Clockwork Games and Time Loops | Game Maker's Toolkit



There’s a handful of games where time is taken very seriously. In this video, I look at the design, challenges, and opportunities of what we might call “clockwork games”.

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Sources

Outer Wilds: a game of curiosity-driven space exploration | USC Digital Library

Learn, reset, repeat: The intricacy of time loop games

Games shown in this episode (in order of appearance)

The Gardens Between (The Voxel Agents, 2018)
Metro Exodus (4A Games, 2019)
Assassin’s Creed: Origins (Ubisoft Montreal, 2017)
Far Cry New Dawn (Ubisoft Montreal, 2019)
Batman: Arkham Knight (Rocksteady Studios, 2015)
The Last Express (Smoking Car Productions, 1997)
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask (Nintendo, 2000)
StarCraft II (Blizzard Entertainment, 2010)
Outer Wilds (Mobius Digital, 2019)
Fallout 3 (Bethesda Game Studios, 2008)
The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild (Nintendo, 2017)
Dead Rising (Capcom, 2006)
Dead Rising 2 (Capcom Vancouver, 2010)
Dead Rising 3 (Capcom Vancouver, 2013)
The Sexy Brutale (Cavalier Game Studios, 2017)
Elsinore (Golden Glitch, 2019)
Minit (JW, Kitty, Jukio, and Dom, 2018)
Vision Soft Reset (Mark Radocy, 2019)
12 Minutes (Luis Antonio, Unreleased)
Deathloop (Arkane Studios, Unreleased)
Hitman 2 (IO Interactive, 2018)
Watch Dogs 2 (Ubisoft Montreal, 2016)
RimWorld (Ludeon Studios, 2013)
Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain (Kojima Productions, 2015)
Deus Ex: Human Revolution (Eidos Montreal, 2011)
Rage 2 (Avalanche Studios / id Software, 2019)
The Swindle (Size Five Games, 2015)
Persona 5 (Atlus, 2017)
Just Cause 4 (Avalanche Studios, 2018)
Marvel’s Spider-Man (Insomniac Games, 2018)

Music used in this episode

The Gardens Between soundtrack – Tim Shiel (
Outer Wilds soundtrack – Andrew Prahlow (
The Sexy Brutale soundtrack – Cris Velasco (
Minit soundtrack – Jukio Kallio (
Deus Ex: Human Revolution soundtrack – Michael McCann (
The Legend of Zelda: Majora’s Mask soundtrack – Koji Kondo

Other credits

Groundhog Day © Columbia Pictures

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All Comments

  • Kingdom Come Deliverance

    Infamous Gaming July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • I normally don't care for time limits, but I personally like how Persona handles time managements and I'm glad it had a couple seconds of screen time here. Rather than managing actual time, you're managing time the same way you manage turn based combat. Everything is fairly static, but will move forward once you make a decision on how to spend time.
    I think if applied to a much shorter scale, a more ambitious take of the system can be done to make the lives of other characters less routine and could react to how you spend your time regardless of if they were involved or not. It was always strange how a sub-plot in Persona picks up where it left off even if it was several in-game months ago.

    Seacliff July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • hehe

    Kodd - The Cod Master July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Not perfect by any means but in Final Fantasy XIII: Lightning Returns there are places and events only available at certain times or within a time limit which you can literally forget about if you go to do smth else (there are no reminders of active quests if you don't go to the menu). I failed a particular mission like this and the very next ingame day I was heartbroken when shown the consequences D: I loved that tho

    Marco Dardis July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Animal Crossing New Horizons has a level of clockwork too 🙂

    SnugPig Gaming July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • I know it was controversial but I loved Fallout 1's time limit: I ended up with a lot of time to spare but not just going out into the wasteland at a leisurely pace chilling about as in later games, and instead constantly checking the countdown (100 days?) before your hometown dies of lack of water was really really putting me in the zone of someone on a mission that they can't stray too far from. When you get the choices of throwing down a heap of cash to get water supplies to the vault in exchange for potential unwanted attention it's a choice that seems obviously wrong in most games where you'd just find all the options before deciding, but with the ticking clock in Fallout 1 some players might take the security of the quick fix if they're unsure if they have time for something proper. When you get to a town with a water chip and have the choice to steal it and hence doom the people living in it you would in any other game do the harder solution where everyone lives, but if you only have a few days left you might feel like saving your own home before it's too late takes priority over scouting about and sneaking around to find another option.
    sorry if I got pretentious and all but it was just such a nice way to keep you focused and determined while also putting you in tougher spots than otherwise. And once you do get the water chip you do get time to maybe explore what you skipped before: that threat gets replaced with a bigger one but I don't think that the lategame objective has a time limit?

