Timed aesthetics

This is part of a dilemma regarding timed text that is another topic altogether, I promise, since it adds a dilemma to the obvious “waiting too long” dislike if timed text. The question itself is this:

When playing a game with timed text, would you rather too much or too little time? With this, be aware that when new text appears it does not flow, it skips, so it is difficult to refind positions.

For me, this is a real dilemma, because ignoring the fact that for machine limitation reasons (and also to my relief) you can simply press any key to continue, there are two problems:

  1. On the more-time team, you don’t want to have this skipping text (obviously) while you’re reading, if you are a slow reader.
  2. On the the less-time team, you don’t want to have to be boringly waiting for so long, as is the usual complaint with timed text.

The only way timed text can work is if the player has direct, immediate control over the display rate. Mainstream RPGs figured this out a long time ago. If text is being printed slowly, there’s a button you can press to pop the whole line up without waiting, and usually a text-speed preference in the settings menu.

I’ve played plenty of games spamming the text-pop button with my thumb. It feels a little silly but it’s playable at my reading speed.

You need a bit of design work to make sure the player doesn’t accidentally skip text (without reading it), but this almost never happens to me so someone must have figured it out.


So far it’s pretty much that, with a command to toggle the very regular key presses on and off. That’s good, then.


Yeah, as a player I can confirm that. That’s very important for me. So important that I would give up a game early if I’m forced to wait too long.

Off course one solution would be to not use timed text at all. But you probably have some good design reasons to use timed text.


I have HATED timed text in every single game I’ve ever encountered, except one, which was this year’s Dysfluent. That was OK, no matter how slow it was, because it served a real purpose, which was to drag out the communication in the manner of the painful stutter that was the heart of the game.

I don’t want to press keys to speed up text. It bugs me, I guess because what’s the point of that? Why should I have to do that? I want the game to be seamlessly playable without me having to make decisions about stuff like that.

And because I’m immediately impatient with and hostile to timed text unless it’s very clear why it’s there, my finger will be hovering over that SKIP function and I very well might press it too fast and miss something, as zarf points out.

If there’s any cruelty in the game that ends it early for me, I won’t restart if it means dealing with with the timed text again, even with a skip function. I’d urge everyone writing choice-based games to have a LAST CHECKPOINT option (as in Good Bones: A Haunted Housewarming) that takes you right back to where you died so it’s easy to make bad decisions and not suffer for them.


I’m kinda with this viewpoint: I can see how timed text, under some rare circumstances, might be aesthetically pleasing enough to tolerate, but in general I resent it.


I’m old enough to have witnessed a newsroom with journalists huggling anxiously around a clanking 110-bps RO-33… Too young to remember exactly what shit has hit the fan (something related to the “Lead Years” ?) so having witnessed close and live the tension around slowly-incoming text, I concur that a little dose of slow text, perhaps at the opening of story, can be powerful.

Best regards from Italy,
dott. Piergiorgio.

EDIT: corrected a serious typo, whose gives the wrong speed to the glorious -33’s


Me, too.

Why do we have slow text display? In the old days, texts are drawn on screen as graphic, so it was slowly being drawn across the screen. As later, faster computers permitted, the text can be drawn instantly, thus the skip button. I’m guessing the timed text is kept for artistic reasons.

But I always prefer that the text be displayed all at once, similar to old text adventure games where there are 4 lines of text displayed on the bottom of graphical screen.

If you want delayed delivery at dramatic points, you can split the display into one line of text each. Having it as default display for all of the game gets tiring after a while. There should be a game setting option where all text is displayed without delay.

In any case, even as a speed reader, sometimes I want to slow down the text speed when some crucial info is displayed. Usually, though, no matter how fast the text is displayed, it’s too slow for my liking.

Rather than skip button, I’d like a scroll back button where I can see previous text in cases where I skipped too fast.


110 cps! That’s fast. The printers I know around that time were about 10 cps. Is that a line printer?

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Timed text to me usually indicates that the author is not confident that their text provides its own pacing.

When you read a novel, you see big and small paragraphs, punctuation, sequence of tight sentences, chapters of varying length, etc., and it all works! You can have dramatic moments on the page, because the text is designed to flow that way.

I feel like timed text gets put in a lot because people don’t trust their own writing to provide that. 'What if someone’s going fast and this line doesn’t have any impact because of it? I need to slow them down!"

But people tend to underestimate how fast people read even when something is grim or solemn. So they slow it down way too much. So like 90% of time text in games just sucks.

The other 10% of the time is when people use timed text because actually timing the text matters and it isn’t just a way to try to force dramatic emphasis. Examples where it matters are Dysfluent (mentioned above), In a Minute There is Time (you only have 60 seconds to play the game and after 60 seconds it turns off), the Little Match Girl Games that have title screens with animated sequences, like 4, etc.

So I guess timed text itself isn’t bad, it’s only bad when it serves no purpose other than trying to force the flow of the text without fixing the text itself.


As its author, I’ve gotten some grumbles about the timed text (specifically the conversations) in In a minute there is time, but you’re 100% right that there is a purpose to it that’s not trying to add impact to lines. People are talking about weird nothings, neither the words nor pacing are that important. The whole point of the timed text is to watch the seconds creep by and wait until you get to the end of the content (even though you can click out and move to a different location whenever you want).

I wanted listening to conversations, and watching people interact with each other, to feel anxiety-inducing, or even like a waste of time.

