Developers! Are you looking for a way to spice up your video game? A way to make the action more gripping, thrilling, tense, and all the other words that people tend to use about HBO drama instead of video games? Well, have you considered imposing a time limit? Nothing adds a sense of jeopardy to an otherwise dull game like slapping on a timer. If you think queueing is dull, just imagine a queue when you're running late! That's how thrill-enhancing time limits are, and here are a few of our most notable unfavourites.
Sonic's Drowning Timer
Rayman: Origins scored itself a massive green tick when it let the entire cast breathe underwater. You don't need to explain it, Ubisoft. We don't want to know how it works. It's enough that you're not following the Sonic path, where increasingly urgent drowning music makes us speed recklessly into some spikes that you only put there, knowing we'd be rushing because you're making us panic with that damn music. And how many times have we drowned, waiting for a breathable bubble to appear? Have you given your air bubbles malevolent AI?
Tomb Raider had a similar deal, but Lara's oxygen level was visible. This created its own problems, though. First, it means you have to design a level around the character's lung capacity. The player knows that, so it kills the stress. And because drowning timers are all about generating stress, there's an incentive to make the map disorientating, or the correct path difficult to spot.
"Times when you walk around in circles for ten minutes because the devs thought it'd be funny to tuck the exit away in an anti-intuitive cranny" is another list waiting to happen. Might have to trim down the title though.
I Am Alive's Energy Meter
Length: Around 50 metres
I Am Alive's energy bar isn't a time limit, but it acts like one. It adds the tension that's lacking in a Croft underwater level. It depletes as you do anything that's not walking, and only recovers when you're stood on secure ground. If it runs out when you're climbing, then you'll drop like an exhausted meat-stone.
The problem with I Am Alive's energy bar isn't the fact that it builds adversity - this is a survival game that's a master of player vs developer attrition. The problem is that it shines a huge, embarrassing spotlight on the difficulty of punishing the player for death. In order to not be a massively alienating nutache, I Am Alive has to give you Retries. And when you run out of retries? You get knocked back to a save point rather than a checkpoint. When "DO IT AGAIN" is the biggest weapon in your box, it makes a time limit feel pretty toothless. Is that all you've got? The gaming equivalent of writing out lines?
Prince of Persia
Length: 60 Minutes
Prince of Persia had a good compromise on the problem of punishment. It gave you an overall time limit to complete the game, and every time you died, time was removed from that total. Every death added to the overall feeling that you were in a hopeless situation. But at least you could practice, so that you didn't buttock it up so hairily next time. To be fair, this system wasn't so bad - it gave you a chance to hone your skills, and get ever closer to the end. In that respect, it's like...