Welcome back Townies!
In Part 1 at this look at Town of ZZT Remix we took a look the many authors of this project that made contributions of a board or two. Today we'll wrap things up by covering the four authors not yet covered as well as a look at the repercussions of a certain flag being set on a puzzle board throughout the rest of the game.
There's not much to introduce here, as it's all been introduced earlier, but for a quick recap: Town of ZZT Remix is a community re-imagining of ZZT's first world, Town of ZZT, where contributors were given one board at a time in order to remake the entire game and provide the opportunity for a large number of authors. The game debuted in January 2021, managing to hit the mark of being released just in time for ZZT's 30th anniversary. The game aims to celebrate Town and ZZT's history, smooth out a few bumps in the original game's design, as well as showoff the sheer number of techniques the medium has been revealed to be capable of over time.
Introduction ScreenOriginal: Introduction Screen
Probably the best place to start is with DarkMatt's boards, as this includes the game's title screen. The main logo remains pretty true to the original, with a dark background rather than bright to give some more contrast to the lettering. The "Game World #1" has been made purple so that it doesn't now blend into the new dark blue coloration.
Some nice italicized lettering makes it clear that this is a remix of the original game and not perhaps, a special edition that just takes the original and improves the graphics a bit before calling it a day.
The small compartments of entities within the game have been shrunk, as the author information replaces the old item overview, with a white background that looks as if this information is being pulled up over the rest of the old title screen. To handle the change, the labels on the compartments is now moved to the top, with "..Others" adjusted to the more friendly "And more!".
Only this final compartment has any appreciable changes. The original uses one genuine bear, and four objects. One to represent a ruffian. One white smiley to represent objects in general. One snake, and one... yellow thing. Town actually names some of these objects so the object, ruffian, and even snake are definitive interpretations. The yellow lowercase phi is the only one that's not named. It's one of those weird ZZT mysteries, as the game does not contain any snakes, or usage of that character. The phi is used in the original, as "lefty", the object the player shoots to be able to exit the guard station area south of the town hub, although lefty and righty here are green rather than yellow.
If you want to ponder things, consider that bears, ruffians, and objects appear in that order in ZZT's internal elements table.
No such mystery exists on the new title screen. The phi and snake have been removed and in their place is a red dragon that will show up in the castle later, or alternatively as the hipster dragon seen in Bluey's House of Blue Dragons in the first half of this series.
Lastly, the ginormous list of authors replaces our item list. Remix isn't aiming to be anybody's first ZZT game, so this is a convenient place to list the members of black key as the name of the group came to be called. I wonder how many more authors could have been handled before the title screen would need some restructuring!
As project lead, it's no surprise DarkMatt took up so many boards. He had the most to lose if the project never came to fruition having done considerable work with organizing and assembling everything. He also ended up picking up a few of the more important and desirable boards to remix. This isn't one of them.
This is the cave found to the east of the starting hub. The original cave is very open and empty with two tunnels leading to a dead end with some gems and sometime ammo as well. A long row of bears means that a significant number of foes will slowly close in on the player who will be unsuspecting in the darkness until they're pretty close. There's not much to say about it.
DarkMatt maintains these pockets with caches of items, while generally making the layout narrower and more akin to what you'd expect of a ZZT dungeon crawler. The enemies here have been adjusted to replace ruffians with lions. A nice little detail is that the enemies to avoid and items to collect share colors, with dark cyan ammo/lions, brown torches/bears, and yellow gems/centipedes.
Another new addition are some "spinies". These are simple obstacles to avoid that will take ten health from the player if they accidentally step on one while moving too quickly through the tunnels. They don't disappear, and are running at cycle one, so if the player is trying to escape from a mobile foe it's very much possible to run repeatedly into one of these if you're not paying attention.
Fortunately, a scroll warns the player before they even see one so it's clear right away that these objects aren't to be touched.
While the new layout makes for more exciting spelunking, it's the centipede pit that's the definite focus here. An enclosed circular arena with a bunch of spinies and a few larger than average centipedes skittering around. Once inside, the player is trapped. A machine at three o'clock is responsible for generating force fields, and hints repeatedly that something needs to be done to it in order to get rid of the transporters keeping the player inside.
