Meet The Tardigrades!By: the pynk panthyr
Published Under: Mirror Image Games
Released: March 03, 2006
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Today's selection is Meet The Tardigrades!, a game with some very eye catching graphics for ZZT. It was released in 2006 by "The Pynk Panthyr", somebody who was more ZZT adjacent than directly involved with the ZZT community. I don't think you'd see them around on IRC or the z2 forums of the era, but I definitely, followed their livejournal where they were a friend of a friend of a friend. So it's cool to take a look at something a bit less mainstream for ZZT. And what could be less mainstream than a blatant parody of The Beatles?
From the title screen however, it's apparent there's going to be more to this fab four than a certain resemblance to the British sensation. The Tardigrades are a band not from earth, and we'll be dealing with a sci-fi game whose story feels less like "A Hard Day's Night" and more like "Star Wars".
Like all Mirror Image Games productions, the game opens with this vertical walk down a logo where a mirror image of the player appears on to their right. It's an iconic opening and MIG's branding is about as on point as any ZZT company's ever was.
After the logo the player is taken to a colorful main menu with some unlabeled objects and a passage to actually begin playing the game itself.
The credits jump right to the special thanks, skipping the usual slew of giving the game's sole developer as many credited roles as possible. Myliverhurtz is thanked, and I believe the reason for Panthyr's introduction to ZZT and the connection I had on Livejournal back in the day that got me following them.
And our first thanks to the Beatles for being an inspiration.
The other object gives some information for the creation of the game. It looks more like the information you get in 24 Hours of ZZT contest games with its list of music listened to while creating the game. We also get to learn that it only took a week to complete. It's not a particularly long or in depth game, and sets itself up as a first chapter of which (as tends to be the case with ZZT series) is also its last.
Tragedy strikes. But let's not despair for a broken CD player and instead move forward so that we can meet the Tardigrades.
This long nosed fellow is not a Tardigrade.
a rustic cottage in the middle of the
woods. the sun is setting. inside, an
aged man in a flowing purple robe is
suddenly, he clutches his chest and
contorts his face as if stricken by a
great pain. he lets out a mournful cry,
then begins to gasp for air.
after a time, he slowly returns to
normal; his face relaxes, and he
unclenches his fist. it would seem the
pain has passed... yet his expression
reads a look of deep-set anxiety and
• • • • • • • • •
Already I get "Star Wars" vibes. Myrddin here is getting these premonitions that something big is going to happen soon, and the player is without the slightest context for what that might be.
And here are the Tardigrades themselves! Jukka, Paava, Gjergj, and Frodo are all dressed in their early Beatles fashions of a nice suit and tie, but with the addition of a colorful cape as well. The cape may be to make them look less samey with their body designs, but also serves a use by indicating what color the object representations of them will be in cutscenes. It's a nice way to give some meaning to the colors selected for the objects.
Their current discography is loaded with hits that ought as well be Beatles lyrics.
there's a big music festival about to
take place on the nearby planet of
nilokeras. media from all across the
sector will be there to help record the
performances - there are sure to be
performances from not only seasoned
musical veterans of great renown, but
also from the up and coming, the new and
hip, the lovable if bumbling...
the tardigrades know that the nilokeras
festival will be just the thing they need
to gain a foothold in the music industry
- it will be their big break.
all they need is a way to get there...
• • • • • • • • •
Nobody has any idea who they are right now though, and if they can't make it to that festival, nobody ever will.
This game is mostly cutscene, but it works out nicely with how pleasant and detailed the art is to look at. The sliver of visible ZZT on the monitor is a great touch and the bullet uses blinking colors to create an illusion that bullets are repeatedly being fired.
There's some big text dump here which gives us the plot of the game, at least from the Tardigrade's side of things. Myrddin's own worries have yet to cross paths with the band.
a dank bar late at night. the
tardigrades relax while waiting for their
orders to arrive.
PAAVA: listen guys, i was reading up on
this nilokeras thing... apparently, if we
pay the entrance fee we can enter
ourselves to play. it might just be the
thing we need.
JUKKA: where are we going to get the
PAAVA: i've been saving up some extra
cash from work to buy a new guitar, but
i'm alright with using that for the
fee... i just can't think of any way to
get there. nilokeras is pretty far, we'd
need a decent transport to make it.
GJERGJ: jukka, doesn't your dad own an
old spice freighter?
JUKKA: yeah, but it hasn't flown for a
long time. it needs a lot of work - would
probably cost less just to charter a ship
FRODO: (from the background) what about
old man myrddin?
PAAVA: *raises an eyebrow* what about him?
FRODO: don't they say he's into all that?
tinkering with old freighters and stuff?
GJERGJ: yeah, but what good will that do
us? he lives way out in the dark woods,
none of us have ever seen him - how do
you know he even exists? and even if he
does, what makes you think he'd give us a
ride to nilokeras?
