Let's Improve Gaming! Issue 1

Everyone has their wishlist of the ideas they would love to see in a game. In this irregular feature I’ll be exploring mine. I say irregular for three reasons:

  1. I’m not arrogant enough to tell game developers what they should be doing on a regular basis. I wouldn’t have the first clue about how to make a game so continually saying that they’re doing it wrong is probably something I should not do.
  2. Generally speaking, every time someone suggests an idea for a game on the internet someone else pops up and says that it’s already been done, usually as a Flash game on some obscure website… Or by Russians.
  3. Thinking up ideas that are under-utilised in games is hard.

With this in mind I’ll begin the first, and possibly only, post in this series with an idea I thought of about an hour ago while outlining a potential post about Fallout 3. An hour later it’s still awesome so obviously I should share it with the world, right? I’m going to need you to bear with me on this one as it’ll take me a while to get to the point.

Game saves are an incongruous thing. They are inherently revisionist: if you die in a game, then reload to your last save point and go on to complete the section properly you have wiped out the previous timeline. There is no internal consistency for this within the parameters of the game because at the point of death you are forced into the menu. Game Over, do it properly next time. There are a variety of different ways games tend to handle this:

  1. Ignore it. To be honest this method works perfectly well as it’s what we’re use to. To be perfectly clear here, this is the method I’m happy with for most games and it makes much more sense that method 2.
  2. Incorporate savegames into the fiction. The Metal Gear Solid approach is, perhaps, the most ridiculous example. To save a game you have to call one of your support team and save your ‘mission data’. This would be all well and good if it wasn’t for the fact that in reality when you actually do reload a save it just reverts back to method 1. Why bother having in-game characters mention saving if you aren’t going to do anything with it?
  3. Get rid of the death. This is the Prince of Persia method utilised, in the most recent of the series (more on which soon), by having a magical girl come and fly you out of danger whenever you mistime a jump. This is perfectly fine except that when it’s tied into a narrative it raises the question of why the bloody hell Elika couldn’t just fly me to where I should be in the first place.

My idea incorporates all three of the above methods through the medium of time-travel. If you give the main character a time-travel device then when he or she dies the device can revert back to the last save. It even becomes logical that the character would be anticipating certain attack patterns from enemies because they are learning from past mistakes just like the player. So far that’s methods 1 and 2 covered: An in-narrative system that fits in with the outer shell of menu-based savegames. At this point, if you’ve been paying attention, you should be thinking “Well done Phil, you’ve just invented Prince of Persia: Sands of Time’s time reversal mechanic (an example of method 3) and then made it more fiddly by necessitating the use of manual saves. What a pointless endeavour”. This is true, but only because I’ve not revealed phase 2 of my idea.

Phase 2: Where Things Get Awesome. Let’s use Fallout 3 as an example. Say I receive a mission in the game to track down and kill a specific person. Now say that I’d met that person earlier in the game. Using the time-travel savegame mechanic I could reload the previous save from when I met that person, kill them and revert back to the most recent save. The game would track how the timeline had been altered and the mission would be complete. I’ll just give you a second to let the brilliance sink in.

We could make loading screens awesome!

In reality this wouldn’t work in many current games. Fallout 3, as the example used, is so open ended and huge that you’d need to save constantly, or at least have an autosave working overtime. Even then the sheer number of people that you meet means that you’d never remember who was around in what stage of your game. Where the system would work is in opening up avenues for some interesting takes on existing genres. An example would be an RPG set in a country being invaded by an occupying force. Each location has a set amount of time before it is invaded. Certain NPCs may want a friend or relative rescuing from a location that has fallen to the enemy and, instead of risking your life by going into the occupied territory, you could reload to a point before the invasion, travel to that city, persuade the relative to flee and revert back to claim your reward.


5 Responses to “Let's Improve Gaming! Issue 1”

  1. 1 izzi
    29/07/2009 at 00:55

    This is a pretty clever and cool mechanic to incorporate into puzzle solving. i don’t think its a solution to reloading after dying in a mission though- if i revert back to the previous time i met this person.. what if i die that time too? the number of times i can logically fight them is limited by how many times they’ve appeared in the game. the benefit of the abstract mechanic is you get infinite attempts. The only solution that i think of personally is to include some means of returning life to the body independent of any interference with the game’s timeline.

    But i think you are really onto something when you suggest it can be used in other missions. say you come to a point where you find an enemy is swarming a town/ base/ your area and there are too many for you to dispose of. but you have seen these characters in smaller groups in other areas throughout the game, unaware that they would later become dangerous. you could go back to these places and kill off the smaller groups so the big wave in the final timeline will not be so great. Of course doing that could cause even more, new repurcussions across the whole timeline.. and the player might return to discover the payoff has been heavy or light in how its changed other things. (and they may then find ways to switch it back again.) you’ve then got a game in which the player is experimenting with timelines to work out the best compromises to progress through major obstacles of the game, which probably has the potential to be fun.

  2. 29/07/2009 at 09:01

    I know, awesome right? I’ll admit to not having worked out the technical details. If anything incorporating death into the system would be exactly the same as reloading the previous save, as you do in most games, but with a narrative layer that actually makes sense.

    It’s the missions that are focus though. I like the idea that everything you go back and do would have repurcussions on the timeline you return to. You could end up in a scenario where you are constantly course correcting for the best outcome only for you to have paved the way for something worse.

  3. 3 izzi
    29/07/2009 at 09:22

    yeh, i was thinking about this (sorry i can’t help it) and i think it could be a similar principle to the changing maze. You know, where the player is in a maze, and every time they open/ close a door they trigger other doors to open/ close, thus changing the shape of the maze. They have to work out the right combinations of doors to navigate to the end. Only we’re using a timeline instead of maze, and ‘consequences of actions’ instead of doors. Also because you’re using storyline instead of random doors, it’s easier for players to figure out logical conclusions about which actions will open up the best conditions for their current mission. I think it could work, if it hasn’t been done before of course.

  4. 4 Roivex
    31/07/2009 at 14:38

    Hey, love the blog.

    My only concerns about the save reversal is how the time lines play a part in it. For instance, you meet a group of mercs but think nothing of them. They raid farm, person asks for revenge, you kill them before the raid. When you present the quest giver the severed head of a raider, won’t he ask what the fuck am I doing and call for help, because they never raided them?

    My idea of time travel would be memory based. If you can somehow get your hands on a memory then you can go to that place and time. Why memories? Because I completely love dialogue trees more than the rest of the game, but I still think it’s a cool idea anyway. Imagine going to a bar and seeing a sobbing patron, after smooth talking him into telling you his woes, you teleport into as terrible happens. When you return, he’s your best bud and buys you a beer! I guess it doesn’t have to be an injustice either. You could ask people for their happiest moment and then destroy it?

  5. 5 octaeder
    31/07/2009 at 16:10

    As is always the case with time-travel related systems I really hadn’t thought of that.

    Althought the way it could work is that you would travel back, follow the mercs and intercept them when they started the raid. The quest giver would reward you there and then negating the need to go back to the present and complete the quest.

    The memory idea sounds like something explored in the game Cryostasis. You’d come across a dead body and could relive their final moments. If you kept them alive in the ‘memory’ then when you returned they would still be alive in the main game.

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