October 8, 2007
In response to Joseph Campbell’s theory of the hero’s quest, the lengthy and complex journey of the “Hero With a Thousand Faces,” Kurt Vonnegut posited his “hole” theory of the novel. Roughly, the “hole” theory is as follows: 1. Hero gets in hole, 2. Hero gets out of hole. Given that Campbell was an interpreter of myth and the mythic (a category into which you can lump much of James Joyce), while Vonnegut wrote short stories and novels, perhaps their schemas are both correct, albeit for different tasks. As far as adventure games are concerned, while there are a few games that are truly epic or mythic in scope, given that brevity is the soul of wit, most would-be game designers would do well to constrain themselves to the hole theory.
“Alien Time Zone,” or “ATZ,” is a short first effort by Babar, and a perfect example of hole theory; the author set reasonable goals, which lead to an intriguing game. In “ATZ,” you play an alien named Ejak who has found himself trapped in a cave on Earth. Weakened by a bop on the head from the locals, Ejak must find a way out of the cave without breaking the doors down or digging his way out. However, Ejak has a Tralfamadorian ace up his sleeve: he can travel through time in the same space.
The graphics for “ATZ” are functional but cute, and the sound is intriguing, with music courtesy of m0ds. The effect of Ejak jumping through time is truly weird and arresting (describing it here would diminish its initial shock), but it fits well with the setting and character. The puzzles aren’t too difficult, and as one might imagine, most solutions center around Ejak’s peculiar chronology. Overall, the game is brief and enjoyable, and one hopes that Babar will bring us more of the same caliber in the future. •