a.k.a. Bongo or Bongo79
What have you created with ZZT, or related to ZZT?
I did a short, bad comedy game called "City of the Stupid" (everyone had a game with a name
like that back in the day), plus the abortive Rhygar Trilogy: two games were done, and a third
released half-complete after a couple of bad crashes. I also did a couple of issues of the
company magazine for "Damage Incorporated". I did a lot of stuff that never came together: a
revival of a project called "World Hopper" comes to mind, some spaceship game, I think a 24-hour
game in the first competition.
I did COTS because I thought it was a cool training exercise and an outlet for my
The Rhygar games grew out of fanciful childhood discussions with my friend Matt
Badenhop, who was the other person who liked Dragon Warrior games a lot and who is in some kind
of punk band now. I felt like I was completely creatively spent after I gave up on Rhygar 3,
a feeling which has come back to haunt me, uh, a lot.
When you think about ZZT, what games come to your mind and why?
tucan/noi5e's p0p, these two obscure RPGs called "Legend of Brandonia" and "Quest for the
Floating Isle", my own stuff, and this weird program by Chronos20/30/40/whatever about his
daily life at school that I think was just intended for a few friends, but that somehow I used
to have a copy of.
p0p I liked because tucan/noi5e's stuff has always had this terrifying resonance with me; I have
no idea why. I have this sense that his stuff is totally great, and at the same time is totally
not the kind of thing I'm capable of doing: this limitless, yet still ultimately self-aware, self-
critical imagination. Legend of Brandonia because it was maybe the sixth ZZT game I played, and
the first to really have this sense of openness about it, this sense of an ability to create very
wide-ranging worlds with very, very simple components. Quest For The Floating Isle I liked because
it was a tightly-built adventure game with moderate imagination and with my obsessive love of
order: every item you found in the game was announced with the same sound effect and the same
capitalization protocols, and I think he truncated all of the item names to eight characters for
totally artificial, rigorous reasons, and that is very dear to the fascist bureaucrat that lives
deep in my heart. My own work I have to think of because I spent a lot of my self-absorbed
teenage years thinking about it. And this game by Chronos--School Daze, it was probably called--I
liked because it gave this direct glimpse of his world, his life, and Chronos is such an
incredibly detail-oriented craftsman that it wasn't a vague sketch or anything, a game where you
run into a friend, get a quest, do something else, repeat. It actually felt, when you were
playing this game, like you were living Chronos's life, hanging out with his friends, lusting after
girls he lusted after, micturating in the bathroom outside his very band hall. Sounds like a
newbie-ish thing to do, yeah, but there was something to this game that made me think of it as
almost the fulfillment of ZZT's weird sense of promise.
Have you created any games outside of ZZT?
I tried a couple of things, some in Megazeux and one in VERGE, but I didn't really have the patience.
Do you have any artistic pursuits other than making games?
I do a comic strip called "The Man Who Hates Fun" (http://mwhf.keenspace.com); I write short
stories; I am working on a novel. Sometimes I buy cheap musical instruments and try to learn
to play them and fail at this.
What are you up to, lately (in life, generally)?
Generally that. I live in Austin, Texas, am almost done with an MFA degree in creative writing,
and will find out next Monday whether I've gotten the most recent tech writing job I've applied
for. At the interview they asked me "So, your writing experience seems mostly creative. How do
you think you will deal with this job, which is not creative in any way?" I said something or
other and they smiled and said "That was the right answer," so who knows, maybe I'll live
Has your experience with ZZT or the ZZT scene made any sort of lasting impact on your life?
Yes--Rhygar 2 was popular enough and I got enough of a reputation as "a good storyteller" or
whatever that I got this sense that I had fulfilled all of my big ego fantasies about being
a huge famous artist, and then I ran out of steam on Rhygar 3, thought things over and
decided that there was a very real chance that a big ZZT splash at fourteen, fifteen, whatever
I was at the time might well be the big moment of glory allotted to me in life. That was
incredibly depressing, and I didn't do much for about a year after that, beyond a lot of faltering
efforts. I got better, but I don't think that any amount of success could have that same
impact on me again.
