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Developer(s) Tim Sweeney
Publisher(s) Epic MegaGames
Designer(s) Tim Sweeney
Engine ZZT-OOP
Platform(s) MS-DOS
Release date(s)
  • NA October, 1991
Genre(s) Puzzle, Game creation system

ZZT is an ANSI character-based video game, created in 1991 by Tim Sweeney of Potomac Computer Systems which became Epic MegaGames in 1992. It remains a popular MS-DOS game creation system[citation needed]. ZZT itself is not an acronym for anything; its title was simply chosen so it would always appear at the very bottom of newsgroup listings. However, it was later jokingly mentioned by Sweeney as being short for Zoo of Zero Tolerance, which has mistakenly become a popular belief.

ZZT's graphics were obsolete before it was even created; it used the same style of text-mode graphics that Kingdom of Kroz used 4 years earlier. Often referred to as ANSI, the character set used in the game is actually IBM/MS-DOS Code page 437, which differs from the most common form of ANSI found today, Windows-1252. Despite the outdated graphics, ZZT managed to become fairly popular because of its integration of a simple but effective object-oriented scripting language known as ZZT-OOP. At the time this was groundbreaking, as most functionality in prior games had been hard-coded. The language allowed extensibility that no other game was able to provide, and allowed a large degree of community involvement that extended far beyond simply creating level terrain with the built-in editor, but rather involved writing programs to make the game run.

Originally ZZT was shareware, with only one of the four level-sets or "worlds" released without payment. The level released with the shareware copy is called "Town of ZZT". The shareware versions also included "Demo of ZZT", which displayed the basic features of ZZT worlds, and "Tour of ZZT", which allowed the player to view select rooms (some playable) of the four worlds. Three different versions of shareware ZZT were released, with three corresponding registered versions. With about 30,000 registrations worldwide, ZZT was successful enough to finance the production of Jill of the Jungle, a game seen as Epic MegaGames' answer to Apogee classics such as Duke Nukem. As the game became obsolete it became freeware, however, with all four worlds of the registered version released for free. The worlds are: "Town of ZZT", "Caves of ZZT", "Dungeons of ZZT", and "City of ZZT"; they can best be described as adventure games.

In the newsletters for the registered version of ZZT, it is apparent that Sweeney initially had not expected the editor to become the most popular feature of his game. Fans' letters to him quickly established this, and Sweeney responded by encouraging registered users to make their own worlds and submit them to him. The best material from these was released in The Best of ZZT.

Basic gameplay of ZZT is very simple. The player is controlled by the four cursor keys, and the shift key and a cursor key pressed will shoot a bullet (if the player has ammo). Items that can be picked up include: ammo (each magazine holds five rounds), gems (used for currency in most games), torches (used by pressing the T key in darkened rooms, lighting a small area around the player, that moves as the player does), and energizers that give the player temporary invincibility. Enemies include lions (randomly moving monsters, that may follow the player), tigers (randomly moving monsters that fire bullets), ruffians (monsters that chase the player, then rest, then repeat), bears, slimes, and spinning guns.

Third-party worlds for ZZT are diverse, ranging from shoot 'em ups to complex role-playing video game to a Lemmings clone (Zem[2]). An aspect of the game is the culture that has built up within and around it: catchphrases, programming tricks, and even some rather remarkable internet personalities. Many other games have been inspired by ZZT, such as MegaZeux and ZZT's sequel, Super ZZT, the latter being widely criticized for lacking an easily accessible editor function.

Although it has been many years since Tim Sweeney first wrote ZZT, it still has a cult following. As of 2009, ZZT was still for sale through mail order, according to Sweeney in a Gamasutra interview.[3] The last copy was distributed in late 2013.[4]

Other programs[edit]

There are many utilities, resources, and advanced editors available for ZZT.

  • DreamZZT
An open-source ZZT engine for Mac OS X, Microsoft Windows, Linux, Nintendo DS and the SEGA Dreamcast.
  • KevEdit
A versatile world editor that features a complete palette, a larger backbuffer, a default color mode, and a much better character selector. It is no longer developed (as of July 2, 2005) and is still in an alpha form, but is still usable. The latest release is v0.5.1.
Is another, older external editor for ZZT. It has a color chooser, easier to read language editor, support for object libraries and fonts, improved buffer, object, and map sizes, a test function, and a music player. Worlds created using ZZTAE are watermarked. Worlds found with that became a bannable offense in some ZZT contests. A tool was later released that could eliminate the traces. The newest release is v1.0.1 (October 1, 2001).
  • DirectZZT
An open-source C# game which aims at reconstructing ZZT as close as possible, while utilizing modern graphics technologies (hence the name DirectZZT in parallel to DirectX, although it actually makes use of XNA). It is in a very early phase of development and is not feature complete. Planned are (among others): 100% compatibility to ZZT-oop, 100% both export and import compatibility of "original" ZZT worlds and save games, Multiplayer modes for up to 4 players, a new world/board and save format (ZML) and a new, extensible scripting language (Powerscript), which fixes many shortcomings of ZZT-oop and introduces new functionality.
  • SuperWAD
An unfinished world maker. Only half of its intended features were ever implemented.
  • Unlockers
There are multiple utilities that unlock locked ZZT worlds, so they can be edited.
  • Engines
Many ZZT programmers create a working system for a function, for example mouse input, different weapons, advanced menus, etc., and upload them for other programmers to use.
  • Toolkits
There are a large number of toolkits for ZZT. They are typically composed of palette and ASCII character boards for quick resource grabbing.
  • Frontends
A few programs that improve how opening and storing ZZT files of the user do exist. Not all of them are complete.
  • Cheat programs
Also called trainers. They set different stats and settings before starting a world, usually with the intention of cheating.
  • Patchers
Simple programs that change parts of ZZTs UI.
  • Music makers
There are many programs and worlds for ZZT that make creating music for its #play command easy.


External links[edit]