The electronics are vulnerable to bullets, with plenty of ammo inside the pit to effectively ensure that the player can shoot their way out. Destroying the machine opens up both the path out of the cave, as well as allowing the player to continue deeper inside.
Good Ole MiclOriginal: Good Ole Micl
Shuffling the order in the file a bit, let's jump to, well the next board in gameplay. Also one of the last boards in gameplay as this is another board pulling double duty where it has two distinct portions with the played one being based on where you enter from.
For more old ZZT mysteries this board has the curious name of "Good Ole Micl". I have no ideas here. For the player, there's a mystery here in that this path leads to a purple door. It's up to them to decide if it's worth using a key for the palace on it to see what's beyond. Lucky for them it's another purple key, some gems, and a scroll plugging the registered world Caves of ZZT.
Here in the Remix the board gets some life added to it. ...Perhaps that's not the right word, as the first thing you're greeted by is some text reading "catacombs". Some very cramped corridors with bears and some lions for good measure make for a fun almost puzzle-like design where I found myself navigating specifically to be able to have easy shots for the bears rather than just getting to the exit as quickly as possible. The term "Sweeney's Gambit" has been used in situations where the player steps onto a tile next to an enemy and has to hope that the cycle doesn't let the enemy get a chance to move afterwards. The situation here is even more drastic as these bears have been adjusted to run at cycle one. Any step that lands you next to one of these bears will cost you ten health guaranteed. The design here looks really simple, but the combination of numerous paths (note that there are almost no "dead-ends" per se) with these fast movements of the bears makes for a very good combination. Navigation isn't based on where the walls let the player go, but where the player may go safely.
The catacombs end with another transporter that's blocked by an invisible wall and plenty more bears. These ones are trapped behind additional invisibles to keep them roughly where they started before the player transporters inside. It's easy to not think about how the bears would move to the space directly adjacent to the entrance transporter, so the sudden warp to the middle of the left chamber comes off as an unexpected surprise! A hidden object detects when the player arrives in the center and erases the invisibles, setting loose a significant number of bears in a pincer attack where your only real safety is the quickly destroyed breakable walls. Again the red bears move extra fast, making this an incredibly chaotic moment.
Getting through leads to the expected dead end. No need to risk a purple key this time. Instead of leading to more caves, this tunnel suggests that it's the road to Super ZZT's Monster Zoo, with a small office containing a brochure, the key out of here, and another ZZT homage with special object based key.
The "Rubey Key", unlocks the "Rube Machine" according to its tag. It is specifically named for and styled after the ruby keys contained in Alexis Janson's The Secret of Cannibal Island. I mentioned in part one that while this cave is completely optional in Town, that it's required to obtain knowledge for one of the trivia questions in the armory in order to be able to access the secret passage to get the bank vault combination. I completely overlooked that it's also mandatory because you need to have the Rubey key to access the Rube Machine as well! The general lack of anything substantial in the original makes the cave something that I'd usually just skip in situations where I'm not playing for an audience. I welcome DarkMatt's changes which make the cave both more fun to explore as well as a core part of the game.
At the end of the game, the rest of this board is used to make one last challenge for the player. The original opts to have the player ride a pusher into a dark crevice filled with tigers, which may be an unceremonious ending, but it's certainly a difficult one. In Remix, the player is a lot more likely to have reasonable health, especially since it's not unlikely they'll spend a bunch of money before entering the palace expecting to not have another opportunity.
This time, the final chamber appears to contain nothing more than one last purple key, yet, before it can be collected, it transforms into a final boss trying to pull off some Liquid Snake vibes. Several bombs also appear making it apparent how to deal with this final foe. The limited space makes this fight quite dangerous. It's very easy to be caught in a blast as any bomb that's still visible will inherently catch the player in its explosion. Bullets also work, and are probably a superior method of attack, but with no way of knowing this and seeing all those bombs appear I stuck with explosives.
It's a fun little fight! Thankfully not as demanding as some other modern ZZT final bosses, but a fitting finisher that sits in nicely with the difficulty of other fights throughout the game. Upon defeating them, the key can be collected and open the true final purple door of the game.
