Time-Based Game Mechanics

On the Thursday of the GDC a few weeks ago, I happened across a soon-to-be college graduate at one of the many tables set up on the career fair floor.  We kind of hit it off, and since he was obviously excited about game design we talked about that topic.

He had just been to a talk by someone who was pushing for alternative game mechanics.  One of the things my new friend had latched onto was the concept of having the ability to create a “shadow” of yourself that you could play through in a parallel dimension.  His thought was that you could use this shadow of your character to jump down into unkown holes on the off-chance that doing so would result in your death.  Interestingly, from what he described, and from how he responded to various questions I had, it seemed he was really just hoping for what amounted to a “leet weapon” with which to dominate the game.

It seemed my new friend had touched upon a direction that could be quite interesting to more fully explore.  Despite the fact that he had come to a faulty conclusion in how to implement the seed of his idea, he had broken into a potentially “fun” game mechanic.  Here’s how I think it could look:

Imagine a Super Mario Brothers style side-scroller.  At certain points you can activate an ability that lets you run ahead with a “shadow” of yourself while your “real” self stays back.  All the game world reacts no differently to your shadow than they would to your real character.  So, you run around herding some strong bad guy in some direction.  Then, when you end this ability, the entire game world resets to the point at which you had first activated the ability.  At that point the game world repeats exactly what it had done when you had been controlling your shadow- in fact you could stand still with your real character and watch your shadow move, and watch the game world “react” to it (and not you, until, that is, time reaches the end of the “replay”).  Or, the game world could react to both the replay-ing shadow as well as your real character.  Whatever the case, it strikes me as a feasible way to introduce the time dimension as a real possibility to incorporate into game mechanics.