ZZT DOS The title screen of the world's first ZZT game.


Published by
Developed by
Official Site
Critic Score
100 point score based on reviews from various critics.
User Score
5 point score based on user ratings.
Written by  :  Craig Adams (3)
Written on  :  Apr 30, 2002

2 out of 2 people found this review helpful

write a review of this game
read more reviews by Craig Adams
read more reviews for this game


The best GCS ever.

The Good

ZZT is a GCS. A Game Creation System. It's not so much a game in itself. If it wasn't for the editor, ZZT would have died a long time ago, another tombstone in the graveyard of late eighties / early nineties ASCII games. The editor is its saving grace. Let's get one thing straight - judging ZZT by it's original package of Epic puzzle games is like judging the entire FPS genre on 'Daikatana'. There are so many other, better games out there written by other people. In fact, there are almost 2,000 available on the internet, and countless more that have been lost into the midsts of time.

Note, however, the use of the word 'Written' and not programmed. ZZT does have a programming language - called ZZT OOP - but if BASIC is the bike, ZZTOOP is the stablizer. You don't need amazing logic or a diploma in computer science to become proficient at OOP, just an hour of free time and a bit of common sense. Most of the commands involve setting a few flags, and testing to see what the player is doing.

The main challenge with ZZT is not the language itself, but the limitations, and finding new ways to work around them. ZZT is not a programming masterpiece. In some places it is very limited, to the point of making it impossible to create certain games. This may seem like a horrible thing, but its this constant reinvention that's kept ZZT alive. For example, the actual ZZT program gives you 7 colors. Seven colors is not enough to make good look graphics. Luckily, some clever git called Greg Janson made a utility using just ZZT that created ten times more colours 3 years after its original release. Progress? I think so.

With these workarounds and a bit of know how, ZZT can turn into whatever you want it to be. I would say, at a guess, about half of ZZT games can be described as RPGs. The others range from action shooters and dungeon crawls, to platformers and puzzlers. Excluding FPS, I believe most people would be able to create any genre of game given enough time. That's how versatile it can be.

As already mentioned, ZZT uses the ASCII graphical standard to make games. ASCII was never going to look 'great', but it does have a certain style to it. If you can draw in real life, you should be able to create some damn good looking art in ZZT. If, like me, you couldn't draw you save your life, theres still hope! There are no 'tiles' to create like in so many other GSCs around today, so you can simply place random blocks around, do a bit of shading and you'll be good to go.

So, why ARE there thousands more ZZT games than MZX or Verge? The only thing I can come up with is 'Simplicity'. It takes a LONG time (Sometimes up to a year) to create a good game in the newer GCS's. A quality ZZT game can be produced in a few months, sometimes even sooner. ZZTs learning curve is also virtually non-existant compared to the weeks of trial and error and tutorials that you need to become good at MZX.

The Bad

ZZT is not without flaws. As a stand alone game, ZZT probably isn't even worth bothering with. It was made 11 years ago, and even back then it looked pretty dire. It's never going to be able to compete with the effects of megazeux or the graphics of verge or other far superior systems. But remember, the N64 was 'superior' to the NES. A console is only as good as it games. The same stands for ZZT. There are at least 100 good ZZT games, compared to the 10/20 MZX classics.

ZZT's editor has bugs. Sometimes the bugs can be very annoying, deleting lines of code at random, and making jobs that should take 10 minutes last an hour. Again, the fix for this is to DOWNLOAD. New editors that do the same as the original editor but with more advanced tools are available for you to make ZZT games with.

Also, whatever happens, you will hit a limit in ZZT. As mentioned above, limits have been ZZTs saving grace, but that doesn't stop them being annoying. If you're making a big game, you have to keep notes on your flags, because you can only set 10 flags at once. This means if you were creating an adventure game, you could not have more than 10 objects in your inventory at the same time. Also, there's a limit to the size of games. Annoying? Hell yes. Major problems? Not at all.

The Bottom Line

ZZT is not for those who want pretty flashing graphics or a programming language that takes weeks to learn. ZZT is for creators. It's an outlet. You can pick it up and create a game in weeks. It has the balance of simplicity and versatility that simply is NOT mirrored in any of the later GCS. Don't believe me? There are 200 ZZTers that could prove you wrong. With 20 games being released a month and a huge archive of games already uploaded, you really have nothing to lose but to try it out.

The main ZZT site at the time of writing is http://zzt.the-underdogs.org (http://zzt2.com)

Check it out if you wanna become a part of one of weirdest communities ever.