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Video Game / Time: All Things Come to an End

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Prologue and opening.
Time: All Things Come to an End is an Interactive Fiction game written by Andy Phillips and published in 1996. The story's primary genre is Science Fiction, and it centers around an unnamed Mad Scientist protagonist visiting several time periods - a mix of past, present and future - to battle a mysterious villainess intent on ending time itself.

The game is ultra-linear, to the point that the first live NPC you meet cannot be interacted with at all. It is also infamously difficult, even by the standards of an author with a long history of authoring Nintendo Hard games.

Despite the extreme challenge level (definitely cruel on the Zarfian forgiveness scale), the game was nominated for three 1996 XYZZY awards; Best Game, Best Story and Best Puzzles.

More information on the game is available at Interactive Fiction Database.

Time: All Things Come to an End provides examples of:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The game's prologue takes place during the year 1997 - a year into the future at the time of release.
  • Almost Dead Guy: When you make your very first jump, to the year of 2065, you arrive just in time to witness a man named Carpenter getting shot for interfering with the mysterious Xeron Project. (Attempting to interfere will only get you killed as well.) However, if you try to search his body, he'll come to life for long enough to tell you to stop the Xeron project, and mention keystones and a key to the apartment, yet die right before saying where the key was hidden.
  • Alternate-History Nazi Victory: The third chapter of the game is set in an alternate 1980s where Germany won World War II, and the main goal in the subsequent chapter is to discover the cause and restore the timeline.
  • Ancient Tomb: The second chapter involves the protagonist travelling to an archaeological dig site in 1920s Cairo - and a monument containing mysterious artifacts and symbols.
  • And Now for Someone Completely Different: Chapter four has the player use a mysterious machine to control the mind of Adolf Hitler during the Axis attack on Dunkirk in World War II.
  • Attack Its Weak Point: The villainess wears armour that protects most of her body. On two occasions the player must find a weak spot to survive the encounter. The first - in the Trion Institute - requires the player to target her exposed head with a sleep inducer. The other occurs during the climatic battle, and the solution is to remove the woman's helmet and punch her in the eye.
  • Beeping Computers: Lampshaded in the interactive memory sequence when you must distract a physics teacher by setting a digital wristwatch. Doing so will cause all the watch alarms in the room to start beeping. Arguably Truth in Television as this feature was quite common for 1980s wristwatches.
  • Big Bad: Time's enemy is a mysterious six foot tall woman with blue eyes. It's hinted she may be from another world or dimension.
    • Her opposite number is the timekeeper, a bearded man in white with a golden clock. At the end of the game the player character takes on the timekeeper's role.
  • Bond Villain Stupidity: The villainess enjoys talking, and has numerous opportunities to kill the player. Often this allows the player to escape.
    • Lampshaded in one encounter when she actually says she talked too much on the previous occasion. Not that it stops her doing so again.
    • At the Trion Institute she paralyses the player. There would be no chance of escape if she didn't talk so long the paralysis wears off.
    • In the alternate 1980s you encounter your enemy in her office. After a monologue she lifts her veil which gives an opportunity to throw pepper in her face and flee.
    • When the woman ambushes the player in the Atlantean ruins she foolishly leaves them to be buried alive with no apparent means of escape. Naturally this proves her undoing.
  • Dark Action Girl: All Andy Phillips' games have at least one. The villainess here is a murderous, armour-clad time traveller who shoots and strangles her way through history.
  • Everything Trying to Kill You: There are many ways to meet a sticky end, but the 2065 period (the very first you visit after the prologue) is a dystopian future where pretty much every encounter is potentially lethal: a knife-wielding female thug, a taxi driver that shoots you should you not pay his fare (or not be able to), trigger-happy police officers, lethal automated security defences. The list goes on.
  • Fake Difficulty: Knowledge of future events (or learning through death) is required to solve some puzzles.
  • Featureless Protagonist: Later Andy Phillips games have better defined player characters, but the protagonist here is an unnamed scientist. Certain dialogue from NPCs implies the character is male, but no other details are given.
  • The Guards Must Be Crazy: Escaping from a prison cell requires moving a bed to expose a grate. Unfortunately the vent is stuck so you must bang it. Doing so will attract the attention of a guard, but it you move the bed back to its original position he will assume nothing is wrong.
