Difference between revisions of "Time Limits"

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

Revision as of 17:09, 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.

Many games put limits on how long players can plan or perform certain actions while other put limits on how long the game as a whole can take. By doing so they can guarantee that the game progresses according to some planned design or that the gaming activity will be concluded before a certain time. The latter can can also be used to create end conditions in game where there otherwise would be none. The measurement of time can be either in game time or real time, or both although limits in game time only influences rather than controls the length of play and game sesions.

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.


In the racing games Sega Rally and Outrun gamers have a certain number of seconds to reach the next check point or lose the game. Reaching it in time adds time to reach a new check point, encouraging gamers not only to reach the point within the given time but do it as fast as possible.

Soccer matches have a time limit of 90 minutes (plus some extra time depending on the judgment of the referees) divided into two periods of 45 minutes. This limits how much physical effort the teams must be able to produce and makes it easier to plan tournaments and media coverages.

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

The final parts of campaigns in the Left 4 Dead Series typically end with pitched stands where the gamers need to survive for a certain amount of time. Although the time is fixed it is not revealed until it is passed and a vehicle taking the PCs to safety shows up. In the survival modes games of the same series the goal for players to still be alive after 4 or more minutes to meet the goal conditions but in this case the time survived is shown clearly in the interface.

Ricochet Robots gives the other gamers a limited amount of time to find better solutions to the game's movement puzzles after one has been given by one of the gamers. This provides a chain of Time Limits in the game until all gamers fail to find a better solution.

Using the pattern

Time Limits can be introduced implicitly or explicitly in a game. Basically all Real-Time Games have implicit limits on how much time one has available for some action due to the actions of other players or Enemies but this is more often understood rather as conflicts or competitions with these adversaries.


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, e.g. in Soccer or some Quick Games. Games with Continuous Goals, such as Survive or those being 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

Time Limits are usually quite easy to incorporate in the diegesis of a game since many real-time events typically have noticeable indicators before they occur. These can both be natural occurrences, e.g. rock falls or rising water levels, but also man-made ones, such as countdowns on explosives, which provides game designers with a wide range of possibilities to explain the Time Limits within the Game World presentation.

Interface Aspects

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


Time Limits make time a Resource, more specifically a Limited Resource, for players. They automatically give players Limited Planning Ability (regardless if any planning is required), 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 also be used to control the contraction of Shrinking Game Worlds, create Tick-Based Games, or limit how often Resources can be invested when situations where Arithmetic Rewards for Investments exist. For games that requires Player Physical Prowess the use of Time Limits puts a limit to the needed effort, or at least the needed endurance of the players.

More specifically, Time Limits can be used for at least three different reasons: first, to create Time Pressure and Tension for the players related to 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 create Time Limited Game Instances, limit the lifespan of specific modes of play or to make Tied Results possible.

When the players have some Game State Indicator of how much is left of the Time Limit naturally creates Anticipation and sometimes Hovering Closures. Often Time Limits are used to have more pressure on the players leave areas in the Game World, such as Deadly Traps and Safe Havens, or to perform other types of actions, e.g. 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.