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The vast majority of video games can be said to fall into one of two groups by the way they deal with the flow of time.
The first group is turn-based games, which play like Chess or Rochambeau: The game is sliced into pieces so that each player can make decisions, give commands, and watch those commands being executed without interference from each other.
The second group is Realtime games, where time never stops for anyone: All players are interacting with the game simultaneously, where quick thinking and quick fingers can, depending on the game and/or player, become a key advantage.
While games within each group can be varied in style and design, Realtime and Turn-Based games tend to be very different from one another. Turn-Based games put an emphasis on thinking ahead and analyzing your best move from a wide array of choices, while Realtime games put an emphasis on quick-thinking and motor skills with a streamlined interface. As a result, they often appeal to different kinds of players.
Over the course of the years, there have been many diverse and sometimes very successful attempts to combine aspects of both groups into a single game. Such a game then belongs to the category of Realtime With Pause (RTWP, or Pausable Realtime [PRT]). The intended result is usually to keep the smooth pace of Realtime games, while allowing for more forethought and elaborate interfaces. In some cases, it simply makes a fast game more accessible to slower-fingered players.
Approaches to this issue are often unique or innovative, as there are many possible combinations to be tried. Games may have a different emphasis on action versus strategy, and interface design can make a huge difference too. Trying to play without the pause aspect can be a form of Self-Imposed Challenge.
RTWP games can generally be categorized into one of the following groups:
- Plain Realtime With Pause: The game runs in real time, which means that all characters and enemies act at all times. The player can give commands whenever he wishes, just as in regular "Realtime" games. However, if the game is paused, the player retains his/her ability to give orders, survey the playing field, and pretty much do anything that's possible when not paused. Once the game is unpaused, all orders given are executed normally. The main goal of this design is to allow players to stay "on top" of the situation, reducing the need to frantically move the mouse or controller all over the screen to get their bearings. It also allows issuing complex orders to multiple characters and digging deep through complex menu systems, which would otherwise require very fast fingers.
- This type of gameplay is usually only available in games where one human player is facing off against one or more computer-controlled opponents. If the game also has multiplayer mode, the option to pause is normally disabled completely in that mode.
- Since it relies more heavily on some degree of automation between orders, Artificial Stupidity may become a problem, so the ability to issue some kind of simple conditional commands is common, sometimes amounting to a simplistic Programming Game.
- Simultaneous Turn Resolution: This is an approach more similar to Turn-Based games. First, all players issue orders to their characters simultaneously, usually within a limited amount of time. Once everyone's done giving orders, the game goes into the “Execution Phase,” where all of these orders are executed simultaneously, while the players can only watch. Rinse and repeat until one side has lost.
- This style of gameplay attempts to circumvent one of the major grievances with traditional Turn-Based games--that one team moves or acts while the other team stand around like dummies until their next turn begins. Simultaneous Turn-Based games are especially advantageous for multiplayer, because the game takes the same amount of time to play no matter how many participants there are.
- In single-player games where there's only one entity under human control, this is commonly used to brush unimportant NPC movements under the rug, such as in Roguelikes and non-combat mode in many RPGs.
- Simultaneous Turn Resolution With Pause: As above, but combined with something like the ATB system from a Final Fantasy game. It gives the feel of a Realtime With Pause game, except in truth the game is actually a well-disguised Simultaneous Turn Resolution game. In this design, the game runs in what looks like realtime: The game runs by itself when unpaused, orders may be given and the game paused at any time. However, all actions start and end in unison, any order given—whether in paused or un-paused mode—is only executed once the next “turn” begins, and actions can't be interrupted or cancelled before they finish.
- Unintentional Realtime With Pause: The designers added the ability to pause the game as a simple convenience, allowing the player to take a break from the action. Often, the screen goes gray, and/or a big obtrusive box appears, saying "The game is paused". But while the designer intended the game to be truly paused, for some reason it is still possible to examine the playing-field and/or give orders to your units!
- Other designs: Since the number of combinations between Turn-Based and Realtime features is only up to the designer's imagination, it's not surprising that some games feature a combination that's never been done before.
Contrast Real Time Weapon Change.
