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Is true time travel possible (in games)?

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I like time travel. The Embassy of Time is a big display of that. It is designed to include books (currently being written), comics (being slowly drafted), movies/animation (storyboards are being revamped from an earlier, failed attempt), and of course, games, like what I have talked about in here. But as is fairly common knowledge by now, games are a very different medium. It's interactive. I can write any number of stories for any number of other media, but games require me to let the player take the helm of the story. And for time travel, that poses a few problems.

Before people rage at me, yes, I know there are plenty of games about time travel out there, and many of them good. But actual time travel games are, to me, another matter entirely, and not something I have ever seen, at least not intentionally. Long story short, I see existing time travel games as basically a hub world and various adjacent worlds. The "time" thing is just a word added. Even a show as off-the-wall daring as Rick and Morty has deliberately been stated to avoid time travel, because of the many problems it causes. Time travel (I may shorten that to TT,as is often done in those circles) becomes a variant of world jumping, the "time" being written into each world as historical references (world history, or personal history like Back to the Future). To me, this is like a racing game: You can pick between X amount of racing tracks, cars, maybe even weather and such, but you can never go truly off the track, or drive from one to another yourself. What I consider 'true' TT games would be along the GTA model: There are a bunch of roads. Drive as you like, an dsuffer the consequences.

For TT, that 'open road' model would be to give the player's character a time machine and say "go wherever/whenever you want". Not specifically designed sub-worlds based on history. Not "pick a year from this list of twenty premade story points". Not tracks. I want the open road.

Several of my real-life friends are a bit perplexed as to why I do all this procedural generation nonsense, instead of just designing a game. I admit, a lot of it is because I recently chewed through just about every major science for a teaching project that never got off the ground, and I like to see what I can use. But when talking goals, there is still a point to it. If I don't want to design a few neat worlds for my game, but instead want a fully accessible timeline (and alternate timelines, of course!), I need to think in different tools. To put it in a fancy way, I can't draw every drawing I need, so I need to create mathematical equations that will draw 95% of each drawing for me, then go touch up and adjust everything by hand to get what I want. I need the proverbial million monkeys with a million typewriters, but I need to train them to do better work.

So far, of course, that's just a fancy twist on the "open world, procedural generation" trend that has its claws in a visible subset of games programmers and designers these days (maybe less so after the No Man's Sky debacles. Or maybe more!). The world extends not just north, south, east, west, up and down, but also back and forth in time. But it's still the same basic notion: Use a ton of math to make the computer design stuff for you. Spend your time instead on creating a new breed of tools to design your world via math. It's a challenge, no doubt, but the TT elements are still sort of vague. In fact, you could easily argue that by that account, even if true TT games do not exist, the feature to turn every game into one does exist: Game saves. Think about it, you save your game, and later, you can go 'back in time' to that point in the 'timeline'. Multiple saves means multiple TT destinations. A sufficiently advanced save system would be indistinguishable from time travel!

Which brings me to the elephant in any TT room: Changing history. In a sense, this is where the 'save system TT' and the procedural generation overlap. Serious TT stories deal with the effects of meddling with the past (or the future, in advanced cases). A true TT game would need to get its feet into those waters, too. So if a game can simulate how, say, a society evolves from barely human tribes into a spacefaring civilization, would saving the game at some point and later going all the way back to that save point and doing things differently allow the player to push the world down a different historical path? In TT terminology, could a player go downtime to seed an alternate timeline?

This is, to me, where the true TT gold is buried. A solid, grand TT game would be one where the notion of changing history, and understanding the dynamics of timeflows (according to the game, that is), would actually matter. Good games in other genres do this on a much smaller scale; if you save your game and play it through, then go back and play differently, the AI in the game would/should react differently the second time around. Enemy units will use different strategies in order to counter your different moves the second time around. Taking on a different target in a FPS means the previous target gets to do stuff that was not done before, while the new target might not, changing the course of the game. This 'fake TT' approach to games will answer one of the questions that many experienced gamers cannot help but wonder, or have already figured out: How much do my choices actually matter in the game?

We saw the massive rise of this, and the disasterous crash, in the Mass Effect series. The idea that any action during any of the games might help shape the final ending was a nearly sensational concept, making players feel like their actions mattered in ways never before imagined in a game. But in the end, it was all dumped for a disappointing "pick a card" ending, one that even had only three real outcomes. In a TT game, that would be like killing Hitler before WWII, and just finding out that history respawned him because he had to take on that role. Actions with no consequences.

I believe firmly that this is one of those challenges that have never been truly tackled, and that succesfully tackling it will rock the games industry as hard as the concept and unexpected success of Minecraft did. Imagine essentially to live as a character inside a perpetual world editor, where you had the option of taking one point in time and going two or more ways, splitting the game into two distinct, even if closely related, versions of the game. One in which you picked up the gun and started a violent revolution, and one in which you non-violently manipulated people into doing your bidding behind the scenes, for example. The latter would see the world go on as expected, only with you pulling some strings behind the scenes. The first one would throw the world into violent upheavel, sending city streets into murderous action-drama. With good and varied enough simulation of consequences, every major saving point would be its own new sub-game; a stealthy game of subterfuge and manipulation, or an urban military action game. Your choices would not only matter, they would create the/a future of the game.

