Video games that incorporate time in interesting ways
September 24, 2019 12:42 PM   Subscribe

Inspired by this XKCD comic: What are some video games that incorporate the passage of time (real-world or in-game) in interesting, unexpected, or funny ways?
posted by jedicus to Media & Arts (35 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
In the final area of Red Dead Redemption, there are a finite number of bison grazing in the plains. Hunting various species is a part of the game, and there are a unlimited number of birds, deer, elk, coyotes, wolves, mountain lions, and other animals. But once you kill the last bison, no more will respawn in that save file ever again. Their numbers--huge herds when you first encounter them!--gradually dwindle and then they're gone forever. I don't have a link but remember reading that the developers did this as an explicit acknowledgment of the bison's near extinction due to westward expansion and the general fragility of any animal population.
posted by msbrauer at 12:52 PM on September 24, 2019 [20 favorites]


Life is Strange
posted by sevensnowflakes at 12:55 PM on September 24, 2019 [9 favorites]

Samarost 2 by Amanita Designs has a weird time loop you can manipulate (no spoilers on how!)
posted by ananci at 1:08 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Hexen II had some time based puzzles. One door will only open at a particular time of day and some parts of the map can only be accessed in the distant past, which requires time travel.

But Braid, mentioned earlier, is the gold-standard for this.
posted by It's Never Lurgi at 1:10 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Time - NetHack Wiki
posted by zengargoyle at 1:22 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

In the old Macintosh game Dark Castle, the player enters the castle through a grand hallway. Normally there was a suit of armor on a pedestal, but on Christmas it became a Christmas tree.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 1:27 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Chrono Trigger
Chrono Trigger features several other distinct gameplay traits, including time travel. Players have access to seven eras of the game world's history, and past actions affect future events.
that's the limit of my game knowledge
posted by zengargoyle at 1:28 PM on September 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

SUPERHOT is a first-person shooter that's very sparely rendered, and has one rule-- when you stop moving, time stops moving. If you take your hands of the keyboard (or other controller, I imagine), time stops in the game. Thus by acting slowly, you can dodge bullets. Levels are brief and take a few minutes of your time to beat, but once you do, the player will replay your view at the game's idea of realtime, and your minutes of gameplay are compressed into seconds of action.

I know there are some games out there with a kind of world permanence, but I can't think of them just yet.
posted by Sunburnt at 1:30 PM on September 24, 2019 [8 favorites]

All the Animal Crossing games take place in real time and reward not "time traveling," or messing with the system clock. There are seasons, during which certain fish/insects can only be caught, and holidays. If you do time travel, things will happen in-game to some of your possessions. And if you put the game down for a long time, months or years, time keeps going on, and you may come back to find neighbors have moved, your house has roaches, and your town is full of weeds.
posted by fiercecupcake at 1:38 PM on September 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Castlevania II: Simon's Quest was the first game I remember playing that evoked the passage of time with day/night cycles. Towns had villagers in the daytime and monsters at night; in the wilderness areas the nighttime monsters were stronger than the daytime ones.
posted by prize bull octorok at 1:39 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

The game D is a horror/adventure game that must be completed within two hours. There are no save or pause features.

Doubtless there are other games that use similar mechanics, but when I played it in 1995 it was pretty striking to me at the time.
posted by sineala at 1:47 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]


Every 60 seconds, you die.
posted by allegedly at 1:52 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

A recent one: Outer Wilds. I won't say why though, as that's a spoiler.
posted by pipeski at 1:56 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

In Metal Gear Solid 3, there is a boss called The End, who is a legendary sniper. He's an old, old man, and the fight itself is trying to track him through a huge jungle without being seen repeatedly.

One of the ways to cheese the fight, though, is to save (which mechanically in the game is "falling asleep") and not return to the game for a week or so. If you turn it on too soon, he'll drag you to prison and chide you for sleeping on the battlefield, but if you've left the game alone long enough, it turns out he's died of old age and you can just keep going.
posted by dismas at 1:58 PM on September 24, 2019 [8 favorites]

Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time involves a device, the Chronoscepter or some such, that allows the player to roll back time in order to fix objects and solve puzzles. It also involves "time pads," which allow you to replicate yourself by "going back in time."

Never really holds together as a concept, but the gameplay is fun, and the whole game itself is about time in one way or another.
posted by Dr. Wu at 1:59 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

+1 Life is Strange (PS they have a comic out as well that carries on the original storyline!!)

