Gem Hunter SE 1.5

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Closer Look: Gem Hunter Special Edition 1.5

By: Dr. Dos
Published: Jan. 23, 2018

Collect 31 gems hidden across an island in this remake of Tseng's original entry in his iconic series

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There _is_ a shop, but like I said, you can't actually buy anything from it. You can get a free gem for trying though. The other people in town are thieves that steal ammo or score when you talk to them, so don't do that.


So this is Tseng's catchphrase. If you see Tseng cameoing in a ZZT game he's almost certainly going to say "Agh. More Dobermans". But here it's a mere thief saying the infamous line! Its origin is from Final Fantasy VI where it's just a weird line. I'm surprised it's taken so long for a game played for these articles to actually have the line! It's definitely a late 90s ZZTer catchphrase if ever there was one.


There's one last corner of the town where another thief dies immediately after Gem Hunter enters the screen. The southeast corner of town isn't properly linked back to this one, meaning it can only be accessed from the northwest corner which makes what should be a very accessible gem turn into one that can be missed if the player assumes there just isn't any board here.


More crossroads! More singposts! This time with only one path!


Hurricane Harbor sounds like a cool place, but in reality it's just this tiny board with a single boat.


As it turns out, the gem locations aren't 100% the same between the special edition and original Gem Hunter. The list of gem locations only lists the ones for the special edition. I wonder what one replaced this!


This jerk blocking the boat will at least give the player a gem for bugging them a few times. You can't actually get onto the boat so this mysterious person as the helm will never be named.


Beyond the harbor is the forest of confusion, which would be dark had i not cheated. If Gem Hunter spoke to Kim in Enigmus, there will be blinking arrows on the trees that point to the correct exits. These boards have time limits, though the player isn't warped back to their entry point if the time runs out.

Here's the thing though: The time limit is very tight even with the lights on. If you went through these boards in darkness, you'd have to take time just to find the arrows, and you'd likely take a lot of damage in the process if you didn't guess right about which way to head to begin with. It's easy to miss the arrows if you're not close to the trees that have them.


  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
North.......................Bandits' Camp
South.....................South Shoreline
East.....................Hurricane Harbor
West.....One-Way Bridge to West Shoreline
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The forest ends with one last set of crossroads. Thankfully, Tseng was nice enough to make it so that if you wish to backtrack from this board you don't need to go through the forest again (though you will if you want to return to this board a second time).

Since the player enters this board from the north, it's easy to forget that going north to leave this board will take you somewhere other than the forest. It may have been better to have the player enter here from the east, since the eastern path is backtracking rather than a new location to explore.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
KIM: Looks like you made it through okay.


KIM: I got some facts, and I've given you
a 100% discount.

GEM HUNTER: Whattya got??

KIM: Well...
Shuttle Mesa

Sealed Cave

Bandits' Camp


Shuttle Mesa has more Gold Gems than any
of the other areas in this game. It's also
more dangerous than every place.
It's a mountain area, and has a teleport

An old writing in Nimrodics says... hey...
I don't understand Nimrodics!! Nimrod, of
the Stooges of the Absentminded, speaks,
and reads Nimrodics. Speak with him. You
can easily get back to Gemini if you go
Only Anita, who lives in the South Shore,
has the spell that can raise the rubble
blocking the cave.
The Bandits aren't exactly bandits.
The name of their camp is Bandit, and it
makes everyone else fearful.
You must have all 31 Gold Gems in order to
open the door. That door is the only place
I haven't been to.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Kim offers some information on these last few paths, and gives the player a reason to actually return all the way to Gemini: speaking with Nimrod to do some translating.

The bandit camp is weird, as it's not actually a camp of bandits, but just some people trying to sound tough so they'll be left alone. Except Enigmus basically is a bandit camp already? It's very easy to get them confused.


Of course, I had tunnel vision and instead of checking out these new locations instead opted to race back to Nimrod despite the warning that this bridge is one of those "one-way bridges". It's also a very ugly looking board in a game that generally looks decent enough. So much of the screen is just blue solids which makes things look less like water and more like a board from the early 90s where it's just a generic background.


