You Should Be Interested In: Paradox Shift

Electricity can travel through time. FACT.

There’s a feeling that’s difficult to shake when playing Paradox Shift. It’s that sense that you can’t wait to see how it will be implemented in Portal 3. Time travel surely comes next, right? The student indie project from the University of Southern California and the Laguna College of Art & Design has been mentioned in the same breath as Narbacular Drop and Tag: The Power of Paint elsewhere, and it’s tempting to agree. So I’ve had a play of a bit of it. And while it doesn’t have a feature quite so novel as portals, it’s certainly a far more engaging implementation of first-person time manipulation than previous attempts from mainstream gaming. The concept – moving between two time zones, tagging objects and transferring them between the two, in order to solve puzzles – is very intriguing. The delivery is already looking impressive. There’s some thoughts below.

I don’t know if you can travel through time. I can. It’s easy. It’s nice to see that reflected in a game. There’s no need for arduous straining, or elaborate machines – you just blink and it changes. Such is it in Paradox Shift, where a simple left click transfers you from the smart corridors of the past, fresh Grand Canyon Damn, to its run-down, dilapidated ruins. Various objects can be highlighted with a right click of your magic timegun, and then will remain in whichever time period you transfer to. And from thence the puzzles arise.

Built in the UDK, it has a really lovely cel-shaded look to it. And while it is in a bunch of grey corridors, they’re well decorated, and nicely laid out. There’s smart decisions behind the presentation of the two time zones, letting near-identical rooms look distinct. (The only problem being my own brain’s idiotic inability to remember that just because something looks shiny and clean does not make it more recent than something dirty and falling apart. I’m a bit like that bit in Time Cop when they go back to the past, collect some gold, travel to the future again and then carbon date it to find how far back they went. i.e. a moron.)

Before (or is it after?):

After (or is it before?):

The puzzles are extremely simple, certainly in this middle level of the five planned. (The full game is set to last around an hour.) There’s a hole for a battery in the future. There’s a battery in the past. You’re on your own from there. But while elementary, it’s still rewarding to complete them. And there are signs of good understanding of evolving the concept in the very short section of game. Once you’ve dealt with a battery, you’re then tasked with a more involved electrics puzzle. And then, mysteriously, a motorbike ride. (The team say that the motorbike sequence is nowhere near finished, but it seemed to work very well – and I’ve certainly never seen a game have me launch me and my vehicle through time to avoid obstacles – a nice touch.)

Keeping the time travel at the core of the game – something games like Singularity and TimeShift seemed to be so insanely determined not to do – means that the focus here is on the puzzles, where it should be. It wouldn’t be conducive to combat. Unless, again, the solution was puzzle-based.

This isn’t a sterile environment either. There’s some really lovely details hidden about. At one point I saw a strange robotic creature scooching its way across a platform above me, for reasons I know not, just as the voice in my ear warned me he was being attacked by robots. The audio is very fine too, decent acting, and some lovely atmospheric music and swirly noises.

A cynical type might point out that bits feel a touch contrived. A door closed in one time is open in another – but aren’t there door handles? And it’s very useful that every obstruction was moved at some point. I’m also not quite clear what allows one object to be tagged and another not. Some wooden boxes can be, others can’t, generally at the behest of a puzzle, rather than there being any internal logic.

Clearly this is a ten minute chunk of a short project, so I don’t have a strong perspective on the game as a whole. It’ll be interesting to see how far they push the concept by the fifth level. There’s a lot of scope for doing some really interesting things here… which is what takes us to that Narbacular Drop place. I’m not sure the comparison is entirely earned. Narbacular was a, “Oh my goodness, this has to be made bigger” moment. That’s not quite here. But it does feel like something that really deserves to be developed further, expanded into a full game, perhaps one with a malevolent robot calling you fat. Time portals. I’m just saying.

There’s over 30 students working on this, looking pretty likely to pass I reckon. You can keep an eye on the project here (and also see how many other sites beat me to writing about it by a weekend – but I played it, so ner). There’s also an IndieDB page for it here. There’s no release date as yet, but the summer holidays are fast approaching.


  1. Inigo says:

    It’s that sense that you can’t wait to see how it will be implemented in Portal 3. Time travel surely comes next, right?

    Only if it has a “don’t look your past counterpart in the eyes” mechanic.

  2. konrad_ha says:

    Incoming call from Gabe in 3 … 2 …. 1

  3. mbourgon says:

    Isn’t this basically the F-stop mechanic?