PAAVA: he's right frodo, myrddin's a
crazy old bat, and he'd never give us
FRODO: *turns away from his game,
slightly irritated* listen, the
concert's in two days, and it's not like
we have any other real options. is it
really going to kill us to go up there
and ask him? what's the worst he can do?
tell us to take a hike, that's about it.
GJERGJ: frodo, you know what they say
about him - i wouldn't really want to get
him mad at us.
FRODO: you're telling me you actually
believe all that? it's just urban legend
gjergj. and besides, why would he get mad
at us for just asking?
*the others still seem hesitant*
FRODO: look, it's simple. we go up there,
we knock on his door, we ask him if he'll
give us a ride. if he says no, fine, at
least we can say we tried. but if he says
*paava, jukka and gjergj all look at one
FRODO: if he says yes, we'll be on our
• • • • • • • • •
But it won't be long before they all meet. The concert's in two days and there's no way they can afford to charter a ride. Their only hope is to venture up to the dark woods, ignore the rumors about Myrddin, and hope that they can bum a free ride from him. It's not much of a plan, hoping that the weird old guy in the woods will be friendly and willing to help some random band for no reason other than to be nice.
Still, Frodo is right that there's no alternative for them, and that realistically the worst that can happen is a "No" response.
Cut to the dark woods. Pynk does some nice work on the trees here. You see a lot of trees and forests playing ZZT worlds, and these are definitely some of the better looking ones. Branches made from objects! They look a bit nicer than the usual blob of green on a brown rectangle for a trunk.
With that Frodo runs off into the woods, leaving the rest of the band to wait patiently for his return.
And then we get to gameplay! The player takes on the role of the drummer Frodo and has to venture into the woods to search for Myrddin. Alas right away there's a large barricade and a guard blocking deeper passage into the dark woods.
The guard has orders to not let anybody pass due to how dangerous the woods can be. Speaking with the guard a second time brings up an option to try and bribe the guard, but Frodo has no money to bribe them with.
There is of course an alternate route...
as you descend into the claustrophobic
caverns, you immediately begin to second-
guess your quest.
however, you think back to your
bandmates, and how much the nilokeras
festival might mean for all of you...
supressing your fears, you walk down the
steep grade into the darkness below.
upon reaching the cave-bottom, you
realize things are far more spacious than
you anticipated. every move you make
echoes off a thousand hidden facets,
amplifying each sound a thousand times
somewhere off in the distance you can
hear rushing water. oddly, this place
feels vibrant, alive...
• • • • • • • • •
The cave is full of gems as well as some green cave dweller enemies. They'll bite if you get too close, taking away three health, a small amount when the player has 100 and can get more from the gems.
The foes can also be beaten with a good thwack from a drumstick, splattering into a red fake of gore. The way this happened was momentarily exciting for me. I hadn't ran into the enemy to try to attack it, but ran past to attack instead. Most melee combat in ZZT consists of touching the enemy to attack and being in contact with it for too long resulting in being attacked instead. For a moment I thought Meet the Tardigrades flipped it, encouraging quick hit and run movements alongside enemies while running into one would end your momentum and result in damage. It seemed like a very good system, and I can't believe I hadn't seen the contact/touch mechanics flipped like it before!
Except it was all a fluke. In reality the enemy code is to move around for a bit, check if the player is in contact, and if so act like the object was touched. So touch/contact result in the same code running. Then that code simply checks if the object is blocked in a random direction, and if so the monster takes damage. If not, the player is hurt instead. So instead of this cool system that would encourage fast attacks, it's actually completely random (although the more things surrounding the enemy the more likely you'll damage it). What a shame!
The cavern splits immediately, and I opted to head to the right first. It's more monsters and gems.
Followed by another split with more monsters and gems. There's also a health kit at the crossroad however. Using it will set Frodo's health to 100, so it's best to hold off on using it right away since the enemies do so little damage.
Following the northeast path leads to an underground river with a bridge, plus a locked gate. Without the key there's little to do other than turn back and take the other path.
Something different! This room contains a bunch of gems sure, but also some boulders and a sleeping creature.
The object is named "caveboss", and Frodo is given the opportunity to poke the sleeping creature.
Surprising no one, the cave monster wakes up and begins to attack. It feels no different to fight than the cave dwellers in the rest of the cavern, but it takes a few drumstick hits to defeat.
Defeating it results in getting the red key to the gate from earlier. The board also loops back with the cave entrance where if the player has collected 50 gems they can in fact bribe the guard.
But I opted to keep my money and exit from the back end of the cave beyond the locked gate.
I of course immediately try to talk with the guard from the other side to see what will happen, and the answer is nothing. Frodo won't get his attention.
