Gem Hunter 2

Author
tseng
Released
Oct. 3, 1998
Genre
Adventure
Size
64.5 KB
Boards
67 / 73
Rating
No rating

Closer Look: Gem Hunter 2

By: Dr. Dos
Published: Aug. 10, 2021

Creative boss fights and a non-linear urban exploration put this sequel ahead, but the flaws remain unfixed. Agh.

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It's my turn to pick a ZZT game!!!! After getting lumped with two two-parters in a row via Closer Look poll winners, I was looking forward to getting to pick something again. Then when one of those winners meant the generally painful experience of playing the LandLand games I wanted to pick something that I might actually enjoy playing. After dropping numerous subconscious hints and baring my psyche through subtle "examples" of possible stream suggestions I decided it was time to take matters into my own hands and return to Tseng's Gem Hunter series.

It's been quite some time since I played through the remake of the original way back in early 2018. There I found myself overall enjoying it despite having some issues with its oversized cast, some way too obtuse gems to hunt, and its actually rather linear structure which made searching for gems that were missed often involve going through a significant number of boards to get where the player needed to be.

Since then I've also tackled the rather ambitious and shockingly capable ZZT parody of Squaresoft's 1998 PlayStation RPG Parasite Eve known as November Eve. Here the giant cast got some time to shine, the RPG engine worked well enough (despite being a bit slow), and there was a clear demonstration of Tseng's improvement at the skill of making ZZT games.

Gem Hunter 2 aka.... Austin Powers (because why not call it that) fills in the gap both in the overarching story of Tseng's games as well as his confidence in his abilities. While GH: Special Edition feels like a more old fashioned ZZT world, its sequel fits in much more with its peers of the late 90s. Tseng brings his idea of hunting down gems hidden throughout a sprawling world and this time does a better job of it. The world is bigger yet more accessible. The dialog is kept far more brief (usually). The colorful island adventure gives way for a more "mature" setting of a sprawling urban environment that these dozens of angry people with guns feel far more at home in. This is a sequel that gives the ZZT community of its time exactly what they were asking for in an adventure. Fewer lions and more commentary about why MTV doesn't know a thing about good music.

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Gem Hunter 2

By: tseng
Published Under: Damage Inc.
Released: October 10, 1998
Played Using: ClassicZoo v4.13 via Zeta v34
Download | Play Online | View Files

With the original Gem Hunter I went with the "Special Edition" as the original has a reputation of being almost(?) unplayably buggy. For its sequel I stuck to the original release having more confidence that Tseng could create something without any game-breaking errors. Let's see if my hunch was right.

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Why is this game called Austin Powers anyway? Are we so lucky as to have a cultural artifact that is a ZZT parody of the Austin Powers film series?. Sadly, no. Tseng just really likes giving his modern sci-fi games that hardly subtle references to names of people and things in pop culture. More often than not that is done by just reversing the name. For one such example the third game takes place on "Snilloc Lihp".

Here it's just the name of the city our protagonist Gem Hunter will be exploring.

Our opening title screen is pretty simple with some lettering on a blue gradient and some very round yellow gems. This game is specifically about getting silver gems so I don't get why that color was chosen.

Along the bottom a short looping marquee scrolls by repeating the title and crediting the game to Tseng McQueen before spending a moment to say "I hate these things, don't you?"

Any rumors that this game will continue Tseng's brand of self-deprecating humor are quickly put to rest.

There's also some pretty decent title music! Gem Hunter 2 has a handful of songs contained within. Tseng himself didn't do the compositions, a task relegated to prominent ZZT musicians of the era Kev Carter and King Og.

Take a listen to the opening theme if you will!

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The game opens to a small menu with a great example of Tseng's graphical abilities. Namely, some stiffly posed guys with interchangeable body parts. These art boards are entirely absent in the original and don't really get a time to shine until November Eve. With gradients so basic that they'd eventually become easily replicated via the editor ZZTAE's fade tool there's nothing here that's going to blow you away, but it gets the message across and shows that Tseng is willing to put in some genuine effort to the game's presentation.

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The opening note is absolutely massive, taking up more than 5700 bytes of space on a board that uses 8300 total. We both have things to do with our lives so let me be brief about it.

