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Chronomaster is a graphic adventure based upon the ideas of Roger Zelazny and Jane Lindskold, in which someone has put two pocket universes, Urbs and Aurans, into stasis. You play the part of Rene Korda, a specialist in Terraforming and pocket universe design. Your task is to restart the pocket universes and find and capture the person responsible for stopping them. Once you have restarted both Urbs and Aurans you discover that someone is trying to turn off others as well. The 'terrorist' is now on Fortuna and you must go there and try to stop him and find out why he is doing it.
The graphics and sound are excellent and the range of people and places as a depth and character which is unrivalled.

I have been playing adventure games on computers for over 20 years now, yet two of the early ones still stand out in my mind - The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy and Leisure Suite Larry in the Land of The Lounge Lizards. Larry stands out because it was the first graphical adventure that I ever played. In fact it was one of the first true Graphical Adventures ever and it brought a completely new dimension to adventure games. But, the Hitchhiker's Guide was memorable, and in its way was far more important, for a completely different reason.

The original adventure game was probably Colossal Cave which was to be found on most mainframes in the 70's. This was the first adventure game I ever played and I still have fond memories of it. Most of the early text based adventures were similar to Colossal Cave. They were set in a magical kingdom, had a maze and so on. They were also written by programmers. You can tell this by looking at the advertising which tended to concentrate on such things as how good the parser was and how you could enter phrases in English and how many words the game understood. The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy changed all that. The game was based on the radio series/book/record by Douglas Adams and, more importantly, the basic plot was written by him although the actual programming was done by someone else. As far as I know this was the first adventure game written by a professional writer rather than a professional programmer. Thus this game was vastly different from all the previous ones - it had a plot, characters, humour, no magic and Marvin the Paranoid Android.

After that adventure games seemed to change. They moved away from the Colossal Cave type and tried new, and in many cases better, scenarios. They were sold based on the story line rather than how good the programming was.

Then along came Larry and the introduction of graphics. Adventure games were now even better. But recently I have noticed a tendency in games to concentrate on the graphics. The advertising is telling us how wonderful the pictures are, how smoothly they scroll and so on. In other words "never mind the game play, feel the programming quality."

OK. This is all very interesting but what does it have to do with Chronomaster?

Well, to quote from Jane M. Lindskold's Introduction in the manual "I took Rogers initial idea, revised it to allow for interactive play...". In fact both Roger Zelazny and Jane M. Linskold wrote the story, and it shows. The plot is detailed and the characters are interesting. Each of the various pocket universes not only different from all the others, but is full of interest. The various characters all have a personality and are believable ie they do more than just give you clues. The locations and characters are so interesting that I have enjoyed exploring and/or talking to all of them, even when I know that it will not help me to complete the game.

The basic plot of the game is that someone has put two pocket universes, Urbs and Aurans, into stasis. You take the part of Rene Korda, a specialist in Terraforming and pocket universe design. Rene is also a starship pilot, astrogator and diplomat, In fact he's your typical hero. Still he plays the glifnod like a tone deaf leopard so there is hope for the rest of us mere mortals. His task in this game is to restart the pocket universes and find and capture the person responsible for stopping them. While you are carrying out this task you begin to see that there is more going on than you first thought. Once you have restarted both Urbs and Aurans you discover that someone is trying to turn off others as well. The 'terrorist' is now on Fortuna and you must go there and try to stop him and find out why he is doing it. Now 'the game is afoot'.

A Pocket Universe, in case you were wondering, is a small private universe designed and built to a customers specific requirements. One of the things that make pocket universes 'better' than the real thing is that the laws of physics can be modified with in them. So you can have a pocket universe where magic works or where the law of probability have been adjusted. Needless to say Chronomaster make full use of that. On Aurans, for example, magic is not only possible but used. On Fortuna, the gambling world, the laws of chance and probability have been modified to give the house a better chance of winning.

