There's a coke machine where the player can spend three money for fifteen health. These are few and far between. I just kind of gave in and began cheating immediately for the documented playthrough knowing the combat wasn't going to impress in the least.
Here it is. The one joke that landed for me. ZZT games are often unintentionally ambiguous if somebody is sitting at a desk if you're meant to touch the object sitting there or the desk itself to start a conversation. A common way to make it more obvious is to do something to block off the person or place a chair object for the player to "sit" in by standing in front of it.
Having it be so literal here actually got a laugh out of me.
Hello sir, I am Sir Belfry of the Bat
Kingdom and I came here because voices
in my waffles told me it was my destiny.
I demand an explanation for these
I have no idea what you are talking about
No, in all seriousness, I'm on a quest to
PENGUINS KNOW EVERYTHING!
Anyway, thanks man.
The mayor doesn't really give any useful information, just saying to check out the castle that's up ahead. Seeing as it's the only place up ahead, that's kind of an obvious place to explore.
This conversation is mandatory however, as some invisible objects will prevent the player from leaving the village without having learned the mayor's wisdom.
The board also exits via a passage rather than walking off the edge, and there's a reason for that, it's time for an ...art board.
So this is what Dron looks like I guess. It ain't good. Emulating Nadir's character art for anthropomorphic characters definitely isn't an easy task, but oof, what a mess. There's no dialog here or anything, just an immediate trip into another passage where this board will never be spoken of again.
And it's a bit of a shame because if you look at the things that aren't a terrifying cat person, the trees in the background honestly look great! They're all very distinct from each other and manage to all have their own shape with some excellent contrast for the leaves rather than ending up blending together in a green mess like you'd see in most games. There's got to be a "can't see the forest for the anthro-cat" joke to be made here.
The forest is almost over thankfully, with just a few more bushes left. The path splits in two, but there's a talking sign that blocks the way and says the usual junk dialog about "sacred Golden Maple Leaf from Canada in order to invent time travel", etc etc.
Taking the northern path eventually leads to a clearing with some magic laying around to collect and a pink log cabin. The sign outside says it's Aeris's house.
Upon entering, the player, Dron, named after the author meets Aeris, named after the author.
The author has chosen to represent themselves in the game twice, in both cases as a cat, and here as a beautiful pink cat with beautiful light blue eyes.
And you know, there are probably a lot of ways to read this board. Is Aeris (the cat) how Aeris (the author) sees themselves at this time? If she how Aeris (author) wants to see themselves? Is it just supposed to be a joke that both characters are the author in an era where people would definitely throw out terms like self-insert and "Mary Sue" disparagingly? Also according to the readme she is supposed to basically just be Aeris from the webcomic VGCats.
I don't have a followup on Aeris (author) to confirm/deny a reading of this game as a trans narrative, which is why I'm using "they/them" for the author as I can't tell if this woman is a fantasized ideal partner or a fantasized ideal self.
It's definitely the most compelling thing in the game by a long shot though. The one thing to cling to for the rest of this game is hope at getting a better read on the characters of Dron/Aeris.
Also the board is pretty. The background forestry is significantly worse looking than the art board earlier and a good example of the green soup that forest treelines often turn into in ZZT, among some brown rectangles for trunks, but the sun poking through the canopy is a really nice detail. I'm just surprised the home wasn't arranged to put Aeris (cat) directly in the sun's rays. I meant that as a "because she's so beautiful" thing but also because she's a cat.
Hi, my name is Dron. Sorry for randomly
walking in, I had no idea anybody except
cannibal bushes and a bunch of people who
think they're mayors lived here.
I saw it, just was curious if it was true
or another clever trick by an underground
sign planting monster from Tokyo.
On some side of the forest; I think I'm
I got really bored and wandered into the
forest. Some talking tree claiming to be
a prophet told me to hunt down and kill
this Bob Dole fellow. So that's what I'm
going to do.
According to the tree...prophet...person,
he is plotting the destruction of
Neo-Atlantis. It might seem strange, but
I've always been convinced that's where
I'm really from. And even if that's just
confabulation, it still seems like a fun
adventure! Sadly I have no clue where on
Earth Bob Dole OR Neo-Atlantis are
located. However, the leader of the
Village of the Mayors told me to head to
Castle Edible Salt.
Of course not!
WE ARE THE CHAMPIONS OF WYOMING??
• • • • • • • • •
Dron explains himself and continues to be random, but interestingly, Aeris isn't. All of her dialog is pretty reasonable to how an actual person (albeit one extremely sympathetic to Dron) might actually talk. Her sincerity is jarring.
