Tuesday, 25 August 2015

Timequest - Final Rating

Written by Reiko

Before I get to the rating, I should point out that there are a lot of optional activities in the game. Ilmari mentioned some of them early on, most of which I forgot to try. I found a few of them as I went along, like trying to get the sludge in Rome, or giving the loose board to the innkeeper, or triggering the failed futures. If you want to know more of these, you can always read the hintbook online (http://www.mocagh.org/legend/tq-hintbook.pdf).

To be quite honest, I found Timequest to be a mixed bag overall. I had a lot of nostalgia for the game since I'd played it a long time ago, but I hadn't gotten very far then and certainly hadn't gotten to the ending. I did have a lot of fun playing it, and I'm glad I had the opportunity to go through it carefully with you all and finish it (as I am usually terrible about actually finishing games I start). At the same time, the graphics were sometimes beautiful and sometimes cringe-worthy, and the parser responsiveness was quite uneven. The story went from a tense chase through time to a leisurely stroll through time, culminating in an implausibly convoluted reason for it happening in the first place. Let's unpack these concerns in their individual categories.



Puzzles and Solvability

The puzzles in Timequest were generally well-balanced between challenging and sensible. There were several points where I had to pause and think about what made sense, but most puzzles were reasonably logical. A few problematic puzzles bring the score down a bit, such as the guess-the-verb problems with the loose floorboard, and the overly-obscure connection between the vizier and the guilty wife, which I bypassed through luck. If anything, some puzzles were almost too easy once I had the right item from another time period, but this is balanced by the open-ended nature of the game, with 49 time-space combinations available right from the beginning. Systematically going through every location was the best way to make sure I didn't miss anything. The worst issue was the puzzle with the key at the end, as there's no indication that a key is needed before entering Vettenmyer's lair, and nothing but an easily-missed subtle hint about where the key is before hearing Vettenmyer's rant, which is a dead end. Not having the right item before jumping into some of the missions also leads to dead ends, but those are much more avoidable.

Pacing! Although the score didn't keep pace with the missions, of course, given an endgame.

Having ten missions was a great way to pace the game and provide a sense of accomplishment. I also very much enjoyed the puzzle with the code hidden in the messages. I was actually disappointed that the time jumping at the end wasn't more involved, however. I didn't ever have to calculate when to jump in order to arrive at the right time, and the bit about the machine requiring five minutes to recharge never made a difference; I only had to follow the cues.

If you like this kind of time travel puzzle, though, you should really check out All Things Devours (2004) or Fifteen Minutes (2014). Both are intricate set-piece interactive fiction puzzles that require a lot of thinking to maneuver the PC through the time travel scenario correctly in order to avoid paradoxes and achieve the goal. Timequest has quite a bit more setup beforehand, but the endgame is less intricate, so the whole thing feels much more diffused (and also contrived, but that's a different issue).

Score: 6


Interface and Inventory

The Legend interface is one that's very familiar to me, so I didn't have any trouble using it. Since the game is fully playable with either keyboard or mouse, the interface is very flexible. I like to play in half screen mode to increase the amount of text visible without losing the illustrations. The only trouble with that is occasionally there are items in the area that are neither visible in the illustration nor mentioned in the description, so I had to check the list occasionally. I did have the occasional parser issue, and there was that one puzzle in the burial cave where I could sit and do nothing, unintentionally triggering the solution. Since there was apparently a MEDITATE command as well, there wasn't any need for a real-time response there.

I almost never used this layout. If I did, I might have liked to see inventory listed separately from other items in scope.

Inventory is only a textual list, interactive-fiction style. Some items are temporarily visible in the illustrations, so those items do have graphical representations. The game might have benefited from a full graphical list, but since the full interface does include inventory items in the list of items in scope, it's still possible to use the mouse to manipulate inventory if desired, although I never bothered.

Score: 6


Story and Setting

As a game, Timequest was a lot of fun to play, but as a story, it didn't hold together, especially once the full plot was revealed. I made some comments about this on the "Won!" posting last time. Vettenmyer is a completely incompetent villain, for one thing. But more than that, the main character has clearly been set up by someone else to take part in this ridiculously convoluted chase through time, as even Vettenmyer doesn't really know what's going on. Why did it have to be so complicated in the first place? The story leaves a lot of questions unanswered.

Vettenmyer's incompetent and crazy. How cliche is a Doomsday device, anyway?

