As video games have become more and more complex over the last couple of decades, they've taken more ideas from reality into account. Physics have become more real, animations have created more human characters, and graphics are now more stunning than ever. While it's not a new innovation at all, one of the most important ones that has become better implemented since its inception has been the concept of day-and-night cycles within gaming worlds. These, implemented in conjunction with in-game clocks, have created more believable worlds, and new twists in how gameplay can work.


We like to attribute day/night cycles with games like Grand Theft Auto, Xenoblade, Zelda, and other games with fleshed-out worlds, but the concept dates back to the 1970s, if you'd believe it. A game called Super Speed Race V had one in 1977, where levels could either be during the day or at night. If you were playing at night, your car's headlights were turned on, and they were your only source of vision: you wouldn't be able to see cars that were behind you. From a bit of Googling, this is the first instance of a video game having some sort of difference in gameplay between day and nighttime, and the idea evolved alongside the industry.

Later, the game Where in the World is Carmen Sandiego? had a sort of time-clock thing, where you had to catch a thief but you could only work during the day time. It was really only in the 1990s when the distinction between day and night became used on a grander scale, where the concept became implemented into an actual world.

I'm not sure if it's the first instance, but The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time had a cycle where about every few minutes or so, the world would change from day to night if you were in Hyrule Field, and this led to a number of changes in the actual world. For example, the drawbridge to Castle Town goes up when night comes around so that the new Stalchildren monsters that appear at night don't invade the town. Shops close at night, and characters move around to different places. This made them actual, believable people; after all, no one stands outside their house all day and says "oh hey here's a quest!"; they need to sleep at some point. Majora's Mask used these ideas on an elevated level, with lots of different activities being available only at a certain part of the day. 

Some titles have emphasized the dangers of night time; a recent indie title, The Long Dark, involves the player surviving out in the wilderness at night, and they need to find shelter at night to avoid predators and get out of the cold.The Pikmin series has you trying to complete all your errands before the sun goes down, as you have to leave at night in order to avoid the giant creatures that come out. Zombie games like Dead Rising and Dying Light have more dangerous enemies when the night reveals itself. Other titles focus on different activities being present, such as Persona 4 Golden; some Social Links can only be completed at night, and you can only work at some jobs then as well.

Pokemon's done it too.

My favorite implementation of day/night cycles, though, is definitely in Xenoblade Chronicles. It combines basically all of the ideas I've talked about above, and does more. There are different quests available during the night and day, and some enemies only appear at certain times as well. The game even focuses on specific times or moments, like when the sun comes up. In addition, characters move around to different places at different times of day. They might sit on a bench for an in-game hour or so, and then walk around a town district for a bit. This goes beyond the simple idea of people staying in one place for the entire day or entire night, and really creates a believable world. 

Titles on the horizon only look like they're going to innovate on how this cycle works. Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain's going to have really dynamic AI with enemies changing their patrol routes, and more being out at different times based on the threat level at the time. I'm really interested to see how Xenoblade Chronicles X takes the cycle into account, and the same goes for Final Fantasy XV.

In any case, day-and-night cycles have really helped make video games become more like living, breathing worlds, as the cycle makes the world imitate our own on a grand scale. How do you feel about them, and what's your favorite game that emphasizes the change between day and night?