Now that she's a part of the party, Dron can proceed back through the forest to the sign blocking the other path.
Dron - IS THAT REALLY YOU ZEUS? OR
ANOTHER CARDBOARD CUTOUT?
Dron - MOON CARDBOARD CAN DO ANYTHING!
Dron - THANK YOU FOR THE KNOWLEDGE ZEUS!
Zeus shows up to explain how the dialog is meant to be read. A very common convention in ZZT worlds is to use its only method of formatting text, the dollar sign character, to indicate the player's dialog vs whoever else they're talking to.
Most games usually go with a play style prefacing each line with the name of the character speaking it. Running into a message window with dialog and narration that uses quotes and reads like a book is extremely rare.
Please admire with me for a moment, this dialog, not for its content, but for it immediately going against Zeus's explanation of how a conversation between just Aeris and Dron won't have any names written.
Aeris is an interesting contrast to Dron too in that she's portrayed as competent and capable rather than Dron having to remember that he's got claws to attack with. Aeris probably wouldn't sit around all day and watch Cartoon Network, and while her abilities are never directly compared to Dron's, if you look you'll see that she's "better".
Wipe your memory of that terrifying Dron face from entering the forest (if you managed to not do so already) because god damn, this is a solid art board! Dron and Aeris both look good, the sunset blend has some excellent color use, the clouds are shadowed, and it's clear that when Aeris (author) puts in the effort, they can do some very respectable work. This isn't the best of the best, but it's clearly above average and the kind of thing people would have taken notice of were this not a 2008 release.
Dron: What's with the forest in the
middle of a desert again?
Dron: Being able to launch forests at
other planets for no reason is the best
cure for boredom in history.
Aeris delves into the wacky here, but she does so in a serious way. It's all presented with a straight face and not by screaming in all caps.
The forest ends and the desert begins the next portion of the journey to Neo-Atlantis. The enemies are now slow moving rock monsters that are easy to avoid and take a lot of hits to defeat. Aeris (cat) gives some good advice here.
The desert goes on for a little bit before leading to the castle that the mayor spoke of earlier. I'm debating if I should show the dialog here with Bigfoot.
I'm gonna go with no. Bigfoot explains that to enter the castle they'll need two keys that can be found on the left and right paths and then explodes. (He also says some random stuff about trigonometry and John Lennon.)
Aeris keeps her cool.
Heading left leads to a small building with boulders and transporters. It's a simple puzzle that I absolutely destroy after having dealt with Sixteen Easy Pieces.
More contrast between Aeris and Dron's dialog. I feel very silly for only just now realizing that while Aeris the cat is obviously heavily inspired by Aeris the cat from VGCats that her companion being a bumbling idiot also fits in with Leo, the other cat from VGCats.
The other path is no different, but doesn't even have a puzzle! The other key is just there for the taking.
A better coded game would have checked if this was the first or second key collected and hidden the text about finding the other one.
With both keys, the gate opens and the duo can proceed to the castle itself. There's another pretty decent looking board here.
Aeris, you really don't have to put up with this dork.
The castle marks the game's final area (thankfully). It has several paths, but they're mostly behind locked doors, and some are optional. I honestly thought that some doors weren't supposed to be openable until flipping through the boards after finishing the game. I just don't feel like I missed anything.
Dron: YOU ARE NOT NELSON MANDELA!
• • • • • • • • •
The duo can't proceed very far before running into a penguin that guards the castle. I completely forgot this game is supposed to be an RPG and that you have experience and magic.
Oof. The poor faces of Aeris (author) return for some character portraits. These small faces are somewhat reminiscent of MadGuy's War-torn, a late 1998 RPG that had a very solid reputation in its time, something anybody interested in ZZT RPGs would have played.
The fight opens with Zeus popping up to explain how the fight works, and it's just like War-Torn with touching a boulder shaped object and selecting attacks from a menu.
Dron has no abilities other than his claws. Had I found the secret gun earlier on I imagine it'd be available here. His claw attack involves slowly running up to the enemy and making a red fake appear.
Aeris however, is better in every way. While Dron does have one more hit point (which seems to be because his name has one fewer character), Aeris is heavily armed with a sword and the ability to use magic. She's the warrior here.
Her sword attack causes her to run up and an object to cycle between forward and backslash characters.
Her magic causes a flash of fire via some invisible walls fading in and out.
The penguin has a gun and uses it to attack both Dron and Aeris simultaneously, or a sword of his own to attack one of them.
