Super T.I.M.E. Force weaponizes your “ghosts,” and allows you to save your own life
Super T.I.M.E. Force is a game that has found a way to weaponize your ghosts. “Every time you die, you rewind back to the start of the level and play alongside the past versions of yourself,” Nathan Vella, the co-founder and President of Capy Games, said. “We’re trying to turn death into a component of game play instead of a penalty for failing at game play.”
It sounds complicated on paper, but it only took a few moments of playing the game before I understood what was going on. You choose between four character classes: A machine gunner, a sniper, a character with a rocket launcher, and a man with a shield, and you play the game as you would any title inspired by Contra or Gunstar Heroes. The game rewinds to the beginning of the level when you die and you choose another character, but you then fight alongside the shadow of your first character. Choose the character with a shield to run through a level as far as you can without dying, and then on your second attempt you can use that character’s shield for cover. You may end up fighting alongside dozens of soldiers that all represent previous attempts at each level, creating a sort of time-based army that allows you to press forward with each attempt. It’s a brilliant, beautiful mechanic.
Ready for your mind to be blown? If you are able to kill the enemy that killed you in a previous run you can “save” that life, and the location of the once-dead character becomes a checkpoint. “If you kill an enemy before it can fire the bullet that killed you, that bullet never existed, so you couldn’t have died in the past,” Vella explained. Each time you go through the area of the level where one of your past characters died you have the chance to save your own life by killing the enemy first. The game feels like you’re playing co-op, and you’re your own player two. And player three. And on from there. You get to layer soldiers over the level like a musician playing many different instruments on a single song, rewinding and then adding another layer of performance.
Where did this come from?
Kenneth Yeung took twin brothers and artists Vic Nguyen and Mike Nguyen to a game jam where the theme was “What just happened?” In three days the idea of “Contra meets time rewinding” had been implemented and was working with basic functionality. Does this story sound familiar? Super T.I.M.E. Force is another game, much like Offspring Fling, that was inspired by game jams. “I fucking love Offspring Fling, and Kyle Pulver,” Vella told the Penny Arcade Report. “We started going to game jams because of Kyle Pulver.”
Vella listened to Pulver talk about the inspiration you can find at game jams, and decided it was something the team needed to take seriously. “[Game jams] also inform on how you make games themselves. If you have an idea, the first thing you do is cram it in the fucking game,” he said. “Don’t think about it, don’t write a design document, put it in the game. Even if it sounds stupid. How it plays and how it feels is what makes it a good or bad idea.” He pointed out that many games won’t work with this approach, but being able to throw “crazy shit” into games has worked for them. The team tests ideas by grabbing people in the company from different projects to have them test the game.
The game already has a home on the Xbox Live Arcade; as Microsoft chose to give the game a slot on the service after Super T.I.M.E. Force won an honorable mention in technical excellence at the Independent Games Festival. “Microsoft has been really good to us and we told them we want to keep this pet-project mentality. We don’t want to start cramming schedules down people’s throats, writing up budgets and documenting everything. If it sounds dumb or hilarious or fun, we’re going to put it into the game and see what happens. It’s really hard to budget or plan for that,” Vella said when I brought up concerns about a game this experimental coming to a console. Microsoft is not forcing the team to hit a specific release date. “They could have, very easily,” Vella said. “That might have been a deal-breaker for us.”
The game won’t be rushed out the door, and that’s a good thing. “The last twenty percent of the project is 80 percent of the work,” Vella said as I played the game. The platforming already feels wonderful, and the time rewind and replay mechanic is exceedingly satisfying. The only thing that upsets me is that we may be as far as a year away from launch.