Bad Timing - How Clocks in Games Ruin the Fun

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scorptatious:

Shjade:
I'm okay with timers that designate scoring or are otherwise optional/bonus material. It's when timers determine how long I can play a given game that I'm bothered.

I'm playing X game because I want to enjoy playing the game, not to rush through it on a timetable. >:|

Valkyria Chronicles is problematic in a related, but different way: gaining experience (pretty important, rather than just bonus cash or the like) based on how fast you can finish a mission based on the number of turns you take. It's the turn-based version of a timer, basically, and it seems...well, dumb to me. Why would soldiers who act recklessly by rushing into dangerous situations rather than approach the problem via tactically sound decision-making be better-rewarded? It's like demanding extra hazard pay because you put yourself in harm's way...when you didn't need to. Nonsensical.

I love Valkyria Chronicles, but I agree, the ranking system in that game is too focused on how fast you beat it.

If there were other factors to the ranking system, such as how many enemy leaders you've killed, how many of your units died or became incapacitated, ect. that wouldn't be as bad.

Hell, I remember having the guide to the game, and the guide itself said it was more fun to aim for a B rank in Ch. 3's mission. When the guide itself is telling you to go against the game's ranking system in order to get the most of your experience, something is up.

At the very least though, the game still gives you those special Randgriz weapons if you at least get B ranks in the later missions.

Ugh, I bought Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3 well after it's release due to fan acclaim. That game could have been so much better if it didn't focus so much on the number of turns used to beat each battle! It seemed like the game maker wanted to have the battles play out like chess matches, except that in chess there is nothing wrong with sacrificing pieces if it leads to a quicker victory. Valkyria Chronicles is a game where we have actual attachment to said game pieces, which runs against the idea that there are expendable units for the sake of victory. That and having turn based victory in a game where even the most accurate weapon can miss, wasting a turn?

Of course, then we have them refusing to release the later games in the US that supposedly fixed the issues due to poor sales of the first game...

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As for timers, the best ones I've seen in gaming are Majora's Mask and Ephemeral Fantasia's timers. The key reason for this is due to what happens when time runs out: The game just resets to a specific point in time. In ephemeral fantasia, incomplete quests get reset, but you keep experience gained and at least know what to do (or not to) on the next swing, so there's no punishment for incompletes.

Colt47:

scorptatious:

Shjade:
I'm okay with timers that designate scoring or are otherwise optional/bonus material. It's when timers determine how long I can play a given game that I'm bothered.

I'm playing X game because I want to enjoy playing the game, not to rush through it on a timetable. >:|

Valkyria Chronicles is problematic in a related, but different way: gaining experience (pretty important, rather than just bonus cash or the like) based on how fast you can finish a mission based on the number of turns you take. It's the turn-based version of a timer, basically, and it seems...well, dumb to me. Why would soldiers who act recklessly by rushing into dangerous situations rather than approach the problem via tactically sound decision-making be better-rewarded? It's like demanding extra hazard pay because you put yourself in harm's way...when you didn't need to. Nonsensical.

I love Valkyria Chronicles, but I agree, the ranking system in that game is too focused on how fast you beat it.

If there were other factors to the ranking system, such as how many enemy leaders you've killed, how many of your units died or became incapacitated, ect. that wouldn't be as bad.

Hell, I remember having the guide to the game, and the guide itself said it was more fun to aim for a B rank in Ch. 3's mission. When the guide itself is telling you to go against the game's ranking system in order to get the most of your experience, something is up.

At the very least though, the game still gives you those special Randgriz weapons if you at least get B ranks in the later missions.

Ugh, I bought Valkyria Chronicles for the PS3 well after it's release due to fan acclaim. That game could have been so much better if it didn't focus so much on the number of turns used to beat each battle! It seemed like the game maker wanted to have the battles play out like chess matches, except that in chess there is nothing wrong with sacrificing pieces if it leads to a quicker victory. Valkyria Chronicles is a game where we have actual attachment to said game pieces, which runs against the idea that there are expendable units for the sake of victory. That and having turn based victory in a game where even the most accurate weapon can miss, wasting a turn?

Of course, then we have them refusing to release the later games in the US that supposedly fixed the issues due to poor sales of the first game...

Yeah, SEGA seems to have a weird thing of not any releasing any games of theirs outside of Japan that don't have the words "Sonic" or "Hedgehog" in them.

As for the sequels, VC2 technically did get released out here in the US. It was on the PSP though for god knows what reason, so I'd imagine that didn't help it's sales at all. Frankly though, I didn't find it very good compared to the first game, so I guess it wasn't a huge loss.

