This week on PopMatters I gush about a game I wish I had played sooner: Risk of Rain. I mostly like its clock.
I really didn't know much about it, which is kind of hard to believe since it has almost everything I tend to gravitate towards in games: platforming, reflex-based skill challenges, permadeath, randomized items and enemies. It's basically catnip for yours truly. The part of Risk of Rain I admire above all else is the time management.
Yes, I realize how dorky that sounds. But, as a general rule, I think clocks tend to improve all kinds of games. A time limit speeds up dynamics that might otherwise get boring and adds a sense of urgency to all types of decisions. I’d play way more boardgames if they had time limits. I probably wouldn’t be nearly as interested in the Telltale-style adventure games if you could just stand around thinking about a decision during a dramatic moment.
Time precipitates interesting decisions. Even the most skilled people are challenged to make mistakes when they’re rushed (like the clip from this past Superbowl I included in the column). Risk of Rain bounds your abilities, level progression, and even the game’s overall difficulty to a timer. When you pair this with potentially disastrous consequences, you get a game in which your opponent isn’t the only enemy. You’re also fighting the clock.