At this point, though, it's all just speculation. I'm still working on having the game create scientifically plausible, yet greatly varied, planets for players to roam and explore. With luck, I can have something like Rodina running before the end of 2017, maybe adding animal life in 2018 and snapping No Man's Sky at the heels a bit. But with time (the irony is duly noted) or if I happen upon that one magic piece of mathematical genius (I seek high and low, I can guarantee you), is it entirely unthinkable that a true TT game could be created? Could your next big challenge be to find the point in your own playing time to go back to in order to alter the game world in just the right way for it to evolve into what you want?

If you ask me...... its about time!


(sorry for the pun. I have a problem)

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I like your ideas about time travel for a game.  That would certainly add a whole other level of depth for a game engine.  Just how you could go about capturing that experience for the end player is both inspiring and daunting, so much potential.  How far along have you come with your story/ books?  I really enjoy reading sci-fi, just saying.. :D

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I like your ideas about time travel for a game.  That would certainly add a whole other level of depth for a game engine.  Just how you could go about capturing that experience for the end player is both inspiring and daunting, so much potential.  How far along have you come with your story/ books?  I really enjoy reading sci-fi, just saying.. :D

Thanks, it is surprisingly difficult to even structure the idea of it! I had actually written three novels, but due to the inclusion of some real locations that changed their minds, I am now rewriting it all. I do have a bunch of short stories, though, I will link to them when I am at my computer (I am on mobile now)!

 

Edit: Here are two stories I wrote during NaNoWriMo '15 but never finished, because my furnace exploded (literally, spat out a fireball the size of my head, near my face). They were meant as a longer series, but only ever got to two:

Ida's Mission: Dust (parts 1 2 3 4 5)

Ida's Mission: Blood (parts 1 2 3 4)

I also did a handful of short stories, some of which people narrated. Examples are:

Beachhead

Glass Cage (a mood piece for a time travel destination in the near future, with narration)

New Old Friends (no narration)

Farewell in the Dark (dark far-future mood piece)

Retrieval in Choir

Note that I don't know exactly which stories will be affected, or how, by the currently planned 'reboot'. But I hope you enjoy! :)

Edit 2: Oh, apparently I put the third book online back then! It's here, but it will be completely obsolete after the 'reboot'. You're free to enjoy, though :)

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Bit off topic but have a look at http://miegakure.com/. You may find some inspiration (though reading your posts I don't think you lack in that department! )

I also have thought on persistant time travel mechanics before and and came to the following conclusions:-

1) Ahhh! Brain melt!

2) You would need your entire game to be procedurally generated. You would need your player actions to be limited to traversal of the procedural space. No more no less - whatever this 'travel' end up looking like to the user this limit would have to be maintained. Whatever action they can perform must be mapped from the precederal algorithms, that way the future will 'generate' from the path you (as the user) have steered into. It would also mean time travel is a simple a seed value. You COULD do this with a sufficiently complicated enough procedural model but Oh My you are signing up for a special kind of hell implementing something like that. For example a riverbed with a rock in it. The user moving the rock (and ultimately changing the course of the river) would actually be the user changing direction in the procedural seeding 'space' so that the algorithm has the rock in the new position. The fact that this change happens at a certain 'time' would also have to be within the system and generateable on the fly... Ahh my head hurts.

3) See 1).

4) Good luck!

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Bit off topic but have a look at http://miegakure.com/. You may find some inspiration (though reading your posts I don't think you lack in that department! )

I also have thought on persistant time travel mechanics before and and came to the following conclusions:-

1) Ahhh! Brain melt!

2) You would need your entire game to be procedurally generated. You would need your player actions to be limited to traversal of the procedural space. No more no less - whatever this 'travel' end up looking like to the user this limit would have to be maintained. Whatever action they can perform must be mapped from the precederal algorithms, that way the future will 'generate' from the path you (as the user) have steered into. It would also mean time travel is a simple a seed value. You COULD do this with a sufficiently complicated enough procedural model but Oh My you are signing up for a special kind of hell implementing something like that. For example a riverbed with a rock in it. The user moving the rock (and ultimately changing the course of the river) would actually be the user changing direction in the procedural seeding 'space' so that the algorithm has the rock in the new position. The fact that this change happens at a certain 'time' would also have to be within the system and generateable on the fly... Ahh my head hurts.

3) See 1).

4) Good luck!

I know that game!! It's really cool and trippy, although it is not time travel, but four-dimensional physical space. My screen name long ago used to be "Tesseract", actually, which means a 4-dimensional cube. I tripped out completely to studying 4-dimensional geometry, and I still get dizzy from thinking about it :)

1) Yes. Keep it in a bowl, like me. No reason to not be prepared!

