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About the Story
A peculiar game of wordplay and paradox, kind of like Nord and Bert crossed with Trinity under the direction of Douglas Hofstadter. The setting is a surreal land, dominated by a black obelisk that houses Count Zero's machinery of oppression. You must to put an end to his schemes through time travel. Many of the puzzles are more associative than logical, and in many cases rely on literary allusion. Lots of freedom, lots of good puzzles, one novel but mappable maze, a T. S. Eliot scene, a couple of drug references, and an approximate average of three or four puns per sentence (which, oddly, enhances the atmosphere). An irritating beep fanfare plays when your score increases. Allegedly, it can be disabled by the SOUND command, which, on my system, simply causes the program to break.
Notable nonstandard features include the commands "WHERE", which tells you the last location whre you saw an object or character, and "FIND", which puts you on autopilot bound for that location. These commands are not available from the beginning, but must be activated within the plot of the game. Normally, I would frown on such confusion of form and content, but it actually fits the self-referential tone of the work.
-- Carl Muckenhoupt
T-Zero is an anomaly of IF. Released in 1991, after the heady Infocom days but before Inform and the renaissance of IF, T-Zero is a surprisingly modern game. Dennis Cunningham's puzzle-based work evokes a rich atmosphere in a land familiar and yet unknown. (Neil Yorke-Smith)
The plot goes from the mundane, to the prehistoric, to an Orwellian nightmare with landscapes that are as evocative as So Far's surreal worlds but held together more succinctly, with the common thread of slightly familiar settings that change notably over different time periods. (Francesco Bova)
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The standard of writing is exquisite and the author has a turn of phrase which many text adventure writers would kill for. For example; if you try to cross the river in the wrong place you don't just get wet feet or drown or, worse, simply get the response, "You can't do that!" What does Cunningham come up with? "The rushing river runs in that direction, uncrossable, a rubicon of dreams." And, to describe a flock of terns flying above your head, how about, "They tirelessly twirl in a circular swirl."? Marvellous!
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Number of Reviews: 4
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Mixing references to pop culture ("goo goo gjoob"), classic literature and adding a time-travel element on top of it all, T-Zero is a very difficult work of IF to classify. It's about what you might expect to get if you were to combine a well-schooled English teacher, a mad scientist, and a professional comedian.
The puzzles in T-Zero shine like polished gems - which is a good thing as they are the mainstay of the game. "Nord and Bert" aficionados will have a definite head-start over other players, as will serious bookworms and those who paid attention in their English classes.
Nuttiness aside, the game can also be great 'serious fun' for the thinking man (or woman) with the occasional action sequence to spruce things up. Waiting patiently for the right time to come at certain places will bring great rewards...as will outrunning a giant boulder Indiana Jones-style.
From the ingenious use of certain mirrors to navigating the fiendishly nasty topiary maze (which took me over a year to beat), this game is anything but a zero!
I started going through my wishlist on IFDB, and this game has been on their longer than any other, because it was so intimidating I put it off. I ended up playing the ifarchive version, which uses local browser storage for saves.
I played for a while, using in-game hints and getting < 20 points out of 365, then used a walkthrough and maps from several different sites, including CASA. Even then, it was difficult to follow and required solving some puzzles independently.
If you had to play just one IF game for a very long time and didn't have access to any other, but could talk to other people, this would be a great game, because it's designed for long-term group play.
Many factors make it large. First, it has a giant map with many diagonal connections and cycles in the graph structure, and doesn't list exits automatically (unless I missed a command to turn that on; I just used the EXITS command), and this giant map exists in multiple time periods at once.
Second, many of the puzzles rely on pun-based commands, requiring a leap of intuition that can't be solved with just brute force.
Third, and perhaps most importantly, many actions have long-delayed consequences, and many items are used in scenarios quite different from the ones they're found in.
None of these are bad game-design wise, but they mean that you will spend a great deal of time on this game in order to experience its content, while many current IF games are designed to be completed in one or two sessions with little 'friction', due to the multitude of competing games and other reasons.
The plotline is buried at first but becomes stronger and stronger, especially once time travel is allowed. If the author created the first areas first, it would explain why the game starts with a mishmash of silly things (including a tortoise and a hare on a Moebius strip a suspension bridge that suspends you). Later areas have strong thematic consistency, especially the future world. There are a few other threads of plot that weave through the game consistently, like the use of opiates to expand the mind and a meteorite that makes several appearances.
The game isn't mean; it increases difficulty in generally fair ways. Hints are provided in most rooms, and a helpful friend gives you more and more commands over time that help out in a meta way (I loved FIND [ITEM] because it moves you to that room, enabling fast travel).
This would be a great game for a let's play or other group-based activity, since finding the right phrasing is good.
I don't think I'll play it again, because I just struggle with its style of expansiveness, but I enjoyed my time with it and think many others would as well.
[A short bespectacled man runs into the printing press hall. He's frantically waving a crumpled piece of yellowish paper above his head, the static electricity making his hair stand on end.]
-"Where's the boss? Where is the one responsible for reviews? Or better, where is the one who writes all those "Top 100"-lists and those "Best 50"-articles and the Recommended-pages? I need to talk to the one in charge!"
