The element of time has always been an important element in game design. From the amount of playtime you have for each session to the hours of content to using time itself to push the narrative forward, it is always present within games.
Measured time is ubiquitous in games usually in the form of the day night cycle. On the most basic level, to be able to perceive day and night within a game serves to make the game more immersive by making it more realistic or believable. This is most apparent within role playing games such as Final Fantasy 15, Skryim and Harvest Moon as this games depend on putting you into the character’s shoes to immerse yourself in the narrative.
In the main series Final Fantasy games, the creators weave the day night cycle into the game play subtly to immerse the player into the game. In most of the games, different monsters and different music plays depending on the in game time and different side quests or story elements can sometimes only be experienced or unlocked at night.
In the Harvest Moon series, the player plays as a farmer who has to revive a dilapidated forgotten farm to its former glory. Here time takes the role of days, hours months and seasons and it is extremely important to the game play, from the types of crops you can plant to when you can harvest them, to the festivals that happen every month to when you can interact with different characters. When we play the Harvest Moon, real time takes a back seat as we are fully immersed in the role of a farmer.
Besides using time to mimic the real world and creating a more compelling believable world, game designers also use time as an objective of sorts, This is apparent in games with a “countdown” timer such as dating sim games for example. Within these games, the length of time for each objective can set the tone of the game.
In the Mana Khemia series, the story takes place within a school and the game unfolds as the the character goes through the school term. Here, the character takes a classes ever week ( in game time) and key story events happen at the end of the term. Time here in weeks and semesters, create a very calming slice of life tone.
Zelda: Majora’s Mask
In Majora’s Mask, the player works within a three day cycle , where the moon will destroy the world at the end of it. The three day cycle is about 54 min real time and the player has to complete dungeons and quests and reset the timer with the ocarina of time before the 54 min is up lest the moon destroys the world and the player’s progress is lost. The 54 min timer gives the game a more tense, faster paced tone as compared to Mana Khemia.
There are very little games that revolve around the concept of experienced time but instead, games play around with experienced time as film would. In action games, such as the god of war series designers lengthen high impact scenes for example through us of slow motion and by including quick time events.
In games, edited time i usually still linear in the form of time skips where the player is suddenly thrust into the past or future . But there has been some indie games where the player is thrust into a confusing unfamiliar environment and if there are story elements revealed to us, we are unsure of its position in the time line.
Final Fantasy 8
In Final Fantasy 8, for most of the game, we take the role Squall, however at some moments within the game, we take the role of Laguna Loire instead and expereince events that take place in the past of the main storyline. Slowly however, these two paths converge.
In her story, we take the role of an investigator trying to crack an old case. We are given access to a database with videos of an interview with a suspect/potential culprit, however, the videos are not revealed to us in their proper linear order. This sets the player in a confused state, but as the player rearranges the information he i given, this confusion slowly disappears.
An interesting aspect I realised about game is the use of biological time, some games use it in the form of literal character growth to supplement the narrative where the character grows as a person. Bringing that further however, there are some games where game play is revolved around biological time.
Child of light
This truly beautiful game follows the journey of a child as she finds out the truth and comes to terms with her situation. As the character becomes more mature with time, the character also literally grows from child to adult.
Games that deal with the concept of evolution uses biological time as a gameplay mechanic where you control how the body grows.
In the game spore, you play first as a single cell organism, then grow and play as an animal and then follow its growth till it form its own civilisation.
E.V.O in search of Eden
Simlar to Spore, in E.V.O , you start out as a single cell organism and slowly choose how your organism would evolve and grow.
On a smaller scale, pet keeping games such as Digimon World 1 and Monster Rancher use biological time to create a more believable world and immerse the player as an owner.
In monster rancher, the death cycle of each monster you keep plays a very important game mechanic.
For Digimon World 1 , letting your Digimon sleep, managing it’s weight and even the number of time it poops is important in it’s growth and what form it takes in the next stage of its evolution.
Another interesting aspect games is its use of in game time. Some games, matches the in game time and time in real life. Hence the running time in game matches experienced time and when you play the game, gives the player a different experience. Or this match of in game time and real time is a game mechanic in itself.
Pokemon Sun and Moon
Starting from Pokemon Gold and Silver, with the introduction of the day night cycle, the in game time matches real time. What pokemon you can encounter depends on the what time of day you play the game.
By the 7th generation of pokemon, this has been brought further. Certain NPCs only appear at certain time frames and some pokemon can also only appear on certain days.
This match in in game time and also real time is also prominent in civilisation management games such as the Virtual Villagers series and the Animal Crossing Series.
In these games, as real time passes, even when you are not playing the game physically, your village would still grow and and change. Leave the game aside for a year and return to and you would find your town in shambles or your villagers dead.