Jonathan Dewbre

What have you created with ZZT, or related to ZZT?

I had two ongoing ZZT series. I'm probably most remembered for "The Most Meaningless Game In The World" 1 - 4. My other series, "Death, Destruction, War, Bloodshed, Terror And Other Stuff," is the one I'm more proud of. My plots usually revolved around some guy having to rescue his girlfriend from the depths of utter peril and her being totally ungrateful toward him. This was all rather anti-feminist, but then again, I didn't know what feminism was when I was 12 years old. My career lasted from about 1993 until 1997, at which point I decided I was "too old" to be ZZTing.

All of my games shared some distinguishing characteristics, in that I made them up as I went along, the programming was full of bugs, the visuals looked like they were designed by children stricken with glaucoma, and they were often offensively violent. I was deliriously fond of instant deaths, and I consistently forgot to give the player health or ammo, which meant that you had to use cheats if you had any hope of getting to the end. In addition, the dialogue was full of anger and frustration and laced with thinly-veiled profanities that would make Jesus cry.

Okay, so maybe I harbor a bit of resentment toward my younger self. I will admit that there was *something* among those disparate elements that made those games seem cool. I'm still surprised that they were memorable enough to warrant my being included here.

Death, Destruction, War, Bloodshed, Terror And Other Stuff
When you think about ZZT, what games come to your mind and why?

The first games I ever played, the ones which got me started, were Aric McKeown's "Island Of The Jerks" series. I think his stuff influenced me more than anything else. Brian McFee was an incredibly prolific programmer in the early days, and the visual style that he developed made a big impression on me, particularly in "Castle Of Zazoomda." I'd say just from looking at these other profiles that both of those guys are underappreciated now and that their work deserves to be resurrected. There was a series of games called "Funny Farm" from which I liberally stole ideas for MMG 1 and 2; that's also where I learned how to make an object surround itself with red fake walls after getting shot. Also of note were the two "Brian's Life" games by Firebug. And how could I forget "Cow's Quest 4"? Man, now I want to go play all those games again.

And that's just the stuff that came out before I started using the ZZT editor. I think that I played every game that Jessamin Yu and Scott Hammack created. They were definitely the top dogs at the time. And I bet Daniel Haug was surprised by how big his one little game ("Yapok-Sundria") became. Of course I could mention Greg Janson here like everybody always does, but nobody likes a kiss-up.

Have you created any games outside of ZZT?

The last two installments of the "Meaningless Game" series were made for Megazeux, and I received more recognition for those than for anything I ever did on ZZT. MMG 5 was particularly awful, because I didn't really know how to program in Megazeux when I made it. I mean, why in the hell did I put my main character in a house made of breakaway walls? The sixth installment in the series was a huge game - the biggest programming effort I ever made - and it's still fun to play, as long as you turn your speakers off.

I learned QBasic before I even knew what ZZT was, and the first game I ever made was a text adventure which included a few screens of semi-pornographic line art. (Hey, I was an adolescent. What can you do?) Later on I made a valiant attempt at creating a graphic adventure game, but that didn't come off too well. I dabbled some in Visual Basic and later, when I'd decided that I wanted to be a programmer, took classes in C and C++. Never managed to create anything worthwhile with that, though.

Do you have any artistic pursuits other than making games?

I wish. Taking a studio art class in college for one semester with a bunch of hard-core visual art majors was enough to make me realize that maybe drawing just isn't my thing.

I worked for the student newspaper while I was in college - in fact, I practically lived in the office - and I spent almost all four years as editor of the opinion page, as well as being a regular columnist. Every column I wrote is up on my web site (, but I have to warn you that the jovial, care-free spirit that peppered my ZZT games had all but left me at that point. I call myself a fiction writer as well, despite the fact that I suck at it. It always amazes me when I think back to my ZZT days, and remember how effortless it was to create characters and dialogue while still (hopefully) remaining funny. Writing is a chore these days, and those stories which I do finish always manage to put my readers through almost Dante Alighieri-esque levels of pain, which makes me hesitant to ever want to write again.

You can read more rambling, disjointed and discomforting thoughts like this on my LiveJournal ( I update it fairly frequently.

What are you up to, lately (in life, generally)?

Oh, you know, the usual. Hitting my friends up for jobs. Not getting into grad school. Trying to get freelance work despite being too much of an introvert to make a living off of it. Not getting paid enough for the freelance work that I do get. Curing cancer.

Seriously, I hate this question. When people ask me this I usually just point them to my LiveJournal, and I've already done that here.

Now, what have YOU been up to lately? No, come on. You asked me, now it's my turn to ask you. Answer the question.

Has your experience with ZZT or the ZZT scene made any sort of lasting impact on your life?

