The NL ZZT/MZX Newsletter Archive

By: Dr. Dos
Published: Aug. 20, 2021

A release of more than a dozen issues of a ZZT and MZX newsletter

While Beth Daggert's ZZT Newsletters and Epic MegaGames brought us a look at the beginning of ZZT's history today's artifacts provide tremendous insights into another ill-preserved era: The mid 1990s.

Brought to us as a donation from DeadPhrog's own archives, the NL was a ZZT and MegaZeux focused newsletter ran by a small staff that accepted guest contributions. It also seems to have found a good bit of success. Starting in late 1994 and continuing through what looks to be 1997 it's a treasure trove of details about the various companies, games, and changes the ZZT and MZX communities were going through.

Reading them all from beginning to end, what stuck out most to me is just how much of an impact MZX had on the ZZT scene in its day. The 1996 issues all proclaim the year to be "The Year of MegaZeux" and from the articles within, it's a fair label! While ZZT games hardly stopped, there's a recurring theory that the ZZTers who were capable authors were all moving to MZX where ZZT's limits have always been significantly relaxed in comparison. At the same time ZZT reviews have a strong focus on the "garbage" games. Constant "F minus" grades are passed out which as harsh as they are, don't really come off as surprising given some of the titles reviewed. The rule of thumb is that because of MegaZeux's higher barrier to entry, the people making bad ZZT games won't be able to make MegaZeux games at all.

Ironically however because of the vastly widened scopes of MegaZeux projects, the challenge of actually finishing one becomes an issue as well with newsletters talking about how it seems that there are so few games to review while everybody is thirty percent complete with their own games. You can see progress updates mentioning frequent restarts, desperate calls for musicians, and confessions of having done too much work to change gameplay mechanics that are already dated. MegaZeux itself is getting regular updates allowing more functionality within its Robotic language and expanding and optimizing its sound system. The ever increasing power leads to a case where everybody's stunning technical feats stop being impressive before release.

On occasion, a well-made ZZT world does get noticed. Matt William's Coolness gets a lot of well-deserved attention and shows that despite what some are thinking, ZZT isn't dead yet. (Little do the staff know that a few them will be on the Museum of ZZT's Discord server twenty-five years later.) Classic games like Yapok Sundria get reviews about nearly giving up on the game immediately due to a yellow bordered starting room. A not yet united ZZT community spread across AOL, Prodigy, CompuServe, and the greater Internet mean that other ZZT hits of 1996 including Nightmare and Ned the Knight go entirely unnoticed.

The ZZT community on AOL is shown to have plenty of issues itself. Early issues ask readers to email AOL about the creation of a dedicated ZZT/MZX forum as right now it's lumped in with PC gaming (going by the "source" fields of where to download most reviewed games). Later on uploads are incredibly backed up with ZZTers trying to find ways to actually get their games out there, asking people to email them for copies, or celebrating AOL accounts being given a small amount of personal FTP space to host their own files. These delays probably weren't doing any of the more skilled ZZTers releasing quality titles that year any favors.

And of course, there's plenty of humor in the ways which it's dated if you just want a few quick laughs. Please upload a version of your MegaZeux worlds without any of the sound files, it makes the downloads take significantly longer and not everybody has a Sound Blaster after all! One issue contains a list of game design sins with one of the editors constantly butting in with personal asides in disagreement. Every game started seems to be twice the size of the biggest game before it. There's a whole article about beta testing AOL for Windows 95 and how it compares to the Windows 3.1 version. Ambitious high schoolers begin work on first person shooters, promising to make good computer art and not tacky "photographs of the dev team in costumes instead of REAL actors", digging into Rise of the Triad. And they're not "first person shooters" or even "Doom clones", but "Corridor games". Some of the writing in the numerous reviews can be quite amusing as well, sometimes even more-so knowing what kind of careers some of them went on to have working with mainstream gaming news outlets.

As a side note, these newsletters contain plenty of ASCII art headers and as such are displayed with a Code Page 437 font by default for greater accuracy as to what these newsletters were intended to look like. However, there's a good reason why we cp437 isn't the monospace font any longer. On modern displays it can be quite rough on the eyes and as such these articles all have a font selection at the top allowing you change to something that still displays the ASCII art, just not quite as seamlessly while being a lot less harsh to stare at for prolonged periods.

All The Issues

Alternatively, you may choose to download a zip containing the raw text files.

The NL Issue Guide

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The NL - Issues 1-4

Author
Various
Date
Unknown
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: ZZT reviews, MZX troubleshooting, MZX Previews, Mission: Enigma Walkthroguh, Petitoning AOL for a ZZT/MZX forum, ASCII Smiley faces, and more

Lucky for us, while we don't have the original original releases, we have this convenient compilation that was released for folks who missed out on the original run. The four-in-one format of this makes it significantly longer than any of the other sub-articles in this collection.

