The Architecture of Time Travel in a Role-Playing Video Game

One of the things I’ve enjoyed about following along with the progress of Richard Garriott’s Shroud of the Avatar: Forsaken Virtues is the peek I’ve gotten into the process behind the scenes of video game development. The Ultima games were my absolute favorites as a kid, and as a software developer (by profession), I’ve always been curious about how they are made. It’s not so much the three-dimensional environment that interests me, but the game on the macro scale. The interweaving stories, and the various games states, and how it is all managed.

My thoughts had drifted to this while eating dinner this evening, and I began to wonder if time travel had ever been an integral element to the architecture of a game universe. I wondered if it was possible to architect the game model to support time travel as an action in the universe. For instance, a player could cast a spell to go back in time to a certain point. Once at that point, they would see the events of the game unfold, as they actually occurred. But now, there would be two instances of the player in the world. The “past” instance would now be an NPC, with a predefined course of action based on what has already happened. The “current” instance would be played from the player’s perspective.

Beyond the plot aspects, I wonder what the architecture of such a game model would look like. It would grow more complex the longer the game is played. And how would you account for changes in the past. Would a new “game universe” be spawned. Could a player cross universes at that point?

I’m not really going anywhere with these thoughts. But I was mostly curious if anything like this had been implemented in a large-scale RPG before.


  1. Hi Jamie,

    There have been a couple of time travel themed video games. One where you could send units in an RTS game back into the past slightly, and I seem to recall a space empire game where you could go back in time and mess with the development of other planets.

    There’s a Infocom game (Sorcerer) where you have to navigate a time paradox, too.

  2. Hi there.

    To the point: the action would be recorded in a log.
    When travelling back in time, events would occurr as logged unless interrupted. Then these would occurr as the AI dictates.
    This action would be recorded too, leaving obsolete the previous one.
    There would only be two logs, so not really a mess.

    That’s how I see a possible architecture, if it can be described like that.
    Just to add to the conversation, now that I’m considering Well’s Time Machine as my next read.


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