Author Topic: Time limits  (Read 4375 times)

0 Members and 1 Guest are viewing this topic.

Offline Simon

  • Administrator
  • Posts: 2730
    • View Profile
    • Lix
Time limits
« on: November 17, 2011, 09:23:33 am »
Every topic must start with a geoo quote. -- Simon
Yeah, because I'm so awesome. -- geoo

We have discussed time limits several times on IRC with Clam Spammer. Looking through the level review game, several comments are "The level gives way too much time."

There are levels similar to "It's Hero Time" or "Just a minute", where a short time limit is part of the puzzle. It rules out many backroutes there, and it's the most elegant enforcement in that case. Time limits are fine there, and I will not consider these levels further in this post.

Both geoo and me think that time limits absolutely suck in most levels. They annoy the player, and never lead to more interesting solutions. Here's why:
  • It doesn't lead to more beautiful solutions. If a lemming shall to do something, a player will assign the relevant skill to him as early as possible anyway. If he forgets, with a time limit, he must boringly restart and replay everything, but without a limit, he can usually wait arbitrarily long for the lemming to return. What feels better?
  • If the player fails due time, he usually just has to do the very same thing again, just execute it faster. This is extremely boring and frustrating. Even action replay doesn't help much here.
  • The time limit doesn't add to the core ideas of a rather pure puzzle game like Lemmings. It's an arbitrary, genre-untypical restriction.
  • It's not obvious whether a solution will fit into a time limit. It must be fully played out first. Compare this with wrong skill assignments: Those can often be ruled out just by looking.
  • The player may feel clamped and will pause way more often, solely to not waste time, whether it matters or not.
  • A strict time limit doesn't allow better speedruns or comparision of solutions in terms of duration. This is still possible if the time limit is set to the maximum, or, should the game allow so, if the time limit is disabled and the game just computes the time used.
Conclusion: If you're a level designer and your time limit doesn't rule out backroutes, consider scrapping the time limit altogether. If the game requires one, the game is badly designed, and the level designer should give as much time as possible.

Unlike Lemmings, some games have lives, and the player loses a life when he runs out of time. This is absolutely horrible. Most of these games have some kind of score, and have it reset when the player has to enter the password for the level again to resume play. However, nobody ever cares about the score.

Stoneage is a DOS puzzle game which has this severe problem, i.e., unnecessary time limits, lives, and useless scorekeeping, despite being an excellent puzzle game otherwise. It's possible to set the mode to easy; this mode will just give a lot more time for the same puzzles. Even in easy mode, the countdown unnerves and irritates the player, since it's not possible to pause.

A counterexample is Avish, this is a well-designed discrete puzzle game lacking time limits, lives, and scorekeeping.

-- Simon
« Last Edit: March 02, 2015, 08:46:02 pm by Simon »

Offline Clam

  • Posts: 2188
  • Smiley: :8():
    • View Profile
Re: Time limits
« Reply #1 on: November 17, 2011, 10:36:22 am »
This barely even crossed my mind until it was brought up on IRC about a week ago. I guess it's because Lemmings forces you to use a time limit of 9 minutes or less, and I'm just too used to that. I'll confess to probably ruining some perfectly good levels with dumb time limits. The worst offender for sure is 'The Floodgates Open' - Hey, I can barely solve this in 3 minutes, I'll force it with the time limit! *slaps forehead* Needless to say, that will change when/if I remake it for Lix.

I'll add another (maybe slightly odd) reason for leaving out time limits. When I sit down to solve an IRS puzzle (mostly Lemmings challenges lately), I find it helpful (relaxing?) to see the rodents walk back and forth while I hunt around for a solution. When the timer expires, the rodents stop suddenly, which jars me from my train of thought. So an infinite timer is good to avoid distracting the player in this way.

Lives and scorekeeping are different matters entirely. Lemmings thankfully has a good implicit means of scoring - rodents saved and skills used. But can you imagine if Lemmings had finite lives? It's a famously frustrating game as it is, lives would just compound that a thousand times over. You'd gain 50 extra lives by milking the early levels for 100%, and then lose them all on Save Me. Game Over! :P

Offline Luis

  • Posts: 447
    • View Profile
Re: Time limits
« Reply #2 on: November 17, 2011, 04:01:10 pm »
I was thinking why the levels in Lemmings have time limits? Maybe the exits are portals that are closing. I don't mind time limits, if the level is beatable.

[/li][li]It doesn't lead to more beautiful solutions. If a lemming shall to do something, a player will assign the relevant skill to him as early as possible anyway. If he forgets, with a time limit, he must boringly restart and replay everything, but without a limit, he can usually wait arbitrarily long for the lemming to return.

Isn't that the same as not allowing mistakes when you set each skills to the lowest as possible, just so every time you beat the level, all the skills are at zero? If someone starts the builder at a wrong spot, they will have to restart the level, because they just wasted one builder, so it's all about having good timing when it comes to that, no matter how big or small the level is.
Mr. Lemmings PSP user.

