In 1991, Legend Entertainment was still just starting out after having tackled higher-education hijinks with Steve Meretzky’s Spellcasting series which kicked things off in the previous year. Their specialty? Adventure games! The kind that used a parser for commands like OPEN DOOR or TURN RADIO ON.
The Spellcasting series were what you might consider Hogwarts Gone Wild with their risque humor, but you couldn’t fault them for being tough puzzlers at the same time. More importantly, their design would go on to define Legend’s particular style which blended amazing graphics with a clever approach to the parser-powered user interface. It was innovative stuff at the time in providing a nice compass, a list of commands on the side along with everything you could interact with at your present location, and a split screen of text and visuals complimenting each other.
And Legend didn’t always stick to college pranks to carry them, either. They’d soon dip into a decidedly more serious game with Timequest in 1991 courtesy of another Infocom alum, Bob Bates.
Timequest is hard stuff, the kind that hearkens back to Infocom’s pure text days. Just because it sported an improved interface to help string commands together, or gave you a convenient listing of everything in a room, didn’t mean that the puzzles were any easier. Legend was one of the few in those days who still believed in providing tough, brain teasers to their audience while telling great stories.
The game came in a nice, big cardboard box but like many in those days, it also came with a lot of extras. A troubleshooting card was included to help fix your time machine depending on what error codes it spit out (copy protection) and two manuals were provided – one for getting around the game and describing Legend’s interface, and another that dives into the historical periods you’ll be fixing. The history briefing manual, in particular, was really well made to make it feel like a top-secret document complete with pics and a properly formal typeface on everything.
Because it seems that in the future, time travel has become real and the Temporal Corps were established to control the science in the early 21st century. Using it to peer into future events, they use what they learn to avoid catastrophic events like technologically advanced oracles. Now it seems that one of their number, a Lieutenant Vettenmeyer, has used his “interkron” to break the Time Travel Code and go BACK in time to alter events that will eventually lead to the destruction of our world. It’s up to you as a private in the Corps to pursue what clues have been left behind and stop Vettenmeyer before things go to pot in a hurry.
In order to be a game, it does ignore a few things like paradoxes or instantaneous changes rippling into the present to keep the fiction glued together. Or the fact that they picked a private to handle a danger like this. Outside of that, it’s really good stuff and even a little educational. The events you’ll end up fixing are based on actual history with a few liberties taken to turn them into snippets of puzzling fun.
For example, one mission involves convincing Hitler and Mussolini that Churchill has thrown in the towel in 1940 right before the miracle of Dunkirk allowed the BEF to escape France because Hitler had ordered a delay in pursuing them. Thanks to Vettenmeyer, he’s done something that convinces Hitler to order his forces in, annihilating them instead and crippling England.
Another mission has you trying to restore the myth of Quetzalcoatl among the Aztecs in 1519 AD in order to make it seem that Cortez is the fulfillment of the prophecy. Again, Vettenmeyer has interfered with it somehow to make it seem that the Aztecs had nothing to fear and end up wiping out Cortez while going on to dominate the New World instead.
Others offer up fascinating possibilities such as preventing a premature assassination of Caesar, convincing the Mongols to abandon their siege of Peking and turn west into Europe instead, or guaranteeing that Charlemagne is crowned to help lead Europe from the Dark Ages. For “what-if” fans, this is entertaining sci-fi as long as they don’t mind how tough it can be. Some puzzles are self-contained, others will require quite a bit of creative hopping around its open-ended timeline to get things done.
Time travel would go on to be a popular topic in other games from Presto Studios’ Journeyman Project series which started in the same year, 1992, to Lucasarts’ own Day of the Tentacle in ’93. Yet Timequest would stretch and push at that envelope with its multi-temporal puzzles, its often brutal difficulty curve, and expansive fiction.
It also stands out as part of a dying breed of parser-based adventure games as they made way for more graphically intense titles such as those from Sierra On-Line’s and Lucasarts which tried to bridge the gap between players and what was on the screen with their own radical approaches to interactivity. Even Legend saw which way the wind was blowing by making it possible in a game like Timequest to just click together the commands you wanted from the lists on the side of the screen without typing anything, an innovation just inches away from tossing away the parser entirely. You could even click on the screen showing the scene to do things like examine what was there.
As it is, Timequest is still a great classic, sci-fi adventure that has actually aged well as a title lurking a few years before the end of the golden age of its genre. The ad below cuts straight to the chase with what you’ll need to do and if you don’t mind gritty, mind bending puzzles in a relatively open world, is worth a shot.
Unfortunately, it’s not for sale anywhere anymore other than on Ebay and you’ll need something like DOSbox to emulate it. You might also need a 3.5″ drive, or like the copy I had awhile back, a 5.25″. It does exist in that shady world of “abandonware” though without the documentation needed to actually help play it which you may have to do a little dumpster diving via the ‘net to get the pieces together. For a game that was once lauded in 1991, time didn’t need Vettenmeyer’s help for the world to leave it behind.