I was very upset when I saw where the bridge took me. It's the same coast board where you're told you have no reason to keep going farther south. You do! You very much do now! The bridge is in fact one-way as the coast doesn't connect to the bridge board. This means to get back to where I was, I essentially have to run through the entire game again. It's really bad and could be trivially solved by something as simple as a gate on the bridge that can only open from the one side.

To actually find all the gems, unless you use the list as you go, you're going to almost certainly have to backtrack. It's pretty awful.


At least I can blow up this crab now.


Which does actually explode by shooting bullets in all four directions before turning into a gem.


Running back to Gem Master's home, I talk to several people before finding Nimrod because these characters have no reason for you to remember which is which. I guess some aliens are going to invade Earth? Except Gem Hunter and almost everybody in this building is actually from another planet, so first contact isn't exactly a scary proposition here.


By making a second pass through these boards, there's another chance to notice anything amiss. See anything unusual here?

Notice there's a single green breakable in the lower right section of one of those trees on the top right quadrant of the screen! This plays into the fact that these paths are lined with walls that include breakables meaning they can be shot...


And it's nothing. Just a stray green breakable. But hang on! We're kind of out of bounds here! This whole area is fake and can be explored freely if the player shoots their way in.


Oh this is clever. There's just this narrow band of grass the player can get to here. This is no doubt going to lead to a very hidden gem and I am very smart for discovering it.


Here it comes.


Yep. Right here in the corner...

...Or there's nothing at all and this is all just a coincidence. It certainly would have been cool, but the reality is that you're not supposed to go outside the paths. Tseng just so happened to use fakes instead of normals for the grass.

There are some unspoken agreements between the developer and the person playing a ZZT game, and this is definitely one of them. Any "lighting" in ZZT is done with solids, normals, breakables, and water to fade from one color to another, but these walls have properties that can get in the way with the unintended usage of them for lighting. So we wind up with paths that can be shot or areas meant to be in shadow that can be shot across since they're water.

The player is expected to use the honor system and not vandalize things this way. These homes have plenty of breakable walls that the player can shoot to destroy if they want to ruin the visuals, and there's nothing the author can do without some very careful positioning of walls and using limited objects to block off access to them.


Of course, sometimes it's more than visuals. Here you can shoot away the path to be able to push these sliders to the blocked off bandit village. (Except the board isn't actually linked since you're not meant to be able to).


After a whole lot of walking, I reach the southern coast where Anita Blue can be found again. There's of course also a gem in one of the shells. Another shell has a cyan key. That's great, but there are no cyan doors in this game. The key is supposed to be blue!


Anita gives Gem Hunter a levitate spell because this game's world also has magic in it.


So here's a cool glitch we haven't seen before because it doesn't happen that often. I attempted walked off the coast board, back to the latest crossroads, so ZZT had to check what tile I'd be stepping onto on the crossroads board. I chose poorly and touched some water that's offscreen. ZZT saw that the player just touched water and thus had to display the "Your way is blocked by water!" message. For whatever reason, activating a message on the bottom line refreshes the entire outer border of the screen... which happens to be the board we're trying to go to since ZZT has to decompress it to find out if we can go to it.

Since the player ultimately can't, the border for the destination board is drawn and the player remains on the old board. The player element on the bottom of the screen is part of the illusion and the actual player is still up top, just now drawn over by the top of the crossroads board instead. It persists until something else causes the border to refresh, or something on the actual board causes one of the border tiles to have to be redrawn.


North of the crossroads is the next place to make some progress. The island's last town, "Bandit Camp".


It's a safe place though. They just want to be left alone so they chose a scarier sounding name to keep people from wanting to venture in.


The author most definitely does not make a cameo in his own game here.


The answer is murder. You get a gem for this.


The main thing to do here is to talk with the village elder, who happens to be Kim's father. He asks you to bring Kim to him which is as simple as heading back down and talking to her. Except I managed to forget about actually doing that, and the reward is of course another gold gem (and some hints on obtaining all of them in Bandit Camp. I still managed to eventually get a complete haul of gems so I think there's an extra somewhere? More than likely it's getting two from that first coast by finding both identical Kenos hidden there. I suspect the extra was an accidental copy.