North of the guard results in a board that immediately pops up a message, and I got this nifty little mid-scroll opening screenshot where I learned that the scroll doesn't open with a dark blue background, and that the characters used in the bottom left corner appear incorrect? Weird!
walking further into the dark woods, you
come across a gathering of wild animals...
you realize that perhaps sneaking past
the guard wasn't the wisest idea after
you can feel a knot of fear growing in
your stomach... as the animals approach,
you begin to tremble. you want to run,
but your legs won't budge...
as you stumble forward into the dirt and
conciousness begins to slip from you, you
fear that you will never again awaken...
• • • • • • • • •
Oh no Frodo!
A mysterious figure arrives to save Frodo from certain doom.
you awake with a start from bad dreams...
wait, where are you? what time is it?
what's going on?
you can feel panic rising in you...
the last thing you remember... the last
thing you remember...
you remember being surrounded, and
feeling hopeless, and then an uneasy
there was a brilliant light...
you rise from the bed and take a few
tentative steps; your legs are aching.
looking around, you realize you are not
alone in the room - over there, by the
bedside, stands a tall humanoid machine,
quite unlike anything you have seen
outside of film.
it tilts its head inquisitively to one
side, then speaks.
HUMANOID MACHINE: greetings, my name is
sherlock. you must be greatly confused.
myrddin is out back; if you'd like to
head out there and speak with him i'm
sure he'll be able to answer all your
• • • • • • • • •
Frodo awakens in a small cottage and encounters a robot that introduces themselves as Sherlock and explains that Myrddin was responsible for the rescue.
There's nothing to interact with save for Sherlock who only mentions that Frodo should go outside.
This leads to a new cutscene where Myrddin and his guests are speaking with each other just outside their ships.
Frodo walks up to them and listens in:
The perspective here is phenomenal. Over the shoulder is not an angle you typically see in a ZZT art board.
MYRDDIN: i'm deeply sorry to have to cut
our meeting so short, but i'm even more
sorry to have to lay you both with such a
ALEKSEI: don't worry on it, myrddin.
MYRDDIN: i know i might just be acting
paranoid, but such a change worries me
and i'd rather play things safe. i know
the task is daunt -
ERNESTA: myrddin, it's not like you're
alone in this - we felt it too. besides,
we trust your judgement.
ALEKSEI: myrddin, we don't mind doing a
favour for such an old friend, especially
when it may come to benefit so many.
MYRDDIN: *sighs* very well then. *he hugs
them each* aleksei, ernesta, take care and
keep me updated on the situation. stay
ALEKSEI: we will, and we will return! may
peace rest on you always, myrddin.
MYRDDIN: and you both.
the two visitors turn from myrddin and
walk off towards two separate spacecraft
standing a few feet away.
after boarding them, several slow moments
pass in which an unsettling silence
descends on the isolated junk yard.
then gradually, a deep-seated rumble
grows in the air, and the two aged, weary
fighters rise, turn, and stumble forward,
gaining speed as they sail up out of
the unsettling silence returns.
FRODO: they were...?
MYRDDIN: old friends.
• • • • • • • • •
The player still has no idea what's going on, but it sounds like something big is going to happen.
myrddin turns away from the departing
ships and looks down at frodo.
MYRDDIN: now my friend, i'm glad to see
you're up and about. i was beginning to
get worried about you, you were asleep for
quite some time. *he offers his hand* my
name is myrddin, by the way.
FRODO: *shakes his hand* pleased to meet
you. my name is frodo... what happened?
MYRDDIN: it would seem, young frodo, that
you ran afoul of some woodland creatures.
i happened to be out for an evening
stroll when i came across you. you were
standing at a fork in the path, surrounded
by some agitated looking animals. i feared
for your safety, so i frightened them off
then brought you here. you lost
conciousness during the ordeal.
FRODO: ohh... well, thanks then... you
saved my life...
MYRDDIN: it's quite alright, i'm sure you
would have done the same if you were in
my position. however, if you don't mind
me asking, i'm curious... what were you
doing wandering around the dark woods
this late so far from your home?
FRODO: well, actually, i was looking for
there is a brief glimmer of something
indescribable in myrddin's eyes, and he
lets a small smile appear on his lips.
FRODO: well, yes... you see, my friends
and i, we have this band called "the
tardigrades"... and, well, we found out
about this music festival thing on
nilokeras... it's coming up real soon...
and we'd like to go - we think it could
be the big break our band needs... and,
we have the entrance fee, and we're ready
to go... it's just that...
MYRDDIN: you have no way to get there?
FRODO: y-yeah, yeah, exactly...
myrddin is now positively grinning.