The secret of a pocket universe is its 'World Key'. This is the main control for the whole pocket universe and it is vital that you find it. Since it allows any one who has it full control over the pocket universe it will be well hidden. Not only that but once you have found it you must work out how to decrypt it. Fortunately you do have some things to help you. The first is a Resonance Tracer which locates the general area of the world key. The only trouble is that it must be placed exactly on magnetic north and, surprise, surprise, there is usually something on magnetic north. Moving this obstacle will be your first problem. The second tool is the Direction Finder. This tool will point to the world key provided that the Resonance Tracer has been placed in position. The third tool is the Universal Tool. This is a multi-tool used by Terraforming Engineers and Architects of Pocket Universes. It has three functions - screw driver, hammer and a specialist tool for the specific pocket universe you are in. For example it acts as a magic wand on Aurans but as a probability tool on Fortuna. The final, and most useful item of all, is Jester. Jester is the AI that control your ship. She is able to communicate with you via your Personal Digital Assistant, PDA.

During the game you will either be in your ship, the Jester, or on a planet. While you are on the ship you have access to the communications console, the database console and the navigation console. The communications console, as its name suggests, allows you to talk to various people. The navigation console gives you information on each one of the pocket universes and allows you to select a landing place. The database console allows you to access a great deal of useful information and it is well worth making extensive use of it.

The majority of the game takes place on the various planets you visit. When on a planet the screen has a menu bar at the top with a small description window below it. The menu bar can be minimised and maximised by clicking on the description window. All objects that you have acquired are shown in the menu bar along with icons representing the various actions you can take. The actions can either be selected from the menu bar or cycled through using the right mouse button. The mouse pointer changes to show the current action, for example two shuffling feet represents walk while an eye is for looking at. The action is invoked by placing the mouse cursor over the object, person, whatever and pressing the left mouse button. This sounds cumbersome but works very well in practice since all the icons are clear and obvious.

Most of the puzzles are fairly straight forward and with a bit of thought you should have little trouble in solving them. However, there are some which are more difficult and will require you think a bit harder. I found the range of puzzles to be well thought out. There were enough easyish ones to keep the game moving along with sufficient hard ones to give me a feeling of accomplishment when I managed to solve them.

While I really enjoyed this game there were a couple of things that could have been better. For example it is far too easy to get killed and when you do you must start from a saved game. This badly distracts from the flow of the game and is not necessary, even Sierra games automatically give you another chance when you get killed. The worst thing however is that it is possible to get into a situation from which the game cannot be completed. For example on Aurans there is a Nomad camp. Once you leave the camp you cannot, as far as I can tell, get back. The trouble is that the things you need to use in the camp are all outside it. So if you do have them when you enter the camp you cannot complete the game. [Note - since writing that back in 1996 I've been told that there is a solution to that problem.]

Earlier on I mentioned the fact that advertising was pointing out how wonderful the graphics are these days. Well this is one game where they may be justified in doing so. The graphics are, to put it mildly, rather good. Most of the characters are noticeably different from the others. The few exceptions to this are all characters which you could justifiably expect to be the similar. For example the security guards on Fortuna all look the same. The characters even have different voices and accents which is a pleasant change. The music and sound are good as well, although I found the background noise of people talking on Fortuna was rather to loud.

The manual is nice thick 72 pages, but don't worry cos only 22 of them are in English and 8 of them are the credits and the table of contents. The installation instructions almost fill one whole page, but, as seems to be standard these days, there is no trouble shooting guide. This is a pity since the installation is not quite as fool proof as it could be. When I first installed Chronomaster I found that as soon as I tried to move the Jester to a planet the game crashed. There was nothing in the manual to help apart from a phone number and to be honest I was not impressed by the quality of the technical support at US Gold. Eventually I found that the problem was with the sound configuration. When you install you have the option to auto select the sound card. This appears at first glance to work since it does set up the card correctly. However, on my set up, and I did try it on two different machines, it did not set the midi options. Since I don't actually have any midi stuff, as far as I know, I did not worry about this. However, when I set the midi options manually the program worked correctly!

To sum up this is an excellent game which has a great deal of depth and detail. While it does have a couple of problems the story is so good that it doesn't matter. I have no hesitation in awarding this game 9 out of 10 and making it my top game of 1996.