Firstly and most importantly we get the timeline of the Gem Hunter series filled in a little better. The scroll mentions this game being released after the success of the first game's special edition. The preserved copy of GH1:SE is a version 1.5 update which is dated after this game so there's definitely an earlier release out there somewhere.

Second, some actual backstory that Tseng admits the original never bothered going into. Gem Hunter is an intergalactic treasure hunter who went to Earth after his brother died there. He met a whole bunch of jerks who were responsible. He also met Kim the island guide who rules and tragically plays a very small role in this sequel. Kim convinces Gem Hunter to take her with him and six months later the two are on his home planet of "da hood" in search of a ride to another planet to complete a new mission after his ship was destroyed. Uh, there are no details on what happened with his ship being destroyed.

Scroll
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
--==/+ no thanks to +\==--
mtv - their music video awards suck ass.
who else would have the brian setzer
orchestra and the backstreet boys
performing? and who else would have
aerosmith win best video from a film
instead of puff daddy? at least they had
the intelligence of giving wyclef best
r&b video... (i actually held a knife to
carson daly's throat)

jd - thinks the beegees suck ass. i'm a
s'porter of the first amendment... unless
you insult my favorite band.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Credits are also provided along with some important information about how bad the MTV music video awards are. Some official Tseng approved music is listed at the end as well with the inclusion of music listened to during the creation of the game, something that became an unspoken tradition when creating 24 Hours of ZZT contest entries, but not something you come across all the much outside of it. Wyclef Jean's "Gone 'Till November" is listed here too, which served as the origin of the title November Eve

(And for those interest in doing some archaeology the members of Damage Inc. are listed with quite a few Xoom hosted websites.)

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The cast board is something else. This really demonstrates the house-style of Tseng with all the boys being exactly the same height and having the same cookie-cutter legs. We've got our hero and protagonist Gem Hunter, his evil nemesis Aric, his traveling (and romantic?) partner Kim, Espionage who with a name like that you already know is evil, and fan-favorite "Master Walnut" who likes to rant about things and say "Go to hell".

Somehow I have to be the one to provide that information to you as the scroll on this board is mysteriously blank, and the passage leads to itself, immediately requiring that the game be restarted.

It ain't a good look, and it's not going to be the only easily found bug that gets missed, but Gem Hunter 2 is most assuredly _not_ LandLand 2. The overall experience is one where bugs won't be sabotaging the game every step of the way.

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One thing I like about Tseng's games is the splitting of intro cinemas. I'm not sure if it's something he included to benefit extra playthroughs (after all you get a good ending if you get every last gem) or just so impatient players can get right to it.It adds a little prestige to them to me though to make them something that the player has to actively commit to participating in. They feel like a little bonus that Tseng didn't have to include but chose to anyway.

KIM: Is... this the planet you're from?

GEM HUNTER: Yeah. We're only passing
through, though. I've been hired to find
some gold gems in an underground city in
the desert planet of Seegeeb.

KIM: Hmmm... so where exactly are we?

GEM HUNTER: Milda Space Port, in Austin
Powers.

KIM: This brings me to another question...
Who was that guy that tried to jump off
the Shuttle Mesa back on Earth?

GEM HUNTER: Aric. He was the leader of the
Evil Weasel corporation here in Da Hood.

KIM: He's from here, too?

RED GUY: That's right.

GEM HUNTER: ...Hey. I remember you. You're
Espionage!

ESPIONAGE: Yup. I'm here to make your life
a living hell.

GEM HUNTER: Yeah, well, you're without
your pathetic armor... which brings me to
a question. Why are you still alive?

ESPIONAGE: ...I don't know. Tseng must've
needed someone to help Aric again.

GEM HUNTER: AGAIN? You mean, after he gets
cut to ribbons by a damn helicopter.. he's
still alive?

ESPIONAGE: Tseng and his plotholes.

GEM HUNTER: ...Oh.

ESPIONAGE: I'd love to continue this
conversation, but Aric has some sort of
schedule that he keeps me on. So me and
Walnut will leave, and you'll deal with
Keno and Kudo. Have a nice day.

