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On the Flip Side
Review by: Greg Boettcher
Game: Moments out of Time 2
By: L. Ross Raszewski

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Game file
Info at Baf's guide

A word of explanation

I was excited when Moments out of Time 2 was released last winter. I didn't have time to play it then, and I became saddened when months went by and no one wrote a review of the game. Finally, two weeks ago, I took the time to play not only MOOT 2, but also its two predecessors, MOOT 1 and MOOT Renegade. This review covers the two most recent games, MOOT 2 and MOOT Renegade.

I'll begin by quickly describing the games and their titles, which are not altogether self-explanatory.

  • Moments out of Time, which I call here MOOT 1. Released Sep. 30, 2001. Z-code version 6, with sound. (The full title "Moments out of Time: Explorer Type" could be inferred from the game's title sequence, although I know of no one who's called it that, and I'd rather not start a new precedent.) This is the original game, which took second place in IF Comp 2001. In this game, you must go back in time to the mid-21st century, where you explore a house about to be destroyed by a nuclear attack. Read my review here.
  • Moments out of Time: Renegade Type, which I call here MOOT Renegade. Released Nov. 22, 2006. Glulx, with no graphics or sound. This game also involves going back to the same 21st century house before the nuclear attack, but you play a very different character with very different motivations. Most of the code here derives from MOOT 1, but this is decidedly not the same game as MOOT 1.
  • Moments out of Time 2: Adventure Type, which I call here MOOT 2. Released Nov. 30, 2006. Glulx, with graphics and sound. (Confusingly, this game never calls itself "Moments out of Time 2," but the author has called it that, and so will I.) Unlike MOOT Renegade, MOOT 2 is the result of an enormous amount of effort, and is the legitimate sequel to MOOT 1. In this game you play yet another character, who yet again must travel back to the 21st century house before the nuclear attack. In this case, however, exploring the house is only the first part of an urgent mission that takes you back and forth through time.

Personally, I think it's unfortunate that these games had such similar titles. This — along with the original announcement for MOOT Renegade, designed to fool people into wrongly thinking MOOT Renegade was an updated version of MOOT 1 — may have confused people and deterred them from downloading and playing the games. If so, I hope this review will improve things.

Moments out of Time 2: Adventure Type

It seems that MOOT 2 was already being planned when MOOT 1 was being written. The major evidence is in MOOT 1's StreamDiver Manual, which lists a whole series of console chips not appearing in MOOT 1, but present in MOOT 2. In fact, that part of the manual is copied verbatim into MOOT 2, where it seems a bit more relevant. Besides that, there is clear evidence in MOOT 1 of events depicted in MOOT Renegade.

If you already played MOOT 1 and want to play further in the series, which game should you play next? I say MOOT 2. Not only is MOOT 2 about a hundred times more important than MOOT Renegade, but MOOT Renegade is easier to win, and to understand, if you've played at least the first part of MOOT 2 beforehand.

What if you haven't played MOOT 1? Can you play MOOT 2 anyway? The author says so, and I agree, with the qualification that I'm not speaking from experience. If you want to begin your MOOT experience with MOOT 2, then go for it.

The interface

The game begins with a brief prologue, after which the screen is filled with the graphics and music of the game's title screen. After that comes the game's main interface, which includes a set of links at the bottom (corresponding to MOOT 1's interactive menu), as well as another window pane off to the right, which gives a helpful compass rose. Soon after that you'll pick up your gear, and then suddenly another function of the right window pane becomes clear: you can use it to browse through your StreamDive chips, which, as in MOOT 1, serve a variety of useful functions. Besides that, an additional pane sometimes shows up on the left when there is a set of options to choose from, such as a conversation menu.

In case you don't like this "advanced" interface, you can type MODE TRADITIONAL, eschewing all unnecessary window panes, and all graphics except maps. Or, if you have technical difficulties, select "T" at the beginning for text mode. (However, this feature is buggy, as I'll describe below.)

Then there's the graphics, including a splash screen at the beginning of each part, and illustrations of game objects. Finally, there's the music, which is often quite good, and is different for each area of the game.

Thus, just judging from the interface alone, MOOT 2 is clearly quite an ambitious game.

The story

The game begins with you on vacation. You, in this case, are a captain belonging to the same 23rd century time-travel organization as in MOOT 1. After getting a call from headquarters, you are summoned back to investigate an agent who made an unauthorized trip back in time. His first destination was the same 21st century house depicted in MOOT 1, but from there he jumped to some unknown place and time. You must find out where he went and why, and must eventually stop him.

Your first task, then, is to jump back to the 21st century to collect evidence of meddling by the rogue agent. The programming for the house is mostly lifted from MOOT 1, though with some variations, such as altered descriptions to fit the new PC's perspective. As in MOOT 1, the house is implemented in great detail, and I don't know if that's good or bad. You do get an opportunity to explore a lot, which might be good for players who haven't played MOOT 1, but on the other hand, most of the house's contents are irrelevant here, and the detailed implementation is out of all proportion to the rest of the game. Still, I enjoyed this segment because it brought closure to some enigmatic aspects of MOOT 1.

