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Milking Mechanics 9/24/09 - TIME TRAVEL (Primer & Majora's Mask)

You'd have to be blind not to see that Hollywood is running out of fresh ideas. Ideas are being recycle at such a rate that sequels and remakes are the norm - no longer the rare testament to the quality of source material. Nostalgia, retro-goggles, self-destructive desire to have childhood idols raped - whatever the reason is, we eat it up.

I don't mind it, I actually find it fascinating; especially when it happens across media. Taking something original that worked in a movie/video game/comic and twisting it to your own ends can be both fun and profitable. In this series, I will endeavor to point out and briefly discuss examples of this, hoping to spark a bit of discussion and have people look at things a bit differently.

Milking Mechanics 1 - TIME TRAVEL
(Primer & Majora's Mask)

So what does some low-budget indie movie I've never heard and one of the best N64 games have in common? The answer is time travel - more specifically, repetitive time travel within a set period.


I guess I should start with a bit of background on Primer, in case you're not in the fraction of a percentile that actually saw this movie. Primer is a modern science fiction movie released in 2004, shot on a budget of around $7,000 USD. Critically acclaimed, although criticized for it's massive amount of highly technical engineering jargon and damn neigh impossible to follow plot (anyone who says they "understand it the first time through" is a liar). Primer is a story of 2 friends who accidentally create a time machine (which is basically a crate that they store in a storage unit) and their numerous attempts at manipulating a series of events (and each other) in order to change the outcome. The film that grows around the trite concept of time travel is amazingly complex, with multiple time lines and a ridiculous amount of "OHHHHHHHHHH SO THAT'S WHY _________" moments.

The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

This is a game that (hopefully) needs no explanation, but a quick summary is in order just in case there are a few folks out there who've never heard of /played it. TLoZ: Majora's Mask was released for the Nintendo 64 in 2000, to somewhat mixed reviews. The game in a nutshell revolves around replaying the same 3 day period over and over, in order to save the land of Termina from impending lunar holocaust. Things are complicated and changed with a series of masks that Link wears, each of which change the Link's abilities, along with the way the NPCs react during conversations. Although generally regarded as a 8.0-9.0 game (ugh ratings, that's another post), many were turned off at it's "repetitive" style of gameplay - GameSpot actually called parts of it "tedious and slightly out of place". I personally feel that Majora's Mask is second only to A Link to the Past in the Zelda catalog, and was incredibly innovative and fresh for it's time.

Both of these deal with a repetive replaying of the same events, over and over until a certain result is attained. I absolutely love this mechanic whenever it's present, as it gives you plenty of time to grow accustomed and comfortable with things, thus when slight changes are made, they are glaringly apparent. Limiting the scenery doesn't always spoil the activity, sometimes it's just the opposite. You don't even have to use time travel, many developers have found ways to limit the environment in which their games take place, without skimping on content.

The easiest way to describe this feeling for me is by envisioning a child in a sandbox. Imagine first a giant sandbox (call it 30x30ft), with a child sitting in the middle of it, with a few toys strewn about to play with. Now imagine another sandbox with another child, but this one is much less impressive (5ft by 5ft) and you've placed the same number of toys in the sandbox. Which child do you think will notice more if you add/remove/change the toys?

A great example of this point is Dead Rising, Capcom's zombie survival adventure game. Dead Rising manages to limit it's environment immensely (you're trapped in a mall), yet squeeze so much mileage out of each location that it feels right. In fact, the familiarity that you gain by visiting the locations over and over again, with different results, it's what makes that game great. Although it's missing the "time travel" mechanic per say, Dead Rising's achievements require multiple runs through the game, causing the same feeling of familiarity.

What about you other Dtoiders? Ever wish that more developers would take this to heart? Can you think of any others that use this mechanic?

Remember kids, Size doesn't matter, it's what's inside that counts. (lulzgay)
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About t0pc0wone of us since 9:26 AM on 04.22.2009

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