    Emelie July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • 1:09 – Nitpick time! Outer Wilds is absolutely "interplanetary", but I wouldn't describe it as "interstellar" without some particularly tortured mental gymnastics.

    ReverendTed July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • man you rock, i love watching these vids you make!

    Mohammed Sawaie July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Completely agree.

    KadianTimberMan July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Giving a definition at the beginning for "clockwork games", then calling game after game a "clockwork game", but they all don't fit in the definition from the beginning. Meh…

    SpookyNooky July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • I finally played and completed Outer Wilds, so now I can watch this video. That was one of the best experiences I've had in gaming. The joy of discovery, putting seemingly disparate pieces of information together to figure out the logic puzzles…. it was so beautifully crafted, especially the ending. I will hype this game up to anyone that listens, especially for the cheap price it is.

    iniquity July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • in stardew valley everyone have an personal routine, and it changes with diferent seasons

    patrick July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Fallout 1 had a limited number of game days to complete the first objective, then a "hidden" timer for mutants who massacre towns if you don't stop them in time. Many disliked it for some reason, but I loved it. Even the old MDK game where you had to stop these monolithic machines from destroying cities. It's something like every thirty minutes it would give you a percentage of how destroyed a city became

    Faux Reality July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • I stress about time in real life. Not enough hours in a day to do everything I need to take care of. I don't want to stress about that in a video game. Time restraints suck

    outphase78 July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • The idea for a super hero game where you have to choose carefully what to do with the time you have would be am excellent foundation for a Superman game, where it's not the hero that is at risk, but rather the world around him.

    deanospimoniful July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Funny… the universe in motion is the only reason we have to live by time. And its so essential to living in the moving universe, yet the universe couldn't give less of a shit about what we call "time" if it tried.

    Its because the universe is so heavy, i think. Fat bastard universe…

    I am not Sean Lock July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • I loved Prey: Mooncrash that follows this style too.

    Steve July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Shenmue…

    JohnnyBadboy July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • What about Ghost Trick Phantom Detective?

    RBPthevorace July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Missed content is just replay value.

    Fizzle Dimglow July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • I don't mind if I miss some content if that improves the game. I usually don't like open world games, I need a goal, a series of tasks and a proper ending, i need to finish the game. But if game includes stuff happening whether you are present or not, and you can interact with the stuuf if you arrive on time, or with the consequences if you don't, and also it's sometimes day and sometimes night, I guess the games is improved.

    Vagabundork Chaos Magick-User July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • I can't believe you didn't mention the Way of the Samurai games. These are my personal favourite clockwork games.
    They all start pretty much the same. You're a nameless samurai who wanders into a new area, and are quickly introduced to some of the key power struggles going on.
    As you play, you learn more about the world, who's who, what's going on between factions, and all the little side stories. And of course, there's plenty of epic swordplay to go through.

    The thing that makes the games awesome, is that they are clockwork games as you put it. Each run lasts a few in game days. Going between areas, taking part in various events, etc all advance time. As time advances, different events will play out around the game world (factions will fight, characters will have personal events, etc). If the player does nothing (which is one of the "storylines") the game story will basically play its way through.

    However, the player naturally can take part in various events and help shape the story. In WotS4 for example, you come to a trade port where the British are doing trade deals with the local government. Right at the start, a fight breaks out between the government forces and a rebel group that want the British out of the country. As the player, you can sit back and watch, or help one side or the other, or even attack both. Your actions will shape how events unfold. You get to see the story from each side. You get to see how characters end up in positions that you might see them in later in the game.

    And the point is, to play through the game many times, making different choices and seeing all the various story paths and side stories. Along with mastering different weapon styles and building up uber swords. 🙂

    Each WotS game usually had about 8-10 endings. Depending on who you're helping out. You can also help one faction for a while then switch sides later on, which can drastically alter things. But it's also interesting because you might be helping a faction and learn they plan to attack a place that you feel is wrong. You can run to the other side and warn them, then get into a battle with your former allies with interesting dialogue they present to the traitor.

    Adam Taylor July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Anybody else play Titanic Adventure Out of Time?

    HomeSchool Guitar Lessons July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Any thoughts on how Persona 4 handles this? Time is finite with no loops, but the time limit is much longer than the other non-loop examples on your list.

    Carter De Leo July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • It’s about time

    Plu to July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • I played RDR2, I stopped doing the main story missions so long Javier came riding up to me and asked if I was going okay and if I wanted to go back to camp with him that I was being missed. I grinded the player so much I Morgan fully maxed out by the end of chapter two.

    Due to a saving error on my part, I lost all story mode progress. I have not finished the first play through but I want to play it again making some things happen sooner based on what I learned the first time.