Issue #1

Issue #2

Issue #3

Issue #4

* There's not enough information here to say if this is Dungeons of Doom, Dungeon of Doom, or something else entirely.

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The NL - Volume 2 Issue 1

Author
Various
Date
Unknown
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: HOTwired, The Good The Bad and the Yellow Bordered, MZX Previews, Mission: Enigma Walkthrough

"Games to look out for" is a list of games to avoid. "Games to get" is a list of games to look out for so you can get them.

For some extreme 90s pop culture, check out the desperate puns of the Batman Forever parody Batman foreclosure preview. They are some impressive stretches.

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The NL - Volume 2 Issue 2

Author
Various
Date
Unknown
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: Chris Part 2 Walkthrough, Ultraware Previews, The Critic Corner, The Good The Bad and the Yellow-Bordered

This is the issue mentioned in the introduction where Yapok-Sundria is almost casually discarded because of a yellow border when the game would go on to have a legacy as a ZZT classic.

* The reviewed version of Yapok-Sundria implies an earlier version that has yellow borders on the starting board. The earliest preserved version has them removed and potentially other more substantial changes.

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The NL - Volume 2 Issue 3 (The Issue for Windows)

Author
Various
Date
Oct. 31, 1995
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: Sez Me, The Critic Corner, The School Blues, The Good The Bad and the Yellow-Bordered

ZZT is dying! And it's all MegaZeux's fault with its "ice" and its "lava" and its "player that changes appearance based on the direction they're facing".

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The NL - Volume 2 Issues 4 (The Thanksgiving and Christmas Special)

Author
Various
Date
Dec. 31, 1995
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: NL NeWz, The Critic Corner

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The NL - Volume 3 Issue 1 (The happy NL Year issue)

Author
Various
Date
Jan. 31, 1996
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: HOTwired, Company Drama, Alexis Janson Profile, The Critic Corner

Some community drama in this one where Zzturbo/Zpower defends their games after receiving poor scores while the NL staff mentions boards being stolen from other ZZT worlds. There's a pretty generic profile on Janson that reveals information like "enjoys RPG games" and "plays Magic The Gathering".

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The NL - Volume 3 Issue 2 (The Unavailing Issue)

Author
Various
Date
Jan. 31, 1996
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: Alexis Jason Retires From ZZT, Games To Look Out For, About Link's Chaotic Adventure, ZZT and MZX News Monthly, NL NeWz, The Critic Corner

Some non-first-hand information from Alexis Janson about where to get her ZZT games, retiring from making more ZZT games, the MegaZeux contest, and why ZZT board importing was removed from newer releases of MegaZeux.

On the sad side of archiving, this issue came with a preview for Link's Chaotic Adventure, which while preserved on DigitalMZX, E. CyberBRO states that the preview has 21 boards compared to the current unfinished, unreleased, and unpreserved version with 105!

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The NL - Volume 3 Issue 3 (The Mega-PACKED Issue)

Author
Various
Date
March 31, 1996
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: Coolness preview, Outpost Software Business Updates, White Tiger Software Updates, NL NeWz, HOTwired, CRiTiqueX MZX, MZX Cranky Kong Korner

The NL NeWz brings up a sudden talent drain happening on the ZZT side of things. The more skilled authors are moving on to making MegaZeux games with significantly relaxed limitations, leaving only more inexperienced and unrefined ZZTers making poor games. It's been a considerable theme throughout these newsletters, with the vast majority of ZZT game reviews being games that receive very poor marks.

There are also plans for an overly elaborate MegaZeux awards show that will happen as a MegaZeux world with the plan being for nominees to submit speeches for their character to read if they win, or remarks for if they lose. It sounds elaborate and like a lot of work for other people, let alone the compiler. An awards show done in-engine, that'd be the day.

The reviews include a review for Caverns of Zeux that complain that it's too ZZT like and shows little command of the language despite being made by the person who created the language. It rules.

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The NL - Volume 3 Issue 4 (Use to be the April Fool's Issue)

Author
Various
Date
April 30, 1996
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: White Tiger Column, Hyperware News, NL NeWz - Top Ten Design Sins, Company Updates, CRiTiqueX MZX, The Critic Corner MZX

A very feature rich issue! Without a doubt the highlight is the "Top Ten Design Sins" article inspired by having seen a similar article in a game developers magazine which features a lot of editor's comments by E. CyberBRO finding counter-examples and being generally disagreeable about many of the points. It's the most conflict that ever makes it to print!