    • RagingLion says:

      Is that a serious comment or just speculation? I can’t remember having seen any word on the actual mechanics behind Valve’s F-stop prototype.

    • MadTinkerer says:

      According to The Final Hours of Portal 2:

      1) They did experiment with time travel mechanics as a possibility for Portal 2. It didn’t work out. Combining space portals with time travel was a little too disorienting.

      2) F Stop is NOT time travel. Only the Valve guys know exactly what it means, but we do know it’s not one of the other things specifically mentioned as something they also tried.

      3) F Stop is also not 2 Robots 1 Wrench which I desperately wish they would make into a TF2 spin-off featuring the Engie and two robots. Or possibly an Opposing Force spin-off (there was a wrench in that one).

  4. Alexander Norris says:

    I was actually just playing Singularity this weekend and thinking “you know, it would be awful nice to see a puzzle game where the whole mechanic hinges around switching from one era to another.”

    And lo!

  5. Fumarole says:

    I don’t know if you can travel through time. I can. It’s easy.

    Everyone travels through time you silly man.

    • Raiyan 1.0 says:

      Exactly what I was thinking. There isn’t a moment I’m not travelling through time – towards the future.

      Also, Mr Walker, you forgot the ‘UDK’ tag.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      Your concience is dependent on chemical reactions taking place over time, thus you would not notice if you stopped travelling through time.

    • liq3 says:

      You silly people. There is no time to travel through. Time is simply a measurement of change. There’s only the the Now. Our brains invent the future (speculation) and past (memories).

  6. mrwonko says:

    In “The Final Hours of Portal 2” it is mentioned that Valve actually experimented with time travel for Portal 2 but it was too confusing.

    Sounds interesting anyway so please remind me/us of it once it’s out.

  7. Teddy Leach says:

    Arse, from the first screen, I thought it was an amazing free arena shooter with time travel. I’m sad now.

    … It was probably because it’s not brown.

  8. Kerbobotat says:


  9. Jahkaivah says:

    So it’s more Day of the Tentacle than Braid?

  10. R_Yell says:

    2 world dimensions, 2 timelines, this has been done and doesn’t seem that these guys added a lot more gameplay wise than the work I showcased more than a year ago link to

    • gallardo1 says:

      The wise knows the difference between starting something and finishing it… and writing news periodically.

    • R_Yell says:

      You seem to assume Dual Reality is dead or not progressing. Well, given the ‘similitudes’ of both concepts (I’ll save some stronger words), I’m glad all the development after that early version has been kept secret.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      That’s the spirit. You’d rather have people assume your project is dead than give out your precious secrets to those evil competitors.

    • R_Yell says:

      2 replies and both in offensive attitude. Did I said something wrong? Both concepts are pretty identical at their base, just saying. It’s not a problem for me as far Dual Reality isn’t considered a clone of a posterior game, when it releases.

    • Malawi Frontier Guard says:

      Oh, it’s easy. Instead of your slightly sour initial post you could have said “That’s pretty cool. I’ve been working on a similar concept, here it is if you want to check it out” and would have been met with a much warmer reception.

      You know, it’s an attitude thing. Maybe you don’t have that attitude right now, that’s okay. Just mind that some things just go that little bit smoother if you word them the right way.

    • R_Yell says:

      No, the offensive attitude comes because I said these guys took inspiration from Dual Reality. I’m not the kind of person who believes in coincidences. And I don’t think their work is pretty cool, btw :)

    • ArmadaX29 says:

      Paradox Shift has been around since May 15, 2009 after a little Google searching. It was originally a mod for Unreal Tournament 3 submitted to IndieCade that year. Later it became a stand alone UDK project and has changed a ton since. Dual Reality was revealed Jan 17th 2010 on ModDB.

      I think you are reaching a little by accusing the Paradox Shift team of taking inspiration from Dual Reality. Your name is better at least. Get’s the idea across more quickly.

    • R_Yell says:

      At this point anything I can say is futile anyway. People don’t care about who’s first, they only care about good games. This game looks now to me like Dual Reality one and half year ago, trying to get somewhere but not reaching that place. I’m just being honest, didn’t liked my own work by then neither.

    • bill says:

      But it’s hardly an original mechanic, so i’m not quite sure how you can say they’re copying you. It’s been implemented to a degree in a number of games over the years. This is just the first FPS we’ve heard of that is based purely around it.

      Personally I don’t think it looks that interesting from the gameplay videos. Hopefully your project will be more interesting.

    • gallardo1 says:

      My tone was intentional, but actually I liked what Dual Reality showed me at the time.

