So what exactly is Zyll?  If you just asked yourself this question, then you're not alone.  Zyll was a pioneering text adventure game written by Scott Edwards and Marshal Linder for the IBM PC Jr. in 1984.  Unfortunately the IBM PC Jr. didn't catch on as well as IBM had hoped and Zyll was ignored by the general public.

The storyline for Zyll isn't particularly genre breaking, but it is somewhat interesting.  The story begins with a young sorcerer named Zyll, an evil man who dreamed of becoming a master of black magic and ruling the realm.  Unfortunately for Zyll (but luckily for everyone else), all he could do is fail at his goal.  However one day Zyll came across the Black Orb, an evil artifact that increased Zyll's power to unimaginable levels.  Using his new found powers, Zyll took revenge against the kingdom by stealing the 6 great treasures and using the Black Orb to turn the realm into a barren wasteland.  That is why your kingdom has sent you to destroy the evil Zyll and recover the great treasures to return the realm back to its former glory.  

Players can choose from one of three different occupations: Warrior, Wizard, or Thief.  Each job has its own strengths and weaknesses.  Warriors are physically strong so they can carry many items and easily defeat most monsters without much trouble, however they cannot cast magic spells or pick locks.  Wizards on the other hand, are much weaker than warriors so they can't take much damage before dying.  However Wizards are the only class that can cast magic, which can make the game much easier as spells tend to be very strong and come in both offensive and non-combat varieties.  Thieves are so-so fighters and not very strong, however they can not only pick locks, but have a very strong ability to find hidden objects and passages.  This is an immensely useful ability in Zyll, and can easily spell the difference between victory and defeat.  Thieves can also pick another players pockets and hide valuable objects from other players (very useful in competition mode).

So what makes Zyll so revolutionary?  For starters, Zyll was the one of the first (if not the first) text adventure games to take place in real time.  What does this mean?  Basically, it means that the game continues to move even if the player doesn't enter a command.  For example, if the player were to light a torch and walk away from the keyboard for five minutes, he would most likely come back to find that the torch had long since gone out and his character had been hacked to death by a demon rat.  This is a big difference from most other text adventures that would patiently wait for the player to enter command before the game would continue.  

Another innovative feature of Zyll was that two players could play simultaneously.  When playing in two player mode the game was split down the middle of the screen, with each player getting half.  Players then had to decide whether they wanted to play cooperatively or compete against each other.  When in competition mode, players could attack each other or pick each others pockets.  This added a whole new dynamic to the game, and often lead to vicious cut throat tactics.

Zyll also featured randomized item placement.  When the player starts a game they have a choice of having the various game items be placed in random locations or having fixed item locations (activated by pressing the ESC key as the game starts).  This allows even experienced players to have a whole new game each time they play (the game map stays fixed however).  

Although Zyll is considered a text adventure game, no commands are actually typed in.  Instead, players use the function keys (F1-F10) to select commands from various menus.  This speeds up the gameplay immensely, and makes for easy adventuring once the player learns the simple menu layouts.   However Zyll was designed with the old style IBM PC/XT style keyboard in mind, so the command key placement may seem odd on modern keyboards.

While Zyll may not have achived the fame it richly deserved, it is fondly remembered by many die hard text adventurers.


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