2) Ohhhhh yes.You're pretty close, but there are a few details to consider. Firstly, there is a thing called "temporal plasticity", i.e. how much time gets changed by actions. Moving a stone might not do much; the stone's position may simply be recorded (as it would in non-TT games, I assume), or the effects of time passing would nullify it, bringing it back to the same situation (the stone might be swept away by the same river and in in the same part of the ocean, for example). Re-absorbing change is a field of study all its own, and would differ from one change to another. Shoot an old hobo two months before his natural death and things may return to what they would have been without your interference in a few months. Shoot a young, important person long before their time, and before their full impact on history, and the effects could last for millenia. But in the end, the Earth gets swallowed by the dying Sun and everything on it will be reduced to the same, so a lot of stuff will be meaningless beyond that. Yes, this is stuff I think about. I am currently timelining civilization into many, many millenia in our future, so these things are constantly on my mind. My poor, poor mind.

Returning to the procedural generation (if you haven't, look at my blog for some rants about my procedural generation project/insanity)... Yes, the universe must be procedurally created and guided, but there is room for Hand of God style adjustments. I am creating a full procedural universe at the moment, but in the long run, the point is to make it malleable, so that I can guide parts of it to fit the real universe. Maybe even reverse engineer a seed and procedural pattern that will come close on its own. #EverythingIsMathAndThatIsScary. So yes, a looooot of procedural generation. But only about 99.9999% of it :)

A lot of this is also being incorporated in the stories being written for the literature side of the project (I am revamping three books at the moment, and have some comics stuff to get on when time (haha) allows it). Working with timeline dynamics (ours and alternate lines), complex interactions (what if a time traveler goes to join another in the past? Is that a new timeline? Does it matter if the new traveler arrives earlier or later than the other?) and other such stuff is difficult, but endlessly fascinating. It all actually started when a friend of mine and I talked about how time travel movies don't really dive deep into the TT stuff. The idea stuck with me for all these years. I do miss someone to really discuss it with on a sufficiently high level, but it seems a bit of an unusual subject to make serious debate about...

3) The intricacies of pan-evolutionary cross-contamination has escalated iteration paradox. Wear a hat today. #PenguinIsAVegetable

4) Thank you! I need it, and a straight-jacket!

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Okay, it's very interesting reading this post and discussion since it's something I've also considered and wondered how to do, how to make a game that has some kind of genuine time-travel element to it.  And the more you think about the various possibilities and complexities, the more you realise how you need to give yourself some boundaries (and rules) to make it doable.  Just to highlight a couple of issues that have gone through my head thinking about this (some of which you discuss above).

 

Recording events - Consider the Bethesda games (e.g. Skyrim, Fallout, etc..).  It seems like any object you move, any door you open, every bad guy you kill, gets recorded and is still there next time you go there.  That's an incredible amount of information if you think about it and it's even more important for time-travel games.  As you discussed above, I thought about bracketing events in three categories, short-term, intermediate and long/persistent.  Short-term is opening a door, creating footsteps, etc.., stuff that can be forgotten about when you leave an area.  Intermediate is say destroying some object or causing some damage, which needs to be remembered for some time but eventually would be 'repaired' and then there's killing a person, going on a rampage in a city, changing the cause of history with some major event that always has to be remembered.  For example, kill a person and maybe if you return there, your picture is on Wanted posters and then there's the ramifications of removing that person from the timeline.  All big (but interesting problems) to deal with.

 

Timelines : What happens when you cause a major event?  This depends on your time-travel mode.  It could be you have 'parallel universes' so any events you did in the future are effectively removed.  Or do you try and 'merge' timelines together?  How do you resolves paradoxes in that case?  (This might start to sound like merging two branches in git btw, hehe.)  What if you went back in time and killed somebody you had already interacted with in the future?  Maybe it would work like the film 'Looper' perhaps where changes to the timeline are immediately 'updated'.  Of course, time travel stories in fiction all suffer from inconsistencies but a game you have to write consistent rules but you have to decide the rules first.  This is perhaps the most difficult thing to decide really since it will affect the whole procedural generation of the world in different times and your style of story-telling in the game.

 

Epochs : Is the game restricted to a single time-period?  If you have a GTA-style open world, maybe you're restricted to some short period (or even years) and then your world does not really change except for changes you make to it.  But if you don't restrict yourself then you can travel back to earlier periods with different cars, architecture, fashion.  If you go back far enough the towns and cities should be smaller and eventually will only be small Hamlets with horses and carriages.  That's a lot of work to code a procedural game that can handle all this.  One way I've thought about is to go low-poly or more cartoony so you can create more simple procedural models and nothing too complex.

 

Anyway, I've given thought to this kind of procedural generation myself, but not really got stuck into any real coding since it's such a big project that it's hard to know where to begin.  I've just started making cubic buildings really and will go from there!  :-)   But as you say yourself, maybe it's good to know other people interested in chatting about these kind of things.  Either some solutions will be found or we'll just realise it's impossible and go back to making the next Angry Birds instead!  ;-)

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[all]

Angy Birds: Time Travel Edition! Yeah, I'd play that :)

But yes, there is a lot to unpack here, and it's not something you easily find discussions or material on, as you and I both note. Most of my inspiration comes from old pen-and-paper roleplaying games (the original GURPS Time Travel in particular), but once you get the foundation, there are plenty of bits and pieces to draw from elsewhere. You just need a lot of bits and pieces. The main thing I have realized is that in my situation, there are two major categories to split everything into: How does time travel (TT) work in the universe, and how does TT work in the game.

