Super Time Force: Time On For Good Behaviour


Let me start by saying if you haven’t played Super Time Force, you should (immediately) because it is excellent. I have played it A LOT and it is one of my gaming highlights of the last few years (up there with Arkham City, The Last Of Us and Trials Evolution). But I want to discuss something of a problem in it – something I have seen in no other game.

In order to understand the problem you need to understand how the game works.

Super Time Force is a platformer in which you have to shoot your way to the end of a series of 1-2 minute levels. But its USP is you can rewind time. At any point you can rewind to any moment in the same level and try again.

Where it differs from most games of this type is that instead of ignoring what you have already done, your new character runs alongside the old character. The previous self moves at the same times it did, jumps at the same it did and shoots at the same times it did. This means you can do things like concentrate fire, clear areas, shield other selves etc. with the various iterations of yourself. You have 30-40 iterations of yourself to play with. Each one helps facilitate faster and faster times.

And “faster” is key. Super Time Force is a game of speed runs. A fast run can push you up the leaderboards, unlock certain characters and provide one of the 4 completion badges for the level.

But to get a truly great time you will need to pick up the 3 time shards littered throughout the level. Time shards slow down everything except your character’s movement speed – allowing a particular self to cover much more distance in far less time. So far so good.

The Rub

The problem (I wish to discuss) arises when you consider the rules for how multiple selves can use time shards. Once one has been picked up, future selves cannot use it. The 1st self picks one up and darts forward. The 2nd self must get to it before the 1st in order to receive the benefit. The 3rd before that – and so on. And there’s a negative feedback loop here. If you don’t get to the first one before a particular self it’s very unlikely you’ll make it to the second or third shard. Your previous self has left you behind.

Unfortunately it’s very easy to get into a situation where you have done such a good performance with one self that it’s impossible for a future self to get to the shard in time. Your 34th self may get to the shard so fast that your 35th doesn’t stand a chance.

You may have spent an hour on the level; iterating, streamlining and then suddenly: one mistake and all the work is thrown away because you did too well! You can’t get to the 1st shard, so you can’t get to the 2nd, so you can’t get to the 3rd. Instead of shaving off 0.3 of a second you have irrevocably added 10 seconds. And you can never get to it in time because you are always rewinding from this new crappy run.

But probably the most frustrating thing is that it’s only clear it’s a mistake after it has been made.

Arguably you shouldn’t have rewound back to before that amazing performance but when you are trying to shave fractions of a second off your time it often feels like the right thing to do.

This seems like a very esoteric problem for me to build up. But the reason I find it so fascinating is that it’s the first time I remember being punished for doing well in videogames.

In terms of enjoyment this is a relatively minor thing. It only really bothered me because I was so invested that I wanted to 100% it. For most players it won’t be an issue. But from an academic point of view I find it fascinating.

The only way you will be able to understand what I am talking about is by playing Super Time Force.

Play It. Play it immediately.

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