The cut-scene is your usual November Eve fare with a little bit of movement and a lot of talking. The amount of time spent in cut-scenes in NE is undoubtedly what makes it tough to recommend today so I'm glad that Tseng keeps these moment to a minimum in this game.

We meet our main cast. A curious Kim who got to leave Earth for the first time to travel with Gem Hunter before the duo is accosted by Espionage who gets right to the point about making Gem Hunter's life a living hell.

Plus the old "Tseng and his plotholes!!!" standby. In a world where it seems no story can be self-contained, it's honestly kind of nice to just be told that Aric's back because otherwise there wouldn't be a game here. He died. He got better.

Some lengthy notes included in the Gem Hunter Anthology collection actually provide some much better justification for this with the abandoned Gem Hunter RPG taking place between the first two released games in the Gem Hunter series and just so happens to be about the plan to revive Aric. Tseng's not trying to explain everything in his little universe here though. He's just trying to get you to pick up some gems and have arguments with characters escalate into gunfights.

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While all this dialog is going on, Keno and Kudo also get up from the bench to keep Gem Hunter busy while Espionage and Master Walnut grab Kim and run off.

It kind of sucks for Kim to be damseled like this. In the first game she's very much a badass character famous for being the only person to explore the entire island as well as the only person to venture into Shuttle Mesa and return alive. Tseng does a surprisingly good job with his female characters overall. For a ZZT community dominated with straight teenage boys having characters like Kim and Anita be competent and equally as capable as any of the boys while also not relegating them to be the hero's reward is pretty nice. Kim gets a raw deal here and won't be showing up again until the very end of the game.

Oh well, at least she'll get to save this entire planet in November Eve thanks to her shitty mitochondria.

GEM HUNTER: Dammit!

KENO: Huheh. It's two against one! The
odds are against you!

KUDO: Yeah!

GEM HUNTER: You Evil Weasel people are
starting to piss me off.

KENO: So?! What're you gonna do about it?

GEM HUNTER: This.
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These games remain power fantasies at heart with Gem Hunter effortlessly gunning down anybody who gets in his way. Unlike Aric who's survival is notable and commented on, Keno and Kudo exist as literal cannon fodder and die in probably every Tseng release making them more clear-spoken equivalents to then new show South Park's Kenny.

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Kudo seems to give up the ghost rather literally with a spectral looking body appearing above his corpse, though in-universe it's more clear to Gem Hunter that this isn't a ghost, but Aric speaking via a holographic communicator.

GEM HUNTER: Wow, Aric. Cute toy.

ARIC: Yeah yeah. Whatever. But we now have
you little girlfriend. Whattya gonna do
about it?

GEM HUNTER: See this gun? See this gun?
I'm gonna shove it up your ass and make
sure you never have kids again.

I'm not... I don't... That's... probably... well, I don't think that's how it works. Or maybe it does. Da hoodian biology is not identical to humans after all.

ARIC: Yeah, whatever. Since you call
yourself "Gem Hunter", I s'pose we could
play a little game... you see... there are
42 Silver Gems hidden in this city. I want
you to find them...

And if you don't... I'm sending you your
girlfriend in pieces. Have a nice day.

All of this just amounts to a petty revenge story for Aric who is none too pleased about having been thrown into a helicopter's blades. Really we're just playing Gem Hunter's Bad Fur Day. Today it seems like everybody is out to kill this man because they do not like him very much.

That's all you need though. Gem Hunter just knows it's going to be a lousy day now and he's tired of it already. Although the romance between Kim and Gem Hunter is incredibly understated to the point where I've been under the impression that they weren't an official couple until playing this game, I like that we get to see Gem Hunter does care. There's no regret that he brought her along and has to do all this. No lamenting that he's got to save her now. He's just doing what a reasonable person in a world where all conflicts are solved with guns should do: help those who need it and do so by shooting whoever is causing problems and picking up silver gems along the way.

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The introduction finally ends and returns the player back to the main menu where the only thing left to do is get hunting. This drops Gem Hunter right in the middle of the Milda Spaceport just one screen away from the where Kim was kidnapped.

