Deja Vu In Games

30th April 2007

Single Player First Person Shooter Maps and Mods for Half-Life 1, 2 and Episodes 1, 2 and 3

I think it was Asimov that wrote a short story that featured a scientist who used a multi-vac super computer (Cool name, huh?) to research jokes. I’m sorry to spoil the story for you but the outcome was that jokes were an alien experiment on humankind.

After they became aware, all jokes stopped being funny. I thought it was a cool way of looking at something.

At work recently a discussion started about déjà vu and it struck me that I hadn’t experienced that particular feeling for a very long time. I love having déjà vu so I normally pay special attention when it happens. I started thinking that it was an alien experiment on us and somebody found out, so the feeling stopped happening. Sadly, other people said they still experience them, so perhaps I am immune?

Anyway, the whole thing got me thinking about how a game designer would include déjà vu into a game. I don’t have any definite answers but would at least like to start the discussion.

Part of the Story

Many games feature flashbacks, Chaser being an obvious one. I think that if déjà vu was included in a game it would need to be for a reason, as part of the story somehow. I don’t have any ideas how that could be accomplished but I’m sure it could be included – The Matrix did it!

Real Time Recording

A long time a go I published a piece about how it would be cool if a game engine could record events and play them back exactly as they happened. I never really defined the idea properly and was often referred to TimeShift regarding the time travel idea. I didn’t mean in the same way Timeshift seems to do it but more like jumping larger segments of time. For example you realize that you needed a keycard to enter a locked door you encountered earlier on. You jump back in time to that moment, replay a short part and use the keycard. You now have a new weapon and could either continue from there or jump forward to where your were.

In some ways this would be similar but the level design would need to be very subtly replicated in different parts of the game.

A Real Example

The player would play through a certain area and the exact approach of enemies and other things would be recorded by the engine. As the player reaches the duplicate setting the enemies respond in exactly the same way. Now, of course the player may not react in the same way but that feeling of knowing what’s coming next should be almost sub-conscious. Perhaps it’s just the way an enemy just out and starts shooting.

The Problems

Too many games feature limited voice scripts and character movement. It could easily seem that the game is limited. Hopefully the duplication of very small sections of the level will make a difference. When I say duplication I don’t mean exactly, more like location and layout of creates etc. In the duplication the textures and lighting would be different. It has to be subtle enough for the player to not notice, at least not immediately.


An idea like this is easy to simply type up and post but a lot harder to implement well. For the amount of time taken to create something like this and the amount of play time it just may be a waste of development time. Another point is that it shouldn’t be used too much, perhaps 3 or 4 times in the whole game, otherwise it would become boring. Of course the key is using those few times to really create the right atmosphere.

Got any thoughts on the subject?


  1. Tetzlaff

    Interesting topic. What comes to my mind is a level from Hexen II, it was in the Egyptian episode where at one point you had to travel back in time. As far as I remember it was realised that way that you first entered a part of a temple lying in ruins, then later you travelled back in time and had to go through the same area before it became ruined (with more areas accessible as well). It was quite a cool implementation. it’s maybe not that kind of Deja Vu you mean, but something similar.

  2. zeroth404

    Deja Vu in games happens to me all the time.

    it’s called repetitive game-play 🙂

  3. I was thinking of Prince of Persia: Sands of Time while reading that. While I haven’t played it, it sounds kind of like what you’re looking for, Phillip, despite it not being a first-person shooter.

    Apparently, you can control time in it. For example, if a battle is going bad for you, you can reverse time and try again from any point. Another example is if you fall into a trap, like a pit of spikes. While you’re falling, reverese time and you can save yourself. I’m not sure, but I think you can “fast forward” time if you change your mind and want to fall onto the spikes… er, I mean, if you thought the battle went okay as it was.

    Some people may be thinking “Why not just quick load?”

    Well, I think PoP:SoT uses a “checkpoint” system. Again, I haven’t played it, but as you can control time, it seems logical. Also, I think there’s a limit to your time abusing powers. Again, it seems logical, as it would likely unbalance the game if you could keep going back, ad infinitum, with no penalties.

    You might want check it out.

    I’ll have to remember to rent it, sometime, too…

  4. Apparently, you can control time in it. For example, if a battle is going bad for you, you can reverse time and try again from any point.

    You can almost do that in Timeshift. I am thinking about something else. Something where you have to travel in time to accomplish the objectives. OF course this is getting off the topic of the post. Thanks for the tip but I only play FPS games and sometimes the odd driving game.

  5. Maybe this would help to clear things up a bit:

    Deja Vu

  6. AI

    It was a good recent movie!!

  7. Deja Vu in games happens to me all the time.

    it’s called repetitive game-play 🙂


  8. I hope everyone realizes that deja vu is a distortion of memory, and not some sort of psychic phenomenon. It’s this fact that I think makes it fail to lend itself well to gaming. Deja vu doesn’t mean you know what’s coming, it means you mistakenly feel as if what just happened came from your memory, rather than from the present experience.

    In any event, an upcoming game named Cryostasis has something similarly weird: Something they’re calling “mental echo.”

  9. cubedude89

    HL1, Blue Shift, and Opposing forces made me have Deja Vu’s lol. With the way that they were the same storyline in different POV’s and there were many places where the story overlapped and you suddenly remember where you were at and what you were doing at that exact time in the other game.

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