Archive for February 2022

Time Zone: An Ultimate Adventurer   17 comments

I finished Time Zone. And yes, the final hour count below is real. If you’ve arrived to this post from elsewhere, please read the prior posts first for this one to make sense.

HOURS PLAYED: 24

The control panel of the time machine, in the Japanese PC-88 version of Time Zone, via Youtube.

There are already informal clubs and discussion groups of Time Zone players throughout the country. If you have a computer and a phone attachment (called a modem), you can check the Micronet Apple user’s group on the Compuserve network for details on such groups.

— The World’s Longest Game, Neil Shaprio, Popular Mechanics, July 1982

Time Zone was perhaps was a victim of its own marketing. Not only does it proclaim itself as the longest game ever made, but in the article I mention above, Ken Williams claims the size will be a feat never to be duplicated. The manual even says calls can’t be made for hints for several months but they won’t be needed until then.

Compared to monsters like Warp and Hezarin, however, it is easy. Items resolve obstacles in a simplistic way. Combinations are rarely needed. There are several tricky verbs but never at the absurd-to-find level of Ulysses and the Golden Fleece. Despite some unfair moments, the game takes care to be fair elsewhere. What makes the game take as long as it does is the staggering size, and more importantly, the sheer number of red herrings.

I think the most stuck I ever felt in the game was at the very start, in the Prehistoric Era. I kept returning over and over to see if I had missed something. I kind of did miss an Easter Egg; in a lake, the game asks you CAN YOU SWIM? and if you type anything other than yes or no, it asks I SAID, CAN YOU SWIM?

The prompting is to get you to type YES, which lets you swim ashore. Swimming also lets you escape the T-Rex adjacent to shore.

I spent an absurdly long time originally trying to chase away the dinosaur, thinking he was hiding some item, but I hadn’t caught the vibe of the game yet: if an enemy seems far too powerful to beat, and especially if any input seems to get intercepted (it doesn’t try to “understand” what you typed, and will react to nonsense just like regular commands) the right action is to let go and walk away.

There are a fair number of places where angry indigenous people want to murder you, and the best course is to leave them alone.

Catching this vibe was one of my major breaks in the game. The other, accompanied by literal breaking a window, was probably the only moment of complete lateral thinking, and it wasn’t too out-of-bounds: the window is clearly a separate object from the door, and the main understanding was that Ben Franklin being away from his print shop was an opportunity to be exploited. I was here to save the Earth, not to be nice.

The end goal of all the time jumping was not to resolve paradoxes, or plant trees meant to be used years later in a puzzle, but rather just to gather objects. It’s a scavenger hunt where every loose item applies at the end. In a way, it was very glorious and satisfying to see, say, a lance pilfered from a knight I murdered via boomerang (obtained from aborigines in Australia, thanks y’all) be used to clear away laser mines. Certainly it didn’t hold up to fridge logic, and the majority of the items from the time jumping could have been grabbed by the protagonist swinging by a store. I had to suspend any notion of object absurdity and roll with it, and then it was possible to have fun.

Mind you, there are still design issues aplenty, and I’ll mark some more off later, but let’s get into my final push, as I was close to reaching the last disk of the game.

Last time I was stopped by needing a military ID and a stone block. Rather quickly after I picked up playing again, I resolved the stone block, simply by virtue of typing USE followed by each item in my inventory.

I can’t say this was illogical, it’s just checking the possibilities was faster than thinking through it.

This led to a small sewer maze the requires the gas mask (for the last time). There’s a too-high grate similar to the one I saw earlier, but this time the ladder was able to reach.

Sneaking into the military base, I quickly found a disk change — the last disk side of the game! There was also a military ID in a desk, which allows passing back and forth the front receptionist (and shuttling over my big pile of items in order to be a bit closer but also so I wouldn’t have to keep disk swapping in order to test Just One More Item).

In addition to the ID I found a file folder with a diagram outlining the Evil Plan, which I think was just for fun lore.

Quite close to the plans I found … Ramadu, the Big Bad himself!

You can blast him with your laser gun but it is loud and guards find you. If you dally more than one move (or just try to leave) he screams and guards find you. This puzzle was technically solvable the moment I found it, but I saved it for later thinking I might find a stealthier weapon deeper in the compound.

Nearby in a different direction was a safe, whose lock yielded quickly thanks to Katherine the Great’s hat pin.

Is this an amusing moment or just silly? Again, this works if you’ve bought into the scavenger hunt construct, and it really is glorious having all the places you’ve visited come back, albeit in object form.

The safe had a password, which I was able to give to two guards further along.

Right before reaching the two guards was this empty shed, which will be important later.

The game still can’t resist giving rooms for color, and there was a computer room which was unnecessary and a telescope room which was there just to gaze upon the Earth.

Nice exoplanet lens!

The only other way through seemed to be a guard by a door where the game didn’t even let you try using KILL (it just states it would be a bad idea). I was running very short on items I hadn’t used yet so even though the next step sounds like a stretch, it took me only a few minutes of noodling to find.