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I will vouch for this game's humor being pretty good for a twenty year old game. I've had player control for less than a minute and already the game got me to chuckle. Tseng can go a little too trigger-happy when it comes to breaking the fourth wall which is a shame because straddling the line with moments like this are definite highlights. This isn't the cast shit-talking the author or acknowledging that they're in a ZZT game. It's just finding a way for Gem Hunter to speak on behalf of the person controlling them to turn the player's thoughts into actual spoken lines.

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On the west end of the spaceport is a gift shop that will function as the main source for Gem Hunter's supplies until the final act of the game.

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The quantities are just bizarre and feel like a joke to themselves. No regrets though. This is a rare ZZT game where shopping is worth the time spent. Far later on there will be some mandatory purchases if you're after a 100% completion rate, but even then the pricing and amount of gold (represented by score, we can't use gems after all) Tseng provides the player is more than enough.

Like I have to stress. This is a ZZT store that I purposely returned to on multiple occasions bought an adequate amount of ammo, torches, and health to get through the next leg of the game, and had cash to spare. It's very rare to see this all so properly balanced and practical.

Of course, right now Gem Hunter is flat broke so there will be no purchases of 27 bullets. (Alas a "clip" here means one ammo, not the usual ZZT size of ammunition - 5 shots per container.)

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You can return to the scene of the crime as well where a man blocks the way Gem Hunter and Kim came in, but with no witty commentary like the person in the center of the spaceport.

There are three more people on the other bench who witnessed the whole thing and said and did nothing. Generic NPCs? Not a chance. This is a Tseng game. It's everybody favorite trio of boys who sit on benches: The stooges of absentminded.

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It's these guys! Moron, Nimrod, and Side Pocket. Tseng's had an influence on ZZTers of the era to be sure, something perhaps best represented by Knightt's RPG parody series Stupid RPG. I feel like there's a direct parallel in the naming of these characters to the far less favorably named characters in that series, featuring Lance, Jed, Nitwit, and uh F*gnuts.

As usual, this group has little to say and mostly just bolster the cast list.

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Tseng has some unusual design choices here with how to handle the transition of the indoor spaceport to the outside world. Rather than just use a passage, all three boards have exits to the south that just barely take up any space for the spaceport with the exit specifically funneling the player to this point.

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I've talked about how boards that have areas cut off from each other can create a landmark for the player to remember and a goal for them to reach. Here though, everything is just what's directly outside of the spaceport and so there's no feelings raised by this glimpse of outside other than "why even let the player enter this 5x2 corner?"

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The spaceport is a lot larger than it needs to be. Its entire interior could easily fit on just one board with a passage to go outside. I get the feeling that Tseng wanted a large structure because this is a spaceport,

The thing is, I would expect a spaceport to be a busy and crowded place. Even the tiny little local airport I had to fly out of when I was still living in my hometown would always have plenty of people. Instead it's just three guys waiting to leave and three guys working, all across three boards. Really it's six boards with the slightly too large layout. Instead of feeling like a busy place, it seems eerily quiet instead.

This is going to be a running theme with the rest of Austin Powers as well.

The outside is just as empty with Tseng's classic tree design that I hate coming back in full force. I will not apologize for this. Also that road blend's not on my good side either. You can see the "Street" blend in Tseng's own toolkit within the game, but I don't think Tseng is the sole person using dark blue fakes as sidewalk? road? What is tinted blue and why?

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The graphics might not be my favorite, but they're fine really. Tseng's games aren't ones you play for the graphics. No, you're here for the witty writing.

Like this guy who can't remember what happened two minutes ago.

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The original Gem Hunter seems like it wanted to be non-linear with its island having all sorts of unique locations that connect in various ways but ultimately are all blocked off except for one. In Gem Hunter 2 Tseng does a far better job of giving the player the ability to roam as they choose. Austin Powers is is a sprawling environment broken up into seven districts depending on how you want to slice it. These can indeed be explored however the player chooses to navigate the city.

For all my talk about how the spaceport's tiny corners don't really do a good job of highlighting places of interest for the player to want to find out how to reach, I still wound up immediately going right to figure out what the heck this weird structure was.

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It's a monument. Let's find out more about monuments.

Even the options presented give the player a sense of Gem Hunter's personality. He is too cool to learn about monuments, but still curious.

