Tuesday, 20 June 2017

Missed Classic: Lords of Time - Won! (With Final Rating)

Written by Ilmari

7) Scifi zone

It’s a pity that this time zone has just a picture of my time machine

I ended my last post by complaining how repetitive the time zones had become and by wishing that something new would appear in the last three time zones. The seventh time zone taught me that I should stop wishing for things, since in worst case my wishes could come true.
At first, the zone seemed quite normal. Moving to one direction I reached a spaceship, which required some authorisation, before letting me in. Moving to another direction I found a crater, and when I tried to go down in it, I fell and died. Two straightforward puzzles to solve.

Things got a bit weirder, when I found Intergalactic bureau-de-exchange, with a galactic groat guarded by an android. When I tried to take the groat, I was electrocuted. What’s a groat, you ask? Well, checking Wikipedia, groat could be a kernel of grain, but it is also a traditional name for an old English silver coin. I already had another silver coin in my possession, so I just gave it to the android, who exchanged it with the groat. Somewhat unusual, but still relatively normal.

Then I found myself at the foot of the Milky Way. Yes, I could climb the Milky Way. Well, not all the way, because most of the Milky Way was still under construction and would crush under my weight (yes, this is seriously what the game told me). Still, in the part of the Milky Way I could access, I found a fallen star. I of course couldn’t just put my hands on it, since this star was blazing hot (stars tend to be). I was clearly meant to take the star, since it was labeled as a valuable treasure. I eventually had to read a hint and I wasn’t really surprised I couldn’t figure out this problem. Apparently medieval gauntlets were made of so tough material that it would withstand the great heat emitted by the star. It was still hot and I couldn’t drop it anywhere, but I could go around carrying it.

A real star in my hands, the AI of the spaceship thought that I was a special person and let me in. The first thing I found in the ship was a swimming pool, and not just any old swimming pool, but a space swimming pool. When I got in the pool, the star hissed and cooled down, so that I could put it down.

In addition to the pool, I also found in the ship a valuable emerald, grapple-firing rocket and an old mattress. Since this section had been quite realistic so far, I had a great idea. I jumped again down the crater, and indeed, the mattress softened my fall.

Here I was down in the crater, which was actually inhabited - or had been inhabited, but no one was present at the moment. I did manage to find a lightsaber and a valuable phial, which I could never drop, because it was too fragile and would shatter if handled carelessly. The problem was how to get out of the crater. Well, one room was explicitly described as having no roof. I just fired the grapple rocket and lifted myself up.

The new area I had discovered was closed off from the rest of the scifi zone, but I managed to find a backdoor to the time machine. Before entering it, I explored the area and found, firstly, a curved ruby, which acted as a lens, and an arena, which I could enter, if I payed one groat. Inside the arena I found a fencing hall, guarded by a ferocious cyberman (more shades of Doctor Who), which I could easily slice with my lightsaber (ok, there’s also a Star Wars reference).

In 1980s, cyberman would look like this

Cyberman had guarded a robot repair shop, where I found a delicate screwdriver. By using the ruby as a lense, I could open the remains of the cyberman with the screwdriver. Inside, I found a 68006 silicon chip, which I needed for my battle against the Timelords.

8) Roman empire

Unless I am now on planet 892-IV, the order of the time zones has
definitely nothing to do with the order of historical events
One thing I really have to congratulate here is the care put to this time zone. I mean, not many games would use such terms like caldarium and hypocaust. Even if hypocaust is just another game lengthening maze, at least its presence in the game shows the authors’ wish to make things as authentic as possible.

But now I am getting ahead of myself, since hypocaust and the maze in it were the final obstacle I encountered in the Roman times - I had to lift a grate in hot baths, fill my drinking horn with water and take a sip just at the right moment, while I was trying to get through the hot and steamy hypocaust and find the backdoor to my time machine.

