Time passing is something most games don’t worry about - either the PC is only there for a short time, so the day doesn’t need to change, or there are cut-scenes that take care of the changing time. However, if a game implements things like food, drink, and especially sleep, there needs to be some sense of time passing - day to night, etc.
In my current experiment, turns last about 5 minutes “real life time”, except for moving, which takes up to 2 hours depending on what transport you use and what land you are traveling on. You have to eat at least once every 3 days, drink at least once a day, and sleep at least once every two days to keep from dying and/or going insane.
Those number sounded good, until I realized that someone may take over 800 turns without starving, or over 300 turns without needing a drink. My game may just be winnable in less time than that, which effectively means players could go without eating, drinking, or sleeping for the entire game… bit of a bummer, since I put all this time into that.
So, what would you consider a good number of turns for a player to go without food, water, or sleep?
This is really an issue of what you want your game to be about. Ideally, the things that the player will spend most attention on, the things that take up most of their energy, should be the stuff that you want the game to be about.
If you write a game that includes strong mechanics about basic life-sustaining functions, much of the player’s energy and attention will be directed towards that. For many or most stories, this is going to be a bad thing. Think of some good stories. How many of them describe every meal, bath, toilet break and naptime of the protagonist? If they do, what does this accomplish?
I can imagine exceptions. If you were writing about a story about surviving through a famine, for instance, attention to getting food and how often you needed to eat would be really significant. But even in that kind of situation, a hard rule describing how often you need to eat is likely to be a bad idea, unless the world is modelled in a very simulationist way and the ways in which the player can acquire food are extremely open. (Doing this will make the game a lot harder to write.) Usually it’d be better to set up each food puzzle as its own set-piece, rather than governed by a regular mechanic.
Why? You seem to be meaning ‘implement food’ as ‘implement food in a manner that simulates the real-life functions of food,’ but with a particular focus. You’re not worrying about, say, implementing a nutrition system that penalises the player if they don’t get all their vitamins, or a taste system that means that the flavour of an apple is described differently if you’ve just brushed your teeth. Why is the possibility of the player starving more important than those things?
In this game, there are two puzzle categories: solving a mystery, and surviving a desert. Surviving isn’t terribly hard when you don’t need to worry about resources… though, I may make sleep a “find shelter from the nightly desert storm”, instead, and drop food entirely, or at least make it merely annoying, rather than deadly.
The map for this game is very, very, very large - upwards of 2,000 rooms. Most of them are either empty desert or otherwise useless, but that’s part of the survival - learning what parts of the map are useful, and what parts aren’t. The ‘mystery’ is really only incidental, there to give the player the ability to win…
If your game is specifically about managing things like food, water, and sleep … If that’s the actual topic … if the title is like “A Game About Managing Food, Water and Sleep, What Fucking Joy,” then it depends if your goal is realism or some kind of genre-flavor evocation. If the former, stick with realistic values, obviously, and scale the game-time to fit. If the latter, go with whatever is the most challenging, appropriately evocative, and fun.
If these are incidental management details unrelated to what the game is about, pause to consider how much fun they are. If they’re not meant to be fun, consider hitting yourself with something. Nothing lethal, obviously, but something that hurts.
I don’t mean to rain on your parade, but “upwards of 2,000 rooms” does not seem like a game a lot of people will want to play. If I can walk north for 30 times without the room description changing significantly, without anything happening, I will not be thinking: “Wow, what a cool game, this vast desert is really implemented quite realistically.” but rather “Let’s play something else. This is ridiculously underimplemented.”
What players (generally) want from IF, puzzle- or story-based, is for something to happen. While boredom, frustration (with endless treks across the countryside or through a desert, for example) etc. can be part of the story, you want to make sure that they happen to the player character rather than the player.
I would try to describe the desert as vast rather for it to actually be vast. Make finding that oasis or watering hole depend on finding a map of the region or talking to someone, maybe. Make the game a series of scenes strung together by cut-scenes of travelling.
Uh oh. Please don’t do that – the mostly empty rooms. Seriously. You will get caustic reviews and probably personally hateful emails about the need to map, the wasted space, and the off-the-charts annoyance factor. And the mystery being incidental is just salt in the wounds.