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Be careful! He knows about monuments!

The monuments are what Tseng wants the player to use as navigational aids for the city. I don't think they work for this purpose though since the visual differences between each region are fairly minor and the monuments themselves are found on random boards within those districts. If they were arranged. The central area, McQueen Heights is the main hub with the other regions branching out from it. Perhaps if the first board in each of these other regions had the monument the idea would work better.

I'd prefer a map.

austin-powers-map

Tseng even made one! This map goes unused in the game for some reason which is an absolute shame as it's far more helpful than the monuments could hope to be. Characters will also speak of the regions by name and the names of those areas aren't always directly communicated to the player. If an NPC says that Moronix is dangerous, the player really has no way of knowing how to avoid going there in their travels.

I think a decent compromise would have been to have each of the monuments include a "map" with their historical plaque. Just give the player a passage that takes them to this board and lets them return to where they were headed.

For the truly daring, go so far as to implement fast travel via a map.

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The nearby silver gem isn't hiding particularly well. Unlike the first game, the gems in this one are far easier to spot with a large number of them having twinkling animations that play to indicate their presence. I'm a little conflicted about it. The original definitely suffered by having some gems which got a little absurd like checking Kim's fridge five times. The sparkles make the hunt much more approachable, but perhaps too much so.

The best gems are ones which are hidden but have something for the player to notice to give them a hunch. An odd mark on the wall or a path that can only be accessed from a certain region of the board give the player a way to find the needle in the haystack better than making the needle shimmer.

Despite this change though, there are still plenty of gems which are horribly placed so even with the help Tseng gives the player it still feels pointless to try and 100% the game without using the guide included in the anthology. Both the freebies and the absurdly hidden gems defeat the satisfaction you'd get for finding them.

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While Tseng has a massive number of characters at his disposal he still needs to include these colorful tip masters that provide useful information scattered throughout Austin Powers. Since Tseng's characters are what his games are remembered for, having these incredibly generic guys running around feels really out of place.

Ironically, they take on Kim's role in the original game. Kim is obviously MIA, but with a different plot hook (perhaps have Gem Hunter's ship be stolen rather than exploded off-screen) it would've been a good opportunity to have her reprise that role. Justify it with Kim spending the spaceflight excitedly reading about the alien planet she was about to visit and add some humor at her already being more of an expert on the local culture and geography than the person who was born on this planet.

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Well, at least Tseng admits what this is all about.

Also Stone Cold Steve Austin references because Tseng was a huge wrestling dork and this was Mr. Austin's time to shine.

The other information is really lacking. The bosses are bigger, but Mr. Blue and Mr. Red know more about that. We're in Austin Powers by the Milda spaceport. There are seven guides and this one is obviously Mr. Yellow.

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This is a better way to deal with a glistening gem. You'll have to make a mental note to yourself that there's another gem on this board that can't be reached from here.

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There's also this odd colored part of the fencing that to me would be a good spot to put a gem as it's a bit more conspicuous a spot to have one that's legit hidden.

In actuality, it's just the shadow of the tree. Another tree on the board is doing the same effect but impacting multiple tiles so it seems more natural and doesn't stick out like this one here did.

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In the southwest we run into one of the challenges when creating a network of roads in ZZT. You can't really do moving traffic that well which in more dense urban areas can be worked around with parked cars. In areas with less places of interest on a board you wind up with Schrödinger's gear stick where you can't tell if the still car is meant to represent that there's traffic moving or if it's a car that is actually parked or broken down.

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A key next to a tree turned out to be specifically for a car might make you think that it's for the one here, but that's not the case leaving the mystery of this vehicle's drive/park situation still in limbo.

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Well hopefully a person between two tires of a car is an indicator that the car isn't moving traffic.

I can rag on the car designs all I like too. They're incredibly crude looking especially when by this point in ZZT's history there were countless of other styles to reference. By November Eve they'll look significantly better.

Man
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
MAN: Despite its size, Austin Powers is
not the capital of Da Hood... that island,
Puerto del Agua, is. It's where our leader
Dx2H, lives... DAMMIT! Where the hell did
I put my keys?!

GEM HUNTER: Are these your damn keys?

