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  1. #1
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    Interesting use of time in games?

    Hello everyone,

    I'm looking for games that use time in interesting ways. I mean that in a narrative sense, so not mechanics like the time-travel in Prince of Persia or Braid.

    I'm thinking about this because games are long. A contemporary action game takes me 8-12 hours to complete, and other genres can run 20+. Films take about 2 hours to watch and novels about 4-6 hours to read (an album of music only takes about 45 minutes to listen to!). Television shows are the only mainstream entertainment that matches games in the length of the experience. And yet most games don't use their abundance of time in interesting ways. Many films have stories that last over a year, and many books as well: only a handful of game stories last longer than a few days (again, from a narrative perspective).

    Game stories tend to run as the worst 12 hours of [character's] life. I just completed Dead Space 2, which, like its predecessor, runs in "real time," with no skips or jumps. Half life 1 and 2 are like this, Bioshock 1 and 2 are like this, most action games are paced like this. Open world games have "day/night" cycles, but the passage of time has no effect on the narrative. You could wait a hundred days and nothing would change. Same for RPGs. When the story picks up again, it's as if it's been a few hours.

    Here are some interesting uses of time:

    Dead Rising 2 actually runs in real-time: events are always happening throughout the mall, and you need to get medicine for your daughter at regular intervals. You can just sit in the safe house for the length of the game: you will get an ending and "beat" the game. (Obviously in most games if you do nothing the game will last forever.)

    Mafia 2 has the jump through the prison years, which is interesting, but even more interesting is the fact that it contains the conclusion to Mafia 1.

    Dragon Age 2 tried to use leaps forward in time, but the jumps didn't have enough of an impact for things to be interesting.

    Majora's Mask (an N64 Zelda game), one of my favorite games, is entirely about the passage of time. It plays over three days that the player repeats, each day proceeding in real time. The player must discover what happens over those days across the world.

    So: what are some interesting uses of time in game stories?

  2. #2
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus vinraith's Avatar
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    In Din's Curse things constantly happen whether you address/interact with them or not. Boss monsters in the dungeon below construct diabolical machines, launch raids against the surface, and stir up other forms of trouble. Townspeople argue, fight, steal, and sometimes even betray the town in various ways and flee into the dungeon. If you stand around, things slowly get worse and worse around you until, generally, a raid against the surface bubbles out of the dungeon and kills everyone. It's a nice change from the usual action RPG dungeon that waits around for you.
    Last edited by vinraith; 13-06-2011 at 05:24 AM.

  3. #3
    Obscure Node solipsistnation's Avatar
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    Pathologic takes place over several days or a week of time, with the plague progressing and social order breaking down day by day...
    Вы такие сексапильные, когда злитесь.

  4. #4
    Second Sight is arguably the best example of what you've described, at least from the games I've played. A shame the game itself is average. Some bits of game mechanics are enjoyable, while others - such as arbitrarily forced stealth segments - feel tedious.

  5. #5
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Lambchops's Avatar
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    I think it's somewhat telling that Majora's Mask is still one of the best uses of time as a mechanic but also as part of the overall fabric of the story. Although I think Gladdon's maybe been a bit dismissive of Prince of Persia (at least Sands of Time anyway) and Braid as purely mechanical uses of time, as in both it was actually integral to the narrative.

    As for other games messing with time, a couple of adventure games spring to mind that wrap the concept of time travel both nicely into the puzzles and the story. Namely Time Gentlemen Please and a couple of episodes from Telltales's Sam and Max episodes (think there's an episode with heavy use of time travel in both the second and third series, the one in the third series in particular being very cleverly done).

    Solipstination has already pointed out Pathalogic, which (from the admitably little I played of it) is very time dependent, everyone goes about their own lives and you have to choose where to go and what to do and everything will go on regardless (and unlike Majora's Mask you don't have the chance to rewind and deal with things anew).