I’m going to swim against the grain a bit here and offer some mild encouragement – new styles of play can be interesting if you’re aware that what you’re doing is something completely different from the usual IF style of play, and if you tailor it so it can be fun. If you have a game where you have to spend a lot of time going from A to B to get the widget that you need to solve the puzzle in point B, it’s very annoying if on top of everything else you can starve to death if you don’t take the shortest route. But if the whole point is figuring out how not to starve, that might be interesting. New styles of IF play are good! (For an example, check out Kerkerkruip; Victor decided to make a game about randomized combat and made it work.)
But you have to do it in a way that’s interesting. That doesn’t mean using typical IF-style puzzles, but it means giving the player something to do. In particular, give the player some way to figure out how to learn what parts of the map are useful. It sounds like your game will probably involve some trying and dying, but for heaven’s sake don’t make the player learn which parts of the map are useful by going east, finding nothing, dying, and saying “Welp, east isn’t useful.”
You might want to look at Hunter, In Darkness and Gator-On, Friend to Wetlands. HiD has a section with an enormous maze that gives you a hint as to how to get through it. This is successful. Gator-On has a ton of empty rooms with unvarying descriptions, designed to set up a couple of puzzles about finding things in a large space. This is unsuccessful (partly because you eventually have to either memorize a location or wander around anyway). It’s worth thinking about the differences. One moral, I think, is that the useless rooms shouldn’t be useless; they should give you hints about the useful ones. (“You can see a cactus off to the northwest” whenever the cactus is to the northwest; that sort of thing.)
Sheer numbers aren’t going to impress anyone; here (scroll way down to the comments) Jimmy Maher mentions Level 9 advertising a game with 1000 rooms, “at least 950 of which are completely empty clones of each other.” No one wants that. If you’re going to make the player play for 800 turns, make sure there’s something interesting to do for 800 turns. That would probably mean some sort of system that they need to master to make good use of their resources, as in a roguelike.
Filling the rooms with stuff is part of the goal of this experiment; I want to create a huge, believable world, just as full of secrets as the real world, yet completely randomized. When I say “mostly empty”, I really mean “mostly empty of plot-moving devices” - every room will be fully described, with lots of random plants, traveling animals, and other interesting things. I do agree with the “endless number of useless rooms”… but, on the other hand, I have a game mechanism just waiting for a game, and I’m trying to find the best way of using it.
Thanks for the thoughts, though; this looks like it may be a project that will need a lot of work before it’s worth considering. Still, that’s the fun part, eh?
I’d look at some existing games that model exploratory, outdoor environments. The Cove has a very small map with very rich detail; The Fire Tower has a larger map, but still quite a lot of detail and environmental effects. Blue Lacuna is a very large game with an environment that changes over time (night and day, weather, tides).
One of the things you’ll notice from these games is that an exploratory, environmental play-style is in direct conflict with timed management puzzles. If you’ve gone to the trouble of putting in all this detail, the player will be frustrated that they don’t have time to stop and look at it. If you’re randomly generating most of the environment, there’s a risk that the player will resort to mechanical play (explore the whole grid in a pattern, examine every tree to check whether it has fruit on it), which is inherently really boring.
All this is sort of hypothetical, of course, without knowing how precisely you’d approach it. But I would definitely make sure to send an early version of this game to some alpha-testers. Otherwise you’re likely commit a metric fuckton of work to the project, realise that there’s a major design problem, then having to choose between throwing a significant chunk of that work away or leaving the problem in place.
This game (as are the other dozen games I’ve started but never finished) is a grand experiment, to see what I can do, and what will work. Right now, it’s little more than that… very interesting to me as a concept, but dead boring to everyone else.
My thought process for this went mostly like this:
First, I built an auto-generating map. Once the map itself could be made on the fly, I could make it as large as I wanted - 50x50 means 2500 rooms.
That many rooms needs a map, which the PC picks up early on; it shows his location, and a general view of the world.
Once I had rooms, I added plants, animals, etc., and had those auto-populate as well.
With a world that large, you want changing scenery, so I added time; now the day changes from morning, to afternoon, to evening, to night, with appropriate changes in descriptions for the various land types and animal behavior (ok, so the animals aren’t completely working).
With night and day, I’d think the PC should sleep; with deserts to walk through, the PC should probably carry water, too; and as long as you’re drinking and sleeping, food might as well work in there somewhere.
I am toying with the idea of a rogue-like, but at this point, nothing is set in stone. I don’t mind doing a huge amount of work, only to throw away 90% of it as a loss, as long as I come up with a good game in the end.