Rube MachineOriginal: Rube Board
For all this talk of strong iconic boards and highly desirable ones to claim for remixing, we've finally reached the big one. The Rube Board in its original form is Town's most notorious puzzle. After testing the player's dexterity with crossing the lakes, the western branch ends abruptly, with an assortment of pushers, sliders, and boulders. A single bomb needs to somehow be brought from the top of the board to the bottom in order to blast away some breakable walls.
These days I'm of the opinion that the original isn't particularly scary. Most of the points where the player can trap themselves are simple instances of just not pushing things the maximum amount. The actual mechanism to unlock in order to create a clear passage only really has two places the player can interact with the puzzle, but slap on some signage, and outright lie to the player about "3 Tries!" and you'll definitely stump people for awhile.
Whatever its actual difficulty is, The Rube Board is perceived as having a high difficulty, and so the remixed "Rube Machine" needs to live up to that reputation. DarkMatt takes the initiative to create the most complex puzzle of the game.
Upon entering the board, the giant purple machine is shut tight. To even be allowed to attempt this puzzle, requires the discovery of the Rubey Key from the caves seen earlier. This could potentially lead to a lot of frustration before even seeing the puzzle as it's very possible to cross the treacherous Four Lakes board only to reach a dead end. I have to wonder now if KKairos's inclusion of a shortcut to prevent extra crossings was done to alleviate the difficulties of his own board, or to prevent the frustration here. The shortcut also makes things a little more forgiving for those who are overwhelmed by the puzzle. In Town, reaching the Rube Board and giving up on it to try out another path and return later means extra crossings of the Three Lakes. Here the player gets some sympathy. If this isn't yet your cup of tea or you lack the proper key, you can leave and return without any extra effort.
Upon unlocking the door and pressing the button, the machine reveals its inner machinations. While the sliding puzzle past the jail seen in part one gave the entire puzzle a reworking, the Rube Machine sticks to the original formula. The goal is, as before, to find a way to get a bomb to blow up a wall and reach the purple key on the other side. The only new component are a few transporters included which allow the player to exit the machine, and if they happen to bring a boulder with them, enter it once more while it is active.
The animation isn't just for flashiness. In recognition of how many attempts are likely to be needed, this puzzle offers a generous reset button in the corner that clears out the puzzle and reconstructs it in pristine condition. It's a welcome change compared to the forced reloading needed if a mistake is made in the original puzzle, though admittedly it takes some time to rebuild, making quitting and loading a save often still faster as long as you don't have a lengthy list of saves to scroll through.
If this was the kind of puzzle you'd make a mistake or two on and then get through with it, this delay would be fine. In practice, the reset button is there to bring this puzzle up to code with modern design principles that discourage putting the player in a state where they have to reload a save that isn't death. I'm still glad it's here as it at least lets you know that DarkMatt is acknowledging this issue. The solution just isn't actually fast enough to be an improvement over the more cruel-feeling need to quit the game before making another attempt.
The only part of the original that the remix seems to lacking is in the flavor text. Due to the far more cramped design of the puzzle and need for it to support resetting, the on-board notes of the original are now on an object within the machine itself, written as a diagram for the puzzle. It definitely keeps the heart of the original, but the need to be touching an object means you can't really reference the notes once you start moving components around.
Going into this puzzle for the second time, I had some very vague memories of my streamed playthrough. I knew that at least two solutions had been found. I also remembered some rough routing, which to not spoil, just included vague recollections as to whether it was best upon entering the machine to head left or right. I also remembered spending quite a bit of time on it, to the point of ending my stream and solving it mere minutes afterwards off camera with a recording to be able to retrace my steps for the next stream.
My second time here for this article, I played around and was once again stumped. Being on a deadline, (and not knowing this was going to be a two-parter) I wound up opting to reference my video and use it as a guide.
Listen, I solved it then. It's fine.
Difficult as it may be, this is undoubtedly a very well constructed puzzle. It absolutely captures the helplessness felt trying to solve the original, sticks with the theme, and feels quite satisfying to get through. (At least when you're not watching a YouTube video...) DarkMatt was being held to some very high expectations by taking this board, and created an excellent successor.