MYRDDIN: well, my friend, it would seem
that you are incredibly lucky. not only
did you escape the dark woods unscathed
today, but you also just happened across
exactly the right person for transport.
why, just this morning i finished fixing
one of my freighters for interplanetary
flight - as we speak i'm ready to take
passengers anywhere in the sector.
frodo's face brightens, and a smile
FRODO: really? that's excellent! I
mean... would you mind?... i'm sorry, we
can't really afford... uhm...
MYRDDIN: no, no, don't worry! i don't
mind taking you and your friends for free
- i could use a good break from of this
planet anyways. *glances up briefly,
apparently appealing to some unseen being
before looking back down to frodo*
now, if you'll allow me to go get my
droid sherlock - we will be needing xem
to help fly the ship - we can gather your
friends, and then we will be off!
FRODO: *shakes his hand vigorously* thank
you sir, thank you!
• • • • • • • • •
Well that was easy. Myrddin is all too excited when he realizes Frodo was looking for him. Perhaps the Tardigrades have more fated for them than just playing at a festival?
JUKKA: you guys, i'm really starting to
get worried; frodo's been gone for over
three hours now. what could be taking him
PAAVA: i'm sure he's fine... maybe
myrddin's place is just really far
away... hidden, hard to find...
GJERGJ: and you're telling me you're
comfortable with the idea of letting our
drummer just wander around the dark woods
looking for some creepy old sorcerer like
myrddin? you KNOW what they say about
him, you both do...
PAAVA: gjergj, look, i -
• • • • • • • • •
as if sliding across some slippery
unseen plane, myrddin's old freighter
"the eraser" sails in over the edge of
the trees before gradually slowing to a
the vessel begins to sink below the tree
line, landing in a nearby clearing.
as myrddin powers down the ship's
engines, the deafening roar dies out.
at the flip of a switch on myrddin's
console, a hatch on the ship opens and a
ramp extends to the ground.
frodo calls out to his bandmates from the
FRODO: paava, jukka, gjergj! c'mon, over
the three remaining tardigrades board the
ship, rather surprised. in the next few
minutes frodo and myrddin explain
everything to them...
• • • • • • • • •
Mission accomplished. The boys have their ride.
an infinite sea of stars spreads out
before the eraser as it sails silently
away from home, en route to nilokeras.
the tardigrades are overjoyed at their
luck, yet myrddin is not so excited - he
can feel something in the air, a certain
electricity that courses now through
everything he sees, everything he
as he sits silent in the stale air of the
freighter's belly staring out a
porthole, taking in the dim glow of
dozens of consoles, the prevalent hum of
machinations and jubilations, the
ceaseless rolling of the starscape...
... he knows in his heart that, for better
or worse, things are changing. his life,
and the lives of his friends - aleksei and
ernesta, and even the lives of his new
young shipmates the tardigrades - will
never be the same again.
• • • • • • • • •
The player still has no idea what's going on as far as the big picture goes. Myrddin obviously knows a lot more than he's letting on.
Meanwhile Pynk does another great job visually with this dark ship save for the cyan glow cast by one of the monitors.
And so the ship blasts off into hyperspace to make it to the festival.
And as tends to be the case, the sequel never happened. Despite the game just cutting off here, it doesn't feel like an incomplete story since whatever the bigger picture was meant to be isn't really even hinted at. All we know is that Paava, Gjergj, Jukka, and Frodo got their ride.
All said and done, the Pynk Panthyr did a nice job here. The game is satisfying to play through with its strange combination of sci-fi and the Beatles. The gameplay is basic, but tolerable, and it doesn't overstay its welcome any.
The real standout here is definitely the art. Pynk has a very distinct style and really knows how to work with it. There's lots of use solid black in backgrounds in order to be able to put more detail onto the foreground characters. Myrddin is depicted very well in every one of his appearances. The group shots of the band manage to fit four characters on a single board without feeling cramped, and while all four of them are mostly pretty similar looking, I think that's more due Beatles than Pynk.
What story is there is pretty basic, a young band wants to play a concert and thinks it will be their big break. There's obviously supposed to be something greater going on with Myrddin, Ernesta, and Aleksei having some feeling that something big is about to go down. Like I said, it feels like Star Wars, and I wouldn't doubt that as an influence, but at the same time there's little we're told about the world the game takes place on. There's no hints of an evil galactic empire or cosmic event or really anything to go on.
The game features a few progress boards where Pynk writes up what they were doing and when in the development of the game over the course of March break. If you take a look at all of them you'll learn that the game is meant to be part of a trilogy, and some notes about the plot being all hammered out so there was something planned, but I wouldn't be surprised if during most of this game's development there was no idea what Myrddin was worrying about.
In the end, we're left with a brief glimpse at a universe that we can never revisit, and it's a shame because the concept here is fun and interesting enough that I would have liked to see more. Still, it's certainly pretty at least!
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