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time travel computer game

"what if"
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A computer game (single-player or multi-player), probably some kind of real-time strategy game, which allows players to travel in game-time to tweak the past and influence the future. This is not just a cut-scene plot device, this is actually part of game play. To keep things from getting too far out of hand, time travel is probably difficult (an advanced technology you have to research, consumes lots of resources every time you do it).

How to do this?

Well, if you go back in time, it's easy enough for the engine to remember what the game state was at some time in the past and recreate it for you. The real trick is when you start actually making changes which could affect the future.

To make that work, as everyone is playing normally (before time travel happens), the computer watches everything you do and builds up a model of the strategy you're using. (More on this later.) When someone goes back in time and starts changing things (e.g. builds a crucial fortification at the site of a pivotal battle), the computer uses that strategy model to predict what all the players would have done if that change had been made.

The changes propagate forward until the "present time," when they take effect immediately for all players (players who aren't off wandering somewhere else in time, anyway). The computer probably offers some sort of warning that things have changed, and perhaps even allows players to browse the extrapolated "alternate history" they now find themselves in.

(This might mean that some player is suddenly eliminated from the game, having been defeated long ago, or that a player who was eliminated is now in the game again, since their defeat no longer happenned in this timeline. Again, since this could screw with the game so much, it should be rare.)

When you travel into the future, what you see upon arriving is the computer's extrapolation of gameplay from the present time forward (again, using the strategy models it built for all the players). You can then take some actions in the future before returning to the present time. The computer remembers those actions and tries to model what you're trying to do (as a small special case of your overall strategy model).

When that point in the future actually arrives, chances are it won't be quite like the computer extrapolated; the computer uses that model to apply your actions to the different circumstances as best it can.

This whole concept hinges on the computer's ability to model a user's strategy. Obviously, the computer won't be able to exactly "do what you would have done", and a large part of the game may be trying to play in such a way that the computer is able to grok your intent and "do the right thing" under variable circumstances.

The simplest, dumbest model would be to simply record the user's keystrokes and play them back; this would quickly turn horrible when the underlying circumstances changed. Better models would take into account the "goal" the user seemed to be trying to reach, the way the user generally behaves in response to certain events (low resources, under attack, etc), and be biased towards some general notion of "reasonable play" (i.e. don't do something completely stupid, because the user probably wouldn't either).

This time travel thing, even if limited, would probably end up dominating the game, so the game itself should be quite simple and straightforward, maybe at the level of WarCraft or so. It could be turn-based, but I think a real-time game would be more interesting, since you'd have to learn to react quickly to vastly changed circumstances.

egnor, Jan 21 2001

what-if chess http://www.halfbake...dea/what-if_20chess
Inspiration. [egnor, Jan 21 2001, last modified Oct 05 2004]

Chrononauts: A time travel card game http://www.wunderla...CreatingChrono.html
Cards represent specific historical events; players change one event and deal with (predetermined) disturbances in the future. It was playable, but relied too much on luck for my tastes and will lose some of its charm with familarity. Nevertheless, I'm amazed someone managed to build any sort of game around time travel paradoxes at all. [jutta, Jan 21 2001]

(?) Forget the game, go for real. http://www.geocitie...m/kimmel_b/time.gif
Unrelated humor [blahginger, Jan 21 2001, last modified Oct 05 2004]

CONTINUUM http://www.aetherco.com/continuum/
Aetherco/Dreamcatcher's RPG of genuine time travel. Called "Unusual" by Sci-Fi Channel, characters can span time at will, from the get-go. Come on over and see how it's done. -Chris Adams [iizak, Jan 21 2001, last modified Oct 21 2004]

Cursor*10 http://www.nekogame...08/01/cursor10.html
game where you collaborate with earlier versions of yourself [egnor, Jan 04 2008]


       You're right, one could adopt a simpler model of causality. You kill some unit in the past, it (and all units it produces, somehow attributed?) disappears in the future. You build fortifications or leave supply caches in the past, they're still there in the future. Without actually recomputing the course of the game.   

       FWIW, I chose WarCraft over something like chess on the theory that a small change wasn't likely to change the entire game quite as much. Move one pawn in a chess game and before too long it's probably a completely different game. Kill one grunt in WarCraft and the player might not even notice. I have no idea whether that's actually a good choice.
egnor, Jan 21 2001

       In Red Alert 2, the US side has the ability to move in time. The practical effect on the game is that the resource-gathering units teleport back to their base if they're attacked, and units/reinforcements can be teleported right where they're needed.   

       Not exactly what you're talking about, but another way of doing it. I tend to play these games on the fly, without any real goal aside from 'I want to take that hill so my guns can reach farther', plus the obvious goal of 'win'.   

       Of course, I'm not very good at them, either...
StarChaser, Jan 21 2001

       How does the UI work for time travel in Red Alert 2? Is it basically just "undo", or what?
egnor, Jan 21 2001

       It isn't actually travel. For the gatherers, they just go 'poof' and they're back at their base; for reinforcements, they just go 'fzzt' and they're there.
StarChaser, Jan 21 2001

       Great Scott.   

       I don't see this working unless every player goes back in time at the same, er, time. More than likely, vicious paradoxes will arise from the travel, (which would have to be into the past) and any future in which anyone was left behind(ahead?) would probably cease to exist as the timeline shot off in a new "direction." Also, I don't trust a computer to match my playing style.   

       How abouta system whereby you can "layaway" supplies or forces by sending them into the future? For instance, you could take your phalanx of tanks (that was fun to type) to a point in no man's land and send them forward by a set time increment. After that time elapses the troops pop back in... to what now may be tender enemy territory.   