There is one other unique feature about this version of the puzzle as well: A newly added "easy mode". A button on the outside of the machine appears when the machine is unlocked. Touching it allows the player to opt into an easier version of the puzzle which destroys some of the pushers at the cost of also preventing bonus points from being given for solving the puzzle and "unintended side-effects" elsewhere in the game which will be covered at the end of this article.
The good news is that this easy mode really does simplify things. The two bottom-most pushers are destroyed along with the one that starts trapped on the right edge. This makes it a lot easier to work with the included boulders to set up alternate transporter paths if you so desire. Unfortunately, it comes at a price that I'm not a fan of that goes far beyond losing points. We'll see.
Easy mode's side-effects aside, this is another high point for Remix to be sure. It doesn't do anything fancy other than its reset and difficulty switch. This is very much a puzzle design that could have been seen in early ZZT worlds who were inspired by Town and wanted to up the ante a bit. It's also not too unwieldy. It will almost certainly be the board you spend the most time on in the game, but it never feels unconquerable. Compare that to lengthier slider puzzles such as the one seen in Nightmare, and it's easy to see why the Rube Machine feels like a challenge to overcome and not a process of untangling Christmas lights.
Starmine!Original: Bomb Area
DarkMatt takes on another puzzle board here, with the more action focused "Starmine!". Unlike the Rube Machine, this one is very true to the original, merely shuffling the looks and layout a bit. Just as before, the player needs to use a row of bombs to tunnel their way through the breakable walls to reach a purple key. The original puzzle is one that has obtained a negative reputation in modern times as it can easily become unwinnable through little fault of the player. Various mines are scattered throughout the board which when bombed begin a slow loop of throwing stars that will never stop.
Normally the fear with stars is that the player will be overwhelmed by them and lack the health to get past. With the bomb area here, the issue is that the stars will push back against the bombs the player is trying to position, resulting in little if any ground being gained. The original makes things worse by returning the player to the start of the board when they're harmed which gives the stars plenty of time to tunnel roughly southwest and reach the row of unlit bombs and begin pushing them around as well.
It's a cool concept for a puzzle in the original that will likely lead to loading a save even for experienced players at least once in repeated playthroughs. If that wasn't enough, there's no "correct" solution to the puzzle. The mines are spaced in such a way that you have to set some of them off. The best you can do is use a lit bomb to push an unlit one to try and minimize the time between the explosions.
DarkMatt saw the flaws here and toned things down, making this the rare instance where a puzzle has been made easier than before. This time, the mines are actually more aggressive: they throw stars at a faster rate and the initial bombing causes them to produce four at once. Breakable walls can destroy them so the initial rush won't wipe out a significant portion of health as there's typically room to guide the stars into walls. The board also no longer resets the player to the start when they're hurt so it's much easier to keep a steady pace rather than have even a single hit run the risk of rendering the board unwinnable.
The layout is also changed to give the puzzle a proper solution. Put in the effort and now you can actually cross the board without setting off a single mine. Doing so results in additional bonus points being given, a nice reward for those who want to finally show mastery over this type of puzzle. For those playing in the style of the original, the spacing makes it reasonable easy to not set off any mines until you've opened up a path to the key, no longer having to worry about the bombs.
While this is definitely easier, it does lack any kind of reset functionality. If you do set off all the bombs without freeing the key, it's still a soft-lock, which is only something to note because the Rube Machine tries to avoid it, and having an object set up some bombs and breakables again should be a fairly straightforward process. All the same, actually detonating every bomb without getting to the end requires some profoundly poor judgment.
Overall, this puzzle does keep the charm of the original and remove much of the headache, but it feels like it doesn't explore the concept enough, resulting in the board feeling less like a remix and more like a bugfix for the original. I'd take this version over the source material any day, but the creativity shown here doesn't really compare to what else we've seen from DarkMatt and the other authors, making this perfectly playable and enjoyable board feel like it's falling behind its peers.
Gates of PerilOriginal: Think Fast
From puzzle, to action-puzzle, to pure action. A fun if generally simple zigzag race to collect a key get some extra love here. The original version of this board can be argued to be a tutorial for how bears are able to destroy breakable walls and themselves in the process. Fun fact: The Armory is the only other board in Town where the player is able to actually shoot breakable walls.
