Difference between revisions of "Real-Time Games"

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''The progression of game time during play is tied to the progress of real time.''
''The progression of game time during play is tied to the progress of real time.''

Revision as of 14:33, 19 November 2009

The progression of game time during play is tied to the progress of real time.

Most traditional games require the players or some game facilitator to update game states based upon what the players do. This meant that, unlike early sports like wrestling and sprints, the speed by which the gameplay for the games unfolded was not tied to how time passed. However, with the invention of mechanical games, pinball machines and early arcade games, the update of the game state was no longer enforced by humans or laws of nature but by designed systems. These, and the computer games that followed them, thus became Real-Time Games in the sense that the game system updates automatically without player involvement.


Early arcade games and computer games, e.g. Pac-Man and Space Invaders, have enemies constantly acting against the players and requiring them to continuously have the attention on the games.

Team-based First-Person Shooters such as Castle Wolfenstein: Enemy Territory and Unreal Tournament pitch teams of players against each other in real-time virtual battles.

Real-time strategy games, such as those in the WarCraft and StarCraft series, modify the usually slow pace of strategy games by making the game system continue without player interaction.

Using the pattern

The design of Real-Time Games is typically achieved through Dedicated Game Facilitators such as computers or mechanical systems, but isolated parts of a game's gameplay can become real time through simply means such as the use of hour glasses or letting the laws of physics has their course of game components. The latter is typically done by having a gameplay where real-time modes are switched between the players by Turn Taking. Cue Sports and Bowling are examples of the latter, in that the consequences of each strike is played out through the physical movements of the balls but otherwise the games are not strictly tied to the progress of time. Another option it to alternated between real time and another type of updating game state as for example in the computer game Space Hulk. Here controlling a marine in real time (including simply doing No-Ops) allows players to accumulate time (a form of Budgeted Action Points) in a strategy mode where orders can be given to several members of a squads.

During these real-time modes of play, there is obviously no Downtime for the players. Synchronous Games are well suited for Real-Time Games, while it is also possible that parts of Asynchronous Games have characteristics of Real-Time Games.

Regardless of how the real time update is achieved it is important to consider how the available player actions must fit with the pace of the game. Simple Maneuvering combined with Aim & Shoot in a Game World is a classical example of basic actions available in Real-Time Games (e.g. Asteroids and Space Invaders) where the speed of movement and shots are balanced against the speed of movement of enemies. In general Rhythm-Based Actions and Dexterity-Based Actions are common in Real-Time Games. These require Timing of the players to match their actions, including No-Ops, to how the game updates. Combat and Capture actions are also often based on correct Timing (although in real-time strategy games the Combat between Units typically resembles the that from Turn-Based Games and Tick-Based Games).

If players are provided with Communication Channels to support gameplay, it is important to consider the characteristics of the Communication Channels to appropriately map the pace of required Social Interaction to the pace of the game itself. For example, text chatting in fast team-oriented first-person shooters is not necessarily the preferred communication method for the players.

Disruption of Focused Attention can be used in Real-Time Games to modify the Right Level of Difficulty and to provide more Varied Gameplay. The UFO in Asteroids is a good example of this kind of gameplay modification, and many other games use rapid Attention Swapping as one of the basic challenges of the game.

Some Real-Time Games offer players the possibility to stop gameplay through Game Pauses or Option Interfaces to modify the update pace of the game. Besides progressing narratives, Cut Scenes give the possibility for the system to give players breaks from the need to constantly follow the gameplay.


Real-Time Games do not require player actions to change the game state, as the game system can make these changes based on real time. In one sense, all Real-Time Games are self-running simulations in which the players may participate. Somewhat paradoxical to this, Real-Time Games almost always Attention Demanding and Limited Planning Ability enforce which make it difficult for players to maintain Analysis Paralysis and counters Stimulated Planning.

Real-Time Games naturally give rise to the pattern The Show Must Go On, even in cases where the players can use Game Pauses or other methods of suspending game time, such as Save-Load Cycles. Likewise, Extended Actions are easily achieved although they tend to also be Interruptible Actions.

Making a game play out in real time can radically affect the possibilities for Social Interaction since this requires Attention Swapping and may cause Disruption of Focused Attention. Likewise, it may shirt the feeling of Togetherness from one based on verbal interaction to one based upon embodied interaction.



Aim & Shoot, Spatial Immersion, No-Ops, Maneuvering, Sensory-Motoric Immersion, The Show Must Go On, Extended Actions


Tick-Based Games, Turn-Based Games, Capture, Limited Planning Ability, Disruption of Focused Attention, Combat, Synchronous Games, Asynchronous Games, Social Interaction

Instantiated By

Modulated By

Attention Swapping, Self-Facilitated Games, Rhythm-Based Actions, Dedicated Game Facilitators, Timing, Dexterity-Based Actions, Save-Load Cycles, Cut Scenes, Game Pauses, Communication Channels, The Show Must Go On, Budgeted Action Points

Potentially Conflicting With

Analysis Paralysis, Turn Taking, Turn-Based Games, Downtime, Stimulated Planning


An rewrite of the original pattern named Real-Time Games in the book 'Patterns in Game Design' (Björk & Holopainen, 2004).


Björk, S. & Holopainen, J. (2004) Patterns in Game Design. Charles River Media. ISBN1-58450-354-8.

Wikipedia entry on cue sports