    Oh and the day/night cycle of Minecraft also springs to mind, though it is far more mechanical it does give the opportunity to lead to some interesting advenutres for the player which they can then recount to others.

  6. #6
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    I really liked the way time and ageing was implemented in the old Pirates! game. Wish something like that had been implemented into Oblivion/FO3. Having a finite amount of time in your sandbox game means you have to actually make choices about what you want to do. unlike in Oblivion for example, where you have "enough time" to become head of all the guilds, save the world and do a gazillion subquests.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by Giaddon View Post
    Open world games have "day/night" cycles, but the passage of time has no effect on the narrative. You could wait a hundred days and nothing would change. Same for RPGs. When the story picks up again, it's as if it's been a few hours.
    Eh? Fallout? Darklands? Realms of Arkania? The Magic Candle?

    Quote Originally Posted by riadsala View Post
    I really liked the way time and ageing was implemented in the old Pirates! game. Wish something like that had been implemented into Oblivion/FO3. Having a finite amount of time in your sandbox game means you have to actually make choices about what you want to do. unlike in Oblivion for example, where you have "enough time" to become head of all the guilds, save the world and do a gazillion subquests.
    In the Might and Magic games your characters age and eventually die if you take a long time about it.

  8. #8
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Cooper's Avatar
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    Achron looks like you'll need to grow another brain to play it... An RTS where you can give orders at any point in the past or future...
    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011...ron-is-coming/

    Video:
    http://www.achrongame.com/site/gameplay-videos.php
    (Watch the second video...)

    Edit: I know this is not strictly "in a narrative sense," as OP suggested and probably fits closer to the Braid time-as-mechanic. But Strategy games DO have narratives as far as they are the stories of players facing up against one another. Same way you can get narratives out of any sporting event really.


    Chrono Trigger deserves a mention here. Although not much more than another sci-fi-ish use of Time Travel to tell a story, it does it pretty well as far as games of that era go.
    Last edited by Cooper; 13-06-2011 at 05:42 PM.

  9. #9
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Drake Sigar's Avatar
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    How about Sam & Max The Devil’s Playhouse – Episode 2 The Tomb of Sammun-Mak. It’s a point & click adventure game. You take control of characters within a set of movie reels, and can change the reels (and therefore the scene) at will, which is handy because sometimes in order to progress through past reels you need to have future knowledge.

  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Vexing Vision's Avatar
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    Anachronox has a fantastic storyline about three universes. The story is that universes expand, then compress, then expand again in a big bang theory.
    In the next, future universe, there was a big battle against good vs bad, which good one and imprisoned bad into the past (this) universe. Now creatures from the PREVIOUS universe are trying to annihilate the future universe by adding mass to the current universe.

    It's physics, time travel and a brilliant, hilarious storyline. Though the timetravel is only encountered, never used yourself.


    Also, one of the Driver games had you playing in the past and in the present. The past would lead up to why you've been in prison, and the present would have you figure out who betrayed you in the past. It was a very interesting dual narrative, but the game itself was a bit poo and I can't remember... oh, yeah. Driver: Parallel Lines it was.
    Last edited by Vexing Vision; 13-06-2011 at 05:43 PM.
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  11. #11
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    Quote Originally Posted by Cooper View Post
    Chrono Trigger deserves a mention here. Although not much more than another sci-fi-ish use of Time Travel to tell a story, it does it pretty well as far as games of that era go.
    Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress did this in 1982.

  12. #12
    Activated Node mlaskus's Avatar
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    The Day of the Tentacle used time travel in a very interesting way. A lot of the puzzles required you to act in all the different time periods and leave items to age and be collected in a different period.

    There is some SNES JRPG, I haven't played it myself, in which after defeating some boss, you had to escape a collapsing cave system, there was a 40 or so minute timer. You could leave as soon as you reached the exit, or you could wait until the very last moment to rescue some of your team mates who were lagging behind.