The universe is the easy part, all things considered. It requires a looot of thought, but it's mainly a matter of choices. My current framework, which seems to be fairly solid at this point (I've been retooling and tampering with it for years, to be honest), is that time, events and the world all return to their original state pretty quickly, all things considered. The door would be back in position almost immediately, the broke item would be replaced and everything return to normal within hours (for something they have in stock, like breaking a glass in a bar) or days (something that needs to be ordered or made), or it would simply not matter much (some key items excepted, of course, like breaking the engine part to get the first spaceship into lightspeed). Even killing someone will have varied effects, like the old hobo vs. young and important person example I gave. Sure, killing someone before they had their child would damage a bloodline, but history has a tendency to put others in a person's place; if you killed Lincoln in his choldhood, the slaves would be freed differently, but they would be freed, because it was something history was pushing for in general. I think this is what is called "high plasticity timelines". If you want to make significant changes, you gotta work for it. And if things change so much that your origin (the point in time you traveled from, but not necessarily where and when you were born) becomes impossible to achieve, you either need to change where you 'belong' (by using another time machine, it's complicated), or you snap back to your origin, likely violently.

But those are all decisions, ideas and TT philosophy. I love that stuff, but it's only one side of the matter. The other side is how it works in the game. Procedural generation is absolutely key. I have math on how to make planets form (the stuff I am implementing at the moment), how life evolves, how civilization spreads, and so on. It needs a layer not usually discussed, though: Reactive procedures, essentially when the player character makes a significant change, how does the world mathematically alter to deal with it. That's of course where all the previous philosophy and time mechanics come in, so/but they have to be decided on beforehand, as a step of their own (maybe thinking ahead doesn't hurt when deciding them, but...). Some I talk to think that my descriptions of my work sounds almost like AI, but I am entirely sure it can be done with just clever math. Then again, that's just what I believe, I have no evidence because, as you state, this seems like it hasn't been done before.

The one thing you note that really hits a sore spot is the appearance of things, especially in advanced societies generated. I seem to have a rough path to procedurally generate civilizations from a practical standpoint; it's basically like letting the computer play a game of Advanced Civilization against itself, to make a looooong story very short. But the aesthetics are another matter. Why did cars in the 50s look like they did and cars now like like they do? Practical fashions can be procedurally generated by emulating the needs in a certain environment, but the style of an era is a different matter. These things are crazy when you dig into them! Did you know that those curved ancient Chinese roofs are like that because ancient superstition said that ghosts and demons can enter a house through corners, so they devised an entire architecture to have as few corners as possible? Or that the basic design of high heel shoes was derived from cavalry boots, which had those heels to better fit into stirrups? There is a whole, huge chunk of history that crosses so densely over with cultural psychology that I may one day need to hire academics from the humanities, rather than programmers, to build the really advanced versions of the engine!

But in the end, the real challenge is that this is not a commonly debated topic. I am hoping people in here will take a bit of interest and dare some open speculation, like you did, because I badly need the inspiration. I can't really bring this level of debate up at a family dinner without getting weird looks.... :P

 

Edit: Looking over what has been written in here, I am wondering if this whole topic is viable enough to have a website or message board or something dedicated to it, allowing non-game developers to pitch in on how this and that developed through the ages. If anyone wants to comment on that, I'd be very interested!

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The universe is the easy part, all things considered. It requires a looot of thought, but it's mainly a matter of choices. My current framework, which seems to be fairly solid at this point (I've been retooling and tampering with it for years, to be honest), is that time, events and the world all return to their original state pretty quickly, all things considered. The door would be back in position almost immediately, the broke item would be replaced and everything return to normal within hours (for something they have in stock, like breaking a glass in a bar) or days (something that needs to be ordered or made), or it would simply not matter much (some key items excepted, of course, like breaking the engine part to get the first spaceship into lightspeed).

 

Yes, like I said with my ideas, I would have three main types of event (which could perhaps be reduced to two for simplicity anyway).  The door would stay open in my idea until perhaps you left that area and came back, then it would be closed.  I think that's good enough considering the tonne of other problems that need solving in this kind of game!  ;-)   Some things can be decorations, like having bullet holes in a wall.  It means nothing, but nice if they were there (until some time later when it's fixed perhaps?)

 

 

 

 

Even killing someone will have varied effects, like the old hobo vs. young and important person example I gave. Sure, killing someone before they had their child would damage a bloodline, but history has a tendency to put others in a person's place; if you killed Lincoln in his choldhood, the slaves would be freed differently, but they would be freed, because it was something history was pushing for in general. I think this is what is called "high plasticity timelines". If you want to make significant changes, you gotta work for it. And if things change so much that your origin (the point in time you traveled from, but not necessarily where and when you were born) becomes impossible to achieve, you either need to change where you 'belong' (by using another time machine, it's complicated), or you snap back to your origin, likely violently.

