Friday, December 23, 2011

The Twelve Games Of Christmas (Break)

On The Twelfth Day Of Gaming,
My Schedule Showed To Me:

Twelve Super Villains

Eleven Wars-A-Gearin'

Ten Martians Zapping

Nine Songs with Dancing

Eight Hands and Foot-ing

Seven Storms of Bullets

Six Birds A-Launching

Five Bastion...Things?

Four Answers Buzzed

Three Kinds of Kongs*

Two Words with Friends

And A Dragon Roaming Skyriiiimmmmm

You guys, I'm pretty excited to play all these games.

Now, while I will be playing some of them alone, the real fun comes in playing many of these games with all my wonderful friends, family, and a special lady who is, I daresay, nearly as competitive as me (though way more pouty). Great games come and go, but all the amazing people in my life are what I'm truly thankful for, though I suppose this blog post suggests otherwise. I figured a collection of photos and descriptions of all of them would be a lot less exciting for the general public. But I digress.

Happy Holidays everyone! And Happy Gaming - if, you know, you love that stuff anywhere near as much as I do.


PS: The names of the twelve games I plan on playing during the holidays, in case you were wondering, are: 
12) Batman: Arkham City (still plenty of ass-whooping and riddle-collecting to do)
11) Gears of War 3 (love the series, need to finish the campaign and spend some time online)
10) Invasion from Outer Space (great board game)
9) Just Dance 3 (present for my mother for Christmas, sure I'll join her)
8) Hand & Foot (a fun 2-4 player card game)
7) Bulletstorm (snagged it for $10 recently, heard it was good)
6) Angry Birds (I'm addicted)
5) Bastion (finally hoping to get around to it)
4) You Don't Know Jack (I've talked about this one before)
3) Donkey Kong Country Returns (holding onto this for over a year. I need to get back to it)
2) Words With Friends (even more addicted)
1) Skyrim (the challenge here will be not letting this be ALL I play)

*Technically its two kinds of Kongs, but I think Cranky Kong makes an appearance in the shop, so cram it.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011


So I just beat the main campaign in Arkham City. I still have lots of side stuff to do in the game, but I figured I'd take a little break and let my eyes do some blinking (they've gotten very dry) before diving back in. While I wait to dive back to the streets, I'll take a moment to share of my thoughts on the game and Batman in general here.

Look for some extra MS Paint work today to make up for the lack of actual content!
1) Combat in this game is such a sweet, wonderful dance. It is so incredibly enjoyable that I've slowly turned Batman from a weapon for justice - who fights only those who defy him - to a citywide super-bully that will stop mid-mission just to pounce on a few hapless thugs who have no information and are in no way getting in Batman's way.

2) If you haven't played the game at all, you should know that the Riddler has apparently hired a small army of enthusiastic goons to place question mark trophies, set up complicated electrical puzzles, and basically spray paint the color green EVERYWHERE throughout Arkham City, all in the name of proving himself intellectually superior to Batman, or something. And while I haven't collected everything and found him yet, I'm really hoping once I do, I'll be able to pick up the cowering, defeated Riddler, and HUG HIM. Because frankly, half the gadgets and abilities I've been collecting and honing for the entire game would be absolutely useless without his ridiculous 400+ trophies and puzzles. Batman owes him a world of thanks to justify all the crap he carries around with him. Of course, the experience has more than likely corrupted his mind. I can just hear him talking about it with Alfred now:

"Sir, do you really think you'll actually need to use this 50lb. Bat-chainsaw?"
"Don't question me, Alfred. The Riddler is insane. He put one of his trophies in a deserted, ancient underground city beneath Gotham, which was itself located beneath Gotham's sewers. I was barely able to get down there myself - and I'm the freakin' Batman. Oh - and of on top of that, I had to hit this button from like fifty feet and get to the trophy within ten seconds or it would close up inside of this annoying electronic trap!"
"It sounds like he's put quite a bit of effort into these...'riddles,' Master Bruce."
"You have no idea. It's driving me insane. I'm beginning to see green question marks everywhere."
"It sounds...quite tragic, sir."
"Wait a minute..."

"I'm going to need you to bend over, Alfred. Now."
3) I can say with absolute certainty now that I officially know more about Batman's Rogues Gallery than I do about any U.S. President. I can talk at length about the tragic origins of Victor Fries, Batman's tenuous relationship with Talia Al Ghul, or the many incarnations of the Joker, but I don't think I could tell you a single thing about what's his name, who's his face, or that other guy.

If only U.S. Presidents had more easily identifiable obsessions and/or origin stories.
4) The Joker has a steady, (insanely) devoted girlfriend. Batman has only has a handful of flings. You could argue both are equally devoted to their "life goals" - Batman to justice and the Joker to making Batman's life miserable. Yet somehow the murderous clown is the one who has found his better half. Sidenote: I also may be over-thinking things during my many jaunts through the crime-ridden streets of Arkham City. But is it so wrong of me to want the character I'm playing as to find love someday?

5) This is something kind of funny/awesome about Batman: NOTHING SURPRISES him. In the span of my 10-15 hours in Arkham City, he's suddenly come across one armed, hammer swinging clown henchmen, a giant man-eating shark (which, upon coming out of the water to devour him, was met with not shock, but rather, an immediately barrage of FISTS OF FURY) and trips to two separate drug-induced, surreal fantasy worlds where he's had to fight for his life. This is of course on top of your run-of-the-mill encounters with dozens of armed cronies and criminally insane costumed villains every 5 minutes. No matter what's going on, Batman is totally keeping his cool. And the funny part is that I wouldn't buy that attitude for anyone but him. I'd even put money on Superman being freaked out for a second before remembering he's a god.

