Videogame Design Rant #1: Time Management Mechanics

Posted by S3xySeele on April 4, 2013, 3:36 a.m.

One of the most maddening game mechanics, at least for me, is where they give you a fixed amount of game "time" in which to complete the game. Two notable game series featuring this mechanic are the Persona series and the Atelier series, both of which I like despite the annoying mechanic.

Out of the two, the Atelier series is by far the worst. You're given a set amount of time to complete the game (typically 3 in-game years… might vary depending on which game in the series you're playing), then are subsequently given free reign to squander that time as they nickel and dime you at every corner. Doing alchemy takes time. Battles take time. The act of simply picking up an item in the field will consume half a day (at least in Atelier Totori). Traveling from one place to another can take days, if not weeks (or heaven forbid, a whole month or more!). Generally speaking, the amount of time you're given in an Atelier game is sufficient to accomplish the main objective, even if you're lousy at efficiently managing the time you're allotted. But a fixed-in-stone time cap means that the game is constantly reminding you that the game is going to come to an abrupt end, whether you're ready or not.

Despite my dislike for the mechanic, Pokemon Purple is going to feature it. Or at least, my take on it. The major difference with my take is the fact that there will be no deadline… the time mechanic in Purple won't bring the game to a sudden end. And in fact, there will be no in-game goals that will be required to be completed in a certain amount of time. So what is the purpose of there being a time mechanic at all? To add significant longevity and replayability. The passage of time in Pokemon Purple simply causes the game's region to slowly change over time. These changes, unfortunately, are not going to be dynamic, simply due to the complexity of implementing a satisfying system to allow for that. Instead the changes will be pre-designed… kind of like how Kanto changes from Red/Blue/Yellow to Gold/Silver/Crystal, except it will be incremental instead of all at once. Of course, being pre-designed means that time in Pokemon Purple will have to be finite. But once the player reaches the "end" of time, they'll still be able to continue playing. The region simply won't encounter any more changes.

So how exactly will time be broken down in Pokemon Purple, and how much of it will there be? There will be a designed region for each month. There will be 200 years. That equals 2400 different versions of the game's region… which is a lot. But the vast majority of these different versions will feature only minor changes from the version for the previous month. Now you might ask… why 200 years? And how could Shinji possibly live to be 200 years old? And to that I say: It's the curse of Eva. [=P]

No, actually… time will pass by quite slowly in Purple. A Pokemon battle, depending on whether it's with some joe schmo trainer or a bonafide member of the Elite Four, will consume anywhere from 1-4 game hours. Which is just a little over a tenth of a percent of a single game month. You'd have to battle the entire Elite Four+Champion nearly 90,000 times to burn through all 200 game years. The main reason for having so much time is because after beating the game, you are granted means to put yourself into a state of cryostasis from anywhere between 100 to 500 months at a time. This allows the player to jump forward in time to enjoy a freshened game experience (longevity), but it also creates gaps of time which they can no longer experience except by starting a new game and using the cryostasis machine differently (replay value).

So that's my small rant/Pokemon Purple reveal. Next up is Rant #2, featuring Crimson Core reveal.

Comments

firestormx 11 years, 2 months ago

I was gonna get really mad that a Pokemon game would do this, but then I realized that pokemon purple was your game, and probably wouldn't be like "I've spent 300 hours on this save game, and I accidentally cryo'ed for 200 months instead of 20, and now I need to restart the game!"

Will certain pokemon only be catchable during certain eras?

JuurianChi 11 years, 2 months ago

For some reason, I'm unfamiliar with Time Management Mechanics, so this sounds positively brilliant to me.

How "involved" would the region changes be?

Naturally Evolving Pokemon Ecosystem?

Story related architectural and cultural changes?

Cesque 11 years, 2 months ago

I think time constraints are the #1 cause of gamer frustration. You have 7 minutes to go through the cave in Final Fantasy 8? Let's waste 30 seconds any time you decide to summon a Guardian Force to play its animation. I also vaguely recall the developers of the original Fallout even released a patch to remove the game's time limit (even though it made a lot of sense in-game and was pretty lenient).

Your system doesn't sound that bad, it kind of reminds me of ADOM (if you hang around too long, the overworld starts getting corrupted and it's more and more dangerous to go places), though it still sounds very mysterious.

Quote:
Story related architectural and cultural changes?

"Kanto has advanced to the castle age. Onix can now evolve into Steelix."

S3xySeele 11 years, 2 months ago

Quote:
I was gonna get really mad that a Pokemon game would do this, but then I realized that pokemon purple was your game, and probably wouldn't be like "I've spent 300 hours on this save game, and I accidentally cryo'ed for 200 months instead of 20, and now I need to restart the game!"

