The Daily Grind: Is a time travel MMO an impossible idea?


I’ll admit it, I get unreasonably excited over interesting-looking little MMORPG projects from time to time. My latest fascination is with the newly announced Into the Echo, which purports to be a time travel MMO on a fantasy world. We don’t know how it’ll work, or really, many details at all, but I’m here for it.

Yet there’s that big tricky question of how time travel — with its different eras and paradoxes and timeline changes — could actually function in a massively multiplayer environment. While many MMOs have included time travel in limited quantities, we’ve never seen a full game wrap itself around the concept.

What do you think? Is a time travel MMO an impossible idea, or could it be made to work?

Every morning, the Massively Overpowered writers team up with mascot Mo to ask MMORPG players pointed questions about the massively multiplayer online roleplaying genre. Grab a mug of your preferred beverage and take a stab at answering the question posed in today’s Daily Grind!

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Robert Mann

Time travel with a themepark might work fine. It’s static anyway, so the times you go to in the game are just times for the areas.

What, you wanted timeline changes, paradoxes, and evolving world stuff in an MMO? Hahahahaha… that’s not even done with MMOs as is, and sandboxes are the closest. Worse, including these with time travel is essentially asking to break up everyone until it’s not worth calling an MMO.

Jim Bergevin Jr

From a theoretical standpoint, Doctor Who covered this concept in the serial titled The Aztecs. The remake to The Time Machine did as well.. You cannot change the past, anything one does in the past has already been accounted for in the present. Any motivation in the present to return to the past and change it fails because you then remove that initial motivation to do so.


An MMO might be hard to do, but one of my favorite games from way back when I was a child/young teen was a game called ‘The Journeyman Project’ which had you time travel as a agent to deal with people attempting to alter the timelines that had loads of puzzles and clues you had to find along the way, to be able to sort things out and ‘fix’ it. I imagine that kind of ‘static’ thing would be a lot more difficult to achieve with multiple people trouncing through constantly and Butterfly Effecting every little aspect of your time trail. I mean just the fact that one person is back there messing with things, much less two, would mean you’d already have created a paradox…and time wouldn’t be the same.

Did just watch streamer play through Deathloop, and while it was an interesting story, it definitely left a lot to be desired as they set it up with the intention of letting PvP be a thing and it kinda went over very badly…the streamer I watched play just wiped out most of the PvP invaders of his timeline, and he bought it specifically for that mode because he wanted to be able to jump in and ‘grief others’. Ended up griefing the griefers.

I imagine the same concept will happen when a MMO tries it on for size…poor implementation/bad forethought…

Oh, and don’t forget the whole Jean Claude Van Damme Timecop movie look at it

Bryan Correll

In a theme park type game, certainly. WoW, CoH, TSW, and I’m sure others already have time travel elements. Such games already prevent player activities from having any real impact on the game world. You could go nuts with time travel as long as there’s some reason given for the inability to change time lines.*
Sand boxes would make things a lot more difficult. I’m sure you could do it but there would have to natural laws governing how time travel effects the world to keep it from turning into a complete mess.

*Kage Baker’s Company/Dr. Zeus, Inc. series is my favorite time travel related works. There are, of course, complications that arise, but there are a few relatively straightforward natural laws that can’t (allegedly) be broken:
1) Time travel to the past is possible, but you can’t alter established history. So no preventing the burning of Alexandria’s Great Library or keeping passenger pigeons from being wiped out in North America.
2) You can do pretty much anything in the past that doesn’t violate the first law. So while you can’t stop the library burning you can go in and grab loads of ‘lost’ documents and store them in a vault so that they can be ‘found’ in the present. And you can establish a small but viable population of Passenger Pigeons in a remote location and care for them until the present when they can be properly rediscovered.
3) You can’t travel farther into the future than the period you would have reached naturally through the normal progression of time. That’s why you can’t just take those documents and pigeons straight back to now.

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Ken from Chicago

So it’s like the time travel rules of Star Trek with a dash of Doctor Who.

Star Trek established that time is like a river, while certain minor events can be changed but the main flow of time must be maintained–or else the history can be radically changed.