Now I'm debating whether or not to try Skyrim next, or save it as a reward for my next big project. The bigger question is, when do I see myself having 100+ extra hours of free time?


Thursday, December 1, 2011

MaShaReCa NaNoWriMo

50,118 Words. 29 Days (I somehow managed to finish a day early). NaNoWriMo is officially behind me. And what an exciting, stressful, wonderfully insane experience it was.

As promised (though I never did get around to that 'midway post' I promised, sorry about that) I'm going to recap the entire experience with WAY more pictures than you'd think I'd have relating to a month that revolved around sitting in front of my laptop.

Matt Shafeek's NaNoWriMo Debrief

1) The idea I came up with for my revolved around two ideas - tragic/misguided anti-heroes like Anakin Skywalker from Star Wars, Zuko from (my new favorite series) Avatar: The Last Airbender, and Gollum from The Lord of the Rings. Characters that clearly have some good in them but fall victim to their darker nature for one reason or another. Particularly Gollum interested me because the other idea in my story was that of an artifact - similar to the all powerful ring the Lord of the Ring's story revolves around - only with a twist. I thought it would be interesting to explore the idea of an artifact that granted its owner powers, but rather than corrupting them as they used/carried it, it forced them to deal with their demons - in other words, an artifact of anti-corruption, or enlightenment.

I won't spoil too much of the story here, in case I ever finish and want people to actually read it, but these ideas organically lead to a fantasy world where magic existed, and was prevalent among to almost anyone willing to study it (I made being a magic-user the equivalent of being a real-life programmer, basically), and I thought it would be interesting to explore a world where it had only recently been discovered, where the limits of magic were still being tested, and the use of it was still very controversial in some circles.

2) Prior to November, I spent many hours meticulously outlining my novel (still technically within the guidelines of NaNoWriMo, in case you were wondering) so I wouldn't get stuck while actually composing the story. And while for the most part I was never at a loss as to where my story was going next, I still got stuck plenty of times just thinking about some of the many details that come with creating a fantasy novel. I was creating a fantasy world, and as such, every original thing I came up with needed a name, a background and a description - if not on paper, then certainly in the back of my mind. Crops, forests, animals, characters, towns, castles, moons (I decided to have three of them), spells, weapons and magical items. This is to say nothing of the particulars of magic itself. How are spells cast? What is the cost of casting a spell? Do you just want to copy everything Rowling and/or Tolkien did? And so on.

If you're thinking about doing NaNoWriMo yourself someday - know that you can never do enough outlining. I bought the book below in October and it helped me out significantly. The book probably would have come in even more handy in September!

3) Having strong characters with clearly defined wants REALLY helped my story. I had a fairly easy time writing conversations and figuring out reactions events in the story, mostly because I had very well-defined characters that bounced off each other in interesting ways. Some of what they were saying almost certainly fell into the realm of cliche - things like my "anti-hero" protagonist brooding nonstop (until I decided he shouldn't do that anymore and having him just stop suddenly), and almost every other character using the term "m'lord" to anyone with a higher status - but uncliche-ing a page is certainly much easier than un-blanking one. And you can quote me on that elegant statement.

4) I did my best to find time whenever I could - lunch breaks, early mornings, late evenings, making up ground on the weekends, etc. (similar to when I was 'Paused,' I work REALLY well on a pre-determined schedule with deadlines) There was no trick, unless you count 'pacing' and 'carving out time every day' as a trick. I finished NaNoWriMo working a full time job, performing improv once a week, taking a writing class and still managing to have a social life. Now, the trick going forward is going to be behaving this way without an artificial deadline!

5) I had some fun on my #NaNoWriMo related Twitter updates, where I pretended to be writing an "urban fantasy novel" a la Twilight that involved underwater vampires, a cameo by Bella and Edward, and eventually, sky werewolves, (or "airwolves"). Every one of the updates mentioned this ridiculous story gained me some new followers. So, you know, that fake story clearly has some genuine interest. Feel free to take the idea and roll with it.

6) The No Plot? No Problem! novel writing kit - which objectively is like something right out of a 2nd grade teacher's arsenal - worked wonders for me, motivation-wise. It features a pledge that you sign, daily tips/affirmations, and best of all, a little chart to keep track of your daily word count (more on this in a minute). There was something very reaffirming about putting little gold starts on this thing every 2,000 words, and seeing the count go up as the month went on. Would I have finished the month without the kit? Probably. But I wouldn't have been smiling nearly as much the whole time.

7) Being an improviser definitely came in handy this month. For all my plotting and planning, every single actual scene was written in the moment, and sometimes the specific point of the story would change even if my outline dictated otherwise. Two characters that were meant to bond early on actually didn't, and a character that was supposed to be a major villain wound up becoming a much more nuanced character due to all the action happening in the moment. I'm sure I wasn't 100% consistent with my characters in every scene, but I'd like to think everything you're reading makes sense in the moment.

8) I found out I'm pretty good at writing dialogue and action scenes, and pretty bad at writing everything else. Describing environments, details (again, this could be due to lack of planning), and any general "lulls" in my story where my protagonist was just travelling, or in between major scenes wound up feeling a little trite.

Conversely, conversations with my characters always flowed out of me, and actions scenes are just plain fun to write. Those were also, not-so-surprisingly, the times when I'd lose track of time and my current word count and just write without that nagging feeling that I'm composing the first draft of a second rate fantasy. Actually, now that I think about it, the downside to my improviser brain is that I rarely have to think about things besides actions and dialogue on stage, and as such, I was very much working an unused muscle.

9) Speaking of word count - boy oh boy was that a double-edged sword. Having a specific number of words to hit daily (1667) focused me and ensured I'd set aside enough time to get my write on. I discovered that without letting myself be distracted, I could do this in about two hours every day. As you can see from the chart on the right, I was pretty damn regimented. I usually would aim to do either one day's worth, two day's worth, or half a day's work (I took one full day off as well), which generally translated to one to four hours worth of work.