    Blood Omen series had an interesting concept about time at the end of the series.

    Thanks for making the content.

    jessechappell2 July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Ngl, I kinda expected something on Minecraft . . .

    I'm caught far too often in the middle of nowhere when the sun goes down ;-;

    Secrets Secrets July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • So it's a 4D-game 😮

    Michael Thulin July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • What if as a way to loop it back, there’s an item or goal you reach that resets the map back to the start. There’s no time limit and the events are random in ORDER, but are set as specific events

    Benjamin Beauchamp July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • While these experiments are very interesting, I prefer games, in which one can experience all content in one playthrough. If there are time restrictions, this must be told to player (by placing a timer, for example, or, at least, making the event notable. I totally missed that Deus Ex trick. If there is some replayability, slowing tricks must be minimal. It's too boring to watch unskipable cutscenes (RDR 2), wait out spectacular camera movement and animations again and again. I know, it's really hard to think about everything, minimize "bottlenecks" and time-eating rides and filler-quests, but, maybe, it can be customized in the option menu…

    Пётр Кустов July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Fighting against time or games that require very fast reactions (and also pvp in games) always almost give me heart attacks. I need more games where i even sometimes just can sit in the gras and think about what doing next (so i looooove breath of the wild)

    BloodyClash July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Stardew valley works on a yearly schedule, with people doing different things on different days of the week, and in the different seasons. They do different things on their birthday, everyone gathers for festivals, they even have specific doctors appointments.
    You can also change these schedules. By fixing the bus, you give Pam a job, and she no longer does her normal schedule, and by fixing the community centre, people will come visit it.
    It makes the game feel like time is progressing, while still being in a loop, with changes depending on your actions

    Meemog July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • 2 words: Animal Crossing

    Joshua Card July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • @5:26 – THE SEXY BRUTALE, YAAAAAAAAAAS

    Edit: On topic of timed missions, recall how in Mass Effect 3 you could end up getting Jack and the kids killed/converted into husks by the Reapers if you didn't do that one mission on time? I recall my first playthrough and I read the flavor text/listened to the briefing and thought 'Oh, sounds time-sensitive, I better get on it.' Well, not everyone did, so if you didn't do it in an allotted time, the mission disappears and you run into an enemy that just so happens to be named Jack later on. I recall my boyfriend at the time being REALLY mad that Bioware would implement that in the game, but I wasn't thinking about how time mechanics were seldomly featured before that moment. So, yeah, I totally get his and others' frustrations now.

    ChibiGingi July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • …two episodes for the price of one??

    Momba250 July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Fun fact: There's an easter egg in The Outer Wilds that directly references Elsinore.
    One of the artists of Elsinore was the art director for The Outer Wilds.

    Soul-Burn July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • The played " the outer wilds" 2 weeks ago. This game has changed the way I see video games, its creepy, it's exciting, its mysterious, its expansive. It's a game that's all about the journey instead of the destination.
    I went into this game completely blind and had no idea about the time loop why anything was happening when they did, I didnt read any walkthroughs or how to videos and spent hours going through the evidence, backtracking, trying to find how to get where I needed to go, that might sound bad to some people, but by the end of it all, its truly e best gaming experiences I've had to date.

    Tamaz S July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Very interesting.
    I'd also like to hear about games where time travel is part of the game,
    and a discussion of ideas that lead to design game time vs real(ish) time (like a game where 12 days are one year).
    Looking forward to the next video about time

    Johannes Labisch July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • This is kind of a problem with Skyrim and other elders scrolls game. You've once a day abilities, but without any time pressure, you can just wait 24 hours in-game and recharge it. Sure it is too tedious for anyone to actually do, but there is no consequence for doing so.

    You wouldn't need to have one big timer, but several smaller timers where there are consequences for missing them.

    Red July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • that ending gonna be in my top 10 most convincing ad for a while

    Rifqi Maulana Jati July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • I'm usually one of those completionist people, so things like time limits and "missable" content almost always feel like unnecessary pressure. Thanks to that however, it feels extra special and fun when a game implements any sort of timing system well. Great food for thought here.

    Also, at 13:16 – Epic invented 0% promo codes for their affiliates, really? Brilliant, lol.

    Константин Иванов July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • An amazing clockwork game is Stardew Valley! Such a great time system

    ליאור שיפמן July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • Imagine Hollow Knight as a clockwork game

    Kingwolf July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply
  • If you let events happen randomly in time, then theres no reason for players to seek completeness.
    I never liked story mode games very much. I played minecraft my whole childhood long. I like more deciding my story instead of getting it told.

    Raz um July 14, 2020 3:55 pm Reply

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