I think so far over the past year and a half I've done a decent job covering a good amount of different notable ZZTers' work, but poor Tseng has definitely been overlooked! Tseng was a pretty big name in the late 90s and early 2000s, known mostly for the Gem Hunter series and its spinoffs. Nearly every single ZZT game he released was connected to his own little universe for these games, and so I thought it was about time to take a look at the first in the series.
Except we're not really going to be looking at the _first_ Gem Hunter. We're going to look at the Special Edition which was released sometime after Gem Hunter 2. Usually, I try to play originals over remakes when possible, but the actual original title is pretty notoriously buggy, which is probably saying a lot for ZZT. I could at least feel confident that the game I'd be playing could be beaten by going with the remake (and sure enough, it can). With that in mind, we'll get an interesting game where you can still tell that we're dealing with an early release, while also showing signs of experience and acknowledging of the flaws in the original version. Perhaps strangest of all, is the acknowledgement that Gem Hunter: Special Edition is in fact a remake from the characters within the game itself.
Gem Hunter is a game where you play as Gem Hunter, who hunts down gems. Simple enough, and while the game's main conceit is on recovering all of the gold gems on an island, it feels really secondary to how the game actually plays out.
from Tahiti by the order of your boss, Gem
Master. Famous for searching and finding
rare gems, you figure he's going to send
you to another island in search for more.
Jewel Isle. Bad Bear is in Whirlybird
Caves, Showdown in Shuttle Mesa, Stealth
in the Shuttle Secret, Warlord in the Path
the final boss, Espionage, and Kamakazie
in the Shuttle Temple.
heavy change in graphics. And a bunch of
people have complained about a bug in the
anti-cheat *cough*Falcon*cough*. The bugs
are all fixed... but, there are things
which makes this a SPECIAL edition. Okay,
if you met the Boys in Blue on this screen
they might have told you about their
mission. Well, now you can actually GET
there! You'll see many changes.
complete waste of bandwidth, I'll just
say, "what the hell's wrong with you!?".
But, if you ask me nicely, maybe you could
make a game based on this nice little game
focused around the Indo-Pacific. The item
hunting aspect is yours to play around
(nmiaow) with, and I don't give a damn,
whatsoever, if you don't put me in the
credits. Oh yeah, and for all those morons
who didn't understand this little game
called You vs. Stupidity 2: Wrath of the
Plagiar, do NOT steal the boards from this
game. I will not be happy.
• • • • • • • • •
The game opens with Gem Hunter standing just outside of a village, ready to receive his next mission after completing a previous adventure in Tahiti. Just that this first game is grounded on Earth is worth noting as the series very quickly moves on to taking place on other planets where the only real mention of Earth is the one character who joins him on his adventures.
We also get a title parodying the Street Fighter series. One thing you see a lot of in late 90s ZZT games is this connection towards traditional console games. Plenty of games stopping calling things "file 1" and moved to "disc 1". Knightt's Stupid RPG series even features a "Silver Silicon Cartridge Edition" for one of the titles.
The opening scroll contains a bit more about the game's structure. There will be plenty of bosses to fight and all that, and it also mentions fixing issues with anti-cheat detection and hidden bonus areas that weren't properly accessible originally. Spoiler alert, the game's hidden bonus area still isn't accessible without cheating.
One of the first people available to talk to explains the game uses score rather than the traditional gems as currency. Makes sense seeing as how gems are kind of the objective here. This might seem like a change that's only to help fit the game's theme, but there's a sinister side effect here: ZZT has no cheat to increase the score counter. Any money will have to be earned.
Smash Mouth jokes in a pre-"All Star" world.
There are a ton of characters in this game, and they have very little to say, but are almost all named and given some role in the greater universe these games take place in. Qwerty, Poiuy, Reno, and Anita Blue are all here and offer little (except Anita who says she'll give Gem Hunter something later). My previous experience with these games amounts to very little other than kind of recognizing these names.
This one random stranger however does bring up the island guide Kim, who's the only person to ever explore the entire place. She'll show up quite a lot in this game, and later on in the series become Gem Hunter's girlfriend, or at least have a strong crush towards him. I can't remember if it's reciprocated, but there will be none of that here. In this game Kim is here to help out and nothing more. She's not really explored much, but at least gives off vibes of being a strong woman, and not a damsel.
This board exists entirely to make a joke about drugs.
And this board exists to sell junk items whose purposes are entirely unknown, but completely mandatory in order to complete the game and get the best ending.
Lastly is this large building where Gem Master, the boss, resides. Gem Hunter is given a quest to help make sure one of the chefs inside spends some time with her husband. Anytime you get told to do something in this game, you better, since you'll get a gem as a reward basically always.
Gem Master's home contains all the essentials of a home in ZZT. Animated candles, a toilet, and a mirror that shows the player's reflection. A cute little touch is that traveling through any of the door ways results in a message on the bottom of the screen explaining what room you're entering. It's even smart enough to work both ways, saying "Hallway" or "Dining Room" appropriately.
