(ƒ) does a happy lil' dance



a ZZT Club presentation
publication date: November 2001

Welcome, all of you, to this new feature. This time, a cool upcoming game isn't the subject of discussion, like normally. This time, we'll take you back to the oldschool days of ZZTing; the really *old* days; the ZZT Club on Prodigy... This feature has some info about the old club, its members and games, and last but not least; an interview with an ex-member: John Shipley.

ZZT Club on Prodigy

The ZZT Club can be considered as the very first ZZT company/group ever. The club was founded in 1991, I believe, and was located on Prodigy (Back then, the internet as we know it now wasn't really used by the big public yet). Carlos DaSilva was the president, and James Holub was the vice-prez. Other people who were in the club it at one point or another were Chris Jong, John Shipley, Alan Zeman, Aran Meuser, Jesse Chang, Jerry Hsu, Tim Gallagher, Brian Schweitzer, William Hyat III, Jay Shapeiro, Shaun Richey and Travis Bizzell (This also includes some of the members of the later formed 'ZZT club part 2'). The club has also had its impact on a lot of other ZZTers; Gregory Janson for example. He learned some of his STK tricks from the club members, so there might not have been STK graphics today if the club wouldn't have existed.

Released games

I've tried my best to make a list of the games which were released by the club. There's also a list of games released by members after the club was already dissolved. Some of the games on the list of actual 'ZZT Club' games might have been released later on, though. (Of some games I just couldn't figure out when they were released).

Long Voyage 2 screenshot
ZZT Games:
  • A"Maze"ing (?)
  • Attack over ZZT (Aran Meuser)
  • The Lost Pyramid (James Holub)
  • Crime Ring Demo (James Holub)
  • Excalibur (?)
  • Gold Fever (Chris Jong)
  • Mystery Manor (Alan Zeman)
  • Ruby of Resurrection (Carlos DaSilva)
  • Space Ducky (Chris Jong)
  • Starbase ZZT (Jesse Chang, Jerry Hsu)
  • Starship ZZT (Jesse Chang, Jerry Hsu)
  • The Big Leap (Chris Jong)
  • The Life and Times of Chad Slacker (?)
  • The Stolen Gems (James Holub)
  • The Weird World ZZT (Chris Jong)
  • The Wild Chase (Chris Jong)
  • The Wild Chase 2 (Chris Jong)
  • ZapZak (Tim Gallagher)

SuperZZT Games:
  • The Long Voyage 1 (Chris Jong)
  • The Long Voyage 2 (Chris Jong)
  • War of ZZT (Chris Jong)
  • The Weird World (Chris Jong)
  • Life! Don't talk to me about Life! (Joe McManis)
  • Space Trek (James Holub)
Games released afterwards:
  • Caves of Fury (John Shipley)
  • Escape from Westmanson (John Shipley)
  • Final Quest of Fury (John Shipley)
  • Project Omega Demo (Copperhead)
  • Raider of the Lost Gem (Carlos DaSilva)
  • Secret Agent ZZT (John Shipley)
  • Snowball (Chris Jong)
  • Star Guardian (John Shipley)
  • The Cliff (John Shipley)
  • The Lost Monkeys (Chris Jong)
  • Time: Disrupting the Continum beta (Craig Boston,Jesse Chang)
  • Zone 10 (Chris Jong)

Legend of the Three Gems screenshot
Information about the game

In this game you play the role of Abigail, a teenage girl. The game starts with you going on your first date with Brian. The two of you fall in love... But then, Brian slips off a dune. Abigail, being desperate, makes a prayer to the God Ramia. Ramia wants to help you, but in exchange you will need to become the bearer of his soul. This is where a long adventureof exploring a vast RPG world starts. Along the way you will meet many people who will help you, hundreds of enemies to defeat, and more... The graphics in this game look awesome too, and there will be plenty of GDM songs to listen to. This all will probably make this game THE MegaZeux hit of 1999!

