An Open Galaxy Time Travel Simulation
by Michael Klaus Schmidt
A lot of video games have used time travel in their gameplay. However, there is one aspect of time travel has not really been explored, and that is the freedom to go to any time you want in any location you want. This “Time Lord” approach may not seem feasible in a large scale game, but I have developed a mechanism that would allow it to work in my game Star Explorers.
As it currently stands, Star Explorers is a game about space exploration, and that is it's primary goal. However, I have realized that the same script that generates the game's stars and planets, could also be modified to change the nature of those stars, and thereby those planets, as the player progresses through time. Once this is established, it would be easy for the player to travel backwards or forwards through the game's timeline, in order to witness those changes taking place.
Things on the cosmic time scale happen very slowly by human standards, so normally we would never witness a star expanding into the red giant phase. Or that same star collapsing into a white dwarf. However, if Star Explorers were modified to allow this, the player could not only witness these grand events occurring, it would also be possible to see the results of such dramatic changes in how they effect the star's orbiting planets. A comfortable, temperate world orbiting a standard star like our sun would become an intolerably hot desert once the star turned into a red giant. Some worlds too close to the star would be consumed. And those that were freezing wastelands might evolve into life bearing worlds, as the temperature slowly increases.
Further into the future that same world would again freeze over after the red giant collapsed into a white dwarf. Being able to witness the evolution of stars and planets would give players precious insight into the long term effects of living in a galaxy of stars. It might demonstrate the imperative of seeking out other habitable worlds in a way that other games and stories would not be capable of doing, and this has always been my goal in working on Star Explorers.
In order to prevent “feature creep,” expanding the scope of the game too far, too fast, I would focus on completing the current gameplay and getting it ready for a full release before doing any work on time travel. That way, anyone who already has it would not have to wait that much longer in order to play the finished game. The time travel feature would be added later as a downloadable package.
I believe this would be the first game of its kind. Allowing full, open exploration of a galaxy in both space and time would offer a freedom of movement unprecedented in the world of video gaming.
As a lone developer, this is obviously an ambitious project. Star Explorers itself is an ambitious project for a single person. However, as with the existing version of Star Explorers, I would carefully scale the implementation of this concept into a framework that I could handle. For instance, stars and planets would evolve through time, but the granularity of that evolution could be made, at first, to be rather coarse. Having “stages” instead of slow, gradual change, would make this idea much more feasible. Similarly, stages could be used in the evolution of planetary systems as well. As the game is developed I could look at increasing the level of detail in this gradual evolution.
Is it Even Possible?
I believe this concept may be met with skepticism and perhaps some indifference. However, I also think that people may just not realize what they are missing. This kind of freedom of exploration simply does not exist in any game, so until it has been attempted, we won't really know whether it is enjoyable or not. The resulting gameplay ideas have simply not been explored at all.
For sure there would be quests that would require the player to travel into the past in order to alter some important event. Other quests might require a trip to the future, in order to gauge the results of changes taking place in the present. This is just scratching the surface of what might be possible in such a universe. Creating rules of time travel, paradoxes and way to avoid them, and other unique features would certainly be a challenge, but may result in some really interesting ideas.
Also, since the Star Explorers galaxy is relatively small as galaxies go (around 200-250 stars in all) time travel would not add an overwhelming amount of content to the game. Of course, the scope could eventually be expanded, but only once the core mechanics and features are worked out and stable.
New version of my game's trailer mentioning "Through the Time Vortex" feature (I borrowed the vortex animation - a free asset - but this would be re-created by me for the game)
So what's the point of this article? I want to accomplish several things. Firstly, it's possible that I missed something, and there is a game that already allows for the complete exploration of a galaxy both in space and in time. If so, please let me know, I have not seen one. If it's No Man's Sky, just shoot me.
Secondly, I want to see the level of interest in a game that allows this kind of open ended time travel. Please let me know, or contribute to my project if this kind of thing interests you. Sorry to advertise, but if you've read this far it probably means you are interested in a time travel game.
Finally, I wanted to start the conversation. If I kept this idea to myself, it would only be a matter of time before someone else came up with it. Here is a public record of my intention to create the first Open Galaxy Time Travel Simulator (OGTTS) and a declaration that this feature is just a few steps away from being made possible in Star Explorers.