Time Travel/Parallel universes in stories

Eviticous

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Alright... What do you think of time travel as a whole in a story?
I find them over done and in some cases badly done (AKA World Of Warcraft) - I don't think most TV shows or even movies have managed to pull off time traveling (except back to the future)
 

leenat40

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@Rayhaku808 I watched Steins;Gate a few months ago and I loved it.
 

Failivrin

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@kirbwarrior mentioned Chrono Trigger as a good example, so let me mention Chrono Cross as a BAD example. It was so bad I honestly don't even want to explain why... I'm angry at the developers just thinking about it. There's dropping the ball, and there's dropping an anvil on your players' dreams...
Anyway, I strongly encourage you to avoid concealing your story's premise. In my experience, concealing the existence of time travel only works if it's rudimentary time travel. Nothing more than people moving through time. Anything complex demands either full disclosure up front (the movie Looper spent half an hour explaining setup), or it requires a protagonist who is really savvy and can figure out time travel as he experiences it--but those latter titles are all mystery genre.
 

Serg

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It's pretty common, but if you're going to make it original - keep it up!
 

Mr. Detective

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Time travelling is hard to do right, and in some cases, can open up a can of worms and creates massive plot holes. I have seen some done properly, but there's always some kind of plot holes, even minor, in these plots.
Doraemon: Time travel is like a walk in the park. Pretty well done. :)
Final Fantasy 13-2: Not perfect, but pretty good for the most part.
Dragon Ball Z: All is well, until you sit down and analyze the plot carefully. If Bulma can invent a time machine, why would it go back right before Freeze appears? If Zamasu killed all the gods, what about the others, Hit, Toppo, Jiren?

Usually the problem is the writer couldn't cover all the plot holes, perhaps because they have no idea how, and just floss over them with a bigger threat. I don't know about your game, but if you have villains time travelling, you should do a good job explaining how they have that ability, or how the protagonists found out. If even you can't follow your own story, pretty sure the players won't. :p
 

kirbwarrior

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Single instance time-travel actually seems well done when I've seen it. It goes from "let's time travel" to "let's punch reality really hard and hope it's not disastrous". Maybe the villain's plan is to go to the past or future, and gathering tons of power to do this. Maybe the MC needs to go into the past to change one moment, or wants to and it is the plot, but it's obviously hard and literally a once-in-a-lifetime event.

I've never seen a game do this, but "unintentional" time travel is usually easier to work with as a plot point. Usually this comes across as a person who doesn't control when xe they time travel but rather have to deal with the seemingly random jumps and hoping that they make the right choices whenever they show up. It usually ignores ideas like paradox and problems with meeting yourself largely because the time jumps are happening for a reason and whatever is causing it is "more powerful" than time.

Actually, just having a being that either is the embodiment of time or something bigger than time easily skirts plot holes of time but usually at the cost of a heartless, cold, or jerk of a character.
 

Basileus

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But for a thing that has at least some mass you need infinite amount of energy to be able to reach the speed of light,... So how much would you want to need to reach FTL speeds? And also,how will you decelerate if you have no time to do so?
Other than this there is only one thing that could reverse time. In anti-matter the time goes backwards. However, if anti-matter is inside matter, it dies in a blink. And if matter is inside anti-matter, same.
So...does that mean that if you could make yourself have negative mass you would actually start going backwards in time just by existing? If you had a device that could generate a field that reversed your mass to negative then you could just turn it off when you want to stop.

Or you could create a vacuum and then convert all of your matter into antimatter. But that might end...explosively.

But however it's done there are some rules that time travel stories need to play by in order to make sense:

1. NEVER hide the fact that there is time travel. It is literally the biggest cop-out in the entire history of fiction to suddenly reveal time travel part-way through a story. The player/reader needs to know what they are getting into. This also means the dev/author needs to have a VERY solid grasp on exactly why time travel is needed to make the story possible.

