Did you ever get that feeling like a videogame was made personally for you? That’s me and Frog Fractions 2.
Funded on Kickstarter in 2014, Frog Fractions 2 was pitched as–wait for it–a sequel to Frog Fractions, a browser-based game that presented itself as an edutainment title but secretly contained a whole series of funny mini-games in a variety of different genres for those who could find the rabbit hole. A follow-up meant more games and a new rabbit hole. Did I want that? Yes, I did.
Frog Fractions 2 was a unique crowdfunding project because, by necessity, the development process had to be completely opaque. There would be no updates for backers, and when the game itself was released, it wouldn’t be titled Frog Fractions 2, but instead hidden in some other boring-looking Steam game with a different name.
Spoiler Warning: If you read any further, you will find out the real name of Frog Fractions 2, and about some of the secrets that it holds.
Finding Frog Fractions 2
Frog Fractions 2 is hidden inside Glittermitten Grove, which is ostensibly a FarmVille-esque resource-management game about building a woodland community full of fairies. If you look in the right place, you can find a mysterious door that, when clicked, leads into a completely different experience: The high-resolution pastel graphics of the Grove are replaced with nothing but text–namely, the character set from the original IBM PC computers, which included some rudimentary images like card suits, musical notes, and a smiley face.
Pressing a few buttons reveals that you are that smiley face, walking around a world made of text. The sidebar reads “TXT WORLD!”
At this point, you’re either very confused or you understand completely. I am very much in the latter group, as I instantly understood what Frog Fractions 2 was referencing: a 1991 PC game called ZZT, the first game ever created by Gears of War maker Epic Games. Its graphics (which were dated even then) obscured the fact that ZZT was a groundbreaking game, as it allowed players to create their own adventures in an easy-to-use WYSIWYG environment, similar to today’s Super Mario Maker.
ZZT has a vibrant creative community around it even today. And even though I haven’t played one in forever, I created ZZT games back when I was 13 or so, and I’m quite familiar with all the ins and outs of how they worked. That said, let me assure you, Frog Fractions 2 is a pixel-perfect recreation of what one these games felt like to play. There have been a few modifications to the formula to make it a bit less annoying for modern players, but the level of perfectionism in this recreation is astonishing.
Down the Rabbit Hole
I figured that, much like the original Frog Fractions, we’d spend a little bit of time in TXT WORLD before leaving it behind to find another parody of a totally different game genre. As it turns out, nothing could have been further from the truth: the ZZT-styled game is the central hub, the glue that holds the full game together, and you’ll spend hours there. It’s like a fully-featured ZZT user-made game, with puzzles, enemies, and secrets all patterned closely after the source material. I want to be really clear here: This is no mere passing reference to ZZT, but a laboriously accurate note-for-note recreation of it.
Scattered throughout TXT WORLD are portals that bring you to the wacky parody games you were expecting. Some are more enjoyable than others. My favorite is possibly best described as “Where In Dante’s Inferno Is Carmen Sandiego?” I say this not only for the clever marriage of gameplay and setting, but because of its theme song, which expertly blends Gregorian chanting with Rockapella’s ooh-wop, doo-wop from the TV show’s theme song. There are so many clever moments like this in Frog Fractions 2, pulled off so expertly, that I frequently had to just sit back and take it in, kind of amazed at what I was seeing, before moving on.
Mostly I’m in awe of what a daring creative move Frog Fractions 2 was: After raising money on Kickstarter and thus creating a base of paying players who likely all had different assumptions about what a Frog Fractions sequel should be, creator Jim Crawford delivered what looks like an intensely personal labor of love that could easily turn off more players than it attracts. On the other hand, players who’ve never heard of ZZT might go off and start making their own games because they learned about it via Frog Fractions 2.
There are so many reasons this game shouldn’t exist, but I’m thrilled that it does.