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.

HOURS PLAYED: 3.25

Posted January 23, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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21 responses to “Time Zone: A Barren Land

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  1. I wouldn’t dare play this but I am enjoying the death messages.

    That drawing of the Aboriginal Australians is pretty yikes, though.

    • Honestly think the deaths have help keep things from being flavorless. Australia 1000AD also has a death where you get assaulted by dingoes.

      At least the yikes seems to be the product of a wonky art style as opposed to a conscious decision (compare with the Square Tom Sawyer game).

      • I thought about that, but then thought doesn’t the Apple II have brown in its color palette? Dithered brown would have made the aboriginal figures look less like racist charicatures, and then you could have used solid brown for the tree trunks.

      • Answering my own question. Apple II hi-res graphics were a strange bird indeed. Without getting into the weeds, it looks like game designers had access had white, green, purple, black, orange and blue. Artists got around these extreme limitations by dithering colors. In other words, speckling blue with white would give the appearance of a light blue, and with with black would give the appearance of dark blue (plus you could use the solid block of color). I played plenty of old Apple games in my day, and I’m sure what I’m remembering as brown was probably a dithered orange which might end up looking really strange as a skin tone. But then again, so does black.

    • Extremely yikes. I know the Apple II has color palette limitations but oh man.

  2. I’ve referred to the “absurd object sourcing problem” before as “Caesar’s Ladder”, after an instance of it in this very game.

  3. …the Buddhist monks know karate?

    You know what, forget it.

    • Been trying not to overthink it, otherwise I wouldn’t get anywhere, but the game really does go overboard. Even if it was invoking Shaolin Kung Fu that’s off by about 500 years.

    • Yeah I love this one.

      Since I’ve already viewed a walkthrough, I know that some of the Asia time destinations take you to Japan. I don’t remember whether the era Jason visited was also meant to be in Japan, but in my mind they were Japanese Buddhists who had been trained in karate :)

    • Buddhism didn’t even reach China until the second century AD…

  4. There’s an old interview with Ron Gilbert where he says “Suppose I’m in LA and I can’t solve a puzzle because I need a pencil that was in New York and I didn’t get it when I was in New York. You see? It’s kind of silly to think that there are no pencils in LA, but in many adventure games, that is how the world seems to be.”

    https://web.archive.org/web/20110401182348/gamespot.com/features/ron_gilbert/index.html

    • And yet, Mister Gilbert, you made me sail back and forth between Scabb and Booty and Phatt Islands HOW MANY TIMES? …. I know, I know, the fact that you could means that it’s not the same kind of complaint. But still.

      • I remember a particularly absurd quest on Monkey Island 2.

        Fuzzy on the details but I I think I had to retrieve a piece of laundry that I dropped off, but as I recall something happens to the laundry ticket and the laundry man won’t give you your quest item back and you have to go through extraordinary hoops to secure it. I may be getting the details wrong, but you’re right that MI was definitely not immune to those sorts of absurdist puzzles.

  5. One thing I noticed was that the lion appears to have a thorn in its paw (a la the Aesop’s fable of “Androcles”) so that could be something worth checking out. Not enough to “borrow” from history, now we’re cribbing from Aesop’s fables? What a game!

    • I noticed that when I was scanning for typos on my phone (I for some reason have an easier time seeing them phone-reading, but I apparently have an easier time seeing odd graphics glitches). You’re absolutely right that’s a thorn, although the game said I didn’t have anything I could use to get it out when I tried. At least it is good to know the lion is a puzzle and not a trap.

      • (This is not a spoiler)

        If you recall the user’s manual suggestion, you’d feed the lion. This is one of the examples of how the manual intentionally throws you off track, which is a bit of a dirty trick in my opinion. But this is such an obvious puzzle, it’s hard to be deceived by it.

  6. I would argue it’s not an obvious puzzle because you could miss the thorn, not realize it’s there, or not know the fable in question. Same with “Open Sesame”. It’s unlikely, but it’s possible.

    I DO wonder if the Lion will come to help you at some point (like the fable) or if it’s just how you avoid that section

  7. A lot of the Sierra games (including KK info’s Quest) requires a working knowledge of fairy tales and fables. If you didn’t know these stories, the games never explained them to you so the audience for these games is culturally specific. My wife for example is from Taiwan and she’s not well versed in the old mythology (she grew up with Chinese folklore and fables like Journey to the West, which many western people would be unfamiliar with but is wildly popular across Asia.)

    • Strangely, as for Brits growing up in the 1980s, “Monkey” (and his fellow travellers) was something we were very familiar with!

      So many adventure game puzzles are based on fairy stories, traditional tales, or idioms, that can be just as baffling to certain audiences as all those that are based on in-depth knowledge of 1980s culture.

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