Time Riders in American History. (computer adventure game and educational software) (Software Review) (Evaluation)
by David Sears
How many dishes did the average Puritan woman have to wash after Sunday dinner? Who held the higher rank, Sitting Bull or Crazy Horse? Enquiring minds want to know, because the despicable Thanatopsis Dread has stolen a communications satellite and now beams warped, tabloidesque newscasts down to an unsuspecting public. "Teenage mutant babysitter gets hit with pie in face before taking oath as first U.S. president!" Dread's trying to rewrite history. He seeks nothing less than world domination. This is Time Riders in American History, and your mission is to discover the truth and tell the world before Dread succeeds.
You are a team leader--one with a lot of work ahead. You know the occupation of the first president wasn't babysitter; it was general. But how do you tell the world? And when you know a newscast is fishy, where do you look for the truth if you can't quite put your finger on it?
The last time many of us studied history, we probably studied it along with 50 other equally uninterested college freshmen or high-school seniors. Who cared what happened when? We looked the future dead in the eye and pinned our hopes on ideal jobs. The past could remain unread or forgotten. Besides, didn't we know enough facts already?
George Orwell didn't think so, and if you've read his work, you might agree that a sense of history would serve both his characters and our own American society well. Sit down with Time Riders for just a few hours and fill in the gaps. Don't expect a smooth trip--the surprising potholes in your memory can jar you wide awake.
Never mind that The Learning Company targets kids 10-17 as potential game players; the data here belongs to us all. Before you finish a mission, you'll know who invented the phonograph from who invented the telephone. You'll know that Puritan families shared a single pewter plate at dinner and had only one chair in their homes. You'll even know that Sitting Bull out-ranked Crazy Horse. If you already know all these things, your kids may not. Let them have a turn at Time Riders, and they'll play for hours, gaining an appreciation for an often shunned subject.
You'll have a lot of work cut out for you if you choose to play. Your team of crime solvers includes a time line savant named Amanda and a mapmonger named Josh, both of whom prove very helpful in collating historical data so that you can make an informed choice (or at least an educated guess) regarding past events. The real time traveler of the group--a feline droid called KAT (short for Knowledge Access uniT)--will actually visit the past to snare a few interviews with the people of the day.
After each dreadful newscast, you visit Amanda's room; she keeps her TimeLine unit there. Make a logical first choice from the descriptions of four eras that the machine displays. Obviously, some knowledge of American history helps at this point, but a close reading of the descriptions will help most novice historians select the proper era. Once you've made your selection, you'll have to choose a period and then a specific year. This way, you reduce the game's span of more than 400 years (1492-1905) to a specific moment in time. If Amanda agrees with your selections, she sends you to Josh for some historical orienteering. If she doesn't, you may try your luck with the TimeLine unit again.
Certain of his topology, Josh can help you find the exact spot an event occurred, no matter when. Using his GeoFax machine, you scroll across a relief map of North America. Where was the O.K. Corral? Where exactly was the battle of the Little Bighorn? Click on the Overlay button to drop a net of data over the otherwise unhelpful images--plains suddenly become the homes of Indian nations; stretches of the Wild West resolve into constituent states. Every clue helps when you must locate a pin in a very large hayfield--in this case, a whole country, When you pick your spot, head to the TimeTube to dispatch KAT to the past for interviews. Don't worry if Josh cautions against your choice of event locations; before KAT leaves, you may reconsider them. Time Riders doesn't follow a point system. Instead, naturally, you work against time. Too many mistakes on your part, and Thanatopsis Dread takes the world.
Once in the workroom, you just pull the launch lever to send KAT on her way to the past. When she returns, she flops over and folds up--a disturbing effect at first. But she does this only to project her recorded holographic interviews. These interviews grant you an insider's perspective on history. And rather than presenting mere facts to read, the holographs make you feel almost as if you were gossiping with your neighbors.
As soon as you've gathered enough details to successfully operate the Biodata machine, you can choose your man (or woman). The list of historical figures ranges from settlers to Chinese immigrants to Apache warriors. If you didn't know that you were after George Washington, you might need eve clue KAT's interviews could provide just to limit your options to a manageable few.
To further narrow the field, you might adjust the Biodata parameters to screen for gender and occupation. A search for a female social reformer consumes considerably less time than a sweep of all the biographical entries--time you must conserve in order to make the necessary data uplink with Dread's news satellite. Miss the window, and you'll have to wait for tomorrow's news to try again.
Time Riders acquaints you with more than just major events. The weirder parts of history lurk there, too, like this entry found under the era heading 1824-1854: "Dangerous hogs ran wild in most cities. Hogreeves walked two by two scouting hogs. Used rattles and brute strength to shoo hogs away." Rattles? Brute strength? Who were these mighty men, these hog wrestlers? Did any of them suffer fatal injuries on the job? Time Riders turns up these data gems, but gameplay may never reveal enough information to satisfy a piqued interest. Not quite a hypertext game, Time Riders fails on only one count: It moves where it will, not necessarily where you need to go. On the other hand, nothing prevents you from consulting a respectable encyclopedia for further information, and a "read through" option could easily deflate the fun here.
The colorful Biodata portraits of the historically significant make a fine addition to the game's detailed maps, and the browse function puts an abridged life story for each figure at your fingertips. Confident you can match the correct date and place with the correct face? Skip the interviews and save some time; go to the Biodata machine and choose your person. After the uplink, you'll know for certain. Dread's skewed headline goes through, or your accurate one airs. To borrow from Poor Richard (you'll run into him more than once in the game), "Haste makes waste." Any discrepancies in date, place, and person cause Dread to gloat.
Best of all, Time Riders doesn't exclude minority groups. It does an exemplary job of including historically significant women, African-Americans, and Native Americans. This is one well-rounded text adventure worth the time of any enquiring mind.
Circle Reader Service Number 392