Archive for the 'Great Moments in Shareware' Category

Great Moments in Shareware: ZZT

Monday, September 3rd, 2007

ZZT

Read any popular game publication these days, and you'll probably come across ample mention of Epic Games' Unreal Engine, the 3D powerhouse behind blockbuster first-person shooters like Bioshock and Gears of War. Believe it or not, one of today's hottest game engines traces its roots back to a 2D text-based game programmed by a University of Maryland college student during the golden age of shareware.

Tim Sweeney founded Potomac Computer Systems in 1991 with the release of ZZT, a graphical ASCII character-based game that ran on a simple object-oriented platform programmed by Sweeney. With an in-game editor, Sweeney created multiple ZZT episodes that he sold to finance the new company. Luckily, Sweeney didn't limit the in-game editor to himself; it featured prominently on the title screen of the free shareware edition. Much to Sweeney's surprise, the editor itself soon became the most popular part of ZZT, allowing players to create their own games in the ZZT engine. Potomac changed its name to Epic MegaGames, and a shareware giant was born.

ZZT Title Screen ZZT Game Screen ZZT Board Editor ZZT-OOP Code

A large community of rabid ZZT fans still thrives thanks to the Internet, where enthusiasts trade nostalgia, user-made games, and the latest attempts to squeeze every last drop out of the ZZT engine through emergent programming techniques. For example, clever world builders have managed to reproduce just about every major 2D game genre — even genres the engine wasn't designed for — in ZZT's editor, albeit in primitive forms. For modern ZZT fans, the game's fun lies not only in playing the community's user-created games, but in the challenge of creating new and unexpected things with a simple set of tools and components.

The original shareware package of ZZT only included one game: Town of ZZT, a whimsical adventure created by Sweeney that calls upon a player's action and puzzle-solving skills. But in the late 1990s, Epic released all of Sweeney's classic ZZT episodes as freeware, so you'll find those worlds in the file below as well, including Dungeons of ZZT.

Have fun. Feel free to share your fond ZZT memories (or latest ZZT exploits) with the rest of us.

(Update - 05/25/2009: If you love ZZT, check out this interview I conducted with its creator, Tim Sweeney.)

ZZT 3.2
Release Date: 1991
Author: Tim Sweeney (Epic MegaGames)
Platform: MS-DOS
Runs Best On: Any 286 PC or faster with MS-DOS
Notes:
Includes full Town, City, Caves, and Dungeons of ZZT episodes. ZZT runs pretty well on modern computers under Windows. You might also want to try running the game under DOSBox. Uses the PC speaker for sound.
- Download ZZT 3.2 - (175KB)

Great Moments in Shareware: Scorched Earth

Thursday, July 12th, 2007

Scorched Earth

Sixteen years after its humble emergence in the golden age of the BBS, Wendell Hicken's timeless 1991 artillery simulation remains a hallmark in shareware history. Scorched Earth stands as nothing less than a masterpiece in the field of computer games.

With its numerous gameplay settings, variable computer AI, and an impressive variety of entertaining power-ups, Scorched Earth possesses nearly infinite replay value. It's also one of the greatest party games ever devised: up to ten players can take turns plotting the explosive demise of their closest friends at the hands of a Nuke, MIRV, or Death's Head over as many as 1000 rounds. As a testament to the pure strategy of the game, veterans skilled in the ways of Scorch know the best ways to dispatch foes — or merely survive as others duke it out — under any circumstance, rain or shine, springy walls or rubber.

Title Screen Tank Selection Screen Weapon Selection Screen Game Screen

Many of today's game designers seem envious of Scorch's ability to consistently entertain for over a decade. Fans of Hicken's classic have attempted modern remakes of or improvements upon Scorched Earth, but to this day, none has even begun to approach the solid feel, intricate balance, or professional production values of the original. That's how good it is.

Hicken didn't invent the artillery game; he perfected it. And as long as our computers run without smoking, we'll still be playing the original Scorched Earth as good Wendell intended.

Scorched Earth 1.5
Release Date: 1991 (1.0), 1995 (1.5)
Author: Wendell T. Hicken (aka "Sprig")
Platform: MS-DOS
Runs Best On: Any 286 or 386 PC with 640K+ RAM and a VGA card
Notes:
Amazingly, Scorched Earth runs pretty well on modern computers under Windows. If the game seems too fast, adjust the in-game "Firing Delay" setting (under "Hardware"). You might also want to try running the game under DOSBox. The game uses the PC speaker for sound.
- Download Scorched Earth 1.5 - (633KB)