2. You MUST know which kind of sci-fi you are writing. It doesn't matter if it's "magical" time travel or whatever, it's all "speculative fiction". However you choose to dress it up, it is still a sci-fi trope and plays by sci-fi rules. And the rule you need to care about is that there are (generally) three types of sci-fi stories and you need to know which kind you are trying to write.
  • Adventure Sci-Fi: These stories focus on using the fantastic plot device to solve a problem. The device is at the center of the story and is usually the cause of everything. This is your typical action-focused plot. Maybe someone wants to use the time machine for evil, or maybe just creating a time machine started altering reality and our heroes need to fix things. This type of plot gives easy antagonists and lots of fun action-adventure, and can even have solid character arcs - at the end, the hero may realize that he needs to stop the time machine from being invented to save the world even though it means never seeing his love interest from another time again.
  • Invention Sci-Fi: These stories focus on the actual creation of the fantastic plot device. The device isn't created yet so the story focuses on what it takes to make it, putting a much greater focus on the main characters as people and the technical aspects of how the device needs to work as they solve the mystery of how to make it. This type of story is rare since there is often little action and is ore common to character-focused short stories.
  • Social Sci-Fi: These stories focus on how the fantastic plot device will change how we all live. The device already exists at the start of the story and the plot is all about discovering what effects this has on people, mostly what the very existence of this device reveals about us as people and uncomfortable truths of human nature. This type of plot has lots of moral ambiguity and problems that don't have easy solutions. These are the plots that make you ask yourself things like - What would happen if time travel really existed? Who would get to use it? How would we use it? How would I use it? Is using time travel for personal gain bad, or does it make me a bad person?
Most games go with a safe, easy "Adventure Sci-Fi" plot which only really requires you to think of a problem that can only be solved by time travel and then figure out how to make that problem happen. I lean towards "Social Sci-Fi" plots myself since I really like how everything ties into the player and the world we all live in. It gives them more to think about after the game is over.

It's not easy, but if you can make a plot that can use time travel in a way that draws parallels to real problems or highlights some aspect of human nature we don't like to think about, then you can make a great game with depth and meaning the players won't forget.
 

Poryg

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Since matter cannot exist inside antimatter and antimatter cannot exist inside matter, reverting yourself inside one of these is pointless, even in vacuum. And if not for these, the moment you convert yourself into antimatter, you will start doing everything you had done in reverse based on your memory.
 

kirbwarrior

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NEVER hide the fact that there is time travel.
Absolutely true. I can't think of an exception that was done well enough to warrant breaking this rule.
You MUST know which kind of sci-fi you are writing.
I'd agree if you had said "what kind of story", but I'm not sold that time travel is effectively sci-fi. Or that those are the only three ways to do time travel. Those three tend to lead to my least favorite part of time travel stories, namely that it's bad and you shouldn't do it.
 

Alarkus

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I love time travel plots but if you hardly understand it yourself then it just comes across as bad writing.
Good Time Travel needs above all A set of rules that you follow through always, this is so there's consistency and the reader/player/viewer can understand things properly. If you're just coming up with whatever is convenient for the plot to progress, or because you don't want to bother thinking about the real logistics of time travel, then it's not worth attempting it.
 

Basileus

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@kirbwarrior

"What kind of story" is just too vague for such a plot-warping device as time travel. As long as the time travel is central to the narrative in some way, it's going to end up a sci-fi story. And if the time travel is not central to the plot then it really shouldn't be there. Any other kind of story with time travel tacked on is going to feel janky and at best strange.

And the reason that these stories all tend to portray time travel as bad and you shouldn't do it...is because time travel is bad and you shouldn't do it. It is literally the worst possible way for a person to play God. No matter how much good you do with a time machine it will always have far-reaching effects. Even small-scale changes in time will cause people to just never be born, effectively erasing entire people from existence. All for changes they didn't ask for. Which brings up the other problem - who gets to decide which uses of time travel are good and which are evil? Saying it will benefit millions of people is great and all but it will still sacrifices thousands without their consent.

