Home > The Butterfly Effect > “The Butterfly Effect” or “An Idea for an Expansion-based MMO”

“The Butterfly Effect” or “An Idea for an Expansion-based MMO”

A Sound of Thunder is a movie that was released in 2005. If you haven’t seen the movie, you should, it is a decent flick, despite the (now) dated CGI and some truly horrendous green-screen shots, but I am just digressing as usual. Fair warning, there are spoilers ahead for the movie. By spoilers I mean I will lay bare the entire freaking plot of the movie.


In the future, some 50 odd years from now, one group of scientists have discovered time travel. They form a company called Time Safari and take oodles of money from rich folks to go back 65 million years and hunt dinosaurs. But what about the butterfly effect, you ask? Well the scientists are smart, you see. They always take the people to the same exact moment in time to kill this one poor bastard of a T-Rex, who gets stuck in swamp mud seconds before a volcano erupts. In short, he was going to die anyway, the travelers just change the means by which he dies.

In one trip, someone (we find out later) steps on a butterfly on their way out, and that changes everything. The present starts changing dramatically. 24 hours after this particular incident a “time-wave” sweeps the globe and all sorts of extinct insect species invade, complete with foliage of all different types and sorts. These time-waves will continue endlessly until 65 million years of alternate evolution catches up with us. Since we were the last major species to evolve, the last time-wave may turn us into something completely different (it does at the end) or it may wipe us from existence altogether as if we never happened.

Each successive time-wave brings with us newer species of beasts that have evolved in an alternate history on Earth, and they continue to stem any of the protagonists’ progress towards a solution to their time-sensitive dilemma. The first wave produces foliage and giant insects. The next wave results in what can only be described as “baboon-o-raptors” (velociraptors that survived the Jurassic era and have evolved to develop the intelligence and cunning of your common baboon). The wave following that one results in giant bats (not very imaginative I know). Since each wave brings with it new forms of both flora and fauna, the environment (and its challenges) constantly change.

Think the changes Cataclysm made to the surface of Azeroth, except each time-wave fundamentally changes the geography every time.

Sidenote: There is a huge hole in the plot. Minutes after the hunting party kills the dinosaur, a volcano erupts, destroying all life in the area. This effectively implies that the butterfly in question would have also died. So stepping on it and killing it, technically, should have had no consequence in the first place. Just saying.

The MMO: The Butterfly Effect

This creates a wonderful setting for an expansion-based MMO. The game starts normally. You are a civilian in the normal world, and at the beginning of your journey, the first time-wave knocks you off of your feet. You get up, only to find yourself surrounded by chaos. Vines and roots have sprouted everywhere and there are massive insects roaming the streets. There is panic everywhere. You have to gather your bearings and figure out what is going on. Information is scarce, and you have no idea that something like time travel exists, let alone that we screwed up the past resulting in a morphing present.

The setting would be earth, except ravaged by the sudden influx of brand new forms of flora and fauna. The ultimate objective for the MMO would be to figure out what is happening, and undertake smaller missions near your starting area, trying to sort out the cause of everything. You must band with other players to help out the beleaguered and trapped scientists of the massive facility where time-travel is made possible (thus the raiding experience). After rescuing these individuals you have to gather equipment from around the world to repair the machinery that will allow you to go back in the past and undo your mistakes.

Each successive expansion will be a “time-wave”. The landscape radically alters, new species and born and the existing ones evolve further (or go extinct), and you have to continuously adapt to the situation, steadily working towards repairing the machine. The machine, post-first-time-wave, has been encapsulated in a temporal shield, protecting it from further damage from successive time-waves.

Each time-wave thus brings macro challenges as you recover equipment from around the world, as well as micro-challenges in specific locations. For instance, say you travel to Japan to recover a critical particle accelerator. In order to acquire it, you must first help the local populace by dealing with their pest problems. They will then befriend you and guide you in the right direction. The individual who will sell you the device has his own agenda and goals that you must satisfy before he agrees to help you, thus following the established MMO dynamics of questing and (streamlined) quest hubs.


This is highly preliminary, and a very loose concept I know. I am just sharing it because I want to see what other MMO bloggers have to say about the story and setting itself. We will get to mechanics and MMO conventions in a later post.

Categories: The Butterfly Effect
  1. October 3, 2011 at 11:18 pm

    Now you’re making me cry. The Sound of Thunder is a really famous short story by Ray Bradbury, that’ll be what the film was based on.

    • October 3, 2011 at 11:21 pm


      You know, now that you mention it, I realize I knew that all along. The post should have started with “This shirt story by Ray Bradbury gave me an idea.” Alas that would be a lie, much as I like the gentleman, I haven’t read that particular piece 😦

    • October 4, 2011 at 12:09 am

      Also: what’d you think of the MMO application?

    • October 4, 2011 at 5:30 pm

      I’d kill for a William Gibson game…
      What’s that you say? Deus who now? 😛

      @Milamber: With the central conceit being time travel, I’d say you could visit old content whenever you feel like.

      • October 4, 2011 at 5:48 pm

        Ha! There’s an idea. Future raids will have you going back to assist yourself in past raids!

        • October 4, 2011 at 5:52 pm

          That’d actually be great for single player as well. Two keys need to be turned at the same time? Go through once, turn the first key, go through again, turn the second key in time with yourself… build complexity and iterations on as desired.

  2. Milamber
    October 4, 2011 at 1:33 am

    Problems is, we wouldn’t notice anything different. A change in the past would change everyone.Then again, you could just pull a quick Slaughterhouse Five and say we are unstuck in time (Because game lore says so, that’s why). Also with the time waves, you wouldn’t be allowed to revisit old content because something new in the past has permanently and dramatically changed the present.

    What if, instead of time waves, you do the multiple universes concept (a la Futurama boxes style)? This would allow for revisiting old content. Say some evil scientist in Universe X is trying to destroy/deplete/screw with your Universe A. At the end of your universe (base game), you get transporter that can transport you to any universe. However, it’s only equipped/installed with acclimation stuff for Universe B and so you have to go through Universe B to get the equipment/download for Universe C and so on until you get the thing for X which allows you to travel and survive there.

    Each Universe could have its own theme. A is normal except for minions/aliens of the evil power messing with things. B could be Jurassic Park themed. C an Egyptian theme and so on until X is just this completely foreign and alien place, maybe like everything is made out of nanorobots and the environment constantly shifts and attacks you or something on your way to the final confrontation.

    You could also maybe add the option of keeping your old character with debuffs/buffs (less stamina due to less air, but less gravity allows you to hold more items/jump higher/etc) from new universal factors or you could control your Universe B twin (who in this universe might have the perk of 4 arms which can lead to quadruple wielding weapons) and start over with new talents and skills. By the end, you can either use your original A character or a culmination of every Universe twin in the final universe.

    I just kind of thought of this so it’s very stream of consciousness. If you (or anyone else) likes the idea, I want royalties and a free game subscription when it gets made…

    • October 4, 2011 at 3:17 pm

      Yes, but that is the central premise that leaves humans untouched because they were “the last species to evolve”, and as such the two cycles of evolution can co-exist.

      Alternatively, you could evolve humans as well, which could offer up some interesting dynamics. For instance, in the first expansions, humans develop wings, giving them the power of flight. As humans mutate with each time-wave, certain pro-time-wave groups emerge, and now you have to either fight them, or join them, thus creating a new faction.

      I got your royalties right here! (I grabbed my crotch when I said that!)

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