Interview with John Shipley


Welcome to this interview! Let's start at the beginning. Do you know/remember how the club was founded, and who founded it?

John Shipley:

The club was started by Carlos DaSilva, sometime in 1991. Carlos was the president of the club, and Jamie Holub, the second member, was the vice president. I'm not sure how the club was started, or exactly when, because I wasn't around in the beginning. The club started on the Prodigy "Computer" bulletin boards, under the Adventure Games L-Z "topic." Since ZZT was known at the time as an adventure game more than as an editor, it was a natural place for it. Plus, because of the name ZZT, we were at the very end of the board, so it was easy to find.


When did you join the club, and what made you want to join it?

John Shipley:

I joined the club in April of 1992, I believe. I was a fan of ZZT since I first found "ZZT's City" on a floppy disk my dad got. "ZZT's City" is an earlier version of City of ZZT, and it was released probably in early 1991 as a part of a collection of programs by different authors. The ZZT engine itself was older, too, because it doesn't include an editor. I was first drawn into the game because it was colorful and it had a nice puzzle-oriented feel to it. I played through most the game, but I couldn't complete it, because there was a bug that would keep the elevator in City Hall from opening at the mayor's office (anyone who's played City of ZZT through should probably know what I'm talking about). That kind of annoyed me, but the game itself was good, and the name ZZT stuck in my head long after that.

In late 1991, I was at a computer show looking for shareware, which at the time was about the best reason to go to a computer show. I saw "ZZT" and picked it up, not really thinking. It was the shareware version of ZZT, with Town of ZZT included. I played Town of ZZT a few times, but I didn't realize there was an editor until February of 1992, when I first noticed it.

Within a week, I had programmed my first game, Spike's Adventure, which was terrible, because I hadn't bothered to learn any ZZT-OOP before I made it. But I kept learning the program, and it wasn't long before I looked on Prodigy for people who were also interested in ZZT. I found the club in March, and saw just how limited my skill was compared to the guys that were there. They were already really good, and I learned a lot just from following their conversations. Chris Jong was the first member I started talking to, and he sent me a disk full of games that he had made, as well as Super ZZT (which I hadn't even heard of before I joined the club). Carlos DaSilva asked me if I wanted to join (in March or April), and he said all I had to do to join was to submit one game that I had created, and if he liked it, I would be in the club. I sent him Sword of Fury, which was my latest game, and not long after that I was in the club.

Lost Pyramid screenshot
I joined the club because these guys were very good at ZZT, but they were also great guys. They were very patient with newbies just learning to use ZZT, and they were learning how to do lots of interesting tricks with the program (Jesse Chang and Jerry Hsu's Starbase ZZT tic-tac-toe game, I think, is still the most amazing thing I've seen in ZZT).


What is the difference between the ZZT club and the ZZT club part 2, or is that the same group?

John Shipley:

If I remember correctly, the ZZT Club Part 2 was a club started after the first ZZT club broke up. It was on a different board, and I think some of the same people might have been in it, but by that time I was losing interest in ZZT, and I didn't stick around long enough to find out much about it. I know I said on ZZT.ORG that I was in the ZZT Club Part 2, but I was just confused. I was thinking of the restructured ZZT Club, which happened later in 1992. We were getting a lot of people wanting to join by that point, and Carlos decided that we would be more strict with membership requirements. He was probably tired of getting really bad games that took no effort.


The ZZT club is said to be the very first ZZT 'group'. Did any other groups/companies rise during the time that the ZZT club existed?

Zap Zak screenshot
John Shipley:

Not that I know of. I think that during the time the ZZT Club Part 2 started, there was another ZZT Club somewhere else on the bulletin boards, but I'm not sure. As far as I know, we were the only one. Back then, the Internet wasn't really aimed at consumers, so Prodigy was about the closest thing we had. We probably would have been aware of another club if one existed.

