Difference between revisions of "Time Limits"

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=== Can Be Modulated By ===
=== Can Be Modulated By ===
[[Goal Indicators]], [[Progress Indicators]], [[Status Indicators]], [[Tied Results]]
[[Goal Indicators]], [[Progress Indicators]], [[Game State Indicators]], [[Tied Results]]
=== Potentially Conflicting With ===
=== Potentially Conflicting With ===

Revision as of 12:59, 4 December 2009

The Time Limit for completing an action, reaching a goal, staying in a certain mode of play, or finishing a game session has a limit based on either game time or real time.

The Time Limit s can be hybrid between the game time and real time in a game. Time Limits can limit the duration of the game instance in games in which there are otherwise no natural end conditions for the game.

Typically Time Limits indicate that something needs to be achieved before the given amount of time has passed but only can equally well have gameplay built upon avoiding certain events occurring until after a given Time Limit has passed.


Soccer matches have a time limit of 90 minutes (plus some extra time depending on the judgment of the referees).

Chess tournaments typically have rules regarding Time Limits, both for making a move and for the whole time available for a player.

The survival mode in the Left 4 Dead Series sets the goal for players to still be alive after 4 minutes to meet the easiest goal condition.

Using the pattern

Time Limits can be used from at least three different points of view: first, to create Tension for the players for achieving a goal or performing some actions in the game; second, to limit the effect of consequences of player actions and game events, such as effects of some types of Penalties, Rewards, and Power-Ups; and third, to limit the lifespan of game instances or modes of play or to make Tied Results possible. The first point of view can be the effect of The Show Must Go On as players may experience Penalties if they remain passive. An example of the third point of view is to make Resources expire after a certain Time Limit, something that often occurs naturally with Shared Resources through other players' exploitation of the Resources. All these three kinds of Time Limits are somewhat cumbersome to use in Self-Facilitated Games unless the measuring of the time is designed as an integral part of the gameplay. Game Pauses with Real-Time Games can disrupt the effect of Time Limits for reaching goals and performing actions. For example, if the player is allowed to pause the game in Tetris the natural Time Limit on planning is destroyed.

Modulating Tension for reaching goals with Time Limits requires that the players are given clear indications of the goals with Goal Indicators and also that there is Status Indicator of the time left or at least a Progress Indicator of how much the players have achieved so far. Progress Indicators are also good to use when the Time Limits are used in Delayed Effects. A slightly special case of this kind of modulation is to have a Time Limit on the life time of Ephemeral Goals where the goal is available for the players only for a certain amount of time during the game. This is sometimes used in setting up specific missions in MMORPGs.

Power-Ups and Penalties for the players often use Time Limits to balance the gameplay and provide more Varied Gameplay. The Time Limit can be used with Privileged Actions, New Abilities, Improved Abilities, Decreased Abilities, Ability Losses, and Game Pauses as well as other patterns. The Time Limit does not only have to concern how long a Power-Up persists or how long an action lasts but can also be how long it takes before a new Power-Ups appears or the action can be performed again, in both cases determining, in a sense, the interval for Renewable Resources to appear.

Games in which modes of play or game instances do not have natural end conditions often use Time Limits as end conditions, for example, in Soccer or in some Quick Games. Games with Continuous Goals, such as Preventing Goals, sometimes use Time Limits also in similar fashion to determine winning conditions. For example, in King of the Hill variants the winner is the first player to remain the king for a certain period of time, say three minutes, which also acts as an end condition for the game instance.

Diegetic Aspects

Text about how the pattern relates to diegetic elements of the presentation of the game; primarily useful in mechanical patterns

Interface Aspects

Text about how the pattern relates to interface elements of the game; primarily useful in dynamic patterns

Narrative Aspects

Text about how the pattern relates to diegetic elements; primarily useful in dynamic and maybe aesthetical patterns


Time Limits make time a Resource, more specifically a Limited Resource, for players. They automatically give players Limited Planning Ability, which can give game design the Right Level of Difficulty, and make the players have to accept Tradeoffs between which actions they want to perform, including evaluating the Tradeoffs themselves. Time Limits may be used to control the contraction of Shrinking Game Worlds, create Tick-Based Games, or limit how often Resources can be invested when situations whereArithmetic Rewards for Investments exist.

Time Limits when the players have some indication of the duration of the Time Limit naturally create Anticipation and sometimes Hovering Closures and modify also the Tension structures of games. Often Time Limit is used to have more pressure on the players to achieve a goal, leave areas in the Game World, such as Deadly Traps and Safe Havens, or to perform other types of actions, for example, Trading and Puzzle Solving. Time Limits used for Turn Taking, and Game Pauses in general, limit the possible Downtime. Time Limits on game instances can also alleviate some of the downsides of Early Elimination as the eliminated players have a clear indication how long that game instance is going to last.


Can Instantiate

Resources, Tradeoffs, Limited Planning Ability, Right Level of Difficulty, Limited Resources, Tick-Based Games

Can Modulate

Early Elimination, Continuous Goals, Evade, Race, King of the Hill, Ephemeral Goals, Preventing Goals, New Abilities, Improved Abilities, Decreased Abilities, Ability Losses, Game Pauses, Turn Taking, Puzzle Solving, Empowerment, Tension, Anticipation, Hovering Closures, Resources, Arithmetic Rewards for Investments, Quick Games, Analysis Paralysis, Trading, Renewable Resources

Can Be Instantiated By

Deadly Traps, Shared Resources, Power-Ups, Delayed Effects, The Show Must Go On

Can Be Modulated By

Goal Indicators, Progress Indicators, Game State Indicators, Tied Results

Potentially Conflicting With

Safe Havens, Downtime, Self-Facilitated Games, Game Pauses


This pattern was part of the original collection 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.