(it’s :sparkles: thematic :sparkles: )


Y’know, when I think about timed text I always instantly think of text dragging out too slowly. It never even occurred to me that In a minute there is time was a game with timed text, although I guess it is, and I loved that game and how the fast pace gave it that sense of time and opportunities slipping through my fingers, which is like the entire point of the poem it’s based on.

So I’m amending my earlier statement: I almost always hate SLOWLY timed text.

I agree with this. It says that not only does the author not trust their own writing, they don’t trust me to follow the pacing and narrative thread on my own. It violates the author-player relationship in a fundamental way.


So, if I’m correct - don’t use timed text unless there’s a real reason. Hmmm, I don’t know if my game needs it at all then.

Flowing from that, what do you guys feel about “Press any key to continue” that occurs on a fairly regular basis (every turn, unless you a actively toggle it)?


I use it all the time because it doesn’t bother me in the least as a player, although I know there are people who don’t like so much story that they need this. But Fairest did pretty well, and that has, like WALLS of text with PRESS ANY KEY at the beginning of the game and at a couple of other points. Some folks will surely bounce off it, but each to their own. That’s generally how you do a story-heavy game.

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Hanon’s personal opinions on timed text:

TL;DR: Timed text is like salt. An occasional sprinkle can be effective and unique; too much can entirely ruin the thing.


  • If you’re delaying text regularly in order to build suspense or drama, don’t do that. Stop it. It’s annoying. This is not a movie, this is read prose and people read at different speeds. If you feel the need for a dramatic pause in a description, use a comma, a period or a paragraph break.
  • Real time delay for no good reason: An NPC leaves the dinner table to get some salt. The text pauses for 90 seconds representing the time the NPC takes in the kitchen to pick up the salt. The player twiddles their thumbs because there’s nothing to do during this.


  • Once or twice in a game where there’s a significant event like a fuse for a bomb burning down; a breathless pause as the computer calculates before printing out the identity of that NPC who may be a carnivorous alien; that brief hesitation before you know if the ball is going to land inside and be caught as an out, or it clears the fence and wins the game with a home run. Ideally this moment should be brief and shouldn’t make the player roll their eyes like not again. They should register the pause but not have time to avert attention to their phone or what salad dressing they’re planning on having for lunch.
  • Real time delay for a good reason: An NPC leaves the dinner table to get some salt but he’s your nemesis and you’ve got 30 seconds to decide which part of his meal you’re going to poison. Or you’ve asked a question and the querent hesitates - you might have a chance to quickly choose one extra detail to add to convince her before she by default makes the wrong decision without that extra bit of conversational frosting.
  • An unexpected event or surprise: You see the printed out description of your crappy apartment like usual…but after 2 seconds another sentence appears “The doorbell rings!” What a surprise! That slight delay made sure you noticed there was something different about the description.

It’s almost never fun to watch text type out one letter at a time. Especially if there’s a computer-y sound clip for each character. If you’re going to reveal text that’s delayed because it’s being printed out it should always go faster than the player can read. Paragraphs fading in sequence should take less than a second. A cool 5 second transition between paragraphs is cool the first time; it should then stop or go a lot faster the next time it happens.

If your text fades out/fades in or crossfades each passage by default, it should take no more than a second 99% of the time, and a longer delay should be a break from the norm because something significant is happening.


I’ve been doing that forever! What I don’t want to do is press twice every time. Once to show all text, and once more to continue.

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I hate timed text. The only exception is when it’s used for a special effect, such as the incoming of a SHORT telegram, but even that short telegram is going to be a pain on repeated plays.

Let me give you a recent example of bad timed text. I’m currently researching original Adventure. I found an example written in BASIC on the Commodore 64. This is really slow to start with, then it printed text one character at a time. It was unplayable. After convincing myself that it did the timed text on every move, the first command I typed was QUIT.

I hate press any key. The interpreter should have its own MORE prompt when the screen fills, so you can read it at your leisure and press a key to continue. The only exception is when you have a significant change, such as clearing the screen after a long prologue or needing to refresh the gaphics after you’ve read the text.

What’s even worse is games that place press any key after every paragraph. Sometimes, pressing a key prints the next paragraph and sometimes it clears the screen before printing the next paragraph. Pain, pain, pain. This is usually done for the prologue. You might need to press any key 20 or 30 times to get through the prologue. Imagine how painful this is when you replay the game and can’t skip the unnecessarily long prologue.


I second that. Again (like timed text,), there may be exceptions, but generally don’t do it.

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I disagree. It depends on the type of game you have and the way you use it. If it’s a story-heavy game, I prefer to have a page of text up on the screen and press a key instead of scrolling. That way, you know exactly how much there is to read on that page, and a good author will use those places as dramatic pauses, natural places for a breath.

I agree that this can get irritating, but it has its place and I’ve seen it used effectively.


You’re probably thinking of choice-based games, but even there, it has many disadvantages, as you have no control over the size of the player’s screen, browser window or text size. It’s not unusual for visually-impaired players (or just people with poor eyesight) to use a large text size, then they get a screen full of text that scrolls off the screen anyway, together with press any key. That’s double the irritation.

Have you ever played an Adventuron game? Adventuron has really bad scrolling and no provision for MORE when the screen is full. A lot of text causes the screen to jiggle up and down all the time with two different types of MORE indicators. The double arrow that tells you to scroll down and the flashing cursor (for press any key). It’s downright annoying, yet some Adventuron authors love to sprinkle their game with press any key.