Time Laud: Achron

By Jim Rossignol on January 6th, 2010 at 8:37 am.


This week I’ve been playing around with Hazardous Software’s strange RTS concept, Achron. It’s boasts the most interesting feature in, well, probably any RTS, ever. You’ll want to keep reading.

The idea is this: time travel. While you can only travel back by a few minutes, those are enough to change the course of events in the present of your game. Go back a minute and order a tank to cross the map and he’ll be appear there in the present. Go back and destroy something in the past, and it’ll be removed from the battle you’re having in the present.

Time is propagated in “waves”, which you can see in your UI. This means that when you make a change in the past you have to wait for that wave that has passed it to catch up with the present before you can see the change. You can, when you are in the past, “fast forward” to the present, so that you can deal with any problems a unit might encounter in its changed history. If you know what events are bound up in a particular wave, you can also work to dodge or undo them. It’s an amazingly clever system, and one that blows the roof off the RTS as you and I understand it.


The possibilities for cross-time combat are, I suspect, beyond of my ability to imagine, having played it for such a short time. But you can at least see where your enemy’s “attention” is on the time line, so if he’s messing about in the past, you can try and stop him. All this is dependent on one key resource: chronoenergy. This stuff regenerates if you’re doing things in the present, and reduces as you perform actions in the past. The further back you go, the more expensive actions are. The battle will come in spending your capacity to go back and change things more wisely than your opponent. And yes, there will be single and multiplayer games.

Balance is, presumably, going to make or break this game. And being in a situation where your enemy can go into the past and undo his actions – and yours – means that bringing a game to its conclusion could be tricky indeed. Genuine time paradoxes do seem to be possible – destroying the factory that made your unit before the unit that destroys it was made, for example – but the game should resolve them for you via the time-wave system (see below). More importantly, this is, once you’re playing, the kind of thing that videogames should be doing: a really big idea, delivered in practical terms. I can’t say it’s doing for time what Portal did for space, but it’s certainly a fascinating extension of strategy concepts. It’s also the best use of time-travel as a mechanical game design system that I can think of. Rather than simply being the rewind/forward function we’ve seen in any number of action games (or the future-sight of quicksaves, for that matter), it’s a system that creates complex tactical potentialities, that you have to work through to resolve by having specific knowledge of the past.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say that while the game is in a crude, early state – it’s by an indie studio and is being released in that indie way of “please help us do more” – is visually basic, and might never have the polish your big studio titles boast, you should probably buy it. Hell, you want innovation in games? This is it. Hazardous have made a basic version of the game available now to anyone who ($20) pre-orders. Check out their release calendar for some more information.

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62 Comments »

  1. Glove says:

    GAH! Hazardous are very, very smart people.

  2. Wolfman says:

    Oh dear, I’ve gone cross-eyed …

  3. Heliocentric says:

    Not sure, the idea is great, by making the waves you reduce time to a series of levels, some getting harder to access others coming into the availablity.

    I hope resource management is simple and production can be done on a cross bar instead of at the structure. Micromanagement would kill this model.

    “Who cares if you can go back in time? I built like 400 tanks, you lose”

    • Chris D says:

      Not if I destroy the factory before you build them

    • Christian says:

      Chris D: Then the right tactic would be to go back and surround the area with tanks where you are going to have built the factory to produce the tanks to destroy the factory that built my tanks I will have sent to have destroyed your factory.

      Hmm. I got caught in the tenses there. I keep thinking about the Hitchhiker’s Guide here..

    • Chris D says:

      Christian: Then I guess I’d have to go back in time and build the factory somewhere else. Or mine the area or something.

      Still, it does seem that time travelling gives you a whole new set of options to consider.

      Actually even if the game doesn’ t turn out to be balanced I’d still like to play just to see how the time travel plays out

  4. Vague-rant says:

    Very smart people indeed. Unfortunately too smart for me to ever play it (or at least play it competently)…

  5. Sam Bigos says:

    Holy crap that sounds awesome.

  6. RogB says:

    i could only watch half of that trailer as it made my brain hurt. Theres no way I could play this!

  7. RogB says:

    just though, could you create an einstein and send him back in time to assassinate hitler? ;)

  8. Karry says:

    I dont get it. If you have a tank in the present to destroy something – why would you want to send it to the past to destroy the same thing ? Whats the point ? Especially since the time machine only works in such short intervals.

    • Jim Rossignol says:

      Say an enemy strike takes out one of your buildings, you could go back 1 min and have more tanks on scene to fight them off. Or you could go back and attack them before their attack was launched.

    • Christian says:

      Or, as far as I understand it, you could go back in time, demolish your factory and build it in another place. If you manage to time this in the right way and the wave carrying your change hits the present the same time as the enemy’s attack, they’ll just attack empty space because your factory would magically appear in another place the instant they attack.
      Also, you could (if they attack via airstrike) will have built AA-guns at the loation of your former factory. They would then appear a second after they realised that they are attacking nothing and just wipe them.

