One of my first ever "favorite" games was a little isometric action puzzler called D/Generation, where you led a little delivery guy through successive floors in a building by stepping on switches, opening doors, and collecting weapons. Does anyone else remember this? My friend and I had such fun playing this game that years later I tracked down a copy on ebay and gave it to him as a birthday gift. Yes, I am that cheap.
Timebot by David Durham is in a similar vein to that old chestnut, but with one noteworthy exception: his interpretation of the "replay" competition theme. Using the arrow keys you must guide a robot throughout several levels. The key mechanic is to roll onto switches that open doors or materialize platforms, but the doors and platforms block your progress again once you move off of the switch. What's a player to do?
In this case hit [spacebar] to jump back in time to the start of the level, allowing your "current" robot to wait patiently while your "past" robot once again heads over to the switch to open up the door and let you through.
Have I blown your mind? There's more: you must accomplish this before you run out of energy, while simultaneously collecting little gold gears for extra points. Had enough? Good, because that's about it. The game itself is fairly straightforward, but the levels obviously get more and more difficult as you progress. You're allowed only a certain number of "time jumps" each level but usually end up using them all, sometimes overlapping your robotic instances so much that your brain threatens to explode from the combined effort of temporal distortion.
Analysis: The replay mechanic in Timebot turns what would otherwise be a simple platform puzzle game on its head and creates something truly outstanding. Not only do you have to know which buttons to press in the right sequence, but you have to mentally track your past movements over several iterations of your robot, replaying in your mind how each one will move and when it will land on each switch. It caused a real brain meltdown for me around level 8, where I had to hit the comments for some help.
The graphics are nice and remind me of a more refined update to the graphics in the aforementioned D/Generation. I think the lack of music is always a good choice in games like these since you could wind up spending so long on a particular level. Unless the music or background sound effects are truly superb, it's better just to do without them lest you drive your audience mad.
My only quibble with the game is very minor. You gather the gears for points, but I'd rather see the gears be put to another use. I personally have never been driven to gather anything purely for points or achievement, though I know that those gamers exist. Perhaps they could bump your energy up to give you more time (and for particularly evil level design, some could actually cost more time to fetch than they give you)?
The game as it stands doesn't really need much refinement, but it would be great to see it further developed with more obstacles, more levels, and eventually maybe a level editor? That's a lot to ask, I know. For now I'll just enjoy what David's given us.
Jay - David's creative interpretation of the replay theme here applied to a puzzle game fits like a glove. He focuses on a few core concepts and keeps it relatively simple; the end result is a game that is lot of fun to play. Timebot feels like a complete game, polished in many respects and yet there are a few rough spots, too.
Some people experienced difficulty grasping the concept of time travel (myself included), and I believe the choice to describe it as such represents a fundamental flaw in the design. After all, the player isn't doing any time travel, but rather establishing a program for subsequent bots to follow as the player continues along the same time continuum. This burdens the player with a paradigm shift, necessary to experience before the game can be played as it was intended.
And for a game that is entirely keyboard controlled, forcing a mouse-click between levels causes unnecessary additional effort. Also, the lack of a save mechanism to store progress reduces the likelihood that the player will come back to finish if the game is not solved in one sitting. I would have liked to see a keyboard hotkey (spacebar perhaps?) to advance to the next level, and a level select screen with perhaps levels unlocked as the player advances.
All things considered, Timebot is one of 4 entries I had chosen as personal favorites in this competition, and it is a game design with enormous potential. I'd love to see David develop it further with all the polish of a game afforded ample development time. It is an exceptional idea executed almost perfectly, and it is indeed a pleasure to have it included among the other entries. Well done, David!