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The NL - Volume 3 Issue 5 (The May Issue)

Author
Various
Date
May 31, 1996
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: Really Kewl Stuff, How to tell if you're a good ZZT game maker, NL NeWz, AOL Upload Troubles

Not a whole lot of new info here. There's some suggestions for those with ZZT and MegaZeux websites to be sure to register them with the Yahoo and Lycos search engines. E. CyberBRO discusses problems with MegaZeux uploads not being properly published on AOL, but mentions that AOL members can upload files to an AOL FTP server using their screen name.

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The NL - Volume 3 Issue 6 (The Issue to Summer Vacation)

Author
Various
Date
June 30, 1996
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: The Tiger's Den, ICE! Preview, The Critic Corner,

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The NL - Volume 3 Issue 7 (The Dull Issue)

Author
Various
Date
July 31, 1996
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: The Tiger's Den, A new ZZT/MZX CLone FoxEY, The Critic Corner

With the gap between ZZT and MegaZeux being just a few years, it's no surprise that successors to MegaZeux are so quickly being started. FoxEY has support for FLI animations, ZZT/MZX importing, support for using images as backgrounds, and MegaZeux charset/palette support. I've never heard a thing about this one, and I would wager that it didn't get particularly far in development.

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The NL - Volume 3 Issue 8 (The Summer Wrap-Up Issue)

Author
Various
Date
Aug. 31, 1996
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: NL NeWz, MZXSpace Award Winners, Time Tech Foundation Update, NL Changes, The Critic Corner

This Internet thing is really taking off! A handful of MZXer websites are linked within as the ability to host your own content online becomes more widespread.

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The NL - Volume 3 Issue 9 (The School's Back Issue)

Author
Various
Date
Sept. 30, 1996
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: NL Column About Nothing In Particular, Matt Williams Interview, The Tiger's Lair, AOL 3.0 Windows 3.1 vs Windows 95 Beta, The Critic Corner

I'm just completely distracted by the non-ZZT/MZX content in this one. A breakdown comparing two versions of the upcoming AOL 3.0 client that discusses the pros and cons, with the big advantage of the Windows 3.1 release being able to fit on a floppy disk so you can take it with you to other computers easily.

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The NL - Volume 3 Issue 10 (The Double Issue (Not.))

Author
Various
Date
Nov. 30, 1996
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: NL NeWz, The NL Column About Nothing In Particular, The Critic Corner, Other News

A whopping two whole sentences about "ZZT 2"! The author isn't named and the only thing mentioned is "rumors of being sued". Take that rumor with a grain of salt, because the the story as we know it today is a far less legal "Hey could you not call your program ZZT 2? Thanks. - Tim" and renaming the project to Z2.

The "controversy" about Bloodgate is interesting as it doesn't seem all that extreme in nature? (Take a minute to watch the demo intro over on DMZX, the presentation holds up great 25 years later.)

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The NL - Volume 3 Issue 11 (The Christmas Issue)

Author
Various
Date
Dec. 31, 1996
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: MZX'ed, ZPlayer's Ads, NORMAL? PRoDuCTioNS Previews, The ZOP Stop, The Critic Corner

Easily the most notable thing here is Kev's project list bringing up KevEdit. The earliest release of the popular ZZT editor we have is a 0.1 release from 2000 that was published despite being unable to edit objects solely to be used as a tool for a ZZT art contest to speed up placing tiles with STK colors.

Some time is also spent discussing taking people off the mailing list who have been inactive for prolonged periods of time. Things are beginning to wind down for the NL as is, and I can't imagine the list being trimmed had any benefit. If DeadPhrog wasn't a regular writer for the publication, I'd have worried that this pruning is why there are gaps after this issue in terms of what's been preserved.

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The NL - Volume 4 Issue 4 (The Spring Issue)

Author
Various
Date
April 30, 1997
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: Rants, Yet Another NL Column About Nothing In Particular, The Critic's Corner

This issue opens with a "rant" that feels more like a discussion about how different types of games focus on different things. It starts off by talking about the roguelike Ancient Domains of Mystery which is fun to see here years before half of the ZZT community got hooked on the game in the mid 2000s much to the chagrin of those who didn't play and were subjected to constant ADOM talk.

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The NL - Volume 5 Issue 1 (From the Ashes)

Author
Various
Date
Unknown
Category
Historical
Summary
Inside: Letters from the Predator

Our final preserved issue. Just a single article talking about the NL's return and asking for submissions.

More To Come?

Unlike the previous document dump which was split into two parts, what's been released here is the entirety of what I have. However, DeadPhrog has mentioned having some more content, in the more awkward form of print outs of conversation with staff members and other ZZTers interviewing them about their games. It's certainly something to keep an eye out for in the future!

====== A Worlds of ZZT Production ======

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