Never mind that we've made our own mark on history in the process. Vettenmyer did a lot of damage, and we certainly had to prevent his changes from taking effect, but we didn't seamlessly reverse what Vettenmyer had done; we made a lot of changes along the way ourselves, from becoming the founder of a Buddhist temple, to saving the life of a Toltec sacrifice and a Middle Eastern girl, to sending a crown through thousands of years of history. Some of these things may well have had ripple effects though history as well. The game not only takes great liberties with historical details, but implies that only large historical changes are going to have any real effect. This is a disappointing and hypocritical outcome for a game that's supposedly about bringing to justice someone who meddled indiscriminately with time travel.

The game was set in six different places over nine different time periods, plus the future headquarters. The variety was interesting, but the result was ultimately rather shallow. A recurring theme of my commentary was how inaccurate the historical situations seemed to be. While many of these places incorporated real historical figures, they often did so in historically inaccurate ways. Clearly places and timelines were stretched in order to fit everything into the specific locations included in the game. As the very first scenario of the game, Rome in 44 BC felt the most vibrant, depicting throngs of people both in the main street and in the Colosseum. Everywhere else felt more deserted and empty, even in places that supposedly were full of people, like the Baghdad and Peking markets.

Score: 4


Sound and Graphics

I admit that I often play games without sound, especially older games that don't have voice-acting or sounds that are critical to gameplay. So while Timequest does have some background music, I can't comment too much on it as I completely forgot it was there for much of my playthrough. Later on, I had sound turned on for awhile and noticed the music, which based on what I heard was reasonably evocative. For instance, when I went to the Great Wall with the barbarian army, the music turned suitably ominous. It's probably not varied enough to avoid being repetitive, though, and it certainly wasn't necessary to play the game.

Graphics, unfortunately, are very uneven. This isn't a fully graphical adventure, so my expectations weren't too high. And while there are several beautifully drawn scenes, such as the glowing firecracker mask, many others were downright ugly. I don't know for sure, but I would guess that there were multiple artists that drew different sections of the game, because while much of Rome and Mexico and Dover were colorfully detailed, many Peking, Baghdad, and Cairo locations look much more crudely drawn, and flatter.

The flames surrounding the patriarchal face and the shock on Attila's face: masterful.

Compare that to the ugliest time period in the game, with bland colors and crude lines.

Peking especially, which looks nearly identical in every time, is depressingly dirt-colored.The game also took shortcuts by describing many encounters in a single turn so that they didn't have to make any graphics to show what happened. There were minimal animations, the best of which was that firecracker mask. A few others include the donkey eating the dates and the Olmec's spear, but hardly more than a few jerky frames of animation at a time. Most graphical changes are shifts between still images.

Score: 3


Environment and Atmosphere

Timequest had a lot of material to cover in a wide range of environments, but the way this was executed left most locations feeling very hollow. Rome was the best, with the most missions based there and therefore it had the most focus and polish. Over time, the city felt like it was becoming more modern. In the most ancient time, the city wasn't even there yet; only the Academy location had any relevance. In later times, the Colosseum was closed, with the emphasis on the cathedral. In modern times, the Palace was the focus, first with Napoleon, and then with Hitler. Even Dover had some visible changes, with the ancient inn looking more like a simple cottage, and the later inn looking more like a sturdy building with a chimney.

In contrast, Cairo and Baghdad both had four time periods with nothing but a message from Vettenmyer, so most of their locations looked nearly identical between time periods. Cairo showed some progress in the treatment of the pyramid, and Baghdad's focus shifted from Babylon to the city of Baghdad, which later built the Ishtar Gate. Even so, their locations were very repetitive. Peking wasn't any better, despite the fact that more things happened there. That's only partly because the graphics for those locations were so ugly, as mentioned above, but also because they were so repetitive. The Tientan Park graphic, for instance (shown above), is identical for every time period, from 1361 BC to 1940 AD; the only change is in 1215 AD, when the gates are closed to keep out the Mongols. Oddly enough, the gates are still shown as closed after the mission to open them is complete.

To balance this, the writers put some extra effort into its textual descriptions by trying to add historical context every time you go to a new time period. The main problem with that is just that its history isn't very accurate. This really killed the immersion because I was constantly wondering if the context made sense, or outright being annoyed that historical details were clearly wrong.

