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tess


The possible discovery of one lost antiquity is not worth the fate you have tempted.

   
Your Egyptology professor, Dr. Hargrove, discovered an ancient water clock in the tomb of the pharaoh Ramses. The clock supposedly had the ability to grant everlasting life to its owner, but it mysteriously disappeared after the exhibition’s patron--heiress Tess Conway--visited the digging site. Tess was obsessed with the occult and wanted to give immortality a shot, supposedly taking the clock back to her estate on Matinicus Island just off the coast of Maine. There Tess had nightly parties with her society friends, including but not limited to shady fellas like Duncan DeVries, a booze and gun smuggler from Chicago. On the night of the summer solstice of 1932, Tess and her guests vanished without a trace. You’ve decided to investigate the mystery, but you’re alone because you didn’t have any friends stupid enough to go with you. Fortunately you came with your trusty .45 revolver. The fun starts when you enter the courtyard and realize your watch has stopped…

On today's Lifestyles of the Rich and Infamous, we take a look at a cursed mansion fulla ghouls and ghosts.

 
 
 This dame's kooky.
 
Killing Time was released in 1995 for the 3DO Multiplayer System, and met with lukewarm reception, which is tragic because in many subtle ways it's unlike any other first person shooter. In fact, it's different and innovative enough that it ought to have been as much a landmark title as Quake and Duke Nukem, but its major shortcomings -- no multiplayer, klunky mechanics, and being made for a system nobody could afford -- ultimately kept it out of the spotlight.

In the hopes of getting all the use they could out of the resources, Killing Time was remade with new maps and graphics, and released in 1996 for the PC and Macintosh as a completely new game, but again failed to achieve anything more than mild cult status (even that is debatable).

 
   
I don't even remember how I discovered Killing Time. I was a teenager, it was the 90's, and I was on a 3D shooter kick. I hunted every one I could find, no matter how old, no matter how terrible (didn't find very many -- the research skills of a thirteen year old aren't that impressive). Somehow or another I found out about Killing Time and had to try it out. It took three years to get a copy of the PC version. It was another ten or so before I got a 3DO and played the original.

How did I like it? Well, the answer to that question is the website you're currently browsing.

Is this the end of Rico?
 


   
The ultimate goal of Killing Time is to find Tess Conway's water clock and destroy it, freeing the island from its eternal time flux and allowing its inhabitants to rest (and you to escape). The Conway Estate is a labyrinth of corridors and secrets, and you'll have to traverse every inch of it to complete your quest.

In the 3DO version, the Estate is a complex collection of mazes with different themes: kitchen, garden, and wine cellar to name a few. It's almost like Wolf3D in a haunted mansion, though with Doom-like staircases and bridges in certain parts. In the PC/Mac remake, the Estate is more true-to-life, if still a bit labyrinthine: there are thick forests and hunting lodges and a lighthouse. The island gives the impression of being an actual island. Both games give you an overhead map, but the PC/Mac map doesn't zoom out far enough to be useful.

Whichever port you prefer, Killing Time is fully stocked with objects that help or hinder you. Head on over to the Storeroom to read about the helpful items and zany devices cluttering the mansion.

 The map is invaluable. Use it often. Note the eerie flashlight effect.
 


   
The story unfolds through the conversations of ghosts you'll see around the island. I love the ghosts: they're actually movie scenes deployed as game sprites. Listening to the ghosts will paint a clearer picture of who is who, who likes who and why, who dislikes who and why, and most importantly who was responsible for the island's predicament.

Pay Tess and her friends a visit at the Guest House.

Mike's stand-up routine is about to end with a slap in the mouth.
 


 
 The storeroom area is dangerous: it's draped in flames and bursting with gangs of angry skeletons.
 
The HUD is standard 3D shooter fare. Your current weapon is brandished at the bottom of the screen. On either side is a golden wing that keeps track of your inventory.

The left wing displays the current weapon's ammo stock. Along the top are colored gems which represent the keys you possess.

The right wing displays your remaining health. This wing's colored gems represent the winged vessels you've acquired: when you've used up a vessel's power, its gem will go dark. The gem of an active vessel blinks to let you know it's still got some juice left.

Like vintage firearms? Drive out to the Docks to take a look at the Conway contraband.

 


   
No shooter would be complete without a cast of creepy monsters, and some of Killing Time's critters are as creepy as they come. Others are so outrageous they'll make you laugh out loud, but don't get careless around any of them, especially on higher difficulty settings when a couple attacks will drop you into the Conway crypt.

