Archive for January 2022

Time Zone: Dependencies   9 comments

From an old eBay auction.

I’ve been doing some puzzle-solving, but “doing” might be more appropriate, because I’ve had to make an “alternate-universe” save where I do something in what’s likely the wrong place in order to unlock a couple areas. In other words, I’ve probably (intentionally) softlocked my game in order to see into the future.

Ok, yes, this one’s messy. Let me put my “Hours played” up front this time.

HOURS PLAYED: 7.75 (+2.5 change)

Mapping brainlessly and only solving puzzles by lucky shots on the run = fast. Combing over every area and trying to solve things = slow.

I did, as threatened, make a spreadsheet.

One thing I can conclude for near-certain is that objects do not just move forward in time for solving puzzles. Quite a few things go backwards, and in the case of Cleopatra, I was able to

a.) get a bag of rice from 50 BC Asia by giving jade to a peasant

b.) take that rice up two zones to 1400 AD Asia to trade the rice for some silk

c.) take the silk back to Cleopatra in 50 BC Africa.

You normally get stopped by a guard who says you need to bring a gift, but lets you pass by if you have silk. Interestingly enough, if you then try to give the silk to her, you are told she has enough silk already. I’m still not sure what to do.

In the department of really-odd-things, when combing over Los Angeles 2082 AD I found something extraordinarily strange: a key under a mat at a locked door.

And I’m not joking about the strangeness, because the key does not go to the door it is at. Nor does it go to the locked car a room nearby. Or the other locked house. Or the locked padlock in Asia 2082 AD that is the same color. Or the locked door in 2082 Australia. I really don’t know what’s going on. Am I having a parser issue or is this just a bizarre troll on the game’s part?

It would be bizarre for the key in Los Angeles to open a padlock in Tokyo, but the situation is already strange.

My biggest “progress” was, as mentioned before, somewhat illusory. I was nursing a burnt-out torch from the Inca, and trying to look across all time and space for a way to light it (…never mind one of the locations you can stop by is your very own house in 1982…) and tried, on a whim, to skip the Stone Age setup of trading fire for a stone hammer. I brought the fire to 1982 AD instead.

And yes, this works: you can light the torch. (You cannot take the torch back to the Stone Age, it is too far back in time and goes poof.) Having done this unlocks three brand-new dark areas. First is the far-future where I made a smidge of progress to find two grates.

The second grate is too high to reach. Remember I had to sacrifice the stone hammer to get the light, so it would be hilarious if the solution to this rusted grate is to hit it with a stone hammer.

Second is in the Middle East behind the OPEN SESAME cave. I was able to walk in and grab some gold. I can’t get out because of dying of thirst, but I’m fairly certain that’s because I skipped trading for a camel (I don’t know yet what the merchant wants).

Finally there’s a dark labyrinth at Rome. Inside the labyrinth were some tweezers, and I was able to go to the lion and USE TWEEZERS to get a thorn out of its paw. The lion let me by and consequentially I got to a top level area overlooking the arena.

Unfortunately exploring further had me thrown in a different gladiator portion where I died with no sword or shield. I don’t know if that means I will find them in other time zones and bring them forth.

I did make one further discovery not dependent on the torch in 2082 Europe but it didn’t yield me much. I had assumed that getting the police dog is what dropped a rope in my inventory, but no: for some reason when you meet the thief and he takes your stuff (or doesn’t, if you have an empty inventory) he leaves a rope behind. Then you can TIE ROPE to the dog when first getting him and he won’t run away. This lets you walk around Future London with a dog trotting behind, which sounds pretty neat, but unfortunately I haven’t found any use for this. My initial assumption was I would find the thief’s lair, but in no location in down did the dog perk up and start sniffing or the like. I even tried taking the rhea egg (from way in the past, 50 BC Australia) and throwing it at the thief so it would make a trail, but no dice.

This still doesn’t feel like a lot for 2.5 hours, but other than organizing my documentation I hit a lot of things not working. I tried visiting 1000 AD Africa which had logs and a river but where the game said I didn’t have enough to make a raft, and I still don’t, even with a rope and saw. (To be fair to the game, the picture of the rope is kind of small, more dog-leash size than wrap-around-some-logs style.) I had plenty of other simply failed theories. I assume the boomerang gets thrown … somewhere? Even though most places don’t understand THROW BOOMERANG? The only era with a promising message was 1000 AD Europe (with Robin Hood) which had a slightly different message indicating I was just in the wrong room, but I still couldn’t get anything to come from it.

Adam L. asks me what the difficulty is like. I can’t say I’ve solved any stereotypically “tough” puzzles yet, although that doesn’t mean they aren’t there. If there really is some strange finagling with fire, for instance, that’s a circumstance of generally “simple” action (making a fire) being made complicated by forming unexpected dependencies between puzzles. It may be that the sharp stick all the way back in the prehistoric age that I blew on a tiger in the Stone Age is actually also useful in 1400 AD in a “simple” way, but I didn’t have a chance to find out because I already lost the item. So that’s one facet of difficulty, and it does get multiplied by the sheer size of the game making it hard to test theories out.

I don’t doubt there are a few puzzles difficult for their own sake as well, although there is a limit; there’s no complex daemons except for the very occasional bit where an enemy chases our hero (like the slavers on the Ivory Coast). In that case it may be possible to walk somewhere in particular to help with a solve (like how you can outrun a mountain-slide by hiding in a cave) but I don’t expect the same crazy juggling we’ve seen in, say, Hezarin.

I still have many theories to test, so I’m not quite ready to consider hints yet.

