Bad Timing - How Clocks in Games Ruin the Fun

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Bad Timing - How Clocks in Games Ruin the Fun

Quantum theory tells us that the act of observing changes the thing being observed. And in the realm of video games, I wonder if there's not a similar rule along the lines of "the act of timing Yahtzee makes Yahtzee shit at games".

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Omg I remember my OCD leading me to comb every inch of every wall of levels in Wolfenstein because I only had 80% of the secrets. Kinda sapped the fun out of it, especially with the dodgy wall textures they had back then. And the par times were completely unreasonable (or possibly I was just a noob at the time).

Oh wow, first for two EP's in a row! That should get me some kind of Yahtzee superfan award (possibly in the form of a mod warning).

I've always felt similarly. It was one of the reasons I skipped Majora's Mask even when it came out, an action I later discovered to be a huge mistake, for it is practically the template for how to use timers to add rather than subtract from a game.

I think there's a fundamental difference between a timer mechanic linked to the core game mechanics versus a superfluous one. Is the timer punishing players for being slow, or is is designed to force strategic decisions, creating emergent gameplay? Is it part of the puzzle, or just an obstacle? The timer in Majora's Mask for instance is just a natural extension of the infinite day/night cycle seen in practically every game these days, only with more depth and three times as long. Every three day cycle (much the same as every day in any other game) your goals as a player are different. The timer in Doom or Duke Nukem 3D on the other hand exists solely for speedrunners as the goal of the level is the same every time you begin a given level.

As a more recent example of the same exploration-heavy genre to Zelda, Pandora's Tower's timer is the core source of the non-linearity in the game. All the dungeons are essentially long linear hallwayss, but with tonnes of unlockable shortcuts interlinking parts you've cleared. Without a timer, this whole game would've been boring as shit (OK, perhaps not the bosses), but combined with a day night cycle for (predictable) resource collection, the core game challenge itself becomes one of planning your route through the dungeon across a series of short campaigns (sorta like an MMO minus the grind). You feel well rewarded for a successful dungeon dive, and you are given opportunities to use rare consumables without feeling like they are going to waste: when the timer is in the red, that is a clear time when the game is screaming at you: use your hoarded shit now, you greedy bugger, or risk losing stuff!

Actually, thinking back to Majora's Mask again, three of the four dungeons in that game were basically linear hallways too, as were the final four dungeons in Twilight Princess and pretty much every other game since. So too in fact was the infamous Water Temple of Ocarina of Time; that one was ludicrously linear. The catch with the water temple is that recalibrating the system should you leave the dungeon half finished was insanely difficult, going a great deal towards explaining the contrasting difficulty expereinces players report. Those who did the dungeon in one sitting had an easy time, those who took two sittings spent hours recalibrating the water level. Hypothetically, were there a timer in that dungeon, all players would have had the non-linear, exceedingly challenging experience the Water Temple was famed for: and that's pretty much Pandora's Tower's timer mechanic in a nutshell. Using clocks both to standardise the experience between players, and as a source of emergent gameplay.

(Is there a second half to this article that is missing perchance? The site is telling me its one page long, but it lacks any sort of snarky summary, or the author tagline.)

Just like lives, timers should be only optional in the new Mario games. Lives have become an exploitable score instead of a punishment for failure from bygone arcade days, and the timer is only good to gauge speedruns and be a basis for certain speedrun levels. While lives are pointless and don't deserve to exist, timers are permissible as OPTIONS (though in Super Mario Galaxy 2 and 3D World the timer is the basis for specialized collection-speedrun levels).

Even Nintendo itself implicitly admits that timers are bad for its emphasis on exploration by making the timers last 400 full seconds per level. Any more leeway, and they'll become as forgiving as the lives system.

I've certainly had a few timer experiences which aren't pretty. I feel like they're second only to death walls following you that put me in a panic (see the firewalls in Rayman Origins/Legends). I guess invincible mobs are up their too, Silent Hill 4 would be a lot better if the Ghosts left the room when you killed them rather than get stunned for two seconds.

It definitely clears up the feeling that you were just bad at FFXIII 3 when you had just finished Dark Souls.

This is the reason I can't bring myself to do Mirror's Edge's timed missions. I already did the plot... and it took me several failures and respawns... and now you want me to do the whole thing flawlessly every single level? No thanks.