I suppose that accidentally cryo'ing for longer than you intended is a legitimate concern. But the cryo system is set up with a 100 month minimum cryo period to intentionally prevent experiencing everything in one playthrough. The only way to do that would be to not use the cryostasis machine at all… but you'd have maxed out all your pokemon to level 100 and probably gotten bored long before you ever reached the 200th year. :lol:

And being that this will be a PC game, there's nothing stopping from somebody from keeping multiple saves and going through time differently in each one.

Quote:
Will certain pokemon only be catchable during certain eras?
Quote:
Naturally Evolving Pokemon Ecosystem?

Yes. Most will be catchable during any era, but their rarity might change. Also, Pokemon species will slowly migrate over time to adapt to the transforming environments.

Quote:
Story related architectural and cultural changes?

Yes. Buildings will be built, torn down, change style, advance in technology, NPCs will move, have children, die, Onix will be able to evolve into Steelix, etc.

Toast 11 years, 2 months ago

It makes sense on the one hand. You go to the trouble of creating your game's visual environment and adding details. All you're doing is adding detail along an extra dimension (time).

On the other hand there's no point in adding things the player is never going to see, and you'll find that making major adjustments to the entire world along a 200 year timeline is alot of work to do on top of making the world itself. It's more sensible to make changes along the player's relative timeline, occurring after key events in the story. That way the player can't miss the events that take place, because they caused them.

So. It's not a bad idea, it's just an extremely difficult one to implement which wouldn't really be "worth the effort"

S3xySeele 11 years, 2 months ago

I get where you're coming from, but storyline-based change triggers doesn't really cut it for slow processes such as towns expanding or becoming desolate. Especially when Pokemon Purple is essentially an open-world game without a single "main" plotline.

There's no point in adding things that the player is never going to see, but players will see these things. Players might not see everything in the game, but some will see certain things and others will see certain other things, depending on how they utilize the cryo machine. Not too different from an expansive open-world game like Elder Scrolls or Fallout in that regard. I certainly haven't seen or done everything they packed into Morrowind, Oblivion or Skyrim, but that doesn't mean there wasn't any point in Bethesda adding them in.

Regarding the difficulty of what I'm proposing… yes it'll be difficult and take some time. But I personally think that the result will be worth it. And if it ends up not being so great, I'll get some insight as to what did and didn't work so that I can do better next time.

Toast 11 years, 2 months ago

Quote:
There's no point in adding things that the player is never going to see, but players will see these things. Players might not see everything in the game, but some will see certain things and others will see certain other things, depending on how they utilize the cryo machine. Not too different from an expansive open-world game like Elder Scrolls or Fallout in that regard. I certainly haven't seen or done everything they packed into Morrowind, Oblivion or Skyrim, but that doesn't mean there wasn't any point in Bethesda adding them in.
You misunderstood me, that's exactly what I am saying. And the amount of work that goes into those games is absolutely colossal, not only more than a game with a linear-based storyline, but even more than a game with a "branching choice"-based storyline.

Quote:
there's no point in adding things the player is never going to see
What I mean by this is that if the average player only ever sees 40% of the game when they play it, 60% of that content is wasted. The average player never sees all the stuff you added. In an ideal world, that will be a better game because of replayability (Skyrim, Fallout, etc), but this ain't an ideal world.

Again, there's nothing wrong with the idea, just the logistics of the whole thing. Your game will be better off if you can ensure that the player sees everything, because none of the effort you put into the game is wasted. But if you think you can do it, then do it.

S3xySeele 11 years, 2 months ago

I'm not really concerned with what percentage of the game the average player doesn't see, as long as the stuff they do experience was worthwhile. And while this is definitely a large undertaking, it's not as vast an undertaking as an Elder Scrolls game. I'm creating a lot of stuff that the player may not see, but it's just slices of time out of a linear timeline. I'm not creating intricate quests, I'm just duplicating the worldmap and making some tweaks, 2399 times. Obviously with some extensive planning of how I want the changes to the world to play out beforehand.

The main objective here, in addition to longevity and replayability, is simply the creation of a virtual game world that is richly detailed in the dimension of time. For my own personal amusement, because that kind of stuff interests me. I remember exploring Kanto in Gold/Silver and being completely fascinated by how the region had changed from its state in Red/Blue. I want to create that kind of experience through the cryostasis machine, but also have the more granular experience of being able to see the world change slowly as game time passes while you just play the game naturally.

JuurianChi 11 years, 2 months ago

When you think about it, the cryostasis machine actually helps create linear experiences in a choose your own adventure kind of way.

you can replay over and over again trying to see all of the different time periods.

Yaru 11 years, 2 months ago

Quote:
I'm just duplicating the worldmap and making some tweaks, 2399 times.
That doesn't sound like the most efficient way to do it. What if you suddenly realize you have to redesign something (change a tile or something to prevent players from getting stuck in a corner or something) in all 2400 different map entities?