Ethan Hoeppner – “Turn Based Strategy Games Need Turn Timers”

Ethan Hoeppner builds off of his definition of “information generalizability” and especially the difference between calculation (the “hard” mathematical solution to finding the best possible move) and analysis (the more intuitive and automatic process of making ambiguious decisions). Interestingly he also draws a connection to the “burden of optimal play”:

The fun strategy and the strategically optimal strategy should be one and the same, but if you give the player infinite time to calculate, they aren’t. You force the player to choose which strategy they will go with: the fun strategy of using analysis, or the boring-but-optimal strategy of using calculation.

Find out more at his blog:

  • Was just gonna post this one! Awesome, concise and in my mind fairly convincing argument. Well worth the read :).

  • I feel like the brief aside on real-time games could have been fleshed out more. I think that, where possible, designing real time systems is more effective than just implementing a turn timer, as it fixes two of the issues I personally have with the idea of turn timers.
    The first is that turn timers are somewhat arbitrary, and the second is that it can be unclear what needs to happen when the turn timer actually expires. On the other hand, a real time game like Tetris doesn’t have either of these problems. You have to make your decisions within a limited amount of time due to a more organic restriction – if your block reaches the bottom of the free space on the board, then it will no longer have room to move and will get locked in place. This locking in place is also nice, because it is an organic, predictable consequence of taking too long to make a decision.
    In many ways, Tetris is already a turn-based game, where every block you place counts as a turn. Instead of having a timer, though, the game’s constant gravity forces players to analyze in a more natural, organic way than a turn timer would. I do want to see more games enforce restrictions on turn duration, but I think there are more graceful ways to do it than by having an arbitrary little clock ticking down in a corner somewhere.

    • Hey Nicholas, thanks for the comment.

      I actually agree strongly that real-time games are generally the best way to go. The reason this post focused on turn-based games is that there are a lot of designers (including many of the writers on this site) who think of turn-based games as the default, and of real-time games as some weird other thing that isn’t really on the table for serious design discussion. I figure that, given that the goal is to convince those people that time limits in general are a good idea, starting with “maybe turn-based games shouldn’t allow infinite time on each turn” is going to be more effective than jumping straight to “you should stop making turn-based games altogether and move to a whole other paradigm, real-time games.”

      I will likely be writing another post soon as a continuation of this post that will argue in favor of real-time games.