Moments out of Time series (Review)

I should say I didn’t finish this series. I finished the first two games, but that’s no hardship. But I played the “proper” game halfway through, and I daresay I have enough to write a review - including the reasons I stopped playing. So here we go.

There are three “Moments out of Time” games - Explorer type (1), Renegade type (2) and Adventurer type (3). They are part of the same series, but in reality MooT 1 is a prologue, MooT 2 is almost an expansion to MooT 1 introducing the antagonist, and MooT is the real, meat and bones game. Seriously. To a degree that MooT 1 and 2 are no indicators whatsoever of what MooT 3 will bring.

The series credits A Mind Forever Voyaging (at least for Moot 1) and the Journeyman Project graphical adventure series as inspiration. As far as the JP series go, that’s spot on - it’s what MooT most closely resembles.

MooT 1 will remind you of AMFV and possibly LASH - you explore a house in the past, as part of a mission to better understand how people lived way back when (which is to say, our present - we’re talking time travel technology, so the “present” is our future. Naturally). It’s a remarkable little diversion, which is full - but full - on background information. Not just about the house and its family, which have a very interesting story of their own which I shan’t spoil, but also about the whole time-travel thing. There’s tons of background stuff to read, and you get the feeling, like in LASH, that if all of this set-up is going to be used only in one game then it’s a bit of a waste.

It isn’t just for one game, of course. Which is why when you dive into MooT 1 and start reading through the manual you’ll get the feel that time travel has become a highly controlled, highly patrolled and highly bureaucratic tool, to be used sparingly if at all. It sort of takes all the fun out of time travel, but it’s one of the most realistic approaches I’ve seen. The author writes with a confidence that makes it all come together - he doesn’t overdo anything (it’d be so easy to hyperbolize things in a sci-fi story, which makes some of us just roll our eyes and wish the author had taken a Prozac and would stop fantasizing about the future and get on with the story), and neither does he understate, say, the wonders and dangers of the actual time jump.

There’s a lot of (pseudo, I presume) scientific background for the whole technology. I didn’t even try to understand, I just skimmed it, but it’s very important that it’s there. The author went to considerable lengths to create a solid background, a solid framework in which he’ll tell his story, and has skipped no steps in the construction. And he’s managed not to make it dull, without losing a certain formal and serious tone whenever applicable. Well done, that man.

So. MooT 1 is an “exploration” game, as you can imagine by the title. Explore. See the sights. Piece together the story of the family that lived there. You have great tools at your disposal, like an autokey (no more locked doors) or a stream thingamajig that allows you to see what happened in the past, and a console that you can put chips in; and those chips let you do even more things, like decode encrypted texts or scan an item for anything you can find, like a hidden object or a temporal disturbance.

Here’s the catch: you can only take five of the chips that you have, and only one tool apart from the console the chips fit into.

It’s always possible to win the game. There is no wrong chip or wrong tool to take; like Maniac Mansion, but less ambitious in this regard, different chips will wield different gameplay experiences. The author would like you to replay to find out the bits you missed. Well, on my first time around I got 90% of the whole story (the author himself states he could only ever get 93% total), so I didn’t really want to replay. Your mileage may vary.

You’ll probably find some unusual things in MooT 1, which at the end of the game you’ll duly report to your superiors. These are the subject of MooT 2, in which you play an individual who will visit the same house, carry out an unknown, illegal plan, and then disappear into time.

Er, yeah, that’s pretty much MooT 2. It’s the same house, though viewed through the eyes of a different PC. You won’t know what to accomplish unless you’ve found all the anachronisms in MooT 1. MooT 2 (Renegade, remember) is an odd fish, a coda to Moot 1 (which is a prologue) and a teaser for Moot 3. It’s worth playing, but if you are completely stumped it’s not worth your time trying to figure out your next move, just find a walkthrough or move on to MooT 3.

MooT 3, Adventurer type, is The Real Game. As Captain Remington you are pulled from your vacation to track down this renegade. No restrictions on equipment here - this is where everything you’ve been learning about the game world comes into play proper. You’ll be jumping through time in an attempt to stop a history-deforming wave caused by the actions of this Renegade.

Interesting sidenote: if you played MooT 2, you’ll know why the Renegade did it. Captain Remington, the PC of Moot 3, won’t find out until much later. It’s an interesting dissociative experience.

MooT 2 introduces a concept that will be at heart of MooT 3 - your sidekick. Remember when we were talking about the JP series? Remember Arthur? Expect exactly the same sort of character, the same sort of humour (making allowances for a different personality), even the same CHATTY, NORMAL, SILENT options and the HINT options. And the obligatory Floyd-type brave action at the end, just like Arthur in JP2: Buried in Time.

