Back to the Future: How Time Management Mechanics Work in Games (Topic)

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Back to the Future: How Time Management Mechanics Work in Games


Often times, time management mechanics are introduced into the game as part of a character's abilities, and not always explained. However, since its first appearance until today, it has evolved depending on the context, and at times is presented as the main plot or gameplay feature of the game. Today we'll take a look at how time management mechanics work and what they are.

Gameplay versus non-diegetic

Often the mechanics of time management are introduced into the game as one of the abilities of the character and are not even particularly explained either in the plot or commented on by the character himself. I call these mechanics non-diegetic, that is, those that happen more for you as a player, but not for your character. The most famous of these bullet time mechanics from Max Payne, when you slow down time in flight in order to shoot more accurately. Subsequently, this mechanic has repeatedly visited other games and even evolved.


For example, Dead Eye in the Red Dead Redemption dilogy, slowing down time by Franklin while driving a car in GTA 5 or controlling a direct projectile, among the latest examples, are arrows from AC Odyssey or Batarangs in the series. Batman Arkham.

Bullet-time is also based on Superhot, where time is always in slow motion while you move. If the player stands still, then the whole environment freezes. There are actually a lot of examples.


Why do I call such a time management mechanic not diegetic? Since for your hero, time moves normally as long as you use bullet-time yourself. Consider that Arthur Morgan is just a good shooter and that is why he makes headshots so cleverly, and this is demonstrated to you with the help of Dead Eye for clarity.

Plot diegetic component

It's another matter when something like this is part of the plot and is somehow explained. The most famous example is the dagger of time in Prince of Persia, where the protagonist uses a dagger capable of turning back time if he is facing death. This action takes place simultaneously for both you and the character.


This approach allows us to weave the mechanics of time management into the context and plot of the game. For example, in Braid, where after death the hero is similarly resurrected by rewinding time back, the hero's powers are determined by the main plot spoiler.

In this case, developers are not afraid to experiment. In Quantum Break from Remedy, time is the central theme of the plot and the hero is able to use it to deal with the enemy. And such combat systems can be reduced to three points: stopping time, running faster than time and freezing enemies.

ImageAnd, for example, in Dishonored 2 we get the ability to manage time in one location. We move between the two timelines in order to overcome obstacles and move forward. This was also used in the sequel Prince of Persia Warrior Within.

Even earlier this was in the The Legend of Zelda series. In Ocarina of Time, with the help of the Sword Master, Link could move between adults and children, and perform tasks that only one of its two versions could do. Moreover, Link's set of abilities was different depending on age.

Inspired by the German action movie Run Lola Run, Majora's Mask introduced a different time management system. Link had to prevent the end of the world, which would come in 3 days, and if he failed, he rewound time back to change everything. The player was free to use this mechanic whenever he wanted, which made the game not only replayable, but also different from the previous cult part.


These are the cases when such a mechanic is used not for battle, but for plot advancement. There are plenty of other examples as well.

There are no restrictions on how to introduce time manipulations into the game. Developers are free to adapt it to the context and situation. In Remember Me, we are trying to restore the memory of the heroine, and there mechanics are used to restore various fragments of her. This is a detective element, where we scroll back and forth in memory to find new plot details.

The same Dontnod Entertainment took a different path to Life is Strange. The main character Max can rewind time back in order to "roll back" if she made the wrong decision. Some visual novels work according to this principle, where the plot is fully revealed if you have gone through it several times. But in Life is Strange, you are free to see the consequences of your alternative choices here and now, and choose what you like.


Moreover, this is an excellent diegetic mechanics in the sense that you learn to manage your own forces the way a teenage girl would do - she uses it in everyday life. For example, you answer someone and get screwed up, and then come back to avoid embarrassment. Use rewind to answer college questions correctly. In other words, what we ourselves would do. Such pranks.

Of course, the global plot eventually forces us to accept the fact that such pranks lead to disastrous consequences, but that's another story.

But one thing remains unshakable: the mechanics of time management in games can be one of the most diverse. It can be as part of the combat system and not be explained in any way, as well as be something global, pushing the plot forward.

If you judge so, even all the gameplay in the past in the Assassin's Creed series can, albeit with a great stretch, be called a huge and complex time management mechanic, where in the past you perform a series of actions that will affect the plot in the present. For example, you will live with Ezio all his life, so that later at the age of 50 you will come to a specific place so that Desmond will hear an important message in the future in the present.

The Topic of Article: Back to the Future: How Time Management Mechanics Work in Games.
Author: Jake Pinkman