Some people refer to the ZZT Club as being a "company." I could be wrong, but I don't think that was ever the reason for the club existing. I think it was mostly just an actual club, where people would just talk ZZT and whatever else came up. But some games you'll see say "A ZZT Club Production," so I guess some people thought of it as a company.


There were quite a lot of people in the club. Can you tell me more about the other members (their role in the club and possible games released)?

John Shipley:

Well, as I said, Carlos DaSilva was the president. He created "Ruby of Resurrection," and was working on Sapphire of Silliness, which I guess he never finished.

Jamie Holub was the vice-president, and he programmed "The Stolen Gems" and "The Lost Pyramid," while in the club, and I think he started a game called Crime Ring which was never completed to my knowledge.

Alan Zeman created "Mystery Manor," which is on one of those collections Epic MegaGames put out. He was the oldest of us (30, I think, at the time), and he also had a game called "A-Maze-ing," which was a very cool Super ZZT puzzle game. He was never around a whole lot, though, by the time I joined.

Chris Jong is known by almost everybody in the ZZT Community. He programmed Weird World ZZT and Super ZZT, The Wild Chase 1 and 2, The Big Leap, The Long Voyage 1 and 2, the Space Ducky series, and probably some other stuff while he was in the club.

Starbase ZZT screenshot
Jesse Chang and Jerry Hsu designed "Space Station ZZT" and "Starbase ZZT" while they were in the club. I don't know if they ever colloborated on any games after that, though.

Aran Meuser created "Attack Over ZZT." I don't remember much of anything about him, though, because he wasn't really around at all after I joined.

Tim Gallagher was the creator of "ZapZak," and I don't know if he's ever done any other games that were released. He was also kind enough to beta test a couple of my games.

Then there was me. There were a few other members later on, but I don't remember anything about them or the games they made.


Can you give me some nice anecdotes about people or happenings in the club?

John Shipley:

Apparently, Tim Gallagher knew Robert Prince somehow. Robert Prince was a master of midi music programming, and he did the music for many of Apogee and id Software's early 90's games, like Wolfenstein 3D, Doom, Blake Stone, etc. Apparently he had written some original music for ZapZak, the game Tim was working on. However, the music had to be left out, because Tim had trouble staying within the 20K-per-board limitation (some of you who have tried to program a very complex screen may have run into this problem). Tim ran into that problem a lot, because ZapZak was only like eight screens, yet each screen had a lot going on. If the music thing had worked out, and Robert Prince's original music had ended up in the game, I'm sure it would have been amazing. I would still like to hear that music, but have never gotten the chance.

The Big Leap screenshot
Some of us used to include "catalogs" with our games, the "catalog" being a .doc file that contained information about our upcoming games. Chris Jong used to do this a lot, and in one of his catalogs, he included information on a game he was working on called Gold Rush. According to the description, Gold Rush was a game set during the big California gold rush, and you were trying to get to California, using a variety of methods, like riding a train and flying a bi-plane. However, the California gold rush took place in 1849, which was over sixty years before bi-planes even existed. I seem to remember people teasing him about this after someone noted it on the bulletin boards.

I remember one more thing about Chris Jong (other than the fact that I still owe him $5 for the disk he sent me). He was the first member that I know of who was making games using other programs. He was using a program called Virtual Reality Studio, which allowed you to create 3D "virtual reality" games that used polygons and everything. I don't remember what the game was that he created, and I never got a chance to play it, but I think he certainly had aspirations of being a professional programmer. Some of his games, especially The Long Voyage 2, were, in my opinion, good enough to be released as stand-alone shareware, if such a thing were possible with ZZT.

Aran Meuser, who was an early member, only released the one game "Attack Over ZZT" and, for a while, nobody had heard from him. He showed up months later, but wasn't allowed back into the club. The reason for this is that Carlos had tightened the requirements for membership. When I had joined, the only requirement was that you had to send in a game that was decent. However, Carlos used a system to "score" the games according to graphics, gameplay, etc. My game Sword of Fury rated a 3.6 out of 5, I think. Later, he made it so that your game had to score at least a 3.5 in order for you to be able to join. Unfortunately, Aran's game had only scored a 3.4, and he was told he had to either submit another game. I think he was the only member who left the club and wasn't able to get back in later.

