Friday, January 07, 2011

Time travel... revisited (ha ha)

I watched a LOT of Dr Who over the holiday season - I haven't ever really seen that show before. And that's kind of weird because I love a good Time Travel story. I never saw the old ones, and only now have watched the most recent couple of seasons, but I was impressed by how much planning ahead they seemed to do in the writing. They put things in 1 show deliberately which would be a part of a later show, and you wouldn't even notice until you saw the later show. They also did a good job avoiding paradoxes.

Yesterday I was thinking that it would be fun to do a board game based on Dr Who, or a time travel sort of game in general. I've put some thought into this in the past, but haven't progressed on any of it lately. Here's some of the stuff I thought of yesterday, followed by some thoughts on reviving one of my time travel themed games from before:

One thing that's amusing about Dr Who is that while he's a Time Lord, and has a fancy spaceship that can travel through time, he often doesn't end up where he was planning on going. Also, he keeps saying something about not being able to travel back and forth within his own time line (never mind that he seems to do it anyway). Then there's this thing called a Vortex Manipulator, which allows a person to sort of teleport through space and time as well, but the Doctor knocks it as being a cheap or tacky way to travel through time. Imagine a board, at the center is a sort of spinner - maybe a disc, with a TARDIS depicted on one side (at an oblique angle such that it comes to a point, and can be used as a pointer). Surrounding this disc, radiating outward, are several paths, each representing a different location in space, each 'location' path having some number of spaces on it leading away from the TARDIS. Each of these spaces represents a different time. So you have maybe London on one path, and the spaces along that path correspond to (1) ancient history, (2) somewhat recent history (Winston Churchill's era maybe), (3) something contemporary (2010), and (4) some time in the future. I like the idea of sometimes when travelling through space and time in the TARDIS, a player simply spins the spinner and randomly determines where he ends up. If the spinner also had a mechanism for randomly determining which point in time the TARDIS lands, that would be cool.

These locations need to have the various different times associated, because events would occur in those locations, and they'd have an overall chronological order. Taking some liberties, I think it would be cool if the TARDIS can basically move you from one location in space time to another, different one, and a Vortex Manipulator only moved you through time at the same location.

One of the main thoughts about time travel that came into my mind was this - how do you represent when one character in a time travel story knows what will happen in the future of the other characters? Like in Dr Who, when they keep bumping into River Song, another time traveler who comes from the Doctor's future, and often knows what will happen later on in the Doctor's time line. Suppose there's a small deck of cards for each location depicting events that may occur there. These events would be numbered so they could be put in relative chronological order, but not all of them would come up in a given game - there would be more than enough. The event cards would be shuffled and some removed, and when needed they could be drawn and placed in their appropriate relative order. To represent a player knowing what event will happen in the future, that player could simply draw an event card early, thereby knowing one of the things that will occur in the future (or the past I guess, depending on your point of view).

Each of these events could have some sort of challenge or condition that must be met in order to resolve or move past it. As an example, in the Dr Who Episode The Big Bang, the Doctor has been imprisoned in The Pandorica. A future Doctor pops in via Vortex Manipulator and tells Rory to get him out of the Pandorica and put the mortally wounded Amy Pond in it, and then disappears. Then he pops back in and says "you'll need this" and hands Rory his Sonic Screwdriver. Later, you see the other side of this exchange, when the Doctor pops back in time to tell that to Rory, then realizes he needs his screwdriver back, so he pops back again and tells Rory to leave the screwdriver in Amy's jacket. Then, in the 'present', he reaches into Amy's pocket and retrieves his screwdriver. Similarly, a player might need a tool in order to pass a challenge or deal with an event card. Maybe they have a Sonic Screwdriver card, but don't actually have the screwdriver on them (another player does). Maybe they can play the card to the location they're using it, and put a Paradox counter on it, representing that they managed to get ahold of the screwdriver somehow. Then they use it and move on. Before the end of the game though, all Paradox counters must be removed - meaning someone later must go to that location on or before the screwdriver was needed and leave it there.