The beasties are all holed up in the Kennel. Don't feed them.

Getting tickled to death is no laughing matter.
 


   
It's easy to see Killing Time's flaws. Your turn speed in the 3DO version is erratic, making it tough to aim when it counts.  The action tends to fall on the slow side, coming nowhere near the terror and panic of Doom or Quake. It was made for a $600+ system lacking in decent games, which killed its exposure. The original's levels are confusing mazes. The remake's levels are claustrophobic: you're always bumping into walls, making it tough to avoid enemy fire. The original only has five guns; the remake has seven, but only three are useful. Worst of all, the mid-nineties was the Dawn of Deathmatch, and Killing Time had no multiplayer capability.

Firing the maid.
 
 
 I tried to make a baked potato.
 
Still, it's tough not to like it anyway. What really sells this game is the story, design, and atmosphere; and what sells that is the attention to detail. Everything is there for a reason. The ammo pickups are all over the island because Duncan ran out of storage space. The storeroom is on fire because the thugs moving Duncan's arsenal had a smoke break next to a volatile container (implied by a ghost scene and the skeletal nicotine addicts). You need an RSVP to enter the mansion because everyone died during a party. All the monsters have their origins in the mansion as guests, pests, or Egyptian treasures. Even the dates and implied events in the manual suggest a vast history that gives the Conway Estate and its inhabitants an incredible amount of depth and personality: more than the average shooter ever had. It's a shame Killing Time never really had its time in the spotlight.

 


Intrigued? Good! Click Tess's pretty mug to go back to the lobby.



  
COMPREHENSIVE COMPARISON of 3DO and PC/MAC

DIFFERENCES

- The game engines are completely different. When Killing Time was ported to pc/mac, they rewrote the entire game from scratch...and as a result, the controls are better: it plays a bit like Duke Nukem 3D, except with a glitchy jumping mechanic that seems to only work half the time, or depending what map you're on. The 3DO version's turning mechanics are way too slippery, which makes aiming more than a little frustrating at times.

- The maps in the 3DO version were complex mazes with different flavors (courtyard, kitchen, attic, sewer, etc), while the pc/mac maps were made to better resemble actual locations: for example, the 3DO version starts you in a forest clearing at the courtyard entrance; while in the pc/mac version, you begin on your boat at the docks, and you can explore your boat and the dock house before moving on. The pc/mac maps were pretty detailed: there are several sprawling forest maps, usually with an important building or two (a kennel, or hunting lodge, or greenhouse) hidden in the trees, which can be found by following the trails. There's also a very cool lighthouse on the other side of a collapsed bridge, which you can access via a nasty jumping puzzle: inside the lighthouse is a bar with a billiard table, and you can take the stairs up to the top of the tower, or down to the basement where sits a massive liquor cache. Both versions' maps shared the same tile sets, but the pc/mac version may have had new map tiles added. The pc/mac version's maps are annoyingly cramped, however, and you constantly trip over the architecture. They also suffer from "liberal" monster placement: a dozen monsters crammed into every nook and cranny does not a fun action game make.

- Because of the more detailed map design, the fmv ghosts are better utilized in the pc/mac version: while before they seemed to be scattered in random places, each ghost now gets its own distinct "home" in the game. Duncan's conversation about the future, for example, now takes place on the edge of a cliff by a forest trail where you're sure to find it, and it has the added effect of making Duncan appear to be gazing out at the ocean. It also seems they made use of several ghosts that either weren't in the 3DO version or were placed in really poor and obscure locations (many fmv ghosts in the 3DO version were found by pure luck if anything).

- You can jump in the pc/mac version, but it's horribly buggy, and feels like you're trying to jump on a planet with crushingly dense gravity, making platforming out of the question; even climbing steep stairs is a problem if you so much as bump the step before your toes clear the ledge.

- The pc version's music drops when too many sounds play at once, which means be prepared to toggle the music on the options screen every time you use the Tommy gun, which fires in bursts of two rather than on fully automatic. 

- There are fewer weapons in the 3DO version (pistol, dual pistols, shotgun, tommygun, flamethrower), but they're very effective. If you're lucky and a good shot, you can drop just about any monster with a single bullet, and the flamethrower is an instant kill no matter what. The pc/mac weapons are more numerous (crowbar, pistol, dual pistols, shotgun, tommygun, flamethrower, molotov cocktail, ankh), but also more useless for the most part. The bullet weapons take way too long to kill even the weakest enemies; the molotovs and ankhs do considerable damage -- and the molotovs are especially fun since you can huck them over objects and onto enemies' heads -- but have severely limited ammo. The flamethrower was probably the most useful weapon, but it used several ammo units per shot, whereas the overpowered 3DO flamethrower used 1. The crowbar was a welcome new addition though: the 3DO version gives you no backup weapon, so if you run outta ammo, the jig is up.