Conversely, I could tell things were going slowly when I'd open up the calculator on my computer and start calculating first how much more I had to write that day, that week, the rest of the month, and so on. Also, doing the calculations on this chart were a wonderful way to pretend to be productive while avoiding what the interior of a medieval arena looked like.

10) I really like my story, and I hope to finish it sometime in the next few months, but more than anything this month has shown me (as I was shown last November when I wrote a blog post every day) how much writing I can get done if I'm motivated enough. I already have big plans for my writing in 2012, and I'd like to think, if nothing else, NaNoWriMo was the coup de grĂ¢ce on a stellar year for me, creatively, that will hopefully lead to more risks and opportunities to come.

11) I would be remiss to not mention my good friend Karen Castelletti, pictured above with adorable pet parakeet (not a parakeet though, right, Karen? Please, correct me) who embarked on this incredibly writing adventure with me. We did a great deal on bonding over the course of this month while we both cheered each other on, answered each other's questions and provided much needed distractions (and in Karen's case, delicious hot chocolate) a few nights every week over the course of NaNoWriMo. Having a friend to do this with was vital, moreso than any other motivational accouterments, and I'm so very grateful to have had someone so smart, so easygoing and so very determined to write alongside me all month long.

Thanks a million Karen!

12) Finally, as you may, recall, I put a sticky note on my highly-anticipated reward copy of Batman: Arkham City that read: "Do Not Open Until You've Finish Your Novel!" which was a misstep on my part, since I didn't even consider the possibility that my novel would be incomplete at the end of the month. But I'm not sticking to the letter of the law here. I just went ahead and amended the note accordingly. And on that (revised) note, I'm going to go ahead and dive into Arkham City right now. Ta-ta!


Wednesday, November 9, 2011

What's The Worst That Could Happen?

Hello there, internet friends! I'm busy clickity clacking away on my novel for NaNoWriMo - 18,418 words and counting! - so I can't spent all that much time on the blog this month, though I do plan to put a little halfway mark post up with reflections on my experience thus far.

In the meantime, I'm going to put up a video I wrote and shot a few months back with some of my Phooka/Magnet friends. It's called "What's The Worst That Can Happen?" and it asks, and then answers this question with regards to approaching an attractive woman on the street (Spoiler alert: it ends with me getting kicked in the balls).


What's the Worst That Could Happen from David Etkin on Vimeo.


Tuesday, October 25, 2011

This Is A Story All About How I Told A Story

I took a storytelling class with Moth Story SLAM Winner Adam Wade a few weeks back, and our class show was this past week. I've told monologues in improv shows before, but not since I regaled my classmates and their parents with the tale of Why Mosquitos Buzz In People's Ears back in 5th grade have I told a full length story in front of an audience before. It was a great experience, and one I hope to do it again sometime.

In the meantime, here's the footage of my set from the show. Longtime readers will recall this story as I told it on this blog some time ago, but I used the format to frame the story a little differently, so it's still worth checking out.


Some thoughts:

-I had 6-8 minutes to tell my story. Initially this felt limiting - I couldn't possibly tell this EPIC tale in less than 15 minutes! But it wound up being a great exercise in editing and cherry picking the most important details.

-I go up on stage without a script almost every week for my improv shows and as such, I always think I'm totally over getting nervous before a show, but anytime there's a script involved - even when it's an experience I've lived through, there's always the fear of forgetting an important detail, and ruining everything.

-Every else in the class had great stories as well. One woman told her 13 year old journey to her first U2 concert, another told the nail-biting saga of getting her favorite bag of Gummi bears from Duane Reade before her train left the station. One of my personal favorites was the story of one of my classmates getting mugged in NYC at his poorest, and having absolutely nothing of value for the mugger to take. The encounter ended in the mugger walking down the street with him, giving him some job advice before parting ways with a handshake. Amazing.

Now if you'll excuse me, I'm way behind on outlining my novel...


Thursday, October 20, 2011

Re-Paused!! (Kinda)

You guys. This game came out yesterday. You get to play as Batman in it. It's the highly anticipated, critically acclaimed sequel to a Batman game I obsessed over for about a month a few years ago. I really want to play it, right now. I pre-ordered it weeks ago, and it's sitting in my living room right now. And while technically there's nothing stopping from me gorging on immediately (and believe me, this decision did not come lightly), I chose to put the extra time into outlining the novel I'm going to write for NaNoWriMo this year, as well as taking care of some other writing/projects I need to wrap up or put on hold starting in two weeks.

So - guess what this means? I'm totally RE-PAUSED! Though I'm definitely not committing to completely discontinuing all gaming for the next 6 weeks (lord knows I'm going to need something to cleanse the palette between extended writing sessions), I am definitely restraining myself from playing the game I want to play more than anything in the world while staying committed to the biggest creative project of my life. The way I see it, it'll be a great reward come the first of December.

I know, I know - what a tragic life I have, right? Woe is me!

Anyways, that's all for now. I'll have a few more things to post on this blog before I go dark at the end of the month. For now - wish me luck (again)!


Saturday, October 15, 2011

Opening The Vintage Matt Shafeek Vault

My mother recently sold her house, and as a result I found myself having to rummage through every single possession I have in permanent storage. This led to some delightful trips down memory lane, as well as the gift of some great memoir fodder (look for a garage-themed piece later).

One of the best finds during the many hours spent sifting through my childhood were some of the little books I wrote as a kid. I loved writing short stories where my friends and I would go on wild adventures filled with, well, cliches and references to other adventures I'd seen before (what do you want from me, I was 8). They also happen to be pretty adorable, and make me yearn for the days when I could write a full story and not agonize over whether or not anyone will ever like it.