MAN: Yea.

GEM HUNTER: Lucky you. I could've taken
your car. Heh heh... but considering the
fact that i have a conscience, I didn't do
it.

MAN: Well, if you want something out of
this, forget it.

GEM HUNTER: Aww... please?

MAN: Oh fine. Some walnut guy dropped this
and I thought I'd keep it. Here.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

It's a pretty quick to solve puzzle. The keys are so close to the car which makes some sense but does not make for a satisfying puzzle. If you approach it keys first it's completely pointless and if you approach it car first you're going to move to the board with the keys next and just immediately have to turn around.

I do like the insights into Gem Hunter's personality revealed here. He wants to be the tough guy who was _this_ close to stealing somebody's car, but when the man doesn't play along with the act he immediately shifts to gears to being helpless in hopes of getting something out of it.

It's very rare for non-named NPCs to stand up to named ones like this and get away with it. Not that I think Gem Hunter is the kind of person who would find some keys and think "free car", just that even when he's helping somebody out like this he still needs to come off as intimidating to maintain his image.

keys

If you stick around there's a great joke here, but because there's such a long pause between getting the gem and the man realizing the keys aren't his that the player can easily leave the board too quickly and miss it. I only caught this going back to get the transcript of his dialog and missed it in my actual playthrough.

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That's it for the spaceport area. It funnels the player to the south and leads them to McQueen Heights. Now we getting a better idea of Tseng's building designs. In the original Gem Hunter things are much more identical with a sort of tropical tiki hut design used throughout the game. The designs here get more variety though I'm not sure what to make of them. Is that yellow house really big? Does that gray building just have tiny windows?

Although each region is somewhat consistent in building styles, it's really just a mishmash of whatever Tseng felt appropriate for the board. Scale is a big issue throughout the game with even the more urban areas like this being no more populated the undeveloped land outside the spaceport.

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There's a nameless person standing around so it's important for Gem Hunter to be snarky to them.

This guy manages to avoid giving the player information that's useless to them with the heavy lifting being done by "upper left corner". Without any signs or maps that's the only way the player is going to learn that one of the districts is "Moronix".

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Some more dubious design comes in spots like these. This weird red tile stands out and is clearly something the player will want to check out. It's just a plain old solid wall. You might assume it was accidentally placed on the board, but it's just the last tile of a roof for a building on the next screen over for another large house like the one here.

To Tseng's credit this is a very deliberate decision where placing a tile here prevents the player from trying to walk to the connecting board and being blocked. My complaint is just that it's trading one annoyance for another. In a game where you're actively scanning every board for anything amiss that might lead to a gem, having an odd tile like this just draws your attention. I'd much prefer that he just slide his building o the next screen over a bit so that the player can cross freely or slide it over more onto this board so that it's clear that it's part of a building that crosses the screen boundary.

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No complaints about Tseng's interior decorating skill though. The homes he makes look just fine on the inside.

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I wonder if Tseng felt powerful knowing that everybody who played this game was going to touch every single house plant in the entire game.

Spoilers: Despite that being the first thing I did here. I managed to get distracted by the person in the living room and not actually touch the plant here that has a gem.

Francine
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
FRANCINE: Oh! You're Gem Hunter, right?

GEM HUNTER: That's me.

FRANCINE: Okay. One of my brother's
flunkies decided to drop by. Espionage, I
think it was. For some reason, he feels
that the player would drop by my house.
Would you mind getting rid of him?

GEM HUNTER: Don't mind if I do... this
bastard is the reason why I'm dragged into
this game.

FRANCINE: Hmm.. there was something on the
news about Keno and Kudo getting shot at
Milda Space Port, though no one cared.

GEM HUNTER: Oooh! My handywork was on the
news! Woohoo!

FRANCINE: Oh... well, it's easy to kill
Keno and Kudo. And in any case, I was
about to leave to see my cousin, Tyrone.
We'll be visiting IOU.

GEM HUNTER: Wait wait. Tyrone? I know him.
He owns a ship, yes?

FRANCINE: That's right.

GEM HUNTER: Okay, ask him if I can get a
lift to Seegeeb. I have a job there.