Posted January 31, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Time Zone: The Other Ages   17 comments

I’ve now done a survey of every single era and continent in the game. Oddly, except for the finale area, this means I’ve likely seen most everything in the game. There are a couple puzzles that gate off areas that are very clearly only single-room areas; in a good number of cases there doesn’t seem to be any rooms blocked off at all.

From Mobygames, a disk from the Japanese FM-7 version.

Just as a reminder, I’ve so far tromped through Prehistoric Age, Stone Age, 50 BC, and 1000 AD. Also, the game does make it clear from something later that the dates are approximate landing points; one time landing in “1400” there was explicitly a date given of 1492 (…betting you can guess already what that’s about…) so the time machine obviously is dealing in approximation. That means if a location is off plus-or-minus 100 years I wouldn’t call it an inaccuracy, but don’t worry, faithful readers: there are still legions of historical errors to nitpick over if you’re so inclined.

1400 AD (kind of)

My same map layout as before, with North America-Europe-Asia on top and South America-Africa-Australia on bottom.

North America results in me getting run over by a stampede of Buffalo. There’s also a ravine that appears to require some manner of rope or ladder or the like to travel over it, although I get stampeded before I can test anything.

There’s a herd of dodgy art in the game, but I kind of like this one.

South America lands us in the Andes (again) with a deadly rockslide (you have enough time to hop into a nearby cave)…

…and going down farther leads to a gorge that is (at present) un-crossable. I appreciated that the map wasn’t in a grid!

Europe lands you in 1942, where you can sign up for the crew of the Santa Maria. You explicitly have to say where you want to work (sails, hold, or galley) and I’m pretty sure only one of them is correct, because Game Design ™.

The correct option is to work the sails, because it lets you get up to a parrot and a telescope. Looking through the telescope lets you see a distance farmhouse, which you can’t otherwise find; then leaving the ship and going to the farmhouse yields an “iron bar” which is useful in 2082 AD.

For those looking to change the timeline, no, you can’t attack Christopher Columbus.

If you’re looking at this screen, I’m fairly sure you’ve softlocked the game.

I think you can take the parrot with you too, but I don’t have anything resembling parrot food.

Africa you land in a desert and then die from the heat.

Asia comes to a forest area located near to a “silk shop”. I was able to trade the rice I had gotten from a peasant in Past Asia for some silk. I haven’t used the silk anywhere yet.

That same continent has one obstacle remaining, that of a samurai. Of course, it is possible this is simply a trap and you’re supposed to avoid the place you get attacked? There are a couple deaths that definitely seem to be just for grins, but if there’s a turn pause before death (as happens here) I’m going with the assumption it is a puzzle rather than a premonition of later Sierra products.

Australia is a maze. Just a maze. There is nothing in the maze.

I wasn’t sure until I had the above experience, but I 98% now believe there are continent/time combos which are just absolute red herrings.

1700 AD

North America lands you at the Declaration of Independence.

Also, Ben Franklin is in his “print shop”, and you can’t go back to the back room if you’re not an employee, which suggests we get a job somehow? Also he has bilocation because he is simultaneously with the signing of the Declaration, if you compare the images.

South America is at the Amazon, and there is a river with crocodiles, and a village with “cannibals” who eat you.

The inside image is so bad I’m putting it behind a link.

Europe lands you at Paris in the time of Napoleon. Notably, just southwest of the time machine landing spot some thieves do a spot of robbery. I don’t know if there’s a puzzle there, as they can be easily avoided. Maybe you can later track them down and find a new object amidst their lair?

Napoleon is in a palace. The front is barred, so it may be the only puzzle in this area is to get inside.

The Africa landing spot is the Ivory Coast, where there’s a slave ship offshore and if you wander long enough you get shot by someone with a musket. There’s also a deadly snake that can kill you as well. (There’s a rustling as you are being followed, so I was hoping to time things so the snake grabbed the enslaver who is never seen, but I haven’t gotten that to work.)

Asia lands you in lots of snow, and you die of cold. There’s a bridge leading to a new place so it definitely is a puzzle rather than a trap.

Australia has quite a few grazing sheep, and a man on a horse who will shoot you if you come by assuming you are rustling sheep (not a bad assumption given how adventurers are). There’s also a barn with a padlock you can break with the iron bar from Italy 1492; inside there is a saw.

You can also take the padlock you break off with you.

2082 AD

The future is mostly boring paved streets.

North America, Los Angeles in particular, has as its only obstacle a locked house (and the boredom from mapping streets).

South America is a bit weirder. You land in Buenos Aires where it specifically says the streets are abandoned; I think the assumption in other places is that there are people that just aren’t depicted. If you wander the streets long enough you get shot by a terrorist sniper.

Europe, I’ve already discussed: you can get a rope from a runaway dog, and there’s a thief who stops you with a gun.

Africa drops you in Egypt again where there’s a dam in the desert. A guard shoots you for trespassing if you try to get by.

Asia is in Tokyo, which has a little variety with a subway that you can use to go to four sub-areas. One area has a locked warehouse, and one has a restaurant which requires yen to enter.

It feels weird doing an epoch-making jump across time and space only to be stymied by a lack of local currency and a locked door.

Australia actually looks kind of nice to live in! But the only thing to do here adventure-wise is stare at another locked door, at a house.

Honestly, the future era gave me the impression Williams was running out of ideas, or the company as a whole was running out of time. South America was interesting, at least, but I wonder if that’s another red-herring age.

Oh, and I did drop by The Far Future, where the Main Bad Guy awaits. I won’t do a full write-up yet but I’ll note the first obstacle is needing a light source, which I have yet to rustle up (I haven’t encountered any place to re-light my burnt out torch from South America).

