Saturday, March 28, 2009
“I take out your units before your units take out my units before they take out your units.”
Achron is the world's first meta-time strategy game, a real-time strategy game where players and units can jump to and play at different times simultaneously and independently.
Over a year ago I mused about making a computer game involving time travel, but it seems, a group of programmers have gone ahead and made a game where pieces can travel in time, and from the videos, it looks like they've done a great job with the user interface.
Q. Dude, paradoxes?! You know, grandfather paradox, units fighting side by side?
A. Paradoxes can exist, but since the window of time is limited (e.g., an 8 minute window) all events eventually fall off. A paradox will oscillate between its different states until one of the states reaches the edge of the time window, leaving the players locked into one of the two states. Example: in the case of the grandfather paradox (where you use a factory to build a tank, have the tank time travel to before it was built, and then use it to destroy the factory) you will play with the paradox until it 'falls off' the time window, at which point there is a 50/50 chance of either the tank lives and the factory is destroyed, or the factory remains and the tank was never created. All paradoxes are nicely resolved with time.
Q. How stable/buggy is this game? I can't imagine a game engine this complex without bugs!
A. Very stable. We have taken QA extremely seriously because of how complex time travel is, and we have been testing multiplayer games for 4 years.
Q. Is it true that I can keep sending units back in time to have them fight along side themselves and duplicate an entire army?
A. Yes you can, but not without consequences. It costs chronoenergy to command units from the past to travel further into the past, and obviously you use more chronoenergy to control more units in the past. Also you are using up your playing time to manage this instead of building units or controlling your armies. And finally, if the original 'parent' units are damaged, the time traveled version will wind up being damaged and if the original units are destroyed and don't travel back in time, you wind up undoing the entire cycle.
Q. My head is exploding already. Are you sure this is easy?
A. Yes, though grandfather paradoxes are the most complicated aspect of the game, they don't tend to happen much in actual gameplay. The rest is super quick to learn. It's like learning to use a DVR control to rewatch a tv show or using your DVD control to jump around chapters in a movie - once you start using time travel it's really simple, but if you've never picked up a remote controller before, those play and 'next-chapter' buttons look scary. We've been play-testing for 4 years and have learned how to make this game accessible, taking people who never played an RTS before and have them effectively using time travel 5 minutes into the game. We do this by unveiling time travel gradually to the player, so you are not fully thrust into it right away, but can learn to play it one step at a time.
Cool … just way cool …