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ZZT

(Boss Fight Books #3)

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4.05  ·  Rating details ·  252 ratings  ·  43 reviews
In 1991, long before Epic Games was putting out blockbusters like Unreal, Infinity Blade, and Gears of War, Tim Sweeney released a strange little MS-DOS shareware game called ZZT. The simplicity of its text graphics masked the complexity of its World Editor: players could use ZZT to design their own games.

This feature was a revelation to thousands of gamers, including Anna
...more
Paperback, 144 pages
Published June 2nd 2014 by Boss Fight Books (first published May 28th 2014)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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Jeanne Thornton
Apr 25, 2014 rated it it was amazing
A PRETTY MUCH PERFECT book about the thing I spent many teen years making terrible RPGs in, and about the weird sleazy social demimonde surrounding those Teen Gaming Dreams. A book for anyone who was a confused kid finding solace in the weird world online, figuring out your space in the world through secret IRC channels, creating grandiose video game dreams that're totally irrelevant to the outside world. I'm even interviewed in it, y'all, so check it out
Bill Meeks
Jun 02, 2014 rated it it was amazing
ZZT by Anna Anthropy is centered around a gaming community that consumed a big chunk of my life between the ages of 13 and 15. ZZT was a game creation system, which meant it came with it’s own built-in world editor. I discovered the game and community when we signed up for AOL using the AOL software for MS-DOS in 1995. There were tons of user-created games to download and play, and you could even upload your own. A magical time.

I made several games under my ZZT company Ultraware. The community I
...more
Jefferson Tesla
Jul 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
Perfect mix of memoir and criticism in this tiny tome on shareware MS-DOS games. I bought from the author at her zine fest booth and now feel so damn silly for waiting this long to actually read. Pick it up right away if you are feeling down on the toxic decay of digital culture, through Anna's writing I promise you can catch another glimpse with childlike wonder at the awkward and revelatory possibilities of sharing imaginary worlds.
B.R. Yeager
Jun 06, 2014 rated it it was amazing
ZZT (Or This Is Our Punk Rock, to use the subtitle I imagined over the course of reading it) is a coming of age story for the PC generation’s middle children. In providing both an accurate and entertaining account of her experiences with the game, Anna Anthropy bottles the feeling of early Internet and the Wild West era of shareware.

Anthropy depicts youth with a rare honesty that scans as both intensely personal and instantly relatable. Using interviews with other ZZT creators in addition to her
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Jessica
Jun 28, 2014 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: nonfiction, kindle
I supported the Boss Fight Books Kickstarter and have received each of the books they've published to date, but ZZT is the one I was most looking forward to and the first one I read. I never played around with ZZT to the extent that the author or any of the people featured in the book did, but I do remember having a few ZZT games and wasting reams of paper printing out instructions on how to build my own games in the editor.

The book is solidly written and well researched, but it focuses more on
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Lenalia
Aug 09, 2015 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I was captivated by this book, but I'd be lying if I said there weren't a few things that primed me for it:

- I remember ZZT (what this book is ostensibly about) very fondly, especially the editor. It was my first foray into game development as a young'un, and I just loved having those tools at my disposal back then.

- I read this book at a time when I was heavily questioning my gender identity. The author, and some of the people she talks about in this book, are transgender, and this is discussed
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Gaelan D'costa
In the vein of Boss Fight Books Volume 1:EarthBound, but is written in a tighter fashion and also has good insight into the creative process behind a lot of personal game development.

Whereas the first book was a beautifully sprawling mess of biography and description, this one is tighter. This befits the narrative architecture of each game.

Anna Anthropy has shown a gift for embedding the autobiographical (esp. pertaining to her personal journey) into her work, and this book is no exception. It r
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Brian McDonald
May 15, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Loved this, less about ZZT the game and more the community of players and creators that grew up around the game. The tools to build worlds in ZZT seemed to give voice to those not normally heard at the time - the marginalised, the strange, and the queer.

The book also documents how that community interacted through BBS, IRC, message boards and even the games they made. This makes it also very interesting study of early internet communities.

