Monday, 29 February 2016

Leap Day Open Thread: Time

Earlier we had the Valentine's Day Open Thread. Leap Year gave me another idea for one (I doubt this will be able to continue to any future holidays).

How important is time in AIF?

Games (not just AIF) can be criticized for everything seeming to stand still while the player runs around and does everything he wishes. Most AIF is like this where the other characters stand still while the player controls the actions.

Some though give more of a sense of time passing while the player moves about. Other characters move, surroundings change, and the player doesn't have infinite time to peak under every object.

In my attempts at authoring games I can say adding in other factors that respond to time passing increase the design difficulty substantially. Instead of one moving piece you have many. So, is that extra headache worthwhile for authors? Does a sense of time passing make for a better AIF? What are some of the best ways that authors can create a sense of time passing around the player?

Or does none of this matter and when given a situation with limited time you just undo/save scum until you get the perfect combination?


  1. For me personally time is a hindrance. I personally like to explore, examine everything, try to talk about all possible subjects, etc.. Having to rush through the game is really no fun at all. It makes is harder for both the developer and the player without bringing anything positive to the game.
    One possible solution is to make time pass so slowly that it ultimately doesn't matter. Another is to divide the day into phases - morning/noon/afternoon/evening/night and allow the player to spend one phase in a location. Or what I think is best - get rid of the clock and have event triggers that advance time automatically.

  2. I agree with benedict about event triggers, it has to be the easiest way to go. I am having a bit of an issue myself with the new game. Basically when you put on a certain piece of clothing, you become the previous owner and have to prevent the bad thing that made them give it away from happening. Soooo at the moment there are seven costumes, should I let Sally try them all on in one day or, more realistically, spread it over seven days using event triggers? Alas another quandary for me to dwell on lol.

  3. In the game I'm currently writing, the overland map is fairly large - not particularly in terms of number of locations but more in scale and implied distance. I did toy with the idea of a day/night cycle, but it seemed too much effort when the passing of time is something that the player can imagine for themselves (or not) during regular exploratory gameplay, and discrete time jumps occur to advance the plot at signposted points anyway (which is where I make the substantial changes to the game world which has to stay largely static in between). Realistically it would take hours, if not days to traverse from one side of the map to the other in real-life, but I'm hoping players can suspend their disbelief enough from one romp to the next many miles away.

    But then I also have a side project of a "date night" kind of game. It's logical for time to pass visibly somehow, whether that's at fixed, regular points independent of the player, such as x minutes per turn, or triggered by certain actions along the way. It doesn't really make sense to futz around for hours on end without your date wanting some closure eventually...

    (The classic Prom Night by Sir Gareth and Chris Cole features a clock that begins the night at 7:00pm, but you can take as many turns as you like and watch the minutes tick by for hours and days with no consequence or comment)

  4. Personally I've always kind of liked the way game time stands still and waits for me to do what I want. Call me weird. I remember getting really pleased in RPGs years ago when I realised that even though people were telling me to hurry up and do things I could still stop the progress of the main plot and run off to do side quests if I wanted to.

    In AIF I don't like it when time is measured by the turns you take, particularly if anything is dependent on the flow of time. That, for me, creates a problem where exploration of the game and experimentation with its functions are discouraged. I want the freedom to run around and examine everything without being penalised. Therefore I prefer a game where time systems are only determined according to broad thresholds (morning, afternoon, etc.) that move when you make clearly flagged decisions about your time.

    That said, any kind of time system where you can miss things based on your choices of what to do automatically becomes a time management game. That's fine, but it's something to be aware of.

  5. Octarine Flash2 March 2016 at 03:13

    I think time is an important factor to consider. If time passes every time you do an action the player might do fewer actions in an attempt to use his time more wisely but might regardless miss out on a time specific scenes.

    On the other hand you can create a similar scenario by making the character choose one event over another. I think time doesn't have to be measured in minutes but as long as new options open up and older options close it creates an illusion of time which is important.

  6. I believe a sense of the time passing is beneficial for any game. Depending on how the game works it can be achieved by each action consuming an amount of time, by dividing the time into day/night, morning/afternoon/night, or by giving a "next day" or "finish day" button.
    In some games the moment of action is fundamental for reaching success, therefore the player has to input a command within a given time. As examples we have the Shark's games and an old hentai game named "Immoral Study". Of course they're not AIF text based games. For those I believe the methods I mentioned first are enough.

  7. Timed turns sucks. Often the author knows what (s)he wants, but the player get very frustrated trying to figure out everything, especially when "examine" counts as a turn. I prefer event triggers as well. Player gets as much time as possible to play through current scene and once scene is complete, then things change. Or player gets as much time as you want in a location, but when you leave or move, then time moves. But I still prefer event triggers, feels more organic. Fever Cabin has both event triggers and timed sequences and while the timed-sequences build suspense, they are very frustrating to "win" without a walkthrough.

