Time Travel & Narrative

In my senior year at SCAD, I led the development of a project that I entitled Rift. I became very fond of that name. It is a simple word, but it has a powerful and mysterious connotation and I greatly enjoyed designing a logo with those four letters. Then, a month after we completed the prototype, you know who is announced and I no longer have a usable project title. While I will always refer to the initial project as Rift, as I continue to develop the concepts it explored, I will need a more general, less already-copyrighted name. I haven’t come up with one yet.

Most of the development I’ve done on “the project formerly know as Rift” has been in constructing the narrative and defining the rules of this fictional universe. Because the story takes place across multiple parallel and tangential universes, however, it is more of a fictional multiverse. I could also say that I’ve been working on establishing the history of the universe, but much of it takes place in the future (relative, at least, to where the story begins) so that description might not be completely accurate, either.

The story of Rift is told from the perspective of a young boy named Nathan who was still figuring out how his own world worked when a catastrophic event pulled him into a much stranger reality. The narrative follows this boy through different stages of his life as he attempts to reconcile his everyday reality with the surreal scenes and experiences he occasionally finds himself in. He is like a two dimensional flatlander who has been picked up into the third dimension and then dropped back into flatland. The story considers the effect this might have on a young child’s development. Even though the physical area of the Rift disaster was fairly small, the incident left the structure of time weak across many parallel and tangent universes. This allows the narrative to explore alternate versions of the protagonist’s development as the main character occasionally becomes “unstuck” in his location in the multiverse. Throughout the story the character comes across versions of himself that resulted from making different choices or who experienced different outcomes to events.

The interesting challenge I’m getting myself into is in making a narrative-based game that involves time travel. Making a linear game about time travel is fairly simple because you’re only taking the player on one possible path through the story. The major appeal of time travel fiction, though, at least in my mind, is the chance to travel back in time, change one event and observe the resulting timeline. Allowing any form of choice by the player, however, quickly gets you into some very complicated branching story lines.  What I’m interested in doing is allowing the player to, in essence, explore different paths of a branching story by traveling back to key points in time and altering events to observe the outcome.

I’m still not entirely sure how this type of gameplay would fit into the story of young Nathan, though. The responsibility of intentionally changing past events is probably something he won’t be ready for until he’s older.