That’s GIVE FLOWER, one found back in the main city with the man-eating plants. If this was a step that made part of a larger combination, or if the unused-item count was very high, this puzzle could be more distressing, but emotion at the time was just “hah!”

Getting past the guard led to a maze. Stepping inside, I was fried by a laser mine.

As I briefly mentioned earlier, the lance from the knight back in Sherwood Forest is useful — type USE LANCE and you’ll hold the lance out and use it as a tester, and then any subsequent mines will be set off by the lance rather than your body.

The maze had only two locations of note. The first was a circle with a button where standing within the circle and pushing the button teleports directly to the time machine. (You don’t even need the gas mask — you can ENTER MACHINE right away and not worry about the air being breathable.) I (correctly) assumed this was the escape route.

The other location was a door with a slot that required an ID, but the military ID wasn’t high enough level. So, I was at the end of the line — I needed to get at Ramadu who I assumed had a personal card leading to the last area.

The setup with Ramadu gives you exactly two turns to act. Knowing that the laser gun was too loud, I tried CLOSE DOOR, then KILL RAMADU, then WITH GUN as prompted.

By the time I reached WITH GUN I was already dead. I tried all the different weapons I had accumulated — boomerang, sword, knife, even just a rock — to see if any would work. None did. Finally I realized something that only comes naturally from playing a bunch of two-word parser games — would be possible to skip typing KILL RAMADU and just go straight to WITH GUN? It was.

Simultaneously the worst and most satisfying puzzle of the game? It was great to kill the Bad Guy, and interesting to think about the closing the door being useful, but this felt like a parser exploit. Typing KILL RAMADU shouldn’t have taken up any time.

The desk had Ramadu’s personal ID, so I booked it over to that maze … and got killed by the password guards who discovered my laser gun! D’oh. Fortunately, the solution there is just a matter of dropping the gun after the deed is done.

However, as I approached the flower-loving guard, there were footsteps approaching, and right before being able to dive in the maze, I was caught by a search party. I figured perhaps this was a matter of speed, and tried to optimize my steps, but no matter what I did, I was found one move before entering the maze. I tried hiding in a nearby supply room.

I finally realized a.) there was not necessarily a need to rush and b.) the empty shed I had seen earlier might make for a hide-out spot. I was right on both accounts:

Having evaded the search party, I was able to make it past the flower-guard and into the special locked room in the maze. There, I found the diabolical weapon.

Here I was thankful I figured out the dynamite puzzle at the last moment, and I knew exactly what to do. (Thanks also to Voltgloss for watching out for me on that one, even though I ended up figuring out what I was missing myself.)

Kablooey! You can’t go back out the maze the way you came in, but fortunately I already had the route to the teleporter and knew what it would do.

Back in the time machine, I jammed the “go home” button, and somehow everyone found out what happened in the past while I was busy saving the Earth.

In the old games, they were stories that you experienced from your own eyes. Like in Time Zone — you’re just walking through the trees outside your home, and suddenly there’s a time machine. It’s never been there before; it’s just suddenly there. What is this? You don’t even know what it is. This funny-looking machine… You look closer, then climb inside, look at the controls, and before you know it, you’re off on an adventure. But it’s just you.

— Roberta Williams, from DeMaria’s High Score! Expanded: The Illustrated History of Electronic Games 3rd Edition

It’d be a nice, clean moral to say Time Zone marked the end of an era, but it didn’t really — lots of games before had more expansive plot ambitions, and lots of games after went with the simplicity of throwing the protagonist in a scenario where their main motivation is exploring and gathering items. Certainly nobody else tried it with so many red herrings.

Moments like on the Christopher Columbus ship where you blindly pick access to three areas (and only one is correct) are not good pieces of design. (Although it isn’t nearly as brutal as the choice from the very start of Ulysses where you find out if you’re right or wrong only near the end of the game.) The OPEN SESAME bit which requires just bringing in outside lore is not good design — although I logicked through it by thinking “would Roberta Williams require applying outside fairy tale lore without in-game prompting?” and coming up with an emphatic YES.

(By the way, the cave is optional! The gold is only useful for giving to the thief, but as I mentioned last time, you can let the thief shoot you. This also lets you skip finding the second item from the trader in Morocco.)

However, as I hope I proved through my own journey, that doesn’t mean the game was unreasonable to solve. Compared against Roe Adams’s solve-in-one-week-with-no-hints, yes, that story is perfectly plausible. (Even given the slower disk loading and Apple II draw time — the drawing in Time Zone isn’t super-slow but it still takes enough time I’d say the playtime needs to be tripled for a 1982 playthrough.) While I did check hints to see if some red herring zones were, in fact, red herrings, at no time during the gameplay did I check how to solve a puzzle — I did it entirely on my own.

The aura of un-solvability was helped along by the massive size and seems to have been created and encouraged by the Ken and Robert Williams themselves, but at a basic level, the game is all about reaching higher places with ladders or lifting heavy blocks with iron bars or making fire with sticks or trading perfume to Cleopatra for some Egyptian money which then goes to a fruit seller who explicitly requests Egyptian money and then taking the food and using to survive a trip that explicitly says you need food.