Offline Simon

  • Administrator
  • Posts: 2730
    • View Profile
    • Lix
Re: Time limits
« Reply #3 on: November 17, 2011, 05:05:35 pm »
Isn't that the same as not allowing mistakes when you set each skills to the lowest as possible

In long and tedious worker levels, it's similar, cutting skills as far as possible there may indeed be bad design. However, while the time limit may be okay for a handful of levels, there is a huge amount of short, but hard puzzle levels which must be skill-cut to be good and nontrivial.

A skill-cut level which doesn't require pixel perfection is often solvable by looking at it, unlike a level with a severe time limit, as errors are obvious more immediately.

If the skills have to be applied with pixel perfection, then the problem is partially with the game design again, but still with unfitting level design. DOS L1 and Lemmix don't help with pixel precision.

-- Simon

Offline Luis

  • Posts: 447
    • View Profile
Re: Time limits
« Reply #4 on: November 17, 2011, 05:44:57 pm »
But time limit has always been in Lemmings. A level with a good solution can still have a strict time limit, just by lowering more and more until it reach it's limit. I think one of the reasons is the lack of a fast forward button. Lemmings walks slow, so I can see how boring it is to do everything again. ;P In the PSP Lemmings, I find it more fun to play the level without fast forwarding it, but when it starts getting annoying and I end up restarting a lot, that's when I start using the fast forward button, so it can take me where I left off quick, as long I don't mess up along the way. I think this is best done with a two hand controller like the PSP, or other handhelds, and console ones, because in Lemmini, I have to scroll down to press the fast forward button. Lemmix doesn't have one but it do have rewind.
Mr. Lemmings PSP user.

Offline Adam

  • Posts: 428
  • Just one more level....
    • View Profile
    • Lemmings Forums
Re: Time limits
« Reply #5 on: November 17, 2011, 05:54:14 pm »
As far as I can see, there are only really five - or six - levels where the time limit is part of the puzzle.

Heaven Can Wait needs the time limit for the puzzle. It's annoying, but necessary. It's Hero Time, and the Just A Minute levels also need it as part of the puzzle.

I'd also add the later repeats of We All Fall Down to the list. While it's not a puzzle, as such, the time limit does give an extra obstacle for you to clear.

Other than those levels, I think a timer counting up, rather than a countdown timer would be far better than a countdown timer.

Offline Luis

  • Posts: 447
    • View Profile
Re: Time limits
« Reply #6 on: November 17, 2011, 06:05:51 pm »
I don't think the timer has anything to do with backroutes. Backroutes are just shortcuts or a hidden path that the person that made the level failed to block.
Mr. Lemmings PSP user.

Offline Adam

  • Posts: 428
  • Just one more level....
    • View Profile
    • Lemmings Forums
Re: Time limits
« Reply #7 on: November 17, 2011, 09:20:47 pm »
This is true, Luis, but there are some backroutes which are possible with the skills available, but impossible due to the time limit.

Offline ccexplore

  • Administrator
  • Posts: 5002
    • View Profile
Re: Time limits
« Reply #8 on: November 17, 2011, 09:54:10 pm »
There are levels similar to "It's Hero Time" or "Just a minute", where a short time limit is actually part of the puzzle. It rules out many backroutes there, and it's the most elegant enforcement in that case.

For the levels you quoted, I'm not sure how effectively they really rule out backroutes.  Just a Minute for example can still be done with one digger and one basher on the PC version, although admittedly it does require a bit of release rate jiggering.  On Mac and Windows version with slower clock I don't think it even needs the fancy jiggering to work.

More importantly, while it may be elegant (or at least easy) from the level designer's perspective, I feel that using time limits to rule out a route may be the cruelest thing to do to the player, for the very same reasons you object to time limits.  The player won't find out until late into his efforts, and then it may take a few retries on the blocked solution before he decides to try some other solution, if he hasn't ragequit by then.

===========

I think again, time limits work less well in Lemmings compared to more action-filled games like Mario, for the same reasons of the underlying game design.  When you are in full control of a single character, have full control of its movements, and you're already amped up from the intricate monster-dodging and platform hopping, having a time limit in some levels can add to the excitement (provided it doesn't go over into "ridiculous frustration" territory).  And actually it can work for some Lemmings levels like "Heaven can wait...", though perhaps less effectively.  It definitely doesn't work well on levels where you already have to do a lot of planning and work to solve, and then to have it ruined at the last minute because of something silly like not releasing the crowd early enough.  Although, I have to say action replays + fast forward should help there a bit.

But I'm in general agreement that the time limit is superfluous in most Lemmings levels, and if a level is already tricky to solve or execute, adding an unforgiving time limit does seem more of an overkill then anything else.  Fortunately most of the official levels are pretty generous with time limits, and the selected few that aren't uses the time limit wisely and appropriately.

Quote
Unlike Lemmings, some games actually have lives, and the player loses a life when he runs out of time. This is absolutely horrible.

A lot of these designs are effectively holdover from when most games are on arcade machines that you need to feed quarters into.  In that setting it makes sense why games are designed like that.  And I guess old habits die hard even when it comes to game design.

Again, I think it depends on the game.  I don't think I find lives and time limits much of an issue when I played Mario for example, but undoubtedly there are other games where they can be infuriating.

