Closer Look: Overflow (Part 1)

Beautiful background art meets classic ZZT action in this massive Chrono Trigger inspired adventure to save time itself!

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Jun 10, 2021
Part of Series: Overflow Closer Look
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The poll winner for May was Luke Drelick's Overflow 2.0, and I have to confess I've been dreading it winning since it got put on the polls! Sure, once in a while the Twitter bot would post screenshots from the game, and they looked beautiful. And yeah, the game's author, Luke Drelick was a name I recognized. On the ZZT side he was responsible for Classic Game of the Month winner, Final Fantasy Extreme although their 90s ASCII game output is more notable over on the MegaZeux side with titles like Engine. There certainly wasn't any doubt that Overflow would be enjoyable. No, I was more worried about the sheer size of the thing. Weighing in at a massive 101 boards. This game runs into the board limit imposed by ZZT itself. No, Overflow didn't worry me over its quality. I was worried about the quantity. Just how much time would I have to sink into it to see it through to the end?

I was fully expecting a two-parter going into this one based on the board count alone, and while this is indeed going to be a two part article it really doesn't feel like a game that goes on for too long. The experience with Overflow that I had is one where I wouldn't have even guessed that it had that many boards since it never really feels like it's dragging on for too long. Overflow, despite its 16-bit RPG inspirations isn't text heavy and the player makes good progress from start to finish. It came out a longer than the average ZZT world sure, but it was still really only something like two hours to get through.



        About early November, I started working on a Chrono Trigger game
for ZZT. Well, it was going to have 10 chapters. In the middle of the 3rd
chapter, my friend told me about MegaZeux, and I stopped making the Chrono
Trigger series. Now, I have finished the 3rd game, originally called 5000ad,
and created a new plot, added new characters, fixed up some bugs, and removed
all of the inside jokes. The game is called Overflow.
        Overflow is about an adolescent named Charlie, trying to stop
Achalon, a beast who controls time by either killing it, or finding a time
machine, and stopping all evil. Either way, you'll get an ending!
        And don't think that Charlie's adventure is over! I'll eventually
create a continuation of Overflow on MegaZeux, because the second ending
is a cliffhanger one.
        That's all I have to say! Go, and play the game! Remember-ZZT is not
dead, its just that MegaZeux is about a million times better!=)
        Maybe, just maybe, I'll release a remake of the 2nd Chrono Trigger
game, one that puts you in the middle of a war between Greece and Rome. If
you like this ZZT game, tell me you do, and tell me you want to play the 2nd
CT game!

The accompanying text file provides a nice foundation for the game. Originally intended as a Chrono Trigger ZZT, but perhaps very very smartly scaled back from its original plans as a ten chapter saga. Overflow tells the story of Charlie and his efforts to defeat Lavos Achalon. The game provides two different endings depending on an early choice the player makes. There's a planned MegaZeux sequel as well (which doesn't seem to have happened, surprise surprise).

The full text file goes on to also include some information on changes between this version 2.0 update and the original. One such change is a graphical overhaul, and as this is indeed a very pretty ZZT game it's a bit of a shame that we don't currently have any preserved copy of the original to see how its visuals changed. The other noteworthy change is that most of the game's swears were removed, which isn't all too interesting on its own, though perhaps it is in the sense that a year or two later swearing a lot would absolutely be an "in" thing in the ZZT community. This one is worth mentioning though because it says that "Tom still gives his famous quote" which is truly a sight to behold when it happens. Good job to Drelick on realizing how devastating removing it would be.


The title screen gives off some heavy tropical vibes and uses plenty of bright colors throughout. Despite the story making things sound like Achalon has really ruined things, a large portion of the game looks like a tropical paradise rather than a barren wasteland. The bright colors and strong effort put into backgrounds are where the game really shines, something that I think would have been lacking if Drelick forced himself to work with the grays and browns you'd expect from a more lifeless and inhospitable world.


