Epochal: Achron, Meta-Time Strategy

By Jim Rossignol on March 27th, 2009 at 1:30 pm.


Things you can’t do in an RTS generally include: attacking your opponent in the past, undoing the future actions of your units, building things in the future and sending the back to a previous point in a game. These are all things you can do in Achron. The developers, who unveiled their idea at the 2009 GDC Experimental Gameplay Sessions explain it thus: “Achron is the world’s first meta-time strategy game, a real-time strategy game where players and units can jump to and play at different times simultaneously and independently.” It’s a game that takes the impossible notions of cross-time war that we see juggled so cleverly in time-travel science fiction, and turns them into a practical gaming model. This is seriously smart game design, and, potentially, it provides a model for “real-time” time travel in all kinds of games, not just strategy games. An explanatory trailer and press release await you below, and believe me, you are going to want to watch this.

Yeah. Yeah. There’s some more videos on the developer’s site. This one is particularly interesting:

When my opponent is.”

Thanks to Quinns for the link on this one.

Press Release

March 26, 2009 – Hazardous Software� unveiled Achron, the world’s first meta-time strategy game, at the 2009 Game Developers Conference in San Francisco, California. The next revolution in time travel gameplay was demonstrated at the Experimental Gameplay Session.

Designed to reinvent the real-time strategy genre by allowing all players to travel through time, Achron is a futuristic science fiction game. Players and units have the ability to jump to and play at different times simultaneously and independently. Time travel is free and unlimited but it costs energy to change the time line. Players will be challenged to invent new strategies in a world where it is possible for them and their opponents to undo mistakes, change a strategy after committing to it, and alter the outcome of past battles.

Time travel transforms the strategy game landscape, stated Christopher Hazard, president and cofounder of Hazardous Software. It opens up new dimensions of strategies and gameplay. For example, imagine being able to see when and where your opponents are going to attack before they do.

Achron features both a captivating single player campaign and an online multiplayer mode. In addition to being able to build, expand, and attack as in typical RTS games, new mechanisms such as command hierarchy and smart-idling ease the management of a complex time travel environment. An intuitive user interface depicts events in the past and future allowing the player to navigate the time line.

Achron signifies the creation of a brand new sub-genre of video games that utilize gimmick-free time travel as one of the core gameplay mechanisms, said Mike Resnick, lead developer and cofounder of Hazardous Software. �The popular type of time travel abundant in science fiction is now available to the gaming community.

Further information about the game will be released in the upcoming months. To learn more about Achron, please visit the official web site at www.achrongame.com.

About Hazardous Software

Hazardous Software was incorporated in June 2007 and is headquartered in Raleigh, North Carolina near Research Triangle Park. The company was founded to address the gamer�s desire for more innovative games in the marketplace. Hazardous Software believes games should challenge players minds while being entertaining and engaging.

Copyright 2008-2009 Hazardous Software Inc.

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131 Comments »

  1. AlexW says:

    This is the best thread I’ve seen in a long time.

  2. DMJ says:

    Can I have this game yesterday?

  3. AndrewC says:

    Don’t be an arse, Kieron.

  4. Tei says:

    Re: “GRID”

    Quoting wikipedia:
    “This game is made by Codemasters, the creators of the TOCA/Race Driver series. GRID is a hybrid between arcade and simulator of mainly tarmac racing that consists of 43 cars. The game features an instant replay feature which allows the player to rewind time by up to 10 seconds. While the instant replay can be used as many times as the player wants, the Flashback feature can only be used a limited number of times, determined by the difficulty setting.”

    Anyway the most obvious reference sould be Braid,… that is about to show in Steam sooner or later.

  5. Severian says:

    All your base [were/will] belong to us.

  6. Lorc says:

    I wonder whether Squidi’s going to get irate over this.

  7. Ian says:

    @ Tei: That’d be phasing. And what’s more, it’s muchly splendid.

  8. Professor says:

    This is probably one of the most fascinating and innovative ideas I’ve seen in gaming. I doubt they’ll be able to make this game intuitively playable, but this the first of many, to be sure. Good for these guys, this is an awesome concept.

  9. mrrobsa says:

    This looks amazing, I hope it’s as fun as it is interesting. I also secretly wish that time travel becomes the industry’s new co-op gaming and is crowbarred into everything.
    Time Travel Tomb Raider please, where you plant ‘relics’ to be dug up by yourself 2,000 years later.

