The Silly World of Dan Shootwrong

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Closer Look: The Silly World of Dan Shootwrong (Part 1)

A potential lost classic that decides to destroy your spirit instead

Authored By: Dr. Dos
Published: Apr 30, 2022
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The northern path may have abruptly stopped yet again, but a radio is a radio, and that's enough for this guard to completely change their tune and let the player explore the military base free of consequences.

Keep on jamming.


The base begins with what's an incredibly complicated piece of code for the time! Like this is some incredible work to essentially create an engine.


The puzzle here is none other than playing some Minesweeper! The text explains that some bombs are live while others are duds. The player has to carve out a path without setting off a real bomb, which will cause the entire board to explode if one does. To aid the player, touching a dud causes an object to the southeast to reveal how many live bombs surround the space.

I'm also now realizing that this game is using special characters in its text, implying some knowledge of how to type ASCII characters not directly found on the keyboard, something that's incredibly uncommon in early ZZT worlds.


This is a lot of code. Every counter object had to be manually calibrated to display the correct number after touching the relevant dud. Much of Shootwrong makes it feel like an Oktrollberfest entry, and for good reason.

Making ten boards of just this and we'd have had a pioneering work in ZZT-OOP for the era, this could have been the basis of one of the, if not the, first ever engine based ZZT games.

Best of all: It's actually pretty fun! Sometimes it can get a little disorienting to read the numbers as they aren't actually aligned with the bombs, but as long as you check yourself before you wreck yourself, this puzzle really stands out in a good way!


Which is why the next board is a different bomb puzzle, the kind you'd expect to see in an old world like this. It's reminiscent of Town's Bomb Area, requiring the use of limited bombs to reach a goal on the opposite side of the board. To differentiate itself from Town, this one doesn't deal with making the player dodge stars and avoid bombing objects that produce them. The puzzle here is simply how to use the limited number of bombs scattered throughout the board to reach the exit.


Compared to the last room, this one is rather tough! The trick of course is to realize you can push bombs around safely with boulders, but they themselves need to be blasted free. I was very worried that this last bomb wouldn't be enough to get past the weirdly shaped exit hatch, and felt a wave of relief when I pulled it off.

Nah, for real though, this one is well-designed too! It just feels a bit more primitive compared to the previous board. Still, that's two boards in a row that were not only puzzles, but fun ones. Is Shootwrong going to become enjoyable?


Hold that thought. The next board is here and it's ready to ruin that good-will.

The challenge here is another step down, and while the "purple people eater" concept could be a fun one for a ZZT board the visuals here are suddenly severely lacking. They're all still until the player steps inside, which requires yet another key I lack. Once they wake up they just blindly try to chase the player at cycle three requiring some finesse in your movements to not get caught. A single one in the middle will actually shoot as well, but everybody clumps together so fast that you may not even notice. Other than that one's bullets though, you can't actually be hurt here. Granted, that just means being completely surrounded and having to quit the game anyway.


Again a hint object exists to help the player find the keys.




When this puzzle is about finding a safe path it's enjoyable. Once it turns into "Find the two arbitrary objects that have keys" it gets a lot more tedious. I really feel like these keys don't add anything to the game and Shootwrong would be better off without this little joke.


The military camp comes next, and exemplifies the specific kind of maliciousness that Shootwrong is steeped in.

There are two entrances here each of which leads to a guard that prevents the player from coming inside. This one on the right says they would move, but the breakable and other guard have him blocked. Meanwhile the one on the left explains that they're about to step into the camp, but that you won't be able to follow because of the pushers closing behind them.

The double entrance design here is similar to the church's generator room, though that one at least had a transporter for the wrong path. Here you have to turn around and make sure you don't get caught by the Purple People Eaters, which is fairly easy due to the wall on the previous board at least.


Then you get to work your way around the perimeter of the camp, collecting a "strange white key" along the way before reaching this point here to actually get inside.

I'm only kidding, of course that boulder is actually an object that prevents you from getting in this way! Hahahaha! What a great joke!!!


After a forced reload, the actual method in is clear. Now the trouble is how to actually get back out as well as trying to figure out what you're actually supposed to be doing here.

Take a moment to enjoy the layout of this board at least. There camp has a big medical tent, the brig the player was nearly sent to, a little headquarters, and a cool cannon that probably shouldn't be pointed at multiple people, but IANAL. (I am not a lieutenant)

My initial assumption was that the strange key was the objective here and I began trying to figure out how to leave the camp. Eventually I did just that. Then I learned that one of the two white-on-black objects making up the tent was actually a passage! So I once more had to load my save so I could enter the camp again!


