You know I was thinking this over but does the essence of time matter in a game? To clarify, time can be taken two ways when we talk video games; the progress in which you beat a game, per say hours completed or time played, or what I'm actually making the topic about: in-game real-time.
Video games are based in a fictional world with many of the AI's having...well obviously a programmed/set personality; so I always wondered if a game was better because it had a day and night cycle/section. Does having nighttime gameplay, really change the overall experience of the game? Is it important for "days" to pass in a video game to signify the length of the journey you are on? A good argument to look at it is, does nighttime gaming add a "new" element? By new elements, we can look at where one (the player aka you) can do extra missions, see different sides of characters, and sometimes not see where the heck they are going.
Games tackle this aspect in many different ways, be it using a real-time / clock-system time like Animal Crossing or Pokemon Gold/Silver, having an in-game day-night cycle like the Legend of Zelda (overworld only not in towns or dungeons), and lastly having the plot count for time (for example in the beginning of Final Fantasy IX it starts in the evening, goes to night, and obviously the next story part is considered the "next day"). Personally, I don't mind any of these ways, though my favorite would probably be the "Zelda" way because I can somewhat control it and it is fairly quick and simple. However, if the game is meant to be played with a story in mind and the writer / director says this part of the game is meant to be at night and we just so happen to play "in night" for the next 6 hours, then that's cool.
What I do mind though is if they are used to prolong my game progress in a cheap, negative aspect. As in all games, some side-quests can only be done at certain times and pending plot or access to areas, they may go away forever. That's not necessarily what I am talking about, it's more of being forced to hunt at night for specific things only because 'they appear at night kind of thing'. I think Animal Crossing might be a good example, because they have certain objects tied to certain parts of the day, and while yes, I do have the ability to change my console clock to anytime I want, it's still a bit of extra work I sometimes do not want to do. The Legend of Zelda also had this problem, though in OoT they at least had the Sun's Song to make days go by faster, other Zelda games without it, well you gotta stand outside for a few minutes till that Sun rises back up. It's more of I don't like this being used to unnecessarily extend or "delay" a game, rather than being additive content.
Think back to the original Pokemon time and settings were based on location; not real-time or time based on progress of the game. If I wanted to catch a Weedle in Pokemon Red or Blue, I would go to Viridian Forest and catch one, or if I had Pokemon Yellow, I would look to trade with someone; but now in Pokemon some Pokemon are only available "at night", making hunting/catching Pokemon a bigger chore than it is now. Not to be like an old timer who goes POKEMON WAS BETTER IN MY DAY, no it's just the night version of this area in Pokemon doesn't add anything other than "this Pokemon is available at night" so now I have to trek on back over there. Some games have areas where it is just perpetually night, not from a curse or anything, more of just that you got there at night and the plot makes it seem as you are there at the time period you entered it from plot. I don't mind this at all, but to counter myself, then it makes you wonder what the town is like in the day.
Looking at the Legend of Zelda aspect I can take this method of time in three ways comparing the greats of Link to the Past and Ocarina of Time, but also the lackluster Skyward Sword. Now, all three have different aspects of time (none real-time), Link to the Past has no time in it's game, each area is of a different setting; you start the game off at night, but from then on you go to different areas where it rains only in one spot, it is sunny in the other, etc. As you can see, just exploring and venturing to new areas was the idea of discovery in this game. Everything remains the same, no matter what panel of the map you are in, so there aren't things that are "time exclusive" or require you to wait X amount of days for; which is the simplicity charm in games today (advanced back then).
In Ocarina of Time, you have a based timer on time only in the open world, in towns time is frozen to either day or night. In addition, like in Skyward Sword, you have the ability to change from day to night in an instant (in Skyward Sword you would sleep). I think the time aspect works well in Ocarina of Time, because it is easy to use and the nighttime gaming really boosts the experience of the player. You get to play the Bombchu game, as a kid you have the Stalchildren (which really freaks you at the first time you play), and you need to use the days to help you on certain sidequests (biggoron sword). This made you realize that these programmed boring NPCs are not just there forever, standing there saying the same things. It brought a sense of life to the game, but also it's own adventure. The fact that things are different, people say different things, there are different unlockables, and I can access this at anytime I want really made night-time towns and gaming really matter. It's not that I'm just playing at night and haha that's like real life! No, it's that it brought a sense of life and realism to a game and enhanced the experience of it. Areas are closed off, NPC's that may be asleep in the day are now awake, the music has changed, and you just get a full understanding of the town, without having to live there.
Now, you may wonder why I mentioned Skyward Sword but it is really quite simple, Skyward Sword is how you DO NOT DO NIGHT-TIME GAMING. As you know in Skyward Sword, you are relegated to only one town, not to mention with a bunch of annoying, forgettable characters with limited interaction in town (not Groose or Zelda aka main characters). Well, the night-time gameplay is just horrible, if you can even consider this was nighttime gaming. First, off you can't leave the town, so there is no exploration, no freedom in an "adventure game" (that's more than 10 years older than OoT). Second, every creature attacks you at night, but why? There is no reasoning for this and Skyloft is supposed to be considered peaceful and the land above the clouds, so why am I being attacked in my own village? Last, the sidequests aren't even worth doing, considering their minimal reward. Why have nighttime gaming? Is it just because all Zelda's since Ocarina of Time had night-time gaming? If you add something that doesn't add to the plot, doesn't bring meaningful or even useful rewards, and takes away all aspect of your village...then what's the purpose? The idea of nighttime gaming is too add elements that you cannot do in the day of your adventure or bringing the player to understand more of the world, not just limit him to walking around an empty husk.
Take Xenoblade Chronciles for example, by having control of the clock, you can make it day, night, even afternoon or evening! Every town would have different AI's appear at different times, while the main hub-world would remain practically unchanged; therefore giving you the sense of familiarity and discovery. This is a wonderful function to have on hand and I hope some future RPGs will implement this as well!
All in all, I have never been the biggest fan of time in a game, as it does not really doesn't matter to me. Most of the time, I believe the setting should already be programmed in; I don't really much care for the game changing from morning to night while I run across the mountains; it's a cool aesthetic but I can do without it. While I play games I assume some areas should happen at night, either according to the story or whatever, and some happen during the day i.e. Uncharted. I also have always been for one to having the idea of the full game available at our disposal at anytime, which means I don't' really want to waste time in both the game and my real life, waiting for 3 days to pass so I can hatch an egg.
You thought I would forget to say this?!
I HATE WHEN....
Games count you pausing as in game-time and go on your save file. No, I did not play your game for 80 hours I fell asleep or left the game on pause and forgot it was on!
Michael Troina is a Nintendo enthusiast and lover, who also has a soft spot for Sonic the Hedgehog and anime. When he's not out saving people from bad games as Spiderman in Queens, NY he can be found at his Youtube Channel: GAMEMEN / SNBGaming64 where he uploads everyday or you can also follow his twitter at Troyfullbuster.