jump to navigation

Science Check: Quantum Break May 22, 2016

Posted by Maniac in Editorials, Science Check.
add a comment

We’ve been playing the new Remedy game Quantum Break nearly non-stop over here at since the game was released back in April. It’s a phenomenal title and if you have an Xbox One or a VERY powerful Windows 10-equipped PC, I cannot recommend it enough.  The game’s plot revolves entirely around the concept of time travel, and developer Remedy put a lot of hard work into researching the most plausible scientific basis when defining their vision of time travel’s underlying rules. Without trying to spoil too much, the player will learn eventually that while time travel is possible within Quantum Break‘s universe, changing the past is not.

I’ve been facinated by time travel stories since I was a small child. In fact, the Back to the Future movies were some of my absolute favorite  films growing up, so I’m proud to finally have the chance of taking on the subject for this site. That’s right boys and girls, today we’re going to be talking about time travel. Buckle in.

Sometimes, you’re forced to make some severe leaps of logic as to just how plausible a video game’s grounded reality can be. Some things we’re willing to take for granted, like enemies will simply just carry health and ammunition supplies with them at all times, and you will be immediately able to make use of them.

But then sometimes there will be moments in gaming which skirt the bounds of reality and you are forced to ask yourself…COULD THAT REALLY HAPPEN? Fortunately for me, I happen to have a bunch of friends on speed dial with science backgrounds and when I ask them questions, they have no problem filling me in on just what reality would do in these situations.

So this is Science Check, where I take a look at the leaps and bounds of scientific logic that games have made over the years and check if it would indeed work, or if you tried doing it in the real world, you’d be totally screwed.

I was fortunate enough to speak about time travel and Quantum Break specifically with a friend of mine recently. My friend, who wished to remain anonymous, has a degree in physics and while he is not an active participant in any current time travel related research, he is familiar with some of the work being done in the field.  I was lucky enough to pick his brain on what he thought about time travel in Quantum Break, and just how plausible it is.

Quantum Break was exceptionally clear about what it would take for a human being to travel through time.  The game’s premise is that you could travel forward or backwards through time by circling a black hole.  Based on that theory, a time machine’s design would include a modular circular pathway wrapped around a central core.  The core is made up of an artificial black hole which would not only be capable of powering the machine, but would alter the flow of time for anyone walking through the circular pathway.  After inputting the destination date, the machine’s computer would automatically calculate the proper distance the circular pathway would need to be positioned around the core and deploy it.  The specific direction the traveler would need to walk around the pathway (clockwise or counter-clockwise) would be dependent on if the traveler was planning to go to the past or the future.

This setup had lots of advantages but also lots of disadvantages. Essentially, the time traveler would enter the time machine in their present and exit directly from the machine sometime in the past or future.  That meant that all time travel from that machine would be tied directly into the individual core used to power it, so the user would only be able to time travel to periods when the core was active and could not travel to a time before it was first built.  The user would be able to exit from a different time machine only if the core from the machine they used to travel was moved to power a different time machine at a later time.  To protect against the Grandfather Paradox, time travelers were made incapable of altering the history of known events in the game’s world.  For example, it was noted several times in the game that any attempt by a time traveler to prevent a predestined event only served to cause the event they wanted to prevent to happen in the first place.  If a user was to set the machine for a minute in the past, they could essentially see an older version of themselves exiting the machine as they were getting ready to enter it. Their younger self would still need to enter the machine to close the time loop as their older self went about their business, or they would face breaking time.  It’s as if time is fixed, and regardless of who is in what time, only what has happened in the past will happen in the future.

So how does this concept stack up to reality?  While there are physicists working on methods of traveling through time, none of the work I’ve seen has included sending a human being forwards or backwards through time. I’m afraid to say that my friend was of an opinion that time travel in this form was simply impossible.  While there has been work on time travel in the real world, the method that seems furthest along only involves sending simple messages into the past.  While that may be useful, it is still unknown if even this method will be successful.

My friend argued, simply, that if time travel is EVER invented, humanity would be well aware of it by now.  That old joke, “When do we want [a time machine]?  That’s irrelevant!” rings true.  If a time machine is ever made real, regardless of the form it takes, he believed it would eventually become mass-produced for civilian consumption. Night vision, remote-controlled drones and GPS are all examples of private technology intended for military applications eventually finding massive popularity when they were eventually released in a civilian market who would probably buy them like crazy.   Anyone who has seen the movie “Time Chasers” knows where this point will eventually lead. If time travel is possible in the future, having time machines eventually sold in the same volumes as private automobiles are today is a real possibility.  Statistically, this runs the risk of misuse, intentionally or unintentionally.  My friend used the analogy of having an immature child borrowing their parents car and taking it out for an illegal joyride. Now imagine what would happen if instead of a car, the parents owned a time machine.

Since a time machine could theoretically exist at any point in time once it’s built, if they’re possible to build it would be highly likely time travelers from all over history could be walking among us.  It’s then inevitable the world would be aware of them and there would be records of odd people appearing in time periods they don’t belong. I argued the possibility people capable of time travel would be intelligent enough to keep quiet and reports of time travel related events to the media could be dismissed as hoaxes and left unreported, but that did not take accidents into account.  Statistically, it is possible if time machines are mass produced, eventually one is going to be used by some idiot who won’t respect these rules.  Even if some genius is able to successfully build and test a machine in secret and use it properly for personal use until he either dies or retires the machine (a la Doc Brown), my friend has said that when it comes to innovation, especially for electronic devices, if just one person is able to figure out how to make something statistics say that someone else would be able to eventually replicate his work on their own.  If Will didn’t build his time machine himself, perhaps Sophia would have eventually been able to build one on her own.

I’m sorry to conclude that because no credible events of time travelers have been reported to this date, it is likely a time machine is simply not something humanity is capable of creating.  However I need to give great regard to Quantum Break writer Sam Lake for making such a believable story. If I hadn’t talked to some of my own experts, I might have tried to build one myself.

Quantum Break is out now for Xbox One and Windows 10 PCs.