  • Guide Dang It!: There are many potential sticky points. Particularly notable ones are:
    • Early on the player visits Carpenter's apartment. This requires numerous actions to be taken to prevent the police arriving before you can search the place. Some are hinted at, such as removing the rope you used to climb in from the platform outside. Covering the front window to hide your presence from the police is more obscure. Not to mention keeping certain items in your possession will kill you later on (with no indication what these are in advance).
    • In the Austrian Schloss the player must wait several turns in the chapel for the solution to present itself. Missed it? Better reload an earlier save because it's only mentioned once.
    • Not only are certain items of equipment difficult to find, but there is often no clue as to their purpose or means of operation. In particular there are two rods (a sleep inducer and a sonic vibrator) that must be aimed at an object and then pressed or turned respectively.
    • The statue at the exhibition in 1985 is in fact another time machine disguised behind a hologram. The only vague hints are a brief note in the Xeron project document - which you're forced to discard quite a bit earlier in the game - and a vibration you feel on touching the surface.
    • At the end of the fourth chapter the player enters a "dream" sequence in a headmaster's study. Death will quickly follow unless three tasks were accomplished. The only hints as to what went wrong are out-of-place items in the room.
      • In two cases (a moustached man painting and futuristic tech) the hints are reasonably clear. The player knew they had to recorrect historical events, and it's fairly obvious that leaving a mind control machine in Nazi hands would be a bad idea - and the player is guaranteed to have the means to do destroy it by solving an earlier puzzle). So it's relatively straightforward to correct these anomalies without a walkthrough.
      • The third aspect is much trickier to solve from the vague hints (antique items). The player must interact with a prisoner by writing a note and handing it to him along with an iron sphere. This is to allow a future meeting with the same man to occur in 1985 (history from your perspective since it happened in the previous chapter, but his future), and then send him to an alternate dimension since the timeline is now restored and the alternate 1985 in which you met the man no longer exists.
    • The fifth chapter - set on a cargo ship in 2008 - is especially tricky.
      • Two puzzles require the player to do more than look and search objects in the environment (a given in this game). The player must listen and smell in certain locations to progress.
      • The communications room has a radio with an adjustable dial. However, none of the settings work. The player must turn the radio itself to reveal a microchip. And pushing / pulling doesn't reveal anything amiss.
      • Having gained access to the armoury (itself a far from easy feat) the player discovers a crate. Opening this results in an explosive detonating. To disarm the bomb the player must knock on the crate to reveal a concealed panel. Good luck figuring that out without a walkthrough.
      • Surviving the trip to the ruins of Atlantis is a matter of trial and error, requiring the player to push seven coloured buttons on a submarine control panel to discover their purpose.
      • Revealing a hidden room in Atlantis requires the player to use the sonic vibrator to destroy a seemingly unremarkable wall. The only "clue" you're given is the symmetry of the exits.
  • Hammerspace: Averted. Your character can only carry about five items with them before getting "you are carrying too many things already!" response. Notably, it doesn't mean that there are no more plot-critical items to take; often you'll need to drop some of them, or at least put them inside a container like a plastic bag (which are not infinite in size themselves.)
    • Ultimately subverted in that you eventually discover a rucksack with unlimited storage capacity, which makes inventory management much easier. However it's roughly 15-20% into the game before this happens.
  • Haunted Castle: There are no ghosts in the Austrian Schloss, but plenty of human monsters. Random atmospheric comments include loud screams and clanging noises, and there's a fridge full of body parts to find.
  • Have a Nice Death: Many of the death descriptions are somewhat humorous. And there are a lot of ways to die in this game.
  • Hoist by His Own Petard: The villainess strangles numerous people throughout the game (including the player given the chance), so it's only fitting she ends up hung by a necklace following the climatic confrontation.
  • Hologram: One of the key items the player aquires early on (if they search the apartment thoroughly) is a pendant which projects audiovisual holograms from tiny spheres which act as recording devices.
  • Improvised Weapon: Escaping from your murderous enemy often involves the use of a commonplace item. Encounters with her include throwing a glass of water to survive the interrogation, chucking a sachet of pepper in her face and finally using a necklace to choke her to death.
  • La Résistance: In the alternate timeline - with England under occupation by Nazis - the player meets up with several resistance members following some Cloak and Dagger antics. Subverted in that you don't need to go along with their plan, simply gain their services to alter an identity document.