(The bit with Catherine the Great dropping a hat pin when enough moves have been given in the right location is a jerk move, though — any player who dithers around a few turns will find the hat pin, but if someone just happens to leave early there’s isn’t an explicit puzzle to solve, so the pin is incredibly easy to miss. I could see someone killing Ramadu yet unable to get into that safe.)

My allergy to declaring games good or bad is partly from an art-historical-analysis standpoint — I’d rather focus on the evolution of design trends than deliver concrete numbers. Time Zone gives a particular dilemma, because I can absolutely say nobody should play this, yet I did have genuine fun throughout, and red herrings (and the tinge of racism) aside, I can’t say my time was wasted. The game asked — what if you really could go anywhere at any time? — and tried to answer it. Open worlds need a bit more to do and as one of the first large-team computer projects, this was maybe too ambitious to fill content the way Roberta Williams really dreamed of, with a game that didn’t end. Deeper truths were yet to be revealed, but Time Zone at least glances off of them.

Don’t fret, Apple II fans: I’ll be taking a breather for a bit (for what I hope are obvious reasons) and will get off a few short entries on the still-chugging TRS-80 market before returning, this time in a game with good art (seriously!)

I do have one request: if you liked what you read, please share. Use the all-entries-in-chronological-order link. I’m just here for sharing the joy of adventure games, but I’d like as many people as possible to see.

Plus, to be honest, you’re perfectly fine skipping playing Time Zone and reading about it instead.

Posted February 27, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Time Zone: You Are Different From Everyone Else   4 comments

Good progress! Again, I’m not stuck, just at a stopping point where I wanted to write things down.

HOURS PLAYED: 21

From the October 1982 issue of Jeux et Stratégie, via @Christ_Thibault on Twitter. The other games the article mentioned they expect the reader to be familiar with? Mystery House, which had a French translation, and Softporn Adventure, which did not, but apparently everyone played Softporn Adventure, even in other countries.

Speaking of the ending, I’ve been vaguely handwaving about an evil Ramadu who wants to do something evil, but that’s mainly because the game itself handwaves in the intro text. Fortunately, the manual is fairly explicit:

The evil Neburite ruler Ramadu fears that the Earth will very soon become the superior race in the galaxy. This must not happen. His plan is to strike now, before the Earth is advanced enough to defend itself against an attack. So Ramadu has built an awesome ray gun, and aimed it directly at the distant Earth.

It seems that unless something is done, if Ramadu is not stopped and his weapons destroyed, Earth will never see the year 4082.

Unlike that TI-99/4A game I played last, the ray gun is at least on another planet. I’m not sure what the point of the bad guy who wanted to destroy the Earth while they were on the Earth was.

I’m going to give my narrative a little out of order. I made slight progress, then got stuck, and this turned out to be fortunate as I went back and re-checked one place I was still suspicious about, North America 2082 AD. It turns out I was missing one item, and this item was entirely useless for the thing I was stuck on, but still, I might have plowed ahead much deeper before realizing my mistake if it weren’t for the early stuckness.

This was back where I found a key under a mat that mysteriously didn’t go in the door it was at. It didn’t seem to go into the house or the car the room adjacent, either. The useless key was so thoroughly bizarre I stared hard at the picture until I realized the trunk was drawn in as a separate part of the car.

Yes, you can UNLOCK TRUNK, as opposed to UNLOCK CAR where it just says it doesn’t fit.

I still have yet to use the dynamite.

4082 AD starts pretty rough with a bit of parser noodling.

At least my start. I was never able to get the grate too high to reach and I think it is either a red herring or it requires an item deeper in the map.

Any attempt to BREAK GRATE gets

YOU CAN’T BREAK THE GRATE. IT IS TOO STRONG.

The trick here is to refer directly to the RUST, not the GRATE itself. You can SCRAPE RUST and the game asks what with; if you scrape with the wrong item, the game tells you

IT WOULDN’T WORK. YOU NEED SOMETHING TO POUND THE RUST OFF WITH.

You need to explicitly specify WITH HAMMER (yes, the stone hammer from 10000 BC, thanks, cavemen!) and get it open, or you can USE HAMMER.

USING THE STONE HAMMER, YOU POUND AT THE GRATE UNTIL MOST OF THE RUST HAS FALLEN OFF. YOU CAN PROBABLY OPEN IT NOW.

This puzzle was in the weird scenario of trying to be fair (it certain gets explicit about the hammer being the tool of choice) and technically being logical (yes, I can see why scratching the rust surrounding the grate is different from the grate) but still not terrific game design. I certainly walked away for a long time — a good chunk of the game, in fact, since I saw the grate early, all you need is the torch — thinking I would need some heavy-duty smasher. It’s almost a problem of the limited perspective of text environment vs. graphics. The whole rust thing isn’t visual at all; at least the trunk, once I spotted it, was distinct visually, and the game even zoomed in on the final solve. I suppose a zoom-in here would have been optimal, so you could see brown material around the grate crusting it in as opposed to just lining the grate itself.

