Thirty years ago—on January 15, 1991 —an American college student named Tim Sweeney released ZZT , a low-key adventure game with a revolutionary element: It shipped with a free, built-in game editor. ZZT's success spawned Epic Games, Unreal Engine, and most recently, Fortnite . Here's why ZZT was special. What's a "ZZT," Anyway? Tim Sweeney's passion for programming began on his Apple II when he was a kid. After getting his first IBM PC in 1989 during his freshman year of college, he dove head-first into programming the new machine. While creating an MS-DOS text editor using Turbo Pascal in 1990, he decided to make the project more fun by adding game-like elements. That evolved into ZZT , which was released as shareware in 1991. The genius of ZZT in the early 1990s was that it wasn't just a cute ASCII-based adventure. With every copy of ZZT downloaded, players also got an in-game world editor for free. That's because ZZT's text editor roots meant that Sweeney created the game engine and editor first and then built his game worlds within it. Like a text editor, ZZT only uses text-mode characters. That means a zero might represent the segment of a… Read full this story
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