So, that’s it for my grand tour. I am busy now making a spreadsheet listing each time zone as well as obstacles still to be overcome, and then I’ll try testing a bunch of theories. It does feel like (given I managed to squeeze in three complete eras in less than 1000 words) I’m leaving things out, but not really; there just are so many rooms that aren’t classical rooms in the adventure sense, just background fluff. You can sense the same sort of grid design in King’s Quest games 1 through 5 inclusive, but I think the difference with those is that they are packed with content; there are a few “just scenery” places in those games but for the most part every location has something interesting to look at or interact with. (If you’d like to make a more direct comparison, think of the “ocean” squares from some of those games; I remember Rosella swimming around empty ocean looking for just the right spot to find a whale or something.)


Posted January 29, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Time Zone: A Barren Land   21 comments

I’ve mapped everything I can get to of 50BC and 1000AD. I’ll give a rundown, but first let me isolate something I call the absurd object sourcing problem.

This is a problem held by some adventure games where you go through complex shenanigans in order to obtain, say, a cup of water, in a world situation where cups of water should normally be plentiful. Or all the items currently in inventory are easily obtainable via a quick stop by a grocery store, but instead our hero needs to swing by rope while wearing a mask made of leaves and superglue in order to pick up a spatula.

This sort of handy improvisation can make sense thematically if the player is “trapped” in a scenario or otherwise has restricted resources; I’ll even grant credit to Crowther/Woods Adventure as starting with some reasonable supplies (like food, light, and water) and any further improv (like reusing the water bottle to hold oil) feels in the spirit of normal exploration.

Time Zone doesn’t have exactly the same problem. The protagonist starts the game at their home which I would assume has easy access to some supplies that show up later (like a rock) but the general rule about not taking technology back in time puts a little bit of a damper on theoretical grab-everything-an-easier-way scenarios.

However, you’re still stealing a mirror from Maid Marian’s house in order to give it to some aborigines in Australia to trade for a boomerang.

Supposedly in 1000 AD. Not only are there fictional characters, but Richard I’s reign didn’t start until the late 1100s. To be fair, there were some bad Sheriffs of Nottinghamshire around this time, like William Brewer, who was so bad that King John got bribed by three different counties to get him moved to other counties.

But let’s start in…

50 BC

I found it helpful, and more manageable, to have all the maps from a particular time zone in one clump, like this:

Order: top is North America, Europe, then Asia. Bottom is South America, Africa, Australia.

There’s Antarctica tossed in up there too, and it’s the easiest one to start with. Behold:

I’m not sweating if I can solve puzzles (although I did manage a few in my explorations). My goal has been to document up to the point of what puzzles are active (and what objects I can obtain) so that I have a holistic view and can fluently jump around testing out puzzle solutions as they come to me. In Antarctica I need warmer clothing to survive. (It is also possible the location is essentially a red herring; just like later Sierra games where you can wander off a ledge by pushing the wrong direction key, not every death indicates a puzzle.)

North America is also cold, dropping you in Alaska, although the obstacle is a polar bear, not the cold:

South America drops you into the Andes where you die by unseen Indians. Africa is a little more expansive, putting you by the Nile:

Heading north on the Nile leads to the death-by-starvation above; you can also try to visit Cleopatra (a guard stops you) and fail to obtain some fruit (you need Egyptian money).

Europe I’ve already given screens from on my last post, but here’s the lion I mentioned last time:

As I also mentioned last time, there’s a dark maze in Europe if you go underground. Will I find a light source or food for the lion first?

Asia for 50 BC I made quite a bit of progress on, and may have even “finished”. You start in a rice paddy by the Yangtze, where there is a long pole and a boat that you can row across.

Across the review is a Buddhist temple with a rock garden and a shovel. You can nab the shovel but also dig in the same spot to find some jade, then take the jade over to a peasant whole will trade for a bag of rice.

You might think the rice might help me avoid starvation in Egypt, but eating it doesn’t work.

The temple also has a statue with an emerald and you will get killed if you try to steal it. I suspect the emerald is a red herring but I have to mark it down to be sure. If it is a red herring then I am done with 50BC Asia, unless there was something different the peasant was willing to trade for and the jade was useful elsewhere. (I don’t know how heavy this game is into you-used-the-wrong-item softlocks but there was one in Wizard and the Princess so I have to account for the possibility.)

The shovel is also useful in 50BC Australia, where there is a buried rhea egg which you can nab with the shovel. After picking up the egg you cannot drop it without it breaking, so there may be some specific order this must be done in.

I thought of taking the egg back to prehistoric times and swapping with one of the pterodactyl eggs, but it doesn’t go that far. Weirdly, you can take it to the stone age without it going poof.

Once all listed out, that doesn’t sound too terrible in terms of size? Things didn’t even take super-long to map, but I did feel bad for the fact that every location has a unique picture and all of them had to be rendered by the artists, led by 18-year old Terry Pierce. According to Jimmy Maher’s correspondence with John Williams who worked on the packaging design, the effort had Terry “almost in tears”.

With information on 50 BC scoped out, I went forward to

1000 AD

Same order to the continents as before:

North America lands you with the Maya, where you find two fishermen but they kill you with spears if you approach.

South America was a little more elaborate, with a visit to the Inca. There’s a pyramid which requires dropping all your items to climb (including the egg if you’re carrying it, and remember it breaks if you drop it)…

…and inside was a tomb with a torch. Trying to carry the torch back down the pyramid is deadly. You can throw the torch instead which puts the torch out. I haven’t experimented past there if that was the right action.

