Dev Update #2 – Making Players Wait – Using Pseudo-Real-Time in Games

The game design document for Game Tower is coming along wonderfully, 25 pages and counting. So far I am sticking to my goal to not write a single line of code before it is finished. It takes quite some discipline, but I know it will pay off.

There is another principle from a popular game that I want to adopt: Pseudo-Real-Time. A few years ago I played a lot of Mafia Wars and I really liked the real-time idea. If you don’t know the game, it basically means that when you go on a mission that takes 15 minutes to complete, you would not be able to do any other missions in the game for the next real-life 15 minutes. You could close the game and go have a coffee.

A woman checks her alarm, which reminds her to check in on her game.This principle makes Mafia Wars a perfect game to play ‘in between’, whenever you have a few minutes to check in. It made me come back to the game again and again to manage my mafia empire. Tiny Tower does something similar when building new floors and stocking products. Even in Kapi Hospital it can take your virtual doctors hours to treat a patient with a difficult disease. And during that time there is usually very little for you to do inside the game.

Don’t make players wait
Doing things in real-time inside a game seems counter-intuitive at first glance. Essentially it means making the player wait for the game. And who would want to make their players wait? Players get upset when the loading screen takes to long, and for good reason. Waiting is not fun.

For most games using real-time would indeed be a really bad design decision. Imagine playing Call of Duty and as soon as you get deployed to a mission in Afghanistan, the game would make you wait for the duration of an international flight before it let’s you continue to play?

So why were Mafia Wars and Tiny Tower such great hits? Because in these games the passing of time is part of the gameplay itself.

Indulging Perfectionism
If your floors in Tiny Tower are running out of stock in the middle of the night you cannot restock them until you wake up the next morning. That is wasted time. And people hate wasting time. You don’t want you floors to be idle and do nothing. So you stock up on the faster, smaller products during the day and check in again right before you go to sleep, to start the stocking of the large and time consuming product.

If time becomes a gameplay element, it forces you to plan your steps. Make the most out of your time. It encourages you to be efficient. And being efficient is fun. My personal theory is that it caters to the perfectionist hiding inside all of us.

The idea isn’t new, either. The first game I personally remember to incorporate real-time passing as a gameplay element were those pesky Tamagotchi pets. Does anyone remember Tamagotchis?

Pseudo-Real-Time in Game Tower
I want to use the passing of time in my game as well. My idea is that the different floors in the tower all work in pseudo-real-time. That way it would really feel like I am managing my game studio departments, by telling them which game to work on and also making sure they don’t run out of work.

I wonder if it would be interesting to have an actual display inside the game, telling the player how efficient all his floors are working at the moment.

Of course, in real life a game might take months to develop or even years (again, been there, done that, went there again, repeat). In this game I am targeting the development times to be somewhere from 45 minutes to 3 days, depending on the level.
Like I said, Pseudo-Real-Time.

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