Thursday 8 June 2017

Missed Classic 41: Lords of Time (1984) - Introduction

Written by Ilmari

When it comes to Missed Classics, it's obvious that Joe's huge formerly-just-Zork-and-now-probably-whole-of-Infocom-Marathon is the main attraction right now. Because Joe is currently doing another gig in the Main Game Division (Hook), it's time for another warm-up show with a game from the company known as the British Infocom, Level 9. Braze yourselves for Lords of Time.

Why exactly does Father Time carry a scythe?
A while ago Joe Pranevich was discussing about the moments when the original creators of Sierra and Infocom begun to use outside help for their games. I’ve finally reached the period, when this happened with Level 9. While all the games of Level 9 I’ve played thus far have been designed and programmed by the Austin brothers - Mike, Pete and Nick - their fifth adventure game, Lords of Time, was designed by Sue Gazzard. She was essentially a fan of Level 9, living the life of a bored housewife, and sent a suggestion of a new game to the brothers. After some changes and addition of few new puzzles, the brothers agreed to program Mrs. Gazzard’s brain child. It seems that after this attempt Sue Gazzard never returned to game design in any role.

While we are comparing the three early adventure game companies, we might consider also the themes in their early games. Sierra, Infocom and Level 9, all produced fantasy games quite early (Sierra with Wizard and Princess, Infocom with Zorks and Level 9 with their Middle Earth - trilogy), while scifi games followed somewhat later (Sierra’s Mission: Asteroid, Infocom’s Starcross and Suspended and Level 9’s Snowball). In addition, both Sierra and Infocom had produced mystery games (although one really cannot compare Mystery House with Deadline and Witness), while Level 9 never tackled this genre.

Now, Sierra did a time travel game (Time Zone) already in 1982. If we don’t count time travel elements in some Zork games, Infocom didn’t do a proper time travel game before Trinity in 1986. As the name suggests, Lords of Time is also a game about time travel. In fact, when I read from the manual that I was about to face evil Timelords, I had a pretty good hunch what TV show inspired Mrs. Gazzard.

Even my time machine looks like Master’s Tardis

The manual recounts a dream, in which whole history appears to have become chaos: dinosaurs live to the time of first humans, and good dragons fight in Middle Ages against evil knights. It is all the handwork of nine Timelords, who use human lives like pieces in a chessboard for their own nefarious purposes. To defeat them I should throw into a cauldron several items:
  • Olive branch
  • Dragon’s wing
  • Ivory tusk
  • Teardrop
  • Evil eye
  • Dinosaur egg
  • Jester’s cap
  • Silicon chip
  • Gold buckle
Before I’ll begin the game proper, a note about different versions of the game is in place. Originally, up to and including Lords of Time, all the adventure games of Level 9 lacked graphics. Later, when the first individual games in Level 9 history were collected into trilogies, pictures were added. To reflect this fact, I have played two versions of each game - BBC version as an all-text version, and a graphical version made for Spectrum. While the official score was based on the text-based version, the graphical version was used for getting interesting screenshots (the quality of the graphics makes it impossible to speak of pretty screenshots).

Now, while the first two trilogies (Jewels of Darkness and Silicon Dreams) were published in 1986, Lords of Time was included in its own trilogy (Time and Magik) in 1988. It might be for this reason that I didn’t find a graphical version of Lords and Time for Spectrum. After much pondering, I thought it was about time to upgrade the graphical version I’ll be playing. I didn’t want to make the jump to a different platform too noticeable, so I’ll still use a version made for an 8-bit computer, but this time I chose C-64, mainly because it is easy to emulate. While I continue through the works of Level 9, I’ll probably stick to that choice for couple of games.

It still looks incredible compared to the Spectrum version


I began the game, debugging a program that should be published by Level 9 (groan), when a blinding flash appeared. After this, I found myself in a living room, with a golden hourglass and a picture of an old man on a mantelpiece. When I touched the picture, the old man or Father Time came to life and essentially recapped my quest, which I had already found out from the manual. Examining the hourglass I saw that it was a valuable treasure and picking it up increased my score. So, in addition to the plot about Timelords, I am also supposed to collect valuable treasures? What a disappointment, I was hoping Level 9 was already past the treasure hunting phase.

Unlike in the Spectrum versions of Level 9 games I’ve played, C-64 version of Lords of Time has only one image for an area. Furthermore, there’s more text than in the original version

In the next room, I found a matchbox and a candle. The obvious point of these items was to produce light in dark places. The lifetime of the candle was limited, but I couldn’t just keep on shutting and turning it on, like lantern in Adventure or Zork, because I had only four matches to use.

