Fifteen Minutes, by Ade McT, is a parser-based game in the well-trodden genre of time-travel puzzlers. Rather like Jason Shiga’s Meanwhile, you’re a stupid kid tampering with a time-machine, trying not to get killed in the process. As a heavily puzzle-oriented game, it merits a stronger-than-usual spoiler warning.
This is an unrepentant Big Puzzle Machine kind of game. One room, a generic player character, a simple problem posed by a tropey NPC, and this monster:
Rather like a deconstructed telephone booth. A complicated thing, indeed. On the side is written, in stencilled letters – Time machine: Prototype v1.01.
On the front of the machine are: four switches in a line: (from left to right) a grey switch, a black switch a red switch and a green switch; a silver toggle; an array of dip-switches; a set of dials; and a go button. A sturdy handle sticks out of the side. Pasted to the sides are a page of intructions and a hazard warning sheet.
The grey switch is set to nucleus. The black switch is set to harmonic. The red switch is set to ambivalent. The green switch is set to inflate. The silver toggle is set to off. The array of dip-switches is set to 0000.
The minute dial is set to 0. The hour dial is set to 0.
The preceding will cause some IF enthusiasts to brim over with joy and others to get an instant headache, but at least it’s up-front about the kind of play it’s aiming for. This is not going to be a piece focused on prose or narrative: it’s going to be a logic-crunchy puzzlebox, and if that’s not why you’re here, move along.
The nature of the puzzle seems to be about half time-travel Simon Says and half deduction:
Second You conducts different feats.
Third You potters around, seemingly a little lost.
Fifth You gives something to Fourth You.
Unsurprisingly, a Sixth You materialises in the room in a squeak of colliding particles.
Different versions of you appear at different times, carrying different things and handing them off to one another, and it’s up to you to reconstruct the sequence that won’t violate the timestream. There are two layers to the puzzle: reconstructing the tangled route of time-jumps that connect your different selves into a single line, and figuring out the machine controls that let you do this.
Even though I’m sure Emily will do pretty much the same thing, I feel compelled to bust out her post on good qualities in puzzles. The narrative and structural integration parts are non-issues, really, since this is a one-puzzle game that isn’t very interested in story. Originality – well, time-travel puzzles are virtually their own genre in IF by this point. Surprise – not really: this is more of a step-by-step logic puzzler than a lateral-thinking, sudden-leap one.
Fairness – it does a pretty good job of providing information and explaining its own parameters, but you do need to regularly translate numbers into base 3, so it really helps to check it off against an external list. There’s also a lot of information, so much that digging around for it and arranging it into a useful order is quite a lot of work, and it’s easy to overlook certain elements because you’re focusing on others.
Ingenuity is obviously the central goal of this: this is a puzzle intended to make you scratch your head, work out a lot of things on paper, and feel smart when you finish it. (So much so, in fact, that I ignored the walkthrough entirely; it seemed pretty clear that a walkthrough would defeat the entire purpose). Its extent is also significant, since it’s a one-big-puzzle kind of game, although I felt that some of the elements were, as puzzles, mostly padding.
Explorability was the biggest problem for me. Most time jumps are flat-out disallowed. The only successful jump I actually made within the two-hour limit was to before the game’s beginning, which killed me. Disallowed jumps give you very little feedback about why they failed. This is worse because setting up any given jump is quite laborious – once I’ve figured out what the coloured switches represent, having to look up and re-enter a base-3 number using four separate switches, each of which has its own funky naming system, in addition to entering the same number as a decimal version, is just freaking annoying. If I have to translate every idea I have through two steps of encoding and a dozen actions, I damn well want to be given a specific reason why that idea failed.
I decided that the thing which seemed the key to it all Fifth You, the one who emerges from the secret compartment. Since you need to be touching the machine for it to work, I reasoned that Fifth must have been hidden in there since before the beginning of the game. I assumed that the pen could be bootstrapped (you only need it temporarily) but the test couldn’t (since you need to leave the sequence holding it.) It didn’t feel as though there was anything else major to figure out – just the correct sequence of jumps. (Looking at the walkthrough, I basically had the sequence right, though I could probably have figured it out a good deal faster by looking at the watches worn by the various selves. I also didn’t figure out that part of the point of the time-travel was to stall for enough time to do your homework, though that seems obvious in retrospect.)
Enfin: this will probably appeal most strongly to pure-puzzle enthusiasts who don’t need or want a lot of feedback on unsuccessful attempts. I like a good puzzle, but I prefer them to have a good deal more story integration than this, and I really dislike spending a lot of time working on a guess and then getting a flat ‘bzzzt’ in response. I’d be a lot more inclined to like this if it had stripped out all the binary/ternary stuff, which (as far as I could figure out; maybe it becomes more important later) is not a significant sub-puzzle and just makes for busy-work once you’ve looked it up.