You can also get yourself human-sacrificed, but it is another situation where I’m unclear if it is meant as a dead-end trap or a puzzle.

Europe has a forest with Robin Hood, an empty Maid Marian’s house, and a Sheriff. There is a suspicious back window with bars that I can’t get open, but otherwise both Robin Hood and the Sheriff seem apathetic.

I was able to filch that mirror, as I mentioned earlier, and cart it over to Australia for a boomerang.

Asia this time is near Baghdad. You can find a camel merchant who wants something for trade but is ambiguous for what, exactly.

There’s a palace as well with guards that won’t let you through…

…and a desert where _normally_ you die of starvation/thirst, but for some reason if I take a particular path the death doesn’t trigger and I am able to get up to a suspicious mountain. Keeping King’s Quest V in mind, I tried typing OPEN SESAME on a whim and got the mountain to open.

However, the inside of the mountain is dark and I need a light source to get any further. Unlike King’s Quest V, OPEN SESAME work from inside the mountain so you don’t get trapped.

Finally, 1000AD Africa starts you at the Congo river where you can get killed by a python named Monty or get stuck with several logs by the river. (It understands MAKE RAFT but says I don’t have everything yet — I assume I need some vines or rope?)

There’s my whirlwind tour so far. I’ll probably organize my notes and take a few whacks at what I have so far before moving on (I especially haven’t tried noodling with the torch yet, and the Baghdad cave at the least could use the light).

What I’m still consistent on figuring out is when objects can go back in time, and how useful they’ll be. Rocks, as I mentioned last time, go all the way back to prehistoric times without disappearing. For some reason the long pole used with the boat does as well (even though it is clearly a “crafted” item). I’m just making sure to test when I have a new batch of items to see if any disappear as a I step backwards in time, but given the rhea egg goes back some in time before eventually poofing in the prehistoric era means there may be cases where I am supposed to bring an item back just one step.

Despite all the fussiness of obtaining the above information I’m generally enjoying myself. It’s just raw exploration and I haven’t gotten frustrated trying out any highly improbable item interactions yet. Some adventures play fine until you actively try to start accomplishing things.


Posted January 23, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Time Zone: Pilots of the Stone Age   7 comments

I didn’t get any more progress going in 400 million BC, so I decided to move on and try some other ages. In addition to it being needless to slam my head on a brick wall of being stuck (with a T-rex and a pterodactyl) when there were roughly a billion rooms in other ages to map, I wasn’t completely 100% sure nothing could be taken back in time; I thought it possible there was some exceptions if an item was very old and not-manufactured, and I turned out to be right — there was one item in 10,000 BC, the Stone Age, that I was able to take back: a rock.

The rock is near here, just north of where the time machine lands.

The rock was no use at all in the past. (At least by all my experimentation so far.) However, I did make progress in the stone age (and used the rock), to enough of an extent I believe I made it to “the end” of that particular area.

Before I really get into that, here is my list of verbs present on disk side B.

Orange indicates recognized verbs, and according to the manual, this list is unique for the disk side I was on, and I should expect entirely different verb-sets elsewhere.

Remember, the manual specifies exactly what zones are on each disk. In this case, we can reach 400 Million Years BC, 10,000 BC, and 2082 BC (Europe, specifically London) without changing the disk.

I found the Stone Age to be a relatively pleasant mix of plain scenery rooms

and actual incident.

This was easy to solve, since I knew CLIMB was on the verb list.

The sharpened stick from dino-era was useful against a saber-tooth tiger; the tiger ran away with the stick in its body, so that used up the item. This makes me of course paranoid there is some sort of softlock where the spear is also useful in a futuristic city, and you have to use it in the future first, but I can’t fret about that now.

Past the tiger there was a hare I was able to KILL by using the rock. I could then take the hare into a cave and offer it for friendship.

Then, using two sticks from elsewhere, I was able to MAKE FIRE (both MAKE and CREATE were on the verb-list so this one was also not hard to sniff out) and they let me have their stone hammer in exchange.

An object! And probably the whole point of going to 10,000 BC, which honestly sounds a little funny narratively. On a whim I decided to try the other location on the same disk, 2082 in Europe.

Not nearly as much progress here, but not much to do progress on. I have heard this game has a lot of empty space, and here it really shows that off.

The map locations aren’t unpleasant-looking, exactly — at least the places fare better than the people —

but the mapping was more like sketching out one of those old-school Might and Magic mazes, except with almost no encounters. London only had two in particular.

First, as shown above, is a police station. The note talks about dogs free for a good home. You can take one, but the dog runs away upon leaving, so you only have a rope in your inventory.

Second, is a thief that (after one turn) takes your stuff.

And…that’s it. There are some cars in locations, but you can’t go in them or refer to them in any way. I think it remotely possible the only reason to visit London 2082 is to get some rope. Of course, I may be missing a hatpin that lets me fend off the thief from the Victorian Era or some such craziness so I don’t really know. I was really expecting to be able to FLY some sort of vehicle, given the word’s presence on the verb list, but perhaps that mean to be used somehow stuck way back in the pterodactyl nest. No flying in the stone age, alas.

I think my next best bet is to approach the game in a wide sense, just visiting each age/location in turn, making a map, and finding out what presumably small interesting pieces there are. Then I can line up all the obstacles I’m stuck on in a more organized way so I can pop back and forth with a little more efficiency. Otherwise, who knows where the stone hammer I got from 10,000 BC goes? I did try one more era, that of 50 BC in Europe, which turns out to be — predictably — Rome. As prophesized, the map is mostly dead air, but here’s a few screenshots.

