Wednesday, April 09, 2008


I just watched a movie with Nicholas Cage called Next, a wholly unspectacular movie about an exceptionally cool character who constantly sees 2 minutes into his own future. Anything that will directly affect him within the next 2 minutes he can see. The implication here is that he can start to do something, and if he doesn't like the outcome (up to 2 minutes down the road), he can instead do something else.

I've been thinking about that ability a lot, and in some respects it's challenging teleportation as the coolest impossible ability ever! Just think - infinite do-overs! And it's "balanced" (to use game terms) because often there are long term ramifications of actions, which won't manifest in 2 minutes. In light of that the ability suddenly doesn't sound so great. However it's still a huge advantage over someone who doesn't get infinite do-overs!

In a lot of ways this ties in to something I've thought about before - the parallel between precogniscience and simply the ability to anticipate really, really well. In the case of the movie, the guy could see things that would affect him, irrespective of where they're coming from or what he could observe otherwise. That's clearly different from observing something and then using logic or physics to determine what will occur next. For example, if I let go of this pen, it will fall to the table - that much I can tell you. In fact, I can "see" enough into the future to put my other hand in the right place to catch the pen. However, I could never anticipate that a bird my boss just let into the office will come screaming around the corner and catch the pen between the time I let go and the time it hits the table - which this guy would see.

My friend Mike was telling me about a game idea he had stemming from a similar precognition ability of certain characters in the book Dune (which I'm not familiar with). His idea was that you could put Prescience tokens on the board, and if an opponent's piece were close enough to it, it would have to do a particular thing... the long and short of it is that you could control your opponents' pieces to an extent by basically saying "I looked into the future and saw you do that" - and therefore they have to do that. He's got some further ideas how that might develop, so I'm interested to see where he goes with it.

I on the other hand am thinking more along the lines of the movie... suppose each player had this ability to see their own future up to 2 minutes. On your turn you could do whatever you want, and if you don't like the outcome you could change your mind and do something else. But you wouldn't be able to repeat the same action looking for a better result, and you wouldn't be able to try everything and pick the outcome you liked best. Any strategy you choose will take more than that turn to unveil, so you wouldn't get complete control over your destiny - but each step along the way you'd get as many do-overs as you like.

I have no idea what the theme, story, or point of this game would be, but I'm amused that this really cool ability could so easily be modeled in a game.


Andrew said...

Not entirely related, but similar, is "Refusal Chess", where if you don't like the move your opponent makes, you can veto it. However, you are stuck with the replacement move. Each player gets this ability on as many turns as they feel it useful. I've never played, so can't say how well it works (if at all).

The presence of the prescience tokens (I'd recommend _Dune_; the quality of the series gradually drops off after that, although like most of Herbert's books they all have some interesting ideas) strikes me as being superficially similar to the interaction you mention in Catch of the Day.

Prescience also probably works better than copious quantities of time travel, which is the other theme I can envision for such a mechanic (I've never played Time Agent or whatever that game is, but the rules I'm picturing for a time-travel game are hairy and involved).

In terms of other random thoughts sparked by this post: one of the characters in _Hyperion_ lives "backwards"; each day she becomes physically one day younger and has no memory of her previous life. Which doesn't really work at all, if you think about it too hard, but it's an interesting plot point. Anyhow, this in turn reminds me of retrograde analysis puzzles in chess, some of which involve retracting a number of moves (sometimes a very large number) before moving forward again to deliver checkmate. At all stages, the position produced by the retraction must be legal (so that you can retract yourself into check, and then your opponent is obligated to spend the next move retracting you back out)... which in turn makes me wonder if there's a playable game mechanic there.

I guess I'll have to ponder that some more.

Seth Jaffee said...

Refusal chess sounds cool - and now that you mention it, it sounds familiar. I've never played though.

I agree with you about Catch of the Day feeling similar to the whole Prescience thing, and that's another thing that got me thinking along these lines. In Catch of the Day you're basically saying things like "you didn't do that, because I was there and I saw you!" - only in that game you're referring to the past, so it makes sense in the normal way :)

I'm not sure I followed the Retraction Chess example... what is the purpose and how/when do you use it?