John Thornton
a.k.a. Bongo or Bongo79
born in 1983 in Muskegon, MI, USA
jwthorntongmail.com
ZU


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 fourteen-year-old non-wit. 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.



Rhygar 2
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 another day.

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

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