Odyssey #3, Journey Through Time (1980)   5 comments

Joel Mick and James Taranto return for one last game. By my best reckoning, this is the first adventure game ever made that involves traveling back in time. (Krell Software’s Time Traveller is more a strategy game, and TimeQuest didn’t come out until 1981. There were also no Dr. Who adventure games until 1981. )

A shot from the trailer for Time Bandits (1981), which feels relevant even though it came out a year after Odyssey #3.

The first two Odyssey games (#1, #2) both had prior background of the player character that isn’t fully disclosed right away. In game #1, the plot didn’t move at all until the player chooses to kill a royal messenger; in game #2, the player rummages through a dead person, takes their stuff, and steals a plane.

The second game, in particular, was fairly grating, whereas the character for this game, while also cheerfully amoral, was a lot more fun to play.

My theory is that Odyssey #2 did nothing to establish the character as the type of person who might steal a plane. It started with a default “the player is you” but then expected some acts that “you” might not normally consider taking. Odyssey #3, on the other hand, establishes the player character as some sort of absent-minded mad scientist before the main action starts of going: a robbery spree across time. Additionally, “robbery spree across time” just feels like something a character who is more Chaotic Good than Lawful Evil would do — akin to the Time Bandits movie mentioned above. (There’s also a level of PC wickedness that’s too much for me, even given a distinctly well-drawn character, but we haven’t reached any game like that in the All the Adventures series yet.)

You start in a bedroom with no other context (see above), but given the circumstances later, the player character is just being forgetful. Stepping north leads to the first obstacle of the game.

After getting by the mouse (using a furry little kitten) there’s a STRANGE LABORATORY with a LOCKED DOOR, DINGUS, TEST TUBES, and TINY WHITE MICE.

>GET MICE
AFTER WHAT HAPPENED OUT THERE, I’D RATHER NOT!

The DINGUS is described as having a battery clip, and if you ATTACH BATTERY to it, you are told

NOW I RECOGNIZE WHAT THAT DINGUS IS!

and it turns into a TIME MACHINE. The time machine has a black and a white button; the white button jumps to the “present” while the black button jumps between different periods.

Each period has a single treasure you can acquire. A fair number of them are in the open, not even designed as a “puzzle” really — for example, in London, there’s a costume (and you are told explicitly it looks like it’d be fun to wear); if you wear it you find a Shakespeare manuscript inside.

What puzzles do exist are relatively minor; the building that contains the TRS-80 prototype in the screenshot above has a guard who is open to bribery.

Where I had the most difficulty was not nabbing treasures, but getting them to their “home”. I had every single treasure before I could reach the place they needed to go — a locked door in the laboratory — but since a treasure is required to get the key, this seemed to be quite intentional sequencing.

This was — by a multiplier — more fun than most of the “easy” games from 1980, and I think it came down to the actions being performed; bribing a guard as an action on its own is mundane, bribing a guard to steal the TRS-80 prototype from 1977 is kind of hilarious. As another example, the treasure in Germany is a Gutenberg Bible; however, instead of stealing one, you have to fix a machine and print a brand-new one for yourself.

If you’d like to try Treasure Acquisition Journey Through Time for yourself, the game is on IF-Archive (unfortunately I don’t have an online play link, so you’ll need to use an emulator, there’s guide on how to do that here).

Posted December 10, 2019 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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5 responses to “Odyssey #3, Journey Through Time (1980)

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  1. Just because I didn’t want to keep adding parentheticals to my opening, but I want to mention it somewhere: Crystal Cave did have the Timemaze although it was just a regular maze where “past” and “future” worked as exit descriptions. It doesn’t count as a “time travel genre” story at least, and the year of release is still uncertain (although there is evidence now it was before 1980, see the comment here).

  2. I wonder which is the first game involving time-travel where what you do in the past changes things in the present?

  3. Is “Gunterberg Bible” your typo or theirs?

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