I’m willing to appreciate the gonzo bit here.

The important parts are near the “arena”. You can find some prisoners that look miserable

a pit that has a dark labyrinth (if you wander you eventually die)

and in one location you get summarily tossed into a lion’s pit for just walking around.

Some serious trudging to come. Expect that “Hours Played” to go up a bit next time? Although mapping nothing is faster than you might think.


Posted January 18, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Time Zone: 400MILBC   3 comments

On June 17, 2020, an important milestone in the history of Time Zone was achieved:

So the game is beatable given I have 38 years of time to work on it.

Given how gnarly it is supposed to be, I figured it wise to spend time with the manual first, in case there were any deft hints or fun facts. Here’s the first one (well, middle one, but I’m not doing them in page-order):

On our adventure we need to visit a variety of time areas (using the time machine from the screenshot earlier that appeared next to our house in 1982) in order to collect a variety of items to defeat Evil-Bad-Guy Ramadu in 4081 AD. The game helpfully lists not only what the time zones are but on what disks they appear in. (Wildly, in a meta-sense, this is so if one of your disks goes bad and you need to send for a new one, you can keep playing the game by exploring other zones. This is an open world game where the physical media you are exploring on at a given moment is important, which sounds like it should be an element of some bizarre art installation.)

Based on another manual hint…

…I knew that the timezones were essentially going to be “in order”. Perhaps some hopping around continents once reaching a particular time “level”, but since no items can go back farther, the only possibility for reverse-hopping would be from seeing, say, a secret area in a later time period that is buried in an earlier one, but can be unburied if you know where to dig. So the order should be

400,000,000 BC
10,000 BC
50 BC
1000 AD
1400 AD
1700 AD
2082 AD
4082 AD

where the two earliest periods and the last period only have one “location” to go to.

The “knowledge of technology” hint suggests to me we’re going to make gunpowder somewhere, because it’s always gunpowder.

Nothing too serious here, except the glaring emphasis on food suggests we’ll being doing that kind of puzzle more than once.

The second paragraph is quite notable. In the interview I linked in my last post Roberta Williams suggests the game being used in schools to teach history, but this paragraph definitely suggests something different, more of a Mystery-Science-Theater-3000-style romp (“If you’re wondering how he eats and breathes / And other science facts / Then repeat to yourself ‘It’s just a show, / I should really just relax.'”)

Now, even if you haven’t read my occasional random drops like the time I invoked late 1960s minimalist art or my discussion of US inflation in the 1970s you might suspect from the very nature of the All the Adventures project I am something of a history nerd, and you’d be right; however, I do tend to be a little more chill than my fellow nerdlings about inaccuracy and anachronism in media. As long as something recognizes it is a little gonzo I can roll with it, and this mention in the manual works for me. Maybe Ms. Williams (or by proxy, Mr. Williams) was just hoping to sell more copies to the educational market?

Also, this isn’t making excuses from a late printing. This is printed early enough that the manual advises players not to bother to send for hints until May 1982 (the game came out in March) “due to the large amount of information our support staff will need to absorb”.

It additionally helps the game starts with dinosaurs, and I’m always a sucker for dinosaurs–

After the dream of becoming savior of the universe you find a time machine in your back yard. Inside is a gas mask; be sure to remove it before going back in time, otherwise it will disappear (remember the manual!… and also welcome to 1982, where a softlock in a giant adventure game can happen right at the start).

There’s dials to set time and continent. For 400MILBC there’s no need to set a location.

My first experience was to get quickly chomped by a dinosaur.

You get a turn before this happens, so I assume there’s something you can do to stop it (that is, this isn’t just a trap).

Look: I know these things are unmerciful. You just have to approach with the attitude that you’re collecting deaths, like Pokemon. (I have seen an adventure game streamer once accidentally pick the correct option off a list and go back to try the bad one to not miss out on the death scene.)

Like this death, where you get swept up by a “pteridactyl” and the game gives up for you on the next move:

Well, I don’t see any way out of this mess. You are enventually going to be dinner for the pteridactyl, so I will spare you and end the game right now.

Oh, there’s a swamp too.

The only bright spots have been the only object I’ve gotten (a sharp stick) and a friendly brontosaurus.

So, rough start? I might think to DIG but that verb isn’t recognized (it might be recognized on other disks; the manual indicates that verb vocabulary can be inconsistent across time zones). So while I haven’t eaten up much time as of yet, I thought here would be at least a good moment to write the opening, because I suspect the next hour will involve a lot of banging my a head against a wall, or at least a dinosaur.


Posted January 15, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Time Zone (1982)   17 comments

There are some games that have loomed as dark, brooding hulks, games I have known about for a long time but have never touched.

I’ve been afraid of Time Zone ever since roughly I knew the All the Adventures project would be a thing, back in March of 2011.

“Audacious” is the right word. After Roberta Williams polished up her trilogy from 1980 (Mystery House, Wizard and the Princess, Mission: Asteroid) she wanted to make a game that kept going and going and going. From a Computer Gaming World interview, not long after release:

It’s not an easy game. And it’s not for beginners. It takes a really long time to get through TIME ZONE; even for someone who knows the answers. If I sit down to test TIME ZONE, it takes me a good week to go through it one time while testing it and I know the answers! Make sure you have GOOD maps. Use your imagination. Don’t give up. It’s going to take a LONG time.

