Game Mechanics: How Time Constraints Drive Power and Purpose

Time is a great motivator

Game Mechanics: How Time Constraints Drive Power and Purpose
Source: CBR


Ever felt like the game you're playing just isn't hitting the excitement mark, or the whole gaming experience seems a bit incomplete, leaving you less engaged?

If you're feeling like that, it's probably because it doesn't have the right limitations.

"Limitations? Why would I want limitations in my game?"

Well, think about the games you love. Everyone loves Majora's Mask, right?

In that game, the clock is ticking with a three-day cycle, pushing you to finish quests before the impending doom arrives. It's intense decision-making time.

Could Majora's Mask maintain its excitement without the constraint? Maybe, but for distinct reasons. It would be an entirely different experience.

Ultimately, time is a significant driving force in our real lives. This is mirrored in the game, forcing players to make decisions they otherwise might not.

So on the face of it, players may resist constraints, but it swiftly becomes evident that they're fundamental to effective game design principles.

To put it more succinctly, "Given the opportunity, players will optimize the fun out of a game."

Majora's Mask Is A Masterpiece Of Existential Horror
Majora's Mask. Unsurprisingly, a fantastic example of game design. Source: Nintendo
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The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask follows Link's quest to save the world in three days, each lasting around 15 minutes in real-time. The impending apocalypse creates urgency, forcing players to strategically manage time, events, and quests. Time becomes a critical constraint, shaping the game's narrative, challenges, and player decisions.

How about a more recent title, such as Stardew Valley?

What time limitations are ingrained in the game's loop, considering it's renowned as one of the most calming experiences around? And isn't that at odds with Stardew Valley's relaxing experience? Wouldn't constraints add a degree of stress in a world full of farming, fishing and foraging?

Not really.

It just means the player has to be more conscious of what they feel is a priority. Events, for example, are scattered all over, tempting you to jump in. This requires the player to stay up later than normal, which comes with its risks.

Changing seasons affect your crops, meaning you can't just plant whatever you want when you want, adding a layer of strategy to your farming adventures.

What is your favorite season in Stardew Valley and why? : r/StardewValley
Seasons are used as a constraint, but it never feels overbearing. Source: Reddit

Opting for an early bedtime speeds up processes in kegs, casks, and preserves jars. However, it might result in missing in-game events like heart events or special occasions such as the Dance of the Moonlight Jellies.

"At in-game 12 am, your player will become tired. If you are still out of your home at 2 am, you will stop whatever you are doing and fall asleep" - stardewvalley.fandom.com

Many well-known games, like Minecraft's creative mode, don't have constraints.

In creative mode, players have limitless freedom without worries about time or resources. This lack of limitation lets players be incredibly creative and build their virtual worlds without any restrictions, making the gaming experience truly boundless.

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In Minecraft Creative mode, players have boundless resources and no threats, allowing unlimited building and exploration. It's chosen for unrestricted creativity and stress-free gameplay, appealing to imaginative minds.

But this specific instance feels more like an exception to the rule. Creative mode is exactly that, creativity at the cost of constraints. Ironically, plenty of Minecraft YouTubers play creative mode while imposing their own set of constraints in the name of viewer entertainment.

Mikey vs JJ's Security House Battle in Minecraft! - YouTube
Popular YouTubers Mikey and JJ create entertaining scenarios in Minecraft.

They give themselves limited time to carry out tasks, ensuring an element of drama to keep people captivated.

Under constraints, decisions matter.

No one can do it all, and tasks nearby become more valuable. Tasks further out, well, they become riskier.

Decisions, decisions.

Tackle a big event with a hefty reward or go for many smaller ones? All because of one constraint: time. So think about that the next time you pop in your favourite game, or seriously level up your gaming experience by introducing your constraints.

But be quick, we don't have much time.