There does appear to be a path to the left of town, but it's currently blocked off entirely.


To the north however is the ultimate destination of the game, a very large ziggurat where Gem Hunter can place his 31 gems and proceed to the game's good ending. You can actually deposit as many as you have, but that would make it much more difficult to remember how many are still missing so I didn't bother.


The path goes on to the game's final location, Shuttle Mesa. Here's where the board connections get to be something to pay attention to. At this point you can go back east to the pedestal board, or north to the sealed cave from the first crossroads that requires the levitate spell to get through. This is much nicer than having to take the one way bridge to loop back to the game's start, and makes that bridge pretty pointless since it was just a few boards earlier.


The first obstacle is a man who quotes Con Air. I love this.


That de-escalated quickly. If the player doesn't have the postcard from the junk store, they can choose to fight instead. Doing so is an instant game over. There's of course also a gem for doing things the right way.


The next board is a sort of puzzle room before the showdown with Showdown.


I immediately get a game over on this board because of my habit of using ?-DARK to not have to deal with terrible dark rooms obtain more helpful screenshots for my readers.


The transporter maze wouldn't be all that bad at first glance. Having Showdown say something new when the player happens to run past him is almost a really cool idea, spoiled by the fact that it's just this single "Mwa ha ha ha!!" line. Where it gets annoying is in that warning that it's possible to put yourself into a dead end and be completely trapped, forcing a restart. Since the board is dark, every trip through a new transporter is nothing more than a guess on whether or not you'll be able to return, and the whole challenge of the maze is that by clearing away certain objects the destination of the transporters will change, making it even more difficult to try and follow.


Actually getting through involves finding some switches to make some transporters go from deadly to safe, as well as obtaining this white key to actually be able to reach the very end. Again, the player isn't going to know that this is a goal because of the darkness, and it's definitely possible to run into the white door before knowing there's going to be a key to pick up first.


Showdown is in this very small room and disappears when Gem Hunter tries to interact with him, abandoning his gem and giving Gem Hunter no other way to proceed other than through the passage.


The actual fight can begin proper. I suppose it's hyped up a bit with all the talk about Shuttle Mesa being the most dangerous part of the island, and that you actually got to interact however slightly with Showdown earlier.


It opens interestingly enough, with Showdown beginning the fight by spawning several centipedes. This is noteworthy for a few reasons. Firstly, it uses brown as one of the colors. This is done simply by first putting a torch down, and then putting a centipede segment without a specified color causing it to use the color of the tile its overwriting. It's odd to actually see this used since the colors have no impact on centipede behavior, and none of the other colors used really go with it? It's just an unusual choice to put in that extra effort.

Secondly, is the fact that we're spawning centipedes here piece by piece! I'm certain other games have done this before, but usually centipedes don't get spawned when creating creatures during gameplay. As long as the object placing the centipede head places segments fast enough, they'll wind up connecting. So don't forget you can summon giant bugs in your own ZZT worlds!

After the centipedes have been constructed, Showdown begins the fight proper with the usual mixture of moving and shooting towards the player for a bit, with a few steps in random directions to mix it up a little. His health bar up top depletes with every shot, and while there are bombs around the room, they do as much damage as bullets, so it's not really worth the effort.

Wait, actually the bombs are hilariously powerful if you're clever about it. Showdown's health is depleted by damaging showdown and causing an object to shoot away at some breakable walls. You can use the bombs up top there as well as pushing some of the lower ones to the top of the screen to have bombs destroy all those breakables and then defeat Showdown with a single bullet. This is unintentionally the best boss mechanic I've ever seen. The crossing of HUD and gameplay area like this would be brilliant if it was done purposely. Instead Tseng stumbles into avant-garde without even trying.


Nothing much happens once he's defeated. He flickers characters a bit, erases any surviving centipedes, and opens up the exits before turning into a gem. Like most characters in this game, he's there and the player is supposed to sort of recognize them in some way, but there's no real personality. He's just the boss of Shuttle Mesa who gets killed for the sake of making progress.