  8. Time is a very tricky matter in most AIF games. For one thing, in most AIF games that track time, each command or move or turn takes the same amount of time. But that is hardly realistic. "Examine Erin" takes only a second to look her over. "Search closet" takes the same amount of game time, but in real life would take minutes or longer to go through the junk, boxes, etc. "Search warehouse", for example, could take hours. How do you balance this in a game that tracks time?

    I struggled with this in "Last Minute Gift", which ostensibly gives the player 10 minutes to shop for a gift before the store closes. Ultimately I settled upon an arbitrary 7 turns per minute, giving the player 70 turns to complete the goal. Enough time to easily solve the game and explore the gift shop, but not an endless amount of time. And, of course, I stop tracking time once you get Amy into the changing room.

    I remember playing a game (whose name I won't bring up) that took place at a party that started at around 9:00 PM. The game kept track of the time, 1 minute per turn. I remember distinctly that towards the end of the game it was 8 or 9 o'clock the following morning. In this instance, keeping track of the time wasn't very useful, and I remember thinking how silly it was to track the time if nothing happened at a certain time (for example, the party ends at midnight).

    But using time in game can be useful. It can give the player a sense of urgency that helps in the storytelling. "You have 10 turns to defuse the bomb", for example. Or, "Lisa is in line to get coffee", "Lisa is buying her coffee", "Lisa is leaving the store" - limiting the amount of time you have to interact with Lisa before she is gone. In these instances I can see limiting the time and making it non-productive for a player to stand around gawking (i.e., "x lisa", "x lisa's tits", "x lisa's blouse", etc.) when he has things to do.

    One author that I think did a great job of handling this is Pierre, author of the games "Cruise" and "Weekend". In these games, time played a significant role as things happened at the same time in every playthrough, but just like in real life you could only see some of them because the player could only be in one place at a time. It guaranteed several playthroughs, but it didn't feel rushed or frantic. That is a very hard thing to accomplish.

    I think a really good balancing act is one I've seen a lot in some recent games - dividing the day into segments (morning/afternoon/evening/night, or early morning/late morning/noon/early afternoon/etc). The player has plenty of time to explore, but doing certain actions can cause time to advance significantly - to the next "segment" or even the next day. You still have limited time to get what you want done, and you possibly cannot see everything at once, but you don't feel rushed to guess the exact sequence of commands to accomplish your goal in the allotted time. This is also a bit easier to create for the author as well - sort of a "win-win".

    1. I agree. Dividing each day into segments (or something similar) is very easy to do. The TADS 2 game "You've Got Mail" provides a simple model, dividing time into days. I actually thought the time system in "Last Minute Gift" made a lot of sense: It's not like you have to race against time, as if you're defusing a bomb, but you do have a time limit to get things done.

  9. I'm one of those strange people that don't mind the occasional game that is tied extremely tight with time. It almost certainly means extra save spots, plenty of reloads, and old fashioned trial and error. It is just a different kind of experience and game - one more gamey and less erotic/story driven at times.

    Having said that, I certainly wouldn't want them to become the norm. It seems far too often when people do make those kinds of games there isn't enough hints given to the player to gauge just how long is available or how they can screw up. When these screw ups lead to finality (death/game over) as opposed to alternate scenes, it makes it even worse.

    bomire also brought up a pretty common complaint about such games besides those mentioned: there are few games with any sense of time other than turn = x amount of time. I swear I played one that did give certain actions less / no time cost, but I couldn't say off hand what it was. But I do think that is the way to go if time is going to be attached to your game.

    Even so, unless the game you are making IS for the express purpose of putting timers in, you can almost always avoid it and just use the text to try and urge the player to hurry. Instead of letting you look at every book and open all the drawers when you are expected to hurry, add in a check during that particular event to give the player clues: "There isn't time to rummage through her dresser now! Her father is just outside the door - you have to hide!"

    Of course there is a place for timed games, even in ones that aren't centered around it. The above could give the player a few short moments to hide or escape out the window. If he fails, the father could catch him and kick him out, locking the door. In that case, I would think allowing any examination to take no turns would be the best choice.

    So long as it is laid out for the player so they know their time is limited, and done in a fair way, I don't think many folks mind it.

    As for the passage of time, I think (unless the story demands it) it is only necessary in that for ANYTHING to happen, perceived time takes place. But it can all occur on the same day and it is fine with me. The more the world and characters react (to what I did to them, choices I made earlier, their relationship growing, etc.) all go a LONG way to making a game more entertaining and is much more important.