 

Yes, this is where things become extremely interesting (and complicated).  Take killing Lincoln (or any prominent person for that matter).  If you killed them as a child, then there's presumably 20 years or so of the timeline that's essentially the same (except for their family and friends).  But then when they're supposed to do that significant thing (like becoming president) then things can start to change.  I agree that one way of compensating for this is having events that have to happen anyway.  However, I would also say this would possibly make for a slightly boring game because it means you can time travel but not really change anything!  The beauty of this kind of game (at least to me) would be that you *can* make significant changes, either by killing someone prominent directly, or maybe some kind of butterfly effect where you make some small, what you thought was an insignificant change, but then find that you've contaminated history completely (think accidentally dropping the Sports Almanac in 1955 and someone picking it up; best burn things when you time travel ;-) ).  Maybe as you say, you should still need to work for it, but I also like the idea of accidentally doing something significant.

 

About the 'snapping back to your origin' thing, I have thought about that also.  Let's say you try to change the timeline 'Bill and Ted' style (or Doctor Who perhaps if you watch that) where your timeline crosses over but then you create a paradox.  Maybe you want to kill a person your past self needs to talk to in the future, or you even try to kill yourself!!   One way for the game to prevent this from happening is to instantly snap you back to a non-paradox state (almost like dying and restarting that section again).  However, I also like the Looper/Back-To-The-Future style where you (almost) instantly fade from history :-) .  There are so many possibilities (as long as you're consistent!)

 

 

 

 

But those are all decisions, ideas and TT philosophy. I love that stuff, but it's only one side of the matter. The other side is how it works in the game. Procedural generation is absolutely key. I have math on how to make planets form (the stuff I am implementing at the moment), how life evolves, how civilization spreads, and so on. It needs a layer not usually discussed, though: Reactive procedures, essentially when the player character makes a significant change, how does the world mathematically alter to deal with it. That's of course where all the previous philosophy and time mechanics come in, so/but they have to be decided on beforehand, as a step of their own (maybe thinking ahead doesn't hurt when deciding them, but...). Some I talk to think that my descriptions of my work sounds almost like AI, but I am entirely sure it can be done with just clever math. Then again, that's just what I believe, I have no evidence because, as you state, this seems like it hasn't been done before.

 

If you want to make time-travel games with long histories and the potential to go back and change everything(!!) then yes, this is the problem to solve.  The closest thing that I can think of to this is Dwarf Fortress.  I've not really played it (apart from a couple of aborted attempts to get into it) but at the beginning of every game, it procedurally generates the entire world AND a full history of all the civilisations giving you plenty of things to explore, both in the world and its history.  You can't actually time travel of course, but its the kind of algorithm that would be needed to do this kind of thing.  As you say, any significant change would need to be able to generate a new history (from that moment) and I guess whenever you time travel this change needs to be propagated.  Doing this efficiently with maths would be awesome, but I have a feeling the maths doesn't exist yet :-)  (or at least, nobody has tried to formulate it for this purpose).  One issue I think is apparent with PCG is everything is local because it's just some numbers that have come from an algorithm.  Having PCG that accounts for the world and its history is much more of a challenge.  It would be great to find out how to do it (and it sounds like something you're interested in too) but I'm not 100% sure even where to start.  I have ideas about world generation and how to 'evolve' it in time (e.g. take some land with rivers and mountains; seed civilisations in key areas like near rivers; let them grow and develop, etc..) but doing it efficiently with maths so that it can be employed without massive loading/waiting times in a game is a big challenge!!

 

Anyway, you said more stuff but that's enough for now :-)

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Games you might be interested in:

[url=http://web.archive.org/web/20170314053418/www.braid-game.com/]Braid[/url]

[url=http://web.archive.org/web/20111210081214/www.potato-factory.com/temporal/]Temporal[/url]

[url=http://www.scarybuggames.com/chronotron.swf]Chronotron[/url]
 

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Anyone see that episode of Futurama where Fry went back in time, slept with his own grandmother and became his own grandfather?

Try to make a robust procedural game world where you can do that and not have a stack overflow from an infinitely recursive loop...

-----

I think the key to all of this is in limiting what you are actually able to do. Your actions must be 'generatable' from the procedural algorithm defining your world. If that is true then I think (and my God this thread has made me think) that you could go back and forward in time as your actions and the place/time they occur all translate into procedural seeds. And yes even into parallel worlds, they are just different procedural seeds after all.

When it come to affecting the future you can look forward by modifying the time 'seed' forward and see what the algorithm spits out. Same for backwards obviously.

Of course if the user presses the up arrow they expect the character to move forward. This is reasonable. What you need to actually happen is that the user presses the up arrow, this increments an aspect of the characters seed value that the engine uses to spit out the next iteration of the world in which, yes, the character has moved forward. So the world has a seed, time has a seed (otherwise it wont affect anything and you cannot traverse it within the system) and the users avatar has a seed. These are all combined into a procedural mega-alogorithm that spews out a unique but deterministic world.