Surprisingly enough, this is not the bit I had gotten super-stuck on and took the side-trip to find the dynamite. That will be just a little later.

Past the grate, I found another set of rooms leading to a manhole. Continuing the theme

THE MANHOLE COVER HAS RUSTED TO THE EDGE OF THE MANHOLE.

Trying to SCRAPE RUST here with the HAMMER just gives the response IT DOESN’T WORK. Trying to use the sword says

THE SWORD IS WAY TOO BIG TO SCRAPE THE RUST AWAY.

Again, interesting the game is being almost explicit in hinting an item. Keep in mind lots of players would be missing items at this juncture (…I still might be missing one, to be honest…) I could also see a player chipping away at 4082 AD as they go along, revisiting when they get new items to see if they work on the next obstacle. That strategy wouldn’t have worked for me because the manhole requires one of the last items I found, the KNIFE.

Above, there is a dead end with a wallet containing an ID card. The air is breathable but trying to open the door says THERE’S NOTHING OF INTEREST IN IT.

I wasted an enormous amount of time here, even though the “nothing of interest” is a clear signal to stop poking, because I thought there wasn’t any other place to go. I tried climbing the wall, making lots of noise, doing USE on every object in the game. No dice. This was my super-stuck moment, and when I looped back and found the dynamite, I thought “ah-ha! I have to blast a hole to get to the next area”. Alas no: nothing still happens.

If you are astute, you might be laughing right now, because on one of my earlier screenshots there’s a big hole. I read the hole as being just from the grate I entered, but the picture is pretty clear it’s a different hole.

As shown, you can tie a rope to make further progress. If it wasn’t for my lack of observation skills, I wouldn’t have found the dynamite, which of course itself required observation skills to find. That’s not “irony” but I’m not sure a better phrase, “sheer luck”?

Moving on, the rope led to a stream which lead to another vent, this time with no obstacle to opening it. Inside the vent was breathable air so I was able to drop the gas mask. (If you keep the mask on you get blasted later by startling a guard who isn’t expecting it. Incidentally, there is a time limit to the air, but it’s pretty generous. However, I can see someone who noodled around a bunch, especially someone who tried to make progress on 4082 AD early, softlocking their game without realizing it until much later. 1982 GameDesign™ strikes again.)

The vent leads to a corridor where you hear footsteps, but can go hide in a closet. Finally a dynamic event! This was honestly neat as the first encounter with a Nebruon native (not so neat is they blast you with a ray gun if you don’t hide).

After this encounter you spot (another? the same?) guard moving forward, but this guard gives you time to blast it with your gun (from the thief in 2082 London) and steal his uniform.

If you don’t steal the uniform, you’ll quickly get mowed down by ray gun fire later. Specifically, once stepping outside the military compound you’re in to the city, you get arrested for suspected murder (that part’s ok) but then the police

NOTICE YOU ARE DIFFERENT FROM EVERYONE ELSE, AND KILL YOU

Assuming you don’t seem too much like a funny-alien to the residents of the glass-dome-town you’re in, you’ll still invariably get yourself arrested on suspicion of murder (the body disappears, much like The Colonel’s Bequest) but fortunately they don’t take your stuff so you can just saw through the window bars.

After you’ve sawed through, the police stop caring about you unless you shoot someone else. Maybe there’s some unspoken cultural rule about escape is equivalent to a get-out-of-jail-free card.

One step out of prison reveals a (different) thief. At least I would assume different, unless they time-traveled too.

The thief is accepting of the GOLD stolen from the secret cave back in Baghdad, and for a while I assumed that was the correct move, but you can keep the gold by going with the “YOUR LIFE” pick. The thief shoots you but a nearby hospital rescues you, and as long as you have the ID card swiped from the wallet, they’ll swipe that at point of service.

I haven’t tested yet but I’m guessing lack of ID card here leads to another funny Sierra death.

From here, the game is relatively open. You can explore the town you’re in, which has multiple gardens, two of them with man-eating plants that chomp you.

I do want to emphasize for essentially any player who has gotten this far, this is just another funny background death, kind of like white noise, not a terrible game design moment. I’m at maybe 100 save files by now. The major sin is more technical in that the game doesn’t have the kind of rewinding features that modern games do; nobody except maybe Hezarin has even chanced upon a one-move UNDO option yet.

There’s a shop that will let you buy a flashlight and charge it on your ID card, two secretaries that need to see your ID otherwise you get blasted, and a menacing government building.

The building has a third secretary who not only needs an ID but also a military ID to get farther inside, which I don’t have. The only other item I have to noodle with is a nearby concrete block.

However, as I said already, I’m really just stopped rather than stuck, there’s plenty of map to poke back through and I feel confident something will wiggle loose. I was aiming for a win by end of February and I don’t think that’ll quite happen, but maybe the luck of the adventure gods will grace me again.

The future city portion of the map. Marked rooms are places where I’ve tested the dynamite.

Posted February 26, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Time Zone: Roberta Williams Chooses Violence   26 comments

Part of the poster that came with Time Zone. From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games.

I made gigatons of progress and may in fact be ready for the final push on 4082 AD and the evil Ramadu.

