publication date: November 2001
Welcome, all of you, to this new feature. This time, a cool upcoming game isn't the subject of discussion, like normally. This time, we'll take you back to the oldschool days of ZZTing; the really *old* days; the ZZT Club on Prodigy... This feature has some info about the old club, its members and games, and last but not least; an interview with an ex-member: John Shipley.
Information about the game
In this game you play the role of Abigail, a teenage girl. The game starts with you going on your first date with Brian. The two of you fall in love... But then, Brian slips off a dune. Abigail, being desperate, makes a prayer to the God Ramia. Ramia wants to help you, but in exchange you will need to become the bearer of his soul. This is where a long adventureof exploring a vast RPG world starts. Along the way you will meet many people who will help you, hundreds of enemies to defeat, and more... The graphics in this game look awesome too, and there will be plenty of GDM songs to listen to. This all will probably make this game THE MegaZeux hit of 1999!
Interview with John Shipley
Welcome to this interview! Let's start at the beginning. Do you know/remember how the club was founded, and who founded it?
The club was started by Carlos DaSilva, sometime in 1991. Carlos was the president of the club, and Jamie Holub, the second member, was the vice president. I'm not sure how the club was started, or exactly when, because I wasn't around in the beginning. The club started on the Prodigy "Computer" bulletin boards, under the Adventure Games L-Z "topic." Since ZZT was known at the time as an adventure game more than as an editor, it was a natural place for it. Plus, because of the name ZZT, we were at the very end of the board, so it was easy to find.
When did you join the club, and what made you want to join it?
I joined the club in April of 1992, I believe. I was a fan of ZZT since I first found "ZZT's City" on a floppy disk my dad got. "ZZT's City" is an earlier version of City of ZZT, and it was released probably in early 1991 as a part of a collection of programs by different authors. The ZZT engine itself was older, too, because it doesn't include an editor. I was first drawn into the game because it was colorful and it had a nice puzzle-oriented feel to it. I played through most the game, but I couldn't complete it, because there was a bug that would keep the elevator in City Hall from opening at the mayor's office (anyone who's played City of ZZT through should probably know what I'm talking about). That kind of annoyed me, but the game itself was good, and the name ZZT stuck in my head long after that.
I joined the club because these guys were very good at ZZT, but they were also great guys. They were very patient with newbies just learning to use ZZT, and they were learning how to do lots of interesting tricks with the program (Jesse Chang and Jerry Hsu's Starbase ZZT tic-tac-toe game, I think, is still the most amazing thing I've seen in ZZT).
What is the difference between the ZZT club and the ZZT club part 2, or is that the same group?
Not that I know of. I think that during the time the ZZT Club Part 2 started, there was another ZZT Club somewhere else on the bulletin boards, but I'm not sure. As far as I know, we were the only one. Back then, the Internet wasn't really aimed at consumers, so Prodigy was about the closest thing we had. We probably would have been aware of another club if one existed.
Some people refer to the ZZT Club as being a "company." I could be wrong, but I don't think that was ever the reason for the club existing. I think it was mostly just an actual club, where people would just talk ZZT and whatever else came up. But some games you'll see say "A ZZT Club Production," so I guess some people thought of it as a company.
There were quite a lot of people in the club. Can you tell me more about the other members (their role in the club and possible games released)?
Jesse Chang and Jerry Hsu designed "Space Station ZZT" and "Starbase ZZT" while they were in the club. I don't know if they ever colloborated on any games after that, though.
Aran Meuser created "Attack Over ZZT." I don't remember much of anything about him, though, because he wasn't really around at all after I joined.
Tim Gallagher was the creator of "ZapZak," and I don't know if he's ever done any other games that were released. He was also kind enough to beta test a couple of my games.
Then there was me. There were a few other members later on, but I don't remember anything about them or the games they made.
Some of us used to include "catalogs" with our games, the "catalog" being a .doc file that contained information about our upcoming games. Chris Jong used to do this a lot, and in one of his catalogs, he included information on a game he was working on called Gold Rush. According to the description, Gold Rush was a game set during the big California gold rush, and you were trying to get to California, using a variety of methods, like riding a train and flying a bi-plane. However, the California gold rush took place in 1849, which was over sixty years before bi-planes even existed. I seem to remember people teasing him about this after someone noted it on the bulletin boards.
I remember one more thing about Chris Jong (other than the fact that I still owe him $5 for the disk he sent me). He was the first member that I know of who was making games using other programs. He was using a program called Virtual Reality Studio, which allowed you to create 3D "virtual reality" games that used polygons and everything. I don't remember what the game was that he created, and I never got a chance to play it, but I think he certainly had aspirations of being a professional programmer. Some of his games, especially The Long Voyage 2, were, in my opinion, good enough to be released as stand-alone shareware, if such a thing were possible with ZZT.
Aran Meuser, who was an early member, only released the one game "Attack Over ZZT" and, for a while, nobody had heard from him. He showed up months later, but wasn't allowed back into the club. The reason for this is that Carlos had tightened the requirements for membership. When I had joined, the only requirement was that you had to send in a game that was decent. However, Carlos used a system to "score" the games according to graphics, gameplay, etc. My game Sword of Fury rated a 3.6 out of 5, I think. Later, he made it so that your game had to score at least a 3.5 in order for you to be able to join. Unfortunately, Aran's game had only scored a 3.4, and he was told he had to either submit another game. I think he was the only member who left the club and wasn't able to get back in later.