I don't really remember any terribly interesting stories about things that happened in the club, other than what I told you. Conversations on the bulletin boards took a long time to take place, because we didn't have chat rooms or ICQ back then. We used to share "tricks" that we picked up in our experimenting with ZZT's abilities (some of which were passed down to Greg Janson, who used them in STK). I liked doing things with #char, changing the character and stuff to make it look animated. I think Chris Jong was the first one to discover the cheat codes, but I don't know if he found them out on his own or if he got them from somebody. One of the cooler tricks I learned on the boards, and I don't know if anybody has used it since then, but I'm sure somebody has, is "transporting" the player from one part of the screen to another by using the #put player command, and then having an object above the player's old location put a blank space where the player's old location was. This was a pretty neat trick that I was going to use in Spike's Adventure Part III, but so far I haven't gotten that far. Chris Jong was the one who figured this one out.

The Wild Chase screenshot
I remember us getting "flames" from people outside the club who made fun of ZZT and its ASCII-based graphics. Even back then, ZZT was outdated graphics-wise, but its enduring popularity (nine years later) proves that there are more important things than graphics.

We threw around ideas for a sequel to ZZT, things that we wanted to implement, such as the ability to change the look of your projectile (allowing you to use arrows and such) and VGA graphics. I think these early conversations probably helped lead to Carlos working on ZZT 2 (or whatever he called it), and possibly some of the other ZZT clones that have been worked on.

I wish I had kept some of our old conversations. I wish I had printed them out, because I'm sure there were some other good ones. I think a lot of the spirit of what drives ZZTers today, with trying to push the limits and discover how to do more things with the system, started with the ZZT Club on Prodigy. The guys in the club weren't content to just work with what was already known; they wanted to find out how big bytes-wise they could make the boards, how many flags could be used at once, etc. A lot of what we know about the limits of ZZT, as well as ways to get around those limits, started with the club. We also talked a lot about other things, like things that were going on in the gaming world at the time (we all drooled over Wolfenstein 3D). The ages of members in the club ranged from 14 to 30, but most of us were 14-16 years old. It makes me kind of sad that nobody from the club is still using ZZT, or even keeping up with the scene, because I'm sure these guys would have more interesting stories to tell you, and Carlos or Jamie could give you more information about how the club started.


What exactly was the Prodigy bullitin board? Was this how you club people contacted each other? Tell me more about the way you discussed club related stuff.

John Shipley:

If you want some idea of how things were on the Prodigy bulletin boards, do this: start a club, but the only way you can recruit members or communicate is by using a newsgroup, like Usenet. No real-time chatting, no ICQ, no instant messenger, and worst of all, NO FILE TRANSFERS. Whenever you want to trade boards or games, you have to put it on a 5 1/4" floppy disk, send it through the mail, and hope it makes it. You can communicate using private e-mail, but other than that, all conversations within the club take place on your Usenet topic. Conversations that would normally take minutes take days, because it takes an hour or so before what you write can be posted to the board. This is what it was like on Prodigy's bulletin boards.

The Stolen Gems screenshot
A few of the guys in the club learned that they could trade boards by converting it into code, which would appear as a normal post but with jargon instead of text. Then the person receiving the post would use some program to convert it into a ZZT board. But this was as close as we came to file transfers.

This is why it was so bad when Prodigy started charging for time spent on the boards. This was the only way we could communicate. The internet, at that time, was bound to the realm of academia, and consumers had to live with online services that were self-contained, without any contact with other internet services. We in the club could e-mail each other privately, but once you entered the bulletin board, with its long load times, you started ringing up fees (after the first two hours of each month, which were free).

There were also BBS systems set up, where you could dial up a number on your modem and download files from the BBS. Epic Megagames used to have one. However, long distance charges would apply, and not all of us had the right software to connect.


