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Game developers have made great strides in providing gamers with multiple choices for a game's story. This has resulted in many critics and players labeling games as "non-linear" or "open-world." They all allow you to tackle events in any order of your choice.
An idea occurred to me over my vacation; as time seemed to stand still while I relaxed in the sun and heat, I thought about the Futurama episode where the Professor creates a time machine. In that plotline, he actually moves so far forward in time that he ends up seeing the creation of the universe.
Good news, everyone! We made it to Destructoid!
Time was on an indefinite loop. While the Professor could not move backwards, he could go to any point in history as long as he kept proceeding forward. This line of thought then lead me to the game Virtue's Last Reward. In that game, you deal with a similar phenomenon.
While the game talks a lot about Schrodigner's Cat and the Many-Worlds Theory, it allows you to skip between different parallel dimensions to progress farther in the game. Effectively, the game gives players a non-linear control over time.
I'm truly surprised that we haven't seen more games attempt this idea. While developers are so anxious to showcase their graphical advancements and claim their game is "innovative" and "cinematic," they never really deal with the way time affects our world.
Some other notable examples would be Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, Braid and (weirdly enough) Forza. All of those games have a rewind function that will let you undo simple mistakes. Braid and Forza aren't really concerned with challenge, so their mechanic is unlimited (though you can thankfully turn it off in Forza for realistic effect).
Sands of Time incorporates this time shift into it's story. The dagger which the Prince holds can only store a certain amount of time altering sand before being worthless. This deftly explains why one cannot simply undo every mistake.
As much as that may be total dominance over time, those games are still set on linear paths. That quick rewind can only go one direction; resuming control only allows one path. None of these games question whether or not your different choice truly deviates from a pre-determined course.
No no no. My story included more paths...and naked women.
Virtue's Last Reward revels in that type of manipulation. Characters will refer to your physical appearance as "strange" and "decrepit" before you get to the final twist. Certain elements in the background will stick out, but have no real meaning until you swap to a different dimension.
The game crafts a tale in which every single possible choice is the only true path. It gets the mind thinking about every decision you've ever made. What if I said yes to that girl or what if I studied harder in school? (or as Peter Griffin said, "you don't want to spend your life wondering what if".)
I know the predecessor to that game, 999, had many similar themes. The mechanics of that game only allowed you to see one path through before exchanging consciousness and charting a new course. The sequel seems more concerned with granting access to every possible experience.
The closest I can think of a game coming to this type of focus is with Papers, Please. While that game doesn't place emphasis on you having knowledge from multiple timelines (or even acknowledging that different universes may exist), it does let you move backward in time to live out every possible outcome.
Papers, Please bases its gameplay on multiple choices. Every time a new person comes up to the border, you can either quickly let them through, tag them for search, properly check their ID or even forge their documents. All of these decisions result in a distinctive conclusion.
The game features multiple endings, even if most of them are not satisfactory. As with life, you may not like where your course of action has brought you. Unlike life, you can always undo the change (and without reloading a save file). Now, I realize there are more games with this style of gameplay, but even Papers, Please isn't fully non-linear as far as time is concerned.
To me, I wouldn't mind seeing more games like Virtue's Last Reward in terms of narrative structure or gameplay. How about an adventure game in the vein of L.A. Noire where you get to switch dimensions to figure out clues? Maybe a shooter where allowing key characters to live can result in various conclusions?
All of these ideas don't really nail non-linearity of time. Maybe the real reason we haven't seen more games tackle this style is because everything has to move forward. You cannot undo time, no matter how hard you try. Our lives are set on linear courses from the day we are born.
Given that power to move backwards, I think most of us would just stick to a single day or two in our childhood. Why move on when you can always redo? This might ultimately be what gaming is trying to tell us; the choices you make are the ones you must deal with.
I could also be misunderstanding my own point of time flowing linearly. Maybe I just never pieced together that games allowing you to flow in reverse are really non-linear. If that is the case, then a game like The Bouncer is the most non-linear a title can get.
