davidn: (rant)
[personal profile] davidn
I just remembered about something very weird that happened to me a long time ago. When I first came to live in America in 2006, I had two suitcases of possessions, and a desktop computer was not among them - my personal computer was an increasingly eccentric bulky laptop that was built in 1998. After moving into our flat and ordering furniture, household things and computer parts, I chose to spend the time with my limited computer power writing a ZZT game. This became Castle of ZZT, and with the time I was forced to spend on it combined with the way that I actually drew a plan out before starting, it was by far my best effort in this department (though this might not be saying much).




The weird part was after I submitted it to Z2, the premier site for both ZZT and impenetrable lunacy at the time. Games went into an approval queue that was publically visible before being added to the site, to make sure they weren't spam, and I checked to see if it had been accepted once in a while. But on one check, I saw my uploaded ZIP had been replaced with one that had a different file size - and there was also a new ZIP that was called "castle_of_zzt_use_this_one_instead.zip" or something along those lines.

Both ZIPs contained an altered version of the game, which I saved because I was so baffled by it. This is what you get after starting it up:




Curiously, the "OF" has been removed from the title screen. The same has been done to the scroll that you pick up in the first room - the game's title is changed to just "CASTLE ZZT".




Messing around with the first part of the game, I don't notice any other obvious differences, though I haven't looked very closely because it's quite long. But slightly later on, things get strange. The castle has a large central staircase (which I could have made less awkward to navigate, looking back), which allows you to take several routes at the start of the game from the first and second floors, and you'll get a key to access the stairs up from the second floor at some point.






In the actual game, these stairs lead to an aerial view of two towers, which contains a puzzle that you have to plan ahead for.




But in the altered version, a third floor has been added instead. It's decorated in red, convincingly in the same style (using the same kind of "splat a KevEdit gradient background on it" aesthetic that I used throughout the rest of the game).






The boards are all named "Third Floor" with cardinal direction markers afterward so that the mysterious editor could keep track of where the rooms lay. The floor is laid out as a largely empty maze of twisting passages that are consistent but not logically laid out - you can loop around by going north or south. But if you keep heading roughly northwest, you can progress.








The next few boards are called "Free Will", but they continue the red and grey corridor theme with no apparent differences from the Third Floor boards. You have to pick either the east or south passage here - going south will dump you back near the entrance, going east will take you to another long corridor - which has some strange cracks at the end...






The corridor ends at this strange board, which is called "Free Will EEE". It contains a red circle/boulder that says "Y2" when you touch it (Colossal Cave again!), a guard programmed to let you through the blue "gate" of sliders for nine gems, and what appears to be "Snoop Doggw" written in yellow walls beyond that. Underneath is a nest of tigers, a small river and some ammo. The border of the room breaks down at the bottom left, but if it's meant to be saying something I can't tell what it is (enqn?)






Going south from here brings you to this place, a surprisingly detailed outdoor scene with shadowy round trees that displays the text above when you enter it. (The "fake wall" message is part of ZZT itself.) The tone of the dialogue is strange - was it copied from another game file? And going south from here...




...you reach the end of the game, which is my own "THE END" message from the end of Castle of ZZT, shifted up on the board a bit with the red/grey type of background from above added. And then it ends - no further clues are offered. This is the only way to finish the game, as the boards that would have let you escape the intended route south from the main entrance have been deleted or overwritten.

After discovering the switch of files I asked the site's admin, who I think at the time was Quantum P., and he helped put the real version up - but I saved this oddity to preserve it. The readme accompanying the ZZT world file was left intact, and my name was still on the game with no other credit added. With the game largely unaltered at the start, was the idea to make people think that they were playing my game and then for it to appear that I'd gone mad halfway through? That's my only guess - they had clearly put a fair amount of effort into whatever it was they were doing, but I never worked out who this was or why they did it.
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