FRANCINE: Okay. Time to try this short-
range teleporting trick.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

How lucky that the first home Gem Hunter barged into happens to a home he's welcome in. Francine is the secretary to Gem Master in the original game and gets defined a bit better here where she becomes Tyrone's cousin and the sister of Aric. Espionage has taken control of... the upstairs of a large home. Very evil.

Best of all this ends with the "short-range teleporting trick", a Tseng staple that never fails to make me smile.

teleport

It's this simple little animation that looks great. It will be showing up a few more times throughout the adventure.

For a series where characters are constantly talking about how Tseng is lazy, making this animation back in the day would've been a lot more work than just having Francine take eight steps to the right and one to the south before leaving out the front door. Instead Tseng would have to reference all these ASCII character codes, and when recycling it for other objects there would be no copy/paste available so it would have to be retyped from scratch every time.

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Before doing anything about Espionage upstairs, there's still the rest of the home to sift through for more gems. In Francine's bedroom there's one under a pillow.

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And on the fixture next to it some kind of pink clock. I don't believe that Neutron is one of Tseng's many characters and is possibly a reference to ZZTer "AKNeutron". I do not know if they had a vendetta against pink things. That sounds like the sort of thing one would get comically upset over as some performative masculinity, or maybe it's a dumb gag.

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No gems in the toilet. Or tub. In fact, there's not even a message from anything in the bathroom which feels like a betrayal of ZZT to me.

Resigned, I headed upstairs.

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Okay, this makes Espionage's squatting make a bit more sense. Killing Francine is a bit more villain-like than just not leaving her house.

The "kick your ass from here to Junon" is a staple Tseng line that I'm fairly confident originates in this game. It probably comes as no surprise that somebody calling themselves Tseng in 1998 is a big fan of Final Fantasy 7 which has a town named Junon as well as a villain named Tseng. There's actually some weird FF7 overlap in the Gem Hunter universe as well. This game will outright namedrop it as a game later on while Francine in the original game explains that she took on this secretary job because the island had no Shinra offices. I think the actual overlap of the two games sharing a universe is something scrapped even by this point, but it gives you an idea of the kind of influence the game had on ZZTers of the era.

Oh. And there's still more. ZZTer Madguy of Burger Joint fame steps in. I'm unaware of "Awww nuts" being a catchphrase of his in the community and can only find one such line in Madguy's Todd's Adventure. Still, the "Oh." at the end got another laugh out of me.

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After all that insightful dialog it's time to start the fight.

Every boss battle begins with a non-looping conversion of the boss music from Final Fantasy 7. There's enough lost in translation that I didn't immediately recognize it but after comparing it to the original it's a lot more obvious. Despite the dramatic reduction in fidelity going to single-channel PC speaker audio, it's still a pretty good track.

This was a very challenging fight for me, because I still have no ammo and thus cannot hurt Espionage in his big suit of armor at all.

...I'll get back to this.

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To be fair to Tseng, I was very much warned that Espionage was upstairs so stumbling into the fight was no surprise. I just thought maybe the game would give me some ammo in the fight or something.

Perhaps exploring McQueen Heights a bit more would be better. The pyramid monument, helpfully titled by the plaque as "McQueen's Pyramid", has its nearby gem that shimmers obviously.

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There's also another one of the tip guides here. Mr. Blue has some genuinely important information on who Gem Hunter will be fighting and how to beat them. I'm going to transcribe it all here, but it's definitely a lot more than you need to read yourself.

Mr. Blue
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
The bosses can be anywhere from basic
smilies, to the size of Wisconsin. They
have various attacks, too.

Espionage(1) - McQueen Heights
Espionage and his pesky armor are back.
He has two orbs to avoid you hiding to the
sides.

Master Walnut - Triple Towers
Master Walnut is quick, slippery, and can
hit and run. Gets killed easily.

Cubed Ice & Dr. Erd - Moronix
CI and Dr. Erd have a big robot. It has
various attacks, too.

Stealth - Diner Row
Stealth shoots alot, moves alot, and can
slip out of your hair unnoticed.

Kamakazie - Boys in Blue HQ
Kamakazie can create pre-fab enemies, and
fire lasers and bullets.