Once you've collected all the evidence from the house, you need to go back to the 23rd century, where your colleagues will work out where the rogue agent went next. Then you'll need to pursue the agent back and forth through a number of historical periods. Eventually you'll understand his plan, and you'll get a chance to stop him.[1]

Gameplay

MOOT 2 is a geographically large game, with several space/time regions that span centuries, continents, and even planets. Also, in case it's of any interest, this is the first work of IF where I saved my game more than 100 times.

Your primary piece of equipment is — as always in the MOOT series — your trusty StreamDive console. This time travel machine can be stocked with chips that provide vital functions for winning the game. As in MOOT 1, your console lets you shield yourself, cloak yourself, research information, scan the surrounding area, decipher codes, and so on. Unlike in MOOT 1, however, new chips also let you do new things, too. And some of the chips are improved. For instance, the map chip here is better than the one in MOOT 1; its maps are graphical and intuitive, giving your present location as well as room names. (On the other hand, the maps are somewhat buggy; see below.)

During your travels, you'll run across an artificial intelligence entity who becomes your sidekick. This sidekick sometimes cracks hilarious jokes, sometimes offers needed background information, and sometimes comments on what she sees. She can also give you hints, and her hints are often very helpful. There's an annoying thing about this hint system, though. If you ask your sidekick for a hint at any given moment, she won't usually have much to say. If you want to know when hints are available, you need to use the advanced interface, then keep your sidekick's chip displayed on the right side of the screen, and note when that chip displays a question mark.

MOOT 2 is much more puzzle-oriented than its predecessor. Some of its puzzles are great, often requiring ingenious use of your StreamDive chips, and are often set at just the right level of difficulty. Other times, unfortunately, the puzzles seem flawed — either insufficiently clued, or clued only if you ask your sidekick for a hint at the right time.

One example is the machine in the experiment room in Part 2. I enjoyed doing the research to narrow down what settings I should use, but even after that, the puzzle required an inordinate amount of trial and error, with nothing to clue you in when you were close to the right answer.

Unfortunately, as I said, in some sad cases, puzzles literally had no clue at all unless you happened to ask your sidekick for a hint at the right moment. In my case this wasn't a catastrophe, as I found the game plenty challenging even with hints, so happily availed myself of them. In my wife's case, however, she got mad when I told her she was supposed to be attempting a certain action in the VGLE section, since she'd seen no sign she should be doing that. The next time I played the game, I realized she was right; without requesting one of my sidekick's hints at the proper moment, I wouldn't have known what I was supposed to be doing either.

That also makes the game especially flawed for those who can't use the advanced interface, since such people will be hard pressed to guess when the sidekick has a hint to provide. Well, there's always asking for help on rgif. Or, if you get really frustrated, you can consult the walkthrough I wrote.

Weaknesses

MOOT 2 is one of the most ambitious freeware IF games ever, due to its interface, its size, and the complexity of its console chip functions. This ambitiousness is the game's unique strength, but in my opinion, it is also the game's Achilles' heel. The interface, while appealing, conceals serious bugs. The gadgets and console chips add great complexity, but sometimes that complexity means that not all scenarios are accounted for. Furthermore, the game contains lots and lots of bugs, unimplemented scenery, low-grade guess-the-verb problems, and badly clued puzzles. I believe that MOOT 2 has greatness in it, but I also believe it has bad qualities that deserve to be pointed out. In order not to make the game sound entirely bad, I'm confining my worst criticisms to this section. But criticize I will.

One qualification, first. I recently sent the author a bug report listing all the flaws I could find. He replied that he plans to go over my list in some detail. There's no guarantee he'll ever come out with a Release 3 of the game, but if he does, then everything I say here could potentially be moot, since this review is based on Release 2. If Release 3 comes out, you should play the game and decide for yourself.

With that out of the way, I give you the game's flaws.

Well, first, there are flaws involving the game's interface. The author had a very specific vision here, and when it works, it's great. The compass rose, chip slots, and so on, not only add functionality, but make the game look attractive and inviting. The problem? Well, a few annoying quirks, and sometimes a few game-crashing bugs.

First of all, to experience the game the way the author intended, you need to use the right interpreter. For PC, Glulxe and Git work fine, but I do not recommend Gargoyle. For Mac OS X, use Zoom rather than Spatterlight.

Second, as for quirks — well, the author went to a lot of trouble to create a separate "window pane" (or whatever the correct term is) for input as opposed to output. Some people might prefer this setup, but I found it extremely annoying. Dozens and dozens of times, while playing the game, I clicked on a different window — to check my email or whatever — then clicked back on the MOOT 2 window. Invariably I clicked on the largest part of the window, the part reserved for output. When I started to type, nothing happened. I had to click on the narrow slot reserved for input before I could proceed. This grated my nerves.

The interface also had some undeniable bugs. Perhaps the main thing is that text mode doesn't work very well. If you type"T" at the beginning, then type SCAN later (after getting your chips), the game crashes. If you type MAPS in such a scenario, the game hangs. Clearly, text mode wasn't tested much. You could still play the game in text mode if you wanted to, but you'd have to train yourself not to type SCAN (as opposed to SCAN NOUN) or MAPS. And not being able to type SCAN is quite a handicap.

