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Time Is Of The Essence

by Jeff Cork on Aug 01, 2012 at 12:04 PM

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Time is one of those things that you simply can’t fight. The clock keeps spinning ‘round, whether or not you want it to. Rather than fight it, a few games have cleverly incorporated the element of time directly into gameplay. Here are a few noteworthy examples of time-sensitive games.

Animal Crossing

Nintendo’s town simulation made the most of the GameCube’s internal clock. Unlike titles like Harvest Moon, which featured an accelerated day and night cycle, Animal Crossing kept players interested by incorporating real-world time into the game. Players could explore their village at any hour, which affected more than the virtual sun’s position. NPCs had their own schedules, including dog guitarist K.K. Slider, who played tunes at a café each Saturday evening. Special seasonal events and holiday celebrations also provided an incentive to keep checking the town’s progress. Animal Crossing also featured an ingenious way to thwart cheaters. Players who thought they could outsmart the game by tinkering with the GameCube’s clock found themselves at the mercy of Mr. Resetti, a talkative mole who reveled in long-winded lectures.

Assassin’s Creed II

Ezio Auditore da Firenze was more than a master assassin; he was also a shrewd investor. As the campaign advanced, the hero from Assassin’s Creed II became a bit of a mogul. Ezio could purchase a variety of buildings and businesses in the world, which in turn made him increasingly wealthier. Every 20 minutes or so, interest from his holdings would be deposited in his account. That amount of time was admittedly arbitrary, but it served an important purpose: The additional income didn’t just fuel the game’s economic system—it was a powerful incentive to keep playing.

Fable II

As shrewd as Ezio may have been, he had nothing on Fable II’s heroes. Players could not only become landlords and barons, but they could make money in their sleep—quite literally. Income would pour in whether the game was on or not, providing a cash bump for players when they returned to Albion. There are certainly worse ways to earn a living.


Sega’s fish-man simulator wasn’t just a showcase for voice-recognition on Dreamcast. Seaman’s tiny ecosystem was also dependent on the system’s clock, letting players nurture a tiny egg through maturity. Players couldn’t just walk away from the game if they wanted to see it through to its conclusion; Seaman’s tank would get progressively dirtier as time passed, and the water’s temperature could fluctuate to deadly extremes. The game’s often-absurd conversations were a great way to pass the time—something that, as it turns out, was quite important.

Tiny Tower

Free-to-play games often use cooldowns and timers as a way to motivate players to open their wallets. Instead of waiting to make progress, impatient players can jump ahead for a few bucks. Nimblebit’s Tiny Tower (on Android and iOS) supports microtransactions, but it’s refreshingly viable to progress through it without spending a cent. It’s good enough that you might want to pony up a little cash, anyway. Just about everything in the tower-building game is based on time, whether you’re adding floors to your building or stocking merchandise for the adorable bitizens. It’s a perfect game for mobile devices, since you’ll find yourself popping in several times a day to make sure everything’s running smoothly.