Espionage(2) - Evil Weasel Building
Espionage's second form doesn't move, but
it fires alot of shots.

Warlord & Showdown - Evil Weasel Bldng.
Warlord doesn't shoot but he creates alot
of monsters. Showdown shoots alot. It's
likely that Showdown will obliterate
Warlord.

Aric(1) - Evil Weasel Building
Aric is stastically the same as his GH:SE
incarnation. Slippery, hard to hit, and
fires alot of bullets. Luckily, you have
no time limit...

Aric(2) - Milda Space Port
To save Kim, you must fight Aric at the
Space Port, when you get 42 gems.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Firstly, I love Tseng's writing here with bosses ranging in size from smiley to Wisconsin. That's great.

Secondly, also amused by the admission that in the Warlord and Showdown fight that one of the bosses will likely kill the other for you.

Mr. Blue 169
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Espionage(1)
If you didn't know this from GH, here's
how. Shoot the left foot whenever it makes
a centipede.

Master Walnut
Just shoot at him. He's the easiest boss
in the game.

Cubed Ice & Dr. Erd
Next to Espionage's second form and Aric's
second form, this is a bit complicated.
Shoot the flashing blue spot on the
shoulder until Cubed says that the gun is
jammed. Shoot the eye whenever this
happens. Repeat until it dies.

Stealth
Stealth is not harmed by your shots, so
your stratagy is to get him to stand on
the blue spot in the restraunt, which will
activate the cheese shreader. One less
Stealth...

Kamakazie
Kamakazie's weak point move alot, but if
you rebound bullets into it using those
handy ricochets that i provided you with.
Watch out for his soda can bombs and laser
blasts, though.

Espionage(2)
Espionage summons the inate abilites of
his race to become a big woodchuck. Your
bullets can't hurt him. So how do you beat
him? Rebound a couple of bullets into the
disco ball. It'll create strobe flashes
that'll blind the woodchuck. Repeat this
until he becomes Espionage again. Then
shoot him until he dies.

Warlord & Showdown
Warlord runs around creating monsters, but
he can't hurt you himself. Showdown will
get right in your face and shoot you. To
beat them, kill Showdown, then Warlord.

Aric(1)
Aric's first form is exactly the same as
the one you fought back in GH:SE's Shuttle
Mesa. You should just shoot him.

Aric(2)
Oh darn. I seemed to have misplaced my
notes about him. Sorry.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Then we have the weakness guide. The boss descriptions are short enough that they probably should have been merged into one long list, though I suppose this gives the player a chance to fight the bosses without any idea how to defeat them and see if they can figure things out themselves.

I, however, am no longer an elementary schooler with endless time, and I'm happy to spoil myself. I really appreciate Tseng including this information because quite a lot of other ZZT games wouldn't. Tseng's boss fights are what he became famous for and this is definitely the game that earned him that reputation. They definitely don't work as well as I'm sure Tseng was imagining all these fights, but they still feel quite creative to this day. I'll take a bit of jank and an original concept over moving and shooting randomly and endlessly any day.

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Of course I can't fight any of these great bosses until I find some ammo. Perhaps Tseng should have called this game AMMO Hunter. (Get it?)

Wandering around a bit leads out of McQueen Heights and east into Triple Towers. Here the buildings are these big featureless red circular things.

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Its monument is the Twin Pools where tip guide Mr. Cyan is currently doing some swimming.

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Unlike his comrades, he is not helpful at all.

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And despite me falling for a shadow again, there aren't any gems here either which may or may not break the rule the first monument taught that there's always one nearby.

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This is the board directly above the pools and here's a gem. Is this supposed to be the pool gem? I have no idea if this counts. The layout of the trees here means that you can only reach this gem by coming from the pools or a single tile to the west which at least means that there's a gem that requires some thoughtful navigation to reach.

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And west leads to the one tower you can enter. The shape of these buildings really doesn't seem very tower-y. I think the skyscrapers in McQueen Heights were taller. Having these buildings be so wide makes them feel more like domes to me.

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The interior is more tower shaped getting narrower as you go up in floors. Not that you can see because I only took screenshots with a text window open here. Without any ammo still venturing inside here just yet isn't going to accomplish much of anything.

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