Yet another oddly specific inquiry about past games (time paradoxes)

As luck would have it, I’ve had time travel on my mind, and not only because of this fine Jigsaw LP.

This thread and its respondents were a great help to me, so I thought I’d return for more advice.

I’m looking for IF narratives that feature a time paradox. Mind you, this isn’t the same thing as a game with a time travel mechanic. The time travel puzzles in Enchanter (oops! Spellbreaker, not Enchanter) and Sorcerer, for instance, are the only ones of their kind in their respective games, and both involve paradoxes. I’m interested in that, but not necessarily in Roberta Williams’s Time Zone. The gold machine problem in Zork III is another example of the kind of thing I’m interested in.

So… time and paradox as narrative features, not necessarily central mechanics of play.


Do you specifically want ontological paradoxes where some object or information is brought from the end of a time loop to the beginning of a time loop so it technically has no beginning or end?

Fifteen Minutes has a lot of that kind of thing, with like 8 or more copies of yourself running around and all of them doing events and passing you info that you have to copy and pass on later:

Are you also interested in games where you have to carefully time yourself so that you don’t cross paths with your former self?


Yes, that’s the thing. Bootstrapping! I’m very interested in such paradoxes and the ways they have appeared in IF.

I think so, yes. If the motive is making the future possible, I would say it’s in.


Perhaps the most famous game about avoiding paradoxes is All Things Devours, where any inconsistencies end the game immediately. It also may or may not involve a bootstrap paradox, depending how careful you are with your inventory.


Sorcerer is easily the best implementation of a time paradox puzzle. One of my favorite all-time puzzles along with the babel fish puzzle, and every puzzle in Savoir-Faire.


The ending of Trinity is some sort of paradox, although you don’t engage with it as a puzzle.


The Sorcery! gamebooks (and their adaptations by Inkle) heavily feature time travel, but Sorcery 3 and 4 especially focus on the paradoxical aspects as the main storyline.

I don’t think it ever had a big impact on this community, but Stay is a game that is on many many people’s ‘best twine game ever’ lists, and it centers on the idea of using time loops to bootstrap yourself into stopping an apocalypse: Stay? - Details

I didn’t mention it earlier because I didn’t think it matches your criteria, but my game Impossible Stairs might be useful (the overall arching narrative begins and ends with an ontological paradox and one major puzzle is about bootstrapping knowledge about robots repeatedly): The Impossible Stairs - Details

Finally, this game has you doing a puzzle in a time loop with a ‘ghost’ of yourself from the past loop that you have to coordinate with:Möbius - Details


Wow! By coincidence, somebody who recently rated my game gave five stars to this one (I’m not sure if I should admit to checking this kind of thing). So I made a note to play it. Up it goes to the front of the line!

I did think of your game, which I really enjoyed (as you know!). I took a look at your time travel games list as well. I’ve always been curious about the Sorcery games. I briefly got involved with a GURPS tabletop game long, long ago. Based around Car Wars/Autoduel I think.

It’s a fine distinction, but I’m looking for games that have time travel as a feature, but not in time travel games, if that makes sense. Or, in terms of Terry Gilliam movies, I’d say 12 Monkeys rather than Time Bandits. Note that I don’t mean the tonal differences in the films at all–I just mean the way time travel is handled in the narrative.

Yeah, this is a really good example of what’s on my mind. Paradox and causation are central to the narrative, but I don’t think anyone would call Trinity a “time travel game” (even if the case for it being one can be made).


I’d call it one at least as much as Jigsaw is, since the core mechanic is basically the same: visiting different vignettes in history and eventually altering its course.


I’m uncertain this is exactly what you’re asking for, but my game Past Present is about a narrator seemingly returning to an earlier time in a failed relationship to make amends. He can hop between the two periods to see the changes taking place.


For an incredibly early example… see Jason’s playthrough of the 1980 British text adventure Galactic Hitchhiker…


It’s pretty clear distinction in SF literature in general. “Time travel” is sort of two distinct tropes: stories about paradox and changing history, versus stories where the time machine serves as a magic wardrobe for visiting a historical period.