Taking a more unusual approach, the game opens on a credits board rather than going straight to gameplay or having a menu. This list has quite the healthy mix of names on it. Lots of testers too including big names like Matt Williams of Software Visions and Barjesse of Nightmare and ZZT Syndromes fame. This kind of sizable number of testers helps show the kind of pull Drelick had in the ZZT and MZX communities to get such a large group interested in helping out in exchange to get an earlier look at an upcoming game.


An opening object repeats much of the game's text file as well as giving us a good read as to how big into Squaresoft RPG's Drelick was at the time owning and using the name Butz, the protagonist of the then unreleased in the US Final Fantasy V. The website is of particular importance as it was a massive early archive of ZZT worlds featuring close to 300 games in this 1999 snapshot of the site.


But enough history lessons, it's time to save time!

The actual game opens with Charlie on board one of many flying fortresses. The game likes to show high technology with clean linewalls and there are plenty more boards in this style of lines in front of a decorative blue sky background.


With one person in the starting room Noah here is likely the first person for Charlie to talk to. His plan is to skip over the apocalypse happening due to Achalon through cryogenics. Despite being frozen, the few humans here are still capable of some form of communication, which is kind of a frightening thought with how long waiting out the apocalypse might take.


  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
I have found some of the treasure.
I am dying in real life, so soon, the
thoughts will die out...
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

A brief circle around the ark gives Charlie some good guidance to start. This world is having a pirate problem the Charlie will have to deal with. Oh. Also time travel is possible.


I live for futuristic computers that follow the pre-Pentium Intel CPU nomenclature. I also live for futuristic computers that run on "Pentium 337s".


There's also this scroll that really gives the vibe that this is still a Chrono Trigger game's middle chapter. Charlie's quest is well underway already and this time he's found this cool world with flying fortresses and grounded isles.


Within the ZZT file, this world map actually comes before Noah's ark, and I wouldn't be surprised with how that last scroll read if it was the original starting board. I suspect it was changed to make sure that players head into the ark first rather than skip over it and go directly to the dock without getting that background information on the world.

The world map itself is a cute little thing that highlights all the locations Charlie will be visiting. I promise that "Palmtree" isn't a funny joke to have labeled. Charlie will get there in due time.


Very unusual is the sound test board being not only accessible through gameplay rather than being hidden in the editor, but for it to be a location like any other and not an option on a menu or something. Plenty of games have boards with their music hidden away in them, but it's quite rare to let the player just go and listen. I opted to turn around pretty quickly as there are a good number of tracks and a good opportunity to spoil myself by reading the titles. Looking at the titles now that I've finished the game, I can say that one of the songs is called "Nick's Death", so maybe this wasn't the best thing to make accessible right away.

As far as the game's music goes though, it's nothing too memorable. Not bad by any means but nothing stood out enough to make me feel a need to rip it for inclusion in this article.


Heading to the docking port reveals what Overflow actually plays like. The bulk of it consists of boards like these focused primarily on basic ZZT action. Pick up some ammo. Shoot some creatures. It's almost underwhelming given the time this game was released, but don't be fooled as Drelick is able to put this simple combat to good use versus the all too common chaos of a dozen objects shooting wildly and destroying themselves.

The thorough use of Super Tool Kit graphics throughout the game get applied to the creatures as well. The color is of no importance so dark purple tigers here don't have different intelligence or firing rate values than their brighter cousins, but it adds yet more color to some pretty vivid boards that make this game so nice to look at.

Also worth noting that the player was given 100 ammo to start from the opening credits, and an extra 100 health and ammo from one of the patients in the ark which lets the player focus on defeating foes more than worrying about conserving health and ammo.


"Wild cats who do wild things". Don't be so distracted by Overflow's graphics that you can't take a moment to appreciate its writing.


The dock is a simple introductory stage. Other areas of the game go on for far longer, which should come as no surprise knowing this game's length.

What I really appreciate here is that this game's style isn't these linewall shaped rooms superimposed over a background image, but layers that do interact with each other at times. There's a clear connection to one of ships docked here which help give a sense that the player is actually moving in space and making progress forward.