Ultimately it's a good effect, I think: I get the feeling every year or so that I've reached
some kind of plateau with whatever I'm currently doing, that from this point on it's all decay
and making a spectacle of yourself, and based on my experience with being famous with a bunch of
socially-awkward teenagers, I've learned to just ignore that and keep working arbitrarily until
something new and vital presents itself. And, shamefully, I still have that secret desire to
actually have that level of fame (relatively speaking) again, reflected in the world outside
rather than as a function of my own set of standards for whatever. I don't know--ultimately the
stuff I did with ZZT made me realize that there was some kind of possibility in this world for
artistic success, even in limited ways. I have no idea if I'd still be doing this stuff were
it not for ZZT.
Also I know and still talk to some pretty awesome people because of this--darkmage, sirlance, flicker,
kevin carter--and talking to them, who kind of share my tastes, predilictions, activities, etc., got
me through an otherwise dark first couple of years of college. I think flicker may have talked me
out of an early death once, though I don't remember things from that period all that clearly
anymore. So plainly, an effect was had.
What works of non-ZZT art have inspired you the most?
Books: I really liked "The Fountainhead" at one point in my life. Madeline L'Engle's "A Wind In The Door"
was probably my favorite book as a kid, for its moral vision and for its hott young geniuses interacting
poetically with inscrutable, universal forces. I also liked John Bellairs's stuff, because it's so totally
weird! The adventures of various old, wacky people, each with a pre-teen, asexual protege, all set in weird
snowbound Rust Belt communities, replete with religious symbology and history-major flim-flam. Wonderful
stuff. Currently I'm inspired by Yukio Mishima, particularly for his "Sea of Fertility" cycle
(although the books get worse as time goes on), as well as by Stendhal for "The Red and
the Black" and Balzac for "Lost Illusions". A theme of "histrionic, depressive young
intellectuals striving to achieve some kind of nebulous greatness" is embarassingly
discernible, but that's what gets me off, I guess.
Movies: I like Truffaut's Antoine Doinel series, particularly "Stolen Kisses". This movie
called "Liquid Sky" inspires me in chilling, unknown ways. Full Metal Jacket can still affect me.
Comics: Robert Crumb, Daniel Clowes (less so now than before), Ariel Schrag, Eddie Campbell.
Do you have any interesting stories to relate about ZZT or the ZZT scene?
I used to be totally embarassed by the ZZT scene. In ninth grade, at the beginning of the year, I
mentioned to my class in some getting-to-know-you exercise that yes, I made elaborate video games;
I braced for social rejection forever; no one cared; it was cool.
Do you plan to create any games in the future, with or without ZZT?
Ha ha! No.
Actually I fool around with stuff in ZZT every so often, but only when I'm trying to stay awake
for whatever reason. It's remarkably relaxing to just blow three insomniac hours on making some
inane system or other--the most recent being a graphic adventure "toolkit" that delighted me so
much that I made plans for a whole six-game epic cycle based on this system, plans which I forgot
about upon waking up the next morning.
Anything else you'd like to add?
This is a really cool idea. Talking about ZZT, reminiscing about this significant Dark Chapter
of my past (I guess, as far as regular life is concerned), has got me thinking about a lot of
stuff I haven't for a while, articulating ideas that have been content to remain unarticulated for
the past eight-odd years. This may be obvious, given the length and obnoxiousness of my
responses (seriously, I am going to look at this stuff and the morning and reel in Lovecraftian
horror from these echoes of myself), but I had a pretty good time, and I am going to go lie down
now, stare at the ceiling, think with dread about how this weird little text adventure program
imprinted a generation, or at least one histrionic young man with a destiny and a tale, agh
- May 2006