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Default Obsidian Entertainment - MCA on Quest Time Limits

May 19th, 2012, 00:11
Chris Avellone has kicked up a short blog at Obsidian, following up on a promise to respond to a Reddit reader about quest time limits in games - such as with Fallout 1:
From a gamemaster/game designer perspective, the idea of time limits is appealing. It creates pressure, and it creates an urgency for the player that’s hard to beat.

In Fallout 1, the skill system and the plot was built around the design that you only had a certain number of days to find the water chip for your vault and then defeat the mutant army or game over. If you don’t recall that, then chances are you played it with the patch that removed that design element, as the mutant-hunting-your-Vault-down-time-limit was patched out of the game in 1.1 because of the outcry.

So I love time limits. In Fallout 1, it was appropriate because:

- It reinforced the urgency and pressure of saving your Vault.
- It reinforced the brutal nature of the world you were in.
- It made time-usage skills more risky for players to use. Sure, Doctor was helpful, but you had to be careful because it could consume a lot of time if used repeatedly.

Players reacted negatively because:

- The time limit was unforgiving.
- It prevented them from exploring areas at their leisure, which undermined the non-linearity of the game – suddenly you didn’t want to go everywhere and explore everything, because the clock was ticking.
- It couldn’t be reset/extended beyond the time limit except in a few places in the game, and only a finite number of times.

So the question becomes – if I, as a game designer, want to introduce the same level of time pressure and instill the player with a sense of urgency, what can I do?
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May 19th, 2012, 00:11
So the question becomes – if I, as a game designer, want to introduce the same level of time pressure and instill the player with a sense of urgency, what can I do?
Easy one. Make your game online dependent and charge the users for their playtime.

Glad I could help there.
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May 19th, 2012, 00:17
I don't know about others but I hate timers on quests. I can deal with it if they are either A) optional quests and not part of the main plot line or B) They are fairly short and finite quests. For example ME games did a few timed quests and those were fine.

While I like the idea of having real consequences for not finishing a quest (i.e. got to reach that town by tomorrow or the army of monsters will attack it … two years later I show up and rescue them) I also know it can remove any desire to explore, goof around or otherwise enjoy the game.

I have deadlines coming out my butt at work. I have tons of deadlines and daily/weekly chores I have to do at home. I don't want that stress and hassle in my entertainment.
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May 19th, 2012, 01:29
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May 19th, 2012, 02:17
The timer in fallout 1 gave a nice sense of pressure though. The whole 'gaming how I want without consequences' thing just weakens things in my opinion. If you hear that raiders have just kidnapped some farmers and then go off for a game month to explore instead, you really shouldn't expect those raiders to have kept their hostages alive for all that time. It's even worse in those JRPGS where the end-boss has risen his castle of doom and is about to enact his world-ending plan, and instead of worrying you're off breeding gold chocobos or gathering the elements of light so you can get the Maser Sword instead.
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May 19th, 2012, 04:00
Originally Posted by Cacheperl View Post
Easy one. Make your game online dependent and charge the users for their playtime.

Glad I could help there.
You can also die in burning flames for even suggesting that.
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May 19th, 2012, 06:58
I remember this topic coming up in a team meeting or two, and though I had nothing to do with the original concept of the time limit, I was always in favor of it. It made sense to me and instilled a harshness to the atmosphere that wouldn't have been there otherwise. That is what I think we as a team all agreed upon: this game needed to constantly demonstrate that it was set within an unforgiving environment.
Then again, I am also a huge fan of the Realms of Arkania series which would punish players mercilessly for forgetting things like blankets or eating utensils.
Perhaps it's a good thing I have gotten out of the industry. Nobody is a glutton for punishment anymore; I would have no idea how to appeal to today's gamer and still create something I'd want to play myself.
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May 19th, 2012, 08:26
Speaking frankly, unless time limits are very large and limited to certain quests, I hate them. Period. I hate them in every game, simply because I feel too much the urge to rush, otherwise it's "game over". I don't find it fun at all.
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May 19th, 2012, 17:57
I do not like time limits. One of the primary enjoyments I get from a virtual world is exploring every nook and cranny of that world, which is impossible to do under a time constraint.

So the question becomes – if I, as a game designer, want to introduce the same level of time pressure and instill the player with a sense of urgency, what can I do?

I would suspect that it would be impossible to have a level of time pressure without time itself being a factor. What I would change is not meeting the goal to equal game over or mission failed. Instead an alternate scenario would occur. For instance, in Fallout if you do dally along the way then upon your overdue arrival back at the vault, there are only a few survivors left. Cut to heartbreaking scene of vault orphan #5's dying breath saying he doesn't blame you, he knows you tried your best where if you did do it in the time allotted, the "good" ending is played.

Take Gothic 3 for another example, if it had had a time constraint - if you take too long then the orcs retake Cape Dun, requiring you to liberate it again. You could receive communications that the orc reinforcements are advancing on it so you would know that you have to act quickly.
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May 19th, 2012, 21:29
I've been wondering about the idea of a "Quest clock" as a means of pacing a game's main quest. Not a timer as such, but completing a certain number of miscellaneous quests would cause the main quest to advance to a new stage.

For example, in a main story quest you retrieve a Mystic Relic and give it to Faction Blue, thus pissing off Faction Red. You then go on your merry way exploring random dungeons and delivering letters for strangers.

But meanwhile Faction Red is gathering its strength for revenge, and once you've completed any five sidequests (maybe you advance five ranks in the Mage's Guild, or maybe you clear two dungeons and advance three ranks in the Fighter's Guild, as you like), Faction Red attacks! Now you have to deal with the next stage in the main quest.

