Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)
Posted By: SiliconDream =PN=Date: 12/15/01 3:34 a.m.

Thoughts on the nature of Marathon time travel (since "chronodynamics" never caught on):

Let me start by saying that, in my opinion, the saved-game-as-mental-time-travel theory is virtually unassailable. Whether or not you accept that explanation as part of the story, it's self-evidently what happens in terms of game mechanics. The mind of your future self leaves its body at death (or game quitting) and travels back to a past body to relive that section of history, hopefully with a different outcome.

But it's equally unassailable, I think, that that's not what pattern buffers are intended for in game terms. According to the manual, they "store your complete biochemoelectrical pattern for later retrieval," presumably for purposes of cloning or replication. This must be how they're used by the humans and S'pht and Pfhor whose vessels have so many of the buffers...if everyone used them for mental time travel like you did, the whole cast of Marathon would be effectively psychic. (The replication process must also cost quite a bit of time and resources; otherwise each side's soldiers would be getting constantly resurrected or cloned a hundred times over.)

So then the question becomes: how can the pattern buffer's standard operation have the unexpected perk of letting you travel through time? The answer, I think, is that you're always able to time-hop, but you need some means of navigation. This is provided by the pattern buffer; your mind can "home in" on its recordings of your previous mental states.

This is corroborated by how time travel seems to work in Infinity. The Electric Sheep levels plausibly take place in your own head; there are no active threats, and it's reasonably hard to die. The levels immediately following, on the other hand, are more difficult and dangerous than many "standard" Marathon levels; forced lava swims, invisible and/or invulnerable enemies, and so forth. Since it's hard to see how you could die from running around in your own head (although I guess incurable insanity could be a threat), it seems to me that Where Are Monsters, Whatever You Please and Eat The Path are physically real. At the same time, though, your destinations in these levels are terminals which apparently contain information from your dreams or subconscious mind.

Put these facts together, and it seems to me that in these levels you're drifting through space and time, battling and avoiding indescribable threats (quantum singularities and space-time vortices or whatever the hell is out there) which you're visualizing in terms of the mundane creatures and environments you've already encountered. In order to reenter your body in another timeline, you have to home in on its mental state at that moment; each exit terminal gives us a look at a miniscule fraction of the destination self's mind.

It won't be surprising that I agree with those who interpret the "thousand deaths" lines to refer to your time-travel save-game ability. That's not to say I don't also see references to your apparently long and perhaps infinite heroic past, though. The Infinity final screen, I think, contains both. "But you were dead a thousand times. Hopeless encounters successfully won. A man long dead, grafted to machines your builders did not understand." There seem to be two separate points here. One, that you die over and over and over again and through this ability win hopeless encounters: this would be the time-travel bit. Two, that you died "for real" long ago and then were resurrected: this would be the eternal hero bit.

Again, look at the Ne Cede Malis terminal that says "thousands are sailing/the same self the only self/self willed the peril of a thousand fates." Here the "thousand deaths" motif is clearly employed to allude to your time travel skillz.

A minor related issue: It's been noted that you sometimes lose all your weapons and health when you jump timelines (as you'd expect if it was purely mental time-hopping), but sometimes keep them. Mark Levin suggested that maybe keeping your stuff is a perk of your increasing time-hopping skills, but you don't seem to get steadily better at it; instead you lose your stuff on the first and last hops, and keep it on the second and third. Now of course we know the REAL reason: the Marathon engine only allows two level-entry styles. Standard is "teleport in with all your stuff"; Rebellion is "appear without a teleport effect and none of your stuff at low health." But I think we can rationalize this within the story, as your mid-teleport past selves being more manipulable by your future-self than ordinary past selves.

As an example of a theory using this model, we could say that only information can travel through time, and not matter, so normally all you can do is send back the information to rewrite your mind into a future state. But when you're teleported, you're basically turned into pure information--or at least information coded in a very simple and ethereal form. So if you enter your past body when it's in mid-teleport, you can rewrite the information for your physical form as well, and hax0r yourself some additional weapons and health.

For some reason, writing long speculative posts is even more fun when I know no one's reading them. Wheee!


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Pre-2004 Posts


Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)SiliconDream =PN= 12/15/01 3:34 a.m.
     Re: Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)Mark Levin 12/15/01 4:04 a.m.
           Re: Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)SiliconDream =PN= 12/15/01 3:40 p.m.
                 Quantum Time TravelHippieman [B.Org] 12/15/01 4:48 p.m.
                       Re: Quantum Time TravelSteve Levinson 12/18/01 5:23 a.m.
                             Re: Quantum Time TravelSiliconDream =PN= 12/18/01 8:54 a.m.
                                   Re: Quantum Time TravelSteve Levinson 12/18/01 12:49 p.m.
     Re: Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)Tru7h 12/15/01 4:40 a.m.
           Re: Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)SiliconDream =PN= 12/15/01 3:45 p.m.
     Re: Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)archon 12/15/01 8:33 a.m.
     Re: Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)Steve Levinson 12/15/01 12:54 p.m.
           Re: Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)[Tycho?] 12/15/01 1:28 p.m.
                 Re: Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)Steve Levinson 12/15/01 2:47 p.m.
           Re: Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)SiliconDream =PN= 12/15/01 4:05 p.m.
                 Re: Time Travel revisited (no pun intended)Steve Levinson 12/16/01 11:09 a.m.
     OopsSteve Levinson 12/15/01 1:01 p.m.
           Re: OopsJeff Nosanov 12/16/01 9:23 a.m.
                 Re: OopsSteve Levinson 12/16/01 10:42 a.m.
                       Re: OopsGrail 12/29/01 1:34 p.m.

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