Last Updated: 06/09/2021
Meantime was a follow-up to the computer role-playing classic Wasteland by Interplay Productions and used the same game engine. The role-playing game’s plot was centered around time traveling soldiers who’s duty was to maintain the integrity of the timeline as we know it today. The game was being developed, at various stages, for Apple II and PC computers between 1988 and 1992 by most of the team who made Wasteland…(With potential for a port to the C64)
The plot was that parties of time-traveling villains were changing many important events throughout history. Your mission was to go back to each instance where the bad guys visited, and thwart the bad guys by making sure that the important local event occurred the same way that it was supposed to in our timeline. As a reward in most of these scenarios, the player got to recruit a famous historical figure into the party.
How the game worked:
As your party traveled through time to various places they would encounter scenarios based on world history. You could undertake any of several different missions first. After all, you were blipping in and out of the time-stream; what would keep you from doing one thing before or after another? Also, why wouldn’t the bad guys go meddling further even if you had done something to cork their earlier work? Thus: if you failed in one mission, or it didn’t turn out exactly right, another missions options were changed, sometimes in major but potentially in minor ways. Even getting the right answer for the wrong reason could have consequences. As you completed each scenario the final outcome of previously-completed scenarios affected what options existed in the other ones. A truly non-linear experience!
MeanTime In the Media:
“Interplay’s time travel game being developed by the design team that worked on Wasteland.”
– The Rumor Bag CGW april 1989
“Shift gears a bit and the science fiction fans will be stimulated by Interplay’s Mean Time, the working title of the time warrior game described in April’s ‘Rumor Bag,'”
– The Rumor Bag CGW June 1989
“Back In Time” – As usual, adventure games figure prominently in the mix of products which were shown (or discussed). Three games currently under development involve time travel: Broderbund’s Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego?, Activision’s Time Raft, and Interplay’s Mean Time (not shown). … Interplay plans to capture the Apple II with 128K market with their hi-res graphic CRPG which utilizes a combat system similar to Champions and 250 off-line paragraphs similar to Wasteland, Dragon Wars”
– Summer CES coverage CGW July 1989
“With software publishers beginning to actually utilize the talents of pen and paper game designers (i.e. Steve Peterson’s upcoming Champions game at Miles Computing, the contributions of Michael Stackpole and Liz Danforth to recent Interplay products, the work of Liz and Ken St. Andre on New World Computing’s Tunnels and Trolls game, George MacDonald’s work on Strategic Simulations, Inc.’s licenses from TSR, etc.), it will be interesting to note how certain design problems are solved.”
– The State of the Industry April 1990 CGW
The only promotional material mentioning Mean Time from Interplay is at the bottom of this advertisement below:
Name: Time Period: Super Skill:
Fitz ??? 1066? ??
Cyrano de Bergerac 1600s Fencing
Wernher von Braun 1945? Engineering
Amelia Earhart 1937? Navigation??
Albert Einstein 1920’s? Science
Al Capone 1930’s? ??
P.T. Barnum 1800’s ??
Below is an Apple II based mock-up of the combat/recruiting screen.
Missions – Scenarios
could be selected in almost any order:
A) Rescue Amelia Earhart from Japanese P.O.W. camp.
Wernher von Braun from soviet capture and bring him to safety – The end-of-world-war-two mission was that the bad guys tried to kidnap von Braun and bring him to the Soviet Union, which would have hurt American rocket research a lot and would have changed the course of the Cold War. The Soviets would have landed on the Moon instead of the Americans. In this mission, you would arrive at about the same time as the bad guys and you were supposed to get into a gunfight with them, stopping the kidnapping. Or you could recruit von Braun into the party and run to safety, and when you dismissed him from the party, dropping him off into the hands of the US Army, it completed the mission.
Recruit Cyrano de Bergerac – Encounter and impress Cyrano de Bergerac by jumping onto a chandelier, swinging across the big tavern room, and kicking down the mean guy who had started the tavern-fight, and if you were to then pick Cyrano up into the party you’d find that he had an immense Sword skill “The Elizabethan period (Cyrano) came about from my suggestion, as I said. The biiiig feature of that scenario was an amazing collaboration Mark and I made to enable ship-to-ship cannon battle, with characters loading and firing the cannon, running up and down the ship from cannon to cannon. It sounds so lame now —
but it used existing code-options in an entirely unforeseen way and worked like a champ. The results were cool and flashy and I mainly remember the manic excitement like lightning flashing between Mark and I and the Interplay team while getting it to fly. and flashy and I mainly remember the manic excitement like lightning flashing between Mark and I and the Interplay team while getting it to fly”
– Liz Danforth
Below is an Apple II based mock-up of the traveling screen.
Why was Meantime never completed?
When the maps used in the game were around 75% done, but the problems with coding all the non-linear variables and possible outcomes built into the games story line proved to be too much. The writing was on the wall for meantime even before designer Liz Danforth left the project (she wasnt an employee of interplay).
“Detailed storyline development required of ANY game design is difficult. I’m a reasonably logical kind of storyteller, but following out every thread-of-possibility (“but what if they do THIS or THAT, or OMG wouldn’t they expect to be able to do THAT”) can be excruciating. MeanTime had this in spades.[edited] Like all time travel stories, things became unbelievably twisted and convoluted. And we had to account for Every. Single. One. Of. The. Possibilities…. everything we could imagine. And the
key facts had to be historically accurate, or plausible in that time, which entailed research when Google hadn’t been invented yet.[edited] We kept hitting knotty time-paradoxes to untangle even as we created more with every day’s design work, and everyone had many other irons in the fire.”
– Liz Danforth
These issues, coupled with declining Apple II sales, led Brian Fargo to cancel the project.
The Meantime project was revived around 1991 under the lead of Bill Dugan, with the aim of bringing the game to IBM PC-compatibles. A contractor was hired to port the program to MS-DOS, and an Interplay employee began work on EGA graphics for use in the game. Unfortunately, by this time the code was considered “ancient”, causing porting to be very difficult. Bill Dugan finally recommended the cancellation of the project, after seeing the advanced (at the time) graphics of Ultima VII. It was felt that Meantime, which had a top-down perspective and no tile animation, had been overtaken by much more sophisticated graphic engines.
How much of the Meantime programming was completed?
There was an early rough version running on the Apple // (using the same basic engine as Wasteland), but it was not complete. There was a disk of Meantime source code for the Apple // 5.25″ but it was bad.
At the time it was finally killed, the game was playable on DOS machines, still needed a lot of work to complete the port and get all functionality working, and something like 3/4ths of the maps were complete or mostly working; but even those maps were not actually polished enough to be shippable. The Apple II map editor was never ported to DOS. Part of the problem of the port, aside from lack of staffing resources, was that all the maps still had to be created and edited over on an Apple II, and then built, and then the built game files had to be moved over to a PC and tested there. The Apple II version of the game code itself was not maintained while those maps were being worked on. In general the developers needed triple the staff, and more producer attention.
Where are the Meantime development disks & materials?!
Interplay has the archive disks somewhere, if it hasn’t sold off the physical floppy disks.
Special Thanks to the following people for contributing information:
Bill “The Weez” Dugan
Meantime Web References:
In the meantime, please feel free to contact me if you have any new information here: 8bwinfo(at)gmail.com
Thank you 🙂