POWERFUL PULL OF THE EVIL TIMELORDS
Quentin Heath finds that classic text-only adventures can still hold their own.
SOME PEOPLE may wonder where the good old text-only adventure games, such as those from Artic Computing, have gone. The advance of graphics and animated adventures, as explored in Mind Games in February, seem to have overshadowed this type of game.
Melbourne House started the move towards this type of game with The Hobbit last year and since then it has continued with the serious, from companies such as Digital Fantasia and Carnell, to the silly, from Automata with its Pi-man and Uncle Groucho.
Most of those graphics adventures are entertaining and worth the money but the textual adventure still holds a formidable place in the market. That is because, with graphics excluded, there is more memory with which to produce complicated plots. Having no graphics facilities also makes the author concentrate on conveying the atmosphere of an adventure to the player and using psychological tricks to beguile the unwary adventurer.
A good example of the state of the art in textual adventures is Lords of Time, the first part of a saga of the same name, from Level Nine Computing. It also shows what can be achieved by somebody who has been designing computer games for only a few months.
Lords of Time, for the 48K Spectrum, is about a band of evil Timelords, with no connection with Dr Who, who want to warp the course of Earth's history. To defeat their evil aims the player must travel through time to collect nine objects which will, if used correctly, restore the flow of time to its correct path.
You will receive your mission instructions from Father Time, if you can discover his whereabouts. Finding him is a matter of elimination, as he will convey his message to you through the only item which has nothing to do with time, or is timeless. It might help you to look upon him as a figure such as Dorian Gray, or Alice.
It is a good idea to pick up any objects you may find during your quest. At first you may have difficulty collecting all the items you need, as you can carry only a few items in your hands at one time. A pack on your back might help but you will soon realise that you need to act like a magpie and find a nest into which you can put the objects until you need them. The pack will not count as an object and you should find it at the end of a country lane.
Unlike the unfortunate Dr Who, you will have some control over your time machine.
The author provides you with nine cogs which make up a wheel of time. If you can learn to control them you should be able to land in any of the nine time zones you desire. It is, however, best to start in time zone one as you will find objects and tests which will be important when you reach the higher time zones.
It would be useful to make a map but, because of the complexity of the game, it is better to produce a plan for each time zone, together with a page of notes for each of those subsections of the adventure than to try to produce one overall plan. Some kind of plan is needed if you are to take this adventure seriously, as each time zone is like a mini adventure in its own right.
One of the most intriguing and helpful aspects is that you can learn by your mistakes better than in most other adventures with which I have dealt in this column. It is helpful to be killed by the giant Mammoth or Allosaurus in the pre-historic time period, as it will show you how to react, and what is expected in the way of weapons the next time you encounter either of those fearsome beasts.
I will endeavour to give some more clues to the solution of this mystery in Hints and Tips but it would take several months to give clues to them all.
The complexity of the plot is achieved partly by the data compilation and compression techniques used by Level Nine Computing in programming its games. That means that, to some extent, the bounds of memory availability become less important as data is squeezed into the memory available. Measuring information in the number of bytes or kilobytes it could, for instance, be possible to store 60K of data in only 40K, which is all you would have on a 48K Spectrum.
It is difficult to chart progress but as a general hint the timescape is structured so that you start when the earth was young, in the Ice Age, continue through Roman and Viking times, go through mediaeval and Tudor history and arrive in the present in a fairly battered state. The adventure does not finish in the present, however, as you will have to visit the near and far future to battle the Lords of Time.
If you know something about ancient history or archaeology you may be able to find your way round the adventure better than the player who knows little of house design during the Roman occupation of Britain.
The designer of both the plot and scenarios spent many months researching the finer points of scenic description with reference to such locations as Roman villages. The research was so deep that many of the locations are from descriptions of real places. The descriptions are so powerful in some cases that you can picture the locations without difficulty.
Level Nine Computing is one of the only companies I know which provides a back-up service for its adventurers. If you have difficulty with any part of the adventure you can send for a clue, using an envelope which has Fly back with a clue printed on it.
Level Nine is at 229, Hughenden Road, High Wycombe, Bucks HP13 5PG.
HINTS AND TIPS
A little cog will makeThe wheel go around.The rubbish beneath theThatch is not what it seems.If you go too far and turn aboutA mammoth task you will find out.Cavemen wall killMore out of fright than hate.