I remember us getting "flames" from people outside the club who made fun of ZZT and its ASCII-based graphics. Even back then, ZZT was outdated graphics-wise, but its enduring popularity (nine years later) proves that there are more important things than graphics.
We threw around ideas for a sequel to ZZT, things that we wanted to implement, such as the ability to change the look of your projectile (allowing you to use arrows and such) and VGA graphics. I think these early conversations probably helped lead to Carlos working on ZZT 2 (or whatever he called it), and possibly some of the other ZZT clones that have been worked on.
I wish I had kept some of our old conversations. I wish I had printed them out, because I'm sure there were some other good ones. I think a lot of the spirit of what drives ZZTers today, with trying to push the limits and discover how to do more things with the system, started with the ZZT Club on Prodigy. The guys in the club weren't content to just work with what was already known; they wanted to find out how big bytes-wise they could make the boards, how many flags could be used at once, etc. A lot of what we know about the limits of ZZT, as well as ways to get around those limits, started with the club. We also talked a lot about other things, like things that were going on in the gaming world at the time (we all drooled over Wolfenstein 3D). The ages of members in the club ranged from 14 to 30, but most of us were 14-16 years old. It makes me kind of sad that nobody from the club is still using ZZT, or even keeping up with the scene, because I'm sure these guys would have more interesting stories to tell you, and Carlos or Jamie could give you more information about how the club started.
A few of the guys in the club learned that they could trade boards by converting it into code, which would appear as a normal post but with jargon instead of text. Then the person receiving the post would use some program to convert it into a ZZT board. But this was as close as we came to file transfers.
This is why it was so bad when Prodigy started charging for time spent on the boards. This was the only way we could communicate. The internet, at that time, was bound to the realm of academia, and consumers had to live with online services that were self-contained, without any contact with other internet services. We in the club could e-mail each other privately, but once you entered the bulletin board, with its long load times, you started ringing up fees (after the first two hours of each month, which were free).
There were also BBS systems set up, where you could dial up a number on your modem and download files from the BBS. Epic Megagames used to have one. However, long distance charges would apply, and not all of us had the right software to connect.
The club was dissolved when Prodigy started charging for time on the bulletin boards. What happened to the members after this? Have you ever had contact with them again?
I don't know exactly how long it took for the club to dissolve after Prodigy started charging for bulletin board time. According to Carlos DaSilva's latest release of Ruby of Resurrection, the club existed from 1991-1994. I think it was a little closer to 1993, although I suppose it's possible that the club lasted until 1994. All I know is that the club certainly didn't thrive for long after Prodigy started charging. Members started leaving for other providers, like GEnie and Compuserve. I think our parents didn't want us ringing up huge bills, so we were basically limited to a few hours a week (or a half-hour a week, if you wanted to stay within the two free hours of each month). At any rate, that's what essentially killed the club, especially for me. I couldn't afford to keep up with the ZZT club, and I had to leave.
After the club was dissolved you released a couple of games. When did you stop making ZZT games yourself?
I started losing interest in ZZT shortly after leaving the club. I started work on "Revenge of Fury" in 1993, with a note on the title screen saying, "My last ZZT game." However, I never finished it, which was a very, very common occurrence. If I told you all the ZZT games I started working on but never finished, you'd probably laugh. I think I'm going to compile them on my website soon. Anyway, I stopped ZZTing for a while, until the summer of 1994, when I decided to finish some of the games I had started, with hopes of uploading them to AOL. I finished Escape from Westmanson and Final Quest of Fury in August of 1994, and did Star Guardian that same month (in about a week-long period). However, I went to college later that month, and didn't have much time for ZZT after that. I returned to it to create a short game for one of my classes (intended to be an adventure game for kids), and was inspired to start work on Morbid Vengeance, which is a work in progress. In fact, I have three works in progress right now, Spike's Adventure Part III, Morbid Vengeance, and Lurk. So I haven't officially retired from making ZZT games, I just haven't worked on any for a few years. However, I've been inspired lately to start working on these games again, so maybe you'll see something else from me in the future.
Any final comments or last words you want to tell the readers?
Well, first of all, let me say this. If any of you former ZZT Club members read this, I hope I didn't misrepresent our club. My reason for doing the interview was that people are interested in the story of the ZZT Club, and since I seem to be the only member who is still involved with the scene, I wanted to share it. I may be wrong on some facts; after all, we're talking about almost eight years of time since I was last in the club. If I am wrong, I hope somebody corrects me. And if one of you ZZT Club guys is upset by me sharing the story, I want you to know that I'm doing it because I looked up to and respected you guys a lot, and I don't want people to lose a part of our ZZT history.
To the ZZTers out there, I want to thank you for continuing to keep the scene alive. ZZT has never left my hard drive, and I still enjoy playing the new games that are released. I want to thank those of you who wrote me letting me know you liked my games, and to Robert Pragt for finding that awful, game-stopping bug in Escape From Westmanson (I owe you one!). Thank you, Hydra, for giving me the chance to share some of the ZZT Club story.
Thanks a lot for this interview! I'm glad you wanted to share some of the ZZT community's early history with us!