Oh what a journey it has been. I've been captured by Tony Rivera's Adventure series for a month now. Together they are some of the most interesting games for ZZT I've come across. The first for being so player-hostile, and then just deciding to not be. The second for its impressive size and complex structure with its quest designs. Then, when I least expected it, Part 2 threw yet another curve ball.
By the point, all that remains are the last few kingdoms to agree to unite and then the epic clash between the armies of man versus the army of the Shadow Master.
David Daron has his work cut out for him. He seems to be the only person putting any effort in to prevent the world from entering an age of death, destruction, war, bloodshed, terror, and other stuff. The other kingdoms are more interested in missing crowns and other artifacts. Luckily, that's about to change. The remaining kingdoms don't have the luxury of ignoring the Shadow Master who is beginning his assault against them. One of the kingdoms has sent out an adventurer of their own to see what they can learn about the enemy's plans, but is it too late?
Well, we'll find out soon enough. It's time for David Daron to learn that he is not alone out there.
My New Best Friend
The surprise shift to STK visuals upon entering the southern kingdoms isn't the only major difference between the game's beginning and end. Just before the STK switch there is one other path to take which brings players to the edge of the swamp where a fellow adventurer is being attacked by monsters, unable to fight back as their gun has jammed.
A swift rescue earns you his gratitude, and a unique offer to let him accompany you on your travels. This is another big surprise of Part Two. Players are given another big choice to make as to whether or not they wish to accept their new friend's offer. This is the only time they'll be able to make a decision on the matter. As with whether players go to Xranth or Liondellia first, the decision here impacts the way the rest of the game unfolds, with players free (in theory) to accept or decline as they wish.
Of course, if you've ever seen "partners" in ZZT worlds that escort the player, they're pretty universally terrible. Objects' bullets will gladly hurt the player and can't actually hurt built-in enemies. They have no way to aim at enemies, just shooting in arbitrary directions and hoping that they'll be helpful. Experienced ZZTers seeking to minimize frustration will likely want to decline. For newcomers who haven't been burned before, as well as for those like me who have got to see the more unique aspects of the game, regardless of how flawed they may be, having a new character join the fray simply has to be experienced.
The friend here is not going to be an exception to the rule. Rivera has impressed overall so far, but there's only so much one can do. Because of how well Part Two had been going up to this point, I couldn't say no even if I wasn't trying to document the game. This was undoubtedly going to be a pretty big deal for the game. If I was lucky, I'd be wrong. As much as I wanted to see Rivera try and inevitably fail to make the friend a new ally for players, I was definitely hoping that the only thing that would change if I said yes would be setting a flag and using it to change some dialog here and there.
I would not be that lucky. Rivera is really going for it with the friend, who I must stress never gets a name and as such will just be called "friend". It feels like the lack of a name is a trick to get players to bond with him. You've got to like your friend! You simply must. Otherwise they wouldn't be a friend!
Players that allow the friend to accompany them will get to watch him pop out of the walls on each board so he can make his many contributions to the action.
...Those are wolves howling. Not the friend.
Rivera is fully committed to the friend as a gameplay mechanic, and yes, he is just as poorly implemented as I feared. This is more ZZT's doing than Rivera's at least, who clearly did his best shoehorning something vanilla ZZT really struggles with into his game. By default, the friend follows the player around, mostly avoiding the worst-case scenario of shoving you around constantly.
That is, he does check if he's next to the player and stops moving if so, but only after he's already moved for the cycle which is enough to get the occasional shove if you move next to him before he takes his own move. The friend runs at cycle two so when you're not in the middle of an action sequence it's easy enough to keep your distance.
By having the friend with you, players can ask for advice on every board. The friend knows their way around the area a little and can spare players some trouble by warning them in advance not to walk directly to a castle that has been taken over by orcs. Aside from that, he doesn't have much advice to give, just providing some directions as to what's nearby with slightly more precision than the signs in the area that only show up every few boards.
His combat abilities are insignificant. You can tell him to attack, and he'll enter a combat loop where he first moves and shoots away from the direction of the player before moving and firing in a fixed pattern. That pattern actually changes from board to board to try and get him to shoot in the general direction enemies will be found in. While that is better than the usual method of just firing in random directions and hoping for the best, it's still rare for his shots to actually hit a target. Instead, he's more likely to give players a scare by shooting in their vicinity, making players have to dodge their friend just as they would their enemy.