The club was dissolved when Prodigy started charging for time on the bulletin boards. What happened to the members after this? Have you ever had contact with them again?

John Shipley:

I don't know exactly how long it took for the club to dissolve after Prodigy started charging for bulletin board time. According to Carlos DaSilva's latest release of Ruby of Resurrection, the club existed from 1991-1994. I think it was a little closer to 1993, although I suppose it's possible that the club lasted until 1994. All I know is that the club certainly didn't thrive for long after Prodigy started charging. Members started leaving for other providers, like GEnie and Compuserve. I think our parents didn't want us ringing up huge bills, so we were basically limited to a few hours a week (or a half-hour a week, if you wanted to stay within the two free hours of each month). At any rate, that's what essentially killed the club, especially for me. I couldn't afford to keep up with the ZZT club, and I had to leave.

I don't know what happened to the members after this. I know that Carlos DaSilva re-released Ruby of Resurrection, and that he was working on ZZT 2, or whatever that was called. Jesse Chang, I think, later collaborated on another ZZT game with somebody else, but I don't know if anything other than a demo was made. Jamie Holub started Crime Ring, but I don't know if he ever finished it. Chris Jong made The Lost Monkeys. I don't know what happened to anyone other than that, though.

Unfortunately, I haven't talked or written to any of the old ZZT Club members since leaving the club. I thought, with the internet and all, that I could track at least some of them down later, but so far I haven't been able to. I tried contacting Carlos at his ICQ address, but I haven't received a response (maybe he doesn't use it anymore). If any of you guys are reading this, send me an e-mail, okay?

Mystery Manor screenshot

After the club was dissolved you released a couple of games. When did you stop making ZZT games yourself?

John Shipley:

I started losing interest in ZZT shortly after leaving the club. I started work on "Revenge of Fury" in 1993, with a note on the title screen saying, "My last ZZT game." However, I never finished it, which was a very, very common occurrence. If I told you all the ZZT games I started working on but never finished, you'd probably laugh. I think I'm going to compile them on my website soon. Anyway, I stopped ZZTing for a while, until the summer of 1994, when I decided to finish some of the games I had started, with hopes of uploading them to AOL. I finished Escape from Westmanson and Final Quest of Fury in August of 1994, and did Star Guardian that same month (in about a week-long period). However, I went to college later that month, and didn't have much time for ZZT after that. I returned to it to create a short game for one of my classes (intended to be an adventure game for kids), and was inspired to start work on Morbid Vengeance, which is a work in progress. In fact, I have three works in progress right now, Spike's Adventure Part III, Morbid Vengeance, and Lurk. So I haven't officially retired from making ZZT games, I just haven't worked on any for a few years. However, I've been inspired lately to start working on these games again, so maybe you'll see something else from me in the future.


Any final comments or last words you want to tell the readers?

John Shipley:

Well, first of all, let me say this. If any of you former ZZT Club members read this, I hope I didn't misrepresent our club. My reason for doing the interview was that people are interested in the story of the ZZT Club, and since I seem to be the only member who is still involved with the scene, I wanted to share it. I may be wrong on some facts; after all, we're talking about almost eight years of time since I was last in the club. If I am wrong, I hope somebody corrects me. And if one of you ZZT Club guys is upset by me sharing the story, I want you to know that I'm doing it because I looked up to and respected you guys a lot, and I don't want people to lose a part of our ZZT history.

To the ZZTers out there, I want to thank you for continuing to keep the scene alive. ZZT has never left my hard drive, and I still enjoy playing the new games that are released. I want to thank those of you who wrote me letting me know you liked my games, and to Robert Pragt for finding that awful, game-stopping bug in Escape From Westmanson (I owe you one!). Thank you, Hydra, for giving me the chance to share some of the ZZT Club story.


Thanks a lot for this interview! I'm glad you wanted to share some of the ZZT community's early history with us!