This was partly a domino effect: solving one puzzle gave me an item where I was familiar enough with the other zones I knew where it went and was able to quickly move on to the next. I also got past a few stopping points, including me (of course) missing a few map squares.

Also, the reduction of combinations made some of the puzzles that required no objects at all easier to solve. It felt a little like “luck” but I made multiple solves of this sort in a short time span, indicating this really was a factor.

Speaking of short time span:

HOURS PLAYED: 18

Last time I left off in frozen Russia in front of two guards who killed me if I tried to kill them first. One of my first acts was to try to prod around the guards a little in case I could get a hint from EXAMINE or find out I could refer to SNOW while standing there or some other obscure action.

Not too many turns in (4? I wasn’t counting) I got a surprise.

In actual play, most players will hang around the short time it takes for this to trigger. It still is a tick on my Bad Design list akin to my issue with linking events to random number generation, but I at least see the goal here to make a dynamic event, which is not something the game has done well at — the time zones are generally frozen in place.

That’s Peter the Great and Catherine the First, and yes, history buffs, try not to think about it too hard. She drops a hat pin, which I still have to find a use for and I’m guessing is being saved for 4082.

However, at the time I didn’t know that, so I cheerfully took my newly-acquired hat pin and tried it on every locked door/gate I still had to deal with, including the one at Napoleon’s mansion in “1700” AD Europe.

USE PIN was no luck, and after a bit of pondering I wondered if this was a circumstance like breaking the window at Benjamin Franklin’s place; I tried to climb the fence, and got murdered immediately.

But … the way the map is laid out, it has rooms for each of the sides of the walls. So there are three more places I could try climbing!

On the west side wall it led me to, predictably, a big empty hedge maze. Because Roberta Williams loves you and wants you to be happy.

I combed over this three times.

The east side drops to death, but the north side works!

With comb and perfume in hand, I knew immediately what my next destination was: Cleopatra. I’ve lost track how many times I’ve visited trying to hawk my wares (6?) but one of these clearly was what the game had in mind for a gift.

A mere screenshot with words cannot convey the triumph I felt at this moment.

The money let me buy some dates from a local seller (the game is explicit that “she wants Egyptian money”) which then let me travel deeper in the desert, because previously I was dying of thirst (easily solvable via the Nile river) and hunger (only solvable with the dates).

This led me to a big pyramid, with a large stone concealing a tomb.

The tomb had a shield, and if you’ve been reading carefully enough my previous posts, you might remember in Ancient Rome I was having trouble being tossed in an arena where the game specifically says you need a sword and shield. I’ve had a sword from a samurai for a while, so it was finally time to take on Ancient Rome.

On my way over I was typing too fast and discovered two locations I hadn’t seen before. Instead of going into the arena you can go west to a bath as shown here, or east to the Senate. This is _quite_ fortunate and possibly my luckiest moment in the game, as I accidentally prevented myself from My Nemesis, aka Being Stuck by Missing a Room Exit.

The entry into the arena was slightly anticlimatic, as it just says in text (on facing a gladiator) WITH YOUR SWORD AND SHIELD YOU QUICKLY MAKE MINCEMEAT OF HIM and the game lets you know you are now invited to see Julius Ceasar, meaning you can go into the Senate chambers which I only quite recently had found the location of.

With access to the chambers you can also enter a “Library” which doesn’t let you read the scrolls (you don’t know Latin, apparently) but does let you steal a ladder. If that sounds doubly-anticlimactic, you’re kind of right, except for an … easter egg? … which I’ll get to last.

With the ladder I once again hit all the various puzzles I was stuck on, like a chasm in South America (which I believe is now a red herring) and a grate that’s too high in 4082 AD (the ladder is too short). One of my uncrossable gaps was in North America, where I had been getting charged by buffalo. I knew the ladder would be no good against a stampede, but I figured the ladder might help me cross a ravine the game mentions after solving the first puzzle.

But that required the solving the first puzzle! And I admit to being stuck enough here I was tempted to give up and finally use Real Hints (as opposed to confirming if a particular time zone was useless) but once again hit my Nemesis and ran across a “gulley” I had somehow missed. Just like the stampede in the Stone Age with hiding in the tree, I was able to GO GULLEY and evade the stampede.

Ready to take my ladder to work, I went and … found a bridge. The ladder’s still for later.

He shoots you if you try to approach with weapons, but as long they’re not in your inventory you’re fine getting by.

I was then able to follow the Pattern this game has and TRADE with yet another person, this time the comb from 1700 AD Europe being swapped for a bow and arrows.

This struck me as immediately related to another long-standing thread I hadn’t worked out, that of Sherwood Forest and Robin Hood. I decided to take a stop by the Merry Men who I had never been able to get to respond before, and came across TALK ROBIN. He’ll then give you a task to prove yourself worthy, and I’m not sure if this would have worked before the bow and arrow because I think I never quite phrased a parser command like that (I did my parser addresses to the MEN but not straight to ROBIN).

This drops you in a maze of trees, because why not.

Again, not really a puzzle, just an obstacle, and I quickly came across the dryad I was supposed to kill.