Rivera tries to prevent this, and his solution is actually pretty decent. Before the initial shot away from the player as well as the shots in fixed directions, he'll check if he's aligned with the player, and if so tell them to look out and wait a moment before restarting the combat loop. There's a real effort here to keep the player from being shot by him, but as his pattern is ever changing I never found myself feeling safe to let him attack when I was anywhere near him.
He'll also attack indefinitely until the player touches him again to provide a new command. Just walk up to the guy firing bullets in all directions and ask him to stop!
For damage, if the friend is shot three times on any board he "dies". Rivera does explain to players that the friend's health is restored per board, but I didn't take that to mean that he'll be brought back from the dead and assumed that keeping him alive was going to be if not essential, than at least worth the effort. Turns out you can just shoot him a bunch and not have to deal with him if you prefer. I was really surprised to find out that having him die on one board didn't mean he'd be dead for the rest of the game. It felt very un-Adventure to not have to worry about this.
For a less cruel way to deal with the friend without having to put yourself at risk, a small oversight allows you to park him off in a corner somewhere. Choosing the non-attack options will return him to follow mode, but closing the message window without an option selected will get him to halt. This was my preferred method to not having to put up with him. This still runs the danger of him being shot by an enemy, which will put him straight into combat mode, making it important to keep him out of harm's way as much as possible. Find a little corner and tuck him in.
Until the friend is introduced, every enemy fought that isn't a boss is just one of ZZT's built-ins, exactly the type of foe the friend is incapable of hurting. In order to give the friend some utility, Rivera turns to none other than Chris Kohler, importing the items board from Mega ZZT to quickly churn out objects to fight. In particular, he takes a liking to the Super ZZT enemy back-ports Kohler created, so expect to fight rotons and dragon pups on the way to Winchester. In addition the fully grown dragons and the beasts (used in Adventure as wolves) also show up in a few places, rounding out the bestiary with some logical additions for a fantasy adventure game.
The enemies are a little star heavy, which really ups the difficulty for the rest of the game. There becomes a tactical advantage to getting your friend to act as a star shield as well, but this is difficult to set up effectively. The new enemies don't really feel as well utilized as the one's ZZT provides, which is the usual gripe. None of it gets too out of hand, as even the star-heavy dragons run code to erase the stars manually after a set amount of time. So while these new enemies feel like a misstep to give the friend some functionality, they don't ruin the game, or come close to the lows the original managed to hit.
The friend is overall a pretty unique addition to the game, and even with his faults, it's hard not to get attached due to his role in the story that unfolds as players explore the southern kingdoms. For that, I'd have to say he's worth having here. I'd just prefer if he was quietly considered a part of the party that showed up when needed for story reasons rather than popping out on every board to start running around and getting in the way.
United Kingdoms Part Two
The southern region of the game includes another three kingdoms that must be brought together to defeat the Shadow Master, which given the multitude of caves and fortresses David has to assault to prove his loyalties makes it sound like there's a significant amount of game that remains at this point. Especially if Rivera manages to continue coding alternate paths based on the order the castles are visited.
Well... the funny thing about that is...
OH MY GOSH WINCHESTER IS ON FIRE
Yeah, the non-linearity is going to fizzle out here, and I can't fault Rivera for it. For a game as hefty at this one (more than 200 kilobytes), to load it up even further with dungeons would be a really tight squeeze, and a rather dangerous one in an era when ZZT's memory constraints weren't common knowledge. Rivera could have split the game into two files as players are locked into the southern kingdoms once they enter them, but if there's one lesson ZZT programmers need to learn, it's when to call it quits. It's easy to just demand Rivera churn out more and more content, but making that content feel like it's an important part of the experience is another thing entirely.
Instead, story elements guide the player through the rest of the game in a set order. This has the advantage of letting Rivera lean in more on the game's story, and not have to juggle flags around constantly to do so. The first castle players will be entering will be the still burning Winchester, the home of our friend who is shocked to see his home set ablaze.
The perpetrators of this heinous deed are still close by, with players getting their introduction to orcs, who in classic Lord of the Rings style are an evil race to be chopped to bits with swords and axes, or in the case of Adventure, shot repeatedly.
In reality, it's whatever players want to do. Ole Flizhpot here can be defeated either in melee or ranged combat. There's still the issue of shooting enemies eliciting no response compared to the descriptive swordplay when players attacked (or are attacked) in close quarters which continues to make it an easy mistake to think that melee is the only option.
