tzar: A work forever in progress

The title screen for tzar says plainly that it’s alpha software, and as we all know (or should know), that means it’s not quite ironed out yet.


“tzar” is an acronym for “that zombie apocalypse roguelike,” which tells you in one quick motion what exactly you’re getting into. I don’t know if the author planned for tzar to compete with things like zombies! or Cataclysm or even curses-of-the-undead; it could be that the choice of the zombie survival genre is a convenient theme. It shouldn’t really matter.

Like a lot of tzar, character “creation” has its ups and downs. The point system is unusual, since you can allocate points to your ability scores, or use the same reserve to purchase equipment. Higher ability scores will require more of your points, and of course better equipment costs more too.

That’s a new way of approaching things and I like it; what I don’t like are the key commands used to control that interface. Left and right selection is done with the greater-than and less-than keys (not the comma and period), and increases and decreases are done with the plus and minus. On my keyboard, that’s a lot of jockeying the shift key, which makes it more than a little clumsy. Left-right-up-down would probably have worked just as well, and been a little more intuitive to boot.

There’s also no real guidance on what the ability scores reflect, if we’re working with the traditional three-to-18 scale, or if a crossbow is more effective than a Magnum, even if they cost the same. Should I be looking to buy armor? Because there’s only one kind available, but two kinds of boots. Am I otherwise barefoot?

Once in the game, tzar again has some upsides and downsides. The interface and controls are the standard HJKL arrangement, with the “w” key for wield and wear, “i” for inventory, “f” to fire a missile weapon, and a few other keypresses here and there.

Run into a monster to attack it, or as I hinted, press “f” to fire at it. I’ve only used the crossbow among missile weapons, but it seems to have an unlimited range. Or it might just be that my dexterity is so good that I can’t miss. 😀

tzar also includes combat between monsters, which I think is a great addition. There’s no reason why an owlbear and a grey ooze would share a particular room; I’ve seen it in other roguelikes and it always amuses me that odd-couple-ish creatures would prefer to attack me instead of each other. Are vampires and quokkas so compatible that I can find them in the same room? Either way, the fact that tzar lets two creatures establish dominance while I wait for a winner … well, that’s a step forward for me.

Some downsides: Screen messages tend to get a little sketchy, since only the top line is available at 80×24, and if you get mobbed you’ll likely miss out on some combat reports. I also ran into a lot of segfaults, most seeming to happen when I moved west with the “h” key. Although that might just be chance.

There are also some curiosities with regard to documentation. The opening screen says to check the MANUAL file for instructions, the MANUAL file has nothing in it but a link to a manual.htm file on Sourceforge, and that page 404’s. If you want the proper address, it’s here.

tzar is mostly configured through a .tzarrc file, and this is one of the things I like best about tzar. You have (more or less) complete control over keystrokes, characters used to display walls and so forth, and the ability to turn on the color. It’s worth investigating if you want to pursue tzar further.

I like tzar for its flexibility, for a bit of innovation in character creation and for monsters that don’t play well together. But dislike it for lacking some guidance on basic rules and for segfaulting quite a lot.

Then again, like I said at the start, it is admittedly alpha software. The saddest part though, is that with timestamps of 2009 on most files, I doubt it will ever reach beta. 😦

2 thoughts on “tzar: A work forever in progress

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