This felt like a moment that belonged in King’s Quest.

After that success, Robin tells me that I need to steal some money from the sheriff’s office. This had one of the locked doors I had long tried to bring various lock-picking implements to without success, but I had suspicion that you can circle around the back, with a window blocked by bars. (Mainly because Napoleon-area followed the exact same pattern.) LOOK WINDOW shows the money:

Still thinking in terms of Robin Hood theming, I looked at my inventory and especially the bow and arrow, and decided to try tying the rope to the arrow (it helped I tried something similar not long ago in Burglar’s Adventure).

First try! On a total high now, I took the money back to the Merry Men, who then grabbed the bag and left.

And… nothing. No reward. No items dropped.

After some facepalming, I wondered if in fact you were supposed to steal the money to use elsewhere as opposed to give it to Robin Hood. I still had a trade hanging around the same time zone but not area (in Baghdad) who was selling camels yet never liked any of the items I offered for trade, including the cash.

Blerg. I decided to move on. (I’ll get back to the cash soon, though.) I still had a hot ladder where I was unclear where it went, and the Africa area which asks you to build a raft I figured might have a tree to climb somewhere (maybe to get some vines to finish the raft?)

And here I reached another bit of “luck”, but again I think it’s simply from starting to have not many places left to visit. While the game gives you three logs, and I had rope and a saw which seemed relevant, the game always told me I couldn’t make a raft. However, I wondered if the game just needed the tools to be held and the logs to be in the room, so I shifted all the logs to the same place and tried MAKE RAFT as I had done many times before.

It worked! I’m still not quite clear what items were needed to be held, or if it really just the logs all have to be sitting together in the same place. I was able to use a long pole I had found way back in 50 BC to row across.

I want to emphasize it really helps the game has a generous inventory limit. It’s something like 16, and when combined with the objects-are-zapped-for-being-brought-too-far-back thing, it was roughly my normal max the whole game. So rather than having to ship objects back and forth to test things I usually had them with me, like the long pole which survives in any period, including the prehistoric age.

Exploring Africa, I got eaten by a lion in the jungle (an oddity I’ve nitpicked about before) and by some cannibals … again.

At least they give warning this time.

I also fell into a hole with an elephant skeleton. That ladder I had been wondering about turned to be useful to get out, but the game says the skeleton is too big if you try to get it.

The fact this was a puzzle inside a puzzle made me think there was no way this could be a red herring. Putting on my “what cliché would Sierra use” hat I decided to try to refer to the elephant tusks, which indeed are considered a separate object. The sword is too clumsy apparently to break the tusks off (?) but the stone hammer from very very long back — my oldest acquisition — worked to get the tusks in hand.

I had lots of wandering back and forth now trying to work out what to do next. The camel trader in Baghdad did not want tusks. I was rapidly running out of useful places to go. In one of the Africa zones I had been dying of thirst, and I was still valiantly holding on to hope for a water container, but I went “let’s try it” and somehow ran into my Nemesis yet again and found it was possible to survive a walk due north until arriving at a trader.

This was also the moment I realized this was in Morocco. In any case, the tusks worked! I was able to trade for the knife. And I’m going to condense a bit of meaningless wandering checking time zones after here (this is when I found the easter egg I’ll write about last) and say I eventually came back to the trader who had a rug for trade, and took the item I had been trying to trade away for ages, the silk.

Because I was out of zones, and because it actually seemed logical, I made yet another trip to the camel trader … who wanted the rug! Hurrah! With the camel I was able to survive a trip through the desert to the OPEN SESAME place (I’d been there before but couldn’t survive a trip back) and found gold inside. I still don’t know what the gold is for.

Oh, and the bag of money. Still was puzzled there, but I decided to return it to the Merry Men again, and for some reason this time around rather than me wandering around finding nothing I got assaulted in the next room over by a knight.

Lance in hand, I was … done? Maybe? I still had 2082 AD North America being useless, with the locked door having a key next to it that doesn’t work. I also figured, given that a ladder that looks like the right size does nothing, the chasm in South America was also a red herring. There’s also a polar bear that appears to intercept any command you try to do, which reminded me of the pterodactyl nest in pre-historic times and a couple other known-red-herring-spots.

So it’s time for the far future now?

I’m coming, Ramadu, maybe. There’s two grates blocking my way, one that’s rusty and one that’s too high, but I haven’t gone through my inventory testing things for a while.

(If there’s something significant I’ve missed mentioning, now is when I’m willing to take a hint, but just “you’ve missed something”, please no details. It is even possible I just forgot to write about it, I have way too many screenshots to keep track of.)

Let’s finish with the easter egg. (At least I think it is — I didn’t get an object from the whole sequence.) While prodding at time zones I made a visit back to my boy Caesar, and he’s had better days.

I had recently acquired a knife from Morocco, so I decided to try to KILL BRUTUS and … it worked! In technicolor blood!

The game even lets you get away with it.

I decided to go for broke and KILL SENATE.

The game doesn’t say you lose, exactly, just that you’re now playing Grand Theft Auto 3 and really have swerved a bit from Time Zone.

