Flame Frost BladeBy: Flatcoat Lab
Published Under: Interactive Fantasies
Released: March 03, 1999
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Now we get into the reason for this article in the first place. All it took was the Worlds of ZZT Twitter bot tweeting a hidden board from this demo to make me want to go back to it. Unlike all the other demos I decided to take a look at, the demo for Flame Frost Blade is the only one I played when it was relevant. FFB is one of the earliest titles I remember looking forward to as a child in the ZZT community in the late 90s, and I wasn't alone. It's an RPG of course, and the titular sword is a magical blade that's half-fire half-ice. This game definitely had some hype going for it. Even before the demo people were anticipating its release.
Revisiting it now though, I have no idea why.
Probably Features in the full game.
Health: Staying healthy in this game is
crutile. Your health is represented by the
health on the default status bar.
Enemy health is measured by ammo.
Healing potions are Torches (max of 5)
Gems are money, so it's not important for
fighting. I mean it's not like Magus is
gonna buy the enemy's weapon from him. :)
And Mana is Score.
Stamina: The bars under the names gradualy
gradually fill up with boulders, when your
bar is full, you can attack. The same
with the enemy.
Taunts: Magus taunts the enemy. But it
takes up time, so he'll do an attack
so the time's not waisted.
Potions: Healing potions are a good thing
to get and use. They fill up 20 health.
Magus can only carry 5 at a time.
Attack: Magus will attack with his staff.
various techniques will be learned in the
Magic: Over the course of the game Magus
will be able to learn several spells,
but they take score per spell.
Enemies: Enemies have different classes,
races, and spells too.
Classes depend on which spells can be used
and how much health and stamina the enemy
has. Spells are adapted to the class.
(eg. Rangers use nature magic)
Races also play a part in Health/Stamina.
• • • • • • • • •
Oh no, I went back to a thing I remembered enjoying as a child only to realize it's not good at all. Well, as far as the coding goes.
Visually, I quite liked the demo for Flame Frost Blade. I've seen countless towns in ZZT, and this one stood out with its unique long and narrow shape across two boards. The zooming in and out for scale also shows some thought to the game's design. While that's about all the praise I can really offer it, it's actually really good in that aspect. Lab is spending all his time trying to get you excited for a mediocre and unbalanced RPG combat system and story that isn't there when he's doing some very good work in the graphics department and not uttering a word about the demo's one real strength.
By the late 90s there's this obsession with RPGs in ZZT. It's the genre to tell your grand story in, show off your incredible coding skills in the battle systems, and plays nicely with ZZT's overhead perspective of grid based movement. Almost without fail, they hold up terribly. Most promise so much and do so little. Flame Frost Blade is no exception. The sole innovation on display here is the ability to make Magus say "Bastard". Perhaps in 1999 this meant a tough character full of rage who gets things done, but nowadays it's just silly teenage writing. Land of Gannon had the benefit that players were likely already familiar with the Zelda characters and have the luxury of filling in the blanks when the game fell short. Jurassic Park ZZT also had something to fall back on, but Flatcoat Lab wanted to create something entirely original.
And hell, not to claim that making a Zelda or Jurassic Park isn't valid, but Lab was the one taking on the more daunting task here. The problem is he doesn't seem to rise to the additional challenge at all. Nobody has any knowledge of this world, its inhabitants, or its rules except for Lab, who does a miserable job letting anybody else into this world of his. I get that the sword is powerful and magic, but I don't know what happens if somebody manages to lay claim to it. Throwing out the name "Ackbar" at the end is a meaningless gesture. Nobody knows who that is. Nobody knows why it matters.
I was about to say I'm more interested in that guy on the bridge Magus couldn't talk with, and sure enough they do have dialog coded. His name is Joe, and he says "That suketh eggs" at one point making him my new favorite character.
I complain about how blank everything is, and I'm honestly curious if there was another demo at one point that's been lost or something because I swear I remember there being more about the sword itself and finding it really cool as a kid, absolutely looking forward to the full game. The obvious answer is that I was a dumb child, but I feel like there had to be more for the game to stick with me all these years. By 1999 I was well aware of ZZT RPGs and nothing else in this game would have really surprised me. Yet somehow I had the impression for the past 20 years that Flame Frost Blade was a cool RPG that never got finished.
It's definitely not.