While there were dozens of locations to explore, many of them were identical to others, making them trivial to visit. I wondered early on if I had missed anything important in locations with messages from Vettenmyer, but I needn't have worried. Plus a lot of locations were very generically described, such as the city markets in Baghdad and Peking. Would it have been so hard to have different goods being sold in each time period, or something? The game probably could have offered half as many locations and still been coherent.

When someone throws a spear at you, you grab your stuff and run!

The game was constantly emphasizing the temporal aspect, which is a two-edged sword, really. On one hand, you have a limited amount of time before something irreversibly bad happens, but on the other, you're going back in time and have as much time as you need to fix things. Not to mention save games. There was really no sense of urgency. Yes, if I fiddled around too long in the critical time periods, I'd lose. There were a few points where I had to make the right move at the right time. Most of these were well-telegraphed, though.

The sense of making changes in the past to affect the future was great. A number of puzzles involved interactions between time periods, including saving the Vizier's sister, appearing in costume to the Olmec and Toltec, founding the Buddhist temple, planting the Catholic plaque in the bedroom, etc. Even the graphics were affected sometimes when I made changes. The best example of this was the way the drawings on the wall of the Mexican temple changed, even when I’d given the Toltec the wrong item.

Score: 4


Dialog and Acting

From a game standpoint, the text did everything it needed to in order to convey the necessary information to navigate and solve puzzles. The parser handled all the needed commands and then some. I didn't try very many extraneous commands, but I know there were quite a few extra responses programmed in solely for humor value. NPCs were very limited, though, having scripted responses mostly just to the required story actions.

The philosopher generally had something to say about other major characters from that timeframe, but little else elicited a response.

I managed to get a few extra responses out of Churchill and the philosopher, but mostly I didn't need to talk to people to get things done. (The interaction with Queen Elizabeth was done particularly well, though, requiring appropriate courtesy before she would respond at all.) It's really hard to make good NPCs in interactive fiction, though, so it's not surprising, with a game of this breadth, that the NPCs would be shallow. My role was generally reactive when it came to characters, although, like with Napoleon, I sometimes had to prod them into acting. This was generally done by showing items rather than talking, however.

Score: 5

That adds up to a final score of 6+6+4+3+4+5 = 28/60*100 = 47. Nine people made guesses ranging from 39 to 56 (Ilmari, you're an optimist!), but Laukku hit it exactly.

PISSED Rating: 47



CAP Distribution

100 points to Reiko
  • Blogger award - 100 CAPs - for blogging through this game for our enjoyment
60 points to TBD
  • Genre Lover Award - 10 CAPs - For mentioning two adventure game sales on GOG
  • Classic Blogger Award - 50 CAPs - for playing It Came From The Desert for our enjoyment
50 points to Kenny McCormick
  • Sinologist Award - 20 CAPs - For knowing the history of Peking and its historical names, details of Chinese dynasties, the history of Chinese money, and the traditional treatment of Chinese eunuchs
  • Historian Award - 10 CAPs - For describing the decline of the Aztecs due to smallpox
  • Headgear Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing why helmets would be strange to headdress-wearing Aztecs
  • Nitpicker Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out that Cairo and Baghdad had more interesting history than was shown
  • Genre Lover award - 5 CAPs - For mentioning the new King's Quest game
  • Wholehearted agreement award – 5 CAPs - for publicly and regularly sharing TBD's opinion that Cinemaware and the Amiga were better than most at the time
20 points to Ilmari
  • Having Fun Award - 5 CAPs - For listing a lot of fun commands recognized by the game
  • Caesar Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the history of the Roman Empire
  • Arabian Nights Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the history of Vizier Yahya
  • Plutarch Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing about Shakespeare's inspiration
15 points to Joe Pranevich
  • Caesar Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the history of the Roman Empire
  • Anthropologist Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing the difference between an Aztec and a Toltec
  • Genre Lover award - 5 CAPs - For mentioning the petition about Odd Gentlemen taking on Space Quest
15 points to Torch
  • Classic Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating of It Came From The Desert
  • Shawshank Redemption Rating Award - 5 CAPs - For checking old Amiga magazine reviews to suggest maybe It Came From the Desert's graphics and sound rating aren't in fact overinflated but well deserved
15 points to Laukku
  • Psychic Prediction Award - 10 CAPs - For guessing the final rating
  • Genre Lover Award - 5 CAPs - For mentioning new GOG releases
10 points to Rowan Lipkovits
  • Superhero League of Hoboken Award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out which other Legend game was designed by Meretzky
  • Kinder Bush Award - 5 CAPs - For recognising a reference to an American president
8 points to Aperama
  • Papal Humor Award - 3 CAPs - For coining up with "Kung Fu Pope" to describe Pope Sixtus
  • 2001: A Space Odyssey rating award - 5 CAPs - For pointing out that TBD may have overinflated the sound/graphics rating of the Amiga version of It Came From the Desert
5 points to Andy Panthro
  • Nitpicker Award - 5 CAPs - For knowing details of Napoleonic history
5 points to Dehumanizer
  • Sham psychic award - 5 CAPs - For suggesting that TBD go back and talk to the fortune teller more often to get a short scene where she is 'possessed' by the ants, a scene which TBD totally didn't see no matter how much he talked to Ida.
3 points to Fry
  • Puzzle Prediction Award - 3 CAPs - For guessing the puzzle mechanic of putting Vettenmyer's messages in order

