Archive for the ‘time-zone’ Tag

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.


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.


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


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


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.


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


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


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


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:


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.


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).


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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Time Zone: Dependencies   9 comments

From an old eBay auction.

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

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

HOURS PLAYED: 7.75 (+2.5 change)

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

I did, as threatened, make a spreadsheet.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Time Zone: The Other Ages   17 comments

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

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

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

1400 AD (kind of)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1700 AD

North America lands you at the Declaration of Independence.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2082 AD

The future is mostly boring paved streets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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Time Zone: A Barren Land   21 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

But let’s start in…

50 BC

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

1000 AD

Same order to the continents as before:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Posted January 23, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Time Zone: Pilots of the Stone Age   7 comments

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

and actual incident.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’m willing to appreciate the gonzo bit here.

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

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

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

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


Posted January 18, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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Time Zone: 400MILBC   3 comments

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

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

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

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

Based on another manual hint…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oh, there’s a swamp too.

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

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


Posted January 15, 2022 by Jason Dyer in Interactive Fiction

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