The room contained also a large grandfather clock that I could board after winding it - this would be my time machine and also a place where I could store my stuff when I didn’t need it. Inside, I found a big pendulum and huge cogs numbered from 1 to 9 - I do hope these are going to follow some sensible pattern. By turning the cog number 1 I moved to another time and by pushing the pendulum I could open the door to the world outside time machine.

1) 1980s

Exiting the time machine I found myself at the end of a gravel drive.

Ah, the English countryside!

Touring the countryside, I found a few dead ends and roadworks, where I could snatch a grubby pick and two sturdy planks. With nothing else to do, I made my way to the delightful country cottage I was clearly supposed to investigate. Like so many mansions in adventure games, this one was desolate. I did manage to find plenty of things to steal:
  • Masai spear
  • Tin of catfood
  • Metronome
  • Jewellery case
  • Coil of hessian rope
  • Rucksack, which increased my capacity to carry things
  • Butterfly tin-opener, with which I could open the catfood tin
  • A petrol can
  • Looking-glass

Unless the protagonist is a pretty boy, we might have again a female hero

Having plundered the house, I proceeded to the garden. Among the flowers, I found some valerian. I also discovered a garden shed, but the keys were inside the shed and I couldn’t reach for them.

Climbing over the garden fence, I found myself on the east bank of a river, clogged with MacRonalds boxes. Beside the polluted stream I found a weeping willow with tears raining down from it. When I tried to examine the tears, the game told me just that I couldn’t see a diamond teardrop, which was one of the quest items I was supposed to find. A bit careless programming, I thought and continued interacting with the tree. I didn’t succeed in anything, but when I tried to hit the tree, the game told me I couldn’t see a sharp axe - more careless programming.

Although these unexpected revelations irked me, I got really annoyed when I noticed that the original game was really lacking in hints. The text version told me about valerian only that it is a magical herb - great news, but should I eat it, rub it on my chin or sacrifice it to gods? Now, the remake with graphics added the note that its stalk appeared ideal for waving. Great, I wouldn’t have guessed it otherwise! Waving valerian in front of the willow made the poor tree speak. Apparently it was so tired of living beside a polluted river that it wanted to get out of its misery. Now, where to get that axe?

Another place of utter stupidity - do I see the narcissus or not?

At the other side of the polluted river I could see a narcissus growing among weeds. The problem was just how to get to the opposite bank. I did have the planks. Individually they were too short, but tying them together did the trick.

When I tried to take the narcissus, it bent away and told me it was sad because it couldn’t see its own reflection in the dirty water. I naturally gave it my looking-glass, and the narcissus rewarded me with a lodestone. It was pretty obvious where to use this thing - I waved it in front of the garden shed and got the keys from inside. Now I could finally enter the shed, finding a sharp axe and a shovel. I used the axe to cut down the willow tree, which gifted me with a diamond teardrop.

One puzzle still remained. Beside the garden there was a compost heap, containing an old silver coin. When I tried to take the coin, something slapped it from my reach. When I ate a mushroom that I found in the same heap, I saw the person who had teased me - a tooth fairy. I found no way to get the coin from the fairy, so I decided to move to the next timezone.

2) Ice age

Unless I was mistaken and the first time zone was actually meant to be the age of fairy tales (with all the talking plants and tooth fairies), the numbers in my time machine didn’t appear to follow any historical progression. Here I was in an icy field that was slowly killing me to coldness. Mission number one was to find something to warm me.

With a quick search, I found a spot at the edge of the glacier with some dried wood and a mammoth that was blocking all exits. I tried to light the wood on fire with no luck, until it hit me - maybe petrol would help. After pouring the stuff all over the wood, burning became much easier. What I didn’t expect was the mammoth becoming so scared that it jumped out of its skin and ran away. A silly puzzle, but at least I now had mammoth skin to warm me and the ivory tusk, required for vanquishing the Timelords.

Since I hadn’t mapped the ice age completely, I walked up a mountain trail, stopping only to collect a meaty bone. At the end of the trail I found a cave guarded by a sabre-toothed tiger. I had brought no spear to guard me, so the tiger attacked.