Before I got to this point, I had to search the Roman setting and discover many other things:
  • Arena, which I couldn’t open myself
  • Temple, where I tried to pray on an altar, but the local divinity found this too disrespectful. This was another point where I had to take a hint - I should have knelt before paying. When proper respect had been shown, Mercury gave me winged sandals.
  • Barracks, which contained a trident and a net.
  • Forum, with lot of shops, which were only decoration, and a deserted treasury, which had the golden buckle I needed for completing this game.When I tried to grab the buckle, a gladiator stole it and ran to the arena.
After the theft of the buckle, the arena was open and I could enter it. The gladiator was there, but also a lion that was approaching me. I threw my trident at it, and the game told me that the trident pinned the net in place, holding lion securely. But I hadn’t done anything with my net! Perplexed, I restored and tried throwing the net first. It entangled the lion, and now throwing the trident at the lion produced the exact same answer as before - just another case of careless programming.

Although the lion was not anymore a problem, I still couldn’t just take the buckle from the gladiator, because he was too quick for me. The solution was to wear the winged sandals, which apparently gave me superspeed, and then it was easy to overtake the thieving gladiator. So much for Roman era.

9) The lair of the Timelords

 So is this Gallifrey?

The almost paradisaical starting screen of the end game was closed off from the rest of the Timelord realm by an archway. The arch said that everyone entering through it should abandon all their hope (readers of Dante might recognise this statement). Well, I did have that milestone from the village of Hope, so I tried dropping it. This opened up the archway. Father Time appeared also and said I was about to witness what the future would be like, if I didn’t stop the Timelords.

Future that shouldn’t be

The first thing I found was yet another maze, where almost all rooms were described as being a dead end. I managed to find half buried in the ground a bottle of poison, which I could dig up. If I happened to drop the bottle anywhere, it would shatter.

Pretty plain laboratory

I also found a laboratory, in which animals and human beings were kept locked in cages. I released them, and the humans rewarded me with the final ingredient of the Timelord banishment potion - evil eye in a box. I am not sure, if it was because I carried the evil eye, but around this time I noticed that I could be killed by some random event, like suddenly appearing scorpion or lightning bolt, if I stayed in one place too long.

Finally, I found a room with strange plants, one of which grabbed me, if I tried to leave the room. I could only go within the plant, where its digestive juices were trying to change me into dust. Fortunately, I had that bottle of poison, which I could just smash on the plant, incapacitating it completely.

Beyond the plant, I found a tunnel leading to a stairway. On top of the stairs I found an invisibility inducing cloak. I put it on, before climbing to a place, under the table where the Timelords were scheming.

So close…

I moved up, behind the Timelords, and then east, to the Mists of Time, where I found the cauldron, in which I was supposed to throw the nine items required for vanquishing Timelords. Then I just did that and the game was over!

Sorry Fry, there wasn't any meaningful use for the quest items

Session time: 3 hours
Total time: 15 hours


Puzzles and Solvability

In an interview of Austin brothers by Page 6 magazine, from the year 1988 I found a great quote:

They have always gone all out for the entertainment and they don’t really put enough puzzles in them. [...] Their games do tend to lack good puzzles but they have extremely good text. Their text is probably unrivalled. The problem has always been though that for a game that has in the past been £30 or £40 which you can finish in one day you wonder if it is really worth it.

The Austins are, of course, speaking of the worst rival of Level 9, Infocom. The passage shows very vividly the difference between the two companies. For Infocom, puzzles became more and more something that served the story of the game. If that meant the puzzles were too easy to solve, so be it.

Level 9, on the other hand, used puzzles mainly to make the gaming experience itself longer. Often this involved making bad puzzles, like pointless mazes or problems requiring you to read the developer’s mind. I am not really convinced by their rhetoric of getting your money’s worth. I mean, if you are duped to pay an outrageous sum for a pint of Foster’s, it won’t really make you happier if you’ll have to drink it slowly instead of taking it all down in one gulp.

