Procrastination Amplification: Punditry on MMOs and games in general.

On Time Constraints

I probably left many parallels between games and literature out of my post last Wednesday, but here is one I left out on purpose because it warrants a full post on its own: The use of time to complicate otherwise trivial decision making. To take an example from the Dresden Files once again, the protagonist usually gets into half a dozen tricky problems at the same time most (or all) of which come with a time contraint. There might be a duel to prepare for, rent to pay, and a dinner-and-a-movie date to attend (equally scary problems for sure!). Given enough time, each would be quite trivial to solve and rather boring to read about. The pressure is what makes the whole thing interesting.

An equivalency to games is easy to find. Just have a look at real time strategy games like Starcraft II. The decisions to be made within the game are relatively trivial; the really tough part is to make them in a limited timeframe. In many cases you simply can’t make optimal decisions in time and the skill is in deciding which of those are most important to make. Other twitch-oriented games work quite the same way. There are flowcharts available for the right moves to make in every situation whether you are playing Street Fighter or World of Warcraft. Better players distinguish themselves (in part) by adapting to new situations faster and employing the moves suggested by theory in time.

Time constraints – twitch – are rather effective at making boring situations interesting but they also reduce the possibility for actually interesting decisions to be made. Turn-based strategy games are more complicated than real-time ones exactly because they can afford it. So is twitch a good thing to have in a game because it makes it more interesting or should one try to avoid twitch and make an actually interesting game in the first place?

First of all, many players don’t play games for a chance to make deep, complicated decisions. Those players play games like Call of Duty, God of War, or those EA sports games pretty much exclusively. Then there are those players who only play games for those deep complicated decisions and it is trivial to answer the question for them. I’m interested in the third group, the people in between. The RPG and RTS players like myself who get bored when playing only turn-based strategy or role-playing games.

Personally I would rather err on the side of making things a bit slower and more complicated than having more action and less complexity, but I feel that a solid mix is ideal. How much twitch do you like in your games? Do you prefer different types of games for different moods or would you rather have a game that finds the perfect mix?

I’m very interested in responses, especially concerning crafting. I’m still working on my own personal crafting system (next post coming soon) and I simply can’t decide how twitchy that should be. It is a valid argument to say that people want to craft in order to relax from the more action-oriented combat parts of a game, but what about giving players the option to play the game mainly for crafting. Wouldn’t they get bored without a twitch component? And would it be possible to make a skill-oriented crafting system without a twitch component that’s still interesting to more than the most hardcore of players? Finally, isn’t a twitch-less type of gameplay incredibly likely to turn into a war of spreadsheets?

  • This made me think of Knights of the Old Republic. I have a habit of frequently pausing during fights to queue up new commands: heals, buffs, attacks, etc. What if a game naturally did that, having an automatic pause every 15 seconds or so, for around 5 seconds, giving some time to analyze a situation and think a bit, without giving so much time that problem-solving is trivial, while still maintaining the twitch between pauses? That was a great endless sentence. On the downside I imagine that sort of action would be somewhat jerky and disorienting.

    Or allow players to shift between Soldier and Commander, so you can go up to Commander and direct units like a RTT if you prefer the higher level thinking, or go down to play as any individual unit if you want to just shoot people or execute orders too complex for the usually basic RTS interface.

  • Forced stop-and-go action seems like it would annoy a lot of people. Quite a few would be annoyed at having to “wait” all the time while others would be unhappy with the low amount of time given for the breaks. While it is an interesting concept I’m unsure if you can turn that into an actually appealing game.

    Switching between soldier and commander on the other hand seems quite promising. If you want the commander mode to be less twitchy though you might need some sort of time adjustment and I’m unsure if that can work in a multi-player game. In single player though…
    You’d also have to somehow balance it so that actions on both layers have equal impact on the results of the game. If the tactical portion lets you make decisions about the lives of hundreds of soldiers it seems pretty irrelevant to control what an individual soldier does.
    Balancing this will be a tough job, but I do think that it could result in a very good game if done right.
    scrusi´s last blog post ..On Time Constraints