The exits opening mean that the player now has a fast way to return to this board (and skip the transporter maze) with a direct connection to Bandit Camp. The other newly opened path leads to the next boss.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
WARLORD: G'ah. You beat Showdown.


WARLORD: Shut up. You know that joke's as
old as this Mesa.

GEM HUNTER: What the hell are you up to?

WARLORD: My boss built this old shuttle
many years ago... and today, we're going
to launch it, effectively destroying this
entire island, and its inhabitants.

GEM HUNTER: Crud. There goes my next

WARLORD: Shut up, fool! No one was
supposed to get in here... let alone meet
my boss.

GEM HUNTER: You moron. Everyone who's
played the original Gem Hunter knows that
your boss is named Espionage.

WARLORD: Him? G'ah. It isn't him this


WARLORD: I've had enough of this.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Next up is Warlord. I do have to admit I like the names of these villains even if we don't really get to learn anything about them. Warlord, Showdown, Espionage, they all do a good job of at least sounding like intimidating bosses. Warlord explains that the shuttle of Shuttle Mesa is going to be launching and the process will destroy the island and all its inhabitants.

There's also the change from the original of the mysterious Espionage not being the final boss. When the true final boss is revealed it will be completely underwhelming because nobody who isn't familiar with the sequel will have any idea who they are, though that would apply just as well to Espionage. Maybe I'm being a bit harsh, and somebody who played the original and tried the remake after having played it as well as Gem Hunter 2 could very well have a meaningful surprise coming up.


Warlord's pattern is about as simple as it gets for the first few seconds of the fight:

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
#go seek
#shoot seek
#zap attack
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Literally just rushing the player and shooting at them. Eventually the loop breaks (yes this is what a loop in ZZT-OOP looks like) and he mixes it up a little by throwing a few stars at the player which would be very annoying if they didn't almost immediately get turned into centipede heads before the original loop begins anew.

After being shot 8 times he dies and leaves us with this excellent line


I love it.


The cave finally ends and Gem Hunter returns to daylight, just outside some sort of temple. If you expected a third boss in three boards, guess again. Our third boss will be on the _fourth_ board.


Showdown got to be intimidating by virtue of taunting at the player during the maze and being the first battle of the mesa. Warlord got to be intimidating by revealing the evil plot to destroy the entire island. Kamakazie just wants an easy paycheck.


Kamakazie is also split up into two looping patterns, the first, a rather silly tactic of stepping towards the player once and then shooting in all four directions. The player has to make some very wide dodges of the one bullet that actually gets shot towards Gem Hunter if he's going to get hit by the other three at all. His second tactic lives up more to his namesake, charging at the player and shooting towards them, but it's no different than what Showdown did moments ago.


Kamakazie's death animation consists of some red slimes spreading some blood around the screen. With him gone there's only one boss left.


This mysterious final opponent wastes no time in revealing himself (especially if you look at the object's name and see it right away).


"Back from the dead on the anniversary of the night we all betrayed him" is absolutely a phrase I always loved and wished I could work into conversation (via jokes, not betrayal and receiving a future comeuppance) more often. Apparently it's from a Far Side comic.

Aric, plays more of a role in Gem Hunter 2. I am a bit fascinated by the way the remake of a part one is designed to played after playing part two. It's a really unusual way of handling things, and if the original game wasn't such a pain to play, it would probably be pretty neat to actually play this series in its true chronological order. Gem Hunter 2 also has a special edition variant, released after Gem Hunter 3 and I wonder if it's the same way there. (At a glance, the two Gem Hunter 2 games out there look extremely similar, so I don't think there's as heavy of an overhaul as here.)

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
GEM HUNTER: Uhh... isn't that the blue
jewel the Boys in Blue were going after?

ARIC: Yes. You see, in about two minutes,
that thing will shatter, and this ship
will take off.


ARIC: Yup. We're gonna destroy the earth.

GEM HUNTER: ...How original.

ARIC: Shut up.

GEM HUNTER: No. You shut up. I'm about to
kick your ass off this god damn mountain-

ARIC: Ship.

