Chapter 4: Time and Plot

 Contents of The Inform Recipe Book Chapter 3: Place Chapter 5: The Viewpoint Character Indexes of the examples

§4.1. The Passage Of Time

A game that makes heavy use of time may want to give the player a hint that time is important - and an easy way to keep track of how it's going - by adding the current time to the status line, instead of the score. To do this, we would write

When play begins: change the right hand status line to "[time of day]".

All else being equal, time passes at a rate of one minute per turn. But this need not be so: we can imagine a game where turns take much less time, or much more; or a game in which the passage of time was sometimes suspended, or one in which different actions required different amounts of time to perform.

Situation Room provides a way to print 24-hour time, while Zqlran Era 8 implements a completely new measurement of time, for a game set on an alien world.

Uptempo and The Hang of Thursdays speed up time's passage: turns take fifteen minutes in the former, or a quarter day in the latter.

Timeless makes certain actions instant, so that they don't count against the clock; this is sometimes useful in timed situations where the player needs to review the situation before going on with a tricky puzzle. Endurance systematically extends this idea to allow us to assign different durations to any action in the game. The Big Sainsbury's goes the opposite direction, and meticulously adds a minute to the clock for all implicit take actions, just so that the player isn't allowed to economize on moves.

An alternative approach to time is not to tell the player specifically what hour of the day it is at all, but to move from one general time period to another as it becomes appropriate - when the player has solved enough puzzles, or worked his way through enough of the plot. To this end we might use scenes representing, say, Thursday afternoon and then Thursday evening; then our scene rules, rather than the clock, would determine when Thursday afternoon stopped and Thursday evening began:

Thursday afternoon is a scene. Thursday evening is a scene.

Thursday afternoon ends when the player carries the portfolio.

Thursday evening begins when Thursday afternoon ends.
When Thursday evening begins:
say "The great clock over St. Margaret's begins to chime 6.";

Though this gives time a loose relation to the number of turns played, it feels surprisingly realistic: players tend to think of time in a game in terms of the number of significant moves they made, while the random wandering, taking inventory, and looking at room descriptions while stuck don't make as big an impression. So advancing the game clock alongside the player's puzzle solutions or plot progress can work just as well as any stricter calculation.

See Passers-By, Weather and Astronomical Events for cycles of day and night scenes

See Waiting, Sleeping for commands to let the player wait until a specific time or for a specific number of minutes

See Clocks and Scientific Instruments for clocks that can be set to times and that have analog or digital read-outs

See Timed Input for discussion of extensions allowing real-time input

 ExampleSituation RoomPrinting the time of day in 24-hour time, as in military situations.

 ExampleThe Big Sainsbury'sMaking implicit takes add a minute to the clock, just as though the player had typed TAKE THING explicitly.

 ExampleUptempoAdjust time advancement so the game clock moves fifteen minutes each turn.

 ExampleTimelessA set of actions which do not take any game time at all.

 ExampleEnduranceGiving different actions a range of durations using a time allotment rulebook.

 ExampleThe Hang of ThursdaysTurns take a quarter day each, and the game rotates through the days of the week.

 ExampleZqlran Era 8Creating an alternative system of time for our game, using new units.