  13. #13
    Network Hub Peter Radiator Full Pig's Avatar
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    I was going to say Majoras Mask, too. Id love more of that groundhog day esque setting.

  14. #14
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    Quote Originally Posted by mlaskus View Post
    There is some SNES JRPG, I haven't played it myself, in which after defeating some boss, you had to escape a collapsing cave system, there was a 40 or so minute timer. You could leave as soon as you reached the exit, or you could wait until the very last moment to rescue some of your team mates who were lagging behind.
    Final Fantasy 6 did something like that- you had 10 minutes to escape a collapsing island, and you could either jump onto your airship as soon as you reached the end, or if you waited until 15-ish seconds to go, another character would join you and survive the destruction.

    Also, some sections of Chrono Trigger required or encouraged backtracking through multiple time periods. One puzzle required you to leave a Moonstone in the prehistoric time period and return to the same spot in the future so that thousands of years of sunlight had turned it into a Sunstone.

  15. #15
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Tikey's Avatar
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    Never played, but didn't the last express feature things happening in real time and events taking place even if you weren't there to see them?

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wizardry View Post
    Ultima II: The Revenge of the Enchantress did this in 1982.
    And Chrono Trigger was 1995 so am fairly sure that counts as a different era.

    There's not many games that span large amounts of time without time travel, which I guess is sort of interesting in itself. LA Noire is set over a span of some years (with an earlier prologue, and some non-interactive flashbacks), with you only seeing the main cases your character solves (eg. he spends a narrative year in homicide, but you only play 6 or so cases) but it sort of ruins it by having no real over-arching narrative, it's more episodic with only small connections between cases.

  17. #17
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    Actually, lots of CRPGs span large amounts of time without the games skipping forward periodically or containing time travel.

  18. #18
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus SirKicksalot's Avatar
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    I like how Singularity takes place across multiple timelines.
    I know Timeshift got mediocre reviews, but it was a fantastic shooter with excellent weapons IMO and stopping or rewinding time never got old.

  19. #19
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    Wizardry: I'm only familiar with RPGs from the late 90s onward, and I can't think of too many... Which do you have in mind?

  20. #20
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    The Might and Magic games tend to span years, for example, with your characters ageing over time (and eventually dying of old age if you spend too long playing).

    Darklands can span a long time too. The game contains lots of different saints that you can pray to for divine favour. Each saint has a specific day of the year dedicated to them. If you pray to them on their day you get additional benefits.

    The Realms of Arkania games can span a long time. The first even has a two year time limit, requiring you to plan ahead to avoid suboptimal travel across the game world.

    The Magic Candle has a three year time limit (1000 days to be precise), again forcing you to plan ahead. Time is also important in the other games in the series, especially the third, which also imposes a time limit on you, but one that, if I remember correctly, isn't fixed from the start.

    Time itself, and not the time span of the game, is important in many more CRPGs. The Ultima games had NPC scheduling way back in 1988 with Ultima V. Every single NPC in the game is named (other than guards) and have their own bed to sleep in at night. They wake up in the morning, walk to the nearest tavern or restaurant to eat breakfast, head to their place of work (blacksmiths head to the blacksmith, inn keepers stand behind their front desk, merchants head to their shops, guards go on duty either patrolling around town or guarding the gates, minstrels play their instrument in the tavern, cooks head to their kitchen, healers tend to the sick and injured), head to lunch at mid-day, head back to work in the afternoon, head to the tavern to socialise, drink and eat in the evenings and then head back to bed at night. As NPCs all have their own unique schedule, some even do odd game specific routines which you have to learn. One NPC sleepwalks at night, for example. Another NPC heads to a particular tree stump in town to plant some special keys at mid-day every day. A group of farmers who are secretly part of the resistance movement against the oppression meet at a well at night to discuss matters away from spies.
    Last edited by Wizardry; 14-06-2011 at 03:57 AM.

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