Finally, as a video game creator, I could really apprecia
...more
Steve Losh
Jun 02, 2014 rated it really liked it
A great nostalgia-filled romp through a game that was a key part of many folks lives.

ZZT is basically what got me into programming all those years ago. It managed to hide the fact that it was programming until you were already neck-deep in it and by then it was too late: you were hooked.

This book is pretty light on the technical side of things -- it's mostly about the culture around ZZT and the author's experiences with it. For anyone in the ZZT scene as a kid it's going to bring back fond memor
...more
Sam
Jun 03, 2014 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
What an interesting, refreshing read. Probably not everyone's cup of tea, but I really enjoyed it. I'm a few years older than the author and missed the boat on ZZT back in the day, though I enjoyed plenty of text-character-based games and tried my hand at programming on the C64. The interweaving of the author's trans experience in early/pre-internet days added an excellent layer of humanity to what could have been a fairly bland history of a text game.
Kurt Anderson
Jun 20, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Another insightful look into the history of video games from Boss Fight Books. Even without playing ZZT myself, Anna Anthropy brings the game to life through the stories of the players who were shaped by it and shaped it themselves.
Mjhancock
Apr 24, 2018 rated it really liked it
Nutshell: Anna Anthropy provides a very personal account of being part of the ZZT game creation scene when the game (and the Internet) was new.

I've read a few Boss Fight books before, and liked them; a deep dive into a videogame that means a lot to the author feels like a warm hug of a book, if you're in the right mood. Despite that, however, ZZT sat on my shelf for a long time unread. I'd never had any personal experience with the game, and what I knew of it--action ascii adventure thing--felt
...more
Demian Katz
Apr 21, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Somehow, I have never actually played much ZZT, if any at all -- but I grew up in its era, playing other ASCII-based games and downloading other episodic shareware games from local BBSes. Lack of familiarity with the game being discussed in no way diminished my enjoyment of the text, which is really about larger themes of creativity and coming of age. This book does an excellent job of capturing a unique moment in time, where digital communication was still operating on a smaller scale, independ ...more
Michael Bailey
Apr 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
This book was pretty terrible. Full stop.

I was hoping for a journalistic discussion of the history, development, and impact of a curious little game from the 90s called ZZT. Unfortunately, the author spends a very short amount of space discussing Tim Sweeney, the creator of the game. After briefly discussing his process of releasing the game, there is no further direct discussion of the father of the game himself. It feels as if the entirety of the direct research was accomplished in a single em
...more
David
May 01, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I adored this book. In it I got to dive in to a world I never knew of before, but Anna writes in a way that I felt like I knew it because it's about those weird little clics from our past I sometimes reflect on, where I got to try our identities. But instead of Star Trek roleplaying it's kids younger than me making entire video games! It had that feel I get when I hear about writers in Paris in the 20s, showing that those pockets of brilliance and creativity can appear anywhere and at any time a ...more
Brad Furminger
The latter portion of the book provides more of what I had expected from the Boss Fight Books series. The first half or so reads much more like a technical manual or instruction booklet for how ZZT works as a game.
Nicholas Zacharewicz
Oct 15, 2017 rated it it was amazing
A fantastic book that combines personal memories of a game and its significance with an overview of its pop culture context in the days of the early internet.
Jon
Jan 01, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: 2019
An insightful look into pre-corporate game dev and the impacts of digital interactions
Ali Abbas
Jul 09, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting subject and perspective.
Brian
Aug 17, 2014 rated it really liked it
I first played ZZT (apparently pronounced like an onomatopoeia, not an initialism!) when I found it on one of those old shareware CDs that circulated in the mid-90s, filled with reams and reams of trash and the occasional shining gem. ZZT was one of those gems, and reading ZZT I remembered my own attempts to solve the mazes of puzzles, the repeated frustrations, the eventual sense of triumph when I finally got all the keys and made it to the castle, and the feeling of wonder when I realized I co ...more
Erdahs
Feb 24, 2017 rated it it was amazing
An exploration of game design and the relationship between art and queer identity. A love letter to coming of age in the early days of the internet. Beautiful.
Peter Derk
Dec 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
This book gives a pretty interesting look into the world of very early homebrew games. From what I read here, it sounds like the ZZT game creation options were some of the first home tools many, many gamers experimented with. And what's really fascinating, a lot of these creators also used the tools in their searches for personal identity.

