out what's taking the hermit they summoned so long to arrive.
He might be evil.
Then Terek calls out the king on having the same body characters used by the queen as well. He's a jerk!
The palette flashes for a moment before the game takes us back to Aelk.
Is it just my monitor? I can barely see a thing here other than Aelk and what looks to be a very dead hermit by a pool of blood.
Terek catches Aelk in this compromising location and asks if Aelk killed the hermit.
In a panic, Aelk runs off and the game shifts to an overworld screen.
It's a bit sparse compared to the more richly detailed boards for the outside of the hermit's home and Galshina. It's also sparse in content right now, with there only being a single location that can be visited to the north.
A message explains the controls and Aelk's destination, the same forest mentioned as being a pain to get through in the game's opening board.
Again the palette is too dark for my tastes. I suppose it is a spooky forest though. Toggling the sidebar HUD allows the player to see more of the screen and discover a chest behind a boulder that would otherwise be obscured.
Some small green monsters attack and push away Aelk's pants once more. It's easier to just run than fight as enemies don't actually drop anything.
Up ahead are some more monsters, an accessible chest, and another person by some boulders.
He'll tell the player they'll need to break the rocks to get past, and that an object to break them can be found at a nearby shrine. (Spoilers: It's a hammer.)
My pants and body are extremely broken by this point because I wanted to get a screenshot of defeating a monster where it animates dissolving away. It's a nice little animation! I'm also fond of the glowing red eyes in the trees.
The blue item on the eastern side of the board is revealed as a health herb. Health is pretty much all Aelk will find on this adventure.
To the west is the shrine entrance, protected by a few flying creatures. It's better to run from them rather than fall apart again.
Inside the shrine are some large mushrooms, and decorative statues. The palette manages to get even worse making it very difficult to tell where you can and can't go. There's a barely visible door Aelk is standing in front of here which leads into the next room.
The next screen, helpfully indicated as B1 holds some more flying enemies as well as a brown face which is a newer and stronger enemy. The face can fire a projectile making it the toughest foe yet by far. The red ball here being one of its shots.
At some point, pants pushing combines with objects pushing things into walls and Aelk's pants escape the confines of the shrine entirely. This basically softlocks the game as there's no way back inside.
The next screen has another face and more flies? bats? There's also a chest with more health to collect before moving to the shrine's boss.
The boss of the shrine is this red/purple looking diamond thing. It takes a lot of hits and changes colors as its damaged.
It's not very strong itself however, with only melee attacks that it seems very slow to use.
When the diamond is defeated, the shutters open and Aelk can claim the hammer as his prize.
"I suppose this hammer will come in great use. I can feel it's power, kind of like the excaliber of hammers."
It's a good hammer needless to say. Again the palette choices are absurdly difficult to read.
The hammer can smash the rock at the forest's entrance, revealing a chest with 200 Pearlous that can't be used for anything in the demo.
The hammer can also be used to get out of the forest, the other rocks lead straight to the end of the demo here.
The Aelk demo just comes to a standstill with no closing remarks, just Aelk overlooking a cliff at night with plans to travel onward to the next village.
That's all there is of Aelk, and well, maybe I lavished a bit too much praise on it earlier. Of course, all the other ZIG games have managed to have bad gameplay and bad graphics so one that looks pretty (when you can see it) is a big improvement.
Aelk was a ZIG game that at least felt like its creator had come to grips with what they were doing. It's still a demo, so if work continued after its release I can definitely imagine the palette choices being tweaked to be more visible and not ruin the message windows.
The taller player is a cool idea that breaks too easily, but I think ZIG has enough capabilities that it could also be avoid by always teleporting the head to be above the legs which would do a lot to make desyncs only last for a moment rather than permanently.
Like any ZIG game though, ultimately it sits forgotten.
That's all there is to play around with in ZIG, but before this article ends let's take one last look at XOP to really get a feel for what ZIG would enable ZZTers to do.