The problem with this is that if the user moves forward and left and then jumps a bit, and THEN looks forward or back into the timestream, the results would be different (both in the future and weirdly in the past too) than if they had looked before doing these actions.

So you can have your actions affect the future... but also the past. So if you went back in time you would find a history that was never there before you changed the present when you were back in the future. *Gulp*

To go back to a past you recognise you would have to 'undo' your changes in the future first (this means change the 'user input' seed value back to what is was at the recognised point in the past as well as the 'time' part of the seed value - other wise the algorithm wont throw out the same result).

Of course as a game this achievable by just saving the seed values at points of interest. But navigating this temporal/spacial/actionable space would be... interesting?

Further thoughts:- For every action or degree of freedom the user has available to them you will need a new dimension/value to tweak with regards to their seed values. Small but important note as it highlights the escalating complexity of this.

Futher further thoughts:- I need a lie down. Got brain ache. Urgh.

Final thought:- Not sure if I explained any of this very well. Trying to articulate this stuff was... interesting but reading through it now I don't know it makes sense unless your in my noodled head right now.

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@sergamer1:

Dwarf Fortress is INSANE! I never truly played it either, but I watched some videos. The game had a famous situation where dead cats showed up everywhere, covered in vomit. Turns out some new code allowed dwaarfs to spill beer in the tavern, cats walked in it, licked their feet clean, got drunk and died from it. The bug was that a cat stepping in a puddle of beer counted as its feet absorbing the whole beer, meaning cats licked up a whole beer again and again, dying from alcohol poisoning. Now that is commitment to detail! I will need something at least of that level of complexity before I'm done...

PCG doesn't have to be entirely local. To greatly simplify it, a lot of content can share a seed (or set of seeds) and thus know what others are based on. I use that right now to make multiple points on a sphere belong to various groups that I am coding into tectonic plates. The problem is that you need to work at multiple levels. For example, if you have galactic empires, you need to know which empires can reach the star system where you are. But if you set things up right, tons of PCG content can be created with full connection. Just... nobody seems to do it right now. The point about finding or creating the math is probably somewhere in the middle. I did massive research (and still do) on ALL the sciences, and there are tons of good, useful math already out there. But it has to be assembled into a whole, the holes have to be plugged somehow, and it has to get a visual presentation. I could probably generate the universe from quantum particles if it was only a matter of the math, but it is the implementation that is pulling out my teeth, and likely will be for a foreseeable future.

The paradox stuff is just a choice. I am designing the TT around the stories I am writing, and there is a narrative reason for those choices which I won't get into (it would require telling half the entire story, and there is limited time and space for that here). But yeah, if you change history enough that your departure point becomes impossible, *snap*. Unless you take another trip from a point that can access both your origin and the alternate timeline. The coding for absorbing change may benefit from that, especially since it is an excuse to nullify minor changes; the butterfly effect would be chaos, so it is not as strong. But that might change, no guarantees!

And yeah, there's a looot to discuss and consider. If people seem up for it, I am considering making some kind of time travel discussion forum that will allow multiple topics without flooding GameDev.

@PeterStock:

There goes a few dozen hours for me :D Thanks!!

@Gruffler:

Welcome to the headache zone!

What you write makes a lot of sense, don't worry. I think you are thinking along full butterfly effect lines, though, where anything affects everything. Like I am discussing with sergamer1, it need not be that chaotic. Small actions can see their effects fade over time; you may have just killed that weird dinosaur, but in 50,000 years, they were all going to be extinct, anyway. The trick is to find a way to evaluate the long-term impact of actions. Which mainly means simulating every god damned aspect of an entire universe. Dangit...

As for the "changing your past" thing, I would love for you to elaborate. I think I get the basics, and actually have some stuff on that, too (for the stories, not the game; I'm not nearly at that point with the game yet!). But your ideas sound very interesting.

Do mind your mind, though. This is not a topic for the faint of brain ;)

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Dwarf Fortress is INSANE! I never truly played it either, but I watched some videos. The game had a famous situation where dead cats showed up everywhere, covered in vomit. Turns out some new code allowed dwaarfs to spill beer in the tavern, cats walked in it, licked their feet clean, got drunk and died from it. The bug was that a cat stepping in a puddle of beer counted as its feet absorbing the whole beer, meaning cats licked up a whole beer again and again, dying from alcohol poisoning. Now that is commitment to detail! I will need something at least of that level of complexity before I'm done...

 

Haha, yes, I've heard about some of these weird things, so-called 'emergent gameplay' elements where random stuff happens.  It would be great to have such randomness in any game, to make it more interesting.  And yes, me too, but that's some bar to achieve!