The cave system looks a bit… maternal

After a reload, I was sure to take my Masai spear from my time machine, before approaching the cave. Tiger wouldn’t still let me in the cave, but it seemed hungry. Still, it didn’t want the meaty bone to chew. Instead, the kitten food satisfied it. Looking at the animal a bit closer now, I noticed that its cheek was in pain. I snapped a sore teeth out of the tiger, and it was happy enough to go away.

The first thing I found in the cave was an icicle, which was just out of reach. I spent a good while trying to figure out how to get it. I was convinced that it had something to do with spear, whether throwing it or using it to reach for the icicle. I was quite certain that I was on the right track and that I just had to find the correct phrase, and eventually I just looked at the official clue sheet for the game. To my surprise, the answer had nothing to do with the spear. Instead, I just had to shout and the icicle would loosen and fall to the ground.

The next thing I found in the cave was a silver fox, guarding yet another entrance. The meaty bone that the tiger didn’t want was just perfect for the fox. After the fox had gone, I saw that it had been guarding a wall of ice, which I shattered with a pick. My reward was a valuable candelabra.

Beyond the cave system, I found a frozen forest and a cold lake I couldn’t cross. This was again a slightly silly puzzle. I was juggling a bit with my inventory and dropped my icicle at this spot. To my surprise, the lake froze completely from this action, allowing me to reach the other side, where I discovered an intricate alpine garden and a miniature throne room with a solid cube of ice. Breaking the cube, I released a snow queen, who rewarded me with a sword.

Back to the future

Now that I had a tiger tooth, I had an idea that the tooth fairy might like it. Indeed, after a bit of haggling, he was willing to give me in exchange his silver coin and a firefly, which turned out to be a permanent light source.

Size does make a difference

It doesn’t pay to be too greedy

I think this suffices for the first post. I still have seven time zones to visit, but it is already clear that the scenes have very little to do with real history, because the producers are quite willing to mix in some fairy tale material.

Quest items found: diamond teardrop, ivory tusk
Other treasures looted: golden hourglass, metronome, jewellery case, candelabra
Other objects discovered: picture of an old man, matchbox, candle, ice pick, spear, tin-opener, valerian, lodestone, bunch of keys, sharp axe, shovel, mammoth skin, sword, silver coin, firefly

Session time: 5 hours
Total time  5 hours

Quick guide for Level 9 Games

Games already played on The Adventure Gamer:

  • Colossal Adventure (1983, PISSED-score 25): Almost a direct copy of original Adventure, with an extended end game
  • Adventure Quest (1983, PISSED- score 25): A sequel to Colossal Adventure, which is also supposed to continue the tale of Lord of the Rings by introducing yet another Dark Lord that is threatening Middle Earth; Tolkien would have loathed the game, because it mixes extraneous elements to his creation; it could have definitely been a smaller game
  • Dungeon Adventure (1983, PISSED-score 29): Final part of the "Middle-Earth -trilogy", although the connection to Tolkien's work is even more non-existent; a very traditional treasure hunt, but with occasional intricate puzzles
  • Snowball (1983, PISSED-score 31): A sleeper ship has been hijacked and about to crash into a star, unless an undercover agent can fix things; a game with an interesting background story and a female hero, but it has some lackluster puzzles and fails to keep a serious face throughout whole of the game

Games still to be played:
  • Return to Eden (1984)
  • Emerald Isle (1985)
  • Red Moon (1985)
  • The Worm in Paradise (1985)
  • The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13¾ (1985)
  • The Archers (1985)
  • The Saga of Erik the Viking (1985)
  • The Price of Magik (1986)
  • Knight Orc (1987)
  • The Growing Pains of Adrian Mole (1987)
  • Gnome Ranger (1987)
  • Lancelot (1988)
  • Ingrid's Back: Gnome Ranger 2 (1988)
  • Scapeghost (1989)
Compiled trilogies: 
  • Jewels of Darkness (1986): Colossal Adventure, Adventure Quest and Dungeon Adventure (all the Tolkien references have been removed)
  • Silicon Dreams (1986): Snowball, Return to Eden and The Worm in Paradise
  • Time and Magik (1988): Lords of Time, Red Moon and The Price of Magik


  1. To answer the first caption: Father Time carries a scythe because of confusion/conflation between Chronos, the personification of time, and Cronus the Titan, whose signature scythe was useful both for celebrating the harvest and for castrating his father Uranus. See and

    1. Interesting, I've usually associated Cronus/Chronos with a sickle rather than scythe, which in my mind is more connected with the Grim Reaper (and castration with a sickle makes a whole lot more sense than castration with a scythe). But I guess these things got conflated over the millennia.