The hospital tent is just as bad as the camp. It's also another instance of Shootwrong going from a pretty looking game to a visually subpar one. This is what I expect most 1992 games to look like.

Inside is yet another fiendish puzzle that involves using bombs to blast away some breakables both to obtain a white key to the rest of the tent as well as to open up a path to the white door. This puzzle is easily the most impressive one in the game specifically because there's almost no components, and yet it was a nightmare to complete.


Oh, it's easy to to slide a bomb over and have it open up the white key. Then you realize that now there are boulders in the way of both halls with solid walls that will prevent you from going past. The real challenge is to blast away the breakables while also being able to store enough boulders in the white key room until you can create a clear path.


The first thing you'll notice after getting stuck is that there are some breakables in the first room. Detonating a bomb here allows two boulders to be removed from the pusher's row.


Once you're using one bomb for those boulders, then the timing for the other bomb becomes critical. Too late or early and you'll end up with one of the two paths still having breakable walls. Making things worse, there are just so many boulders that simply filling one of the columns won't even cut it. Even if the bomb timing had been good in this screenshot, there's still not enough room.


Pushers are one of Clark's weaknesses. As it turns out, if you're really really fast you can ride along just behind the bomb, grab the key and make it up top you'll be able to get where you need to be before the path is closed off. Doing this is clearly unintentional, and can be done without even touching the second bomb.

For me, it was a gamble. I had to hope that the purple safe up top would yield a purple key and then the door to the right would lead to an alternative way out. If this puzzle requires you to be able to not only enter the white door room, but leave from there, this wouldn't be a valid solution.

...Place your bets.


All the medical staff in the tent treat you about as well as a trespasser should be. They do not have time to deal with you, but make it very clear that you are not welcome either.


The safe is a nice return to form. The graphics are looking a little more high-effort, and the purple key is there as I expected. Perfect.

Combination Lock
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •
     Down in Louisiana
        Where the sweet potatoes grow,
     There lived a dusky maiden
        By the name of Jerico.
     She had a pair of cotton
        Combination underwear,
     To keep out the weather
        And the cold damp air.
     She wore 'em for a year
        Without a single alteration.
     She couldn't take 'em off
        'Cause she forgot the combination.

Surely you can conquer this one.
You couldn't have forgotten.
Imagine a date with Bill.
  •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •    •

The scroll provides your hint for the combination. The song is irrelevant, and I can't find anything on those lyrics. It seems like a parody of Bobby Bare - Marie Laveau, but the lines don't fit for long. It could also just be a dirty poem, but I'm not coming up with anything looking for bits of the text as presented here either. (I don't know what I was expecting when I searched for "cotton combination underwear" on the Internet...)

The actual hint to the combination is in uncovering the identity of "Bill", with the use of the word "conquer" being a sly wink at the player. As is tradition by this point, an object will sell you clues this time in a set order for ten gems each compared to the Puzzle Park's choice of hints of higher quality for higher prices.


Why yes, the answer is none other than 1066, when William the Conqueror reigned as the king of England. I probably learned about this guy in middle school history class. "William the Conqueror" sounds familiar, but I'd have been lost on this without the hints and Wikipedia, and certainly not have gotten anywhere with "a date with Bill".


What I do enjoy about this safe is its digital nature! The combination is inputted by cycling digits with dedicated buttons, another instance of being ahead of the curve compared to the more mechanical design seen in Town's bank. (Toxic Terminator, mentioned previously also has a similar device to the one here.)


Also Clark remembers that this safe isn't intended to hold only a purple key. This is a safe in a medical tent, and as such a few potent drugs are kept under lock and key as well. Missed opportunity here by not letting the player take these (into their inventory or into their body) IMO.


That purple key leads to "Elbow Room", an excellently named board that contain one of the statue's arms. Remember those? It's been quite some time.

Before stepping into the main play area, two objects provide hints not for this room, but just things the player should do if they haven't. One is to talk with the ghost, and the other to visit the forest. The latter of which still confuses me. Nothing in this game is a forest, except possibly the smattering of trees on the starting board.


This man just will not give me a break. He even acknowledges how the whereabouts of the real arm are obvious!


I suppose if you had to put a label on this room you'd call it a puzzle. It's just positioning plenty of readily available boulders to block some very rapidly-firing blinkwalls. There's very little to it.

