This fills my cold black heart with something akin to glee.
For anyone growing up in the nineties that had the game design bug, ZZT was where it was at. On a diskette somewhere in my closet exists all my ZZT modules. I’m sure today I would look at them with disgust moreso than nostalgia, but I went from stupid stock shooting games to stupid fully scripted and hex-edited worlds in relatively little time. With the mechanics so limited, the community really reached deep to eke new ways to leverage the tools. And we learned from each other.
If memory serves, the standard engine didn’t come with a random number generator, but it did come with a behavior that would move objects in a random cardinal direction. So you could create a random 1-4 by placing an object that moves in a random direction and surround it with four objects that sent a different message out (1-4) when collided with. This could be done twice to generate a number from 1-16 by doing (4 x firstnumber-1 + second number). And so on if you wanted something more complicated. But an issue that would come up is that you needed to reserve five tiles on the screen for this “machine”. So buildings were often made out of tiles that were hiding the objects that made the events on each screen work. To a seventh grader, that was really clever and inspiring.
The last game I ever tried to make with ZZT was essentially a tech demo. I recreated a Final Fantasy style boss fight with magic animations and branching events. It was really time-consuming to create and you could only one-off the battles, which was really probably why I gave it up. It was fairly technically impressive, I remember.
It was really the first online community I ever felt a part of. I may just download some of the titles on that list.
Kids these days have Game Maker and rich level editors and LittleBigPlanet. But this old codger still has to yield to the beauty of the limitations of ASCII characters and sixteen colors.