Though certainly embracing ZZT's built-in bestiary, Drelick doesn't shy from object based enemies either.


Though that does mean all the expected issues of objects shooting each other rather than the player come in full swing. Other boards will provide more of a mixture of enemy types.


Well, not if you label like that.


The mini-fortress serves as the game's hub. Overflow would like you to see it as Chrono Trigger, but honestly it would be apt to compare it to Town of ZZT instead. This hub disregards the earlier world map in favor of flying your ship directly to each location in search of five "keycards" rather than purple keys. A more direct parallel can be found in the map screen for Chris Jong's The Lost Monkeys.

Regardless of influence, deliberate or otherwise, this setup means that Overflow is non-linear with every area freely explorable. Unlike other open world ZZT games I've covered like The Secret of Cannibal Island, the game provides ample enough resources that I don't think the difficulty curve will be thrown for a loop based on the order you tackle each location.

Lastly, despite the world map screen from earlier, Drelick has still made sure to put in the effort of visibly including every location on this screen, and in a much more organic way. Each location can still be readily identified which really adds to the immersion that Charlie here is indeed island-hopping his flying fortress across the archipelago.


On the left side of the fortress are the keycard slots. It's not exactly clear what they're for, but that will be learned in time.


For now, it's time for Charlie to choose a location to look for a keycard in. Each area has one, which is important to note in case you somehow miss it as well as to ensure that every area is necessary to visit. (If I'm remembering right, The Lost Monkeys had at least one location that ultimately served no purpose.)


Heading down the list, "Native's Island" is Charlie's first stop. Graphically, it's one of the duller areas with some simple beaches and huts that don't really demonstrate the graphical capabilities of Drelick shown elsewhere.

Your little fortress parks on the coast and provides some contrast between its sleek metal exterior and the more primitive buildings here.


The natives are friendly, as long as Charlie doesn't do anything like try to pay for something he lacks the money to buy.


When the game gets this specific, you're looking at a direct Chrono Trigger reference. Providing a better idea of what kind of technology this world has, there are indeed robots living among the "natives". Most of them are stuck in the fortress being forced to work for the pirates though so their appearances are fairly rare.


The cataclysm caused by Achalon manifests here by the planet's landmasses being mostly submerged.


Things get a little weird starting with this next board which contains a phone book and a pay phone.


In one of the most baffling decisions in the entire game, Drelick expects you to type numerous telephone numbers like this. Lord help you if you accidentally move the cursor too far.


Kurt Meyer is the pirate leader and the game's final boss. He's really under developed aside from speaking in some more Britishy-sounding swears. I typed in eight digits to make a Simpsons reference at a villain that wasn't even a prank phone call bit!


"DOOM" is this guy named Jon that Charlie also hasn't talked to yet (but apparently already knows). I typed in eight digits to make a Ghostbusters reference at some guy.


Not only that, but Jon is on this board and becomes hostile, throwing a few stars at the player.


And lastly... "Nick". I know the name Igor of course, but if this is a specific reference it's lost on me.

In the end, that entire sequence was a big waste of time.


This really nice looking barrier blocks Charlie from crossing the bridge without paying a toll. The tollbooth operator demands 25 gems to cross, a fraction of what was given to Charlie in the ark.


Jon can also be harassed directly. This is the first time in my life I've heard of an argument over Doom versus the RPG genre.


This corner of the beach is also decorative. With how much of the first area is just fruitless conversations with residents of the island, I'm surprised the game picks up. It's definitely a slow start with so little happening on the four boards that make up this island that easily could have fit on one or two. Lots of walking for little payoff.


There's some more choice dialog here though. Between robots teaching man the secret of fire by just giving them lighters and robots describing the current era as "the space age" you get some pretty great bits which I don't think are intended to be funny, but are a lot more humorous today than starting arguments about Doom. A robot helpfully provides some gems as well to make sure the player can definitely pay the toll, but gems are all over this game so if the player spends their money at the shop on the next board it's easy to raise the necessary funds again.