The fight is your usual generic ZZT RPG, and there's not really any nuance to it. Dron can literally only do one thing here, and the hit rate seems high enough that it's worth spamming Aeris's sword. I'm assuming the game runs on the usual "one attack is weaker but reliable, the other is strong but misses more frequently" that shows up in countless ZZT worlds.
The damage dealt is high enough that it's not the fight that's tedious, but rather the long animations of waiting for characters to run up to each other. It's still not so long as to be annoying, but if the characters were positioned closer to each other, I wouldn't have anything to complain about.
Once defeated, Dron acquires a gun and sword of his own, giving him some parity with Aeris and meaning finding the hidden gun was only relevant for a single fight.
This game only has two fights so the gun's not going to be all that relevant in the rest of the game either.
Once the fight's over, the player is returned to the castle lobby where only one path can be traversed to the north which leads to a kind of neat looking atrium. The atrium contains penguins and cacti.
Dron: WHAT HAS SCIENCE DONE?!
Dron: There's one right there you silly
The joke here is that penguins and cacti are natural enemies living in this castle together but denying that the other species is present since why would they be if they want to kill each other?
Bad news for anybody wanting to bypass as much of the meaningless writing as possible, the other cactus here has a key needed to proceed.
I should point out that the outer ring of this room has a long winding path to what appears to be a dead end, and turns out to actually be a dead end. Do not waste your time thinking there might be some secret reward for exploring a suspicious path.
The elder cactus that Lenny talked about is just to the north. It's a cute drawing!
The elder explains some random plot stuff which amounts to "get to the top of the left tower" before he goes on to take a nap. The dialog has the elder's mouth animate as well as his eyes closing and some Z's appearing as he sleeps. This is a fun board, aside from once again, the complete lack of interest in the writing.
Exploring the western path involves first bypassing some penguins who charge off in fury at the idea that there may be a cactus in the castle. I've skipped this for your benefit.
The castle has a damaged wall here which Aeris comments on as looking like its destruction happened recently. Inside the not-hidden area is a small chamber with a healing potion and one of the keys to the tower.
Heading to the back of the tower there's Richard Nixon, the game's next boss fight, fought in a more traditional ZZT style of running around and shooting bullets.
Nixon is abrupt here, but there was a pointless zombie Ronald Reagan in the forest as well, and with Bob Dole I guess there's a bit of a political theme going on here.
Nixon is immune to bullets, but can be defeated with melee attacks by touching him. Each attack gives a different description of Dron clawing Nixon, or Aeris slashing him with her sword.
Dron: How does Bob Dole know we're after
Dron: Nixon said Bob Dole sent him.
Nixon dies pretty brutally. Dron comments that he must have been hiding something back there, and sure enough the other key to the tower is found by examining the small back room.
Unfortunately, the path ahead has been destroyed. Just as Dron and Aeris are about to try to find another way up, something random happens!
Dron: IS THIS A SIGN FROM THE GODS?
Dron: I didn't eat toast this morning.
Dron: WHY MUST YOU INSULT MY MOTHER?
Dron: Edgar, where the heck is the top
of this tower?
Dron: Thanks man.
• • • • • • • • •
The strongest being in the universe, an Elf named Edgar who can only say Edgar appears! Edgar saves the day by immediately nullifying the obstacle and teleporting the duo to the top of the tower. Hooray for progress.
Aeris (author) does a pretty nice starry nighttime sky! (Though they do make the mistake of having a star in front of the crescent moon.)
The two don't get much of a chance to admire the scenery as suddenly a rocking horse appears!
Dron is unhappy with always taking the blame for things, which hasn't happened at all in this game so I'm reading it as a general feeling of the author, a teenager rejected from the ZZT community for no real reason. Despite the fact that the horse blames both Dron and Aeris, only Dron reacts, once more positioning Aeris the cat as the self that more in control.
The second and final battle is against this horse, whose face is significantly less creepy looking than the mouthless cats with giant eyes.
Thanks to the first fight, Dron has significantly improved in combat. He may not know magic, but he knows gun.
The fight really doesn't feel any different. The attacks of the enemy are visually different, but there's still not really much to do.
Once the fight is over, there's nothing left to do but wait.
Suddenly, hints at a romance are displayed. This is a romance between the author and the author so I'm once more at a loss as to how I'm supposed to read this. It's also the only "real" moment in the game. There's no yelling about Bob Dole, Zeus, zombies, penguins, or anything. It's two characters stargazing together and were they not two manifestations of the author, this would probably be almost sweet.