GEM HUNTER ...ship, and bring your ass

ARIC: You can't stop the Evil Weasel

GEM HUNTER: Quit talking and fight.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

I don't know why Gem Hunter has such a hard time grasping that this place is going to be launched into space still. Especially since, again, he's also not from Earth. Also the jewel the Boys in Blue mentioned wanting to get was supposed to be silver rather than blue.

Aric manages to be the simplest boss yet with just a loop of moving towards the player and shooting towards them. Still, there's some variety present as when he's shot he does a few one time attack variants beginning with some sporadic movements to try and dodge additional bullets, to throwing stars, to shooting in every direction.

He also takes a very long time to kill as he's actually invulnerable until he stops moving and starts shooting. There's zero indication this is the case during the fight itself, and its only after performing a code dive that I realize his health lets him survive until he's shot 25 times. That's a lot under normal circumstances, but here it's long enough that you'll likely suspect there's a bug in the code preventing the fight from advancing.


He doesn't say much when defeated, and the game uses a quirk of ZZT to move the player to the end cutscene.


When it comes to getting the player off of a board in a ZZT game, there's the obvious methods of unblocking board exits or unblocking a passage, as well as the more advanced techniques of duplicating a passage on top of a player clone to force the board to change or just placing a player clone somewhere surrounded by passages so that the player's next step warps them, Tseng takes a very esoteric approach here.

A funny looking green thing appears and has to be touched from the south. This is because the funny looking green thing is actually a board edge element! The board is connected to this one to the north, and the edge can be created in ZZT-OOP despite not having an internal name to refer to it by. Simply using #put <dir> without specifying an element name winds up matching the blank name given to the board edge, the first unnamed element. It's a very fortunate coincidence, though one that very rarely is of any use.


The camera zooms out a bit for the ending cutscene. You may have noticed that none of the gems collected are actually of any importance. It's all or nothing for which ending you get, and if you are getting them all, it's critical to turn back before this last fight since there is no way back.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
ARIC: Damn...

GEM HUNTER: It's over, Aric.

ARIC: Mwahahahahahaha. Do you think?

GEM HUNTER: Crud. You coward!! You're just
going to get away?

ARIC: Yep!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
GEM HUNTER: G'ah. Tseng and his gratitious

KIM: Hey! Gem Hunter!

GEM HUNTER: Huh? Oh, you.

KIM: Gem Master's upset with you because
you didn't complete your mission.

GEM HUNTER: ..I got my revenge.

KIM: True.

GEM HUNTER: Apparently, this mesa is
actually some sort of alien spacecraft.

KIM: Hmm... that might be worth something
to Gem Master. I'll go tell him.

GEM HUNTER: Damn helicopter. I guess I'd
better take care of this problem.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

And so Aric's escape is foiled by jumping into helicopter blades, and then the helicopter is shot down by a single bullet from Gem Hunter. His mission was a failure, but he did manage to get revenge on Aric for the things he did in the sequel that haven't happened yet but also kind of have happened? Somebody needs to make a Zelda timeline for this series.


Shooting the copter causes the screen to fade to black and reveals the end text.


The credits are the usual. There was a bit of music throughout the game, but it's honestly pretty forgettable. It's not bad by any means, and King Og was definitely a go to musician in the late 90s for ZZT music, but I don't feel like any of the themes really stand out at all.


Now this is some confusing text because there already is a sequel to this game! For once the planned sequel actually happens, except it's not "Gem Hunter: Emerald Lagoon", it's... "Austin Powers: The Sequel To Gem Hunter".

Statis Qube however does follow ZZT tradition in never being finished.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
VOICE: Blantant Plug Time! This is what
I'll tell you about Gem Hunter II.

M o r e  b o s s e s !
5% more humor than this one!
I t ' s  O w n  F o n t !
M e n u  S y s t e m !
Larger Land Mass than the Isle
Gem Hunting becomes optional. You get a
better ending if you collect all 40!
B l o w  S t u f f  U p !
Guest appearances by regulars at
# d a r k d i g i t a l !
Yay! Now, hit ESC or Enter to end the
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Also weird is the feature list for Gem Hunter II because it doesn't have a font so this text is not necessarily accurate.

So that's Gem Hunter as anybody without a guide will see it, but despite my best efforts, I still missed out on 9 gems. Time to see where they are.

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