Lords of Time is just a perfect example of this strategy of making a game longer. Mazes abound, and no proper clues for certain puzzles were ever given (waving valerian, freezing lake with an icicle and saying Eureka to open a locked door, just to indicate few of these puzzles). The graphical remake at least fixed a portion of the latter problem by giving some badly needed hints, although it was also far from perfect.

Score: 2 (3 for graphical remake)

Interface and Inventory

I don’t know if it was the speed in which Level 9 was producing these games, but parser feels a lot more rushed in Lords of Time than in some of their previous games. The game occasionally revealed beforehand what the crucial items were for performing an action, while at other times it failed to acknowledge items I could see in the room description - even if I could interact with them in other rooms. Add to that the fact that a large portion of the inventory items consisted of mere treasures and that Level 9 still likes to infuriate their players with an inventory limit and you can understand why I won’t be giving a great score for this category.

Score: 2 (3 for graphical remake)

Story and Setting

Although Lords of Time had a rudimentary plot - and it really is rudimentary, since we don’t even learn, what the Timelords are plotting - the game is basically nothing but a slightly modified treasure hunt, where you are not taking your trophies to your personal vault, but to a magic cauldron. We don't even learn how the items we've collected defeat the Timelords!

The feel of a treasure hunt is heightened by the optional goodies, which exist probably just to give the game more replayability value. In fact, it is a bit odd that the protagonist has time to procure valuable historical items while trying to fix the fabric of time - and even odder that Father Time has nothing to say about it. All in all, the plot is nothing but a muddle.

Score: 3

Sounds and Graphics

This will be the last time, when the original version of a Level 9 game had no graphics, so this should be last official zero for this category. The graphical version I played looked definitely better than the earlier Level 9 games, although there were only a handful of pictures.

Score: 0 (3 for graphical version)

Environment and Atmosphere

The producers had to choose nine periods of human history and this is what they came up with? Many of the time zones were too similar to each other, like the Ice Age and the Stone Age. Or take the two Middle Ages: the official clue sheet names the other one Tudorian Age, but there was nothing distinctively Tudorian in the whole setting.

Even more frustrating was that like in a bad scifi series, you often saw nothing else of a time zone, but a meandering cave system. This was most evident in the "Viking" Era, which was sorely lacking in vikings (I really won't count that magically appearing bunch looking for Pirate Pete). But even the most detailed time zone, which appeared to have some real background research behind it - the Roman Empire - had a huge maze eating up most of the rooms.

The other side to the relative blandness of the time zones was the trademark Level 9 style of mixing disparate story elements together - in addition to Whovian bits, like Timelords and Cybermen, I met various fairy tale characters, all sorts of weird magic and even Roman gods. The worst example of this tendency was the future era with its climbable Milky Way. The overall result felt like an attempt to enliven a grey-on-grey patchwork quilt with some glaring neon colours.

Score: 3

Dialogue and Acting

The previous Level 9 games had some glimmers of light hidden in an otherwise unmemorable prose - humorous lines, almost poetic passages and interesting characters. In the original version, I found nothing of this sort, but the graphical remake added some rather nice flavour text.

Score 3 (in graphical version 4)

(2+2+3+0+3+3)/.0.6 = 22. I still want to add some bonus points. I liked the hints that the protagonist might be a female, I respected the obvious care put to the Roman period and I also appreciated the environmental message of the first time zone. All in all, I am willing to give the game two bonus points, which makes the total 24 (for graphical version 33), making this the worst Level 9 game played thus far. I am actually quite satisfied with the score. The basic flaw of Lords of Time is its repetetiveness - same old bland cliches are recycled over and over again. I really hope I won’t face another maze for a long time.

I see that although many of you tried to guess low scores for this game, all of you were still way too high. Thus, the award goes to the closet guesser, Alfred n' the Fettuc. Just like with all previous Missed Classics, this and other CAP awards will be given in a Final Rating of a suitable main list game.