I completely agree. As someone who likes to approach games slowly, any game that has one long time limit to complete the game really stresses me out. I love the Atelier games, but I really wish they would take out the time limit. Same with Lightning Returns.Admittedly, once you can power through the tougher fights, you can keep time infinitely paused, but that just proves how needless the added stress of a clock really is.

In the case of DooM at least...
The game is mostly balanced around the player not finding many of the secrets. Basically, they are boosts, the actual thing it expects you to do is to kill and annihilate daemons and zombies in brutal and quick ways... in order to keep the pace.

True then, that the score board at the end was... annoying as hell. That is a mistake.

I dunno, a few RPGs I've felt have lacked any sense of urgency, and really lacked that impending doom of the world because you could fanny around indefinitely before taking on the allegedly time critical, we must do this now mission. (Mass Effect series particularly guilty of this. All to often in RPGs acting as the plot suggests just robs you of useful rewards and XP.

Trishbot:
This is the reason I can't bring myself to do Mirror's Edge's timed missions. I already did the plot... and it took me several failures and respawns... and now you want me to do the whole thing flawlessly every single level? No thanks.

Well I guess that's why they're optional. I died a ton due to screwing up and falling all the time, but I'd be tempted to do the time challenges because one of the biggest appeals of that type of game is "The Perfect Run." There is little more satisfying in a parkour game than keeping momentum and never firmly touching solid ground.

The clock in Lightning Returns degraded my experience significantly. Besides that, the main problem I had with it was the quest system being super unhelpful and overly demanding. (YOU MUST FIND THE CHALICE. It's on the map. Somewhere. Jesus, haven't you found it yet? You suck. It's too late now, the mission has expired. Congratulations! You've wasted your time.)

The timer made it all worse.

I kinda feel like they were trying to copy Majora's Mask here. It's not just about having a time limit, it's about specific things happening at specific times. It's a pretty cool concept, and it makes the world feel more alive if it's always moving forward with or without you. Unfortunately, they forgot one key point: Majora's Mask was a time travel game. If you failed to get to an event when you needed to, you could go back and get there sooner next time. Some of the puzzles in the game even revolved around going back and redoing things. By letting you play the same three days over and over again, the game gave you an opportunity to learn where everyone and everything was at any given point. Worst case scenario, you take too long in a dungeon and have to redo it, but even that's not common unless you wait too long to enter it to begin with.

Timely events can work even in a game without time travel, but they have to be completely optional, and the core story progression has to wait for you. Lightning Returns has aimed for a bizarre middle ground, with all the restrictions of timed events but none of the necessary concessions, and wrecked the game as a result. Good work, Square-Enix.

P.S. Thanks

I agree, timers generally detract from the game for me and its why I won't touch Lightning Returns, sometimes it will be done right (at others have stated Majora's Mask), but most of the time I just walk away from the game thinking why should I bother for I can't play it the way I want to.

Hidden timers are a bit of a pain as well (as someone mentioned Mass Effect), but unlike other timer issues I have it goes away once you know about it, for you can plan how you play around it.

My least favourite timers are probably from the stalking missions in Assassin's Creed 'ah you looked away from your target for half a second there, have a timer. Oh wait you can see them again let's take it away. No hang on they turned a corner, best hurry or they'll disappear from the face of the earth and you'll be doing this mission again!'

I think in something like the elder scrolls a lengthy timer would be beneficial for giving some sense of weight to a quest, but it should be a few in game days (2-4 real hours at least).

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.

The mission timer is pretty much the reason I never have, and never will, play a Monster Hunter game. I hate having a time limit, no matter how generous people claim it is.

I'm still annoyed thay peoples fear of timers basically ended up ruining Pikmin 2. In my eyes, the timer was the entire point of the game, the challenge WAS the Timer. Every day you had to plan ahead, you needed to plan how to use every day, and if you made a mistake you had to make new plans to compensate so you still had time enough to complete the game. The levels themselves were only challenging because you had to complete them in the planned frame. It turned out that when they removed the timer, the game was basically pointless, you had all the time in the world to finnish each level, something that was easily done when you have all the time in the world. It was boring and pointless.

I like the concept of timers, when used right. It can be used in horrible ways, and obviously it shouldn't, but when done right it can an interesting mechanic imo.

I have to agree mostly with the dislike of timers. I myself have a complex love-hate relationship with them. I love games that have certain senses of realism, and having events (like a day/night cycle) that occur at certain times definitely adds to that. However, I hate it when a game has timed, plot-important events that only occur one time and if you miss it, you're screwed. There is one caveat to that, though; if the game allows for multiple, viable paths that are time-dependent, that's alright and can actually give a game good replay value.

