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  Mechanic #009 - Time Shock

Category: Time
Posted: 05/17/07

What happens when you can play multiple potential futures simultaneously? Awesomeness. That's what.


This idea was spawned based on a discussion concerning time travel in strategy games. I do have a potential solution to that, which I'll post soon, but it lead me to think that while time travel within a game might not ever be truly possible, the concept of branching universes could be quite awesome. So, the idea here is, basically, at certain points, two potential futures split off - one where and action worked and one where it didn't. Then you can play both those futures.



We start with a simple tactics game - probably something no large than a chessboard (you'll see why in a moment). It is Blue's turn, and the knight is about to attack the skeleton with a 70% chance to hit. This is an important action. The skeleton's on his last legs and this hit will make the difference. The action plays out, and too bad, it doesn't connect and the skeleton stays standing.

So Blue says, wait a second, there are two possible futures to that action. Let's see them:


From that point, both possible outcomes are created as parallel futures - one in which the action succeeded and one in which it failed. Either player could choose to split time, so Red could've just as easily requested it if the action had destroyed the skeleton unit, thus giving himself a future where that unit is still alive.

Now play continues of BOTH boards simultaneously. The original board is now permanent and can no longer be played on. Each player can only move a certain number of pieces each time, from any of the available boards. Let's say 6 units. Right now, that means that each player can move all the units he wants, since collectively, there are six or less units of each color. However, if another time shock takes place a few turns later:


Now, each color has more units than can be moved in a single turn. Play continues simultaneously on each available board until a single board is won by one player or another. If you wanted to take that a little further, you could make it so that a player would have to win a certain number of boards (best two out of three?).



As you can imagine, with shock-happy players, it could quickly grow out of control, with dozens, if not hundreds of available boards to be played on. The easy way out of this is simply to limit the number of time shocks each player has, like two or three. Then they'd be forced to use the ability to split time only at the most opportune times. But a much better mechanic would be some sort of decay mechanism where boards that aren't played on for a while eventually disappear. You could still limit the number of simultaneous splits, but there would be the potential for more if one path or another dropped from scope.


My idea for a decay mechanism is that each board spawns with a certain number of decay points for both Red and Blue. Each round (Red and Blue have moved), a decay token is removed from both sides. If both sides run out of tokens, the board becomes invalid and disappears from play. The number of tokens available for each side will depend on the chance of that sort of future. For instance, if the odds are 40% in favor of Blue's victory, then in the victory future, Blue will have 2 decay tokens (Red has 3) while on the failure future, Blue would have 3 tokens (Red has 2).

Tokens are replenished each time a unit of a specific color is moved on that board. It doesn't matter how many units are moved, you can only gain one decay token per round. This means that as long as one person moves a unit, he will not lose a decay point, potentially keeping the board alive indefinitely. Of course, it would require a precious movement from your limited pool, meaning that you could potentially be overwhelmed by an opponent who's focus on a single board meant more available turns.

It should be noted that decay is really only maintained, never gained. Once you've lost a token, it's gone. So, while you are fighting to keep your decay tokens from dropping, once they do, that's it. However, even if you have zero tokens left, you can still make moves on the board so long as your opponent still has decay tokens. You won't gain tokens from such an action (so your opponent can simply run down the clock), but as long as the board is in play, you can act and react on it.

The once exception is that when both token pools are used up, there is one turn before the board is made inactive. If somebody moves on it, it will reset that one turn. You could potentially keep a board going indefinitely on that last breath turn, but if both players skip their turn on it, it will disappear immediately.




Copyright 2007-2014 Sean Howard. All rights reserved.