I might get into details on the creation of Time Zone while amidst my playthrough, although Jimmy Maher already essentially has it covered. What I’m more interested in is the story of Roe Adams III, reviewer for Softalk, who (according to Steve Levy’s book Hackers) “went virtually without sleep for a week” to beat the game before declaring it “one of the greatest gaming feats in history.”

Just how plausible is this? Unfortunately, Hackers is a book that must be taken with several grains of salt (and as far I’ve been able to reckon, all later tellings of the story derive from it) but it does seem plausible to finish the game in the 150-odd hours that a week-with-very-little-sleep and no hints whatsoever would have entailed.

I’d like to test the theory, a little. Unlike most of my playthroughs, I’m going to keep a timer. Usually I don’t do this because

a.) I often play “off-and-on” and may dip in a game for five minutes to test a theory before leaving to do something else

b.) Sometimes an insight can occur “off the computer” so there is some element of “playing” even when the game is not at hand

c.) I don’t like time pressure in general

but I really am curious what the actual modern time to beat would be while avoiding hints as much as possible. Now, keep in mind I am using an emulator so I don’t have to worry about load times, but I also won’t have quite the “immersion experience” that Roe Adams III did, so maybe they’ll cancel each other out? One thing I do have going is that Roberta’s last substantial game, Wizard and the Princess, I managed to complete entirely without hints and found it basically fair, despite other accounts finding it much less fair. So possibly, I’m on the right wavelength for this.

The credits have a few more people involved other than just these, but apparently Terry Pierce did the lion’s share of the art.

I am still somewhat a sucker for the “pastoral opening” to an adventure game.

Let’s just go on a walk! And find out quite immediately after that we experienced a vivid dream.

Why we are uniquely able to defeat the evil ruler of the Planet Neburon I am unclear on, but I assume some technology like the TARDIS is afoot, where the time machine always goes where it needs to be.

It begins.


Posted January 10, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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007: Aqua Base (1982)   4 comments

Texas Instruments started development of their first computer at the same time the Trinity was out (TRS-80, Apple II, Commodore PET) and — due to their prowess with scientific calculators — was projected to make a strong splash.

The TI-99/4 released in 1979 instead made a sort of dull thud, despite being the very first 16-bit home computer. It had a strange “calculator key” keyboard and only shipped around 20,000 units before being replaced by the TI-99/4A which did much better, debuting March 1981 at a price of $525 and having what resembled a real keyboard.

Business-wise, what Texas Instruments is most remembered for is then getting in a price war with Commodore and its VIC-20, which was disasterous given the VIC-20’s lower specs; eventually the price was dropped ludicrously below cost to make ($99) and TI hoped to make its money back in software. It didn’t work out and manufacture stopped in 1984, but not before shipping around 3 million units.

That 3 million is in fact fairly strong, so it is a bit unfair to think of the machine as a failure at least in 1982; from the perspective of an owner, it was just one of the many machines available. One of the fans of the system was apparently Scott Morgan, who throughout 1982 cranked out a grand total of six text adventure games before dropping from sight. (It is possible he even used the less-loved original /4 model, as the games were advertised as working for both systems and were written in BASIC.)

The games were all published by the Wisconsin-based American Software Design and Distribution Co. all in one chunk in 1983. An ad in a January 1983 issue of 99’er Magazine has no mention of the games, and they suddenly appear a month later as “new games”, listed as

Haunted House
Aqua Base
Stone Age
The Four Vedas
Fun House
Miner ’49 ER

I’m not sure what the order should be here. I started with 007: Aqua Base since CASA Solution Archive listed it as first. After finishing it the game implores you to try Haunted House, which might logically come after, except CASA lists it as game number 3.

I am fine considering Aqua Base to be game number 1 also in that it is marked as “beginner” difficulty and feels like an author’s first attempt.

As implied from the cover art I already posted, your mission, should you choose to accept it, is to stop a Generic Evil Person from DESTROYING THE WORLD by sneaking into their underwater base. I don’t quite follow what the play of the villain is here, given they can’t really cash out from an apocalypse. (Moonraker’s villain wanted to kill everyone but had a replacement “ark” of humans.)

The table at the start has an ID card, a remote control also lurks nearby, and the only way to progress otherwise is to hop into a CAR. Handily enough, the car has a button that turns it into a submarine.

Using the submarine, you can find a “coral reef”. Typing PUSH REMOTE causes the reef to open to a secret passage, and the submarine can go inside. This leads to a request for ID, which you can follow through with assuming you checked the table at the start of the game.

This leads to a very series of corridors and more doors needing you to show id cards. One of them doesn’t work, but there’s fortunately (?) a dead janitor you can swipe an upgraded one from. The villain’s only minion is dead?

The DERADIOACTIVATOR supposedly has a red button but doing LOOK DERADIOACTIVATOR didn’t reveal it. I inferred its presence from a mention in the manual plus a check at the source code.

Past a few more camera doors (picking up a pocket mirror) along the way leads to the master villain’s lair, where they’re sleeping on the job.

You can swipe a top-level ID card from the Operator and also type LASER DOWN to move the laser (this was this biggest pain to figure out, but I’ll go back and talk about all the various annoyances of this game in a moment). Very close is the laser room, and as long as you’ve lowered the laser, you can BACKFIRE LASER / WITH MIRROR to cause it to malfunction (BACKFIRE is mentioned in the manual, otherwise I don’t see how anyone would get it).

It is only a few steps more to get to a hatch exit with a suit; make sure you press the red button on the DERADIOACTIVATOR here because otherwise the suit kills you from radiation. Donning the suit you can swim out the hatch to victory.

So, all those actions make the game sound like it ought to be beginner level, and it was certainly short and straightforward in action (…and really showcasing the world’s weakest supervillain) but the game was still a huge pain to get to completion because of the parser.

