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.


Castypher 11 years, 3 months ago

This is funny, because I've been fighting with the idea of implementing a mechanic like this in one of my own games for the same reasons you mentioned. It's also funny because Persona is the biggest example I have.

Excuse me while I rant for a bit.

I like the idea of giving freedom in a game, but I also like the idea of immersion. By creating a calendar system, you get to bring the player into your world rather than having them just play the game. What you do from here (the time limit bit) is based on what feel you want to achieve.

By giving your players free reign of the world, you're putting experimentation and exploration first while the story takes a backseat. This is displayed in the Rune Factory games. But in a time-limited game, the story is always on your mind and gives a feeling of urgency. Of course, the better games don't penalize you so heavily for sucking at time management. Persona, for example, gives you infinite revivals on the night preceding a big event so you can grind and catch up, and the story bosses aren't even that hard.

Then again, the Persona games don't have a lot of exploration. Experimentation out the ass, but I think their formula works quite well for what they're doing. After all, it is, in its roots, an RPG and not an open-world game, though I wonder what the latter would look like in the Persona series.

You've got some good ideas for this game, and though I want to chastise you for sticking to a Pokemon fangame, I'd prefer to see this in action. Trust me, it's easy to spend more than half your development time on ideas rather than tangible progress.

factnfiction101 11 years, 3 months ago

Anyone remember the meteor in Final Fantasy 7 that was going to destroy the world? :D It just stayed there in the sky.

What bothers me about games is Quick Time Events.

S3xySeele 11 years, 3 months ago

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?

Chances of me needing to change something that affects all 2400 maps seems pretty small… A corner that a player might get stuck in on one of them might not even exist in others. Plus I'm going to complete and extensively test the "year zero" map as well as plan in-detail what I want to change over the course of time before I start creating the subsequent maps.

But you're correct. Having something like a patch system where there's a patch for each month that gets applied to the world map would be more effective, that way a change to an early patch would also apply to all subsequent months until it gets overwritten, at which point it's probably no longer relevant.

What bothers me about games is Quick Time Events.
Better not play Heavy Rain then…

Charlie Carlo 11 years, 3 months ago

Anyone remember the meteor in Final Fantasy 7 that was going to destroy the world? :D It just stayed there in the sky.
Well, I've never played any Final Fantasy, but if there was a large celestial object headed toward us, it'd seemingly be approaching very slowly and we'd be able to see it for a long ass time before being hit by it. Size/distance and whatnot.