Going by the initial screenshot alone, this looks like it's going to be another cleanup like "Starmine!" that doesn't do too much with the source material. Looks can be deceiving, as this room has a few hidden tricks to be unveiled as the player breaks into the main portion of the board.
The "Think Fast" signage all over the original was never particularly well-explored. The only unexpected surprise there was that the bears in the original could break through the initial wall whether the player was ready or not. The bullets from the tigers may also be unexpected, but they're deep enough into the course that the player has plenty of time to comprehend the big cats with bigger guns they'll be dealing with shortly.
Sure those signs are gone, but this board is significantly more fast paced than the original.
Its message lives on in this popup that activates once the player is a few steps in. At that point a gate is closed behind the player, committing them to making it through the board.
They'll have to do so quickly! An announcement is made that the next gate is beginning to close and the player is forced to race through the board reaching specific points before being trapped behind a gate. The frantic nature of this extends beyond just having these gates close. Several enemies also spawn via hidden objects that play out a nice little animation before turning into a default ZZT creature or breakable wall. This really keeps the player on their toes as they no longer have the luxury of knowing what they're about to face like in the original.
Passing certain checkpoints also frees the enemies which are already visible. They begin trapped by invisible walls which prevents the player from trying to take them out from a distance (not a wise idea anyway as there's little time to dawdle). This makes the encounters something more in the realm of the author's control versus the original where tigers may very well shoot up a bunch of breakables or clump into a corner trying to reach the player long before the player gets a chance to actually do anything.
The hectic pace really works in the board's favor. Often the biggest challenge of the original board amounts to how much health you have left by the time you reach it. With Remix's far more generous healing, this is a great way to actually realize the concept hinted at in the original. In the original game, this board is overshadowed by the minefield, and here in Remix it also has to compete with being hot off the heels of the excellent Sliding Puzzle, putting the okay original in a tight spot for remixing. DarkMatt pulls this one off quite nicely, breathing life into the board where it was lacking before.
Again though, no checks for a soft-lock. Given the slowness of the reset in the Rube Machine, I'm curious why that one got one when these other boards didn't. "Starmine!" isn't easy to get stuck in, but the timing on the gates here is fairly tight, especially the first one when you're going in unaware that this is in fact a race at all.
DarkMatt has one final board in the remix, which we'll skip for now as it's a part of the ending sequence.
Path by cave SUPER PLUS (with collaboration from: DarkMatt)Original: Path by cave
Well, okay, maybe DarkMatt has one and a half boards to go. For this one, I suspect the split is between the palace portion of the board and the main path to the east, with the latter bearing the signature style of Snorb.
There's not much to this one up top. The forest is pushed slightly back to give the board more of a cave feel compared to the original where the cave exists solely as text and a passage. Here it maintains the same shape, but the new colors make it feel like the passage is just the part of the cave's mouth that can actually be entered. I can maybe see an attempt of this in the original, but there it's making a stretch. Here it's a much more viable theory.
A new sign is added which can guide the player somewhat and is used to include some nods to other ZZT worlds, with the specific locations including "The Cave of ZZT" and "ZZT's Lost Forest".
The final addition up top is a new tree that plays a little tune based on Super ZZT's way too good rotation of sound effects for stepping on its forest tiles.
Below in the palace, things show signs of DarkMatt. Like with the Gates of Peril, enemies that were once visible in the original are now hidden. This is a welcome change by default as the ruffians between doors three and four had a nasty habit of bunching up on the third door causing the player to frequently be hurt as soon as they open it. This new design keeps that from happening and turns the cramped room into a tiny boss battle with some "ruffian captains". This locks the door behind you and spawns in a few ruffians as well as the three captains which look like ruffians but in dark purple. These captains act similarly, but also throw stars! This isn't as scary as it sounds. Shortly after stars appear they'll be turned into more regular ruffians. The player needs to act quickly and decisively before things get out of hand. In a small space like this, hitting a target is fairly straightforward. The biggest challenge comes from the single shot limit. Miss entirely and the player is left wide open for attack.
It's a small enhancement to the original, but one that turns an annoying gamble into an engaging encounter that helps give the palace some personality it normally lacks.