So I'm sharing a few of my discoveries here today. If you guys love them enough, I've got plenty more to show off in future posts.

This particular story is called: Adventures with Matthew: The Mystery of the Missing Jewel.

Adventures of Matthew and Friends - The Mystery of the Missing Jewel


1) Apparently I wrote this story as a present for my parents during Christmas, which is pretty amazing, right? I mean, I did have a ton of money that I inherited from my incredibly rich great grandmama, but what could I have possibly bought the two of them that would have been more impressive than a story crafted from the mind of their own child?

2) Other than on the cover, where the titular character has apparently donned an undersized investgator's hat, our hero Matthew is generally always seen wearing his trademark green hat, along with his trademark blue shirt, orange pants and brown shoes. Also, note that this is marked #1. This was no one-off. I had big plans for this series, ladies and gentlemen.

3) In all my stories I incorporated a fair of my actual friends at the time, plus my brother Mo. But apparently, I deemed none of them cool enough (including myself) because I felt the need to introduce a fictional Joe Cool (check name) character, who wore black sunglasses and smoked cigarettes that inexplicably saved the day on three separate occasions! Joe is, to my knowledge, supposed to be our age, so it's important to realize I gave myself an 8 year old friend with a pack-a-day habit. For the record, I've never smoked a cigarette in my life, so this wasn't wishful thinking on my part. I guess I just thought my group needed someone like Joe - reckless, carefree and oh so f-ing cool to be fully fleshed out.

4) This was the first time, to my recollection (I'll have to analyze my oeuvre a bit more carefully to confirm this) that I played around with perspective. Most of my drawings were drawn from the profile, with a character facing to the side, with only one eye, arm and shoe visible or facing out, showing their full body. But check out the spectacular bird's eye view on page 12. I don't know about you, but I'm impressed.

Ok, so next up we have Adventures with Matthew & Friends: The Video Game. That's right folks, not only was I a child novelist, but I was also a mother f-ing game designer.

Adventures with Matthew and Friends: The Video Game!

I only pasted a few pages from the instruction booklet here, but it's more than enough for you to understand my grand vision.

Bonus Facts!

1) I loved Loved LOVED imagining the possibilities for video games as a kid. I wrote up designs for a LOT of games, and thought of ideas for hundreds more. Most were sequels to franchises I already knew, but I came up with a handful of original ideas, too. Fact: I actually came up with the idea for Grand Theft that I imagined an open world came where you could drive around an entire city and go anywhere you wanted. The actual premise to my game involved getting medicine for your grandmama and didn't include guns, car theft, or prostitutes, so I guess you could say Rockstar produced a bastardized version of my vision.

2) Erica, my real life cousin was the only female to be featured in the Adventures with Matthew and Friends series. As I recall, I ran every other girl I knew through an exhaustive series of tests (have you played any of these video games? How much of these games have you played?), and they all failed.

3) Note that all the kids in this game - including my then 3-4 year old brother - are holding a gun. This is a serious adventure people, and you can't expect to survive it without packing some heat! More importantly though - look at our returning friend Joe Cool. His gun has a cigarette sticking out of its barrel. I don't even know what else to say.

4) By this point I felt my friends deserved to get some recognition, though they're clearly not getting top billing.

Oh hey - did you get stuck part-way through this game that I made up in my mind? Well have no fear friend, because I also drew up a strategy guide!

How To Win At Adventures With Matthew And Friends The Video Game

Are you all as amused as I am by myself?

Secret Facts!

1) Are you noticing my weird obsessions with ridiculously over-sized jewels? Nowadays I'll take a jewel-less ring, necklace  or nose stud imbued with magical properties over those giant blue monstrosities, thank you very much.

2) What you see on the cover inside Matt's backpack and around his belt and on his shoes were all the items/powerups I imagined you'd collect over the course of the game. If you think I thought this was kind of a fantastical image, understand that in my spare time I'd play out pretend adventures with as many video game-y items (magnifying glasses, gloves, empty bottles, four leaf clovers, plastic swords, garbage can covers) on my person as I explored the unknown depths of my basement and backyard. This was simply the lens through which I saw the world

3) This strategy guide was my brilliant way of showing all the cool stuff in my game. It was also the easiest way for me to bring all my awesome ideas into existence without a modicum of programming ability.

4) I loved those little secrets within games as you can tell from the last two pages here. I always thought the best reward to give a gamer when he beats a game is to give him MORE GAME, so most of my secrets involved unlocking new areas or tougher versions of old levels. I must have reigned in my imagination a bit though, because, with no time or budgetary constraints, why wouldn't I just have an entirely new adventure/sequel be unlocked? I suppose I was keeping my imaginary overworked programmers in mind.

So...not content to just leave my ideas sitting on the table, I actually wrote a letter to Nintendo at some point with some of my best, likely comically oversized gems. I didn't think to make a copy of the original letter, so I can't share exactly what I wrote, but what I do have is the actual letter they wrote in response to me:

Pretty awesome...

Final Facts!

1) Apparently I must have sent them artwork and ideas. They got away without having to actually say they were rejecting any of them by basically saying that "we don't make those decisions here - all that stuff happens in Japan. Sorry kid!" Pretty convenient, Nintendo Of America. Pretty convenient.

2) Note that this is a response from the Nintendo Fun Club which was a company-owned monthly zine that predated the more well known Nintendo Power (which was already being plugged in this letter). I scanned every issue of both periodicals with a fine tooth comb.