This is a dead-end which means my "solution" to the bomb and boulder puzzle in the tent wasn't as clever as I thought. Unlike the Rat Trap, which I understood to be a big scary puzzle that I wanted to do with, my pride made me return to tent and do things legit. It's one pusher! It shouldn't be this hard!


But there's no denying that it is. I find it brilliant really. The intended solution involves riding the pusher all the wall, then pushing boulders down in pairs and rearranging them in the key room before pushing a boulder up to return to the previous position. The two-one pattern makes the required movements to solve this much more intricate than the puzzle itself looks. I'm really impressed by this and never want to do it ever again.


Rewinding time a bit to get some better screenshots, there's still a matter of getting out of camp. First you need to bug the cannon guard. Once you talk with them, they begin to chase you and shoot at you endlessly. There is nothing to be done about this, and you'll have to do all your work here while being endlessly assaulted. If you let the guard catch up to you, they throw you into the brig, metaphorically. Literally, they end your game.


The player can't shoot on this board, but the gun can. Assuming the guard doesn't end up blocking the shot (and they will), the cyan guard will take the bullet, and not be happy with this.


You sure have buddy!

Despite their injuries, they quietly walk into the medical tent with a nearby officer covering their post. If you talk to this other officer, they'll explain that they can only leave their own post if there's an emergency. Shooting somebody definitely counts.

Okay, so we have a second target. Well, not quite. The cannon itself has a very slow firing rate, needing to cool down after each shot. Even if the gun is cooled off, this guard is immune to bullets. After some time the original guard will actually leave the tent and the two will return to their assigned posts. It's during this brief moment when they intend to switch places that there's a clear shot from the cannon to the breakable wall.

Alas, the cooldown is so long that this isn't solely a matter of timing. No, the actual solution is more impressive. The cannon is too slow so you intentionally need to cause a friendly-fire incident by getting between the cannon guard and the cyan guard. That way when the cyan guard returns from the medical tent you can then time the cannon shot to destroy the wall.


It's even more complicated. The guard on the bottom of the screen is constantly trying to move north. It's very possible to run into a situation like this where the guard relieving the cyan one ends up colliding with the outer guard causing the player to become stuck here.

So you also need your timing to break open the wall before either of the inside guards block it off. At least if the cyan guard does so you can always just shoot him again.

And boy does that poor cyan guard have it rough! Getting all this to work right is a lengthy process and you're almost certainly going to shoot them time and time again before everything lines up. They're a real trooper I suppose.


All that torment brings the eastern path to a close.

Not So Final Thoughts

This seems like a good time to tap out. Shootwrong is nothing short of draining. Appropriate given how much time is spent in a drain I suppose. In a game that could be full of wonder at every turn, the player is quickly taught just how deceiving looks can be. I have had my run-ins with tedious ZZT worlds before, but typically it's an issue of repetition like needing to backtrack repeatedly for dozens of keys in Mystery Manor or needless invisible mazes that slow the game down to a halt. Shootwrong is special in that its troubles don't originate from an amateur developer not realizing what they're doing. Instead they come from Clark consciously making one baffling decision after another. Every little victory for the player is quickly shot down. You found a battery? Now find the arbitrary spot to charge it. Found a statue piece in the septic tank? Hope you bought a backpack already. Had fun navigating the minefield? Go navigate it some more for some hidden keys.

Shootwrong never lets the player celebrate. All sense of progress is gained by fighting tooth and nail to reach a new key, object, or board. The player isn't allowed to ask for any favors, nor do their pleas for mercy ever get answered with anything more than "No". There are tougher worlds out there than Shootwrong. Zzo's The Game of XYZABCDE demands a level of precision that many would find unreasonable, but it feels designed around the idea that ZZT's save feature allows you to load your save again and again until you get it right. Nearly four years have passed since I played Sixteen Easy Pieces by the late Flimsy Parkins, and I will, without hesitation, declare it to be the best puzzle game ZZT has ever seen, and perhaps ever will. You can make a ZZT world that's demanding, challenging, and still fun. The issues of Shootwrong meanwhile, make the experience feel worse all around. They feel like busywork to elongate the game, and always come off as a joke at the player's expense. The Oktrollberfest game jams in recent years task entrants to create a trolly game, and it's clear that to do well, the player and game need to laugh together. Shootwrong instead curates the experience to make the player constantly aware that this is not a good way to spend their time. It strings you along with its original art-style, creative board themes, and the hope that whatever you're currently doing is the worst of it.

"It will all be over soon," you'll repeatedly tell yourself. The question is, just how long can you believe that?

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