Quite some time have passed since the birth of RP video games, and we have seen innovation after innovation deepen the immersion and revitalize not just a game genre but also a culture. The introduction of 3D did a lot to the first-person branch of RPGs for example, and the obvious demonstration would be the Elder Scrolls series. The advancement of internet also did a lot to RPGs which by nature is based on gameplay including several players, if you consider their origins, and today we have a genre called MMORPG.
I have always thought of the element and mechanics of time's passage as one of these things that could really revolutionize, or at least explore a very neglected aspect of gaming in general and worldbuilding specifically. I mean, today we can explore a sprawling and ever-so-detailed world with grass swaying in the wind and NPCs going about their daily tasks and talking to each other. But it's still like you're walking around in a world frozen in a time stasis. Nothing happens until you show up. If you can play for months or even years in-game why wouldn't you be able to see the seasons go by?
I'm talking about using time as something more than just a decorative day and night cycle, or as simple quest requisites, as in "meet me here tonight". I'm talking about having the passage of time being an integral part of the game world and how things in it functions. It would be a difficult task to implement in a game like Skyrim for example, considering the massive, open, and minutely detailed 3D world it has, as regards to the pure amount of data it would require. But take something like what Project Eternity wants to create, and you can at least start to see ways of actually doing this.
So, let's take some basic aspects of RPG gameplay and expose them to the element of time and see what happens.
Items and keeping inventory
Items and the use of an inventory is elementary in RPGs, but since most of the things in an RPG inventory are probably made out of metal, paper, cloth and so on, there's really not much gong on in there. But let's say food and drink are important things for the wellbeing of a character, just like in pen-and-paper RPGs and many other games. So if food and drink are made important, you could actually have drinks going stale, bread molding, and meat rotting and becoming poisonous. Perhaps it would be wise to throw out old food if you don't want rot to spread to the other foodstuffs in your inventory. But then again, there's potions and healing...
Potions and healing are the natural enemy of food and drink. Why go through all the pain of enabling players to satiate their hunger and thirst, and doing so to recover and maintain health, when you're just a couple of pots or hand movements away from full health at any moment? If food and drink is to be implemented it will compete with potions and healing since they all share the same use, namely that of keeping you healthy. Now, if everyone knew how to heal, then even potions would be superfluous, but not everyone does, and usually the healing is limited to X uses per day or something like that. If you think about it, potions and healing are almost exclusively used during combat, because that's where you often need to regain vast amounts of health in a matter of seconds. We all know only magic and futuristic auto-injectors are capable of doing this, not apple pies and dried meat. So that's out of the question. But what we do know is that a man's gotta eat and drink at some point, and hopefully not just to squeeze the local going-ons out of some poor tavern patron.
What if potions actually were a rare and perhaps expensive commodity, I mean, where are all the factories supplying this ridiculous amount of potions at these prizes located anyway? If food and drink were to be made useful it would mean you somehow lost health or otherwise suffered outside of battle. I know there's a lot of people who would oppose themselves to that, believing the world outside of battle to be the safest place of all, and perhaps it aught to be in world where the urgency of time only is applied to battle, but as soon as you introduce time to the world as a whole I believe you should be able to feel it and act upon it, even outside of battle.
Maybe your max health decreases if you don't eat and drink, or you become more vulnerable to some things (like poison and disease), less resistant to magic, or less efficient with your skills. Perhaps then players would feel inclined towards only using their few and valuable potions and heals when they really need them, during battle that is, and making room for the gastronomical adventure while making camp or as a non-contrived way of meeting and agreeing to help strangers at taverns.
World and travel
I've always wondered why some games have elaborate calendars with fancy names and mythology and the only purpose it seams to serve is to organize your saved games. Why not tie all these names and mythology to things that happen in the world? Most places located in temperate regions celebrate harvesting season for example, usually there's festivities and markets. Maybe there's a tourney every year to celebrate the local king's birthday or your own heroic deeds (after completing a quest). Maybe most shops are closed a certain day of the week, or perhaps the a local elven trader leaves town a few days to celebrate the coming of spring with his kin.
There are many things going on in a town for example, many of which are daily tasks that aren't really worth plotting out in any great detail, but seeing the streets change from a sprawling social meeting place during day, to a dark, nail-biting gauntlet by night is something a lot of games have done before and with good results. Besides these area-specific events taking place you can have people moving about between towns and villages, like merchants or a traveling circus for example.
Having different modes of transportation is also something that will make the game more interesting when you add the element of time. Will you make it in time to wherever you need to be if you just travel by foot, or will you need to buy horses or hire a carriage?
How is it that no matter how mundane or urgent a task it is, an NPC will accept no help but yours? What I'm proposing here hasn't been done in any RPGs, at least to my knowledge. To actually turn quests into their own processes of events, and if you want them to take certain path you need to intervene, and if you don't, they' will "solve themselves".
Quests of the type "find the cure..." will likely only have one consequence if left undone, assuming you're the only one able to solve it. But let's say the quest is saving a merchant's daughter who have been kidnapped by bandits instead. If you never show up to take the quest, the quest will start solving itself after a while. Perhaps the merchant hires someone else to do the job, and maybe you run into this person by chance in the wilderness and he asks if you want to join in on the reward, allowing you to still pick the quest up. Perhaps you never meet the hired sword on his quest and maybe he fails, but you run into the bandits much later, and if you talk to them instead of fighting them you discover one of them was once a merchant's daughter who actually ran away from her overbearing father.
Other quests might evolve in more complex ways, not always random, and you are able to intercept the quest anywhere as it travels along its' timeline and hopefully completing it, with different outcomes depending on where. This means you can't pick up every quest in the game in only one playthrough, at least not from their start, since you can't be everywhere simultaneously. Perhaps you have to make though choices based on that fact. Your choices, and at what time you make them, will have a profound effect on the story and the gaming experience of each playthrough. The replayability that implementation of time offers is immense.
I'm not sure how far this project has gone and if this kind of input is "too late" so to speak, but it might still offer some food for thought.
Edited by AutoReiv, 16 September 2012 - 01:00 AM.