3) It's a good thing they didn't send me any free stuff because I probably would have sent them a letter a week forever. Kind of a reverse Andy Dufrane from Shawshank Redemption

4) Nintendo could have gotten me programming if they had given me the slightest hint as to what to do to get my foot in the door in the industry. They could have also just as easily gotten me hooked on drugs, or stealing hubcaps off of cars if they had felt so inclined.


This is probably as good a time as any to announce I'm going to pick up where I left off during my early childhood and try my hand at writing another story (though to be fair, I have been doing a fair amount of writing, both fiction and non-fiction in the past few years). I'm going to enter National Novel Writing Month this year with a couple of friends. It begins November 1st. 

It's an incredibly frightening commitment to make, and I have no idea if I'll be able to get 50,000 words on paper in 30 days, but all I can say is that I'm going to try. I'd like to think 8 year-old me would be proud of 32 year-old me. And what is life about if not trying to life you imagined yourself having when you were a kid?


Saturday, October 8, 2011

iPhone schmyPhone

Big news guys - I just got my first iPhone! Naturally I wanted to capture the moment, so check out the video below for my initial impressions:

I know this video may stir up some controversy, but I refuse to hold back from how I feel. There is a decidedly unexciting feel about the default ringtones on the iPhone 4. There, I said it! And not even Steve Jobs or that new non-Steve Jobs guy can make me take that back.

Alright, well, I suppose I should click on a few other buttons before completely giving up on this thing...


UPDATE: Whhheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!!

In all honesty, the device is amazing. Four days in (I wrote this post on Tuesday, but it took me four days to get that video up - don't ask) and I can't imagine what my life was like before it.

After immediately downloading all the obviously productive/useful (Evernote, Google and Skype Apps) and more fun (Twitter, Netflix, Hulu) apps, I managed to wait a full 48 hours before going nuts and checking out all the games I've been hearing about for months. Aside from the really popular ones, like Angry Birds, Doodle Jump, Fruit Ninja, Cut The Rope and Words With Friends (if you haven't played any of these, definitely check them out), I've already discovered a few lesser known but really spectacular games like Game Dev Story and Jetpack Joyride. And my god...for $1 each for most of them, it's really hard not to go nuts and just buy everything. I'll probably have a ton more under my belt in a week or so. Remember this is coming after I just started checking out the games two days ago.

To reiterate: Wheeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeee!!

So, if there's anything you think I NEED to have/do with my iPhone, drop me a line. I'm all ears!

Friday, September 23, 2011

Great Moments In Video Game Time Travel

Time travel is such a wonderful storytelling device. It's played a great part in some of my favorite movies, including everyone's favorite 80's classic, Back To The Future. Time travel has also played a big role in some great video games as well. And for my money, the next best thing to watching a character on screen get through a sticky paradox, it's getting through one of them on your own.

Great Moments In Video Game Time Travel
The following games are heralded for their (mostly) unique execution of time travel mechanics over the course of the game.

Day of the Tentacle

Appearance In This Timeline: June 1993
Console / Genre: PC / Point & Click Adventure
Clever Time Travel Usage: Triple Timeline Puzzle Solving

Day of the Tentacle came during the peak of point & click adventure games in the early 90's. It was LucasArts' sequel to their immensely popular Maniac Mansion, which had three characters roaming through a wacky mansion in order to stop it's owner, a mad scientist named Dr. Fred, from taking over the world.

Shortly after arriving back at the mansion in the sequel, Bernard, Hoagie and Laverne are forcibly sent through time by Dr. Fred to stop his pet purple tentacle monster - who has grown arms, superhuman intelligence, and a desire to follow in his master's footsteps and take over the world - from ever drinking the toxic sludge that gave him these powers. Trust me, it all makes perfect sense. Mishaps ensue, and the three are mistakenly thrown into three different time periods - present day, 200 years in the past, during the writing of the U.S. Constitution, and 200 years in the future, when the world has been enslaved by evil, purple tentacle monsters.

You swap between all three characters as you attempt to return everyone to the present and ultimately save the world. Events that take place in the past affect the future - which you discover early on when Laverne, stuck on the branch of a 400 year old tree in the future, needs to be rescued by chopping down a tiny sapling as Hoagie in the 1700's. And the time travelling device, known as "Chron-O-Johns," (fashioned from, you guessed it, porta-pottys) also act a teleportation device, also the passing of items between characters through time, a key element in puzzle solving.

Day of the Tentacle's puzzles are clever, the characters are quirky and the story is hilarious, with an extremely satisfying conclusion. More importantly, (for the sake of this piece at least) the game's usage of time travel is brilliant.

Space Quest IV

Appearance In This Timeline: March 4, 1991
Console / Genre: PC / Point & Click Adventure
Clever Time Travel Usage: Visiting Future Games In The Series That Didn't Exist Yet

Space Quest IV came from Lucas Art's rival Sierra On-line who had a line of great adventure series by the early 90's, which, on top of Space Quest, included King's Quest, Police Quest, Quest for Glory, and of course Leisure Suit Larry (otherwise known as a Sex Quest). Space Quest had established itself has an irreverent comical sci-fi series, and the 1991 sequel used time travel to accompany it's recent leap to high quality VGA graphics (notably it was also one of the first games to use motion capture animation).

In the opening of Space Quest IV, perennial space janitor Roger Wilco is attacked by an old enemy's future self (you're going to have to roll with a lot of these) who has traveled back in time kill Roger, who remains "a blemish on what would otherwise be a perfect record of domination, terror and invincibility." Roger is saved by two mysterious men ([SPOILER ALERT] one of them is Roger's future son) and sent flying through a time warp that lands him in Space Quest XII. Over the course of the game Roger will visit Space Quest X, where he runs into a spurned ex-lover, as well as the original Space Quest, which still retains it's early 8-bit era looking graphics.

