Day and night, do or don't?
A lot of games feature day and night cycles and a lot don’t, why is that? My team and I started a discussion about how we would want to switch days and nights in Woven, and this is the topic we ended up talking about: Control vs Realism. I thought about sharing that and hope it helps other developers out there.
To any sort of world building, it is essential that you know how your world works, and why the things are the way they are. Your players don’t need to know, but they do need to experience it. A day and night cycle is one of the ways you can do this.
In a realistic world, for a planet with rotation, you want a day and night cycle. But you don’t want your players to stumble around in the dark half of their game time. And not all developers want to incorporate light-source mechanics. If you want to have control over your game and the experience players have in it; you might not want to incorporate a day and night cycle at all, not even mention it.
You can go as far as you want with this. Games like Pokémon actually used the local time to determine the time in the game. Catching a night creature meant staying up late. It's fun, but not always an option. If you like playing during the night, you will be playing at night all the time! That's full-on Realism with no control. For us, this wasn’t an option.
Games by Bethesda (Fallout, Elder Scrolls) use a semi realistic time loop in which the hours are sped up. Also, they shortened the night cycle to accommodate the playing during daylight. Good solution, but not all games can do it. That brings good realism, but it takes out the control.
In this approach, as the story progresses, so does the time. Games with a linear story and separate chapters or levels are great for this. A linear path, with no turning back. As a developer you set the ambiance for each of the separate levels, by slowly progressing the time, but realistically. That's great realism with perfect control. Great, but in our game, Woven, you often return to a previous level. You do this because, for example, a new pattern has given you the ability to super jump yourself across a chasm that was too wide for you at first.
This approach is very close to the linear approach. Each area has its own time zone, but now you can go back, turning back the time of day as well. Does that sound confusing? Yes, it can be. However, Games like World of Warcraft managed to successfully pull this off, with a great result. In that game, the developers focused on giving every area a distinct ambiance, and enhance them with music, color schemes, and yes, the time of the day.
In Woven, ambiance is one of the pillars for the game. That is why we have chosen an area based approach. More control, less realism. In other words, a transition between areas means a transition in time. But this has to be done slowly and smoothly; if you turn the clock in a matter of steps, you will break the realism beyond belief, and it will hurt the whole experience.
My tip: balance the realism you want versus the control you need. We have a character that gives light and that has become a game-mechanic in the game. If you don’t want that, there are of course ways to darken a scene without needing an actual light, or you give your players the moon to help them see around.
Then there is of course the matter of 3D or 2D. If you have a 3D game like us, day and night cycles are a little easier. If you are developing a 2D game, developing a realistic day and night cycle can give both the developers and artist awful nightmares. Games like Alto’s Adventure pulled it off though… In the end you do what feels right.
Thanks for reading.
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