Does time matter in a video game?
You know I was thinking this over but does the essence of time matter in a game? To clarify what I mean time can be taken two ways in a video game; the progress in which you beat a game, per say hours completed, or like many games today incorporate, real-time.
Video games are based in a fictional world with many of the AI’s having…well obviously a programmed/set personality, so I always wondered if a game was better because it had a day and night. Does having nighttime gameplay, really change the overall premise of the game? A good argument to look at it is, nighttime gaming adds a “new” element, where one can do extra missions, see different sides of characters, and sometimes not see where the heck they are going. But, my counter to that is doesn’t this prolong a game, sometimes in a negative aspect? Why do I have to purposely wait at night to meet “Johnny X” or I can’t go into some areas because it is nighttime, etc. Sometimes these minor tidbits, delay the game and if you are playing on real-time, completely screw up some strategies to getting items or experience that you want.
Think back to the original Pokemon or even to a Link to the Past, time and settings were based on location; not real-time or time based on progress of the game. If I wanted to catch a freaking Weedle in Pokemon Red or Blue, I would go to Viridian Forest and catch one, or if I had Pokemon Yellow, I would look to trade with someone; but now in Pokemon some Pokemon are only available “at night”, so making hunting/catching Pokemon a bigger chore than it is now (since we have 649 it isn’t fun, it is more of a mission).
Looking at the Legend of Zelda aspect I can take this from three ways comparing the greats of Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, and also the crap which is Skyward Sword. Now, all three have different aspects of time (none are of real-time), Link to the Past has no time in it’s game, each area is of a different setting; you start the game off at night, but from then on you go to different areas where it rains only in one spot, it is sunny in the other, etc. As you can see, just exploring and venturing to new areas was the idea of discovery in this game. Everything remains the same, no matter what panel of the map you are in, so there aren’t things that are “time exclusive” or require you to wait x days for; which is the simplicity games still need. In Ocarina of Time, you have a based timer on time only in the open world, in towns time is frozen to either day or night. In addition, like in Skyward Sword, you have the ability to change from day to night in an instant (either Sun Song from OoT or going to sleep in Skyward Sword). I think the time aspect works well in Ocarina of Time, because it is easy to use and the nighttime gaming really boosts the experience of the player. You get to play the Bombchu game, as a kid you have the Stalchildren (which really freaks you at the first time you play), and you need to use the days to help you on certain sidequests (biggoron sword). But, obviously areas are closed off and there are less people to interact with at night, but that’s where the Sun’s Song comes and saves this day-and-night game plan.
Why I mentioned Skyward Sword is quite simple, as nighttime gaming in Skyward Sword is the epitome of garbage and a waste. As you know in Skyward Sword, you are relegated to only one town, with a bunch of annoying, forgettable characters with limited interaction in town. Well, the night-time gameplay is just even worse in this game…if there was any nighttime gaming. First, off you can’t leave the town, so there is no exploration, secondly, every freaking creature on earth attacks you at night, and lastly the sidequests aren’t even worth doing, considering their minimal reward. Why have nighttime gaming? It was more of a waste than an addition in the already limited Skyward Sword; to have the idea of nighttime gaming is too add elements, that basically make a new adventure at a different time of day.
Take Xenoblade Chronciles for example, by having control of the clock, you can make it day, night, even afternoon or evening! Every town would have different AI’s appear at different times, while the main hub-world would remain practically unchanged; therefore giving you the sense of familiarity and discovery.
All in all, I have never been the biggest fan of time really to me it doesn’t matter. Most of the time, I believe the setting should already be programmed in; I don’t really much care for the game changing from morning to night while I run across the mountains; it feels more of an indicator of hurry the f—- up! While I play games I assume some areas should happen at night, either according to the story or whatever, and some happen during the day i.e. Uncharted. I also have always been for one to having the idea of the full game available at our disposal at anytime, which means I don’t’ really want to waste time in both the game and my real life, waiting for 3 days to pass so I can hatch an egg.
I almost forgot to mention about the last tidbit of time; time progression in games. I’ve always wondered do speed runs matter? Does the amount of time required for you to beat a game determine skill? Well, in my personal opinion yes and no. Yes, I can beat most games today in a weeks tops (Uncharted 3 100% 2 weeks, Sonic Generations 6 days 100%, etc.) but that doesn’t mean I’m the best at it. In fact, sometimes the numbers lie, as you can “pause” a game and the clock still goes and you could beat FFIX in under 20 hours (Excalibur 2 anyone?) but you don’t get the same enjoyment as others would, because you are rushing the story and obvious fun sidequests and stuff. I mean, it’s cool to beat a game as fast as you can, but you should enjoy it and if you beat it fast, then heck you beat it fast.
Michael Troina writes features and reviews Nintendo games for Analog Addiciton. When he’s not writing or playing games or sports, he’s out at his job at the Daily Bugle taking pictures as the web-slinger we all have come to love…either that or he’s getting sandwich saving one world at a time. Find him anywhere with this flavors.me/michaeltroina