It's a good thing Yahtzee's apparently never played "Spelunky", then. I got it on a whim based on screenshots and the Steam description expecting a rogue-like puzzle-platformer that I could take my time on. Then I played it and discovered that at if you linger in a level for two and a half minutes, an invincible ghost starts to chase you around the screen, killing you instantly if it catches you. It's a totally defensible game mechanic (the ghost turns gems into more valuable ones, so there is a risk/reward dynamic to it), but it put me on edge and made playing the game feel unpleasant.

Because it's a PC game, I expected to find some "no Ghost" mod out there, but instead all I found were forum threads of people looking for such a mod and (this is crazy part to me) a barrage of replies mocking and deriding the OP. From their point of view, the Ghost was "the way the game was meant to be played" and even suggesting you don't like it meant that you were stupid for having bought the game in the first place and sucked too much at the game to be worthy of playing it.

I eventually did find a helpful Hex edit that lengthened the timer to 10 minutes, but I am still amazed at the ferocity of the "hardcore" Spelunky players (I'm sure none of which would bat an eye at modding Skyrim a million different ways regardless of how Bethesda "meant it to be played"). Anyway, rant off...

To provide a different example, I think the timers they've added to most meta events in Guild Wars 2 is perhaps one of the worst additions they've made to the game.

Imagine if Zelda games gave you a strict time limit on how long you have to kill Ganondorf before he just auto-murders you. Now imagine that killing him is impossible without significant help via the actions of several in-game NPCs who have brains that roughly compare in intellect to a bag of pebbles. And now you have an apt analogy for the problem with GW2 boss mechanics. All major boss fights rely on heavy zerging, but also require that certain objectives be fulfilled and roles be covered, and the entire group can be screwed in an instant if one of the people in those roles lacks any degree of intelligence.

They didn't increase the "challenge", they just slapped a DPS-gate on it. Now you need X DPS per second in order to finish the fight on time, and you have to follow the special boss mechanics or else you lose, but it's all so awful, honestly. The fights rely increasingly more on dropping shitloads of lethal AoEs on their players (and I challenge anyone to come in here and tell me that the Prime Hologram, i.e. the most recent such major boss, isn't a PERFECT example of what I'm bitching about right here), and less and less on anything resembling creative and imaginative design and thought. The mechanics are only as hard as "stand in a field and get a buff, then do stuff with that buff". Yet, because of the absurd AoE and reliance on people who may well be utterly incompetent, you end up failing more than you succeed, all because some other guy sucks at the game (rather than because you did a bad job). It's pretty frustrating, and is one of the many things starting to finally drive me away from the game.

scorptatious:
Hell, I remember having the guide to the game, and the guide itself said it was more fun to aim for a B rank in Ch. 3's mission. When the guide itself is telling you to go against the game's ranking system in order to get the most of your experience, something is up.

At the very least though, the game still gives you those special Randgriz weapons if you at least get B ranks in the later missions.

That's sorta encouraging, I guess. I still haven't even started the second mission because finding out xp gain is based off of how stupidly reckless I can be in rushing through the game was a major turn-off. If going for B's is good enough I can deal with that.

JimmyPage666:
I just logged on to say this! A well implemented timer in ME3 might have worked. As it is I could faff about for weeks on side quests before doing that "urgent must do now or all life will end" quest. I had this with many games where I can go off on side missions or find collectibles for ages while the main mission was saying "get there now! something terrible is happening!" Really broke the immersion.

The one game I can think of that has actually done this well is Fallout. The timer is long enough that you have plenty of time to explore and do side quests, but short enough that you can't do everything and can't afford to waste time for no reason. Plus you can actually influence the timer in sensible ways through your actions. It's a time limit that fits sensibly in the game, allows you plenty of freedom to actually play the game, but still adds in the tension and realism of knowing that your urgent quest that must be completed before everyone dies actually is urgent and must be completed before everyone dies.

The bit about fitting in the game is important there as well. The problem with the pseudo-timer in Mass Effect 2 is that it made some parts of the game different from others, without any indication that was the case. For most of the game, you can wander around spending as much time as you like doing side quests. Then suddenly at one point you can't, even though all the side quests are still open and you know that there won't be another chance to do them. The game completely changes from a relatively relaxed exploration game to "You must do this quest right now or we give you a shit ending", but doesn't even bother to tell you that the change has happened. And once you do know its there, you're forced to make sure you do things in the right order to avoid triggering the timer before you're ready, which rather spoils the free exploration feel it had before. It wasn't a bad idea of trying to introduce a bit of realism and urgency, but it wasn't implemented at all well.