He ends up being a challenging foe because of this. There's a small delay between hitting him and the :touch label being zapped that prevents players from just running into Flizhpot until he's killed, requiring you to instead touch and back off as once he stops stumbling he'll start shooting. This continues to be an improvement over the first game's boss fights at least.
The attack on Winchester was no mere show of strength, but a targeted assault specifically on David's new friend. He's yet to really reveal much backstory, but that's about to change upon entering the still-burning castle to search for the king and other survivors. Defeating Flizhpot is just the first step to getting inside, as afterwards the two dragons near the castle's entrance awaken. They begin acting as the ones in the wilderness did earlier, which means once again trying to get a shot through that won't be hit by the stars produced by their breath attacks.
The burning castle is an impressive sight to behold. Still recognizable in shape to that of the previous castles, yet absolutely destroyed on the inside. Bodies and debris litter the environment. The brown and dark red blobs use blinking colors to represent the still burning fires. The fountain has been destroyed. It's a mess in here.
But the familiar sights can still be spotted. The usual inaccessible furniture remains, and Rivera even keeps one of those inaccessible passages, surrounding it with fire instead of a locked door. The commitment to the bit can't be understated.
The search for survivors goes as expected. It's far too late to save anyone here. The king is of course the all-important object that needs to be investigated in order to advance the plot, but Rivera strives to do more than the bare minimum. Look closely at the characters used for the bodies, and aside from the king, there is one other unique body that just so happens to share the character used by the friend...
Two sentences is all it takes to solidify the friend as one of ZZT's best characters. I realize that "someone I cared about has been killed" is hardly the most complex motivation, but in ZZT, the simple delivery of this compared to the usual melodramatic sobs that are far more common and rarely have any connection to the events at hand are enough to make it stand out in a good way. The stillness of this scene certainly helps make it pack a punch.
And he is confirmed ride or die in the fight against the Shadow Master for sure now.
cuts and stab wounds on his entire body.
He opens his eyes as you approach, gasping
"The...orcs came...killed everyone..."
"destroy them all!"
He recognizies your friend.
"Alas...your quest was in vain...the orcs
...came anyway. Revenge! Seek it! Give...
this token...to the king of Arantinuel...
and with a final breath, he expires.
Your friend sadly closes the Kings eyes,
and looks up at you.
"We shall destroy the orcs for what they
have done!" he says furiously. "Well?
• • • • • • • • •
The friend is revealed to have been sent out to deal with the orcs before they could attack. From what's been seen, he's not a particularly skilled fighter, even if his heart is in the right place. The king's death comes as no surprise here. I'm sure in life he was a bad ass as his dying wish is revenge.
In his last breath he hands the player a token of unknown importance to be brought to the neighboring kingdom of Arantinuel, the game's final friendly kingdom, and one that is pretty adamant about not letting outsiders in as they prepare for war with the orcs.
It's hard to fault the people of Arantinuel for not wanting to let strangers in at the moment. They're likely to be the next kingdom attacked by the orcs. Heck, they could've been the first kingdom attacked by the orcs. At the last crossroads, heading south takes players directly to Winchester. Heading north straight to Arantinuel. The tragedy in Winchester happened just next door.
the guard speaks,
"I do not know who you are or what you
want, but I am under orders NOT to admit
ANYONE into the castle. That means YOU!"
you show him the token,
"But the former King of Winchester told
me to show this..."
the guard interrupts
"That's the Golden Token! Only to be used
in emergencies as a uniting between
kingdoms in times of great need! FORMER
king, you say?"
your friend says sadly
"The kingdom was overrun by orcs and
destroyed. I was away, and am the only
"I am sorry." speaks the guard
"I will allow your admittance, for your
news bodes ill indeed."
• • • • • • • • •
The token allows players to enter the kingdom, conveniently to be used when the kingdom of Winchester and Arantinuel need to work together.
The interior is nothing new. Just a strong blue theme for this one. The shop, as mentioned in the last article, is the most absurdly overpriced of all. Here the costs are at least justified due to the castle being locked up tight, preventing the usual trade.
The king rises at your approach and looks
"I ordered that NO ONE was to be admitted!
Who let this person in!"
You: Sire, let me explain.
King: NO EXCUSES!
