Time-Dilation

One of the things that I definitely wanted to include in the game was the effects of time-dilation. However I only really had a vague understanding of what it is and what it means, so after reading that Wikipedia article I’m suddenly confused.

The Last Boundary is, I’d like to think, going to be a Grand Strategy Game. One of my favourite Grand Strategy Games, one of my favourite games ever, is Hearts of Iron III. One of the things that makes HOI3 so good is it’s attention to detail, at least it’s attention to detail regarding waging war during WW2. Things like supply lines play a crucial role; researching advances in radio equipment is beneficial.

In this same vein I want The Last Boundary to pay close attention to similar sorts of likely problems that would affect a space-faring empire and waging space-war. For example, distances, communication and the affects of time-dilation.

The player takes on the role of the “commander”, “president”, “dictator” as is usually the case in strategy games. I’ve considered actively addressing the issue of the player being some sort of omnipresent leader who never dies; something that I don’t think any strategy game has ever addressed; but thought it would be essentially impossible. So I think it’s readily assumed by players of the genre that you are whoever is in current control; it’s a trope that I don’t want to mess with. What’s important is that the player is presented with all known information that the empire has; I’m thinking that the player is the all mighty commander who is sitting at his space-computer which processes all incoming data and presents it to the commander.

However, regarding time-dilation, I would think that for a space-faring empire this would pose some problems. Problems that would need to be considered when planning and executing. So I think it needs to be included. There are no games that I’m aware of that try to address it which means I’m on my own in that regard. This means that the commanders space-computer will display data as it’s provided to the system; and this is where the effects of time-dilation come into play.

From what I’ve read there are two instances that produce time-dilation, gravitational and velocity. Gravitational time dilation says that time moves faster the higher the gravity. Velocity says that time goes slower the faster your relative motion is.

So, the further away from a gravity source you are the faster your time is running. Something moving regarding your frame of reference is going slower than you are. And this is where I’m getting confused because it seems paradoxical; but the velocity affect is reciprocal; meaning that if I wizz by you in a spaceship, both of us see the other’s time slower than our own.

One example I’ve seen before is from something like Red Dwarf where Earth launches a space-ship which will take 800 years from the point-of-view of Earth-people to reach it’s destination but only a few years pass for the people on the spaceship (which had the effect of Earth continuing to research technology and launching a second better spaceship which reaches the destination before the first spaceship so when the first spaceship arrives that find that the destination planet has already been colonized and has fully developed cities).

What I don’t understand is how, from the perspective of the people on the first spaceship, that the time on earth is moving slower than their time. What happens when they stop? Does time just jump ahead? This seems like something I’m going to need to ask on a StackExchange or something.

Now, despite all this, I imagine what will ultimately matter, is when and how to show this information to the commander.

What further exacerbates the problem is that I also wanted to include the effects of distance on communication. It takes time for signals to travel the vast distances in space. This means that I wanted to, maybe, simulate that events have already been determined by the time the player recieves notice that something has begun. Or put another way, things are happening to the players assets that they won’t know about until some arbitrary time later.

This brings some important technologies the player would want to research that reduce this problem.

But then how does this effect compound with time-dilation? What I’m concerned about is:

  1. It’s hard to simulate in game and present to the player
  2. It’s not fun, it’s too confusing
  3. The effect on the gameplay is negative

But because these two things are such fundamental problems for a space-faring race, I must include them; otherwise I haven’t made a somewhat accurate Grand Strategy Game (in the vein of HOI3).

I guess it’s back to try and understand it,,,

2 Replies to “Time-Dilation”

  1. Regarding this

    >What I don’t understand is how, from the perspective of the people on the first spaceship, that the time on earth is moving slower than their time. What happens when they stop? Does time just jump ahead? This seems like something I’m going to need to ask on a StackExchange or something.

    In case you’re still wondering, the answer is that relativity changes distances as well as time. As you go faster, you get shorter along the direction of travel. From your frame of reference, it looks like the distance to your destination is greater. So in your frame of reference, you’re traveling further, which resolves the paradoxes you described.

    Obviously this isn’t a complete explanation but I hope it’s a start. Assuming you didn’t work this all out long ago 🙂

    1. I haven’t worked it all out yet. I understand the affects of relativity a lot better. However:

      I’m not sure how to incorporate it into gameplay. I’m thinking that a player will want to move their fleets away from massive gravity pulls so that their ships reach their destination before becoming completely obsolete.

      For example, let’s say you launch an attack and pass by a black-hole. As a commander, you’re going to see your ships start to slow down as they enter it’s gravity. This would I believe simulate the affects of relativity. I could have the affects change based upon some technology level, like “gravity dampers” or some such nonesense.

      But now, let’s say you see this happening, you think to yourself, “whoops, I better move them out before they get sucked in”. You issue your command, but now my grasp of relativity starts to get faulty.

      When do those ships receive the message?
      Does your message tranmission slow down as it enters the gravity?

      (I haven’t mentioned, but I’ve been thinking about modeling the delay is messaging, so you’ll see like a little beam moving towards ships that you’ve ordered, so that they don’t receive orders immediately)

      Of course, this all means that feedback can’t be instantaneous either. Which kind of seems like an absolute horror as a player. You won’t know where any ships are (for certain). This makes the Strategy part very hard, especially considering the AI needs to suffer the same penalty (and make decisions based upon it knowing about relativity).

      This is why I’m leaning toward forgetting about relativity. Even though it seems so very very important to space-faring civilisation.

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