Time Wizard for Atari 8-bits computers | Review


Prevent robots from altering history. Retrieve the hourglasses to safeguard humanity's future.

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TIME WIZARD

Published by: Krzysztof "Amarok" Piotrowski (Poland), 2023.
Genre: Action, Platformer
Extra: 1 player, joystick.

THE STORY

Malevolent robots from the future are determined to change history to rule the planet. Humanity's only hope is the Time Wizard. Your task is to travel to the future world, dominated by automatons, and collect all the energy stored in hourglasses to prevent the robots from time-traveling and causing disaster.


Fortunately, as the "Time Wizard," you possess the unique ability to manipulate time, whether by stopping it, rewinding it, or restoring history. However, caution is necessary, as some objects resist your temporal power and escape your control.

GAME DYNAMICS

In «Time Wizard», the gameplay dynamics revolve around time manipulation to overcome challenges and unlock levels. Your goal is to successfully complete each level to access the next one. To achieve this, you must collect all the hourglasses and head to the time portal.

Time is limited to overcome each level, but you have the unique ability to rewind time if necessary. Unused time becomes your level score, and the higher its value, the better the result. The sum of all level scores is reflected as your total time on the main screen.

When you press the fire button, time stops. By holding the button and moving the joystick left, you activate time reversal at speeds x0.5, x1, x2, and x4. It is essential to keep the button pressed throughout this process.


During time reversal, you can move the joystick right to decrease speed, going from x4 to x2, x2 to x1, and x1 to x0.5. If you rewind to x0.5 and move the joystick right, you initiate a pause. Moving the joystick right again advances forward through stored history. You can adjust the speed successively to find the right moment.

Whenever you release the fire button, gameplay playback stops, and you can control the hero again. Everything you did in the past is saved, and by pressing the button again, time rewinds. However, if you release the button, the future is overwritten with new actions, and you can no longer retrieve it. Therefore, it is crucial to keep the button pressed for as long as needed to return to the future.

CONTROLS

START: to restart the level.

SELECT: to go to the main menu.

Joystick: during the game, press the fire button to initiate time manipulation. With the button pressed, move the lever left to rewind the story or right to restore the saved history.


You can change the speed of time movement by moving the lever left or right.
Release the button to restore the normal flow of time.
If you die or gest stuck, press the fire button and move the lever left to rewind.

GAME MENU

On the main screen, you can select one of the 15 levels.
Initially, all levels, except the first one, are locked.

GAME SCREEN


1. Hourglasses to collect.
2. Available time.
3. Time Wizard.
4. Hourglass.

EVALUATION

Graphics 90% 90% Sound 85% 85% Controls 90% 90% Playability 95% 95%

FINAL SCORE: 9.2

"Time Wizard" impresses with its unique ability to manipulate time, providing an innovative and exciting gaming experience. It's magical that, with the memory limitation on Atari hardware, storing and rewinding action during each playthrough has been achieved.

The absence of power-ups or new abilities to gain from the start adds a strategic focus, as players must find various ways to leverage the rewinding mechanics to overcome seemingly impossible challenges. Clarity in graphics and well-selected music contribute to a captivating gaming experience.


However, the main objection lies in the limited number of levels, barely 15, which might leave players craving more challenges. Beyond the challenges, this game showcases Amarok's creativity and skills in the world of game programming. Undoubtedly, "Time Wizard" represents a stunning achievement on the Atari 8-bits platform, blending unique elements and solid technical development.

ABOUT THE GAME'S DEVELOPMENT

Piotrowski's creation for Atari 8-bits is a unique experience inspired by the video game "Braid," released in 2008 for Xbox Live Arcade. With a creation process spanning approximately five months, the game was implemented in MadPascal, occupying almost 54 kB on a 90 kB floppy disk under DOS 2.5.

"I am just a software developer with no experience or skills in graphics creation tools (...) My idea was to create a new game with more arcade elements that would fit the spirit of the Atari 8-bit computer", stated the author on the AtariAge forum.


The most challenging task for "Amarok" was developing a sound engine that allowed playing music and effects at different speeds, even in reverse when rewinding the game's time. His sound engine uses 3 channels for music and the fourth for sound effects.

Likewise, the game features start and end screens in Antic E bitmap mode, using DLI interrupts and player/missile graphics to achieve more than 4 colors. The hero, drawn with PMG in a 10x18 pixels sprite, has 36 frames of animation, bringing him to life in this unique world.

HOW TIME IS "REWOUND"

Information about the game's state at a given frame (1/50 of a second) is stored in extended memory and includes details such as the hero's horizontal and vertical position, speed in both directions, current condition (e.g., if touching the ground, jumping, falling, climbing, entering a portal, dying, etc.), a counter used for additional information about the hero's state, such as an animation frame or speed change. The states of elements like buttons, force fields, disappearing platforms, but only those activated by buttons and not resistant to time manipulation, the type, and duration of sound effects are also recorded.

Each frame occupies 8 bytes, totaling 400 bytes per second, and with 48 kB of extended memory, approximately 2 minutes of gameplay can be recorded. An additional 16 kB of extended memory is used for some resources.


Objects activated by buttons but resistant to time manipulation do not require a history since rewinding time does not change their state. For moving platforms, force fields, disappearing platforms, lasers, and robots, states are calculated based on the frame number from the start of the game. Two frame counters are used: one that runs all the time from the start of the game in a given level, regardless of whether time manipulation is active or not; and another that specifies the number of frames associated with the recorded history and is affected when rewinding time. The first counter calculates the states of objects resistant to time manipulation, and the second calculates the states of other objects and the playback of music.

Additionally, information about which frame each hourglass was collected is stored, allowing the calculation of when it should disappear or reappear in terms of time change. This only applies to hourglasses not resistant to time manipulation.


NOTES

  • An Atari 8-bit computer or emulator with at least 128 kB of RAM is required. Additional memory is used to store and restore gameplay during each playthrough.
  • In the game, you'll hear the following pieces of classical music: "Kyrie Eleison" by W.A. Mozart; "Waltz of the Flowers" by P.I. Tchaikovsky; "Dance of the Little Swans" by P.I. Tchaikovsky; "Voices of Spring" by J. Strauss; and "Sonata No. 8 Op. 13" by L. Van Beethoven.
  • The game took first place in the Atari Bit Byter User Club (ABBUC) 2023 with 617 points and won the main prize of €690.93.