- Enemy sprites in the 3DO version were either stop-motion puppets or actors in costumes, and impressively high resolution. All enemy sprites were redone from scratch for the pc/mac version, much lower-res and likely created from 3d models. The weapon graphics were also redone from scratch.

- In addition to redesigning the sprites, the enemy roster was considerably different, as well as their behavior. The deadliest enemy in the 3DO version is the zombie bootlegger, who can shred the crap out of your health and looks super stylish in his suit and fedora; in the pc/mac version, he's the first enemy you meet, and he's a pushover, and he looks like Larry Fine. The deadliest enemy in the pc/mac version is a new one: the giant, snarling red skulls that breathe fire and mob you. They can mess you up something fierce and there's always hordes of them guarding the Egyptian tomb areas throughout the island. Sadly the pc/mac bungmunsters aren't nearly as cool: they look like little pacman-tadpole-turds rather than the awesome grinning slugs of the 3DO.

- Most of the sound effects in the pc/mac version are new, but a couple were brought over from the 3DO version -- mainly powerup sounds and weapon sounds.

- The 3DO map is invaluable, and has a useful zoom feature and a nifty light effect to make it look like you're consulting the map with your flashlight. The pc version map is godawful: the zoom feature is so limited it's absolutely useless, never showing you more than a city block's worth of your surroundings. It may as well have never been included. The mac version map seems to be a little better.

- You can play the 3DO version on a 3DO Multiplayer or 3DO emulator. The pc version was made for windows 95/98, so you basically need those OSes to even run it properly. Not being a mac user, I couldn't tell you if the mac version still works or not.

- The fmv characters in the pc/mac version are badly distorted by their low resolution, especially on modern monitors: every character is a barely-identifiable glob like something out of a bad dream, so if you've never met these characters before, you might have to get to know them by their voices alone.  At the time of the PC port's release, the 3DO still had superior screen resolution compared to mid-90's computers.

- SPOILER! The final confrontation with Duncan is much more difficult and climactic in the pc/mac version. On the 3DO you wander the last collection of mazes, killing Duncan whenever he pops up, and trying to find those pesky guardian objects that keep you from destroying the water clock. In the pc/mac version, the guardian objects are scattered throughout the island and locked behind special stone doors, which open once you reach the water clock and activate Duncan's new intro animation (he taunts you and acts scary and stuff). So now you have to scramble all over the island trying to remember where those doors were so you can scale the towers and destroy the guardian objects; THEN make it all the way back to the attic and break the water clock -- all while Duncan teleports after you Jason Voorhees style, mocking you whenever you kill him.

- SPOILER! The 3DO game ends with the destruction of the water clock....and it's not a happy ending. Destroying the water clock in the pc/mac version treats you to a new final boss: Goddess Edition Tess Conway! In addition there is a new, happier ending if you defeat Tess -- you only get the bad ending if she kills you.


SIMILARITIES

- The fmv intro and ghosts are the same in both versions.

- Both use the same music! The downside to the pc/mac soundtrack is the music has a habit of cutting out if too many sounds play at once, which happens all the time given that it's an action game with lots of gunplay. The upside of the pc/mac soundtrack is you can rip it from the cd and enjoy it whenever you want.

- The vessel powers are the same.

- The in-game hud is the same.

- Both versions of the game are massive, nonlinear quests with interconnected maps.

- Both require you to collect all the keys and vessels, both require you to destroy the cursed water clock and its guardian objects, and both versions of the quest conclude in the attic.


FINAL VERDICT: WHICH IS BETTER?

After playing both versions religiously and beating them several times, I have to say it really comes down to a tie. For every game element one version does better, there's another element it does worse. To really appreciate this misfire of infinite creative/gaming potential, you just have to play both versions...if you can get the pc/mac version to work anymore. Whichever version you play, Killing Time is still probably the only fmv game that did it right: effectively integrating the fmv elements into the gameplay (via the ghosts and sprites). Yet Sewer Shark, Creature Shock, and Night Trap get talked about more. C'est la vie...

 





Killing Time is property of Studio 3DO.

Website managed by Mike MacDee (at yahoo dot com).
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