Honestly, the contrast between VGA and EGA may have been more stark in 1991.
It's a clever concept - revisiting old games you've played before and popping your head into the "future" to see games in the series that haven't come out yet. It's a shame the series didn't last long enough for us to actually play the full versions of the future sequels, to see how much more technically advanced they would have become by then. Instead, we just got a little taste of them in this quirky time travel adventure.

Radiant Historia

Appearance In This Timeline: February 22, 2011 (US)
Console / Genre: Nintendo DS / RPG
Clever Time Travel Usage: Complete Control Of Timeline Over A Branching Storyline

The game that inspired this blog post! Radiant Historia is a fairly traditional Japanese RPG in terms of its storyline and game mechanics, but where it stands out is it's usage of time travel. You play as Stocke (yes, a "stock" character) a solider in the middle of a war between two kingdoms, Alistel and Granorg. Before an important mission, he is given a magical book called the White Chronicle by his commanding officer. The book just so happens to contain the power to manipulate time and space, which he discovers while on the verge of death on his first mission.

Throughout the game, Stocke has the ability at any time to return to any point in the storyline, and shortly after discovering the book's power, he is offered a major decision that effectively splits the story into two. You're encouraged (and in fact, required) to play through both storylines because events that happen in one timeline will directly affect the other (you're comfortably rolling with these things by now, right?), and whenever you find yourself at an impasse, odds are you'll find your answer by messing around in the other timeline.

A lot of games these days come with important choices for the player that impact the storyline, and like any good reader of the classic Choose Your Own Adventure series, the reality is you really want to see what happens with every decision. This game happily allows you to do just that. And without having to worry about ever losing your character's actual combat abilities (he, and inexplicably, his teammates who technically aren't traveling through time with him maintain their levels, powers and items no matter where you jump in time), its a seamless transition from plot point to plot point, bouncing around the games chronology like it was an overworld map. Very cool.

Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time

Appearance In This Timeline: November 21, 1998
Console / Genre: Nintendo 64 (original) / Action Adventure
Clever Time Travel Usage: Playing Two Distinct Timelines Involving Younger And Older Self

Heralded as one of the greatest video games of all time, Ocarina of Time also just so happened to have a very cool time travel-related concept: playing as both a younger more innocent protagonist, Link, and an older, more interested in the ladies Link, both fighting to save princess Zelda and rid the world of the evil Gannondorf, a process that only ever lasts just long enough for the next sequel.

The Temple of Time is young Link's portal into the future. It's a little complicated, but basically the kid needs to be a little taller in order to wield the Master Sword, the ultimate weapon against evil (that and the game's titular magic flute). When you time jumping here you're not just aging, you're also bouncing between the young, innocent Hyrule (the world of all Zelda games) that is untouched by Gannondorf and a devastated Hyrule on the verge of total destruction. The world hasn't aged nearly as well as you have.

The best part is Link looking inside his tunic a la Big once he turns into an adult
Areas in the past might inaccessible until you have the proper equipment in the future, and certain areas are closed off or just destroyed in the future, meaning you'll have to visit them in the past. Young Link wields a slingshot, adult Link shoots a bow and arrow. It's a great concept that fills well into the usual Zelda formula. And clearly the creators like playing with time, as we'll soon see in a later Zelda entry.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time

Appearance In This Timeline: November 21, 2003
Console / Genre: PS2/Xbox/GameCube (original) / Action Platformer
Clever Time Travel Usage: Rewinding Time To Stay Alive

The original Prince of Persia defined its own genre of action platforming in the late 80's, and when the series was later revived in 3D in the early 2000's, it similarly redefined the way people moves through the world. The prince in each game of the series moves fluidly through his environment, dashing along walls and bouncing from pillar to pillar as if the constant threat of falling to his death was merely an afterthought.

In the 2003 release, the first in a trilogy, time plays a large role in the story as well as gameplay. Early in the game the Prince (the one from Persia) gains the Dagger of Time, which allows him to rewind time up to 10 seconds. By doing so, he can reverse damage from an attack, undo a missed jump that would have led to his death, or simply replay a kiss from the beautiful princess Farah over and over again. Ok, that last one is technically not an option, but simply because the two never actually kiss.

I'm listing this here simply to say that I won't be referencing this movie AT ALL.
There's something so simple yet so brilliant about being able to undo a recent action in a video game without having to backtrack and replay what you've just done over and over. It's such a great concept I kind of feel like every game should just by default hand it's main character a Dagger of Time just because. And we'll all just accept that yes, like bottomless pits and infinite henchmen, it is understood that time travelling daggers are simply ubiquitous in every video game universe.

The Misadventures P.B. Winterbottom
(*Also See: Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time)

Appearance In This Timeline: February 17th, 2010
Console / Genre: XBLA (original) / Puzzle
Clever Time Travel Usage: Using Duplicates Of Yourself To Solve Puzzles

Now this is fun. Set in the backdrop of a black and white silent-film era world, players control P.B Winterbottom, a man with a top hat who loves pies and will do anything to get them - even bending the laws of time and space!

The Misadventures of P.B. Winterbottom is a simple 2D puzzle platformer where you create time clones of yourself in order to advance and collect/eat the delicious pies scattered (and often ominously floating) throughout the land. If you're curious as to how it works, imagine if you had to reach the top shelf in your kitchen - the one you purposefully put all the food that you don't really care about all that much in. Instead of a ladder or a stool, what you have is the ability to creates clones of yourself that exist briefly to give you a lift, toss you high into the sky, or, if you needed it, a pat on the back. Now imagine if you had the ability to make dozens of these clones, and think of the shelves you'd be able to reach, miles above the ground!