  10. FhnuZoag says:

    Man, forget GTA and Manhunt. I get the feeling this game will actually drive people completely insane.

  11. Nero says:

    Aw, I thought it was something about a new Archon (loved that C64 game). But this concept sounds interesting.

  12. Quirk says:

    @Persus-9:
    Firstly, the paper you cite ends on “branching time”, in essence the Back To The Future model where there is a clean time travel free past, but it’s running in parallel.

    Secondly, do you not see anything wrong with quoting a paper by a philosopher on what is, essentially, a physics problem?

    It does neatly encapsulate one of the major problems I see in many modern pop philosophers, however, which is a rather charming refusal to acknowledge the existence of the scientific method and the many people working tirelessly away on collecting empirical evidence that bears on any theories in the area and trying to square it with Occam’s Razor. Carrying on a philosophical tradition passed down since Aristotle is all very well, but Aristotle’s methodology didn’t even manage to work out that men and women have the same number of teeth.

  13. Cooper says:

    @Rei: “I.E. In the second video, when the battle in the past was occurring and in the present, he was building more units to send back in time, if the past enemy destroyed the factories, then would the presently built units be destroyed as they could never have existed? *head asplodes*”

    Yes and no. As far as it seems to me, you would be able to build those units in ‘the present’ and send them back, up until the point the ‘time wave’ during which the opponent destroyed your factory caught up with the present.

    I guess it would go something like this:
    -> Opponent sends units back in time to attack your base. During this attack, he destroys your factory.
    -> Factory is still standing in this present time, so you build units and send them back to meet his attack. If you don’t do it fast enough, the ‘time wave’ catches up and said factory and units are no more.
    -> If you manage to send those units back before the time wave reaches you and counter his attack, you save that factory, the time wave doesn’t take the factory with it.

    However:
    Said opponent could go back to before he sent those units back in time to attack you factory and, instead, send them to the point after which you send the counterattack back in time, attacking you in the present with the units he had previously sent to the past. Now, your factory was never attacked in the past but rather in the present, without defence because you’ve sent those units to the past, so you have to counter-counter-counter attack…

    That hurt my head.

    The more I think about it, the more this game could be fantastic. It seems like it’ll be full of attacks and counter attacks, but where you have to anticipate an opponent’s move across a whole extra dimension.

    Then again, it could just be so confusing no one can get their head round it…

  14. Dan Harris says:

    The graphics are wank, so I’m not going to play it.

  15. Spanish Technophobe says:

    I see this appealing to a hard core of strategy nuts who wipe the floor with everybody else, which is the case with a lot of games, to be sure, but there’s so goddamn much to pay attention to that casual players will only have a couple of laughable and easily understood tactics on hand as they fumble around, while the fanatics will apparently play with the help of some kind of humiliating Satanic magic.

  16. Azhrarn says:

    cue one Janeway style time-travel headache, but it sounds quite fun, complicated, but fun. :)
    Sounds like a nice challenge tbh, since you’re opponent can literally strike at any time. :D

  17. Acidburns says:

    It’s an alpha Dan you dummy

  18. Azhrarn says:

    Btw, you should go watch the 3rd video, it’s even more confusing, since it speaks of reinforcing units with themselves by travelling back in time and what happens when you create temporal paradoxes. Also, Chrono-fragging sounds like fun. :D

  19. MrFake says:

    Er… bibbledy?

    In short, they managed to get around the paradox by having past actions propagate to the present? As bizarro as that seems, it opens up such a wealth of strategic options. If they keep this up, and don’t pull a Spore, we’ll see a refreshing take on a desperate genre.

    God help me if it’s another alien sci-fi RTS, though. Time traveling techno dinosaurs, goddammit!

  20. elias says:

    Makes sense to me, and it’s a really awesome idea.

    From the videos I doubt they have it up to running a very complex map/high number of units yet, and also the way it was described it seems like it’s just a contest of who go the furthest back in time to attack (so that the other player won’t be able to go back further and undo it–it seems like you can just go back about 5 minutes or so max). In that case it devolves into a normal RTS for the most part.

    Maybe they will make the energy cost for that sort of thing prohibitively expensive or something… it will be interesting to see what they do to try to keep people playing within the time playground they’ve set. I guess that is the point of the energy thing in the first place. I suppose what Cooper said would be incentive to go back and play in the present a bit also; the ones you sent to the past are no longer there to defend in the present… cool.