Lastly is this fellow using a standard "dragon" character that's so prolific in ZZT worlds for reptilian creatures that I can't even begin to guess what game— It might be Die Hard: Killing the Beast actually. I really didn't think searching for "beast" would be helpful, but not only does this look like a particularly crude game, but it is one in the archives.


Lastly on the settled part of the island is a shop, and a hut that can actually be entered.


These are some pretty high prices at first glance since the amounts of ammo and health given aren't stated, but both options are a 1:1 exchange of gems for ammo/health. Overflow is... ... ...overflowing with supplies though so it's very unlikely the player will need to take advantage of this shop. However, since there are so many gems throughout the game it does make it easy to really stock up on health if you ever really want to not have to worry.


A robot gives some actually interesting backstory revealing this game to take place on a ruined Earth, though if the island is full of refugees from New York City, perhaps "Native's Island" isn't the best name for it.


So this is wild. You can just fight Achalon now. No new game plus required. So yeah, why not.


The background in the hut is very flashy, and I don't mean ostentatious. I mean, "wow this hurts to look at".


How cool is this?!

We haven't seen enough of Overflow to really get a feel for its nicer looking scenes, and this is without a doubt one of them, but it's so mis-representative of what the game is actually like that I'm upset I can't justify using it as the preview image for this article.


Welcome to ULTRAWORLD.


This Achalon fight is really underwhelming and doesn't do "existential horror" justice. Achalon moves randomly and shoots towards the player a bunch. I didn't even get hit in this small arena before hitting it a dozen times to win.


This leads to another flashy board that explains what's happened because of Achalon's defeat.

You have defeated Achalon...

Now, the citizens of the future can live
in a peaceful environment.

As you defeated Achalon, a gate had opened
up, which will lead you to another world..


time zone..

or even another universe.....

Go on, Charlie, and see what awaits you!

This was already weird enough skipping over the whole five keycards thing, but even with Achalon defeated and a happy ending for Earth's future, there's still more game on this alternate path.

Charlie arrives on this new world inside some home. It's not clear if this is Charlie arriving in somebody's home or if Charlie settled on this planet and has been here for a bit before the story resumes.

I do like this alien looking world, it's quite the departure from the tropics to be sure.


The home itself doesn't have much going on in it. The furniture is pretty huge going by this underwear drawer here. There's a very large computer (alas with no fun technical specs), and a window that can be opened to cause it to put a bunch of yellow fakes below itself to simulate light pouring into the room. Nothing gives any clues or help to the player. It's just a trip to Salkin and Dalkin castles.


This overworld is a lot more lacking in detail, though it's for a good reason. There isn't much in the way of landmarks here, and with no board connections the player's trip is going to be a short one.

The one unlabeled area has a scroll by it that simply reads "Battlefield". It looks to be the only thing green on this planet.


Salkin castle is also pretty sparse and looks more like one of the fortresses on the previous world in terms of its design. There's a throne room lined with pillars and two small alcoves to the side with random citizens of the kingdom to speak with. The king seems most important to start with and has quite a bit to say.

King of Salkin
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
We have been at war for 300,000,000 years.
They started it by blaming us for
unleashing Achalon.

Charlie-Achalon had destroyed my home
planet, too, but I defeated it.

King-You did? Then, maybe we can finally
make peace with the Dalkin Castle.

Charlie-I have a few questions... Where
are we? Where did Achalon come from? How
do I get back to my original planet and
time zone?

King-We are in the planet Maeri, in the M2
galaxy. Earth is 24 Trillion Light Years
away from us, and we have seen the
destruction Achalon caused. Achalon came
the Ultraworld. A young man picked up a
small hedgehog-like object which was
glowing one day. This was Achalon. Soon
after, Achalon struck the castle of
Dalkin, and, of course, the citizens of
Dalkin blame us. Finally, I have heard of
a transporter that will take you to your
home planet. It is somewhere in Dalkin.

