Friday, July 05, 2013

Ingrained Time Delays

I've played a couple of games recently that have what I'm calling ingrained time delays. By this I mean the game has one or more resources that are accumulated primarily by waiting around for them to build up over time. In one case the entire game genre seems to depend heavily on the mechanic. In the other case the mechanic is the sole reason I stopped playing the game. Do I hate the mechanic innately, or do I just hate some implementations of it?

The first game was A Dark Room, where you accumulate wood in particular by either waiting around for it to build up over time or by clicking a single button once per minute to get a lump sum. Practically every other resource in the game works the same way, and you need to divert your workers from generating wood over time to generating fur over time, or turning fur into leather over time, or any of a dozen other options. The mechanic in this game serves as a potentially interesting decision. Do you want more wood (which you can invest into more houses which will let you generate more stuff in the future) or do you want other stuff immediately at the cost of long term stuff? But maybe getting together enough leather to build a suit of armor sooner will let you go on better adventures which will result in more long term stuff too?

It's a little like Civ in a way, in that you have limited resources you can bring in and you need to assign how to acquire them. The difference in Civ is you need to make a decision which determines how much stuff you actually get. In A Dark Room you can just leave the game running in the background while you play League of Legends all day and come back to find an incredible stockpile of resources. The mechanic only provides interesting decisions if you play it in real time. Which has made me wonder about if I made such a game myself if I would have to find a way to implement some sort of activity check to prevent offline farming?

The other game was Plants vs Zombies Adventures, where you build buildings which accumulate gold over time. You spend that gold to buy seeds which you need to plant. Wait a minute, or 10 minutes, or 6 hours, or whatever it takes for that specific seed to grow into a plant. Then you can use those plants as consumables to play the actual tower defence game. Unfortunately I wouldn't say you have interesting decisions at all here. Money isn't used to build the buildings that make money; that uses a different currency entirely. You use money just to buy seeds. So there is no tension surrounding what you're spending money on. You can only grow a limited number of plants at a time so there is a decision there, but it isn't much of one. Because you can only actually use 5 of any plant on a given map and can only bring in 4 types of plants you don't really have a choice. Plant the stuff you'll bring into a fight and that you have a low supply.

Worse than the lack of interesting decisions there's also the cynical part of me that wants to know why this restriction exists. A Dark Room has the restriction to force choices on you. But I rarely found myself just waiting for wood to generate. There were lots of things to look at, and think about. The minute cooldown on the button was short enough that it kept me distracted enough. PvZA on the other hand feels like it has the restriction solely to annoy the player into spending money. The restrictions can be removed by spending real money in order to get more currency, or more plants, or better plants. PvZA is not built so you always have things to think about while waiting. No, instead it encourages you to visit your friends and see what stuff they have in their towns. You know, to see that they're so far ahead of you because they spent money to knock out some of these arbitrary restrictions.

Am I against time delays? No, I don't think I am. Not on principle. Some delays feel like they make sense and are integral to the gameplay. Others feel like I'm playing an explicitly crippled game in order to trick me into shelling out cash. Which makes me frustrated and angry. Because I know how easy it would be for me to just pay the money they want without realizing what I'm doing. I get addicted to things easily. I'm not against paying for games at all (as my skin collection in LoL will testify) but I am against being tricked into paying for games. The time delays in PvZA feel like a trick, not something needed for the game to work properly.

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