What time management system do people like for their freeform VNs?
Action points would be like “The Sultan’s Harem” or many of the twine games. This method is popular in video games in general outside this website as well. You start the day with say 5 action points and can take 5 actions. Sort of regardless of concepts like time of day.
Then there is morning/afternoon/evening like “fill me up” or “the fattening career”. This is a little different than action points. There’s a difference between 3 daily actions and 1 morning action 1 afternoon action and 1 evening action. Howso? Well you can write things up so that going to dinner is not a valid morning action for example.
And finally there is just time like hours. This is a little different than having a dozen actions a day. Also a little different than having separate mornings and afternoons. You can make it so that 8:00am actions are valid also at 9:00am. Also, some actions could take 1 hour and others could take 4 hours. The only example I’ve seen on this site is “The Weighting Game” but there are other non-weightgaming games like “Personal Trainer” that use clock time as well.
Obviously in reality, time is time. But in a visual novel, there’s no reason to adhere so strictly to the concept. The key to a VN like these ones is that you have choices to make each day. Abstracting time can help streamline the repetitive nature of VNs with freeform day’s that let the player choose a variety of generic actions.
So, what is everyone’s favorite way to handle this?
- Action Points / Energy
- Time blocks like Morning / Evening (There could be 2, or 3 or 4…)
- Each hour of the day is special and can be represented on a clock.
EDIT: To clarify this question assumes the game will have simulation elements in which days pass and the player has some freeform choices. Obviously there are also CYOA style VNs with forking paths like forks or chunky cheerleaders which are imo also great but this poll isn’t about them.
Action points are my least favorite because those games tend to end up feeling very grindy. There also tends to be a lot of repetitive events. But I have seen some pull it off.
Wrote a really long post talking about the differences between the systems, but felt like it was just a convoluted way to say that Action Points are basic, which is fine if the rest of the game is well made, Time Blocks are basically just Action Points with a fancy coat of paint and some special features in exchange for less flexibility, and a full clock system is just a developer showing off how much effort they’re willing to put into a time system.
As a player, Action Points are probably the most boring of the options (though I don’t have an issue with it myself). As a Dev, I tried making a clock system for one of my projects once and it was a hellish experience, so I try to avoid them like the plague in favor of the simpler time block system.
Also, Stamina is good for adventure games or games where you want to make the player feel the effects of their character getting fatter (while some people don’t like when games punish the player for getting fatter, I think there’s a niche for it).
EDIT: It occurred to me that the only reason I’m so adverse to the clock system is that when i tried making one I also included minutes. So disregard my comments on the clock system unless you plan on adding minutes to your clock.
Conclusion, no one really hates any of them. But the poll and @somchu have convinced me I am on the right track, in that a clock is a lot of effort for no big pay off, but also lack of a morning/evening concept makes action points a bit too lazy.
I wanted to do a morning/afternoon/night style system from the beginning. But before I got too deep in I wanted to touch base and check that I was being reasonable, so thanks.
I think I prefer action points and the flexibility of choosing what to do whenever I want a bit more.
As a player, it can be a bit frustrating if I know (or miss) certain events as they only occur during certain periods of the day. Like if I have to be in a certain place at a certain time, the number of combinations of that over the course of the game get a bit exhausting for me.
Cabin by the Lake did this relatively the best as I can see all the events or ones that I need to discover throughout the course of the narrative, though scrolling and keeping position with where I am throughout the course of the narrative is a bit janky at times, but that’s just really a bug that can be fixed.
I do like the activity list of who’s waiting to talk to you in
My Family Farm, but sometimes there’s not enough detail on when/where you need to meet folks, there’s a few too many events that are ‘global’ tied to a place/time and not assigned to you just finding the person during the course of the day, and it’s frustrating that everyone shows the interaction icon even when they have nothing to do for that day.
So, just having so much “Energy” to spend and being able to go do whatever to drive things along works well enough for me… I’d rather have things moving more quickly than me just wasting a bunch of time trying to search for stuff and just repeating days over and over again. I think that’s where
Big Aspirations has really been succeeding well. Things keep moving along and it’s something you can get through in a small number of hours. (Too many things are too long! Just get to the good stuff!)
It’s an odd thing to thing to have a preference for all told. No matter which format you employ, they all serve pretty much the same purpose so as long as it functions and best serves the features and gameplay being delivered to the player then it’s fine.
More pressing to the player is having the flow of gameplay match according to the cycles implemented within the game. No one wants their time wasted (not enough things to do, or too much time within a given cycle or too many cycles overall) nor feel overwhelmed and have too many things going so you feel each cycle is a work slog.
At the risk of going a little off-topic, I think half or more of life sims should just be visual novels, using the usual implicit time system of fiction. Yes, sometimes the mechanics of time management and decision-making add to the player’s experience and help the author get their vision across. But mostly they add extra bug-fixing and continuity-maintenance work for the dev and distraction by game mechanics and repetition for the player.
