Archive for the ‘the-time-machine’ Tag

The Time Machine (1981)   5 comments

As a Newspaper reporter you are sent to investigate the eccentric professor who lives in the old house on the Moors. What is his secret and why is his house now deserted?
— From the cover of the BBC Micro version of The Time Machine

Brian Howarth’s second Mysterious Adventure was again originally written for TRS-80 and converted later to the Scott Adams database format; I’m going to just go with the TRS-80 version this time rather than trying to play two versions at once.

For a bit of color, here’s the title screen from the Acorn Electron version, via Everygamegoing.

I was genuinely excited to get to this game, because

a.) despite “time travel” being roughly as standard as “fantasy”, there’s more flexibility for the adventure author to get creative

b.) the plot presented itself as integrated rather than slapped on

c.) based on prior my time travel adventures, the genre forces a self-contained geography

Let’s discuss the last point a little more–

Past a certain level of experience, writers tend to go too long more than too short. While forcing minimalism is not always a guaranteed route to quality, and there are some top-notch writers who are also long-winded, brevity can temper some of the rougher excesses (I gave an example of this back when I posted about Chou’s Alien Adventure).

While we don’t often think of creating imaginary map geography as “writing”, it can be its own form of artistic creation. Crowther/Woods Adventure was based around a real cave, and had a solidity to it despite some truly random parts; authors who tried to mimic this later didn’t necessarily fare better. For example, both Goblins (the 1981 version) and Intergalactic (from the Atom Adventures collection) turned out particularly dire. Both examples share a need for contiguous terrain, and interlinking designed for sheer pain.

The time travel games we’ve seen, by their nature, force small sections; authors discovered you sometimes don’t need more than a handful of rooms to indicate an era. It becomes much harder to make a sprawling cavalcade of bad decisions. (1982’s Time Zone might bust through this by its sheer size, but that was on six floppy disks.)

As the intro text indicated, you start out not as a mad scientist, but as a journalist looking for one.

Rough opening: the above is a tiny maze, where you have no objects and more or less have to drift at random. If you step wrong, you end up in quicksand.

I was seriously stumped upon first hitting this point. Late the same night I tried one more shot at the section on my cell phone, and hit upon (after my second turn) the command GRAB BUSH:

Whew! That was a close shave..Better watch my step!

Rather than hammering on the unfairness of the guess-the-verb here, I want to point out it is fascinating that I broke through the puzzle by tackling it in an entirely different environment. One of the standard pieces of advice for adventure gamers is to play with a group, but here I managed the same effect by having my brain “reset” as if I was enlisting a member of my Clone Army.

Proceeding onward, I found a house with gloves and a bellpull.

I was able to punch through a nearby window while wearing the gloves.

This is what happens if you aren’t wearing the gloves.

Inside I found: a key hidden behind a picture, a pistol, a flashlight, a ham sandwich, and a room with a mysterious machine.

The cassette player had a tape. Playing it led to this message, given “slowed down” in real time:

I’m unclear on the sequence of events that led to being able to send a cassette player through time but not Dr. Potter himself. I can envision a few scenarios (sample: the tape is a “failsafe” Dr. Potter had set up prior to his trip to allow recording from the future), so I wouldn’t call this a true plot hole.

But hey: rather than just a treasure hunt for glass control prisms, we have a lost person, a mysterious enemy, and the fate of the world at stake (in a way that feels more concrete than just fantasy-bad-guy-is-bad). Good plot thread!

Oddly, the “forward” and “back” seem to rotate through options, rather than being “future” and “past”. I don’t think I’ve seen the future yet. I’ve made it to a scene with the Sphinx:

…a swamp with dinosaurs…

Well, one so far at least.

…and a ripoff from the book (and movie) 2001.

I’m still exploring to learn more, so this is a good stopping point. Based on the opening map (see below), I’d say the “forced brevity” idea is holding out.

Posted October 15, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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The Time Machine: TIME SLIP ACTIVE   7 comments

I finished the game, but I had to wreck my original plan in the process.

From the Museum of Computer Adventure Games; one of the Digital Fantasia covers which makes the game feel like it’s going in a psychological/philosophical sci-fi direction. (It is not.)

The time machine has a forward and a reverse button. Pressing the button leads to an animation. It is too blinky in GIF form so I’ll give you a still.

Just imagine the “background symbol” keeps changing.

I don’t know if there was some other intent to how the buttons work that the author decided to axe, but in what I played the buttons work entirely at random.

The above locations are merely for color. The really important places are:

1. The swamp with the brontosaurus

2. The ship Mary Celeste

3. The sphinx area

I’ve given screenshots already of places 1 and 3 in my last post; here’s #2.