  21. Styngent says:

    Woah, and here’s me still getting over age advancements in Age of Empires. Although having said that, it’s about as much time travel as is probably safe to use in an RTS. Aside from the fact this game seems to rest quite heavily on the whole time concept, its seems to me that once you;re over the whole novelty of time travel you are left with a very confusing, limited and possibley flawed strategy experience…

    But I’m also quite cynical.

  22. DigitalSignalX says:

    One police call box vs. everything. Cue Also Sprach Zarathrustra.

  23. NoahApples says:

    Very interesting. My first worries: Like elias mentioned above, it seems like the obvious strategy is to turtle unceasingly and then play a game of chicken as to who will go further back when. Also, it seems like there will have to be some pretty strict limits on map size and complexity.

    That said, it looks like a lot of what they have going on is pretty awesome. If it works out well, I’ll be thrilled.

  24. Styngent says:

    “gimmick free time travel”? Can anyone say paradox?

    FYI, I’d have gone back and added that to my last post but I was out of chrono energy! :(

  25. Biz says:

    looks like a micro war after you understand how time travel works

  26. EyeMessiah says:

    Quirk : “Secondly, do you not see anything wrong with quoting a paper by a philosopher on what is, essentially, a physics problem?”

    Nope, should we?

    Game looks incredible though. I hope development goes well and somebody gives these people a ton of money with no strings attached. I’m looking forward to wrapping my head around it.

  27. Darkelp says:

    Are you Sarah Connor?

    *BLAM*

    All your base are belong to us!

    Neat idea, can’t wait to give it a go! But I do hope they boost the graphics alittle.

  28. Kanamit says:

    Looks interesting. Though probably impossibly complex.

  29. TCM says:

    First post.

  30. Abi79 says:

    How in the world could they come up with all those mechanics? There must be some interesting flaws hidden in their logic.

  31. David says:

    O, M, G. Let’s see how the Koreans handle THIS.

  32. Aftershock says:

    wat.

  33. Aftershock says:

    On the topic of more intelligent comments, this looks epic.
    Only thing is, is that i see people losing a battle, sending reinforcements back in time to stop the battle from occuring, then the enemy sending reinforcements further back in time, and then you send them even FURTHER, and i doesn’t end until someone gives up and attacks you in the present.

  34. Yargh says:

    I think that’s where the chrono-energy comes in. Add that to the mechanism the keeps the present moving forwards at a fixed rate and you can end up quite limited in what you can do in the past or the future.

    I like the idea as that could mean planning and strategy beat reaction times, at least a little.

  35. sinister agent says:

    This looks like something that couldn’t possibly be truly grasped until you sit down and play it. Also it looks fucking amazing. It must be tumour-inducingly stressful to programme a game like this, but if they get it even mostly right, it’ll surely be astonishing, and far more interesting than goddamn bullet time yet again. Good luck to them, I say. I can only imagine the laughter there would be with a few mates playing this.

  36. Junior says:

    So, will/has/is there an Ai for us to play against?

    I can’t imagine how you’d go about programing it to understand that kind of thing, especially since we’re all having so much trouble.

  37. Arathain says:

    I like it when developers realise that, to your PC, time and space are whatever you tell it they are. It’s very liberating and exciting, in a head hurty kind of way.

  38. Vincent Avatar says:

    This game looks like one of the most intriguing and unique ideas that I have ever had the pleasure to have given myself a headache trying to understand.

  39. Max says:

    @Lorc
    Hahaha, yeah I immediately thought of Squidi when I read about this.
    Squidi had almost this exact idea as one of his 300 game mechanics: http://www.squidi.net/three/index.php

  40. MeestaNob! says:

    I imagine bases and armies wont be much bigger than what is shown in the video, as I just dont think it would be playable otherwise. Two good players could quite literally be at this forever.

    Furthermore: TCM wins post of the decade. It’s impossibly brilliant and I wish I’d thought of it.

  41. TCM says:

    What’s even more hilarious is that my name stands for “TheChronoMaster” to begin with.