Charlie-Thanks! I will try to make peace
with the citizens of Dalkin.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

Oof. 300 million years and nobody thought to just shoot Achalon twelve times. "Small hedgehog" is a great description as well, and again tracks with Lavos from Chrono Trigger. And boy is Charlie a long way from Earth.


After talking to the king, the planet loses its weird coloring and goes back to looking pretty much like Earth. One of the citizens explains that with Achalon's defeat that the world is "evolving" back to its original color. Nature is healing. (Wait didn't I make that exact joke when the ice melted in The Three Trials?)


The other citizen offers some insight as to exactly how Achalon ruins all these planets. Again, it's Lavos.

Nature is healing.

As far as ZZT castles go, Salkin was rather modest, but Dalkin is just depressing. This is the sorriest looking castle I've ever come across.

A lone guard blocks the player from entering until they've spoken with the Salkin king. It's arbitrary in that Charlie doesn't bring up why he's here so there's no real reason for the guard to suddenly let him in, but whatever. Lousy guard. Lousy castle. I can't believe Salkin hasn't won this war.


If the emptiness of the world feels off, this citizen explains where everybody is.

King of Dalkin
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
You must have defeated Achalon! The reason
why the world is changing color is because
Achalon has been defeated.

Charlie-I defeated him on the planet

King-Good. If you wish to go back to your
home planet, use the machine over there.
Here's the key to get into the room...
#put e green key
Charlie-I also want to make peace between
you and Salkin. Salkin citizens didn't
create Achalon. He is an alien...

King-Really? Then it was stupid to waste
time and lives fighting Salkin...

Charlie-Yeah, that's it. I want you two
castles to make peace!

King-Well, I am willing to!

Charlie-Then my work here is done!
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

They fought for 300 million years because the Dalkins thought that the Salkins created Achalon and ruined everything. Incredible.

Also, that person in Salkin explained that Achalon creates spawn that spread to other planets. There should still be an Achalon here? It's probably Chrono Trigger spoilers to have it explained.

The war is over and Charlie can head home thanks to some strange device the Dalkin king has. Good riddance to this planet honestly.


One last blinking board that's far easier on the eyes. It's just a quick zip through this transporter and then Charlie can be beamed back 24 trillion light years home.


Okay this is great. Five people showed up to celebrate Charlie defeating the scourge of the galaxy. It's silly, but a cute way for this to end.


It's quite a crowd.

Ending #3 Found!!!

Here are the credits!!!

Game Design-Luke Drelick

Music-Luke Drelick

Beta Testing-Drew Lytle, Tom Bowman,
Kristofer Munsterhjelm (KM), Barjesse,
Matt Williams, Geoff Paulson,
Edgar Troudt, The Dianoga,
Benjamin Stauffer, Scott Hammack,
Matt Lindsey

Special Thanks-Rei-Chann (S-T-K, ZZT Sound
Effects, ML Distribution)

Barjesse, for the original review
All of you who like this game!

Duky Inc. is-

Luke Drelick, Alex Drelick, Dan Patalano,
Shadow Runner, Dustin Hubbard (OWCP),
Bryon Vandiver (Asterick), and Entomorph.

Overflow-(C)1996 Duky Inc.

The End

Rather counter-intuitively, the object the ends the game and brings up these credits is below the scroll, so if you're like me and planned to talk to the object first you'll have to go back to read it as the game ends.

...and the scroll just says to touch the object below it to end the game.

"Ending #3" I suspect also betrays the original plan for a massive 10 chapter game. There's only one other ending in this game and it's not given a number.

The copyright date at the end also helps date when this game may have been originally created before it received its overhaul.

Final Thoughts

See, it took no time at all to get through that hundred board game.

...Okay okay we're not done yet.


I'm glad I made a separate save before facing off against Achalon. It wouldn't take very long to get back here, but it would definitely be annoying to have to start from scratch. Besides, that ending was just one that saved the future. We're going to get a time machine and prevent Achalon's destruction from ever happening in the first place.

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