Technically, other games, like Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack In Time did this first. But this one has PIES!
Now think about these time clones' brief existence, and what it must be like to exist for a brief moment by a 'master' version of you who created you simply to help him advance. Imagine the sort of thoughts that might be going through those clones' minds just before they disappear from existence forever. Kinda sad, right?

Chrono Trigger

Appearance In This Timeline: March 11, 1995
Console / Genre: Super Nintendo (original) / Action RPG
Clever Time Travel Usage: A Diverse Adventure/Party Spanning 65 Million Years

By the mid-90's Japanese role playing games, like PC adventures games, had really hit their stride. Chrono Trigger is still considered to this day to be one of the best Japanese role playing games to ever hit consoles. You play as Crono, a young man who's apparently taken the very common vow of silence many JRPG protagonists take. The story, which starts off with "boy meets girl who is secretly a princess" and very quickly jumps to "boy and girl meet quirky scientist who accidentally sends girl hurdling through time" slowly reveals itself to be about saving the world from an alien that's been building power over hundreds of millions of years, finally arising in 1999 AD (this universe, while entirely fictional, apparently still recognizes the Gregorian calendar).

Over the course of the adventure you pick up other characters from the different time periods you visit. You find a gallant knight (who just so happens to be a frog) from the middle ages, an affectionate robot from the future, and a badass cavewoman (very progressive) from the prehistoric era. Early on your characters are bouncing through time through varies circumstances, but eventually you find a time machine called the Epoch, and it's around this time that you get down to business.

You've got your Cavewoman, your Robot, and of course, your Frog Knight.
Chrono Trigger is also remarkable because it's one of the first games to feature multiple endings based on decisions you make throughout the game. This, on top of a new game + feature (which allows players to start the story over again with their characters levels, techniques and equipment) encouraged multiple playthroughs, which not only increased replay value but, you could argue - and I will - is it's own way of having the player get taught in his or her own little timeloop. I personally didn't escape this timeloop for over 100 hours. And you know what? I wouldn't take of that time back if I could.


Appearance In This Timeline: August 6th, 2008
Console / Genre: XBLA (original), / Puzzle Platformer
Clever Time Travel Usage: Various Time-Based Game Mechanics & Puzzles

Braid was a small indie puzzle game that took the gaming world by surprise in 2008, making many top 10 lists that otherwise included big budget powerhouses. Unlike every other game on this list, Braid is less about time travel itself than it is about the manipulation of time around you. At first glance, as you can see above, the game looks like a fairly standard platformer. And initially it seems like all you do is rewind time, a familiar trick that Prince of Persia had done years ago. But you soon discover that you're doing more to rewind time than just surviving. Certain items, environments and enemies are affected differently by the manipulation of time. So a time-locked key can be grabbed from a pit with no escape, then brought back upon rewinding your character's trip down, taking the key back with you through time as your arrive safely above the aforementioned pit.

Each world in the game manipulates time in a different way. On top of being able to rewind time in each level, you'll find worlds where time flows forward to backward depending whether the player is advancing left or right, a world where the character creates shadow, repeating versions of himself (like in P.B. Winterbottom) and one where he controls a ring that slows down time for everything around it. Your goal in every level is find pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that slowly reveal the story and allow you access to the final level.

The puzzles are really devilish at times, and the game really forces you to rethink the way you play video games. Showing might be better than telling here, so take a look for yourself:

I won't spoil the story here, partly because it's fascinating to experience, but mostly because it's actually kind of convoluted and purposefully ambiguous. Suffice it to say the final level of the the game continues the time manipulation theme and shows off a really clever, very much video game-specific way of revealing a clever storytelling twist. If you don't mind spoiling it for yourself, you can check it out here.

Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask

Appearance In This Timeline: October 26th, 2000 (US)
Console / Genre: Nintendo 64 (original) / Action Adventure
Clever Time Travel Usage: Repetition / Perfection Of A Three Day Timeline

Hey look, another Zelda entry! Majora's Mask came just a few years off of Ocarina of Time, and while it featured similar a graphical style and gameplay mechanics, it's story takes Link on an entirely new time travelling adventure. This time, Link finds himself in the land of Termina, an ill-fated name for an ill-fated land. Termina's moon is on a collision course with the planet, and Link has only three days to stop it before it crashes and destroys everything.

The conceit to this game (one that frustrated many gamers back in the day) is that three days is not nearly enough time to save the world, especially when those three days pass in an about an hour's time in real life. In order to beat the game, players must constantly rewind time the the 72 hour mark and make what little progression they can before the world comes to an end again. Items, weapons, and songs for your returning magical Ocarina are returned, but everything else is reset every time you jump back.

Man, that is one PISSED OFF moon.
As daunting as it seems, the game allows for a sense of progression (every time you jump back you're a little bit more powerful, and a little bit more aware of your environment) despite it feeling like a video game equivalent of Groundhog Day. Oh, and did I mention there were wacky masks that transform you into different creatures? No? Well, yeah, they're in there, and you can look forward to hearing more about them in my Great Moments In Video Game Masks piece somewhere down the line.

Mario & Luigi: Partners In Time

Appearance In This Timeline: November 28th, 2005 (US)
Console / Genre: Nintendo DS / RPG
Clever Time Travel Usage: Adventuring With Your Much Younger Selves

This game almost didn't make the main list, since time travel is mostly just a plot point in this game. But what makes M&L: Partners In Time make the cut is the fact that in this story (the 2nd of several great RPG adventures featuring Mario and his brother Luigi, who is comically unfit for adventure) you travel back in time and ultimately begin adventuring with infantile versions of yourselves.

Naturally you're looking to save the land and rescue the princess that's spent more time in enemy clutches than ruling her land. There's something kind of awesome about wandering around with Mario, Luigi, and two bite-size versions of them, getting into battles and using them to reach through cracks and crevices that the adults can't fit into. Oh, and you even get to meet and fight Baby Bowser! How awesome is that?