Quantum Break plus an interesting game concept with live-action cinema cut scenes.

Shenmue does fascinating things with time, especially for the era of game. Shops are only open certain hours, you go home at a certain time. Much of the game is actually waiting for things to open so you can progress. Much more life-like. (Now on Xbox digital marketplace.)

Dead Rising (specifically Dead Rising 2 from what I've seen playthroughs of) has more real-time effects. You're literally timed through the game. (And even an achievement to stay alive for 24 real-time hours.)

Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time - it's in the title and everything!

Legend of Zelda Majora's Mask also critically time-based as the days get reset over and over. (I actually couldn't stand this mechanism and didn't play it.)

Endless Ocean (1&2) have time related prompts for the continuation of the story. And those games are severely underrated. So it cuts between soothing and also interesting story development based on how long you've played or where you've explored.
posted by Crystalinne at 2:22 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

400 Years
Day of the Tentacle
posted by mshrike at 2:47 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Sonic CD does this very similarly to the linked XKCD comic, with an interesting time travel mechanic where you can travel into the past or future in stages. From wikipedia:

By default, future stages depict neglect and decay after Robotnik has conquered Little Planet. Players are encouraged to convert each zone into a "good future", with bright colors, no enemies, and few obstacles. To achieve a good future in each zone, players must travel to the past—a primitive, overgrown landscape—and destroy a hidden transporter where enemy robots spawn. The third zone is always set in the future, its timeline dependent upon whether the player destroyed both transporters.
posted by sleeping bear at 3:00 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Ultima 7 (and probably other Ultimas) had day/night cycles where the NPC characters would sometimes follow relatively complex routines around town, waking up, going to their jobs, visiting with one another, going to the pub or to the local church, etc, meaning if you wanted to find them, you had to figure out what they were up to at that time of day. And while I don't think the passage of time alone had consequences, the game did have some continuity -- the player had the freedom to start fights at any time (or get caught up in them if they stole something while someone was looking), and if they mistakenly killed an important NPC, it would be a problem later -- although there might've been resurrection magic in the game.
posted by space snail at 3:02 PM on September 24, 2019

Chronomaster is all about the passage of time. Your character visits planets where time has been switched off or frozen, and carries portable time bubbles that allow him to move.
posted by Too-Ticky at 3:13 PM on September 24, 2019

In Earthbound, the way into the Fly Honey Factory is to approach its entrance behind a waterfall, and when asked to "say the password," you must put the controller down and let your party stand there for three full minutes. Only then do you get the prompt to actually go inside the dungeon.
posted by The demon that lives in the air at 3:19 PM on September 24, 2019 [2 favorites]

Bitlife kinda does this - you are born at the start of the game and then advance one year per 'turn'.

Like choose your own adventure (school/job/partner/etc) and keep aging until you die. You can respawn as 'you' again or take over as one of your kids (if you have any).
posted by Twicketface at 3:21 PM on September 24, 2019

It's already been noted, but let me clarify that Braid incorporates moving forward and backward in time explicitly as part of the dynamic. It's pretty cool.
posted by uberchet at 3:56 PM on September 24, 2019

The Sexy Brutale is a recent game that involves re-playing the same day over and over again while trying to stop murders.

And there's a new VR game that is a sequel to the movie "Groundhog Day" that is getting decent reviews.
posted by tacodave at 4:42 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

The central mechanic of The Gardens Between is controlling the flow of time for puzzles!
posted by storytam at 4:47 PM on September 24, 2019

I think the time rewind mechanic in Prince of Persia: Sands of Time is one of the most brilliant fusions of gameplay mechanic and narrative. It's not that the Prince has wolverine levels of regeneration and can shrug off fatal stab wounds, like many video game protagonists. He has a dagger which allows him the limited use ability to rewind time, and the AI behaves in a deterministic fashion - so if in combat, you dodged left and got stabbed, well you could rewind time and dodge right instead.

It's not that there's a "save" game mechanic outside the game mechanic that allows the Prince to redo a failed attempt to jump over a pit with deadly spikes... he literally does have a dagger that has a limited ability to rewind time if he messes up, so you see everything play backwards until the point you want to stop and retry.

Of course, there are points where you might run out of rewind power and actually die, but it's rare. And so the narrative holds together a lot better.
posted by xdvesper at 4:58 PM on September 24, 2019 [3 favorites]

Far Cry 4 starts with a clearly evil guy bringing you back to his mansion, then stepping out to deal with something, saying "stay right here, I'll be back".