 

 

 

 

PCG doesn't have to be entirely local. To greatly simplify it, a lot of content can share a seed (or set of seeds) and thus know what others are based on. I use that right now to make multiple points on a sphere belong to various groups that I am coding into tectonic plates. The problem is that you need to work at multiple levels. For example, if you have galactic empires, you need to know which empires can reach the star system where you are. But if you set things up right, tons of PCG content can be created with full connection. Just... nobody seems to do it right now. The point about finding or creating the math is probably somewhere in the middle. I did massive research (and still do) on ALL the sciences, and there are tons of good, useful math already out there. But it has to be assembled into a whole, the holes have to be plugged somehow, and it has to get a visual presentation. I could probably generate the universe from quantum particles if it was only a matter of the math, but it is the implementation that is pulling out my teeth, and likely will be for a foreseeable future.

 

Of course, PCG for a time-travel game could not possibly function without either spatial or temporal factors (or both).  And while I agree that a huge amount of the PCG can be local, factoring in the other parts does add to the complexity.  I've not really started experimenting with PCG myself yet (other than a few trivial examples) but I've looked at, for example, taking some world map like continents generated by some algorithm, then adding a river network with mountain topology, then adding towns and civilisations, etc..  It all has to be done in sequence.  And then if you add the time-travel factor in, where you can affect the way this sequence develops, then you start to see how things change (the butterfly effect, etc..).  I'm probably not quite as confident as you about how much existing maths can be used for PCG (partly because there would be more PCG in games if there were) but I am pretty confident that it's possible to make if enough brains were bashed together thinking about how to solve these problems!  I'd love to have more time to do it myself anyway, if I didn't have to do so much work, hehe :-)

 

 

 

 

The paradox stuff is just a choice. I am designing the TT around the stories I am writing, and there is a narrative reason for those choices which I won't get into (it would require telling half the entire story, and there is limited time and space for that here). But yeah, if you change history enough that your departure point becomes impossible, *snap*. Unless you take another trip from a point that can access both your origin and the alternate timeline. The coding for absorbing change may benefit from that, especially since it is an excuse to nullify minor changes; the butterfly effect would be chaos, so it is not as strong. But that might change, no guarantees!

 

Yes, I agree this is a design choice for the kind of game and story you want.  I think a much smaller-scale time-travel game, or one with a more tightly controlled story, will need some kind of paradox detection!!  But there are so many ways to do time travel (Multiverse branching, single adapting timeline, predestination/bootstrapping paradoxes, etc..), then there are plenty of types of games you could feasibly do!  :-)   

 

One idea I had was where you could have some kind of 'timeline googles' where you can see in 'real-time' how your changes maybe affect things (the closest thing I can think of is Vibe from the Flash).  This would unfortunately require effectively modelling 2 PCG universes simultaneously, the original timeline (or previous one) and your current alternate one, so perhaps it's too much to ask for, but still would be cool!  Too many possibilities, not enough hours in the day to try any of them!!

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Of course, PCG for a time-travel game could not possibly function without either spatial or temporal factors (or both).  And while I agree that a huge amount of the PCG can be local, factoring in the other parts does add to the complexity.[...]  It all has to be done in sequence.

Ever see jpegs in the old, old, olden days? They were made so that they looked all clunky pixelated and then increased resolution as content was downloaded across phone lines? That method, but for PCG. Start with a big rough generation, then improve 'resolution', so to speak, whereever it becomes relevant to the player.
 

I'm probably not quite as confident as you about how much existing maths can be used for PCG (partly because there would be more PCG in games if there were)

AAA publishers have burned their fingers too much already on it, they won't go near nything that doesn't look like a safe bet. No Man's Sky was their timid test. It crashed and burned. They're not touching that area of progress anytime soon.
 

Yes, I agree this is a design choice for the kind of game and story you want. I think a much smaller-scale time-travel game, or one with a more tightly controlled story, will need some kind of paradox detection!! But there are so many ways to do time travel (Multiverse branching, single adapting timeline, predestination/bootstrapping paradoxes, etc..), then there are plenty of types of games you could feasibly do! :-)

If anyone can pull it off, yeah, that well won't run dry anytime soon! But as always, it's a risk, it's not needed to make a profit, and publishers despise risk-taking. So.... yeah....
 

One idea I had was where you could have some kind of 'timeline googles' where you can see in 'real-time' how your changes maybe affect things (the closest thing I can think of is Vibe from the Flash). This would unfortunately require effectively modelling 2 PCG universes simultaneously, the original timeline (or previous one) and your current alternate one, so perhaps it's too much to ask for, but still would be cool! Too many possibilities, not enough hours in the day to try any of them!!

Hehe, timeception. I get flashbacks to the Nick Cage movie "Next", where he ends up using his 2-minute precognition to watch himself watching himself watching himself, all giving messages back, in order to reach farther into the future. I think my abilities do not reach this far beyond the realm of mere mortals!

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I don't see anyone mentioning it yet, so Achron is a must-see (loosely) in this vein...

Thanks! Looks very unusual!! :)

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Ever see jpegs in the old, old, olden days? They were made so that they looked all clunky pixelated and then increased resolution as content was downloaded across phone lines? That method, but for PCG. Start with a big rough generation, then improve 'resolution', so to speak, whereever it becomes relevant to the player.