I was thinking perhaps a cooperative game is the way to go, with some soft timer - some amount of time in which the players need to save the world (from Dalek attack, or from total event collapse, or whatever). Before that timer runs out, the players will have had to satisfy the win conditions AND removed all Paradox counters from the board. Though it might be hard to track if, say, the Doctor uses the screwdriver at time t=5, and Rory uses the screwdriver at time t=3, and to facilitate that, River at time t=6 meets up with the Doctor at time t=2, takes the screwdriver, and delivers it to Rory... that actually creates a paradox because now the Doctor doesn't have the screwdriver when time t=5 rolls around!

Anyway, it's amusing to think about, and I like thinking about time travel. it reminded me that I have a couple game ideas involving time travel on the back burner.One of them I like a lot, involving the "bluff auction" - multiple simultaneous games of Liar's Dice as a mechanism to drive a bigger game:

With the advent of Time Travel, museum curators have procured prototype time machines, and will use them to go back in time and "save" precious cultural artifacts that - until now - have been lost to history (damaged, destroyed, or lost forever). But it's very important not to cause a paradox, or let people know the item still exists - so only the player who arrives closest to the time the item is thought to have disappeared will be able to take it!

Thematically though it's a bit strange that a player couldn't simply go back in time 1 hour further than the other guy and swipe the artifact out from under the player who wins the bid. Perhaps instead of each museum getting a time machine, there could be a sort of governing body (the Worldwide Historic Authority on Time?) which controls the machine and attempts to ensure that people don't muck up history with their time travel antics. This body has decided to allow the museum curators to display these long lost artifacts, but in an attempt to make sure history is impacted as little as possible, they will only allow the player who's research indicates the latest possible opportunity to get the artifact to go back in time and fetch it - or perhaps they send their own time agents. Whatever. In any case, the WHAT rewards the player who does the 'best' research to display the artifact in their museum.


This might tie up some silly plot holes in the story (not all of them, I'm sure), and still fit the theme well. It might be easier to say that players want to go back as far as possible, but after the item was created in order to take it, but thematically, doing so would erase all trace of importance from the object, and nobody would care to come see it!


Perhaps there's a way to make an item's value variable, based on how long it is around before it's collected by a time traveler... so there's an incentive not to go back any further than you need to - but I think that's a whole different game and wouldn't work well with the Liar's Dice auction.


... And with that garbled mess above, I conclude this post about time travel. I fully expect following everything in this post will be appropriately confusing considering the subject matter! :)

5 comments:

DShort said...

Dude. This sounds awesome. Cooperative time travel game! Any chance you need a co-designer on this? ;)

Scurra said...

Co-operative time travel does indeed sound like fun.

Chrononauts does a good job of the "artifact" idea, especially with the Mona Lisa gag and the one or two things that cannot be obtained except under special circumstances. I also liked the way that it lets items carry on existing regardless of the "timeline".

And I think I mentioned my time-travel auction game idea to you before? The principle was that some information about the outcome of the various auctions is already known (e.g. the final prices but not exactly what was sold at which price), so the players have to ensure that this is not contradicted whilst still getting the objects they need.

(Incidentally I think the idea is that River Song is going "backwards" relative to the Doctor, rather than being from the future as such. So his first meeting with her was her last meeting with him and so on. As if time-travel paradox wasn't hard enough to get your head around!)

Seth Jaffee said...

@David: Yeah, River is going backwards relative to the Doctor because she's from (the Doctor's) future, and keeps traveling back in time ;)

Scurra said...

No, no, Seth. She's not travelling backwards, she's travelling forwards, just like the Doctor (I think she only had access to time-travel tech that once, and it had considerable problems perhaps for this very reason.) I think it's more reasomable to argue that the Doctor is from her "past" than than she is from his "future".
But as no-one really knows the answer (except, maybe, Steven Moffat and I'm not convinced he does, really!) we shall have to wait and see.

Seth Jaffee said...

@Scurra: YOU'RE the one who said she was going backwards!

Everyone in the show is traveling forward in their own timeline, it's just that the timelines don't all line up with each other. The show follows the Doctor, so we see things based on HIS personal timeline. It's clear that River exists in the Doctor's future, though it's not clear what date that will actually occur in.

I really liked the episode where River got that Vortex Manipulator by the way - I think it was The Pandorica Opens, or possibly Big Bang 2 (those were really 2 halves of 1 big episode)