Wednesday, 3 June 2015

Game 56: Timequest (1991) - Introduction

Written by Reiko


Evocative, meaningful, but a little campy. Much like the game, actually.

I have good memories of the Gateway games, produced later on by the same Legend Entertainment company that started out with Spellcasting 101, which we've already seen back in January, courtesy of Aperama. Timequest is Legend's second game, which I may have poked at briefly some years ago, but certainly never finished, so I'm looking forward to it. The layout and gameplay are very similar to those other games, so I should be able to jump right in. They're very much a hybrid between pure-text interactive fiction and graphical adventure games, a big step up from pure text, and they're basically the successor to what Infocom was doing with interactive fiction. I grew up with interactive fiction, although I didn't play very many Infocom games at the time, but I still follow the modern IF scene now and have been trying to go back and play some of the classics I missed as well. So I quickly volunteered for Timequest when it came up on the list.


Steve Meretzky, a familiar name from Infocom, was involved with the production of Timequest, although Bob Bates is credited as the writer/designer. Jimmy Maher, who did a lot of work in classic amateur interactive fiction as well as writing about the genre, writes about Legend's games in chapter 7 of his book Let's Tell a Story Together (2006), available on his website. He mentions that the game's primary antagonist, Zeke Vettenmyer, is an anagram for Steve Meretzky himself (although the letters don't quite match). Unfortunately, Meretzky didn't write anything for Legend other than the Spellcasting games, but perhaps it's just as well, as thanks to the diligence of Bates in thinking like a player, Timequest is remembered as a complex, non-linear game that nevertheless plays fair with its players.


The game spans three thousand years of history in six major cities.
Nearly every combination is available right at the beginning. Talk about non-linear!

The plot can be summarized quickly: As a rogue lieutenant of the Temporal Corps, Vettenmyer, a comic-style mad villain who gloats about his plan, has stolen an interkron (time machine) and set up a convoluted plot involving interference in ten critical historical events, any one of which could severely alter history as we know it. The player is a Temporal Corps private sent to untangle and thwart Vettenmyer's plan and capture the rogue agent. It's not the most original, especially not for more modern players familiar with similar games like the Journeyman Project series (which are also very good), the third one of which also starts out by sending the player off through time as a temporal agent to capture a rogue agent. But while the plot may be thin, the sheer variety of historical locations, most of the combinations of six cities in nine time periods, make for complex and possibly even educational gameplay. I'll be on the lookout for educational opportunities while I play. The game incorporates a number of real historical figures, both well-known and more obscure, from Cleopatra to Churchill, Pope Leo I to Admiral Horatio Nelson, and gives historical context to each of its scenarios.


Classic interface with menus.

Just like regular interactive fiction, the interface always allows typed commands like "go west" or "w" for short to move around spatially. Or I can click on the compass rose at the top left. Nearly everything can be done using either keyboard or mouse if you leave the command menus visible, but I prefer using the keyboard almost exclusively rather than switching back and forth. The default for the top right screen window is picture mode, which shows an illustration of the current location. Other modes for that window include map mode, which shows a map of the area; inventory mode, which summarizes the inventory without having to issue the command in the main text window; look mode, which shows the current room description without having to issue the command in the text window; and status mode, which summarizes the current score and status of completing mission objectives.


List of commands in-game.

F1 or the Help button shows the list of keys available for controlling the various screen modes and entering commands. The game can actually be played in full screen mode as pure interactive fiction if desired, but I don't really know why you would want to turn off the pictures unless you're some kind of text purist or aiming for a challenge or something. If you play with the mouse, you can even click on the picture to trigger commands. A single click will examine the item clicked on, and a double click will attempt to perform the most obvious action on the item. So in this way it's a true hybrid between text and graphical adventure games. The inventory is not graphical, so in order to complete the game with the mouse, you'd have to use a combination of the picture, the compass rose, and the menu lists. Being familiar with interactive fiction commands, most of the time I prefer to play Legend games in half screen mode, which hides the menus on the left that show common commands and nearby objects, and gives more space to the game's text.

Simplified interface without menus.

I'll be summarizing gameplay and quoting text most of the time, since most of the game information is in text format. But the pictures can sometimes be informative or interesting, so I'll show some of those. Periodically I will report on my location, my inventory, and my status (using the output of the handy screen modes), but I'll summarize the result of actions taken unless there's a particularly critical or interesting passage. Later on, I'll be keeping track of the time/place combinations using a grid summary.

Timequest is available on the Internet Archive (https://archive.org/details/msdos_Timequest_1991) for anyone who would like to play along with me.

Note Regarding Spoilers and Companion Assist Points: There's a set of rules regarding spoilers and companion assist points. Please read it here before making any comments that could be considered a spoiler in any way. The short of it is that no CAPs will be given for hints or spoilers given in advance of me requiring one. As this is an introduction post, it's an opportunity for readers to bet 10 CAPs (only if they already have them) that I won't be able to solve a puzzle without putting in an official Request for Assistance: remember to use ROT13 for betting. If you get it right, you will be rewarded with 40 CAPs in return. It's also your chance to predict what the final rating will be for the game. Voters can predict whatever score they want, regardless of whether someone else has already chosen it. All correct (or nearest) votes will go into a draw.

11 comments:

  1. I'm going to throw down a 50 in the hopes that they've learned just a little bit more about doing adventure game puzzles. (I am not particularly hopeful after Kabbul Island though...)

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  2. So will this be more of a serious game, unlike Spellcasting 101?

    I'm going to go for a 49 for the score.

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  3. Unfortunately, Meretzky didn't write anything for Legend other than the Spellcasting games

    I would be very surprised if his stint designing The Superhero League of Hoboken didn't result in his penning a significant quantity of its text.

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    1. You're probably right. He seems to be credited as "designer" for all four games. I missed that one.

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  4. I'll be very positive and suppose 56.

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  5. Seems like it has the potential to be better than Spellcasting 101, but also the potential to be worse (maybe the six cities and ten time zones will end up feeling empty?). I'll go for 51.

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  6. I'll go 39 for no reason whatsoever apart from it being the lowest so far.

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