This sounds like the sort of thing that would be fun to program, at least.
I’d be a little cautious about thinking “If I have time passing, I should include sleep, food, and water.” At least including them as puzzles. As maga says, if you want people to look at your big world, you shouldn’t make them worry about managing their hunger, sleep, and thirst. Time-management puzzles basically punish people for exploring.
That’s not to say that you can’t put eating, drinking, and sleeping into the world as a way of marking the passage of time. But if I were doing it, I’d automate it; give the player a bottomless water flask that they automatically drink out of every so often (or stick their knife into a cactus, if that works), have them catch something to eat when they’re hungry, have them bed down at night in the sleeping bag they carry with them. That way, these things become part of the atmosphere instead of interfering with it. As Ghalev says, if this isn’t the point of your game, make it fun; and it’ll probably be more fun if it’s automatic instead of being a puzzle that could wipe out your progress.
Or you could go roguelike-like and really make it a focus of the gameplay. But then it takes a lot of work to make it not annoying.
If there is a type of game for which it is absolutely appropriate to have a lot of resource-management puzzles, it is a game about surviving in a desert. In fact, I can’t imagine that you could make such a game that makes any sense without resource-management puzzles. I realise that resource-management has been overused where it detracted from the story, but let’s not knee-jerk the baby out with the bathwater. If you want the player to feel like they are in an inhospitable environment that is unlikely to sustain life, resource-management puzzles are definitely the way to go.
Ahem. (Link is a spoiler; don’t click on it if you don’t already know where it goes.)
Still, you make an excellent point. Just because resource-management is annoying when it gets in the way of the story, doesn’t mean that we should dismiss it out of hand where it could create a great new focus of the story. Maybe a good thing to do would be to have non-management parts of the game be rewards rather than extra puzzles; if you survive to location X, you find out something more (without having to solve a lock-and-key puzzle there), and if you do that enough, you know what happened. Which I think might have been ArmanX’s original vision, even.
Adding: And then, back to the original question, the appropriate turn limits for the timers wouldn’t be based on realism, they’d be based on what makes good gameplay.
Heh. I had a feeling someone would mention that one. I am generalising, of course. If I wanted to avoid having to make an exception for it, though, I could do so by pointing out that it may not qualify as being about ‘surviving’, nor as ‘making sense’ (tongue in cheek that: the game you linked to is one of my favourite games but achieving a realistic-feeling environment is not really what it did for me nor what it set out to do).
I like the purity of that. But it also might work if when I reach such an ‘oasis’, I can work on other kinds of puzzles with less worry about the resources for a while. One way to do this would be to play at different timescales – when I am in the desert time passes much more quickly, thereby bringing resource issues much more to the fore. On the oasis I can relax a bit – this would echo reality and keep the different gameplay strategies from crosstalking against each other (although the entire basis of my WIP is to offer a set of different gameplay strategies that all DO crosstalk against each other, so I believe any rule can be broken really when done to enhance the emotions of the story).
EDITED TO ADD: Like you, I seem to have reiterated some of the OP’s ideas – so it sounds like they might fly, for my tastes anyway. Good luck with it, ArmanX!
I prefer to say that in the entire range of things that can be considered plausible, choose the part of that spectrum that provides the best gameplay. Or alternatively, choose the part of the ‘good gameplay’ spectrum that qualifies best as realistic – they are two ways of saying the same thing.
EDIT: Remove possibly spoilery references to the title of a game.
Well, the concern I have with that is that, if you’re playing because you find the oasis puzzles interesting, it’s very annoying when you keep dying on the way from one to the next. Like some Flash games that are almost all logic puzzles but have some reflex challenges in the middle; it’s so annoying when you don’t get to do the next puzzle because you can’t hit the keys fast enough. Or vice versa, I suppose. Not to say this couldn’t work; I guess my preference would be to keep the oasis puzzles simple (and definitely self-contained; having to backtrack would be way annoying.
But yes, I think we’re in sync. Good luck, ArmanX!
You raise a very important issue. I think of this as more a question of tone. I feel that the problem with your example is not that there are two interlocking strategies, but that the two strategies are so different in feel — it’s like making a tearjerker drama interspersed with standup comedy scenes. (BTW I think Tom Hanks/Sally Fields movie Punchline was exactly this, and ironically it was excellent – but hopefully it is obvious how this combo could be awful in a similar way in my mind to some of these Flash experiments you mention.)