      Wow. This can really cause head-aches.

      But as clever as this game is, I know I would never play it online because it would become frustrating to always be beaten by all those clever people out there (hmm, sadly, this game makes me feel stupid).

  9. Joe says:

    Yay, I’m playing this today too. Been following Hazardous for a long time. Above is just the alpha version of the game though which comes as a treat for pre-orders and, while the actual features of time travel are representative of the full game, the final product is already a lot more polished than this – and better balanced.

  10. GibletHead2000 says:

    I’ve been very interested in this since the last time it was mentioned. Glad to see it’s moved forward, as I was thinking it would probably just fizzle before seeing the light of day.

    I’m interested to know how they prevent paradoxes as you suggest. What stops you from building a tank, sending that tank back to before it was built and destroying the factory that made it?

  11. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Interesting. Confusing. I wonder what several tactics could be using time as in RTSs time is always of the essence.

    You may be able to, for example, play a long stretch normally, trying to tech up rapidly, move back in time, build a big force and overwhelm the opponent.

    Or just start scouting the map as fast as you can, rewind to the start as soon as you find your opponent’s base.

    Correcting mistakes, launching an attack moving your force so that the opponents’ force misses you and then move in on his base before he reaches yours.

    And then there’s the opponent’s time-meddling to consider. Headache-inducing.

  12. merc says:

    That’s seriously impressive.

  13. Spacegirl says:

    that’s truly insane. I only partially understand it.

    insane strategy possibilities I dont even want to consider….

  14. Magnus Alvestad says:

    This game is bound to be a success at launch! Because if it isn’t, they’ll go back in time and improve it.

    -Magnus

  15. poop says:

    I really why they went for standard future scifi as a setting when they could have made it romans with guns/ Nazis riding dinosaurs or something sweeter

    • poop says:

      I really wonder why, that is

    • Kai says:

      I’d have to hazard a guess and say it’s because it’s already so full of potential greatness. Themes like “Nazis riding dinosaurs” only really succeed with a game designed for insanity or not designed at all.

  16. Aemony says:

    I can’t even begin to comprehend how this would be to play online against real players.

  17. Michael Leung says:

    Smells like Timeshift: The RTS, which is a great idea because time travel is something not explored much in games. Cannot wait for this game. Being $20, I’m wondering if I should preorder just for the alpha builds.

  18. Wisq says:

    Be warned that the $20 pre-order thing is apparently limited to the first 500 pre-orders. It’s $30 after that, which is still apparently a discount from the final post-launch price.

    I’ve been following their RSS feed since the last time RPS mentioned them, and pre-ordered it right on launch day. I’m a little dismayed to hear they’re still offering the $20 price — I would have hoped they’d have 500 orders by now, just in terms of the excitement this should be generating. But I guess it’s still the first week, so.

    I don’t typically do RTSes, so I don’t really know if I’ll be entirely happy with the final product, but this is one of those rare cases where I want to support them anyway — and where I would be happy to stretch my comfort zone in order to fool around with such a mind-blowing concept.

  19. Nameykins says:

    The name annoys me. It’s like a wierd typo of Archon

  20. Drexer says:

    Oh wow.

    Wow…

    I’m so buying this in a day’s time. Even though I don’t really like RTS’s, this pretty much takes the prize of awesomeness.

  21. DrugCrazed says:

    It looks fun, and it’s always nice to see people do something new (Especially if it’s Indie), but I can’t help but think that online play would be chaotic and horrible. If there’s a demo that will give me a good insight then I might give it a go.

  22. Clovis says:

    If you create, like a guitar playing soldier and the barracks he came from is destroyed in the past, when the “time wave” approaches him does he start to play the guitar really badly like he’s dying or something, and then he looks at a picture of the barracks and it’s like fading away, and he’s like, “Oh noes!” Is that how it is? And then if you managed to destroy the tank that destroyed the barracks would he then suddenly start playing the guitar really well again, and you’d be like, “Hooray!” ‘Cause that would be sweet.

    • BonusWavePilot says:

      @Clovis: ah, I see you refer to the famous “Enchantment Under the Sea” engagement. You left out the great victory over the B1FF AIs, and the disturbing scene where soldier-guy snogged his own barracks.

  23. drewski says:

    I wasn’t going to read this, because I’m not a huge RTS fan, but when Jim said I was going to want to read on, I was like, well, if Jim Rossignol says that, maybe I do want to read on!

    So I did.

    And it was good.

    Although this game sounds much too tricksy for my brain.

  24. manveruppd says:

    Would multiplayer even be possible, and, if yes, how the hell would it work?