Really, this often plays like an IF version of JP. I’m not complaining, mind! I loved the series, and MooT has enough of its own to stand alone.

What’s the thing about MooT 3? Why didn’t I finish it?

The puzzles were absolutely exhausting. And not my cup of tea at all. And there’s a design issue or three.

This is a huge game. Made even bigger by a limitless inventory, and the PC taking everything that he can, and we never knowing what’s going to be useful. Useless inventory makes a game much, much, much harder than it need be, especially in these gargantuan quantities. Most of the puzzles in the beginning will the be world-manipulation stuff I love in IF, and it’s what I’m best at. But then, midway through, these puzzles peter out and you start having to find codes, sometimes by trial and error, with not enough information to go by.

Example: There’s a machine you have to configure properly and then shoot at one of three targets. You know SOME of the parameters you have to put in, but not the EXACT parameters; you know the range that each parameter is in. Then you have all three dials marked in degrees when in fact the parameters are frequency (Hz), phase (degrees) and amplitude (something). Then you have unexact labelling of which target is target 1, which one is target 2, and which one is target 3 (and they have different characteristics, so that’s important).

…there is way too much here for me to just blindly experiment. I have to take on faith that “left target, middle target and right target” means “targets 1, 2 and 3 respectively” and that the order in which I see the parameters in my research (frequency, phase, amplitude) is the order in which the dials are described. THEN I have to find the correct values with only a few vague ranges…

…this is way too much to take on faith and experiment with. Disheartened, I checked the walkthrough, was done with this puzzle, and moved on.

But I then saw more and more puzzles similar to this, and this just isn’t the sort of puzzle I like in IF. It’s a chore for me. Drudging. Sometimes the author is operating on a totally different though-process than I am. So… bah.

Another problem: there’s a hint system, but it’s very, very picky. It’s only after, say, you’ve examined a certain item that your sidekick will have a meaningful hint for you. If a turn goes by and you don’t ask for the hint, you’ll never know it was available. Kinda like, in a graphical adventure, haing a close-up of an item and asking for hint. It’s pure guesswork whether or not there’s a hint for you, and in two cases that I’ve found (the walkthrough says there’s more) the info you need to proceed is only available if you ask for the hint at the right time.

Unless you’re playing in Mode Normal, which is graphics intensive.

This is the last thing to say about MooT 3, and indeed the whole series - it’s not just storywise that it’s big and ambitious, the interface is multimedia-intensive. To the point where it makes interpreters crash often when trying to look at the maps, more’s the pity. I can’t help but admire the amibition and the coding wizardry, but this should really be revisited and a lot of bugs have to be fixed.

I played the game on my iPod, so I had to eschew the graphics (they do work, but make the screen too small to play). Losing the graphics doesn’t make the game any less enjoyable…

…except that you don’t get the HINT notifications.

…except that you don’t get to access the maps easily (even in my desktop they keep crashing) and in one particular case your only motivation to do the correct action is by looking at the accessible areas on the map and deciding to create an impromptu path where none exists. Which is a great puzzle if you have access to the map! I didn’t! Even in my desktop terp the map crashed the game! I got utterly stuck and it was not a pleasant experience at all.

So, should you try this game? Oh yes. Yes you should. MooT 1 is light fare but rich on story, so it’s a great starting point. MooT 3 is also worth your time until you decide that you’ve had enough, by which time by all means do yourself a favour and turn to the walkthrough. A far, far braver man than I has written a very detailed one (and a great review too) - use it.

If you want a big complex game that’s a tad more rewarding, try - say - Heroine’s Mantle or Inside Woman or Heist. Andy Phillips’ history as an IF author is rocky, and his games have ups and downs, but these three (his best, for my money) are good example of a big, complex, very puzzle and, in HM and IW, story-heavy game successfully crafted. MooT scores very, very high for amibition, but for my tastes, all I can say for it is that it’s a must-play. I can’t encourage you to play it to the end unaided. In fact, I got so disheartened when I realised what there was still left in store for me that I didn’t finish it at all, just read the walkthrough, and I got the gist of the whole thing very easily.

Not very sporting, I know. This game just wasn’t for me. But give it a try… maybe it’ll be for you?

so your point about MooT is moot? :laughing:

Sure - in the end every review is moot, 'cause it’s not what the reviewr thinks about the game, it’s what each different player will think about it. :smile: