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:


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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26 responses to “Time Zone: Roberta Williams Chooses Violence

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  1. Fantastic.

    A few thoughts come to mind. I get the impression from what I know of Roberta (and grill playing her games all throughout my childhood) that this was a very early attempt at “world building” on a scale that really hadn’t been attempted before.

    The real world has meaningless, random places that go nowhere, and with 6 floppy disks to fill, why shouldn’t this game have places like that too (like the hedge maze)?

    As with many early games, standards for what constituted good design were still being developed so it’s a bit unfair to dump on Roberta too much (though it is really fun to do, considering the years of frustration she caused me…. I still remember in Ulysses and the Golden Fleece the only command that worked to sail the ship was… Use ship? No. Sail ship? Of course not. CAST OFF. Screw you, Roberta!)

    With regard to Robin Hood, I think your can rest easy about the good. From what I recall, stealing the gold is what triggers the knight to come after you. It would have been great though if Robin didn’t just take off without a word; maybe drop a hint to watch your back because the sheriff will be looking for you now? Something like that would have been a huge improvement.

    • Roberta had nothing to do with Ulysses. (In fact, one of the things I am doing in a future post, assuming the rest of this games isn’t messed up too badly, is demonstrate gradations of bad design. It is very tempting to lump everything like an 8-out-of-10 website review but I am here to dig into specifics.)

      • How interesting… So who do I blame for CAST OFF then? :)

      • Bob Davis (who worked on this, but more or less as a producer). (Check out my writeup, I quote an interview where he discusses the game.)

      • Found the link if you don’t want to hunt. https://bluerenga.blog/tag/ulysses-and-the-golden-fleece/?order=ASC

      • If you do that future post, please include something about the scourge of “identical screen mazes”. You’d get locked into a looping maze with identical screens and when you’d ever your directional command, often the game didn’t even bother to load a new (identical) image. The mazes we’re solvable only when you figured out a directional pattern like N W N E N W N E N N. If you screwed up, you could get lost in the loop forever and have to restart the game.

        I was a young kid when I played these games so perhaps there was a method to cracking these mazes that eluded me; were they not as impossible as I remember?

        I recall puzzles like this appearing in many different adventure games and there wasn’t always a map or any in-game guidance to help the player figure out what the solution to the maze was. I recall this being a brute force exercise (or breaking down and calling the company for hints).

        Why was this style of puzzle so common in early adventure games? Who was the inventor of this?

      • It’s in Crowther Adventure (invented before even Woods!) as the Twisty Maze of Passages, All Alike. The standard thing is to drop items and use those rather than room descriptions. You can see on my forest map the names of objects, those are the objects I dropped as I was going along.

        Wizard and the Princess had a maze which was arguably nastier in you had to pay close attention to the images for the differences, as you didn’t have enough items in inventory to quite pull the same trick.

      • Ah, interesting.

        Since Roberta was inspired by her experience playing Colossal Cave it would follow that she Incorporated these loving tributes into her games as well.

        As you describe Crowther’s maze, it is a surprisingly solvable puzzle. Having a predictable pattern like NWNE et al would make subsequent traversals much easier (which is surprisingly good game design, if the maze had to be crossed multiple times in the game).

        Yes I recall the maze from Wizard and the Princess– you had to pick up the correct (identical) rock from one of many similar desert screens. All of the wrong rocks had scorpions under them that instantly killed you. I think the forest from Mystery House had one of these as well.

        Was the solution in Crowther’s Adventure also a repeated pattern of cardinal directions? The repeated pattern in Wizard serves no such useful purpose, since you only ever have to traverse the desert maze once before continuing. So by the time you figure out there’s a pattern, you no longer need to know the pattern anymore.

        That Roberta ditched the whole key puzzle solving element of leaving a trail of breadcrumbs for a brute force/death-by-exploration method is indicative of why so many of us feel frustrated by her design choices.

      • I’m not sure on Crowther, but Don Woods specifically tried to make sure you couldn’t get out just by “simple repetitive actions”, see the end of the interview at https://www.avventuretestuali.com/interviste/woods-eng/

  2. It’s strange reading stuff that I have no recollection of and not knowing if that’s because I forgot about it or if it’s because I never saw it on my playthrough because it’s a massive red herring. I do, however, remember the “stand in one place with nothing to do for several turns until a carriage passes” part because that was something I needed hints for.

    Anyway, congratulations on obtaining Caesar’s ladder! For what it’s worth, you can also kill Brutus *before* he kills Caesar, but Caesar dies anyway by tripping and hitting his head on the floor. Which makes me wonder what the Shakespeare play was like in that timeline.

    • I think the right way to do that scene would be to just make sure it wasn’t a puzzle at all and have the player get stopped if they try to go a particular direction and show the event instead.

      >Anyway, congratulations on obtaining Caesar’s ladder! For what it’s worth, you can also kill Brutus *before* he kills Caesar, but Caesar dies anyway by tripping and hitting his head on the floor. Which makes me wonder what the Shakespeare play was like in that timeline.

      Wow. This sounds like something from a better game than this one. I get the impression they were hoping for this kind of thing all over the place but it petered out?

  3. 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.

    Mmmm, sarcasm….. :D

  4. For my reference as well as your curiosity, here are all the items I have at the end, divided into piles (the last two “permanently” carried)





    The rope was interesting. I had to go back to the raft and disassemble it to get the rope back. I had suspected the arrow-with-rope trick could reach the high grate but no dice this time. Still keeping the rope, though.

  5. Sounds like you’re having fun playing this game!

  6. I’m looking at a walkthrough and your inventory, and since you’ve asked: You have missed something.

  7. I’ll be very curious to hear your take on the finale. As I recall the end goal is not clearly defined- certainly not in-game. Maybe in the manual?

    • from the manual:

      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.

      • So that would seem to set the stage for “floating in space” death if you were to travel anywhere on earth in 4082, no? Have you tried?

        Again very interesting anachronistic design in that the in-game messaging (the dream/vision of the future that you awaken from when the game) doesn’t mention anything about the “awesome ray gun” part of the goal.

  8. You inspired me to play this again after 15 years and… whew, even vaguely remembering how to beat it, it was a slog where I still died at every turn.
    Thanks for showing me I could kill Brutus though!
    (And much worse than the hedge maze – easily mappable, after all – was one of the Australian zones that is a nightmarish maze with identical rooms… and is also a zone where there’s apparently nothing, not even a way to die!)

  9. Thanks to this series I finally understand that quote about “interactive fiction is about dry goods” or something.

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