So a designer's job is to make jumping through hoops fun, and calibrating the challenge/frustration ratio of jumping through said hoops.
This blog post stems from a question from the AMA Brian Fargo and I did on Reddit (long ago) concerning the issues with this in regards to one infamous piece of game design: time limits, and how two different games dealt with the challenge.
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?
System Shock 2 had an elegant answer to this: It associated all the time limits with your inventory items. If you powered up an implant, it had X amount of time to function before you needed to recharge it. Here's the conditions:
- It was forgiving. When the time limit ran out, you would be inconvenienced, not fail the game.
- It could be reset. The player had some measure of control over resetting this time limit.
- Yet, it STILL created a sense of urgency while exploring the environment - the loss of item functionality was enough of an inconvenience that it made you keep an eye out for recharge stations and keep an eye on the clock for when you needed to start heading back to get recharged.
In any event, this was the answer promised on Reddit, and to @VipulManchala.