I think authors/devs go the life-sim route more than they should (IMO) because A) there are tons of VNs so it can feel like a full niche, B) the desire to make something lifelike and immersive by giving the player agency and C) the desire to make a game.
I think A) is overblown - there are tons of VNs, but people keeps playing them, so make yours good and it’ll be fine. B) misunderstands immersion - people get lost in books all the time. C) is great, actually - make your game! Give it a story even! But if you make a game about the minutiae of going about daily life, combine it with elements that mesh well with it.
So, while I don’t hate life-sims, I kinda smile and roll my eyes at them, and go for more on-rails experiences first. It’s like a less-bad version of “uses the default RPG maker battle and XP system” - won’t sink a work on its own, but eh…
My reaction to this information:
EDIT: forgot a word
They all have pros and cons, though in an ideal, spherical world, I would shy away from actions points.
The moment a player finds ways to generate action points, there is a challenge to balance that with the rest of the game, lest you find yourself as a dev having to allow for the possibility of an eternal day, values constantly ticking over, threatening to overflow.
Hours can function as ‘action points’ but avoid the same need for edge case checking as no matter what, time proceeds forward linearly. Time blocks feel natural to how people perceive time in the real world; as chunks of time that are or aren’t allocated to a specific thing. That can then encourage puzzle game elements of structuring day plans which add additional gameplay depth.
Life sims at their best are complex beasts that crib from multiple genres to form a whole greater than its sum. The risk is being shallow rather than deep in that regard. My issue with anyone saying ‘just make a VN’ is that I am VERY judgemental about story and writing and find it very hard to look past that unless there’s some other elements beyond that I can hook into. It also encourages ‘tell, don’t show’ styles of narrative and gameplay that don’t feel interactive enough to justify investment. The more a game relies on specific elements, the more those elements have to be polished.
I think either time blocks or a time system both work better than action points. There are just certain things that make sense at certain times of the day, and losing any semblance of time of day feels a little cheap to me. Time systems are probably the ideal, but I think time blocks works almost as good for less work.
I don’t think this is actually a single choice. Sure, named time periods and clock time is a one or the other thing. But both The Weighting Game and Tramp use “energy” as an addition.
For Tramp I quickly decided to use clock time over named periods as I wanted:
- The PC to act “in the middle of the night” - nightime munchies are a staple of WG afterall
- A more fine-grained passage of time where the PC is not working (weekends) and has more freedom
- The ability to easily schedule things at future times
None of these are impossible with named periods, they’re just harder. In particular at the weekend to PC can (normally) act from 9am to midnight in 1 hour chunks - 15 periods, and despite my efforts I couldn’t name 15 parts of the day!
The energy/AP thing is a separate resource/mechanic from time. As it’s the PC who gains and loses in Tramp things that are physically exhausting need to be tracked. Energy is the coarse player-visible representation of this. Some thing use no energy, others use a lot, so you can run out of energy before you run out of time. In The Weighting Game energy controls the PCs ability to earn (to date/feed Alice), and keep fit (to lift her).
I would agree that energy/action points alone normally don’t make for a great system, but it can work well.
More than anything else, I’d like to petition for implementing a planner; you know, like those calendar books you jot down times and appointments in.
Time periods themselves don’t bother me, but getting stuck in a grind because moving from one place to another unexpectedly triggers the next time period does get on my nerves. It’s the worst feeling when you know you need to be somewhere midday, try to do something in the morning, and then end up missing the midday event because it takes too long to get back to the location in question.
Putting in a planner or reminder system would be a huge help. If I know I need to be somewhere at midday, I can drag a picture of the location to a daily planner with a midday timeslot. Then, the game could know that I want to be at that location at that time and give me an automatic reminder when I need to start moving to that location (or better yet, give me a fast-track option to skip all the in-between locations and go right to that scheduled location). Likewise, the game could give me a warning if I’m about to do an activity that would trigger a time skip and cause me to miss a scheduled event.
I’m not sure this problem applies to ren’py because you can mousewheel backwards to rewind time whenever you wish.
Although outside of ren’py yeah, this is extremely annoying.
Not to mention, in the wrong hands that can become a monetization scheme; an online visual novel I enjoyed, briefly, has this setup, where you not only have very little action points but they also take quite a while to recharge. And how can one replenish these faster you may ask? By paying for a refill.
Remaining players haven’t enjoyed this system, but the developers say it’s the only means of making money they have with it.
Sounds like how mobile game Visual Novels monetize. You need to buy gems in order to pick the right answer, and energy in order to read the next chapter
I’ve played those, too; I used to play them on Kindle, but I found them too boring because of the monetization scheme. I was a kid who didn’t have a credit card yet, how was I gonna buy them? Plus, I had access to an Angry Birds X Transformers crossover game, it was clear who the winner was.