Whatever the case, I feel like developers should try to focus more on continuity and time. Shake things up with your franchises by allowing us to skip forward and backward at whim (but not pre-determined). The worst that can happen is we erase the history of Resident Evil 6. =)
I will gladly pick no.
Absence makes the heart grow fonder; while the origin of this quote is unknown, the impact of those words can be profound. Removing yourself from your favorite place can be quite difficult. Sometimes the change is needed, other times the change is made from an irrational viewpoint.
About two years ago, I asked Andy Dixon to remove me from Destructoid. I noticed I was getting into fights in the comments section and writing crappier blogs in some vein attempt to get noticed. I just wanted to be liked, if not help people view games in a different light.
I still visited the site, but I refused to comment or make any blogs. I wanted to be done with the community and everyone around the site. I felt like I had failed them by being a petty child. I didn't want to stain the good name of their community.
After returning to the community blogs over on Screwattack, I started to realize a lot about myself. I had changed over those few years. I was more level-headed and less angry. I was more willing to discuss instead of assert my opinion. Most importantly, I missed the communities that helped me fall back in love with gaming.
I just wasn't ready to return to Destructoid. On Screwattack, I actually never lost respect. People accepted that I was on hiatus and the crew members looked forward to my appearance at their yearly cons. I ended up volunteering and feeling empowered and happy. I was glad to give back to a website that kindled a passion in my heart.
I never got that chance with Destructoid...that is until this past weekend. I never expected that PAX East would be the place that I would finally understand what I seek from my writing, but funny things happen to us humans. One minute can be a mundane cycle of repetition while the next is the catalyst for the fire in our minds.
After a hectic first day, my friend clued me in to a DToid meetup for Saturday night. While I skipped out on the photo in the afternoon, I made damn sure that I was able to get to the planned restaurant for that evening. I never expected to be the only person there, but life likes to throw funny curveballs our way.
When the crew ended up being late, I began to panic. I thought I had either wasted my time and money or just misread the location. I didn't want to say no to the whole situation, so I decided to put myself on the waiting list and get food.
About 10 minutes later, Jed walked in with some friends. Seeing his Twitch shirt, I figured asking if he knew Jonathan Holmes would be a safe bet. Not only was it safe, but it was rightfully founded; Jed was with him for that evening.
This began a very surreal night for me. While I'm not afraid of meeting "celebrities" and talking to them, I never expect to get into a more personal conversation with them. I was also caught by surprise when we sat down for dinner.
This is how it looked like in my head!
Nothing felt out of the ordinary after the talking got started. It was almost as if I were a part of their crew. It seemed like old friends catching up with their non-stop lives. We talked about games we had seen that day, films that were interesting to us, how stupid Cliffy B is and awful interviews.
I also volunteered myself to hand out community awards on the show floor. For all you guys who voted back at home, know that your voices were heard. I went around with the motley crew of DToid members and we handed out those little foam cards with pride and joy.
While the award for the Witcher vanished mysteriously, everyone else was genuinely surprised and happy to be getting these plaques. Seeing their smiling faces and getting to speak with them made me feel accepted. For once in my life, no one looked at me like a psychopath; now I was the bearer of good news and a "golden" trinket.
After we managed to tear up the PAX show floor, we needed food (as most humans do). So, who could turn down a bit of lunch with Mr. Holmes? Not only did I end up meeting and dining with him the night before, but I got to do it two days straight.
Really, what more could a DToid member ask for? I finally got to put faces to the people I have been following for years. Their words and analyses have given me hours of entertainment and introspection that I am thankful for. I cannot imagine myself being alive without such a website.
So while I may have neglected DToid and been an angry little basted for a few years, I feel that I've finally matured into the person I wanted to be. Seeing the struggles and challenges that these people go through to give us the content we take for granted really put a lot into perspective for me.
LIKE A BOSS!
So thank you Holmes, Caitlin, Jed, Kyle and Rob. Shout outs to Jared and that partially Asian sounding guy (I'm very sorry! I forgot your name). While I may never become a full fledged friend, you guys certainly made me feel like I was important for a few days. For that, I wish you all the best of luck.
P.S. Remember to name your child Jim, Holmes!