Posted February 19, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Time Zone: The Breakthrough   20 comments

I mean “breakthrough” both figuratively (as in I got through some blockers and made good progress in the game) and literally (one major help was by use of the verb BREAK).

From an old eBay auction. “Combines the talents of master adventure authoress ROBERTA WILLIAMS, the artistic abilities of Terry Pierce, Michelle Pritchard and Barry Blasser, and the programming knowledge of Rorke Weigandt, Eric Griswold and Bob Davis. The project was directed by Ken Williams, the original designer of the Hi-Res Adventure Series. We at On-Line Systems have put our best into TIME ZONE and we are confident that this will be the best adventure that you will ever play!” I do like how they took care to give the people working on the game credit, since this is one of the first computer games with a “team” working on production.

Before digging in, I will have to confess I consulted a hint page … kind of. I looked at the map page of Sierra Chest, mainly because a couple maps were bugging me (although mainly the South America one with the cannibals and the one with the sniper) and I wanted a confirmation on my suspicion that they were red herrings. They were indeed — they don’t have to be visited, ever — and along the way I also confirmed I had Pre-historical and Stone Age finished (by this point, I’d been so thorough in both I knew I would need a hint if any more progress was possible).

Other than that, I’m still solving everything on my own. My first solve was on my list but I really should have had it placed earlier on my queue; I had found a second piece of jade digging in 50BC Asia and I wanted to loop back and give it to the same peasant that I gave jade to before to see if I could get more rice.

I could not get more rice. But I could get the rope he was wearing. D’oh!

It then struck me, most obviously, that the whole sequence in 2082AD Europe I had a little off. With that area I had been getting robbed by a thief, who left a rope, and I could tie the rope to a police dog, and then I assumed the dog would track the thief somehow but I just had the wrong verb. No, my default assumption for this game should be: if someone takes all your stuff, you’ve lost.

The rope from 50BC is identical to the one you can get in the future, so that one can be tied to a dog before seeing the thief. Then you can free the dog upon meeting the thief and it will prevent the thief from ever robbing you, leaving behind a gun.

I did some tests (including zapping locked doors I was still stuck on), but as is common for guns in adventure games, it hasn’t been of use yet. I suspect it may be intended for Far Future.

Speaking of having sequences off, I also realized the 1700AD scene with the Declaration of Independence I had a wrong premise on. The way that part worked my first time through is I visited a courthouse, saw a group signing the Declaration (including Benjamin Franklin) and Benjamin Franklin later opened his print shop. There was also a reference about how since you aren’t working for him you can’t go in the back room. I assumed either I a.) somehow would get a job or b.) somehow would get something printed. It occurred to me — mainly because of the thief-softlock — perhaps this was simply a softlock-timing issue, and your goal is to break in the print shop while he’s distracted with the whole signing-thing. I was right, and discovered in the process the game processed BREAK WINDOW.

This let me raid the back room which had a kite and a skeleton key (I needed the saw from Australia to break in a chest for the key).

After the raid, it starts to storm (the only time in the game there’s been a “dynamic change” like weather). You can then, if you like, tie the key to the kite and try flying it outside, which kills you.

I do want to emphasize this wasn’t really a cruel moment: I clearly visualized what was up before I did this, so saved my gave first in order to experience the joy of another novel Sierra death.

I tried the skeleton key a bunch of places — there were still locked doors in 2082 AD North America, Asia, and Australia — and found it worked on the padlocked warehouse in Future Asia Tokyo.

Whether you find the presence of only one yen in the warehouse to be irritating or totally hilarious might depend on your mood, but I was on a rush and experienced the latter. This was a meta-adventure moment, the amount of effort put into stealing Benjamin Franklin’s stuff only to get a single yen from the future being a sort of participatory comedy.

The yen allows you to go in a restraraunt and order some food. The menu has three items, the first being 1 yen; you can go through the scene, get served your food by a waiter, and leave.

This is the wrong move, though. You want to pick one of the options that is too expensive, so the waiter gets mad and sends you into the back room to wash dishes (has this ever happened in real life before?)

While in the back you can open one of the drawers and steal some matches, which is the whole point for the scene. It might seem (from a distance reading perspective) rather easy to miss the drawer in the image and also realize it is openable, but note that it is clear that there had to be some purpose to the whole process of reaching the back room; if it was a random drawer in a sea of un-openable ones this moment would have been dubious, but as it was it took me about 30 seconds to assess what was going on.

The matches work on lighting the torch! That means my whole side-process with a separate save file in order to light the torch with the sticks from the Stone Age can now be bypassed. I can merge the progress with 50BC Rome and so forth with everything else.

I made one more bit of progress, and that was by following the break-and-enter theme some more. I tried smashing a window in North America but it wasn’t useful…

This is where the key under the mat was. I suspect the whole future North America area is a complete red herring although I haven’t tossed it off my list as complete yet.

…but I could smash a window in future Australia, and steal a coat. Just a coat. (I might now turn back to the absurd object sourcing problem, but to be honest, I’m surfing on the game in enough a meta-sense I wasn’t bothered and just treated it like a scene from Time Bandits.)