I mean, admittedly, there's been no real development to their relationship, and while Dron described Aeris as beautiful at first sight, Aeris hasn't shown any feelings either out loud or to herself towards Dron, but at the same time she has been very accomodating to him. If Dron is the socially awkward, lacking in confidence man, then Aeris plays the ideal woman who can see all his positive aspects and gets him for the "nice guy" that he is.
"Nice guy" is a pretty loaded term these days for a heterosexual pairing typically used sarcastically for gross men who feel entitled to women, so I want to stress that while I can see Aeris as being designed as Dron's ideal partner, I do not see Dron as a bad person. The hints that this may end with Dron getting the girl comes off as wish fulfillment more than something Dron feels deserving of.
Again though, this is a nightmare to try and untangle by virtue of the two characters being portrayals of the same person.
A flashing message based cutscene so long I had to implement scrolling support for the transcript.
Dron and Aeris fall asleep waiting for aliens, who just so happen to show up. The alien is friendly and willing to help in the quest. Lucky Dron.
It is called Part 1 for a reason. Algorithm ends at a reasonable point for a first part, with a major breakthrough in the characters' quest for Neo-Atlantis thanks to some interstellar hitchhiking.
I was glad for it to be over by this point honestly.
There is, as you may have guessed, no part two.
Poor Aeris (author). This game is too little too late. Its humor via nonsense is grating here in the last month of 2018, but even in 2008 this sort of thing was old news. Algorithm marks Aeris's return to the mainstream ZZT community, but offers little to a community already at a low point.
The game's story and humor are so unappealing that it's a disservice to the few positive aspects here, namely the graphics. Aeris's graphical prowess seems to fluctuate wildly throughout the game, and while its best art is above average, everything gets dragged down by the lack of reason for anything. This feels less like a game Aeris wanted to put out there, and more like an excuse to draw some environments and justify that by stitching them together with a thread of nonsense. It just doesn't work. I want to draw a comparison to Creator's It's The End of The World which way back in 1996 was also a game set in a modern Earth that also begins with the player in their average home and involves traveling through unusual locations likes castles and ice palaces. End of The World stays pretty silent on its absurdities like this, but Aeris seems to want to justify it with aliens shooting forests from space. The former game fosters a "don't worry about it" mood, but by trying to offer explanation Aeris invites criticism on whether that explanation makes any sense.
At the same time Aeris seems to want to ditch having any consequences by purposely being nonsensical. ZZT has a massive history of the bizarre, experimental, and random, but Aeris's feels like it's being used to escape criticism. Algorithm comes off as pointless, not because Aeris doesn't have anything to say, but because they seem to be afraid to say something lest they be judged for it.
Which, admittedly, giving their reputation in the early 2000s of the community isn't entirely unjustified. Had this exact game been released in 2004, Aeris absolutely would have been mocked for this, solely to pick on somebody who was already cast as an outsider. I can almost guarantee you that a teenaged administrator of z2 would have changed Aeris's forum avatar to that terrifying Dron portrait. It would've been plastered everywhere. The same community that made "YAY SRIS" a catchphrase would have for certain mocked any line of dialog in the game and made no mention of its generally solid graphics, simple but bug-free RPG engine, or plethora of varied environments.
(Honestly in 2004 we could've just called Aeris a furry and that would have been enough despite the intense amount of hypocrisy.) Aeris opting for a new name and a new start was a wise idea, but putting this game out to a community on life-support meant that nothing ever came of it.
What makes Algorithm compelling in 2018 is the unexplained and unexplored dynamic between Dron/Aeris, both as the characters as well as the author. I have no idea if they're intended to be friends, lovers, Aeris (author) exploring gender, Aeris exploring the differences between their current self and their past "Dron" self, or something else entirely. Hell, maybe it's all just a big joke on self-inserts where the author being not one, but two characters is meant to be played for laughs. The random nonsense the game relies on once again detracts because seeing Aeris sincerely exploring any of these possibilities would be something I"d definitely be interested in seeing.
I don't know what to make of Algorithm, but I do hope that Aeris is doing well today. Lord knows we all put them through enough 15 years ago.
Inside the home of the mayor of the mayor village we get Aeris trying to build on what Nadir's done. Previous boards here take inspiration from Frost's silhouetted mountains in the background, but Nadir never did anything up close like this. The result is something that looks pretty cool honestly.
Wait a minute, where did the village wall go? This scene contradicts the previous board!!