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Dangers of Time Experiments in Quantum Break Foretold in Star Trek: The Next Generation August 11, 2014

Posted by Maniac in Editorials.
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I know the Internet has been speculating for quite some time on what is in store for us when the highly anticipated Xbox One exclusive title Quantum Break finally gets released.  However, I’ve noticed that most of the questions players have asked are pretty simple. Will the game be any good? What are the game’s technical specifications? How will it control?  What I haven’t seen is a lot of speculation on the game’s subject matter, time experimentation. While this is probably because we don’t yet know enough about the game’s story, we do know Quantum Break will give players the power of time distortion, granted after a time experiment went berserk. With just a single day until the game is demoed at this year’s Gamescom, what better time to start talking about the dangers of time experimentation, and did you know that it was something the crew of the USS Enterprise-D already tangled with?

One of my favorite classic television series is Star Trek: The Next Generation, a series which revived the original Star Trek franchise a century after the events of James T. Kirk, and followed an entirely new crew on an entirely new USS Enterprise, as they continued their mission to “explore brave new worlds, seek our new life and new civilizations, [and] to boldly go where no one has gone before.” While most people argue that Star Trek: The Next Generation didn’t get good until the third season, I think there are plenty of great episodes in the first two. In fact, there’s an episode of the series that I am ashamed to admit I’ve never seen before, but one which may have provided me a glimpse into the dangers of time experimentation that Quantum Break also plans to explore in more detail. As I watched this thirty year old episode, I was shocked how relevant the episode was to Remedy’s next game. The crew of the Enterprise D, it seems, have dealt with time distortion experiments, and triumphed.

In Star Trek: The Next Generation’s first season episode “We’ll Always Have Paris”, a scientist now married to a former lover of Captain Picard’s is working on very similar time experiments like what is described in Quantum Break.  He, and a team of other scientists, were trying to unlock the secrets of time on a remote planet.  As the episode begins, time pauses, resets a few seconds, and replays, with no explanation. The effect is consciously felt among crew members not only on the ship, but as the episode progresses we learn the effects are spreading through the quadrant and other ships report being affected as well.  The audience eventually discovers that the scientists working on time experiments had caused an accident, and the accident was causing time to distort all through space.  As the effect gets worse, the crew start coming face to face with their own selves from past and future moments, almost as if the barriers between the past, present and future were breaking down. The scientist responsible for the accident is left horribly injured, with his fractured mind unable to comprehend being able to see the possibilities he is witnessing, making it hard for him to keep his mind in the present to provide essential information to the crew on his activity.  As I watched this nearly thirty year old episode, I wondered if I was glimpsing into a window for what Remedy might have in store for us with Quantum Break.

While the episode’s plot seemed to focus on resolving this temporal incident, we as an audience don’t see a complete picture of just what was at stake.  We are told about the distortions in time in elaborate details, but truth be told, up until the climax we don’t see any glorious set pieces of what it looks like when time begins breaking down.  Most of the time distortion effects shown in the episode are pretty simple editing effects, either through rewinding or replaying scenes, or involving replicating same people in the same shot, kind of like how Haley Mills was able to play two separate people in The Parent Trap.  Instead, the audience spends a lot of time learning about Captain Picard’s character, and the regrets he had over the woman he had lost.  In fact, without spoiling anything, we don’t really get to see any elaborate special effects until the episode’s climax, and even then, the audience only sees the effect in one single room, even though the future of the whole galaxy is at stake.  Regardless, it is a great episode and I would totally recommend checking it out if you’re a fan of the series.

While the episode may have given me an idea of effects of time distortion, either the show’s budget or technical limitations of the time prevented us from truly seeing any elaborate effects, so it was a bit harder for the audience to see just what was truly at stake.  However, what the episode did succeed in doing was make me even more excited to play Quantum Break.  Unlike an episode of Star Trek: The Next Generation, Quantum Break is able to show the audience the true effects of messing with time, thanks to all the power the next generation consoles can offer.  In fact, Remedy’s first teaser for the game, shown at the Xbox One announcement event, teased to an audience of Xbox fans in elaborate detail what we can expect when just a simple event gets distorted.

I know this isn’t the first game by Remedy I have written about like this here. Just before the release of Alan Wake, Microsoft released a trailer for it which teased a scene in the game where Alan was being compelled to write. I wrote about that scene and speculated that Alan had encountered something the Extreme Ghostbusters tangled with in the late 90s. In Alan Wake, Alan’s reality was bound by the writing he had done while in the dark place. In an episode of Extreme Ghostbusters, the boys (and girl) in grey had to deal with the physical manifestations of monsters conjured from the written work of a popular horror writer. In fact in the years since I first pointed that out, that episode was singled out by critic Derek The Bard as one of the oddest episodes of that entire series when he did a review of the show a few years ago. If you want to know more about the Extreme Ghostbusters and the episode in question, check out Derek the Bard’s series What We Watched, give it a look. He and supervillian Andrew Dickman did a great review of this forgotten series.

Should we be messing with time? I’ll leave that one for you. It might make a good idea for a future Science Check article.

Quantum Break is coming in 2015 exclusively to the Xbox One.