      You may not believe in coincidences, but it happens pretty often that someone somewhere-else thought about that same concept, even if he will never go to make it. The other day I read about new portal2 mechanics people were dreaming about and – surprise – there was one slightly different version of my prototype; luckily my something will be better than their nothing.

      I’m glad you said that, the difference is in the execution, none care about the first, they remember the best.
      From the videos of both games, it seems to me that Paradox Shift nailed down a more immediate and simple mechanic, but the way you can peek the other dimension through a walking person in Dual Reality is far more fascinating, even better in coop, where two buddies could have to move to let the other see inside the body.

    • R_Yell says:

      I believe in coincidences at some degree, of course. This case just goes beyond any reasonable limit for me. I’ve seen games, books and movies about parallel worlds, I don’t pretend to invent a concept which has been around long long ago. This is just the same exact gameplay mechanic. That other student project called Void has reasonable differences with Dual Reality, for example.

      Funny you mention portal 2, there’s one of the coop puzzles where both players must crash in mid air. That’s the same exact idea showcased in one of my videos. Luckily created before portal 2 was even announced ^^ I know that’s the kind of ideas which come together at some point, and have been done before other times as well.

      Anyway, that’s a concept I ditched so isn’t like I’m worried or want to ‘fight’ for. Best wishes for them, would be cool if some day RPS gives a try to DR though :)

  11. karry says:

    “There’s a hole for a battery in the future. There’s a battery in the past.”

    So what’s the point in travelling trough time ? Sure, you can make a good game out of it, but its more of a story concept than a gameplay one. Seems pretty unassuming and ordinary to me.

  12. Soon says:

    I had a game in mind that used time travel and SWAT-esque squad tactics. Playing out your different squad members actions at different points in time so everything comes together into a perfectly executed plan. Or if you get shot in the head, take control of a different squad member at an earlier point in time to shoot whoever shot the other squad member before/later then he’ll survive when you go back/forward to that point. Or something.

    • gou says:

      This news story and your comment reminded me of Prometheus ( link to ) it sort of operates like your idea but instead of a squad you are just one person able to exist many times simultaneously, switching through each instance of yourself to help one of the “yous” progress forward.
      Sadly it did not win the “make something unreal contest” it was entered into, but it was later finished and because of UDK it is also standalone and free.

  13. Kroakie says:

    Void: link to
    Made this as part of a DigiPen programme last year. I remember reading about Paradox Shift halfway through production, and the team were all amazed at how similar our ideas turned out to be.

  14. bill says:

    From the earlier video, i’m not really convinced it’s going to be much fun. I think it might be like Twin Sector or Glasshouse or other “portal-a-likes” that have a cool core idea, but it becomes pretty repetitive pretty quick.

    Portal had a simple mechanic, but it was very flexible and allowed for huge amounts of fun and experimentation. Simply switching between time periods and moving objects doesn’t sound that kinetic or creative, and sounds like it’ll lead to lots of “get the fuse from the past” or “go to the future when it is gone” puzzles. I can’t see many other ways to use it in creative or freeform ways.

    But hopefully they’ll surprise me, and I always want to support these kind of little indie games.

  15. Avenger says:

    Curse me if this has been mentioned before, but, I have been thinking about a “time portal” mechanic since the Narbacular Drop.

    It would be interesting to pick up a cube, jump into a “minus 5 sec” time portal to fling onto yourself 5 seconds ago, steal your cube, and then use 2 cubes to solve the puzzle.

    I have been imagining puzzles like these ever since. Think of the possibilities!

    I think It would be testing-hell for valve to make it safe though.

    • D says:

      Until you realize that about 1% of players would solve every puzzle by building huge cube staircases!

      No, to be fair, playing with and disregarding timeparadoxes is maybe the only way for these time travel games to reinvent themselves.

  16. vodka and cookies says:

    Ratchet & Clank A Crack In Time did the time puzzle thing quite well actually, you could record multiple versions of yourself doing actions then play them back to complete the puzzles.

    Anyway this sounds interesting too, & I think Valve have already seen it from comments in the Portal2 documentary.

  17. JohnnyMaverik says:

    Looks really cool, can’t wait to play it.

  18. Outright Villainy says:

    It’s not really a new idea to go back in time to change stuff in the future as a central mechanic.
    link to

    But hey, it is a mechanic that’s pretty untapped, so it looks interesting. If there’s more stuff like that battery nonsense it’ll be awful though, that’s not really adding anything time related. I wanna see stuff grow if you plant it, or have some butterfly effects going on.