"Actually, I originally did all the art on this board, caves and forest and purple Palace and everything! The ruffian captain fight was originally supposed to have them spawning in ruffians as the fight went on, and once you killed the fifth captain, it was going to turn into a fake lit bomb with "Autodestruct activated!" before letting you free.
Problem is, I kiiiiinda forgot that a skilled player can kill all five ruffian captains too quickly and thus not get that to happen. I had a lot of problems getting the failsafe to activate, so I asked DarkMatt for help. (The "You defeated the ruffian captains!" message in the final game is the failsafe kicking in.)"
For MarikoOriginal: Forest 2
Snorb's second board leads us to the end of the forest. I really love the aesthetic on this one. Generally, the additional colors in ZZT's non-hindered palette make boards dark, something seen in Snorb's previous board. This is a very unique turnaround, where previously all brown torches representing tree trunks to create a background instead become far more colorful with greens, yellows, and a hint of red here and there. The same brightness increase carries over to the playable portion of the board as well with far brighter forest tiles to traverse as well as the yellow being added to the walls that to me suggests bright sunlight breaking through the forest's canopy.
It makes for a very tranquil scene compared to the more frantic pace of the original which relies on duplicators to slowly trickle more enemies onto the board over time, along with re-enter when zapped being enabled, forcing the player to shoot fast and dodge faster. Here the journey through the forest to the House of Blue Dragons looks like a welcome respite in which the player can take their time and brush up on their botany. All the enemies have just been replaced with more trees, each of a different species.
Pay attention to the details. You'll be tested on them in the Armory's quiz.
The journey isn't as simple as it looks of course. At the very end of the path there's a newly added druid that refuses to let the player pass until they defeat all the creatures that live in these woods.
It's a good trick. Suddenly all those trees spawn in an assortment of enemies. Normally on this board you'd want to be very smart about how you move through the forest in order to be able to deal with the enemies and not give them room to spread out. The subversion here of not having the enemies appear until you've already made your path means that if you treat your movement like it doesn't matter, you may be in for a greater challenge here.
It's not a perfect plan. With nothing but an empty walk on the first pass, there's no real reason for the player to widen their paths unless they really want to hear ZZT's own forest sound effect a bunch. I think sprinkling some gems or other collectibles that would give the player more reason to open the path would help with what Snorb seems to be going for here. There's also a minor nuisance in that enemies in that final pocket on the right side of the board which requires the use of a transporter to reach. I very nearly walked the path backwards rather than going through the transporter, and doing so would result in having to re-walk the path again to get to the transporter, going through it, and then walking the path once more. Perhaps an extra transporter above the green tree with the tigers would help prevent this situation.
Or maybe I'm just the weirdo for almost going the wrong way.
And when you're all done, you have to do it one more time with bears! The influx of new enemies a second time is honestly more surprising than the first, and this time a player is far more likely to have widened their paths thinking the dangerous work is done when each tree is cleared of the first group of enemies. Using bears also helps to minimize any frustration for having to cross this board a third time as they're far easier to deal with than any other ZZT foe.
Satisfied, the druid does what we all want to do: turn into a board and just leave. She also drops the ever important "Invest in leaves" line whose absence was very much noted when interacting with the one tree that was in the original board.
(You suspect that the proprietor might
need a better booking agent.)
• • • • • • • • •
Finally, I can't not share the poster of the upcoming bands booked for the House of Blues here.
Snorb has one last board to go, but again, it's a part of the ending sequence. We'll return to it when the time comes
The tune that plays when you talk to the druid, who is indeed named Mariko, is the first few notes of the ScreamTracker module "For Mariko," famed for its inclusion in the MegaZeux game Engine: The Second Attack. I do not know why this song stuck with me for 20+ years. There was also going to be a werewolf (a gray A with umlauts) that was supposed to show up after you fought the bears (complete with "WHAT $%#$ING WEREWOLF!?" message) but I thought that would have been a bit much considering what you went through (twice!) to get to the House of Blue Dragons. (I am also a bit upset about the lack of tater tots in the House of Blue Dragons bar, but that's on me. I blame a menu at the snack bar at Asbury Lanes, NJ, which the description was taken from verbatim.)