  • Laser Blade / Hot Blade: The "glowing knife" wielded by the girl at the disused train station is either of those.
  • Living Statue: To escape from Atlantis the player must use a stasis field device. Do this successfully and you'll wake up on display in a museum.
  • Mad Scientist: The player character is one, very much in the Doc Brown mould. One early puzzle involves charging the time machine's power source with lightning. Note; you will get killed by lightning if you do it wrong! simply attaching the power source to the cable and the cable to the lightning conductor will still mean that you hold the power source in your hands, and thus get shocked to death by lightning; you need to connect the cable to the power source, put it on the floor, and only then attach the cable to the lightning conductor.
    • Choosing "look at the notes" at the start will say that some are valuable notes, and others are "useless pictures and scribbles". Choosing "look at the scribbles" then says "Just various meaningless diagrams that were drawn on a Tuesday afternoon in the lab. Even crazy scientists can get bored!"
    • The lowest rank - when fewer than five points have been scored - is "crazy scientist with no brain whatsoever".
  • Magic Tool: The plastic rod found in the third chapter - which vibrates targeted objects - is the most-used item in the game. Essentially a primitive variant of the sonic screwdriver.
  • The Many Deaths of You: Literally dozens of ways to die, covering every section from the prologue to endgame.
  • Marathon Level: The first chapter - set in the year 2065 - is 2-3 times longer than those which follow, incorporating the streets of London, an apartment building, police station and a research facility.
  • Mental Time Travel: Late in the game the player relives their past (specifically time at school) to obtain key information about the enemy's plan. Despite being a memory this is an interactive sequence, and you can die during it.
  • Mind-Control Device: The Nazis build one, making use of mysterious techonology to alter the course of history.
  • Mineral MacGuffin: The keystones of time - which the player spends most of the game searching for - are tetrahedral shaped jewels.
  • Nintendo Hard: So difficult very few - if any - people will be able to complete the game without a walkthrough.
  • Percussive Maintenance: After repairing an ancient machine - by adopting a MacGyvering approach with a wire garotte and power cell - it still refuses to function and there are no obvious buttons or switches. A simple thump does the trick.
  • Permanently Missable Content: Important objects are often 'hidden' in the environment, requiring the player to search areas thoroughly (i.e. you have to literally type in "search", as "look" or "read" is not good enough). Many areas can't be revisited once left, so if an item is missed the player has no choice but to reload an earlier save (provided they did save the game).
  • Pre-Mortem One-Liner: The villainess is particularly fond of these.
  • Press Start to Game Over: You start the game in your laboratory, and can either go north to the storeroom, up the stairs to the roof, or south to exit the building. The latter option will be refused "until you give the machine one last try" at first. If you fail to fix it within a couple dozen turns, however, then choosing this option will in fact result in your frustrated character leaving the lab to hand it over to the corporation, and spending the rest of his life wondering where he went wrong.
  • Psychotic Smirk: The villainess typically smiles when confronting you face to face. One piece of text refers to her as a "smiling sadist".
  • Purple Prose: Some of the textual descriptions - especially the many corpses your enemy leaves behind over the course of the game - definitely qualify.
  • Recurring Boss: The protagonist encounters the enemy multiple times over the course of the game. Should the player become violent and attempt to finish her off before the endgame, this usually results in death from a self defence mechanism.
    • Lampshaded in the endgame when the player is awarded ten points (far more than any other task) for "finally disposing of your enemy".
  • Samus Is a Girl: You can't see the person who kills Carpenter as their face is concealed behind a helmet, and the only clue to their identity is a steel button found in a gutter near the murder scene. It's not until the interrogation at the police station when you encounter a mysterious woman wearing similar buttons on her clothing, revealing the killer to be female.
  • Schmuck Bait:
    • As soon as you make your first temporal jump, you end up in a rubbish heap. Searching it states that the only item of interest is a newspaper. Trying to take it immediately, however, results in so much noise that you attract the attention of a villain whom you can only hear at that point, and get blown up by their grenade. You need to wait for them to shoot the unfortunate Carpenter and leave before reading it.
    • At the Trion Institute there's a security door with an optical scanner. A short time afterward - provided you survive an encounter with the villainess - you'll discover a mask of another person's face in her possession. Taking it is fatal, so a different means of bypassing the door must be found.