       I could see a different system that would allow you to pull troops back from the future, which would incur a debt on your future forces. So, if in a pinch, you pull three troopers from fifteen minutes from now, you will suddenly lose three random (or not, if you place them correctly) troopers when you actually reach that time. Dire consequences for you and the spacetime continuum if you fail to meet that quota, so the more you pull the more you must send back later.
centauri, Jan 22 2001

       If time travel was sufficiently expensive and limited, it wouldn't have to explode like that. (For example, maybe any given player can only do it exactly once.) There would be no paradoxes; when someone goes back to the past and changes something, the universe changes in real-time "underneath" the other players. (This is almost certainly disconcerting, but not paradoxical.)   

       And, no, the computer surely wouldn't play well enough that you would "trust it", but it would at least be an equally bad proxy for all the players. And, as I mentioned, part of the game would be basically playing in such a way as to "instruct" the computer.
egnor, Jan 22 2001

       Equally bad for all players: except for the person who went back in time. Maybe the best way for this to work would be for NO PLAYER actually to go go back, but only be able to send units back. Then the computer would play all sides starting at the point of "temporal incursion" and ending at the "present time." Play would probably have to pause for a moment as the computer sped through those changes, followed by a brief summary of the changes.
centauri, Jan 22 2001

       It might be useful to have units controlled with an event-driven model for a game like this. Rather than using a series of keystrokes to control movement, the user would script each unit to respond to certain key events in a programmable fashion. Most strategy games seem to have rudimentary versions of this, but usually no more sophisticated than "shoot on site" or "patrol." If you could force the player to script every unit in this way, it would be a lot easier to replay events after time travel. Seems like a more enjoyable way to play, too, but maybe that's just me.
francois, Jan 22 2001

       Or you could make the it so that your objective, as the player, was to change certain events throughout time help your character to win. You wouldn't actually be controlling your character, just trying to make the right decisions for them.
salmon, Jan 22 2001

       francois, I'm totally with you. My RTS of choice, StarCraft, is fairly good at doing what I want rather than what I tell them, but they would be excellent with just a little more brains. If I could tell them "When flying to attack enemies across the board, route around enemy emplacements between here and there" or "Kill the units that detect cloaking FIRST" I could leave them untended for longer.
centauri, Jan 22 2001

       I'd like that too...Trying to figure out which of a couple hundred units is being attacked when the thing says 'You are under attack!' is a pain in the ass. It's one of the biggest reasons I hate RTS games.   

       I like Centauri's idea, though...But what happens if you snatch some crunchies back from the future to protect your butt now, and lose the ability to make them? Say you bring three marines back, then lose them and the barracks you require to make marines?
StarChaser, Feb 05 2001

       PeterSealy: Bad things, man. Bad things.   

       Seriously, I think you might have to forfeit the game if you incurred a temporal debt that you couldn't pay. That, or the Time Lords drop by and timewarp your kneecaps back to the Big Bang.
centauri, Feb 05 2001

       One way to solve paradoxes, at least with turn-based games, is to have no 'alter history' capacity, but to 'branch the past, creating new and altered timeline', and 'transfer between alternate presents'.   

       Basically, the computer records how the game is going, and one of your possible moves, on your turn, is to branch that history at some point, creating a parallel game, possibly with some of your present guys inside it (even without your guys, it might be profitable). Then both players play both games, turnbased.   

       This system makes it seem like time travel is ineffective, but if you can parallel-universe travel (only to the present), as well, then it could be reasonable.   

       Another way to do it, assuming the strategy acquisition works, is the computer keeps a running tab on what it thinks the future looks like. Whenever it sees someone in the future time-traveling back, it creates those troops. In order for this to make any sense in the context of the game, time-traveling has to be something you do as a last resort - perhaps it blows up everything. Thus, you would never actually give the time-travel command, because whenever you get close, the computer gives you more resources from the future.
noumos, Feb 25 2001

       Sees link and raises an eyebrow.   

       Umm...That's not a game, it's a link to a google search on someone's name?
StarChaser, May 04 2001

       *looks up to check the joke light*
absterge, May 04 2001

       I don't get it.   

       <rummage> Oh, ok. I didn't notice the date before...
StarChaser, May 05 2001

       How about a special edition of time travel game that comes with a virus capable of hijacking the internet to do calculations whenever you time travel. Maybe then you would have the proccesing power to sort out the paradoxes and alternate timelines.
RobertKidney, Jun 04 2001

       This would be a cool (or perhaps evil) twist in non-computer role playing games. The game masters could make up alternate histories on the fly, based on what time-travelling players do (perhaps resulting in one of a small-number of pre-planned outcomes, through whatever hand-waving explanations are needed). Or, non-time-travelling players could be interrupted, and asked a series of questions that determine their fate under the alternate history.
beland, May 26 2003

       Anyone remember Day of the Tentacle... Just about the finest game ever made.   

       Time travel was used to genius effect.
MikeOliver, May 26 2003

       Ah yes. Day of the Tentacle. Use the coins from the vending machine (which you got from giving the keys from the door to a robber in exchange for the crowbar and whacking the vending machine with it) to put the sweater from under the man which you got from the bed vibration machine which you operated with the dime from the phone, into the washing machine to shrink it to hamster size. Put it on the hamster from Weird Ed's room, which you froze in the ice box, and run it on the big wheel, to power the generator, to bring you back to the past!
modular, Nov 05 2003


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