Well, look at it this way. When I began working with ZZT, I was a happy, normal, somewhat shy 12-year-old. Then I kept turning to ZZT more and more, as a refuge from school and as a surrogate replacement for a social life. I shunned extracurricular activities and never went out with friends. Eventually I had to keep doing more and more ZZT just to get the high I'd experienced the first time I downloaded a game. I'd spend long nights staring at the editor, twitching nervously in the warm, radiation-spewing glow of the computer screen. I'd go to "ZZT parties," where kids would dress up as ANSI characters and sit around a yellow-bordered room, taking hits of ZZT and laughing maniacally as they threw little white circles at each other. Okay, that part didn't really happen. But I will tell you this: by the time I gave up ZZT for good, I was a complete geek, a hopeless nutcase full of neuroses and too introverted to acknowledge fellow human beings with anything more than a grunt. AND! - this is the worst part - girls completely ignored me.

And, as if that's not enough, my time with ZZT eventually caused me to delude myself into thinking that I wanted to be a computer programmer - for the money more than anything else - and so I chose a college with a good engineering school, got a scholarship, and then promptly proceeded to lose that scholarship when I nearly failed all of my classes, because I overlooked the fact that I suck at math. I was forced to go into the liberal arts major of last resort - English - dooming me to a life of unemployment. Of course the tech sector collapsed a while later, but I still resent the fact that the plans I had so carefully cultivated had been disrupted.

In short, ZZT ruined my life. Thanks, ZZT!

Well, no, actually I loved ZZT. Creating a game and then getting instant recognition for it was kind of a dream come true. It's just so much easier to deal with your shortcomings when you don't have to take responsibility for them. Kids, there's a lesson in all of this.

What works of non-ZZT art have inspired you the most?

Pretty much anything that inspired me ended up in my games, either as a parody or as a direct rip-off. Boards directly modeled after Mystery Science Theater 3000 appeared in two games, and on one of them you actually had to kill Crow. There was a puzzle in the first DDWBTO game that involved answering trivia questions about Monty Python; Groucho Marx showed up in there as well. All four Beatles were in MMG 4, as was a yellow submarine. There were some Doctor Who inspired boards in which you had to shoot Cybermen. The house from The Rocky Horror Picture Show ends up in Seattle in DDWBTO 2, along with Riff-Raff and Magenta. One of the quests in MMG 6 involves stealing a golden television from Gollum. There was a lot of pop culture that ended up in my games, although I'm not sure that all of my references were crystal-clear.

Oh! And I almost forgot about my searing, telepathic hatred toward Emily Dickinson and Alfred Lord Tennyson. The line "I hate you Emily Dickinson!" became somewhat of a mantra.

Do you have any interesting stories to relate about ZZT or the ZZT scene?

I was never a part of "the scene," and I kind of regret it, since I'm sure I could have met some cool people. I corresponded with Yu and Haug for a while through e-mail, and I never got to speak with The Famous Scott, although I did lurk on the forum message board and I read most of the Saga (or, at least, the parts that he wrote.) I was once invited to be part of a ZZT "company," and then was fired because I wouldn't IM people. A few years after I stopped making games I did manage to get on an IRC chat (at the behest of a friend), and promptly got into an argument about capitalism after suggesting that money is the root of all evil. Suffice it to say, I lack the social graces to be part of any "scene."

Even up until my junior year of college, though, I still had random people e-mailing me, telling me that my games had somehow "inspired" them. There was one guy who created a series called "Weirdland," of which the fifth installment was a take-off on the sixth "Most Meaningless Game", but with actual plotting, design and visual work. It was a bit embarrassing, quite frankly, to see someone else create the game that I had originally envisioned, but lacked the skills to realize.

Still, I always enjoyed seeing myself name-dropped into someone else's game. I think I was included in the original credits of "Dogfight," and I'm pretty sure that the name "Kenneth Jupiter" showed up on a tombstone in some Megazeux game I played. Having your game's main character confirmed dead by someone else is a sure sign that you made at least a little impact on others.

Do you plan to create any games in the future, with or without ZZT?

That would be a little difficult, since I no longer remember even a single command of ZZT OOP.

Nope. I'm done with that part of my life. Nothing left now except to retire and sit on my porch all day, scaring young children.

Anything else you'd like to add?

Yes, there is one thing. I'm speaking specifically toward any young ZZT gamers/creators who are like I was ten years ago. The kind of kid who's introverted to a fault, who can't communicate with other people, so he returns to the safety and familiarity of ZZT as often and as long as he can. ZZT is great. It's great to be able to create your own video games and have other people play them, and maybe to chat with other ZZTers. I'm not saying that's a bad thing. But you've gotta go out and find stuff to do with other living, breathing human beings. Spend time outside, even if it just involves sitting on a park bench and reading a book. Join an acting troupe. Join a traveling circus. Join an orgy. And get some exercise, dammit. You won't be young forever.

And when you do create ZZT games, learn from my mistakes. Plot your game out in advance. Create logical, intuitive puzzles. Give the player plenty of health and ammo. Cut down on the meaningless violence. And for the love of God, get people to beta-test your games to make sure that they're actually playable.


(Well, I guess I haven't forgotten *everything*.)

- May 2006