Video Game Idea for Free: Time Travel Concept

Today, while catching up on my RSS news with Google Reader, two Kotaku articles gave me the idea to share a game concept I’ve thought of.

First, I read “Canada Loves the Wii” and a commenter joked he’s waiting for a curling game. Well, curling might not be my sport of choice, but great idea! It lends itself beautifully to the Wii remote.

Then the “300 Game Ideas in 300 Days” article pointed me to a Web site by Sean Howard who’s attempting to write 300 original gameplay mechanics in 300 days. Quite an order!

I won’t write 300 game ideas, but in Sean’s ideas, there are a few about time travel that touched some of the points of a game idea I’ve had for a while.

So here it is. My time travel idea. If you are a game developer, you can take it for free. I can’t wait to play it! Keep in my though, I’ve really thought this up, so I wouldn’t mind a call! ;-).

As a warning, my post is more about game mechanics. I do not talk about gameplay or story line.

First, some context: I love European graphics novels (in French). One that is dear to me is the “Valérian: Agent spatio-temporel” series. One of my favorite story arcs centers on events based in our present time where spatio-temporal agents try to save the Earth from certain destruction. Some agents are humans from our time that work for the future and others (Valérian and his side-kick Laureline) are here today to save their future behing wiped out because of events happening today.

In my game idea, you would play a temporal agent that goes back to time to fix things. You would get a rundown from past key events in newspapers archives or video clips. Then, you would go back in the timeline of these events to try and fix the future. Of course, while in the past, you can really mess things up and break the future, so it would end your timeline and your game if you really mess things up too much. Think Back to the Future. The goal of the game would be to make the future better by changing the past by:

  • – removing key people from the past to avoid them becoming to powerful
  • – make sure some key people (evil beings from the future, tyrants, etc.) don’t do certain things or cause key events
  • – make sure some key events happen by removing obstacles, giving new technology or information.
  • – etc.

In order to do this, the game mechanic would be based on the same principles than RTS games are based on. For example, take something like Age of Empires II, Civilization III or better yet, Tropico. In Tropico, when you develop your Island, you can see each and every individual doing their everyday chores. Some work at building stuff, generating food, go to work, etc. So, for the individuals, think of The Sims where every NPC character does something based on his class and function in the world. Your future world does not need to be very large for the concept to work, since the calculations can become quite intense. Of course, the world’s game mechanic could include technological advancements (like Civilization or other RTS games), conflicts (like Age of Empires) and these would be based on each individual non player character.

With game mechanics like these, you can simulate a world. When you play a RTS game and you are quite advanced in your game, consider this the future. Consider each step you did to reach this point: this would be current timeline. Everything you did would be recorded and this would be the past events. The game I propose would start at this point (it could have more than one stage if you want: you could be saving different worlds). Thing of it of being a new character being inserted inside a simulation someone else generated. When you go in the past, you would be inserted at some point in the timeline and you would see the NPCs do their daily chores and you would be the person in this simulated world that can change things. Each NPCs daily actions would not need necessarily to be saved, since their actions could be recreated using an behavioral algorithm.

Once inserted in the past, your character’s actions would influence the world around you. If your actions change elements of the simulation in some ways, then, you might be changing the future and creating a new timeline. If you are removed from this new future, you will have troubles when getting back. Thus, the game needs to calulate an new timeline. The game, would calculate and simulate the impact your actions will have on the future. The simulation will recalculate each step leading to your future.  Now, this needs to be evaluated intelligently. To optimize things, these calculations could be made in the background, not necessarily instantly. To explain some delay, we can say that events are propagated to the future through a time wave. Basically, the behind the scenes mechanics are equivalent to the computer replaying a virtual RTS game by itself.

At some point, you could go back to the future and see (in newspapers and past videos) the impact of your actions and see if another time travel trip is needed to further fine-tune past events. This would need to be generated from the parameters of the simulated world. Evidently, for the story, some key elements could be scripted, but other could be calculated and pictures in newspapers or videos would need to be snapshots of the past taken in the virtual world at key moments. Think of movie or pictures generation (The Movies?)

That’s about it for the game mechanics for my video game idea. I did not talk about multiplayer or cooperative play, because it becomes much more complex and even duller to explain.

In any case, I think that doing a game based on these principles would be a tall order. But, I think that computing power is now getting good enough to program such a beast. However, it would still need to be fun. That’s the harder part!

I hope you enjoyed it.