Doctor Who referred to those moments as “Absolute” that should not be changed or all of time could be collapsed. Now, Doctor Who had relatively few “Absolute” moments and was a lot freer about changing the course of history than Star Trek. Meanwhile Star Trek basically said major events in time must be maintained but if not, time would not collapse but would be radically changed and you couldn’t return to the present you came from.

Sounds like under this Kage Baker time travel rules, major moments in time simply CAN NOT be changed, while minor ones can be. Basically it sounds like a stricter found of time travel rules than both Star Trek and Doctor Who. Less about what you “must” not do but rather more of what you *can* not do.

Bryan Correll

Sounds like under this Kage Baker time travel rules, major moments in time simply CAN NOT be changed, while minor ones can be.

It isn’t a matter of major or minor, it’s a matter of recorded history. Time travelers* can take part in known events but have a perceived freedom to act in a lot of unknown details.

A good example is the story “The Applesauce Monster” (Partially rewritten as part of the novel The Children of the Company.)

The world’s first genetically engineered child (I can’t recall when the events take place other than between now and the “present” 24th century of the setting) is revealed to the world. At practically the same time a deadly plague of unknown origin begins to spread from the city where he lives. The panicked populace considers this not to be a coincidence. The child and those protecting him are killed by a mob and the genetic engineering of humans is effectively banned as a taboo. All of this is established history from the perspective of the the 24th century and can not be changed.

What isn’t known is the actual cause of the plague which was never proven to be linked with the genetically engineered child. Instead one of the company’s agents discovers that he himself is (unknowingly) the source of the plague and has been spreading it per the plan of his superior. He’s far from pleased about this and in a later novel finally gets back at the cyborg truly behind it.

* The existence of time travel technology is known only to the company Dr. Zeus, Inc. Almost all of the actual time traveling done is by cyborg agents of the company who were “rescued” as children from deaths that were historically unknown. The cyborgs are believed to be immortal being stronger, faster, and tougher than unenhanced humans with Deadpool levels of self healing. The company considers them basically property and are more than a bit concerned that even they don’t know how to permanently disable them. It all gets pretty damn complicated by the end of the series.


I think it can be done.

The ease (or difficulty) will depend on what theory of time travel you want to use, combined with how much the devs care.

My expectation is that “time travel” will just end up meaning that various zones will be themed around specific time periods. It wont feel like time travel.

However, if the devs decide to try and make actions in the past affect the world in the future….well, then we might have something interesting!

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Sounds rad to me.


I would love to see an MMO along the lines of the Feng Shui TTRPG, where factions fight in specific eras and if one faction gets too far ahead it causes a Critical Shift that changes what the future looks like. It would take a lot of work from the writing and art teams though, so we’ll probably never see it.

maydrock .

There have been hints that the island in New World travels through time.


Depends absolutely on what is meant. Is the time travel just part of the game’s story, or an actual game mechanic? Can player actions in the game’s PAST have ripples throughout the game?

If time travel is not a game mechanic, just a story element – let’s say you have a survival sandbox MMO where time travellers, escaping our current troubles from the near future, try to survive in the Jurassic and re-create civilization there, fighting dinosaurs and each other, then it’s a viable idea because it doesn’t involve any complex game mechanic tied to time travcel.

But if you have, for example, let’s say a classical science fiction scenario of competing factions trying to change timelines or time patrols from alternative timelines fighting each other through time, then it can be a more complex situation when it comes to viability.

If the changes in the game’s NOW would be from near non-existent (other faction’s players mostly restoring the timeline always in the game’s narrative, keeping up a stalemate) to limited – let’s say shifting control of key gameworld areas, changes to architecture reflecting that etc, basically just different versions of same zones – then why not?

Based on the above premise, you could have time travel MMOs, anything from MMORPG, MMOARPG to MMOFPS – as long as you don’t go too ambitious in how the time travel affects the gameworld.

Jon Wax

quantum machines could maybe hold all the possible “time states” of the game map at the same time and then apply the correct one based on the players actions?

id rather see a life cycle mmo first, where you live and die over the course of a natural life span. then we can mess with time heists