It’s not that they can’t coexist. (“A Sound of Thunder” for a start.) But if you want to write about changes to a person’s life, you get the most leverage by setting the story in the present. So 12 Monkeys, All Things Devours, etc. Whereas with a period setting showcase, the fun is all in going somewhere else. (H.G. Wells and onward.)

(Classic-era Doctor Who is notable for focusing on the magic-wardrobe trope almost entirely, and not just because it’s a literal magic wardrobe. Almost no classic DW story engages with the question “look, we’ve got a time machine, let’s use it to solve this problem.” Modern-era Doctor Who is more willing to play with paradoxes, but still only in a minority of episodes. The TARDIS is primarily a “setting-of-the-week” machine rather than a time machine.)

(Or a “genre-of-the-week” machine, as one commentor noted. But that’s a different show.)


I can see why you’d say that, and yet the two cases seem different in meaningful ways. In Jigsaw, Black is deliberately traveling through time, and the protagonist follows them. The destination is a goal; it’s motivated. It’s also situational; without Black, presumably there would be no causal need for the protagonist.

The Wabewalker just turns up places by entering giant toadstools in a fantastical landscape. They go where they go because that’s what the causal chain says. With the exception of the endgame, the arrived-at time is important narratively, not mechanically. IE, coconuts are not only found at Bikini Atoll! If Jigsaw is a descendant or cousin of Shakespeare’s histories, I might call Trinity a handful of sonnets. The protagonist of Jigsaw assures the past while the Wabewalker makes it.

The mechanical nature of visiting little Spellbreaker-like islands of history is the same in each story, but the surrounding narrative structures make for different experiences.

Thanks, I’m a fan of Jason’s work. Will check it out.

Thanks for getting to the heart of this succinctly.

As a child watching the old Tom Baker reruns on PBS, I always wondered why they didn’t just go back and redo things!


Counterpoint: the reason the Wabewalker needs to get a coconut from Bikini Atoll is because their sort of time travel has the same limit as the jigsaw puzzle, only going back to a specific type of historic turning point. They just have to learn that through experimentation rather than having Black technobabble about the Kaldecki gradient and whatnot. In Jigsaw you go to Kitty Hawk and the Canadian wilderness because the puzzles demand it and you need to gather more jigsaw pieces, rather than because Black has done anything there.

Regardless, though, I think the fact that you avoid nuclear annihilation (in the first section) by going back in time and sabotaging the Trinity test (in the last section) qualifies it as a time travel game significantly more than Sorcerer and Spellbreaker, which only have one time-paradox-related puzzle each.


I don’t think Sorcerer and Spellbreaker are time travel games either. To me, the possibility or presence of time travel does not by itself constitute a time travel game. A central mechanic of Jigsaw is visiting specific times and places to do things that are specific to those times and places, so I consider it a time travel game. I’m choosing to look at this distinction in terms of mechanics, since mechanics influence narrative.

Trinity’s killing a salamander in the light of a full moon, gathering a coconut, and so forth have no mechanical relation to time travel. Their dramatizations are important thematically and narratively, but casting the spell is not a time travel problem. The endgame affords the only location-specific objective in Trinity. That’s one of the reasons it plays so differently from the rest of the game.

I have meant for this distinction to pose the central question of the thread. I am interested in games that involve a time paradox of some kind, but not in games that are mechanically centered around time travel. I consider Trinity to be the former and Jigsaw to be the latter.

Note that I am not saying one game (or approach) is better than the other. It’s just that while my project isn’t about time travel, it may involve a time paradox.


Lost New York features a bit of paradox-avoidance/timeloop-stabilising.


That’ll be the Blinovitch Limitation Effect.


Decided to mention my own game Standing on the Shoulders of Giants as it includes one or more time paradoxes. It was probably too short for IFComp but I submitted anyway and reviews said that it wasn’t clear if it was comedy, though it was the intention and should not be taken too seriously. Nevertheless, I think it fits your requirement.

It was inspired by the romantic comedy Kate & Leopold where the inventor of elevators is transferred to the future before he invents the elevator. As a consequence, no elevators exist in the future, though the elevator shafts are still there! Again, not to be taken too seriously. However, I think all time travel stories have plot holes if somebody changes the past.