Ironically, the game Yahtzee gave as an example, Dead Rising, is one I'd consider a game that uses timers and time events poorly and for the very reason he thought it did a good job. When playing Dead Rising and Dead Rising 2 (the latter of which I didn't finish before losing interest) I hated the timer BECAUSE I was made aware of every single thing I needed to do. It was a case of trying to eat the elephant; I had 6 different missions on my to-do list, and I felt like the closer I got to one, the further I was getting from another, causing me to feel like I was frantically dashing around the map, alternately saying "shit" and "fuck" with each step, while a half-dozen brainless dolts simultaneously clamored for me to save them, each on different parts of the map. Knowing everything that I could do created for me an unspoken obligation that I HAD to do the missions, plot-relevant or not.

I can understand timers in some games as a good tension mechanic and the feeling of that rush from surviving it. Some games now are a bit carried away with it example wise being Heart of the swarm. When you have most missions on a timer in a rts it kind of makes you wonder if they just phoned it in and hope you dont notice or they just want to rush you through to the end as punishment for not going straight to multi player.

snave:
Actually, thinking back to Majora's Mask again, three of the four dungeons in that game were basically linear hallways too, as were the final four dungeons in Twilight Princess and pretty much every other game since. So too in fact was the infamous Water Temple of Ocarina of Time; that one was ludicrously linear.

Ironically, it's the non-linear bits in the Water Temple that nailed me the first time.
Namely, a particular key placed in a particular hole, and the map being highly useless due to the stacked layout of the central hub.

That said, I was going to retort with Majora's Mask as well; it's an incredible game and probably my favorite 3D Zelda title.
The timer drives events and gives every sidequest an identity in continuity (sometime few games even attempt).

In fairness, I get timers. In action games, they're there to keep people from being overly cautious and relying on safe spots and exploits to rack up kills, exp and high scores. If they're forgiving, I have no real issue.

FFXIII-3 is a unique case. I get what they were going for: FFVII made it hard to feel the tension and desperation of the meteor when you can have long periods of chocobo eugenics before it hits. It wasn't the worst idea in the game, but a lack of quest markers and unfamiliarity with the area does leave one too shocked under the deadline. On the other end, if you use a guide, the limit is too damn forgiving, leaving days on the end with little to do on the quest list.

The only game this hasn't bothered me in has been Valkyrie Profile, where you had more than enough time to do whatever you wanted.

Every other game with a timing system has bothered me, from the Atelier games to Majora's Mask. Timing systems do nothing but curtail exploration and experimentation which should be encouraged, not punished.

(As an aside, retro platforms had timers probably as a carryover from their arcade counterparts, where the timer prevented you from just starting a game and walking away)

Timers can be annoying, but what really gets to me is all those rush-rush-rush we have to do this now-now-now story elements that don't have any sort of timer, and which you'll always arrive at the last second whether you surged through or whether you wandered off to complete most of the game before coming and back and saving the side-quest in just the nick of time. Doubly so, if it's critically important to NOT rush through, and instead you need to spend your time powering up before you go to the objective you've been told is so critical to reach right away.

MrBaskerville:
I'm still annoyed thay peoples fear of timers basically ended up ruining Pikmin 2. In my eyes, the timer was the entire point of the game, the challenge WAS the Timer. Every day you had to plan ahead, you needed to plan how to use every day, and if you made a mistake you had to make new plans to compensate so you still had time enough to complete the game.

The reason people didn't like the timers in Pikmin 2 was because it wasn't clear how much you needed to get done in a given day. By design, some days were more productive than others, gave access to more ship pieces, but it was often impossible to know how well you were doing until it was too late. Having to redo most of the game because of a non-obvious mistake early on is incredibly frustrating.

P.S. Thanks

Goddamit, ninja'd about Majora's Mask right in the second comment. Yup, that game's timer is great and probably the best example of how to use a timer.

Also Pikmin comes to mind, that game was stressing as hell in my first couple of playthroughs, I kept losing my pikmins because I couldn't bring everyone at the end of a day, so I had to waste 2 or 3 days aquiring more pikmins to continue doing my objectives and before I notice, I already wasted 15 days and I haven't found near half of my ship parts.

I eventually learned how to properly manage my time doing things and at what order, so I eventually conquered the game with even 1 whole week to spare.