It was incredibly fiddly about everything. GO CAR works but ENTER CAR doesn’t; PUSH REMOTE activates it even though there’s no description that’s how the operation works, yet the de-radiation gizmo requires pushing a red button which I was never able to get the game to admit was there.

In Death Satellite and Zodiac I complained about the simplicity of error messages, and that there was no information other than I CAN’T when something didn’t work. This game is worse. It has actively deceptive messages. If you PUSH AWERASEF the game says


It is, in other words, fake-parsing, so when you’re looking at mention in the manual about a red button, so you try PUSH RED BUTTON and see NOTHING HAPPENS, it is hard to be certain whether the command really didn’t make sense or that you are in fact holding an item with a red button.

The only part that had any difficulty in a puzzle sense was dealing with the laser. If you try to use the mirror on it before moving it, the message is that you can’t reach. I initially thought perhaps I needed to stand on something, so went back to a “ladder” and tried to take it. The game told me I couldn’t take it; I assume it was locked in place for moving down from a ledge, but it was still unclear from the description and I tried quite a bit of noodling there before thinking about ways to get the laser pointed differently.

For pointing the laser differently, I tried TYPE on the keyboard at the lair, but the game told me not to use the verb TYPE. So…. what then? I finally realized that “any command that isn’t a movement one can be assumed to be typed on the keyboard” so came up with LASER DOWN, making the whole endeavor only 5% solving and 95% communication struggle.

Not a fun game, but at least it is only the author’s first, and we’ve seen big improvements with other authors. The game wasn’t quite the palate cleanser I was hoping for, but nonetheless, I am plowing ahead to the first big monolith of 1982: the Apple II game Time Zone by Roberta Williams, her attempt at making a game that lasts forever, retailing for $99 at launch, which according to an inflation calculator would make it $288 dollars in 2021 money.

Posted January 9, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Zodiac: Elementary Gifts   5 comments

I was deeply already in research on the TI-99/4A computer, thinking I had left Zodiac behind for now, but of course, one of my hardy commenters (Voltgloss) decided to take up the gauntlet I left behind and figure out the rest. As usual for my victory posts, the rest of them are needed for context.

Pretty sure this is actually a tape for “Adventure I”, Death Satellite (as opposed to “Adventure II”), but given it is torn off right at the number it is hard to know for sure. Via Every Game Going.

So the most helpful hint Voltgloss gave was his giving the item list for entering the final section of the game (drinking the potion and entering the ice palace) which included the ring. I had indeed brought the ring (since it is worn it doesn’t take up inventory) but was still trying to rub it and had no luck, but for some reason it hadn’t occurred to me to take it off and try to GIVE it, even though I tried to GIVE all my other items.

Oho! Here I’m guessing most players found out that the door behind the guard is locked, and the key they most likely left behind was in fact still useful, so another reset it is. (I was forewarned — again, I had the item list — so I had the key already.)

A brief aside on the restarts: I think it is safe to say there was strong assumption at the time the final run at the game would be more a choreographed set of moves, rather than a coherent single-run story. This isn’t as alien as you might think; a lot of the time-loop games of current-vogue run on this principle, and from what I’ve heard, the “final run” on Outer Wilds requires a pretty exact run of this sort. The difference is that Outer Wilds has lots of modern conveniences and things to explore and unlock, and Zodiac is on an Atom with miniscule memory space. If it had some of those time-loop affordances it would be better regarded by modern players (not even a regular save game, but one that let you get very specific about where you wanted to jump on a whole timeline, or maybe the major feature of Hadean Lands that I don’t want to spoil for anyone who hasn’t played it).

…ok, we’re back from our theoretical didn’t-know-about-the-key restart.

I like “TREASURE LITTERS THE FLOORS” as a complete room description. “LITTERS” as in so prolific it is akin to trash, and “FLOORS” plural, giving a subtle sense of scale. Minimalism can feel like elegant poetry sometimes and not just awkward.

The gold let me bribe Sagittarius, who then let me take his bow. I’ll just spoil right now, although I didn’t work it out the first time, you can WEAR the bow, which is essential for inventory wrangling.

Then I had the not-bottomless-pit to deal with, and for whatever reason I came across a solution swiftly (I think, again, knowing my item restrictions was the answer; I knew there wasn’t a new spell from the spellbook I had to extract somehow, or weirdness involving plunging the axe into a wall and hanging off of it, or any other manner of strange object interactions.) I had typed HELP earlier and got


which would suggest, in most games, this is a command to let you know there are no built-in hints. But it suggested to me, especially in the mindset of this game, that there was, in fact, someone who could help elsewhere. Typing HELP while falling into the pit led to a giant hand scooping me up and dropping me into the next room, with a polar bear.

The final section of the game.

The polar bear was easy to fell with the bow, and then it was on to the final zodiac room, Capricorn.

I quickly realized — especially holding onto, still, the box filled with earth — that this meant the four classical elements. A crystal ball from the ice palace could count for air, and the torch I still clung to counted for fire, but what about water? The only item I had never used was a useless empty urn I’d been toting around most of the game which broke whenever I tried to DROP it. Where could I get water?

(This is the kind of brilliant part. You may want to read back over my previous posts before I go on and try to work it out.)