  • Scoring Points: The game is very linear, yet also often obtuse about what needs to be done. Thus, the actions that actually advance the plotline are accompanied with "[Your score has just gone up by one point]" message.
  • Secret Police: The Gestapo are still active in the alternate 1985 timeline, complete with dark suits, steel rimmed glasses and swastika badges. The player must destroy an incriminating note (and hide stolen identity papers beforehand); otherwise, a nasty end awaits.
  • Secret Underground Passage: A secret tunnel in the Austrian Schloss leads from the chapel to a secret Nazi research lab and torture chamber. Opening it requires the player to operate a hidden mechanism, naturally.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Several to Doctor Who:
      • The time machine operates similarly to the TARDIS.
      • The vibrator rod is similar in function to the Doctor's trusty sonic screwdriver.
      • Time has a guardian in the form of a man wearing a white toga and golden clock, and the female enemy often wears black. This is similar to the Key to Time season - featuring the White and Black Guardians - from the Tom Baker era.
    • When undergoing interrogation by the mysterious female enemy in 2065, she asks you where you're from. London isn't an acceptable answer as she wants a specific borough / place. The player can answer Chelsea (the area in which the prologue takes place). There are also a number of other possible answers including Kensington - a possible reference to Infocom's Trinity.
    • In the prologue there's a triangular picture frame showing a man with an electronic eye and a quote from Gustav Ernst. The character does not appear in this game, but would eventually feature - over ten years later - in another Andy Phillips game, Inside Woman.
  • Sliding Scale of Linearity vs. Openness: A Level 2 example of this trope. Limited exploration is allowed within small areas, but not backtracking to previously visited regions.
  • Temporal Paradox:
    • An object loop paradox occurs in chapters three and four. In the alternate 1985 the player acquires an aged note and iron sphere (containing a recorded message) from a mysterious man. When you travel back to 1940 you meet a younger version of the man in a Nazi dungeon. To allow your future meeting to occur you must return the sphere to the man and write the note from memory (as you no longer have the original).
    • Arguably a subversion of the Grandfather paradox when you relive your childhood. You're not there to alter history, just gain important information.
  • Time Machine: The prototype Xeron device is one of the TARDIS variety, able to move in time and space but retaining the same appearance. Your enemy has a more advanced version with a holographic disguise.
  • Time Travel: The central theme of the game.
  • Timed Mission: Quite often the player must not only have the required equipment to solve a puzzle, but also do so within a time limit.
  • Under Water Boss Battle: In chapter five you travel to a secret location using a submarine. Cue a battle with your enemy who dons an diving suit, then attempts to blow up your vessel with a missile and drill her way through the hull. Survival requires button mashing on the sub's controls to utilise your own defences.
  • Unwinnable by Design: Essentially the textual equivalent of a Sierra adventure. The game can be summed up as guess wrong, die, reload earlier save. Repeat ad infinitum.
  • Weapon for Intimidation:
    • The gun you can pick up at rubbish bin in the first chapter is this at first, as your character has no idea how to actually use it. In fact, responding to a knife-wielding girl with "shoot" will lead to a Game Over as you'll fumble with a gun, and give her enough time to stab you. "Pointing" the gun for several turns is actually the way to go.
    • A similar thing happens later on with the German chauffeur in 1940. It's possible to knock him out straight away, but this will make an essential item impossible to obtain. Instead you must scare him with a rifle you hopefully collected in the last chapter, then show the man a key (an apparent single use item you hopefully kept) to get him to point out a different key on the ground.
  • You Can't Get Ye Flask:
    • Got a "tiny object" from the vending machine? Good, now figure out the right way to refer to it so that you can pick it up! Neither "tiny object" nor "the object" will work; instead, you have to figure out it's actually a wad of chewing gum. Fortunately, simply refreshing the scene will reveal what the object is.
    • In chapter four the player must interact with a silver candle holder to open a secret passage. There's likely a bug here as the game does not recognise the word 'holder'. Instead the player must enter the command TURN SILVER.
    • Later in the chapter the player must correct the course of history by controlling Adolf Hitler in the command bunker. The only item available is a piece of paper containing military orders. Attacking the paper generates the default response "Violence isn't the answer to this one". Somewhat misleading, as the solution is to TEAR the paper up and discard the confetti.