T-Zero

by Dennis Cunningham

Time Travel/Surreal/Wordplay/Fantasy
1991

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2 of 2 people found the following review helpful:
"Stop the presses! Hold everything!", March 11, 2021
by Rovarsson (Belgium)
Related reviews: SF, Puzzler, Fantasy

[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.]


Comments on this review

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AnneMcD, March 22, 2021 - Reply
Thanks for the review!

Is the timecard one of the items that pops up somewhere when you least expect it? I might be able to finish the game if I could get my hands on it. Any help would be much appreciated.
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