Closer Look: Merbotia

HEY, MOM, THE BED RAN AWAY AGAIN, you shout. -- It's Merbotia, a short and humorous adventure by Sonic256!

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Oct 8, 2016
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By: Sonic256
Released: Nov. 22, 1995
Where to get it:
Download from z2 | Play on

Merbotia is a game that's a bit of an outlier among the well-received games that have been covered so far. It's very iconic among ZZTers. Popular enough that nearly everybody in the community has played it, but at the same time an incredibly short and simple adventure that really only has its sense of humor going for it. Not that it's a bad game by any means. It's just a very straightforward adventure one could finish over a lunch break. Despite this, it won the June 2000 Classic Game of the Month Award.

So how did Merbotia manage to become a game so many within the community were familiar with? The CGOTM review written by Hydra78 explains it:

Those of you that don't get nostalgic feelings just by looking at this game's funky title screen probably won't agree with me :).

And quite frankly, he is absolutely right. Merbotia's title screen music is probably the most recognized tune composed in ZZT. Give it a listen.

It's very catchy.


The game opens with the player in a small dwelling carved into a mountain. By late 1995, Super Tool Kit colors in games started becoming much more common, with nearly everything on the board being a previously unusable dark color. There's little time to look around before a series of messages pops up, setting the scene.

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You awake. You remember it's a monday, and
feel really terrible about waking up. You
attempt to get out of bed, only to find
that it isn't there.
you shout.
But she doesn't hear you!
You look around.
Hmmm... Where did my window go?
Boy, the walls seem so much stonier than
they were yesterday.
Hey, I can see my floor again! Somebody
must have cleaned my room!
...About 5 minutes later...
My computer's gone. And I wanna play
ZZT! Boo hoo hoo!
And where's my dresser? I'm going to be
late for school!
Hey wait a minute... This isn't my room
at all!
And I gotta pee.
I wish I had gone BEFORE I was summoned
to another dimension...
You decide to look around.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The left door is locked by a green key, and the bottom door is just locked in general by an object. Touching the right door causes a knocking sound to be played and the player is invited inside to speak with the yellow smiley.

  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
Ah, you have arrived.
I have??
Yes. We created the environment of Earth
with precision down to the last dinosaur's
tooth, for one final product, YOU! All of
earth's billions of years of history
occured just to produce your country,
which was colonized at just the right rate
to produce your parents, who met at just
the right time to produce YOU, the outcome
of the earth!
Gee, thanks.
Now that you're here, we'd like to tell
you why we went through all that trouble.
There is a certain cave which contains the
heart of all evil, the beast which created
PBS, *Quatsch* . He creates the evil
beasts which roam the forests, the lions
which tear heads off of people who would
otherwise, well, have heads! He is feared
by every corner of Merbotia, and wanted
DEAD by just about ever living thing on
this planet.
But Planets don't have corners...
Why not???
Planets are ROUND, aren't they???
Of course not! What makes you think that?
Well, there were many explorers who...
Oh, shut up. Ten thousand Merbotians can't
be wrong!
So anyway, your quest is to journey to
*Quatsch*'s cavern in eastern Merbotia.
Why should I?
Well, why SHOULDN'T you?
Ummm... Good point.
Now get on your way!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

With that the player is given their quest, as well as the origins of the earth and mankind. Find and kill Quatsch.


You're then forcefully shoved out of the room and back into the starting section of the cave. This is done by repeatedly #putting boulders in the direction of the player to push them along. In ZZT-OOP, some commands are cycle ending and some are not. If an object is told to #go n and then #go s, it will stop processing its code for the cycle after it moves to the north. This makes sense for movement since if both lines were processed in a single cycle the object would appear to stand still. Interestingly, #put isn't cycle ending, which means you could produce a long line of pushable items instantaneously. The concept of non-cycle ending almost never comes up in ZZT since rarely can the behavior be manipulated usefully. Pushing the player is one of its few uses.


The forest is basically what you can expect the majority of the game to play like. You've got some lions, and some ammo. Shoot them.

Though, at the same time this board does a nice job showing a slow growth in complexity and polish in ZZT worlds. Plenty of games had forests with lions and ammo to shoot them with. Prior to STK there wouldn't have been any grass made out of fake walls (unless it was a blinding bright green filling the screen). There's also the dark cyan Ä object. Rather than fill the board with ammo, taking up space that could be put to better use, and taking up the player's time to collect it, instead an object is used, represented as a quiver of arrows and giving the player 20 ammo. The bushes are actually objects (though they don't look it), which when touched will tell you that they are in fact bushes (or shrubbery or large bushes..).

In my playthrough I managed to completely miss the oddly colored wall just west of the quiver. Touching it reveals a lever the player can pull. Doing so unlocks the southern door in the starting cave, providing more ammo and health to the player.


Heading north is more of the same. Ruffians instead of lions, and this time some flowers scattered about.

024 025

Don't patronize them though.


The northwest corner of the forest has a cave the player can enter, and nothing else.


Unsurprisingly, the cave is dark. Fortunately the player starts right by a torch and there are several more scattered throughout the room.


The cave is devoid of enemies, containing nothing but gems, torches, and these health kits which restore 25 health. The whole room is optional and just a reward for deciding to explore the forest rather than heading straight to Quatsch.


The southwest corner of the forest is a more mountainous region with large boulders and centipedes, as well as another pile of arrows.

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If the player has a sharp eye they may notice the small round button in the lower left area which changes all the centipedes on the screen into gems.

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Heading to the southeast section of the forest is the entrance to Quatsch's Lair, prominently displayed on a very large sign.


Venturing into the cave you get this intricately carved maze that looks like something out of Pac-Man. This board plays a ZZT rendition of the Super Mario Bros. underground music while you're on it. It's not too bad of a conversion.

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It takes no time at all to get to Quatsch. He doesn't shoot attack you directly, rather just very rapidly starts producing lots of lions and bears. At first glance it looks pretty intimidating, there are a lot of enemies at all times, and while the player has a good supply of ammo, it can be tough to get through all the creatures to actually hit Quatsch himself. It looks like it's going to be a tough fight.


Then you managed to hit him once and all the creatures on screen turn into ammo and gems, meaning you'll be able to keep shooting and regain health. One cool concept that I don't think I've seen many boss fights in ZZT use is the placement of a ricochet when you shoot Quatsch. It prevents the player from just spamming a long line of bullets and hitting him repeatedly, forcing you to instead hold back on your shooting a bit.


Another aspect of his simple coding is that he'll try and put enemies anywhere, which can replace walls with lions. After shooting him several times and getting nowhere, I noticed the large pile of bombs amassing on the left side of the screen. Every time you shoot him, a bomb spawns. They slowly get pushed into the main arena allowing you to actually defeat Quatsch with a single bomb.

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With your quest complete, you could just return to the start and let that person know you're done, but Sonic256 isn't one to hold the player back from indulging in some corpse desecration.


Spit on it


Kick it


Jump on it


Merbotia likes to make sure the player always has options.


Once the player leaves the cave after defeating Quatsch, the entrance crumbles and they can never return. It's time to report his demise.


I gotta pee!


I don't wanna do it.

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(This repeats endlessly until you say yes)

I'm off to save the world!


I killed Quatsch!

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You can see the game's 90s sense of humor showing. Fortunately, despite the Earth's imminent demise, the player is given a chance to stop it.


This very dull room beams you up to the space ship.

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