It's possible to write a "time travel is good" type of story, but it will always come across as juvenile. It's one of those things that's so messy and morally grey that to portray it as good just ignores all of the terrible ethical questions involved. It's just one of those things that gets more and more horrible the more you think about it. So most stories involving it end up with "time travel is bad" because the author ends up thinking about it.
 

kirbwarrior

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A set of rules that you follow through always, this is so there's consistency and the reader/player/viewer can understand things properly.
This is largely true of basically any plot device or phenomenon that shows up in stories. I hear this said about magic more than about time travel. It's absolutely important.
but it will always come across as juvenile.
I already brought up Chrono Trigger as one that doesn't make it sound bad. Is it juvenile?
It's one of those things that's so messy and morally grey that to portray it as good just ignores all of the terrible ethical questions involved. It's just one of those things that gets more and more horrible the more you think about it.
So is forced pacifism. And medicine. And government. And so on. So many things have great ideals and yet reality ruins them. Are you saying we shouldn't play god and fight death with modern medicine? Anything taken to it's logical extreme is horrible and messy. That's life. Should stories constantly show us the horrors of literally anything in our life, or should we have something we can enjoy?

JRPGs tell us that we can trust destiny, that there can be a localized evil, that combat can solve problems, and that there can be happy stories. And yet if you actually sat down and thought about any of those four things, suddenly all the questions of time travel apply just as negatively here. Should we be punished for fighting? Should we be punished for destroying beings just for not being human? Should we be punished for rebellion? Should we be punished for having faith and choosing to do good? Because reality does all of that.

On another note, 'forced' time travel usually avoids these problems since you don't have a choice in affecting the future. No matter what you do, you already ruined everything and now who you are will dictate your actions in a different time period.
It is literally the worst possible way for a person to play God.
If you're actually going to bring this up, is there a way to play god that isn't morally wrong? We've already gone far past any point of pretending we as the human race don't play god. Even the act of writing fiction is, on a small scale, playing god.
 

fjkv

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Some of my favorite stories include time travel:
-By His Bootstraps
-The Langoliers
-12 Monkeys

Specifically in games I quite enjoy Chrono Triggers take on time travel.
 

Atomix

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I love the concept of time travel in games.

Just have to make it connected. So for your game, have three map instances of same area - past, present and future. And with it, make it so that acrtions done in one timeline has adverse effects to another.
 

kirbwarrior

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Another game I thought was incredible and uses time travel in a very fun way is Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages. It incorporates so much of how time travel works into the story and subplots.
The Oracle in this game oversees time. You only travel to the past and present, and sometimes constantly just to move through an area. However, you really do play god to win;
Growing or denying growth to plants to move forward in the future.
Deciding to save a town from volcanic death. The town in question has an extreme view on symmetry and you better hope your twin likes your hairdo.
Ralph, the man who's been helping out the Oracle and being the 'protagonist' from his perspective struggles to fight the final boss because he knows killing her would result in him never existing.
Hmm. This and Chrono Trigger have a few things in common I want to point out;
You can move centuries through time but not minutes. This makes it more of a 'multiple worlds' thing but doing things in each 'world' affects other worlds. This stops 'meeting yourself' and 'undoing mistakes' quite simply.
Paradox doesn't exist. It works. Paradox seems like such a strange concept, especially considering nothing else in reality has anything else even approaching the uniqueness of paradox. As far as I can tell, if time travel exists, paradox has already occurred.
Trying to do good with time results in good things happening. Mind, remove "with time" and that's kind of the definition of a light story (from what little I know of the definitions of light story vs dark story).
 

Basileus

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I already brought up Chrono Trigger as one that doesn't make it sound bad. Is it juvenile?

So is forced pacifism. And medicine. And government. And so on. So many things have great ideals and yet reality ruins them. Are you saying we shouldn't play god and fight death with modern medicine?

JRPGs tell us that we can trust destiny, that there can be a localized evil, that combat can solve problems, and that there can be happy stories. And yet if you actually sat down and thought about any of those four things, suddenly all the questions of time travel apply just as negatively here.

On another note, 'forced' time travel usually avoids these problems since you don't have a choice in affecting the future. No matter what you do, you already ruined everything and now who you are will dictate your actions in a different time period.