For a modern game, it does seem that time is typically better left as an achievement rather than a forced limit.  But again, there are those occasional cases like "It's Hero Time" where it can make sense.  Ultimately it's just another game design element with pros and cons that need to be carefully considered.  I'm not sure there are any hard-and-fast rules to be made for this, but I think your checklist of why time limits can suck is a good checklist for every game designer to keep.

Offline Luis

  • Posts: 447
    • View Profile
Re: Time limits
« Reply #9 on: November 17, 2011, 11:22:10 pm »
I don't understand how you can call it a flaw when a level is impossible to beat with the backroute due to the timer. I don't think an unbeatable backroute makes a level bad, when backroutes are suppose to be blocked if the person that made the level doesn't like it.
Mr. Lemmings PSP user.

Offline ccexplore

  • Administrator
  • Posts: 5002
    • View Profile
Re: Time limits
« Reply #10 on: November 18, 2011, 02:23:57 am »
I don't understand how you can call it a flaw when a level is impossible to beat with the backroute due to the timer. I don't think an unbeatable backroute makes a level bad, when backroutes are suppose to be blocked if the person that made the level doesn't like it.

I think you completely misread what I said.  I'm saying that if a level author is to block a backroute, I'd rather it be done more explicitly using skill allocation, or added terrain/steel/trap/whatever.  I feel that making a backroute impossible using time, while easy for the level designer due to lack of effort, may be less desirable for a player as it may encourage them to stick with the "backroute" longer without realizing that it is not meant to be solved that way.  Because of all the various options to block a backroute, it may be least obvious to a player that a route won't work due to time, especially when in other levels from other people, the intended solution may still have a tight time limit that only encourages multiple retries.

I think you'll find that I'm actually less dismissive of time limits than Simon if you read my post more carefully.  I do believe that Simon raises very valid points about how time limits can suck, and his points are something level and game designers should at least consider in their efforts.

Offline Clam

  • Posts: 2188
  • Smiley: :8():
    • View Profile
Re: Time limits
« Reply #11 on: November 18, 2011, 04:00:22 am »
But time limit has always been in Lemmings. A level with a good solution can still have a strict time limit, just by lowering more and more until it reach it's limit.

I think Simon has made it abundantly clear, to those of us on IRC at least, that "it's always been done that way" isn't a valid argument for any feature. Every game mechanic can and should be looked at to see what it contributes to the gameplay, and if it's not fun, it should be changed.

Yes, you can cut the time limit as far as possible, and still have a good solution. But all this does is add an extra layer of complexity that significantly increases the difficulty of the level. As a result, the player has to spend longer on the level, enduring more failures and more restarts. But what does it add to the puzzle itself? Unless the level is like one of the few mentioned in this thread, where the time limit is the focus of the puzzle, then you're only distracting attention away from the real objective of the level - and completing this objective is where the fun should come from. So having a restrictive time limit adds 'un-fun', and distracts from the fun. (The more I think about this, the worse it sounds! :-\)


Other than those levels, I think a timer counting up, rather than a countdown timer would be far better than a countdown timer.

I've brought this up lately as well. It would still give the player some sense of urgency (especially if the game records your completion time, as Lix does), but it won't punish the player for playing sub-optimally. The player can even choose to ignore it completely. In addition, it would be much more useful than no timer at all (on unlimited-time levels) for anyone who wants to solve the level as quickly as possible, which is certainly still a worthy goal, even if the game doesn't focus on completion times any more.

Offline namida

  • Administrator
  • Posts: 9500
    • View Profile
    • NeoLemmix Website
Re: Time limits
« Reply #12 on: November 18, 2011, 05:32:24 am »
Some levels though, depend on the time limit in other ways. For example, my level "No Time To Die" (from Lemmings Plus DOS), the focus is on speeding up the solution to meet the tight time limit. The basic path is obvious, but having to speed it up majorly complicates the solution, it's far more than just a matter of refining every tiny detail.

Offline Luis

  • Posts: 447
    • View Profile
Re: Time limits
« Reply #13 on: November 18, 2011, 05:36:50 am »
I was just curious on why the time limit is not well liked, even though it was there forever. Thanks for explaining everything. I remember there used to be an online ranking in Lemmings PSP, where you can try to save as many Lemmings as possible and how fast can beat a level under the time limit.
Mr. Lemmings PSP user.

Offline Minim

  • Posts: 1451
    • View Profile
Re: Time limits
« Reply #14 on: November 18, 2011, 06:13:44 am »
I remember there used to be an online ranking in Lemmings PSP, where you can try to save as many Lemmings as possible and how fast can beat a level under the time limit.

I would be quite interested to see all the high scores if that's possible. It would show me what they would look like.

Maybe the timer was disliked on the Main Lemmings game for being too lenient, but maybe that concern was probably raised and acknowledged by the developers which led to the expansion game having less time for people to solve (Which they now usually have a range between 1 and 4 minutes). Still, quite a few levels are nice little race-against-time levels such as "Just a Minute" and probably "The Fast Food Kitchen".
The user formerly known as minimac