- On Neverwinter Nights
- Next Generation
Another one of those details that sometimes goes unnoticed is how time is handled in games. At the most basic level, time is a necessary part of the flow of a lot of games. There's often some temporal component to games. I have seen time being used in a lot of interesting ways, from the obvious to the more subtle. Possibly one of the more interesting uses I've seen is the use of time as a balancing factor in turn-based “builder” type games. The use of time in this case meshes with the use of currencies and other limiters to bring some strategy to one's choices, but also to encourage (but not “require) monetization. In my case, they've been unsuccessful in the latter, but I can certainly see the appeal.
In a game world like Layonara, beyond the more mechanical uses of time for things like spell effect durations, cool-downs and the like, time is a critical part of our environment in the form of a day/night cycle. Many games RPG-style games (whether single-player or online/multi-player) don't ever really bother with the day/night cycle, or they use it as a plot device. Some games take place entirely at night simply for the mood of it all. Some games just assume daytime or some ambiguous level of illumination, perhaps never even seeing the sky.
For Layonara, day and night are another part of the immersion, and thus, the representation of time is pretty important. Anyone who has played in the NWN-based incarnation of Layonara knows that time passes pretty fast. In some ways, ridiculously fast. A game year passes in just over three weeks. Characters would age rapidly if we really tracked that sort of thing and the time between events is sometimes measured in months or years even though very little time has passed in real life.
There's a challenge in balancing the want to have a day/night cycle as part of the game experience and to do so in a way that people actually experience it but also that they do not always see the same part of day (or night) every time and that this cycle, and therefore time in general, does not pass too quickly or too slowly.
In NWN, the time compression rate is 15:1, which is to say 15 game seconds pass for every one second in real life, as it applies to the game's calendar, so that one Layonara game day passes in 1 hour and 36 minutes of real time. Likewise, a 24-hour period in real-life sees the passage of 15 days of game time. Obviously this is pretty rapid. With the new game, we'll have the freedom to set any rate of time we wish. We could make it move faster, though this is extremely unlikely. It is more likely that time will move significantly slower than it does now, while still making it a perceptible and relevant part of the gaming experience.
Also unlikely is the possibility that we will have game time pass at the same rate as real time, and it is even less likely that we will have game time pass more slowly, but again, all of these are possible.
While we haven't fixed on a specific rate yet, one particular rate we're considering is a compression ratio of about 5:1. This would mean that a single game-day would pass in about 5 hours. Since the march of game-days would be slightly askew from the march of real-world days, the day/night cycle at any given point in a day would be slightly different for someone who logged in at the same time each day. For people who track such things (and we just might!), characters would age more slowly. Game-time between events would pass more slowly. The march of world events could take place on a time scale that felt more natural to players and which is more manageable on the other side of the screen. Wars would not take decades to fight. News of impending invasions would not come years in advance.
Except for the fact that 5 does not fit evenly into 24, the 5:1 compression rate for time is, at this point, an easy but otherwise arbitrary number. In truth, it could be 3.73298:1 if we really wanted it to be. While it would be nice to have convenient, whole numbers to use for calculations, what really matters is how it all “feels”.
As a matter of some irony, I wrote the bulk of this a few weeks ago, intending to review it and tweak it some before posting. Since then, I've experienced my own sort of time compression, in the form of having far, far too much to do in the amount of time I have. Several "real-life" work projects decided they needed to overlap instead of run in series, so my free time has been seriously curtailed.