It's kind of an amazing example of restriction breeding creativity. ZZT was, in a lot of ways, a very limited world. You only had a small number of possible i
...more
Chris  - Quarter Press Editor
Jun 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
It took me WAY too long to discover Boss Fight Books. However, I made it a point to jump right in, and jump I did.

I spent some time reading many of the first ten books' intros, and while most intrigued me, it was Anthropy's ZZT that invited me back.

I really enjoyed this book--even having never heard of ZZT before. (Yes, that probably makes me a horrible "gamer," but I was never into the PC scene.) What made it work so well is that I not only felt like I understood what the game was about, but I
...more
Cale
Oct 15, 2014 rated it really liked it
First thing first - while this is called ZZT, it's only partially about the game. Instead, it focuses more on the community that grew up around ZZT, in the days of the BBS and the early Internet and IRC. It wasn't what I was looking for in a book, but that doesn't keep me from recognizing the value of what I got instead.
ZZT was Minecraft for my generation - sure there was a game in the front of it, but where it really opened up was in the editor, where you could create your own worlds (I rememb
...more
Jeaniecance
Jul 10, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
started out seeming cooler (more personal) than Boss Fight's Chrono Trigger or Earthbound books, with the promise of tying in this weird game I hadn't played to the author's experience as trans. That didn't really happen much, the book was more taken over by quotes from people involved in the ZZT community, which was less interesting, even though it obviously meant a lot to the people involved. The highlight for me was the great discussion of programming being accessible to everyone, and Apple s ...more
Jordan Magnuson
"ZZT is the product of a different era of computers--or, more accurately, a different attitude about what computers are for... A kid who has the means to program computers grows up with a different attitude about what technology is for. Computers are tools, playgrounds, laboratories--they're whatever you make of them."

Anna Anthropy's treatment of ZZT is eccentric, personal. Not so much an analysis as it is an exploration, a trip down memory lane; which seems a fitting way to handle a game, a pla
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Puck Winchester
Aug 29, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Being about a mid-90s proto-programming subculture that started on AOL, this book was a must-have to read about my old stomping grounds, but it was actually much more approachable than I expected. Anna Anthropy has a very singular way of describing object-programming and ASCII art using vivid language and personal metaphors--and really got across a taste of being part of an online movement of kids making games well before broadband and Java were options.
Bob Anderson
Oct 19, 2016 rated it really liked it
Anna writes here a great entry in the Boss Fight Books line, about these weird ASCII art adventure games from the early 90s. She covers the mod scene (including user-made scenarios) at least as extensively as the originals, and delves into how creators would use the technology to tackle themes of identity, expectations, and art. Especially if you played these back in the day, this is a really fun book.
Jamie Perez
Jun 04, 2014 rated it really liked it
Took charge of my insomnia and pushed through to the end. I think this was my favorite of the Boss Fights yet -- and was surprisingly the most journalistic and history-laden yet (which I didn't expect all things given). A great peak into a time and a place and a community, and a ton of games (and a game editor) I want to dig into.
Bern
Jun 05, 2014 rated it really liked it
I came to computers late and games even later. I didn't grow up in an online community, and I'm not trans. So I was more than pleasantly surprised to find this book entertaining, and easy to follow even though I've never played (or seen) ZZT. Parts of the book seemed disorganized, but I still only found myself wishing it were longer.
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i write smut, pulp fiction, and life-changing books about the decentralization of access to the means to create art. also, i make games.

Other books in the series

Boss Fight Books (1 - 10 of 27 books)
  • EarthBound (Boss Fight Books, #1)
  • Chrono Trigger (Boss Fight Books, #2)
  • Galaga (Boss Fight Books, #4)
  • Jagged Alliance 2 (Boss Fight Books, #5)
  • Super Mario Bros. 2 (Boss Fight Books, #6)
  • Bible Adventures (Boss Fight Books, #7)
  • Baldur's Gate II (Boss Fight Books, #8)
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