Happy New Time Travel Game Day readers! Let us all sit back and take the day to celebrate the new contender in the ring of nonsensical circle jerking known as time travel fiction: Quantum Break! Yes, this hybrid of low budget T.V show and underdeveloped game is surely the next Doctor Who rival for greatest mind bending T.V show in every possible locale across time and space. But suddenly, as this new shining example of seamless enjoyment rose from its seat to claim its prize, trampling Spiderman: Edge of Time and Darkest of Days, it trips over its own shoelaces and breaks its nose on the stairs leading to the stage. Doctor Who, a little confused why these video games are even here, politely tells everyone to leave.
I feel unending pity for Quantum Break. It’s another middle of the road third person shooter, laced with silly design choices that confuse attempts at innovation (that have all already been done) with everything not to include in your new IP.
Ok, so it is possible I’m being too hard on Doctor Who: Timefinger Eddition, especially when it does at least attempt to do some things right. The narrative focus is nice, and it has a good cast of actors to perform key roles (Little finger is there and that’s brilliant). It does seem like the team at Remedy has at least tried, they just stretched themselves a bit too far. Also, there’s the huge issue with me having barely played the game. So being the unwavering icon of morality and ethical journalist I am, this Vivisection is not actually about Quantum Break. Instead, I’m going to skip right to the point where we tell you how to do your time travel game right.
There have been a lot of time travel games over the years, and that’s good. Time travel is one of those concepts like space, which is so endless in its possibilities for creative genius to shine. It’s a damn good concept to use in video games, because 10-120+ hours can give you more than enough time to adequately bring a player to a point where they’re totally lost. That’s one reason why Doctor Who was, and is so successful, because it uses its time to effectively explain in simple terms exactly what the audience needs to know. I’m reminded of the episode Blink, being one of the few I’ve ever seen in the show. There’s a scene where the Doctor is talking to people in the modern day from 1940 or something about the Weeping Angels, who we all know if we keep up with pop culture. While the explanation for time travel itself is always a little sketchy, the explanation of the Weeping Angels is actually very succinct, and includes science jargon without totally losing the viewer. ‘Statue bad, don’t blink or they move, don’t die’. See that’s the mentality and style of writing you need to take into your exposition, as opposed to huge uninteresting text dumps or random 40-minute-long cut scenes (Metal Gear 4 why are you wearing a Quantum Break mask?).
In terms of gameplay, you have a near endless arsenal of mechanics you can utilise. One thing I did like in Quantum Break was the mechanic in which you move a locked door back in time to a point where it was open so you can pass through. See mechanic’s like that would be perfect for an adventure or puzzle game. Or if you want action oriented, go the Superhot direction, slow or stop time for a few moments and let the player punch bullets into different trajectories like he’s playing a hardcore game of dodgeball with Diego Maradona as the referee. You could play around with the idea of what time travel does to a person, as they use their powers to try and ignore the passage of time, maybe preserve the life of someone close to them in a specific moment or maybe trying desperately to prevent some catastrophic event only to realise some things can never be changed and that the universe is too grand to adjust itself to save the few.
Well that got grim fast.
Okay, so how about we bring some things together, throw up all our ideas and create an odyssey through time and space that blows up and drops 10/10’s from everyone. It’s gonna be survival horror. The main character would have to be fairly everyman-ish, likeable but paranoid. This character, let’s use place holder name Mcbiscuit, unfortunately has a loved one with some form of terminal illness, preferably a child for extra points. Mcbiscuit gets rolled up in a time travel deal with the emotional bribery of it could be used to cure your loved one. Maybe it’s in some corporate experiment that unleashes horrid monstrosities or maybe it’s with some pact between a dark entity with immense power, but either way Mcbiscuit is hounded across time and space by nightmarish creatures capable of similar feats that Mcbiscuit is able to perform. One key thing you’d have to include is giving these monsters or creepy foes some deep and real heavy motivation to constantly hunt down Mcbiscuit. Maybe you could do a Silent Hill, except have them represent past demons or twisted perversions of memories. Bosses could be awfully transformed versions of characters, even the loved one. There’s a hell of a lot of potential for this idea and I can see it unfolding already. You could even do choice mechanics that would have some ultimately drastic effect. Emotional moments come attached, with supporting characters being mortal and ultimately dying. Mcbiscuit could try to live out memories or past events with the character alive, but then his pursuers would ultimately kill the supporting character anyway. The amount of highly depressing, sombre or downright charged moments you can create with this is near endless.
Now isn’t that a story you could tell? One catch though, don’t give the guy access to military weapons. Also don’t re-purpose eagle vision as “time vision”, that’s just silly.