Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Time Travel Games

For a long time I've been trying to come up with a good conceit for a free-travel time travel RPG. That is, a game where the players can roam to any time period they please freely, rather than being shuttled through time on a plot ferry.

The problem is that time travel pretty much takes care of all the human concerns that tend to drive us. Even the biggest challenges can be solved by simply popping back to before they started and changing a small variable. A time traveler who wants to keep his family from dying? Huge plot line! But the only way to make it difficult to do that is to add arbitrary levels of complexity and turn it into a fetch-quest thing where you have to first go back in time to change the things that are stopping you from changing the thing you want to change. It's not very compelling! It's just complicated and pointless.

So you introduce overarching time demon plot lines where in the end you have to fight against time itself or your older selves or some other stupid thing that is forced down your throat. Your personal goals have nothing to do with it - you have no interest in this plot except in that you can't escape it!

How do you introduce human interest into a story inherently about someone who has no human concerns? Even if they have human impulses - say, they love somebody - they can still just pop off to fix whatever might go wrong. The only game I can build out of that is time-traveling whack-a-mole.

Which, actually, sounds kind of interesting. BUT! Let's presume we want something with a bit more depth.

How about this? Time travel as self-improvement.

There are a lot of time travel games about restoring the timeline to your normal timeline.


Shouldn't it be the opposite?

Wouldn't a time travel go back in time and tweak it so his family was rich? So he was born with superpowers? So he was elected president?

You could even ally with other time travelers, cooperate to improve eachother's time lines, to use less of your life tweaking your timeline so you have more of your life to spend on other stuff...

"Hey, let's all just have the same parents. And back in the fifties, we can give them the mutant gene..."


Nate said...

It basically sounds like science condensed into a tiny space. It is interesting when how to use time travel to solve your problem isn't obvious - different approaches that are failures tell you more about what you need to still learn. It reminds me of the movie Groundhog Day.

Noah said...

This is basically the plot of the movie Primer, probably my favorite time travel story.

Random_Phobosis said...

Yeah, reminds me of Primer.

I've had an idea to make a worker placement-style board game (a-la Agricola), where you could visit different locations with your character (office, bank, newspaper, bar) at different times of the day, placing your pawn in each one. At the end of the day you travel back in time, get new pawns and start the day from the beginning, while old pawns stay in place - and this repeats until you accumulate lots of chaining effects from lots of locations and pull of some neat trick such as bank robbery or whatever.
To make things harder, you cannot come in contact with your older pawns and are prohibited to enter their locations, but they can be chased off or even killed by other players' characters.

I've even had rough prototype, but never finished it.

Craig Perko said...

@Noah: I don't think I've seen Primer.

@Phobosis: I like that idea. I'd love to see that. "Let's not kill off that guy's pawn here, because then he could put down another one with better guidelines and equipment..."