I don't happen to play games with timers in them that also require exploration, but I do remember thinking on quite a number of occasions that it would be better if there were some sort of chronological significance to doing the main storyline reasonably promptly and that it feels stupid that you can just stand around doing whatever when there's meant to be an imminent threat.

I hate timers; I only find them useful when there's a proper context along with a very specific goal (the phone call races in arkham city are a good example). I know where Yahtzee's coming from as far as that level of panic a timer can add to the game; it tends to ruin the fun more often than not.

I disagree with the sentiment some of the other people have about adding timers to open-world games like Skyrim; it effectively forces the player to follow quest lines and ruins the ability to meander about. Also, it makes it a lot less fun when quests expire for no reason or you stumble on other quests that you can't complete because you are stuck on a timed quest.

Edit: It occurred to me in reading some other threads: from FFX it seems like Square-Enix has turned on exploration. In X, they took away the world map; in XII they punished the player by making it so if you opened every chest you were denied ultimate weapons; and in XIII it was just a big linear corridor ending in a grind wall. Now the timer Lightning returns...not a good trend.

Personally, I was thinking that Lightning Returns was simply trying to pony up on Atelier's game time and Persona 3/4's calendar system to "outdo their competition" whilst keeping combat action-y and active to try and divert Tales series sales and pony up on the continuous success of their own Kingdom Hearts series.

However, the typical Final Fantasy system post-Final Fantasy V involves excessive amounts of time spent micromanaging your character(s) until near the end of the game where differences blur and characters are no longer specialized in the slightest. Due to this, excessive time spent grinding and item hunting to get over this wall of diversity (a typical requirement in FFVI+) is extremely counter-intuitive when a timer is attached with the intent of forcing the player to speed through it. Had the game been like the Mana series, the Shin Megami Tensei or Persona series (where customization can be strictly based on the immediate environment regardless of character stats/level,) or with characters whose skills/equipment/and world is 100% linear with little player control, then I could see it working out.

I hated the Dead Rising one. I wish the three days would have allowed me to slow it to 3 real days if I wanted to. Here is an open world (sort of) and I can't explore because I have to do all these things and answer my cell phone at the right time etc etc etc....

I just wanted to go and do the side missions and kill some zombies.

The timer is up there in terrible mechanics along with escort missions.

Some timers are alright and add to the game slightly. A couple indie games I've been playing do it well enough. Spelunky has a ghost that comes at 2:30 minutes. You can outrun it when it gets there indefinitely, but it is huge and bothersome and kills you instantly. It gives you a small sense of urgency to your treasure collecting, exploration and combat which isn't a bad thing. The levels are random but a bit formulaic so having to do them in a flurry keeps them exciting and thinking on your feet to improvise rather than allowing you to tackle the same types of situations with the same exact strategies at a snails pace.

Don't Starve has a day/night cycle with night time engulfing you and having the Grue kill you unless you can make it to your basecamp or make a fire in time. You also have to set yourself up before winter comes which is a very hard season to survive if you are poorly prepared. It keeps the game very interesting. Without it I'd say it would be very boring and without any challenge.

Pikmin 1 was freaking horrible. You only have 30 days before game over. I played it once and tried my hardest at it to end up finishing at 28 days left and never played it again. It was too stressful learning the ropes while at the same time being timed in such a doomsday manner. I did pretty well at it, but I imagine other people having troubles and having to load a previous save from a LONG time ago setting them back an enormous amount of progress.

I didn't particularly care for 3 day timer in Majora's Mask, but that was the games central gimmick, and I liked that game so I let it slide. I only finished it once like Pikmin however....

So the point is you don't like timers not because the time pressure itself, but the disconnect of timed mechanic from the context of the game. Essentially when timers are used to artificially create objectives, or even worse because that what we always do in this sort of game.

But when used right, they add a wonderful depth and apply a genuine pressure on the player. I loved looking for air bubbles in Sonic before I ran out of breath (timed section). The literal count down of the bomb in CS forcing the opposing team into acting. There are many, many, examples of time based pressure in game and fortunately most are not shown as a simple clocks.

One of the tricks is imperfect information, a timer represented to the player as such, is perfect information. For example you will be rescued in 10mins try and stay alive. YOu as the player know at all times how much time remains and its possible for you to metre out your resource over that period. However, lets have 10min timer, but now only inform the player via messages at certain intervals. 10mins "Chopper on its way", 5min "We entered your sector", 2min" We can see the LZ" and then remaining time you see the chopper in game, heading to LZ and landing.

Same timed element, presented different ways, both pertinent to the gameplay, One servers the game better neither are against the core mechanic.

So to summarise, timers are tools in you game building box and they can be prone to misuse.

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