Anatomy of the Time Keeper: Keeping busy gamers out of trouble

Time Keeper diagram

I don’t have time to write this.  I’m a new dad trying to start a new company in a new field and I really don’t have time to write this blog, let alone play games.  By chance I came across this article and it sent me down the garden path of how a video game could be built that respected one’s time.  So that’s that.

“Respect your time” does not mean that save anywhere mechanic, the drop in and out mechanic or the casual who gives a shit mechanic.  It means real accomplishment or game advancement in a predictable quanta of time.  I want to meaningfully push the story ahead.  I want a needs-payoff pat on the back/self-high-five.

So, I asked around.  Am I the only insane person that thinks this is a good idea?  I get these ideas sometimes at the bottom of way too many beers that, in the light of day, are silly.  This one seemed to resonate.  The traction with others grew to the point that I’m making it the pivot point of my company.  Oh crap, now how do you build it?

The name came first.  Time Keeper, it just reeks of arrogance splashed with brilliance.  At least that’s the story I’m sticking to and it started with two question:  How far away from the goal am I? And, what happens if I don’t head towards it?  It snowballed from there.  You need the measurement and the stick or carrot.  It’s a simple feedback loop of progress.

In its basic form, it’s the giant boot that squishes the bug if it doesn’t move.  You see this pronounced in a game like World of Tanks where everybody loses (draw) when the time runs out.  Or, with a bit more subtlety in a game like Spilunky with the “Get your ass in gear” ghost.  My preference is to go with the more subtle option.  But, how do you make a giant kick in the ass subtle?  Easy, smaller taps and more of them.  If you can use many small prods or create interesting things to chase, you can make the player forget that he is being corralled to the end of the level.

I’ve attached a basic block drawing of the first iteration of the Time Keeper.  We take all the information the player has to give us.  The important thing to notice is that the Time Keeper does not modify anything about the player.  That’s left up to them.  What it does drive heavily, at least in this game, is the enemy attributes.  From location to rate of fire, everything is monitored and modified with the intent to get the player through the level in a time of 15 minutes.  Don’t think that you’re safe because we want you to complete something in a set time.  My thought is to kill you fast if you don’t want to cooperate and that is a promise.  Being in sales for many years has taught me this motto:  “If you have to fail, fail fast.”  Reason being, it gives you time to try something else.  The last key item is flow.  One must balance the player’s skill with the level of difficulty.  Without a good balance your game becomes boring or frustrating.

With all these factors tuned, we accomplish our goal a high percentage of the time.  Our biggest and so far most detrimental issue, is how to show this mechanic to you in a Steam Greenlight setting.  We are struggling with Great Big Gun to convey the function of a ghost in the room that no one is supposed to see.  We are open to suggestions.  All we can do for now is leave you with our value proposition and hope you remember it when you see one of our games.

BuschFire Development builds video games for long time video game lovers, which provide a compelling story, interesting game mechanics and that respect the time restrictions of the player.

Time Keeper diagram

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