Each has a glass prism; once the glass prisms are added to the time machine, one last area is unlocked, where Dr. Potter is being held by the “outlaws” and the evil plan must be foiled.

The ship is the most straightforward part of the game; there are no real obstacles other than finding where the glass prism is in the first place (you have to climb up a “rigging” and it is randomly up in a crow’s nest). There’s a lot of items, though: salted beef, biscuits (this is a UK game so “cookies” for you Americans), rope, a torn sail, and a thread and needle. ADD: Or, based on the comments, the biscuits could be the ship’s variety, although I think the scene after is much better if they are cookies.

I mentioned a brontosaurus last time who didn’t want a ham sandwich; but apparently, biscuits go over well.

The brontosaurus lumbers off into the swamp with the biscuits

Handy tip for time travelers! Past the dinosaur is a small boat which is busted, near an island. (Where did the boat come from? More time travelers?)

With a ROPE, NEEDLE, and SAIL, you can FIX BOAT.

Thats better! Its shipshape now!

I have FIX on my standard list of verbs to test out when starting a game so I knew it worked, otherwise I’d have had more trouble with this puzzle. You can then take a SHOVEL from the sphinx area to the island and dig up the second glass prism.

The third glass prism requires going in the a secret tunnel at the sphinx.

This puts you in a long hall. At one end there’s a lever (near a spear) where pulling the lever indicates a grinding sound from the end of the corridor. Trying to go to the other end just finds a solid wall. I sussed out this was a timed thing, but when my original attempts to RUN to arrive fast enough were for naught, I tried to use the spear and a rock (from the above screenshot) to hold the lever in place. I eventually had to to resort to hints: the command is JAM LEVER, not PUT ROCK or INSERT SPEAR or anything like that. (Theoretically, what’s interesting is that I was focused on applying the right verb to the direct object I was using, not the indirect object I was applying the rock to.)

With the lever jammed up, I was able to enter a “small door” at the wall and find a temple. It had a statue; CLIMB STATUE led to the third glass prism.

The “growling noise” was a dog at the foot of the statue. You can either KILL DOG (with the spear) or (according to a walkthrough I checked) FEED DOG with the beef. Alternate solutions are very rare for this time; it’s fun to see one tied in with a moral choice.

With the three prisms in the machine, a new destination is added (although the buttons still work at random, so you have to hit them a bunch of times to reach it).

… and here my game was wrecked by bugs. The prism disappeared on me. (I also had an earlier bug where trying to use the boat to get to the island led to the shovel disappearing from my inventory). I said I was going to pass on the BBC Micro version, but I had to switch to get to the end. On the way, I found the usual much-more-minimalist prose:

Im in an old cellar. There is a strange glass machine in the middle of the floor! Large enough for a person to stand in!

I’m in a Cellar

The ham sandwich was left out, but more significantly, all of the “red herring” time travel locations are left out — no 2001 reference, no Mount Doom, no nuclear wasteland. This is simultaneously worse and better at the same time. Worse in that by narrowing down on the “important” locations the time travel antics don’t feel much like time travel any more, but better in that the randomly-operating buttons have less locations to visit (often in the TRS-80 game I needed to try 10+ times to reach a specific place). So many decisions in game design aren’t unilateral “good” or “bad”, but tradeoffs.

In the BBC Micro version of the finale, you arrive at a grass plane with a metal plate. You have to CROWBAR or PRISE PLATE (not PRY) to get it off, and then find a robot guard; the “outlaws” are robots. (Twist!) With a pistol you can SHOOT ROBOT (“BANG!”); past the robot is a GENERATOR.

You can SMASH GENERATOR (it turns into a Broken Generator) which opens up a “Guard-Room” with Doctor Potter inside.

Meh. I enjoyed the setting and setup of the TRS-80 version but the later (but bug-fixed!) minimal version lacked texture. I did appreciate the puzzles were essentially easy, but it meant the parts I got stuck on (like the rock and the lever, and realizing CROWBAR could be a verb in addition to a noun) were verb issues rather than grand insights.

It’s still true the segmented map was psychologically pleasing. I have the additional theory that this sort of map is easier to contain in memory; I could be out in swamp land and want to head back to the Mary Celeste and immediately know the exact steps I needed to make rather than having to check.

These are the three time travel zones that have glass prisms.

Also, this was a marked improvement over The Golden Baton; I did genuinely want to see what happened next in the story, as opposed to feeling I was being buffeted by random puzzles. So I’m still happy to try more Howarth games; however, even though he has another 1981 offering for us (Arrow of Death Part 1) I’ll be saving that for when we’re closer to 1982 so I don’t have a large gap between that game and Arrow of Death Part 2.

If you want to try The Time Machine yourself, the BBC Micro version is easy to get to and play online.

Posted October 17, 2020 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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