Way back, way way back, near the start, where I melted ice to get at a ring! This had the only water in the game. Unfortunately, DROPping the urn there was still impossible, and my attempt to soften the area via dropping some earth (akin to the pillow in Crowther/Woods Adventure) was no use. Fortunately, Voltgloss had also posted a walkthrough, so I poked inside to find out…

…that LEAVE URN somehow parses to SET URN DOWN GENTLY. Argh! Now, I remember back when first encountering the breakable vase in Crowther/Woods Adventure “if only could convey a way to set the urn down carefully” but blithely went on from there. LEAVE I guess means … you know, I have no idea how it would imply a different kind of drop. Is this some UK terminology thing I’m missing?

With all four elements in hand, I was able to finally stride past the final obstacle into victory.

One of the contemporary reviews of this gives it higher marks than Death Satellite, in the sense that nothing is wasted. I can see the perspective here. If you’re treating the adventure game as a puzzle box, this feels like a complete package, like a crossword without ungainly symmetries. It certainly fails more as a narrative, but that certainly wasn’t the point, and I gather for a fair amount of the UK market, having been weaned on the British form of the crossword and the like, they were more accepting of this sort of structure.

I will add this game has made me nervous about covering any games more “in brief”. At first appearances this game struck me as unremarkable, and here I am on my third post and (combined) roughly at 3000 words. Surely I’ll get some absolutely mundane games in my future though, yes? My next game, as hinted at earlier, will be my first foray into the world of Texas Instruments (and a solo author who cranked a total of six games out in one year) which is marked “beginner”. I intentionally wanted an easy game because the game I have earmarked for the place after is (in addition to being hotly anticipated by my readers) legendary for being both difficult and very, very, very, very, very, long.

Posted January 3, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Zodiac: Not Bottomless   4 comments

Due to a hint in the advertising copy (?!) I was able to trudge up to seeing 11 out of 12 Zodiac rooms. I’m fairly thoroughly stuck past, but at least I’ll give everything I know if anyone wants to take a shot at finishing this. Having read my prior post is essentially for understanding this one.

As unearthed by Strident:

You’re on a frozen glacier. The Ice giant attacks you. You survive. A giant dragon confronts your path. The knife will kill it. Can you find it? What’s inside the Houses of the Zodiac – Aries and Virgo are but two. Can you find the magic potion, will you ever reach the House of Immortality – the only safe place, or is it?

Maybe they had too many questions about the dragon? Nevertheless, that’s where I was stuck last time, and I had in fact tried at one point KILL DRAGON / WITH KNIFE (that second one is after prompting “what with?”), found it not to be understood, and decided to move on. The right syntax was to use type KNIFE alone (without the word “WITH”, as done in Scott Adams and other two-word parsers).

As this was a marginally improbable solve, I wandered by the right thing to do without knowing I was close. That combined with the fact the dragon eventually wakes up (causing you to have to start over — no save game feature) is what made me stuck. Knowing it had to be the dagger led me to think about the syntax a little more.

The axe which I had retrieved from a maze last time I then used to swiftly dispatch an ice giant.

The body here disappearing game me a hint, as the dragon’s body did not disappear. That led me to suspect I was able to do something else with the dragon, so I went back to the dragon room and tried CUT DRAGON:

Past this I reached a “hungry lion”, and given I just came up with dragon steaks, I knew what to do.

The geography still being slightly ice-themed but also random, past the lion there was a ramshackle hut with a “floor covered in snow”; I was able to DIG down to get a room covered in “loose earth”. Adjacent there was a “silver box” which let me go back and TAKE EARTH.

Notice the earth is not given as an item. I knew to do this from my eyeballing the text dump of the game’s file. This is special-case coded and I haven’t found anywhere else in the game where an item is “hidden in the description” as opposed to being on its own line.

Immediately after the earth came the most ignominious death in the game.

The magic ring I had got from melting ice here finally came in handy; I was able to RUB RING right before entering the walrus room, which turned me invisible long enough to get by. The dragon, no need for a ring, you just stab it; the walrus, be afraid. Bilbo clearly had his priorities wrong.

The map has the obstacles — and the zodiac rooms — laid out in a quite linear way structurally, even though the directions twist and turn. Also, you only have two turns to escape the walrus, so the first time through while invisible I died because I tried “north” and then “east”, neither direction which worked. Remember, room exits are generally not described!

The next room, Libra, appropriately had some scales, which I was able to BALANCE to unlock a secret door. (Again, I can’t take solving credit, the command was in front of me in the text dump of the game’s file.) Then I used the key that I got back at the Gemini twins to acquire a spellbook to go with a wand. I waved the wand and it opened another secret door, to a room with a potion.

The potion teleports you to an “ice fortress” with a CRYSTAL BALL.

This is where I’m stuck. There’s a guard blocking one direction, the zodiac room in the screenshot above, and a “bottomless pit” which isn’t actually bottomless.

Might just be a trap.

KILL doesn’t work on either the guard or the centaur, nothing I’ve tried to GIVE has helped, and I can’t operate the crystal ball with everything I’ve tried (wand waving, rubbing, etc.). The only other item I’ve got no use out of is an EMPTY URN which breaks if you try to drop it anywhere. What makes this really hard to test is not only the lack of a save feature but the potion-transport moment of the game: it goes one-way. So any objects not being carried are left behind, and there’s a four-slot inventory limit (really three-slot since the torch must be carried in one slot; a ring can be worn, but that’s the only leeway). Testing any new theory requires restarting from the beginning and entering all the commands of the game so far.

An option might be using save states, but Atomulator doesn’t have them, and I haven’t got MAME Acorn to work. However, if you’re really keen on taking a shot, the Atom Software Archive is here (for Atomulator, unzip the file into the MMC directory, then hit shift-F12 on booting to get to a select-a-game menu).

Posted January 2, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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