The Alabaster Sock

We Will Fight the Threat with Fighting

Posted by Matt on March 28, 2010

Haven’t done this in forever.

Game Ideas #3

Idea: Time Paradox: The Videogame

Time travel and videogames are certainly no strangers. One of my favourite games, Chrono Trigger, is based around it, after all. And time warping has become a popular mechanic for action/adventure games.

However, it is worth noting that time travel storylines (especially for older games) make absolutely no sense. And not in the way time travel stories usually do. For example, in CT, your characters always seem to travel back to the point in time in a certain period where they last left that period, so that any changes in it actually count. It simplifies the time travel logic, but it’s also completely bizarre. Its sequel, Chrono Cross, which I have not played (and probably never will, seeing as I’ve lost all interest in JRPGs), did do some interesting things with the ideas of the original (which I maintain is the POINT of a sequel) by incorporating alternate universes and destiny and stuff like that.

But I still feel that is not enough, or at least there haven’t been a lot of games that go to that length. Time travel offers a vast amount of possibilities for games, and not just for stories/aesthetic either. Not even hard sci-fi time travel necessarily, although if you can find ways to create ‘scientific’ time travel logic for your game, go for it. Superhero comics have been messing about with time travel forever, and from it we’ve got fun stuff like the Kang Council. The more mindbending aspects of time travel seem to be rather underutilized, and that’s where this game idea came from.

The Kang Council was one of the inspirations for this idea, which is not set in any particular kind of storyline or genre but I have imagined as an RPG/Adventure game. The basic idea is this: you can form your party out of versions of a character from different time periods. Past, present, and future should all be available (with some reasonable limits, of course) to pluck party members from, including the characters you’ve already met. It could be them 10 years in the future, 20 years in the past, or five seconds ago: you could find them and recruit them. This might be easier to utilize if you keep the setting confined, maybe to a single city. By keeping the game rooted in a single area, I think, would not only make some of these ideas easier to manage, but also allows the effects of your time travelling escapades to be more pronounced without having to resort to ridiculous butterfly effect bullshit.

Yes, altering time should probably be more subtle. If you travel back in time and open a box, your present shouldn’t now to be filled with mutant pine cones or something. Save the bigger consequences for when your characters really start altering things in a much larger scale in the past. You can even make it that many smaller changes that do very little on their own can stack up to create some major changes. And of course, if some of those changes start to make your game a little too unbearable, you could simply go back in time and stop yourself from making those changes.

It would probably also be a good idea to focus on a specific, shorter periods in time for adventures. Much like focusing on a smaller world setting, it would easy up development and make the effects of your choices more immediate. Most time travel games let you go to what we recognize as ‘the past’ (dinosaurs, knights, cowboys) or ‘the future’ (lots of technology and robots and lasers), but that’s all pretty broad. It might be a better idea to make your character travel within 100 or so years of their current time, at most. And, as I hinted at before, that could include very short periods as well. You could go back or forward 2 months, 2 weeks, or 2 hours. Whatever times would be chosen should be done so for the sake of keeping the game interesting. You don’t need to be able to go back/forward to every minute for the next 100 years; but say, early in the game, your protagonist experiments with time travel by going forward or backward a very short distance, and you could keep doing this as a ‘test’ time. Again, the time periods you can visit, while closer together, should be done in the interest of gameplay.

With those major mechanics in minds, let’s get to the meat of the game. I would imagine that it would mission-based, with your characters getting ideas about things to see in the past/future. Say there was a major disaster that happened in the past, and your character goes back to witness it, and maybe even change the outcome. Or say they did something in their present, and want to see what happens in their future because of that decision. There would also be the kinds of things the Chrono games and even The Legend of Zelda have done before, where you take things only found in a certain time period back or forward in order to solve a specific problem. These sorts of missions would make up the bulk of the game, with a ‘big plot’ being unraveled at some point.

While I’d prefer a game that would allow a little more freedom, being able to choose to go back and forward in time and do a number of things and having those effects pile up, and let you deal or not deal with them on your own terms. There would limits to the number of things you could do, of course. We’re not at the point in gaming where developers could reasonably create that kind of complicated, organic game world (and in some cases, why would anyone want a game world like that?). But a really brilliant time travel game would at least try to let the players have some sort of control over the outcome of their shenanigans, at the very least give them options for their time travel missions rather than give them a time machine and then thrust them into a linear ‘gotta save the future!’ story.

On the other hand, it would still be possible to make a more linear game fun using the same ideas. I mean, I would be pleased with a Chrono Trigger-style game which includes different temporal versions of yourself as playable characters. I really, genuinely like some of these concepts, and if they can be integrated into a game of any stripe, that’s one step in the right direction.

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