As for old platformers (almost every single NES non-Megaman platformer) and older shooters with timers, I generally don't mind, I always tried to finish the level on the shortest amount of time possible (with secrets and all).

I guess I approach each game differently, I don't expect to have a slow paced and methodical experience with each game.

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.

Petromir:
I dunno, a few RPGs I've felt have lacked any sense of urgency, and really lacked that impending doom of the world because you could fanny around indefinitely before taking on the allegedly time critical, we must do this now mission. (Mass Effect series particularly guilty of this. All to often in RPGs acting as the plot suggests just robs you of useful rewards and XP.

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. Actually now that I think about it, the amount of collectibles in games these days is getting ridiculous. (Ubisoft!)

Anyway OT, I think timers can be good but it's a balance. The best thing about RPG's is the exploration but well implemented timers, more on the Dead Rising end of the scale than the Lightning Returns end, could well add a level of urgency that I think many RPG's are lacking. I wouldn't want to see it in every game but it could be a decent mechanic.

I've never like timed games. Then again, most games that utilize it are from genres I dislike. The only usage I've ever liked was with Majora's Mask. It frustrated me when I was younger, but playing it again older, I could appreciate how it fit thematically into the game as well as with the overall over-arching design of all the various subplots happening everywhere at once, other than that though, I absolutely hate them.

I admit that the timer in Lightning Returns is a bit stressful. I'm playing with the walkthrough, and it suggests what time you should finish certain events. It's very stressing watching the clock and realizing that I'm not keeping pace with the game. I was actually skipping conversations because I was afraid it was eating into my time. Took me a few hours to realize that it wasn't.
I wish that, in New Game+, you had the option of turning the timer off. But at least you can pause the clock for some time.

The timer in Monster Hunter ticks me off. There's nothing like having a monster on the ropes, then the AI deciding to play keep away for 15 minutes and DING you've just flushed away an hour of your life. Not even counting the monsters that I'm sure are designed to take 5 minutes longer than the time limit to actually kill.

Majora's Mask didn't even really have a timer. The clock wasn't out to kill you there, it just pressured you on dungeons and sidequests. For the most part, it was just for keeping track of the schedules for all the people you could meet. Lightning Returns has the screw you kind of timer.

I think the first time I've played anything involving time (kinda) was Persona 3 FES... and making sure that I took care of some of Elizabeth's request while making sure that I took care of both my studies as well as making sure both my Persona team and actual teammates were ready for the next pending Dark Hour...

Then again, I stand by the thought that in-game timers need some kind of leeway in some way so that any "punishment" for not taking care of something on time is for stuff that's pretty unimportant as well as the noting that you can try again in New Game +, as long as the other quest that you completed beforehand do not have to be completed again this playthrough time...

Now, to chalk up "timers" alongside "lives" as that "optional mode" that should only be mandatory if it's not so much as a punishing blow in the self-esteem department, but as a key component that integrated well within the grand scheme of the gameplay... More Majora's Mask and Persona 3/4 and less... uh... Lightning Returns?

If it has time limits for anything but isolated time challenges and isn't a racer or sports game, I won't buy it. There is not a game mechanic I loath more and I fully support banning every producer and game designer who thinks that crap like this is a good idea from the game industry forever.

This is one of the reasons I love The World Ends With You. When I very first started playing and was told I only had "one hour" to solve the mission I felt my heart sink a little. But then when I realised that this "time limit" was a story mechanic rather than a gameplay one, I felt a lot better and was happy to take my time fighting battles and listening to the soundtrack.

But real, actual countdown time limits? Yeah, thanks but no thanks. All you're doing is counting down my patience.

The only RPG with a timer that works as I know is Zelda: Majora's Mask. The best part of the timer is that its mainly under your control. Sure, time goes on if you do nothing and the world ends in 3 days, it keeps telling you but you have the Orcarina of Time which you can use to slow the pace or even go back to the first day anytime.

You get side quests and more info on the world by talking to NPCs but the game gives you a handy little notebook stating what time an event occurs, allowing you to plan it out. I guess Dead Rising adopted that method later on.

So, are ya gonna review Lords of Shadow 2 with the "Like God of War But" stamp out or are ya gonna check the Thief reboot anytime soon?

personally i dont like missable stuff in any game playing a game with the strategy guide open on the other monitor ruins the experience, more to the point they shouldnt put in missable stuff and make no reference to it at any time.

im looking at you final fantasy 12

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