You flash the token.
The kings eyes widen.
King: I see. I apoligize, then. What is of
such importance that the Golden Token has
You: The kingdom of Winchester has been
toatally destroyed by orcs. I request that
you unite with the other kingdoms of the
land to help hold off the onslaught of
the ShadowMasters minions.
King: Hmmm...first I must request a deed.
Only then will I join.
You: I understand.
King: Destroy the Orc Captiain, Chagaluk!
He and the Orcs of the Cursing Tower have
cut trade routes and are slowly starving
the kingdom. There will be many orcs, but
I think you can make it.
You: Going through the front gates will be
Your friend pipes in: There is no need to
enter through the front gates! I was sent
on the same mission by Winchester! I know
of a passage that leads near Chagaluk's
quarters. I could not make it last time,
because I tripped an alarm and had to
King: Well, this may be the only way to
do it. What do you think? Will you defeat
the foul Orc Chagaluk?
King: Good! Speak to the shopkeeper, he
will give you provisions. Good luck!
• • • • • • • • •
The king is pretty rightfully pissed that some random guys were seemingly just let inside for no particular reason, but quickly understands why once he sees the token. His neighboring kingdom was utterly destroyed with the friend being the only known survivor. His kingdom is probably next, and yet he still wants David to do him a solid before he'll agree to unite with the other kingdoms. He's kind of picky I guess.
This is another scene where whether or not the friend accompanies the player makes a considerable difference. Without the friend, David will have no way of knowing about the secret route through the castle and will instead be forced to walk through the front door. His objection that such a plan is suicidal is pretty accurate. You very much want to take the stealthy approach instead.
As as parting "gift", the duo can swing by the shop to restore one hundred health and gain another fifty shots. Though the shopkeeper's puppy-dog eyes mean that David has to give away all his gems to feel comfortable taking the supplies. With how little purpose shopping has had in this game, it's not actually a big deal to lose the gems. At this point players can't even return to the earlier castles to shop anywhere else. Given the state I was in at this point, it was not the time to be stingy. Even taking the indirect approach to dealing with the new villain, Chagaluk, would still involve getting by quite a lot of orcs.
The sneaking mission immediately goes south. As soon as players step onto the board with Angmar Castle, they'll find themselves in a battle with a group of orcs. The orcs' offense is very bullet heavy, which does mean they'll deal with themselves for the most part. Don't rely too much on this though, as the path narrows quickly and the orcs take a number of shots to actually bring down. It's probably less scary when you're not worried about keeping your friend alive on this board.
Some of the orcs near the water won't actually bother attacking at first as they instead dump something into the lake. Are they poisoning the water supply? Weird magic mind control juice? Just unrepentant polluters? This seems like it could be a pretty big plot point where a major water source stops being drinkable. Rivera leaves it a mystery, with no comment on what's actually going on, nor any consequences of it ever being seen.
For players, it's a momentary relief realizing that not every object on the board is charging at them. The good fortune won't last long since any stray bullets that happen to hit them will make them join in on the fight.
Like Flizhpot, these orcs are also vulnerable to the sword. They too provide no feedback when shot, yet the sheer number of orcs shooting means players will pretty quickly realize that they can be killed with bullets. Whether you want to bother shooting is another story. Running is a far easier way to get through the board in reasonable shape.
Especially as the orc that starts in front of the passage into the castle is unique. This one is immune to bullets, and when shot (by friendly-fire or otherwise) counters with a few stars that will quickly make things get out of hand for players planning to just kill everything green.
Aside from the battle, this board rules for the incredibly strong castle design. Just a big face with beefy arms. The best part is that this kingdom was taken over by the orcs. Another human royal commissioned this beauty.
The friend mentions that the secret passage was in the forest behind the castle. What he failed to mention is that the forest has since been burned down! Ironically, this makes the search for the secret passage a lot easier as the one still standing tree is the one that houses the switch to open up the tunnel.
Curiously, there's a scroll on this board as well with a message saying it should be deleted. This is a clear leftover debug object as touching the scroll sets the flags for the friend to be traveling with David. It raises some questions about the development of this game, as there are a number of bugs in Adventure Part 2 that I've yet to go into detail on. Suffice to say, in order to find the secret passage, you are required to have the friend with you to point it out.
