(A 1999 TADS remake of a 1993 ATARI game. Found in the deepest corners of the IFDB “random unrated game”-vaults: Excuse Me, Do You Have The Time? - Details (ifdb.org))
Guided tour through time
You and your friends are taking a stroll through the woods when you suddenly come upon a dilapidated house with a big warning sign on it. What do you do?
Front of House
The dilapidated building turns out to be a neglected old house. Surely
nobody lives here? To the north is a large door with a sign on it. To the
west a small path leads around the side of the house. The main path is to the
The sign says:
Exactly! You go around to the side of the house and break into the basement. After such a monumental display of
stupidityAdventure Spirit™, everything that happens now is completely deserved.
What happens is that you are appointed guinea-pig “volunteers” for the Mad Scientist’s forays into time-traveling. Travel to five places and times in history and bring back five symbolic items.
Excuse Me, Do You Have The Time? has a bit of a moodswing issue. It has difficulty deciding whether to emphasise the gameplay or the immersive experience of the surroundings, and decides to do both. The varying depth of descriptions and the care with which they were crafted are good examples of this.
-Many times an EXAMINE-command is met with a dry default “You can’t see that,”-response. At least as often the game says “The pink handkerchief is not important.”
-Something similar holds for directional commands. The normal default “You can’t go that way,”-response is present for obviously closed directions (a room with only one doorway), but in some locations the author breaks the fourth wall and explains to the player directly why a certain direction is closed off (instead of blocking the way with an appropriate in-game command).
You are at a road junction. Roads lead north, south, east and west. The
road to the west leads away from the village. This would have been indicated
on a signpost but all signposts have been removed for the duration of the war
as a security measure.
It’s obvious that there must be a road leading out of the village but, as I
didn’t want to have to include the entire north of England in this game, you can’t go that way.
The sparse default responses and the jokingly breaking of the fourth wall create an atmosphere of puzzle-priority. You have a setting and a flimsy frame-story, now get on with the obstacles the author has put in your path.
However, this stands in strong contrast to the care that went into the historical details of the setting. Examining a rock might tell you that it’s not important, or even that it’s not even there, but examining a frescoe will give you a detailed description of the depiction, along with the mythological context. All while the frescoe is no more important than the rock.
While I appreciated this amount of attention to detail a lot, the contrast between the sparsely described “normal” game world and the enthusiasm in the description of these choice objects gave me the feeling I was being taken on a guided tour, where the tour-guide decides for you where to look.
The unevenness of the depth of description and implementation, apart from causing an imbalance in the feel of the world, also has a very strong impact on the perception of puzzles and potential solutions.
The heavy descriptive emphasis on certain details focuses the player’s attention on them. To remain with the frescoe-example, I tried finding deeper symbolic/metaphoric meaning in the picture, I counted recurring elements in search of a hidden code, I tried to push eyes and stars to see if there was some secret machinery hidden underneath… I must say I found it a bit disappointing when I realised that the lovingly described artwork was an elaborate bit of worldbuilding, and that a simple down-to-earth LOOK BEHIND ELEPHANT would produce more tangible results.
I wouldn’t really call the decorative descriptions “red herrings”, I got used to them as historical information rather than puzzle-related clues quickly. They might throw off the player’s focus the first few times, but the game is consistent in its style of puzzles, it won’t suddenly change tack and expect you to deduce an obscure code from a background painting.
The collection of puzzles on offer in Excuse Me, Do You Have The Time? is challenging but solvable, if you meticulously search every time-zone. Objects found in one time-zone may be needed to solve a puzzle in another, so there will be some going back-and-forth between areas. Using the items in the corrects way sometimes requires clever leap of imagination, an understanding of the culture of the specific time-zone you’re in.
Besides the puzzles themselves, there are stumbling blocks in the way that are more a consequence of the game structure and some design decisions.
–The distance between a puzzle and the objects needed to solve it and/or the clues needed to understand it is sometimes very large. This makes it difficult in some cases to see the connection which would be obvious if clue, item, and puzzle were in the same few locations.
For each area, a clue in form of a cryptic poem is hidden somewhere in the game. I found some of these to be helpful in understanding the bigger objective of each zone, others not so much. I think it really comes down to how your brain works if you understand which information to derive from these poems.
–There are one-way dead-ends in some of the time-zones, meaning that if you didn’t find all the important objects on your exploration, you can’t go back to have another look. It’s a good idea to put a checkpoint-save at the start of every area (while you’re still in the time-machine!)
–There’s a limit on how many things you can carry with you, even with the added space in a handy rucksack, and there’s no way of knowing which objects will be needed when first entering a new time-zone. Also, there are a lot of red-herring items, objects you pick up or are given in the course of the game which may give a nice impression of the time and place you’re in, but which serve no practical use.
As a result, you’ll be doing a fair amount of selecting items you might need from your collection, and even then you’ll be doing some high-level inventory juggling.
Fortunately, you’re not alone.
Aside from acting as an extension of your inventory capacity, your three loyal companions (Tom, Dick, and Harry. Really.) have other uses as well. Their remarks on your performance and banter among themselves serves as a bit of comic relief. Sadly, their pool of utterances from which the game randomly picks each turn is rather shallow. I quickly zoned out and ignored them. Your friends’ help is needed to solve some of the puzzles, in situations where you yourself are found lacking. Lastly, they form a three-level hint system. I used this a lot, especially Tom’s vague nudges, but they’re of no great help when you’re well and truly stuck. Their hints will edify you on how to tackle a problem, but they will not enlighten you on the sometimes harder task of finding the right object. You’re still left to search the entire map on your own if you haven’t found the item the first time through. This leaves you vulnerable to Zombification.
A lot of other NPCs inhabit the areas you visit. The majority of them don’t understand a word you say. Being from a different country in the distant past will have that effect. The few that are open to some form of limited communication are there for puzzle-progress only.
Excuse Me, Do You Have The Time? 's structure of interdependent time-zones opens up many opportunities for interesting associative breakthroughs in solving its puzzles, but it’s also very cruel. The anxiety of having missed something stopped me from fully enjoying the setting.