There's a waiting room outside of Gem Master's chambers and several people waiting. Fortunately Gem Hunter actually has an appointment and doesn't need to join them.
Meet False Leader, Geriatric, Side Pocket, Nimrod, and Moron. Nothing they say here is of any importance, but you will find them all over the series.
So Tseng's alias does come from Final Fantasy VII where Tseng is the leader of the Turks, a group that does the dirty work for the Shinra corporation. I guess he's supposed to actually _be_ that same Tseng? The original release of the game is even published under a company called "Turks".
More importantly nothing Francine says rhymes.
GEM MASTER: Hello, Gem Hunter. I see you
got back from Tahiti.
GEM HUNTER: Yep. No gems on THAT island.
GEM MASTER: Figures. I guess that isn't
such a resort after all.
GEM HUNTER: Fraid not. So, why'd you call
GEM MASTER: I had a report from one of my
agents that 35 Gold Gems were stashed away
by a pirate before his death. They were
scattered across this island. We've
recovered four of the 35, before Gem
Searcher was murdered. We want you to take
over the mission.
GEM HUNTER: I guess if I don't, then this
game would make no point.
GEM MASTER: Okay, you can leave Gemini, in
search of the gold gems. Here's some
spending money. When you find the Gems,
bring them to the Pedistal at the center
of the island. I will meet you there.
• • • • • • • • •
There are no gems on Tahiti OBVIOUSLY. A lot of this game's dialog is really weird and tries to build up a backstory to the game but really just comes off as bizarre comments.
The goal of Gem Hunter is of course, to get all these gems. The text mentions 35 in total, but some are already recovered, leaving the player with having to find the unusual number of 31 gems. I was under the impression that it was necessary to find all 31 and that some of them were a pain to acquire which is why I never stuck with any of these games for long, but here at least the reality is that there are two endings, one for finding all the gems and one for not. That's encouraging news. It's also definitely helpful that Tseng later released Gem Hunter Anthology which contains the entire series and a few extra incomplete titles. It includes a text file with locations for every gem in the series and is definitely a must. I did my best to play through this game without it, but as you'll see, there will still be a few that get missed.
Reminder that Gem Searched was _murdered_ in his quest for these gems, and we've got half as many as he found just by looking in Gem Master's own home.
One thing this game definitely does is makes sure you're exploring everything. Twenty plates on a table? Time to examine every last one of them. It can be tedious at times, but when you find one of the gems that's hidden somewhere it doesn't feel would be the most obvious place to put one it does feel satisfying.
Examining everything in the kitchen reveals that Gem Master is very big on eating spam.
In more recent years there are a lot more games that try to weave the difference between the character being controlled and the player doing the controlling into the narrative. A ton of ZZT games turn it into a joke like this where the author seems to admit that the only real reason to collect these gems is because the game told you to. Gem Hunter's own thoughts are irrelevant. He doesn't get a say in it. No gem hunting, no game.
Outside of the village of Gemini is a crossroad with a sign and a girl saying it would be smart to check out the beach.
Kim is awesome.
One of the stranger things I found when playing Gem Hunter is that it's actually almost completely linear and yet really does a lot to appear like an open world. You will run into roadblocks constantly that force you to take a specific route through the game despite the fact that the idea of searching out all these gems would lend itself very well to an open island to explore however you like.
The western path leads to the beach where several seashells are visible and thus have to be examined.
One of them has an angry crab! I didn't spend any of my money on ammo and was forced to avoid it.
Another new character, Master Walnut is a sentient walnut. He'll take a bunch of your money and give you a gem for it.
Up north is this nice view of the horizon where I'm just now noticing that the sun isn't the origin of the light source for the sky's shading.
Hey it's a new character, Kudo, who gives Gem Hunter a gem and runs away.
If your eyes were sharp you may have noticed the weird dark blue wall on the eastern edge of the board. Examining it reveals another new character, Keno, who gives Gem Hunter a gem and runs away.
Also he's actually in this blue mass twice? You wind up getting three gems just from Keno alone.
South from the beach entrance is more beach and more shells. There's also this bonus dungeon which requires finding four hidden keys to enter. Alas, despite the bug fixes the player only ever gets a cyan key rather than a blue one, so it's necessary to cheat to get inside.
Another seashell, this time with some weird fish hidden inside. Choosing to pull on the shell results in killing the fish, getting a gem, and one of the four hidden keys. Choosing to pick up the shell results in the fish killing you and an instant game over. I'm guessing it's a legacy thing from the original, or maybe Tseng thought killing the player for an arbitrary choice was still a good idea by the time this game rolled around.
YES I DO. I AM LOOKING FOR GEMS AND ALREADY FOUND SEVERAL ON THE SHORE.
To the east is Whirlybird Caves, where Gem Hunter finally gets a chance to meet Kim.
GIRL: You're wondering what I'm doing
around here, aren't you??
GEM HUNTER: The thought has occured to me.
GIRL: Consider me your guide. I know this
island better than everyone else. My name
GEM HUNTER: Why is it that there's always
a guide in these games??
KIM: Because if this is your first time,
you might be lost. If it isn't... then the
programmer might find a way to make me
important. He has the power to do that.
GEM HUNTER: True enough. So is there
anything up ahead in the cavs I should
KIM: Let me think... well, I do remember a
stalagtite... or was it stalagmite...?? I
could never get that right. Oh well... one
of those things hangs above, and it's
pretty loose. Well, I'm going inside. See
• • • • • • • • •
There's just such a common trope of characters breaking the fourth wall in ZZT that it's almost expected. I think a lot of it comes from the misplaced belief that by pointing out something as overused makes it somehow better than not admitting it openly, even if it breaks the boundaries of the world.
There are some piles of rubble outside the cave, and of course a gem in one of them.
Oh. I have no torches and there aren't any for sale in the shops. There's only one other path which leads to Shuttle Mesa, but it's blocked off by a bunch of debris. I ran around for a bit thinking I must have missed something here since there's no way I'd have to navigate a cave blindly like this.
I double checked the shops for torches, and with the money given by Gem Master bought all the junk for sale in the junk shop figuring I should get it out of the way. This consisted of a post card, a hubcap, and a remote control.
Sure enough, hardly two steps in there's a flashlight on the ground. ZZT won't display anything in a dark room except for passages and the player so it's generally not wise to hide the only light source in the darkness like this.
There are actually two paths that can be taken through the cave but only one of them has a flashlight which makes the choice pretty obvious. The bottom path has invisible pits which instantly kill you if you touch them. All the more reason to stick to the one with the flashlight.
There's a little detour to a room with a gem on a pedestal (Oh my god this is just 4 all over again).
Not surprisingly, it's a trap that will kill you if you don't have a hubcap to swap out for th gem.
The next room contains what is claimed to be a puzzle, but is really just shooting some breakables and outrunning some pushers that will begin to move. This only makes a difference at the end where once more there are two paths, but the top one will quickly be blocked off.
Except it doesn't matter in the end since there's a boss that has a gem to fight. If you enter from the bottom you're forced to fight right away, but if you enter from the top you can choose to fight when you're ready.
The game's first boss is a bear that summons other monsters. We get yet another "Oh my!" joke that appears in probably half the lists that mention ZZT's lions, tiger, and bears.
The fight is tough not because of the creatures to fight, but because if the player didn't spend a ton of their cash on ammo they'll definitely run out. It did not take long until I had to cheat for more health and ammo to be able to finish this fight.
The bear explodes into a shower of gore when killed and drops a gold gem. Just think, we're already a third of the way done!
On the other end of the cave is another crossroad. You can tell the sign object was copied over from the first one as it still has the "singpost" typo. This time, all three new paths are open, but two of them are quite short. To the north is just a few more shops which buy and sell ammo and health, but thanks to my rampant cheating I didn't really have a need to take advantage of their services.
Kim is also waiting on the other side once more. She suggests checking out the village of Enigmus for some gems, but warns that it's full of bandits who will rob Gem Hunter blind if he's not careful. Kim's own home is nearby and she runs off to it to rest up for a bit. She actually does run across the screen and disappear at the edge for this, which is only worth mentioning because earlier on she'd just play a little vanishing animation and disappear on the spot when exiting a board.
Kim has a nice little home on the cliffside. The only other object of note is the locked door built into the cliff. Here the remote control is automatically used which causes it to open and reveals a gem.
Kim's house is kind of weird. It's got a reasonable bathroom, bedroom, and living room, but then there's a very empty kitchen. There are plenty of plants throughout the house as well, and unsurprisingly one has a gem. That's not even a Gem Hunter thing. There's just a good chance that if you examine a bunch of plants in a ZZT game you'll find a gem in one of them.
Kim doesn't have much to say either, just letting the player know where they'll meet up next, which happens to be in the town of Enigmus.
You can open the lonely fridge, but it's empty. Time to move on and definitely not have to travel back here again later.
There's also this gem in her toilet. Kim wtf. (You'll have to grab some gloves from Kim's desk before being able to reach in and get it.)
Enigmus is the scary town where you can't trust anybody. It's a dangerous place with a bunch of dirt patches everywhere. Unlike Gemini, there aren't any shops you can buy things from, but that's what the supply area north of the latest set of crossroads is for.
Approaching this bandit results in Gem Hunter being trapped and having to fight to the death.
It's pretty straightforward and results in getting another one of the game's hidden keys. Most strangely is that one of the objects that helps determine the player is in the top right area turns into a shark instead of just stopping its code. This is probably just an incorrect way of getting a light gray solid wall (since sharks are light gray and you can then change a shark to a solid to get the desired color via ZZT-OOP), but nothing changes the shark. Since the water on the right edge of the board is indeed water, this means a shark will begin swimming around in it.
If you think "Evil Weasel Complex" is a joke, it's not. It's definitely a thing in Gem Hunter 2.
It's actually important to talk to Kim here in order to be able to get through this maze that's coming up.