Spend too long in the house and you get caught by police.

I already had two locations (50BC Alaska and 1700AD Asia) which needed coats on my list. I haven’t tried Alaska again yet (I’m still getting stopped by a polar bear) and I should mention Antarctica is still too cold with the coat, but I had a good time in Russia.

KILL KOSSACK. WITH SWORD.

Two guards are in front of the palace at St. Petersburg and they murder you if you try to attack, so I’m stuck getting in.

I would say I’m not Stuck, though, and I’m just taking a break because I wanted to finish a write-up. Game’s fun, weirdly enough? Especially now that I know I don’t have to mess with the cannibals. I’ve trimmed down my list of ages I think are finished, and it looks gratifyingly smaller to deal with (with the “hide row” feature, not the delete button).

HOURS PLAYED: 14

Posted February 16, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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Time Zone: The Precipice   16 comments

I think my play experience in the last 3 hours (new total, 10.75) is most aptly illustrated by a moment where I found a new area.

The 2082 AD Asia section seems more elaborate than the others because it is broken into distinct sections. You start at a “Civic Center” and can hop on a subway, where you get to — by prompted voice command — choose between North, East, South, and West side stations. When I was first mapping, I went East, and then went South. By going South, the subway returned me to the Civic Center, so I assumed the South Station was simply the one you start at, and moved on.

I was wrong. If you are at a “branch” of the subway, then no matter what direction you specify, you will go back to the Civic Center. I guess it was too much to code having the subway go back be something that happens automatically, rather than require the player say something which isn’t even interpreted correctly.

This meant there was an entire South Side I hadn’t mapped. Exciting! And…

…I found nothing. Absolutely nothing.

There was an enormous amount of poking at things and trying to get something new to happen, and failing. The one puzzle I managed to solve — and I did earnestly solve it, not just luck out — was back in Past Asia at a samurai that was attacking. I had a boomerang that I couldn’t THROW so I had put it out of thought in that area, but then it occurred to me the game was probably looking for KILL (when the aborigines first get introduced you are warned they might kill you with their boomerang) and it worked, yielding me a sword.

Way back when I dug up a piece of jade (this is the temple where they used kung-fu if I tried to steal an emerald, allegedly 50 BCish) I also found I could dig a second time to get a second piece of jade. I have found nobody else other than the rice seller who wants jade, though.

Things I tried included

  • Combing over Future Los Angeles with the key again — the one that doesn’t fit in the door that it is sitting at — looking for something, anything, that might budge. I guess it’s a red herring, but it’s more mystifying than even usual (more on those in a second).
  • Getting something stolen by the thief, taking the rope, getting the police dog, and going over every square in Future London again looking for the dog to react.
  • Picking areas at random and testing map areas in case I missed anything else, like the South Side of Future Tokyo.
  • Taking every item I could over to Cleopatra to see if I could get some kind of reaction.

The game is big enough I know there are still things I can test. The sheer size of Time Zone is one part of what makes it resistant to is the “grinding” type puzzle solve. The point-and-click equivalent is where you visit every location and try to “use” every item on every visible object. This potentially is a good thing, if it weren’t for knowing that very likely some of the puzzle solves will be very arbitrary.

A second part that makes it resistant is the “dual realities” problem I’m facing. I still haven’t been able to light the torch without using the sticks that were necessary in the stone age to get a stone hammer. So I can choose between either a hammer or a lit torch. I am 96% certain the Stone Age section is not a red herring and there really is an alternate way to give light, especially because MATCHES is a recognized noun through the game.

(Oh, you know how verbs don’t get recognized across disks? Because the objects can move across time zones, the nouns are more universal, so it’s easier to play guess-the-noun to theorize if something really exists.)

A third part is the sheer number of red herrings in general. While I can’t absolutely confirm anything in particular is a red herring, I had heard before playing there were entire time zones that could be skipped, and I’m assuming some apparent puzzles really shouldn’t be bothered with. For example, the 50BC Alaska Polar Bear does not let you react, at all, and there are very few rooms: does this mean the entire location shouldn’t be bothered with? (On the other hand, cold-weather clothes are needed elsewhere, and it feels like if any placed had some you could steal, it’d be 50BC Alaska.)

I wish there was a way to narrow things down for certain. I have an intuition of what I can just pass by but I could easily be mistaken. For example, one of the South America areas has an avalanche you can hide from in a cave, followed by a gorge that can’t be crossed.

The presence of the avalanche makes me thinks that this is a real puzzle solvable by some item or another (not the rope, I tried it in the screenshot above). But what if the game is mean enough to put puzzle sequences leading to dead ends? What if this happened maybe not even by design, but because they were exhausted from working on the game and needed to get it out the door?

The upshot of all this is I am very close to starting to consult hints. I have not yet, nor do I want to yet, but I’m going to declare that I’ll do two more passes, and if nothing breaks free, I’ll start to declare open season. (If nothing else, I know some of you have been itching to drop hints in the comments. Just a little longer!)

Posted February 8, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction, Video Games

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