A Few Comments on Rhythm and Timers
Wednesday, January 7, 2009 at 9:57AM
Richard Terrell (KirbyKid) in Geometry Wars, Misc Design & Theory, Pikmin, Zelda

This article follows Tension: Threats & Timers.


"Rhythm based combat."

Like "greater than the sum of its parts" describing gameplay with "rhythm based combat" or "there's a rhythm to it" doesn't say anything specific about the game. What action game doesn't have a rhythm to it? Mario's jumps have a rhythm. Smash Brothers has a beat. Even button mashing in Kingdom Hearts has a repeating pattern to it. Check out the rhythms of Balrogs attacks and the fire ball traps (video above).

If poetry and prose have rhythm despite not being fixed to a particular timing, then turn based/non action games have rhythm too.

Getting into the zone or syncing up with the rhythm of a game is possible with all action games. So, describing Assassin's Creed's combat or Prince of Persia's combat in this way isn't saying much about the quality or the design of either game. Instead of highlighting a feature of the game, this phrase alone merely functions as coverup for some serious underlying issues.

Discussing mechanics and interplay is essential when talking about combat. You can put this statement along with the others from How To Write A Critical Video Game Review.


Pikmin 1 vs Pikmin 2

One of the biggest changes between Pikmin 1's and Pikmin 2's level design was the removal of the limited exploration time. In Pikmin 1, players have 30 game days to scavenge the land in search of treasures and ship parts before blasting off for home. This limit functioned as a timer that threatened to essentially end the game for the players. With a limited time to get down to business, every second counted. This pressure, like the pressure from the timer in Cursor*10, influences players to make quick decisions and to multitask on the fly.

In Pikmin 2, players have as many days as they want to explore the planet. Furthermore, when exploring subterranean caves, the in game timer is paused. Instead of creating an organic, cyclical rhythm out of the day to day timers, the sense of time and therefore tension in Pikmin2 is stressed and weakened. Though with two characters (Olimar & Louie/Mr. President) players are capable of executing more complex multitasking maneuvers than in Pikmin 1, why bother? With no overarching limiting factor, instead of multitasking to maximize time, the safer course of action is to minimize loss by doing tasks one at a time with the strength of your entire Pikmin army.

For this reason, I prefer some of the design choices in Pikmin1 to Pikmin2. By removing the pressure of time, player may be able to explore at their leisure. But at the same time, they are encouraged to tackle each task one at a time using the simple strategy "strength in numbers." By playing like this, players are exposed to less of the intricacies of Pikmin's core design RTS design.

To make an analogy, the beauty of Star Craft, Advance Wars, or RPGs for that matter does not come from over leveling/running over the enemy after building an exorbitant amount of powerful units. The beauty and depth of these games comes from working with the limitations of time to create effective dynamic, and flexible strategies to accomplish a gaol.


The Great Disappearing Act

A classic type of video game timer that creates tension from the loss of opportunity is the disappearing powerup/item. Kill an enemy and it might drop something useful. But you better grab it quickly. After a few seconds, these powerups begin to blink indicating that they'll soon be gone forever.

Article originally appeared on Critical-Gaming Network (http://critical-gaming.com/).
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