That’s all for Timequest. I will be back in a few months to bring you Castle of Dr. Brain! (That one won’t take so many posts, I promise!)

15 comments:

  1. Great game! I am glad I did not play this one, but I enjoyed reading your look at it. I especially loved all the ways in which this game got time travel more "right" than Space Quest IV did, even though in so doing it dramatically munged history. Well, it's a start!

    I am *hoping* to get to play Sierra's "Time Zone" in the fall/winter. I am curious how it stacks up with this much newer cousin. And how many more years until we get to the "Journeyman Project" series? I enjoyed that as a kid as well... although I may only have played the second game.

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    1. My previous comment was intended to be a direct reply to this one, but I had one more thing to say anyway. Timequest may have been better about time travel than SQIV, but I think we'll find that the Journeyman Project games do even better, especially when it comes to interacting with locals.

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    2. SPOILER, Reiko! But you're right about the Journeyman Projects.

      In any case, I don't understand why TQ can't allow Vettenmyer be captured at a time BEFORE he has committed a crime.

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    3. What's a spoiler in what I said?

      Vettenmyer can't be captured before he committed a crime due to paradox.

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    4. Easy answer: Because this isn't Minority Report.

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  2. I loved the Journeyman Project games! I owned and played both the second and third ones (Buried in Time and Legacy of Time) as a kid, but not the original, which is coming up in the 1992 lineup. I did pick up the Pegasus Prime remake when it was released on GOG last year, but I haven't played very far in yet.

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  3. I seem to be always the optimist, so it was just to be expected! Great review with a full and detailed analysis. It's a pity that most of the game centers around European major events and the Asian, African and American locations are less developed. I guess it just shows the cultural heritage of the producers.

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    Replies
    1. Thanks! That's a good point, that the more polished locations were the European ones.

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  4. Oh yes, here are the current rankings for 1991 games:

    1. Space Quest 4 - 65 points
    2. Leisure Suit Larry 1 Remake - 60 points
    3. Space Quest 1 Remake - 58 points
    4. Timequest - 47 points
    5. Hugo II - 18 points

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    Replies
    1. And CAP distribution and leaderboard updated. Not much of new in the leaderboard, but Reiko is obviously rising in the ranks.

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    2. Slowly but surely I'm still gaining CAPs. I don't think I got any game by guessing the score? No? Thought so.

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    3. No, we haven't had any regular sponsors since the Trickster era.

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  5. I'd just like to share your commiserations for the art of 'score'. In a game that actually uses it, it's always painful to have scores that heavily inflate towards the very end of the game and always leaves me feeling a little irritated/unnerved (although I will admit that this wasn't true of Larry 2 or 3 with their ludicrous numbers and intentional swerves on what the score actually was).

    Still, a great roundup to what is almost certainly the best handled 'time travel' story up to this date.. which isn't saying much, as I feel that time travel is so awkward to handle. (Day of the Tentacle will blitz it, but Day of the Tentacle could probably blitz -anything-.)

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  6. Hey guys! Good news:

    Kem McNair, the artist behind Questprobe #1 and #3 (and I suspect #2 as well, though he's not credited), has agreed to do a mini-interview with us as part of the conclusion of the Questprobe series. There isn't really enough time to do a full question submission post, but if anyone has any questions they'd like to ask please reply here and I'll try to include them.

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    Replies
    1. Well, I guess the 1st question would definitely be:
      Are you the artist behind Questprobe #2? If yes, why aren't you credited? If yes, why are you doing it for #1 & #3 but skipped #2 (you hate Spiderman or something)?

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