If you're actually going to bring this up, is there a way to play god that isn't morally wrong? We've already gone far past any point of pretending we as the human race don't play god. Even the act of writing fiction is, on a small scale, playing god.
Short Answer: It is NEVER morally right to play God. We humans have limited knowledge and plenty of flaws and biases so having the audacity to think that a single individual knows how the universe should be run and that they don't need anyone's permission to make it so is just ridiculous.

Chrono Trigger is a great game...but it is extremely juvenile. It's a story about teenagers fighting an alien that can destroy the world. Sure, it's a fun adventure, but ultimately it's a children's tale about the power of friendship winning the day and completely ignoring all the potential problems of altering history. Since it was made for children there is nothing wrong with this. But anything made for adults need to be held to a higher standard.

JRPGs often tell us to trust destiny, that evil is a very clear cut issue based on choice of clothing, that violence solves everything, and happy endings are always possible...because most JRPGs are Japan's equivalent to Young Adult Fiction. They are made for kids and teens. Sure, some of them get really gritty, but those are also the ones that actually bother to ask the ethical questions in the first place.

Medicine can't be sold to people without government approval boards. The government can't so much as build a swimming pool without getting community feedback. So why would it be okay to alter the past and erase people from existence without anyone's consent just for the sake of what a small group of people believe is "a better future"?

Even "forced" time travel doesn't mean you aren't killing people. Especially if you are intentionally altering events after you are "forced" back into the past. It's just a cheap narrative device to attempt to dodge serious moral issues.

If your work is for children, then ignore all issues of realism and do whatever. But if your work is for adults, then you need to embrace the moral problems of time travel and incorporate all of the negative implications into your story or else you will just come across as shallow and juvenile.
 

kirbwarrior

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So why would it be okay to alter the past and erase people from existence without anyone's consent just for the sake of what a small group of people believe is "a better future"?
Would it be okay with consent? You didn't directly talk about the playing god part with medicine and government. Is it okay to play god if everyone consents?
It's just a cheap narrative device to attempt to dodge serious moral issues.
I'm not saying it's necessary to dodge the moral issues, but rather the way you look at them is different. It's like the difference between choosing to kill someone vs realizing you've killed someone and dealing with the fallout.
incorporate all of the negative implications
Are there positive implications? Really, these same questions can be applied to all sorts of things, and it seems to always end with "do anything and it makes you a bad person". Yes, that's a gross oversimplification, but as far as I can tell, all the things you are talking about with time travel apply to most concepts. You can even apply them without thinking about time travel. The only difference between having time travel and not is knowing the results of your actions. Who lives and who doesn't exist because I'm writing this response right now?
 

Zeriab

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I really really like time travel mechanics of an RTS-like game called Achron.
In addition to a normal timeline you can time travel units across they have the concept of time waves propagating changes forward. Paradoxes are not a problem because they will eventually get resolved one way or another. As this is a multiplayer game several tactics have been invented and reading them is quite interesting: https://www.achrongame.com/forums/viewtopic.php?f=73&t=1201#p10185

Most of the stories I've seen with time travel has imo overly simplified or logical inconsistent time travel mechanics. I am interested in seen more stories with time travel where the actual time travel is based upon a good robust system.

*hugs*
- Zeriab
 

Yakly

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I think @kirbwarrior has it correct... telling me time travel is dangerous thing people shouldn't mess with is a useless message for a speculative story, because I can't travel through time anyway. Unless you want to tie time travel as an allegory to a particular real world situation, it's just not good entertainment. Plus, the key difference in heroes and villains is what they do with power. And yeah, having a power and then choosing not to use it can be a good message for a real world allegory... but as an adventure like an RPG, it's BORING. I want to play a game where I get to use fabulous powers, not one where I have them but am told not to.

Hence good games with time travel like Chrono Trigger have you changing history in a positive way, while the villain works against it. A bad time travel game like Final Fantasy XIII-2 has the time travel being an overall negative thing, that the heroes are using because they have to or are forced to.... it removes agency from the main characters by doing that.