  2. There does appear to be deliberate Doctor Who homages here... or is it more than that? I can't quite tell but from the title and some of the art, I wonder if someone didn't get close to a BBC license. The first Doctor Who text adventure (a game I very much want to play) was released in 1985 by BBC Software ("Doctor Who and the Warlord").

    "Time Zone" is another that I want to play, if I can ever get out of Infocom and back into Sierra games... which will be a long time, I suspect. I've heard it isn't that good but I'm fascinated by the scope that Roberta Williams was aiming for.

    For the record, I had no idea there was time travel in "Trinity"; all the more reason I'm going to want to get to that point in the marathon. The time travel puzzle in Zork III was one of my favorites (and there's a puzzle in Enchanter that SEEMS to involve time travel, but I'm not sure). I have started in on Enchanter so we should be able to launch that as soon as "Hook" is done.

    1. Level 9 was by now famous for breaking the copyright (they had already sold the original Advnture as their own invention and abused Tolkien's Middle Earth with no permission), so I would guess that they were just going to make a Doctor Who -game, no matter what, but got scared that BBC might actually sue them.

  3. This seems like a frustrating game with silly puzzles that (at least so far) completely squanders the premise of a time travelling game, which to my mind is doing it wrong unless it allows your actions in one time to change the future in another (a la Day of the Tentacle).

    Are we guessing scores? I guess 38.

  4. 32 for me. I don't feel extremely confident about this one...

  5. Played this one heaps, and some other Level 9 titles. Too young to get them finished in a time before walkthroughs. Enjoyed them though before we knew any better. 36 points.

    1. I feel that Level 9 games are first and foremost technical feats, as they managed to pack a huge amount of rooms and puzzles into a cassette. Unfortunately, the limits of the 8-bit hardware make the seams show quite often - the puzzles are often too crude and rooms a bit too empty. Still, I guess they were state of the art in the UK adventure game market of early 80s.

  6. What were the other ones, Red moon rising and...?

    1. You mean other Level 9 games or parts of the Time and Magik -trilogy? Well, I just compiled a short list of Level 9 games played on this blog, those still to be blogged and the three trilogies (you can see it at the end of the post). Hope you find your answer there!

  7. Yay, Level 9 again! :)

    Some info: by the time Level 9 released the Time & Magik trilogy, they were including graphics on disk versions only, so if you want to see how they look on a Spectrum, just download and run the disk version, say, from World of Spectrum. It's basically the same as the C64 version shown here, including all the improved text, RAM SAVE/RESTORE, UNDO, etc., but the pictures are dithered into monochrome (and, frankly, don't look that great). The font is also the default Spectrum one, which is worse than the C64's.

    For the absolute best version (not hugely different from the C64 one seen here, though), I've extracted from a disk image the files from Amiga version to this .zip, which you can then extract and play in the Level 9 interpreter (just open gamedat1.dat with it). :)

    1. Hmm, that last link was invalid (missed the http:// part). Try this one: Time and Magik (Amiga).

    2. Thanks for again providing more information about the different versions of Level 9 games. Your help has been invaluable!

    3. Thanks! I sometimes wonder if I'm being annoying, as most people don't find comparing different versions of a game as fascinating as I do. :)

  8. Getting out of my normal viewing to comment on that one (I'm still in 2013 posts, but catching up), as it is probably the first adventure game I remember finishing, though I have been exposed to a few others at friends' PCs. I did not have a PC at home so I didn't have much choice. I distinctly remember an annoying labyrinth in the forest, but not much more. Looking forward to reading this series of posts in 6 months when I catch up.

    1. Well, this was supposed to go to the legend of Kyrandia post...

    2. Welcome to the blog! Nice to know we still get new people interested of the blog.

      I was a bit surprised to find out yet another person who would have played the game (and in an amazing coincidence, this one does also have an annoying forest maze), but Kyrandia makes much more sense.

    3. Good to find you and nice to see the blog still going strong after all those years. I promise to sacrifice more of my evenings to catch up faster so I can become a more active member of the community.

  9. I'm feeling optimistic for some reason. 44!

  10. A note about Sue Gazzard... She did submit another design for a game to Level 9, but it was ultimately not used. She was also working on a text adventure project with Roy Carnell (Wrath of Magra) for Mastertronic at one point; again, this doesn't seem to have ever been released.

    1. Thanks for the info! May I ask what are your sources?