ZZT is a very old game for MS-DOS created by Tim Sweeney, who would go on to be lead programmer for the Unreal engine. While ZZT has a simple premise and 'out of the box' it is a simple game to play, it has an amazingly powerful (when bent into the right shape) built-in level editor and scripting system. This fact, combined with undocumented behaviour a good number of non-terminal glitches secured ZZT as a cult hit amongst so-called bedroom programmers. These programmers explored the possibilties of ZZT as a game creation system and went beyond the confines of its original gameplay mechanics to bring totally new genres into it. The draw for me was the technical challenge of creating something new from the basic blocks it provided. I was also a fan of ASCII art.
ZZT's engine is based around objects, which are essentially ASCII characters with some behaviour attached. If you want something more than a bunch of smiley faces wandering around then you have to combine them in often complex ways.
The Games I Created
I have listed the creations I think are worthy enough to show. As far as I can assert, they were all created during the years 2000 to 2002. At that time I was 14 years old.
Digger Dave is the earliest of the games I still have available to me. It has the player move around a screen and pick up gems by digging through soil. It's similar to Boulder Dash, but not nearly as fun.
BackTrax is a game I originally wrote in QBASIC but then ported to ZZT. In some ways it is the dual of Digger Dave in that you can freely walk through a maze, but you cannot re-tread old ground. You leave a path of inpenetrable walls. The aim is to get from one corner of the maze to the other, picking up as many gems as you can on the way. The maze is re-generated after every lap, and this feature was a little difficult to implement given ZZT's lack of playfield addressing (it was achieved with a matrix of objects).
The Fuse is a pipedream clone. You must lay sections of line into an arrangement on a grid, to guide a spark. If the spark runs out of fuse or hits a wall them you lose. The current section you can lay down is displayed in the top-right corner, and the position you are targetting is marked marked out in green. The red bar on the left ticks down, and gives you some time before the fuse is lit. You are given a textual rating based on your performance.
In a refreshing break from the 'arcade game' style of my previous efforts, The Undercult sees you actually controlling the vanilla ZZT player to escape from a prison using items you must collect and combine with the objects that are around you. As can be seen in the screenshot, you are not immediately presented with what is outside of your vicinity. The game reveals more of the environment as you explore it, making better use of ZZT's relatively large playfield.
Some of the games above were released as part of a collection which included some 'art'. The non-game sections mostly consisted of recreations of other things which I thought were cool at the time. ZZT apparently lent itself well to conveying the real impression of pixel art.
If this kind of thing excites you, then you can download the creations and play them yourself. You might even try to make something using the oldschool ZZT editor, but I would urge you to reconsider.
Download - An archive of things I made in ZZT.
Download - ZZT itself, version 3.2. The original from 1991.
Z2 - As far as I know, there is no better place to go for information about ZZT as well as the system itself and hundreds of creations by people around the world. It looks the same in 2012 as it did in 2002.