Angmar Castle is the first castle to actually use a different look, and it's one that shows considerably less effort than the rest. Perhaps it's meant to just show that the orcs suck at castles (or I guess the humans that built this one). More likely, it's just Rivera getting a bit tired of working on the game. The castle interior and the burned down forest are actually the last two boards in the world. Both of them manage to be very visually uninteresting compared to the rest of the world seen up to this point.
The castle here is also the only board where the friend doesn't have a physical presence on the board. It's explained away by the stealth component on this side, though for those that do opt to walk into the front door, there's no such explanation. Perhaps the friend is smart enough to not follow David in. Realistically, the lack of the friend's appearance comes down to this board having two possible entry points so there's no spot that covers both paths.
The plan works out for the two, with Chagaluk being unguarded and asleep when they creep into his chambers.
Chagaluk has the distinction of being the final boss of Adventure. His one unique feature is that while he can be defeating using bullets or your sword, it's only after shooting him a few times that he becomes vulnerable to melee combat. Attempting to swing at him while he's at full strength results in a counter-attack against the player for a modest five damage. Rivera has truly come a long way from the giant worms in Part 1.
The vulnerability mechanic goes beyond just having Chagaluk start taking damage when touched. Upon being injured sufficiently, he'll start moving more slowly for a bit and his own melee attacks will be reduced from twenty to ten damage. It's a nice touch, that would have been appreciated if it was implemented in more than just this one fight. Still, Rivera seems to be winding things down. There's no elaborate combat loop here, just a simple loop of moving towards the player and shooting towards them, a very bare bones design.
Defeating Chagaluk results in a moment of congratulations, and nothing else. The reward here is to come from the king of Arantinuel instead.
You speak: I have defeated the foul Orc
King: Amazing! Yes, I will keep my
promise. Hopefully, the United Kingdoms
will be able to hold off the onslaught for
awhile. But what then? The Shadowmaster
has hordes of foul creatures to assult us.
You: I am going to defeat the Shadowmaster
. Without his direction, the evil armies
King: You shall do this? Truly? I shall
hold a counsil, and inform the other
You: I must leave now.
King: Very well. Take this key to unlock
the gate into the Black mountains.
I hope you are succesfull, the world
depends on it.
• • • • • • • • •
Where did our friend go? They're absent from this dialog entirely. When he slipped into the shadows in Angmar, I didn't think it was a permanent thing.
This key opens up the next gate to the next challenge, or at least it would.
It took me a bit to even find the gate, since I had incorrectly assumed it was part of the hidden path when first venturing to Angmar, and compared to the rusty gate that divides the southern kingdoms from the north, it's presence is far less pronounced.
So, you embark on your quest. The final
leg of the journey is at hand. Will you
defeat the Shadow Master? What happens to
your friend? Do the newly United Kingdoms
defeat the Orcs?
Find out in...
If you want the sequel, E-mail
Rigel Colt. I may not be around to upload
the sequel. If you want it, write to...
Please include $1.00 for the postage and
disk. Thanks for playing!
• • • • • • • • •
This game had gone on plenty long enough. I did not need any more kingdoms right this moment. Still, the fact is that we don't have an Adventure Part III. Normally, I'd just assume that the game didn't get finished as is the case with so many other ZZT worlds out there. Rivera manages to turn the game's third part into something more mysterious. A lack of connectivity suggesting that instead the third chapter be purchased and mailed on a disk! The lack of the game being complete at this point makes me suspect that nobody took him up on the offer, and even if they had, there's a very good chance that Rivera just got a few dollars and a few disks and nothing ever existed to be sent out later.
Instead, the Adventure series ends with those three words everyone hates: "To be continued". A lovely ending screen evokes Rivera at his finest, creating pretty scenes with simple designs. It's a bummer to realize that after all this, there's no conclusion to be had. Just a starry sky, gray mountains, and the Dark Tower.
The old man in the first game said there were seven kingdoms to be united. Shre-La, Zahn, Liondellia, Xranth, and Arantinuel have joined the cause. Angmar has been overtaken by orcs, and Winchester destroyed. There are no more kingdoms for David to visit. All that remains then is his assault on the Shadow Master's Dark Tower. So close, and yet so far.
-  Rivera is a bit inconsistent about whether its Angmar or Ang-Mar, with the game's title going for the former, and the sign for the kingdom going with the latter. It's pretty clearly meant to be another Lord of the Rings reference, so I'm sticking with Angmar.