Speaking of text mode, there's something I don't understand. If you start normally and then type MODE TEXT, that's not the same as typing "T" for text mode at startup. The game will avoid showing graphical maps in the latter case, but not the former. Why?

For that matter, MAPS can cause problems even with the advanced interface. Not usually, but in some cases, looking at maps causes the game to crash. Just to be safe, I suggest saving before looking at maps.

Aside from the game-crashing stuff, probably the most annoying thing is what I already mentioned: the fact that some puzzles require you to read your sidekick's hints at just the right time. But I mentioned that already.

Unlike MOOT 1, which was implemented in detail, MOOT 2 contains massive amounts of unimplemented scenery. Why is this bad? Because — as usual in IF — you might miss something unless you examine every concrete noun in every room description, and this is an exceedingly thankless task when so many things things aren't implemented.

Reasonable verbs were not always accepted, either. For instance, if a certain large object must be TURNed to one side, don't assume you can PUSH or MOVE it. In the worst cases, this guess-the-verb problem led to serious obstacles. As a hint, if PUT X ON Y doesn't work, try PUT X *IN* Y instead.

Looking through my notes, I see that some bugs take the form of extreme violations of mimesis. For instance, you're not strong enough to drag a torpedo into the next room, but you can drag ten torpedoes at a time within a room. I could name two or three such examples, but I'd get into spoiler territory.

And then there's that one room which, instead of giving you a description, says "** Library error 11 (677879,0) **". I gather from my sidekick's comments that this room is supposed to be inaccessible.

And so on. From interface problems to missing synonyms to freak run-time errors, this game has bugs. Most of them don't matter much individually, but taken together, frankly, they add up to a sloppy game.

Strengths

If the game has so many problems, then why play it? Well, as I said, I think some of the game's weaknesses are a result of its strengths. The game has ambitious goals, which are not realized quite well enough. As such, let's remind ourselves of the game's strengths.

First of all, this a game with a unique, innovative, and highly useful interface. In fact, it's got more than that; it's got three different interfaces. It's got attractive and interactive maps. It's got a library full of articles giving useful background information. It gives you a spirited sidekick who is sometimes hilarious, and other times extremely helpful. It gives you innumerable gadgets, including your own gear as well as other stuff you find — gadgets that are often fun and rewarding to play with. What's more, some puzzles are highly satisfying, calling for ingenious use of your gear and of time travel itself. The game has an epic feel, and is very satisfying to complete, with a good ending.

And that's not even mentioning the obvious care that went into building the universe behind this game. Your sidekick is very well characterized. Your manual goes into some detail about your time travel organization, and your library lists a number of alien races. These details and others, such as a unique dating system, give the appearance of a credible future world. That, as much as anything else, drew me into the game.

Not only that, but the end of MOOT 2 hints at a sequel. Surely, the author won't write such a game if he gets no feedback on this one.

In short, what are you waiting for? Just play the game.


Review by: Greg Boettcher
Game: Moments out of Time: Renegade Version
By: L. Ross Raszewski

Related Links
Game file
Info at Baf's guide

Moments out of Time: Renegade Type

Unlike the other MOOT games, MOOT Renegade is unambitious, and by no means a must-play. In addition, it is very difficult to win, perhaps impossible, unless you know certain secrets that can only be uncovered in the other two games — either in the first part of MOOT 2, or, with more difficulty, in MOOT 1. As such, I don't suggest playing MOOT Renegade until you've played one of the other games first.

You start with only a vague idea of who you are and what you're trying to accomplish. You are in the same time travel facility as in MOOT 1, but you're not the protagonist of MOOT 1 or MOOT 2. Instead, you're planning an unauthorized trip back into time, but the exact purpose of this trip is not given at the game's outset.

When you do travel back in time, you go back to the same 21st century house first visited in MOOT 1. There you must carry out the plan which you, the player, don't fully understand. As you explore, however, you can get a few further hints. Try leaving the house, and you get an interesting justification for why you shouldn't. (This justification is different, interestingly, for all three games.)

If you're having trouble winning, here's a tip: check the status bar for important information.

If you're still having trouble winning, just play MOOT 2 first. After that, MOOT Renegade will be easier.

The game's setting is copied from MOOT 1, though with some interesting variations, as in MOOT 2, to reflect the new PC's perspective. Still, this is largely a derivative game, copying MOOT 1's code for the setting without adding any new areas to explore.

In fact, I didn't enjoy the game much. There was only one time when I felt really involved with it — namely, when I carried out one of the tasks cryptically alluded to in the beginning. Doing this rewarded me with a long block of text, which, finally, did give me insight into the PC's plans and motivations.

Otherwise, however, this game is not very rewarding. If you've already played MOOT 2 and want to delve a little further into the story, play MOOT Renegade. Otherwise, just play MOOT 2 instead.

Footnotes

[1]In describing the rogue agent, I've deliberately used male pronouns for the sake of brevity, rather than saying "him or her" all the time. In doing so, I am making no implication about the real gender of the agent.


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