  25. pimorte says:

    @poop
    A “Time, Gentlemen, Please” RTS? Yeeeeeeeeeeeeeeesssss

  26. p00p says:

    They do have multiplayer, check out http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=O6PuVyZGrYE

  27. Meatloaf says:

    The game needs trailers in order to explain how the engine handles [i]time paradoxes[/i]… colour me impressed.

  28. Vasara says:

    This looks quite fascinating. The tactical possibilities are just endless. I would probably just end up using it as an “undo” button of sorts because I’m useless when it comes to strategy and tactics, but I’d imagine clever tactical types will come up with all sorts of complex strategies – after all time-travel as a strategic tool is literally unexplored in games. Seems like a game one could sink considerable amounts of time into.

    As a side note, does the term RTS really apply here? I mean, it plays in real-time, kind of, but then there’s the whole time-travel thing. TLS (timeline strategy)?

  29. Web Cole says:

    Hmm, well I think I might just have to pre-order. This sort of creativity deserves support.

  30. Hypatian says:

    If only this game had dwarves, it would be perfect.

  31. TheBlackBandit says:

    Can anyone who’s played this tell me if there’s a decent tutorial? I mean, I’m not thick, it’s just I’ve been out of strategy for a while and I’m slightly baulked.

    Looks incredible, though.

    • Chris D says:

      The conventional RTS parts are fairly light at the moment, you should be able to pick those up without much difficulty. After a brief “this is how you attack and move things” section most of the tutorial is for the time travel mechanics. I’ve been trying to get my head around them all afternoon. My brain hurts now.

      For any Doctor Who fans, you know how Donna becomes half Timelord and can see all time and space and now her brain will catch fire if she ever remembers it? That’s pretty much what it feels like.

  32. getter77 says:

    Indeed it looks great and the mods should flow quite nicely once things get further underway in terms of the release calendar and beyond—I shall continue to contemplate a Roguelike using the Reseqence Engine for example.

  33. KilgoreTrout XL says:

    I saw a trailer for this a while back and thought it looked incredible. The $20 price tag is higher than I had expected but there’s no f*cking chance I’m not hopping on this kickass train of kickassness.

  34. Tyr says:

    It’s not a typo at all; “chron” is time in Greek and the “a-” prefix means “apart from”.
    A-chron means “not bound by time” or something similar. It’s quite fitting, really.

    I have the alpha, and it is already awesome. The final version will be better yet.

    • TeeJay says:

      @Tyr

      I think maybe Nameykins point is that the name “Achron” is very similar to the classic 80s game:

      Archon (1983) (fantasy chess-variant)

      also:
      Anachronox (2001) (turn-based sci-fi RPG)
      Evochron (2005) (space combat)

  35. Chemix says:

    I read about this about a year ago, found it odd that never showed up on RPS and I guess the time wave finally arrived to update the site, lol, still mind bending none the less
    I may or may not fix this post to be useful by the next wave

  36. 莉莉 says:

    我也很喜欢这个东西,但是不知道哪儿有?

  37. Rei Onryou says:

    Please let Valve see this. This should be the next Narbacular Drop. My head keeps exploding the more I think about this game.

  38. KBKarma says:

    I really REALLY want this…

    … But neither my PC nor my laptop can play it. My PC has a dual-core Intel 5300, 320GB hard-drive, 3GB RAM… and an in-built Intel graphics card, and a 300W PSU. And Dell have informed me, rather politely, that upgrading my PSU will cause my components to short, which they don’t cover. My laptop has 4GB RAM, an nVidia GeForce 8800, two 160GB hard-drives… and an Intel Celeron 900.

    I’m planning on upgrading my original rig (all it needs is a new motherboard, graphics card, processor, hard-drive, OS, and possibly PSU. How much could it possibly be?), but that’s for the summer.

    • TRJP says:

      to KBKarma

      Just buy a decent 450w+ PSU (Corsair are nice) and a half-decent GPU for your desktop (a 4770 would be lovelly) and ignore what Dell are talking about because it’s nonsense.

      Your laptop – err – why does it have an 880 GPU (decent) and a Celeron CPU (junk) – weird spec but laptops are non-upgradeable so you’re stuck there…

      This is early software tho and so unoptimised/not tested for wide compatibility I imagine – it will get better/run on more and lower hardware in due course I’m sure…

  39. Arch-wot? says:

    I just saw an ad for this on Penny Arcade and thought it was released.

    Apparently it’s still pre-order only though you get access to the beta version. Anyone try it out?

  40. Toiski says:

    I think the people who say they’re not oing to try it because the multiplayer is going to fry their brain should… play against the other people saying that! It’s not like everybody else will be a marvelous player who lives in four dimensions and packs his lunch in the past when he gets hungry in the present. Other players will have as much brain pain as you.

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