The Last ZZT Disk

I’ve written before about how my game design career was kicked off by ZZT, a low-fi game making utility that was Epic’s first ever release. Anna Anthropy is writing a book about ZZT, and I’m intensely excited and a bit jealous because I didn’t think to do it first.

I was having my weekly existential crisis about teaching when I started thinking again about how I learned to program using ZZT when I was 11 or 12. For nostalgia’s sake, I started digging around for my ZZT floppies (I didn’t realize at the time that my current PC literally doesn’t have a floppy drive, but that is irrelevant to the story). I realized that I had floppies of my games and some games I got off of the AOL message boards of the day, but I never actually bought a copy of ZZT. Wouldn’t it be nice to have a disk of ZZT to frame and put in my office among my other gaming tchotchkes?

So off to eBay I went. Surely there was a market for old shareware floppies, I figured. Actually, it turns out that there was just one shady guy selling a CDR of a bunch of old shareware titles. And there are a lot of hits for ZZT that relate to some part of an old Toyota Celica. That would have been the end of it as it usually is for my fits of nostalgia if I didn’t have a crazy idea: what if I just Googled “zzt order form” and found the shareware catalog order form that came with all the Epic games back in the day and placed an order? The worst that could happen is someone could steal my check for a few bucks.

So I did.

Today I received something in the mail from “Epic Classics” in Maryland:


He sent back my check along with the order form, which was unnecessary. I was willing to pay for it, at least for the labor of digging it out of a box somewhere and mailing it.

But I think the best part is on the back of the order form:


Some subconscious neurons fired after I received this and all of a sudden I remembered readingย this article on Gamasutra over four years ago where Tim Sweeney mentions that his dad is retired and still ships out copies from the house where Tim grew up and where he started Epic. I guess that was true until a few days ago when I was sent the last floppy of ZZT Epic will ever send out. It’s exciting for me, but a bit of a bummer for anyone else who used ZZT to learn about games “back in the day” and would want some physical token of those times.

Isn’t it awesome that his dad kept up fulfilling orders for so long? It’s so anachronistic these days to personally ship a game to someone. Indies almost exclusively digitally distribute and the only ones pressing discs are large corporations where the purpose of its physicality is to attract eyeballs on a shelf in a store, not because of any distribution limitations. There’s no love in the physical object anymore. Every once in a while you will see a Kickstarter that includes a physical artifact which is a reflection of the love of an individual or a small group of individuals for their work. But it just doesn’t happen often. It’s nice to see here, even if it is for the last time.

So thanks to Paul Sweeney and Tim Sweeney. You are both cool folks.


15 thoughts on “The Last ZZT Disk

  1. That is awesome! I loved ZZT and even wrote my own game. This post makes me want to try to find it again ๐Ÿ™‚

  2. Hi Mr. Hiwiller,

    As I said in one of your class: ZZT was highly inspirational for me and one of the reasons I’m on this path today. Great write-up and now I’m going to install DosBox and ZZT ๐Ÿ™‚

  3. That’s wonderful dedication to the art of programming, and to one’s fanbase. It’s great to hear that there’s a book being written. Looking forward to it.

  4. This was such a great story ๐Ÿ™‚ I was never into ZZT but I was hugely into shareware thanks to the legends like Epic Megagames and id Software – Dare to Dream is still amongst my favourite games ๐Ÿ™‚ This was so nice of Tim and Paul Sweeney – and hey, last copy too! You wanted something you could frame and you got something “Epic” to do it with ^_^

  5. That’s great! Amazing that he still had a copy, and went through the trouble of mailing it out. I’m sure he probably got a kick out of receiving the order.

  6. This gave me chills. I played around with ZZT a lot as a teenager. Truly awesome story, thank you for sharing! (you lucky devil!)

  7. WOW !!! it is a great story. I’m a mom of a 2 game-lovers…I wish I would have something like it to tell my grand kids..I’m also a story lover. ^o^

  8. Epic Classics? Its site went down some time ago. I wish they’d sign up with so their game could be sold online again. Maybe you could ask them about it. And if you don’t know with is, it’s basically the only online game download store that not only bothers to deal with compainies that own the rights to old games, but also do the work to make them run on current computers themselves.

  9. That’s awesome! I very happily ordered a few games from Epic Classics a few years ago – how could I have missed ZZT!?! But then you wouldn’t have had ‘the last’, so I guess I can’t complain.

    Thanks for the warm glow of nostalgia. I echo the thanks to the Sweeney men!

  10. it’s such a shame that it’s seen as an “anachronistic”, “outdated”, “inefficient”, blah blah blah type of thing.

    physical copies, personally shipping things, manuals… those aren’t “traditional”, and they’re not “needs”… they’re timeless wants.

    people are so obsessed with progress for the sake of progress that they’ve completely given up on the concept of “value”.

  11. I don’t know which is more awesome: that the company is still fulfilling orders after all these years, or the fact you got an autographed response from Paul Sweeney himself (*male squee!*), something that I am turning EGA-green at.

    Many, many happy memories with that funky old game, first on my grandmothers monochrome (!!!) computer where I could never get past Town of ZZT, to my siblings and myself making abortive efforts to make our own games, to finding an entire website with reviews and a “featured games” section.

    So hats off to a classic game made by a classic man…from one of the last classic gamers. You made Rembrandts out of cave paintings* with machines that had less power than a modern graphics calculator and were often downright user-surly. You gave us laughs, chills and thrills with the most spartan graphics. You made us imagine how we could turn a handful of text symbols and a little line-art into a recognizable setting in-game. You made us feel like we’d earned an Olympic gold medal as we proudly typed in our names on the high-score list, and smarter than Sherlock when we finally found the purple key.

    Thank you, Mr. Sweeney.

    ***Game over – but not the legacy – press ESCAPE.***

    *you would not believe what is possible graphically with ZZT until you see it yourself. Especially with the fanmade “STK” graphics kit.

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