You then of course start poking around and sneak away, he gets pissed that you're snooping about, and the story progresses from there with lots of shooting involved.

But it turns out there's a hidden ending where if you actually just do what he says, he comes back about 10 minutes later and everything's cool.
posted by automatronic at 6:42 PM on September 24, 2019 [6 favorites]

Animal Crossing seems like the best example of what XKCD is musing on there.

Boktai is an amazing GBA game that uses a UV sensor to track available sunlight, and has a real-time game clock for day/night including seasonal variations.

The recent Sorcery! games from inkle do interesting things with time especially in the third game, moving parts of the world into the past (and back) in order to solve puzzles and discover secrets. And it makes the “flip back through pages” mechanic an explicit time-manipulation thing in-world.
posted by curious nu at 8:14 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Several of my favorites have been mentioned, including Life Is Strange, which is the best. But here are a few more not already mentioned.

Dishonored 2 (2016) has a time travel level where you must travel repeatedly back and forth between a mansion's lavish past and its ruined present, piecing together its story and solving puzzles.

Chronotron is a classic (2008) Flash game where you must work with your past selves to solve puzzles.

Baba Is You (2019) is not explicitly about time, but you must think rigorously about the passage of time in order to complete some puzzles.
posted by Syllepsis at 10:19 PM on September 24, 2019 [1 favorite]

Singularity. Not too recent, but good. Involves time travel, changing timelines, and a weapon that ages or renovates things, used for puzzle solving.

In Arkham City, there's a villain, Calendar Man, whose interactions with Batman are different depending on the time of year you're playing.

There's a few series where you revisit a location in a different game, and it's different now. E.g. the original town in Borderlands reappears late in Borderlands 2. Arkham Origins features the same area as Arkham City but several years earlier.
posted by zompist at 12:29 AM on September 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

They are explicitly not video games, but that comic put me in mind of the recent trend in "legacy" board games, where the game itself is changed irrevocably each time it is played.
posted by Rock Steady at 5:58 AM on September 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

"Achron is a real-time strategy computer game. It is considered to be the first "meta-time strategy game" (Real-time strategy with time travel), notable for being the first game with free-form multiplayer time travel and its themes of concepts like the grandfather paradox."
posted by lordcorvid at 7:10 AM on September 25, 2019

Oh, wow, I forgot about the Dishonored 2 level. That's really, really well done.
posted by uberchet at 10:39 AM on September 25, 2019

Mark Brown just did a whole Game Maker's Toolkit episode about games that use constantly-moving time as a game mechanic. The video mentions/features the following games (some as counter-examples):

The Gardens Between (The Voxel Agents, 2018)
Metro Exodus (4A Games, 2019)
Assassin's Creed: Origins (Ubisoft Montreal, 2017)
Far Cry New Dawn (Ubisoft Montreal, 2019)
Batman: Arkham Knight (Rocksteady Studios, 2015)
The Last Express (Smoking Car Productions, 1997)
The Legend of Zelda: Majora's Mask (Nintendo, 2000)
StarCraft II (Blizzard Entertainment, 2010)
Outer Wilds (Mobius Digital, 2019)
Fallout 3 (Bethesda Game Studios, 2008)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, 2017)
Dead Rising (Capcom, 2006)
Dead Rising 2 (Capcom Vancouver, 2010)
Dead Rising 3 (Capcom Vancouver, 2013)
The Sexy Brutale (Cavalier Game Studios, 2017)
Elsinore (Golden Glitch, 2019)
Minit (JW, Kitty, Jukio, and Dom, 2018)
Vision Soft Reset (Mark Radocy, 2019)
12 Minutes (Luis Antonio, Unreleased)
Deathloop (Arkane Studios, Unreleased)
Hitman 2 (IO Interactive, 2018)
Watch Dogs 2 (Ubisoft Montreal, 2016)
RimWorld (Ludeon Studios, 2013)
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Kojima Productions, 2015)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Eidos Montreal, 2011)
Rage 2 (Avalanche Studios / id Software, 2019)
The Swindle (Size Five Games, 2015)
Persona 5 (Atlus, 2017)
Just Cause 4 (Avalanche Studios, 2018)
Marvel’s Spider-Man (Insomniac Games, 2018)
posted by mbrubeck at 2:00 PM on October 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

« Older Getting from JFK to Penn Station   |   Nonfiction books about the occupation of France in... Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.