It's cute in a "Holy crap, I've just put two children into a life threatening battle!" kinda way.
Sadly you can't ever kill or allow the baby versions of Mario and Luigi to die, only to see adult Mario and Luigi slowly fade from existence. But that didn't stop me from saying "Oh-a-no! I'm-a-fadin' away!" in a thick Italian accent out loud every time the kids reached 0 hit points.

Honorable Mentions
The following games didn't have a particularly clever use of time travel (mostly it was a backdrop), but it was featured prominently in the game and made for some interesting and amusing moments. 

Professor Layton and the Unwound Future

Appearance In This Timeline: September 12, 2010 (US)
Console / Genre: Nintendo DS / Puzzle
Time Travel Usage: Coming Up Against An Evil Future Version Of Yourself

If you haven't played the series before, Professor Layton and his assistant Luke are puzzle solving geniuses who live in a world where the ability to solve puzzles is prized about all else. In one of the games, in a "battle to the death," the final boss has you solve a theoretical battle via a puzzle, and upon winning, concedes everything. The plot is consistently kooky, but the puzzles are oh so much fun to solve.

In this 3rd entry in the series, Layton and Luke are seemingly transported ten years into the future where an older, but very similarly dressed Luke tells them that London has been taken over by a mob lead by the now evil Professor Layton, and that he has summoned them there to help stop him. Because who better to take down an evil genius than a 10 years less experienced version of that evil genius?*

Dragon's Lair II: Time Warp

Appearance In This Timeline: June 16, 1991
Console / Genre: Arcade / Action Interactive Movie
Time Travel Usage: Wrecking Havoc Through Time

The Dragon's Lair series were less of a game and more of an interactive movie where the right choices let you continue watching and the wrong choices made the movie stop and asked you to insert more quarters. Though gamers quickly caught on that this was a bum deal, they still couldn't deny it was a pretty fun movie.

The sequel to the original 1981 classic, Dragon's Lair II upped the ante and sent it's hero Dirk the Daring hurdling through time to save his beloved Daphne. And the adventure doesn't just take you through time, it also takes you to some trippy fictional locations, like the home of Beethoven in the middle of a tripped out version of his 5th Symphony (5:05 below), to the Garden of Eden just in time to feed Eve her apple (3:46 below) and through Alice's looking glass for a quick jaunt through Wonderland (2:28 below). Check out this video playthrough and join Dirk on his adventure without investing a single quarter:

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles IV: Turtles In Time

Appearance In This Timeline: September 18, 1991
Console / Genre: Arcade/ Side Scrolling Beat 'Em Up
Time Travel Usage: Turtles. In. Time.

There's really not much to say about this game, and I'm not being paid by the word, so in summation: every kid in the early 90's best friends, The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, are inexplicably sent hurdling through time by Shredder. Leonardo, Michelangelo, Donatello and Raphael they must fight their way through various time periods (foot soldiers have been conveniently deposited in every era) in order to return home and save...the Statue of Liberty?

That last question mark wasn't me not knowing the answer, it was just me remembering just how little plot I needed to get by on in 1991.

Where In Time Is Carmen Sandiego?

Appearance In This Timeline: 1989
Console / Genre: PC / Edutainment
Time Travel Usage: Using Time Travel To Actually Learn Some Shit

The Carmen Sandiego series successfully tricked games into learning with three different series, asking them to find Carmen somewhere in the USA, the World, and next, naturally, somewhere in Time. Players would spend each mission in a new time period attempting to right whatever wrong Carmen and her cronies caused with their various misdeeds throughout time. Along the way, players inexplicably would learn facts about history, facts it would take many hours of the Disney afternoon to forget.

Time Gentlemen, Please!

Appearance In This Timeline: June 22, 2009
Console / Genre: PC / Point & Click Adventure
Time Travel Usage: Creating A Paradoxical, Universe-Destroying Timeline

Time Gentlemen, Please! is a point and click adventure game created by two big fans of the genre who missed their old favorite adventure games so much they decided to make a new one. It's actually their second game, taking place immediately after the events of Ben There, Dan That, in which heroes Ben and Dan are trying to stop evil future versions of themselves from going back into the past to make themselves leaders of the world (by now I'm sure you're just nodding in complete understanding to these plotlines). The story hinges on the invention of the coat hanger, and [SPOILER ALERT] the duo eventually muck things up with paradoxes and destroy the entire universe, eventually needing God himself to step in to press the reset button.

Back To The Future (The Game)

Appearance In This Timeline: December 22, 2010
Console / Genre: PC/Mac / Point & Click Adventure
Time Travel Usage: Something About A Flux Capacitator

I would be remiss to not mention this game, which continues the story of the original movie trilogy (and has the original voice of Doc Brown, Christopher Lloyd himself, as well as the world's greatest Michael J. Fox impersonator) and sees Marty McFly and Doc Brown hit up the 1930's and one again have to deal with alternative timelines that come part and parcel with messing with time travel. When will these two ever learn?

That'll do it. If you guys think I missed any great moments in video game time travel, drop me a line.


*[PROFESSOR LAYTON SPOILER ALERT] I clearly can't help myself with these spoilers, but the Layton game is fairly new, and a popular series so I'm sticking this spoiler way at the bottom so you can just stop reading if you care. I won't go into full details about what happens - but basically Layton spends the whole game suspecting something is amiss, and the truth winds up being about 1000 times more complicated than if someone had just invented a time machine. The big twist, the one that reveals that of course it wasn't time travel silly, time travel's not real! involves a second, fake underground London, a supervillain with apparently a near-infinite amount of cash to burn, and a Truman show-esque army of willing actors. What did I tell you about this series? Super kooky!