I know what you mean, but I was talking about how you feedback time travel events into that.  Imagine your 'clunky pixelated' view of the world is a simple graph/map describing the every town/village, major road link, river, mountain, etc.. .  Then imagine you go back in time and do something massive, like destroy an entire town with a nuclear bomb, or divert the course of a river by building a dam (I know, this is weird and complicated sounding game).  Then these small scale (but important) changes have to first propagate back up to your course map and then persist and affect the future.  And every event you do in the past has the possibility to change things.  Of course, if we make it extremely hard to change anything (like you were suggesting in a previous post), then I guess this is less important.  But at some scale, changes in the past need to affect the larger scale in the future.  This of course needs to be kept as simple as possible so that a dynamic, real-time PCG algorithm can operate (and not need a supercomputer).  Hopefully something like that could be within reach!  :-)

 

 

 

AAA publishers have burned their fingers too much already on it, they won't go near nything that doesn't look like a safe bet. No Man's Sky was their timid test. It crashed and burned. They're not touching that area of progress anytime soon.

Yeah, you're probably right.  PCG has been used in 3D games for a while for some things, like repetitive landscape features (don't the Just Cause games use it for this?) or buildings.  But to build up an entire game?  Maybe not, or at least if they do, it won't be hyped up like 'No Man's Sky' (which was more the problem than the game itself.  Too much hype is never good).

 

 

 

Hehe, timeception. I get flashbacks to the Nick Cage movie "Next", where he ends up using his 2-minute precognition to watch himself watching himself watching himself, all giving messages back, in order to reach farther into the future. I think my abilities do not reach this far beyond the realm of mere mortals!

Oh yes, I forgot about that movie actually :-)  That would be cool to do but perhaps tricky to get the gameplay right.  In reality, it probably would end up something like 'Sands of Time' where players would just effectively rewind when everything goes wrong!  Actually, this does make me think of another way of using time travel in games.  Imagine you could travel to any point in time and space (in the past of future), but more like an invisible observer where you can only watch and not affect things.  Perhaps you can observe mysteries in the past and then 'solve' them in the future, or observe how things go in the future and avoid them happening in the past!  This would not bring any paradox issues at least ;-)

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I know what you mean, but I was talking about how you feedback time travel events into that.  Imagine your 'clunky pixelated' view of the world is a simple graph/map describing the every town/village, major road link, river, mountain, etc.. .  Then imagine you go back in time and do something massive, like destroy an entire town with a nuclear bomb, or divert the course of a river by building a dam (I know, this is weird and complicated sounding game).  Then these small scale (but important) changes have to first propagate back up to your course map and then persist and affect the future.  And every event you do in the past has the possibility to change things.  Of course, if we make it extremely hard to change anything (like you were suggesting in a previous post), then I guess this is less important.  But at some scale, changes in the past need to affect the larger scale in the future.  This of course needs to be kept as simple as possible so that a dynamic, real-time PCG algorithm can operate (and not need a supercomputer).  Hopefully something like that could be within reach!  :-)

The jpeg concept can go for time travel, too. Different time periods are connected by major influences, and the details get calculated when entering the timeline there. Changes too small to affect the big influences simply don't change the timeline beyond a certain point. The trick, as always, is to turn everything into math... And that is a neat trick, if possible!!

Yeah, you're probably right.  PCG has been used in 3D games for a while for some things, like repetitive landscape features (don't the Just Cause games use it for this?) or buildings.  But to build up an entire game?  Maybe not, or at least if they do, it won't be hyped up like 'No Man's Sky' (which was more the problem than the game itself.  Too much hype is never good).

Hype makes a mess of things, yeah. But even without the massive disaster surrounding NMS, big companies do not take chances. They have a formula and will follow it until it breaks, and then some. If not, there would be no room for indie games. So it might be a good or bad thing, I dunno. I'll just try to stake my claim here and see what happens :D

Oh yes, I forgot about that movie actually :-)  That would be cool to do but perhaps tricky to get the gameplay right.  In reality, it probably would end up something like 'Sands of Time' where players would just effectively rewind when everything goes wrong!  Actually, this does make me think of another way of using time travel in games.  Imagine you could travel to any point in time and space (in the past of future), but more like an invisible observer where you can only watch and not affect things.  Perhaps you can observe mysteries in the past and then 'solve' them in the future, or observe how things go in the future and avoid them happening in the past!  This would not bring any paradox issues at least ;-)

Oh god..... the mental gymnastics! Some of that is actually part of the Embassy of Time stories (it's not about paradox, veteran time travelers just don't want people messing up the time line, and work to 'adjust' changes back to normal, if needed). I think what you describe will be the early incarnations of the game, when it gets that far along. A timeline will be calculated, and can be traveled to, but actions do not affect anything, so it's going to be mostly explorative. I do have some of the mysteries to put in, already, though ;)

Edit: Oh god, I think I just described the basis for a Doctor Who / Groundhog Day crossover universe!!!! *pop goes the membrane*

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