Keyhole is a game about time traveling. But more than that, it’s about branching timelines as a result of decisions made by the player. I’ve been describing it as “that blackboard scene in Back to the Future II, times a thousand.”
For example, early in the game, the player encounters an explorer who would really like to build a boat and set sail across the ocean, but he’s got no tools to do so. Unable to help for now, the player advances to the next day, and the explorer’s disappeared. The next day, he’s back, and it’s revealed that he’d decided to travel across the mountains instead.
On the way up the mountain range, the explorer found an axe, which he could use to chop down some trees to build his boat. But on the trip back down the mountain, he fell and broke his arm. Now he’s got the tool he needs, but lacks the ability to use it. So the player takes the axe, then rewinds time to the first day the explorer appeared, wishing he’d had a boat to cross the ocean.
Giving the axe to this earlier, uninjured explorer creates a new timeline, one where he never traveled to the mountains, but instead headed south and will later bring a group of settlers back with him. Later on, there might be a reason to revisit the timeline in which the explorer never built a boat, so going back and deciding not to give the axe to him might be in order. The option will always be there.
No Game Over
Because time can always be turned back, there is no game over state for the player. Hopefully this will be understood soon in the game, and players will feel comfortable experimenting with various outcomes to each puzzle. What will happen if I don’t help reunite this child and her parents? What if I decide to let the crops die instead of giving the farmer this antidote I found? What the passing asteroid happened to crash straight into the planet and destroy everything I’ve been helping to build?
The game will have to train the player, probably early on, that allowing some puzzles to go unresolved, or even to end tragically, will be necessary to advance. It’ll be tough convincing people used to solving puzzles as soon as they’re introduced that they might want to let one slide now and then, even play the role of the bad guy, just to see what happens. Because you can always undo what’s been done.
A timeline for everything. Seriously, everything.
So here’s the thing: every item in the game, maybe even every character, will have to have its own personal timeline. And that makes things tricky.
Let’s say you pick up a hammer on Day 20. you go back to Day 10 and give it to someone, and that person uses the hammer on Day 15 to build a spice rack. You take the spice rack, so now that it’s in your possession, you can disrupt the hammer’s timeline all you want. But if you go to Day 20 and decide not to pick up the hammer, you’ll disrupt that person’s timeline and he won’t build the spice rack (although you’ll still have it in your inventory), and won’t do anything else he would have done with the hammer.
What’s more, if you get the hammer on Day 20, go back to day 10 and give the guy the hammer, he uses it on Day 15, builds the spice rack, gives it to his mom on Day 22, and she makes a cake on Day 25, and the two have a bonding experience or something, you can grab the cake when it’s finished, but if you take the spice rack at any time between Day 15 and Day 22, the two won’t go through the steps that lead to their bonding experience…
And that’s about how I feel figuring all this stuff out. I just hope all the complications and paradoxes don’t make the game more difficult than it should be. I don’t want players feeling lost because of some path they took or a cue they didn’t see. So I’m keeping all that in mind while I work out these puzzles.
Speaking of puzzles, I’m starting to flesh out the Agricultural Age now. So I’m off!