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Playing in Different Layers of Time

by Dolgion Chuluunbaatar on 02/16/11 11:12:00 am

The following blog post, unless otherwise noted, was written by a member of Gamasutra’s community.
The thoughts and opinions expressed are those of the writer and not Gamasutra or its parent company.


(this is a post from my blog The Doglion)

Wanted to take a little break from the tutorials and thought I'd write a bit about old classic point-and-click graphic adventures by LucasArts. Some years back, I was deeply into those games. I played Indiana Jones 4, Monkey Island 1 -3, Day of the Tentacle and so forth. They're just really well done games, and it feels like in terms of classic narrative, point-and-click adventures are just the best suited kind of games.

The best of the lot is in my opinion Day of the Tentacle. Many people like Monkey Island better, and that one is a fantastic game for sure, but DotT was unique. Where Monkey Island created great fun from the great humor and a classic hero story, DotT did things differently. You have 3 characters that you can control. They're all in the same house, but in different time zones.

One is 200 years in the past, one in the present and one 200 in the future. The circumstances lend themselves for some mind-bending puzzles that span over different layers of time. The player is required to think in terms of action and consequence - if you as the character in the past put a cherry juice into a chest, then the character 400 years in the future will be able to open that chest and magically find a bottle of fine wine. Of course, the puzzles are handmade and static and technically there is no actual interaction that spans layers of time.  But the general idea is really cool.

How can this be used for other games? One idea I came up with would be a multi-player game, where 2 or more players need to reach a common goal. Only that they are somehow in different layers of time. The action that the one guy does in the past layer can immediately have an influence on the world the other player is in. Reversely, a mechanism could be introduced that let's the guy in the future aid the one in the past and so forth. Rather than having some static puzzles like in DotT, this concept should work well in real-time gameplay. It could be done as a platforming game, or whatever.

We've seen some games using time-manipulation as a gameplay mechanic - Prince of Persia used it to elegantly give players a second chance when they died, basically a stylish quicksave function. Braid was more daring and used it to create truly challenging puzzles. The player had to actively change their way of thinking about time itself and utilize the game's internal rules, for example objects that are glowing greed would not be affected by the rewind function. 

Shadow Physics, while not doing time-manipulation is doing a very similar thing. Take something from nature, be it nature of time or the nature of shadows as perceived by humans and implement a mechanic that defies the rule and boom! - you got yourself a concept that if used well in a game can be a mind blowing experience. The sensation of playing Braid or seeing Shadow Physics in action with all its intricacies is very similar to the sensation of gaining insight, being enlightened about a certain thing.

Instead of manipulating time with rewinding, a game built around the premise of requiring players to cooperate not in a direct fashion - like running ahead to clear enemies for a flag-carrying team-mate in a CTF FPS for example - but by doing something in their reality in order to indirectly influence the other player's reality through the nature of change over time can be just as mind-boggling and would even be an experience shared with friends.

Maybe this could work. Think of a grand historical strategy game, player A starts a match against the computer. Player A plays France and is waging war against the English. Player B is playing the same game, but 200 years later on. Player A is nowhere to be seen in the game of Player B. But let's say Player A suddenly successfully occupies London. If history were to go on by itself from now, it could well be that the English would cease to be a independent people, instantly influencing Player B's game. Suddenly the Americans in his game don't speak English anymore, but Spanish or French. To lend purpose to this gameplay, the goal could be for both players that World War 2 was not to break out or to only last 2 years instead of 5 in Player B's game. Of course, this scenario is just to illustrate the concept itself. What do you think about it, comment section people?

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