    But thanks. >_>

    On a seriously serious note, this game looks incredibly epic to play. It’s actually simple if you wrap your brain around the concept, but it also means you can be defeated in the present before time waves catch up…Which I guess means you either take the risk of mucking about in the past a ton, but risking the present, or focusing on the present, then suddenly losing half of everything you have when the time wave hits. Ideally, you follow a combination of both, but this is genre-breaking for an RTS…Yeah, this’ll be very interesting. I wonder how rushing will work. >_>

  42. squidi says:

    This isn’t anything like any of my ideas. The closest one to this is a case of saying, your tank just blew up and this door is open because in the future, I’m going to go back in time and sabotage your tank and unlock the door. So after the game is over, you go back to the beginning again as a spy who cannot change the outcome of the battle, but must make sure the tank is sabotaged and the door is unlocked some time before those events happened (will happen?). The trick is to not over promise what your spy can actually deliver. It’s more of a Commandos-like puzzle/stealth game where the puzzles are self imposed.

    Anyway, this seems more like an honest attempt at modeling time travel. I’m not sure that it would make a particularly good game, but it would make a wonderful toy to explore the practicalities of time travel. Wish it wasn’t wrapped in a real time strategy game, though. What a waste…

  43. PoisonedV says:

    So they combined the tedium of video editing with the micromanaging of the rts

  44. Resin says:

    uhh….not an RTS guy but if I were this would be epic. Seems pretty cool.

  45. Neut says:

    So when the guy went back in time and issued the one order to his units and then went back to the present, did that mean that the new timeline will play out with only that one order being issued? Put it in another way: in the present you had a bunch of units that you sent to scout the south side of the map, and when the present became the past your opponent travels back in time and attacks you from the north, would this new timeline play out with your units continuing to scout the south with those orders that you gave as if nothing had happened, or would there be a past version of yourself that reacts to this new attack from the north? I presume there’s only one version of your “intellligence”/floating mouse cursor that’s tied to the present then?

  46. Ziv says:

    this is pretty f***ing complex…. I’m not sure I would play such a game for a lot of time.
    aside from that I want all RTSs from now on (and back in the past) to have this command chain feature, I hate it when you have to scroll the entire screen to choose you entire platoon.

  47. BallisticsFood says:

    !!!!!

    This is one of my game designs! THEY ARE STEALING MY THOUGHTS!!!!

    Although seriously, for the last three years I have been saying how unutterably awesome a game like this would be, and lo and behold, it is!

    Want. Now. Maybe they can send it back from when it’s released?

  48. Iain says:

    @ Gap Gen:

    Of course, actual physics is in reality batshit insane (quantum physics, black holes, relativity, etc), so who knows what happens if time travel is possible.

    In Physics, the question of time travel is less to do with paradoxes, and more to do with the model of how you perceive time as a dimension.

    If you believe time is a continuum (that is, the past and future all exist simultaneously like an axis on a graph) then time travel into the past and the future is possible. But most humans have an innate philosophical difficulty with that, since if the future already exists, but we can only perceive the present, then there’s no such thing as free will. Essentially, we’re all puppets with the ability to think.

    So most people prefer the concept of a mutable future (i.e. time beyond the present is not predictable and does not exist until it is experienced), since it gives people assurance that they have the ability to think and act for themselves. Though this does naturally preclude the concept of time travel into the future, since how can you travel somewhere if you can’t be certain that you have a place (and time) to arrive in? Time travel to the past in this model is permissible, but any changes you make would be manifested in an alternative universe, since there is absolutely no way that you can travel back to where you came from.

    So take your pick… I’m with Doctor Manhattan when it comes to time – some of us can see the strings, some of us can’t.

  49. Calistas says:

    Primer! That’s the name of the cool film I saw a while ago that I was trying to tell someone about. Thanks for reminding me. Really, very good. Do get.

  50. randomnine says:

    You’ve got about five games running in parallel, and can send units back from older games to newer, younger games. The “present” periodically switches to a younger game, and a new game is birthed at the start of the timeline from the history of the youngest. That’s a pretty interesting model, and one that could only work in the RTS.

    I don’t think this fundamentally changes the RTS, though. You’ll get the same kind of mass-power-tech balance and intel game. I reckon amateur players will spend their chrono energy undoing their mistakes in the past, recovering from tactical or scouting failures; more competent players will spend it bulking out their present forces from the future, so time travel will give them a further advantage.

    I just hope the ability to go back in time and fix things means the game can better teach new players to avoid mistakes.