[The boy at the huge black press-machine, his hand still on the big red STOP-button, lifts his cap and scratches his head.]
-"Well sir, I don't know of any boss of the top-lists. I doubt there is such a person. It's all rather more the work of the IF-community as a whole."
-"Now, now, youngun! No need for such foul language! So, I.F. Community, eh? Never heard of him. Or her, for that matter. Strange name, if you ask me.
I suspect Mr. or Mrs. Community is not here? Of course not. Well, you'll have to do. Get your leadtype out, boy, I'll dictate the article. And you make sure this gets on the front page of this Text-Game-gazette or whatever it is you're running here!"
[The boy opens his mouth, trying to clear up the misunderstanding, but the bespectacled man already charges ahead, reading loudly from his crumpled paper.]
T-Zero; A text-adventure for the ages!
A young man wakes up in the dry leaves of the forest floor. Former Librarian and Custodian of the Museum, Count Zero has dismissed him of his duties. He had been snooping around in the vicinity of the restricted areas a little too much lately.
Our protagonist is certain he is on to something however, and he will not give up before he has got to the bottom of it. That his curiosity will lead him through the boundaries of time, he did not expect. Still, courageously he presses onward, determined to set things right.
--"They tirelessly twirl in a circular swirl."--
The writing in T-Zero is exquisite. Poetic, evocative, engaging, the descriptions of locations and actions give the game a rhythm that takes the player from the real and concrete to the dream-like and back without breaking the continuity of the story.
Good writing is indeed of the utmost importance to do justice to this quite intricate story. After the initial exploration of the Museum and its surroundings in the Present, the protagonist gains the means and the knowledge to travel to Past and Future to tweak the outcome of events just so to gain victory over Count Zero's plan to enslave humanity. This involves fiddling with the state of the Past to gain access to puzzle solutions in the Present, which in turn set up the Future for your chance of besting Count Zero, the Time Smith.
To keep up the flow of this excellent writing, the author has opted to leave the exits out of the room description. Instead there is an EXITS-command that will drily list available directions. This command does not take a turn, and I did not mind reflexively typing it as I was mapping the game-area.
The map plays a huge part in the enjoyment of the atmosphere of this game. It is big and readily accessible, except for some well-planned bottlenecks with puzzle-locks to help with the story's pacing and to prevent the story from becoming incomprehensibly befuddling.
Many locations will seem inert at first, having no apparent interactive content or even purpose apart form being an expendable room. Most of these will come into play in the other ages you will visit, becoming an influence that moves through time.
It is a joy to re-explore the map in each era, comparing the different times. The locations and their relations will be subtly different each time, giving a fresh and surprising look at known ground.
While the story and writing of T-Zero are mindboggling in the best sense of the word, some of the puzzles are the opposite.
First: many of the puzzles are standard adventure-fare. They can be obvious or more original, but they stay within the comfortable zone of puzzle-design: the commands necessary to influence the game, the mental picture of possibilities and options to tackle an obstacle.
But then there are the perplexing puzzles. Not because they are difficult in a normal adventuring context, but because they draw on a set of knowledge and inspiration that most IF-players will not access in this context. Some of these puzzles are of the satisfying think-outside-the-box variety. bringing great joy to the player. All of them depend on the player's knowledge of a very English language and popular culture. Joyful as they may be to the player who is in-the-know, in general these are just plain unfair.
Many, if not all, default responses are personalized, most times in a beautifully literate one-sentence gem. In case of an ambiguity between nouns in a command, the game lists all the options in a menu, allowing you to choose the one you meant. Practical, but also evidence of how user-friendly the game desires to be, despite the mindblowing puzzles.
Also very practical are the location-specific hints. They helped me on many occassions with a gentle nudge. On the other hand, there were times when the hints just confirmed I had the right idea, but I still needed a walkthrough to find the proper syntax.
As is to be expected; time plays a very big role in T-Zero. It pervades the entire game. Since time is elapsing and day is followed by night, you can expect some solutions to puzzles also being time-dependent. While most of the time this adds to the anticipation, it can also mean a boring few minutes typing WAIT over and over if you were a few moves late to a specific location and you have to wait an entire day without anything else to do. (This happened to me once, but it was all a result of my own bad timing/planning.)
Tricky: you have to revisit some rooms after your first exploration. Some objects just pop up after a while without there being a reason or an obvious notification from the game about this.
Lastly, I would like to point your attention to the rag man. While he doesn't have much to say, he is a pretty nifty NPC. Without wanting to give too much away, this character teeters constantly on the edge of the game-world and our own. I spent a lot of time musing about the kind of reality he goes to after I type QUIT.
T-Zero is a mindbogglingly good game. Best enjoyed with a walkthrough on the side.
[The short bespectacled man crumples the now sweaty paper in his hands into a ball and throws it in the nearest bin.]
-"You got all that, boy? Make sure it's on this issue's front page, you hear me!? Or else..."
[Before the boy can say anything more, the man leaves the printing hall, contentedly rubbing his hands together. He even hops a little out of joy over a job well done.]
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