I would argue Chrono Cross was actually a GOOD time travel game. It was an interesting mix of time travel and parallel worlds... where the player doesn't necessarily change history, but rather explores how a single event, if it happened differently, could affect everything else. Rather than trying to shape each parallel world, Chrono Cross has you seeking out advantages that occurred in one world's timeline but not the other's, and then playing the two worlds off of each other to achieve your goals. Where Chrono Cross fails was in that first rule... it didn't tell the player the right things about the parallels and time travel, so there was never a clear sense of what was going on.
 

Basileus

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@Yakly

The point of "Time Travel = Bad" stories isn't to warn you about the dangers of using time machines, it's to highlight the problems of dwelling on the past and obsessing over correcting past mistakes instead of looking to the future. It's supposed to make you think about the kind of mentality it takes to think that you can "fix" anything by going back in time and changing things. The entire purpose of the story is to make the reader/player see the futility of trying to undo what has already been done and that it is better to not live in the past and instead be hopeful that you can learn from those mistakes to make a better future.

There is something to be said for stories that exist to make you think about what you would do if you had a chance to redo part of your past. Like a guy getting mentally zapped back to high school with all of his knowledge of the future, or someone that died a tragic death that finds themselves X days/months ago and has a second chance to make things turn out better this time.

The problem is that these are incredibly sentimentalist stories and are infamous for dodging all issues of how the heck the time travel occurred in the first place, what the rules are, and avoiding any and all thought on the actual implications of altering the timeline (let alone the morality of doing so only for personal gain). These are the "fantasy" stories where nothing remotely approaching science takes place which leads to the juvenile take of a Sci-Fi concept.

Time Travel is just one of those things that is only "good" if you don't think about it. But not thinking about it means that you can't really go into any depth and thus the story can come across as shallow.

I really love Chrono Trigger. It's one of my favorite JRPGs of all time. I like the cast, I like the simple but tightly-scripted plot, and I like the fun gameplay mechanics. But I am also completely aware that Chrono Trigger is an excessively idealistic game.

@kirbwarrior

See, consent is a funny issue. It's also one of the things I completely adore about Tales of Vesperia. One of the key elements of the plot are magic devices called Blastia that absorb Aer (Mana) from the environment and do magic things with it. The most important use is the creation of magic barriers around cities so that people can live safely protected from the monsters that run rampant throughout the world. A huge portion of the game is all about uncovering some of the super nasty side-effects of the Blastia, and ultimately finding out that Blastia are essentially elemental spirits trapped in crystal form and turning them into Blastia is pretty much the root of all the end-of-the-world problems. Luckily, the party's mage whips up a device that can free all the spirits around the world so they can borrow their power to defeat the giant monster thing and save the world.

In a normal JRPG this would be a simple fix. Use the device, save the world. You're even saving all of the spirits on top of it so it's clearly the right thing to do.

But what does the party do? They actually go around to all of the cities and ask permission to use their plot device. They present actual evidence that Blastia can be dangerous, explain their plan, and try to work out a solution with the different governments. The party goes out of their way to not force their will onto everyone in the world but instead actually work to legitimately convince everyone that they are right and even get tons of support for their plan by doing so. The party has entire governments and armies on their side by the end and everyone is actively working to prepare for the imminent world without Blastia. And all of that ties into a side-plot of building a new village that ended up going without a Blastia and serving as proof that people can live without them.

The party easily could have skipped straight to the end by just using the device and justifying themselves by saying it was to save the world. But they didn't because that would make them just like a lot of the villains throughout the game that did whatever they wanted being totally convinced that they were right no matter what. And just taking the time to actually be mature and consider the consequences made the story so much better and deeper for it.

If a serious story wants to say that time travel is good, then it better still take a real in-depth look into both the good and the bad aspects and portray a serious effort to use time travel responsibly and genuinely for the common good. But shadowy organizations that nobody has ever heard of with no accountability changing the entire world through time travel only on their own personal whims and beliefs will always be an Orwellian nightmare no matter how bright and colorful the story pretends to be.
 

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