So, not so much a time pressure with the threat of failure, but a way of both keeping a realistic sense of time and keeping the main storyline front and center while also encouraging free exploration.

Does this sound like a decent idea? And are people aware of any games that use a similar mechanic?
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May 19th, 2012, 23:45
Deus Ex HR had one time limit. Quite clever actually. Experienced RPG'ers know not to rush through a game's beginning. Which is just how I played the beginning of Deus Ex HR — ignored all the people telling me I had to hurry to save the hostages; took my time to find all the good stuff invariably hidden at the start of an RPG. Strolled to the heliport…

Arrived at the factory to find the hostages had been killed while I was piddling around at the office. Heh.

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May 20th, 2012, 00:46
Well, timelimits are fine if they are clearly communicated to the player, and do not dominate the gaming experience. I want to play a game, not have to work at some other deadline. I have plenty of that at work.

On the other hand it strongly depends on the player. Some whant to follow the story, some want to explore. If you have an open world to explore, why prevent people from doing just that? If you really want to implant some sense of urgency, by all gods try to do that by plot/story methods. If the player feels the atmosphere, and is included in the story, he'll automatically feel the urgency, even if there is no hardcoded timelimit.

The same goes for things like forcing players to have their characters eat. Thats actually just another type of time limit. Look at Legend of Grimrock. Of course its not too restrictive, compared to even worse examples, but what is that really adding to the experience? Not much.
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May 20th, 2012, 01:16
I like timers on things like dialogue (like in Alpha Protocol & the Walking Dead game). Those are fine. They add urgency and (at least in those two games) what you choose actually has an effect on the game world outside of that one quest/dialogue.

But for the main overarching quest of the game, as in Fallout? Screw that. Annoying as hell. Individual timed quests fine…the whole friggin game…not so fine.
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May 20th, 2012, 01:19
Time limits are fine if they are logical. IN BG1, there is a time limit of x number of days before your party dies? I think since they've been poisoned. In BG2, I've always wanted why I had so much time to get Youshimo and Jaheira to the places they needed to be. In BG1, if you don't get to Nashkell soon enough, Jaheira and Khalid will leave your party.

Also, in both of the DA games, including the expansions, I like the fact that party members do die - and stay dead (mostly) - and they leave if too much time is taken or they don't like you enough etc.

In the ME3 game, certain missions will fail you, if you don't do them quickly enough e.g. getting a quest that says 'ambassador's xyz's son has been taking hostage. You'll need to save him quickly'. A quest like this requires you to act immediately to resolve the situation, taking too long should result in a bad ending…

in a good way, I mean…
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May 20th, 2012, 12:56
Sometimes you can get a quest without being ready (in regards to equipment and level) to solve it, which is an obvious problem for time limited side quests. Especially if you like to explore somewhat outside the range intended by the game designers. In this case, not being able to save the village, hostages etc. can cause some frustration.

If this is considered by the designers, e.g. by level scaling or strict limits on exploration, I guess I am perfectly fine with time limits on side quests, though the question arises whether this is worth the design limitations it necessitates. A time limit on the main quest, however, especially when prioritising it means that you loose out on a large part of the game's content, is in my opinion way too annoying to make it worth the additional tension. I do not have the time and patience to play a game multiple times over.
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May 20th, 2012, 17:02
I think they have their place, but it has to be something considered very carefully before one implements it of course. Those kinds of restrictions will turn a lot of people off, like the time limit in Fallout or the spirit eater mechanic in Mask of the Betrayer.

For Fallout, I thought the time limit fit in well. And I also think it focused the game, which is good because Fallout 1 isn't all that big and doesn't have enormous amounts of content to experience anyway.
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May 21st, 2012, 03:01
Originally Posted by aries100 View Post
Also, in both of the DA games, including the expansions, I like the fact that party members do die - and stay dead (mostly) - and they leave if too much time is taken or they don't like you enough etc.
And BG2 doesn't? I don't see how DA did any better in terms of people staying dead.
#1 Straight after combat they just get right back up even if they were *dead*
#2 Anders dying right at the end of the game doesn't really count (hello, we've got like 30mins more of gameplay left?)
#3 I don't see how people leaving your party in DA2 any special because Anders comes back to blow up Chantry anyway + people can leave your party permanently in other games too, depending on your actions.
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May 21st, 2012, 12:41
Even I don't like timed quests, despite going through games quite fast. I just don't need any additional incentive for doing a quest or exploring a region - the region or the quest itself should be more than enough to get me to do it as soon as possible.
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May 21st, 2012, 15:59
I like in game consequences for taking too long. "QUEST FAILED" is really "DEVELOPER COULDNT COME UP WITH ANYTHING BETTER". If you don't complete an objective in a timely fashion it should alter things without being a "screw it, I'm just going to reload" moment.
Didn't make it to the Castle in time to ?whatever? Well now you have to rush to a deep dark dungeon and you'll have another chance to ?whatever?.
Altering rewards for timed completion works too. Or, god forbid, we could even fork the entire plot (or subplot).
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May 21st, 2012, 17:43
The timer on the "main" quest in Fallout 1 did not prevent you from exploring the whole game because once you had restored the water to the vault you could then take your sweet time and spend in-game years if your wanted poking around the wilderness. And 100 days was a very long limit given how short Fallout 1 was anyway. I never hit the limit on any time I played FO1 and while not a "must open every container" guy I do tend to look most everywhere.
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