- Several Realtime Strategy games developed in the 00's, including:
- The Age of Empires series
- Company of Heroes
- The Empire Earth series
- Supreme Commander
- Warrior Kings
- Note that the majority of RTS games, like the Command and Conquer and Warcraft series, do not allow PRT gameplay, but do allow slowing game-speed to a crawl. This achieves roughly the same purpose, making the game more manageable for players with less manual dexerity.
- Nearly all BioWare and (to a lesser extent) Obsidian Entertainment titles, as well as games made using engines licensed from them:
- The Baldurs Gate series
- With one (intentional) aversion in the original's single-player mode, where the entire game and all its menus respect the game's pausing...except for the inventory screen, which causes the game to unpause in the background, while you can't see anything. However, starting a single-player game as a multiplayer one bypasses it.
- The Icewind Dale series
- Planescape: Torment
- Black Isle Studios' cancelled Fallout 3 (known now only as “Project Van Buren”) was going to use an Infinity-style PRT system as well.
- Neverwinter Nights one and two
- The Knights of the Old Republic series
- The Mass Effect series
- The game is designed in a way that makes it much more difficult to play without any pausing. This is because, while paused, a menu slides open allowing all sorts of commands that aren't otherwise available, even with hotkeys.
- Except while aiming the sights down for a sniper rifle, presumedly because constantly pausing to line up easy shots with them would just be unfair.
- The Dragon Age series
- The Baldurs Gate series
- King Arthur the Role Playing Wargame even allows you to speed up the game during moments in battle where you will decisively win or nothing will happen for a while, slow the game down for tenser moments to better analyze and micromanage your troops as well as using skills, in addition to just pausing it.
- Achron is a rare multiplayer version of this kind of game. Since it's a time-travel strategy game, it can accomplish this by allowing the players to pause time but not pause meta-time. Even if you do freeze a moment to give your units complex orders, you better be quick because your opponent is still somewhen out there mucking with the timeline.
- Battle Bugs
- Castles II: Siege & Conquest
- Combat in Darklands plays out this way
- Divine Divinity
- Dwarf Fortress is a special case since you can't actually give orders while the game is not paused. Whenever you go into any menu to give orders, the game pauses.
- The Dungeon Siege series
- The entire Paradox Interactive core lineup, including:
- Fallout Tactics. It also has the ability to switch freely between RTWP and a purely turn-based mode, whenever you like.
- Freedom Force
- The battle portion of Total War games. The strategy portion is purely turn-based.
- City-Building and space-management games such as:
- The Rollercoaster Tycoon series is a strange example. In the first two games, anything can be done while the game is paused, except for construction of any kind (removing scenery, adding rides, adding paths, etc). Basically, everything useful. You can even pick up people and place them wherever you want to, and they will fall back to the ground when the game is unpaused (helpful when you "accidentally" put a lot of people into a body of water). The third game, however, allows full control of the game while paused.
- This is justified in that, for the first two games, your objectives are usually more based on time (I.E. 1000 guests by the end of year 3) so being able to do everything without time constraints is an unfair advantage. For the third game, the scenarios' objectives are almost always completable at any time, and for events that only occur on certain days, they will continue to occur until you complete the objective.
- Strange Adventures and its sequel Weird Worlds, during the battle sequences.
- The Stronghold series
- The Movies
- Unfortunately, paused mode only allows some commands, while others require the game to be unpaused - like picking people up or relocating/deleting scenery objects. Due to the fast-paced nature of the game, this renders paused mode useless for virtually anything except examining the situation (which is still very very important).
- Nexus: The Jupiter Incident
- The Tropico series, although in some cases (such as commands to El Presidente), you won't see the nature of the most recent order until you unpause. The game will also autopause at some points, such as when using menus or laying down roads.
- Vampire: The Masquerade—Redemption
- X-COM's Geoscape. The first two games had turn-based combat though.
- In X-COM: Apocalypse you can choose between PRT and a pure turn-based mode for combat, but only before a battle starts. The cityscape portion of the game always uses PRT.
- The X-COM series' Spiritual Sequel, UFO Afterblank (Aftermath, Aftershock and Afterlight) had PRT throughout the entire game - both battles and World Map.
- 7.62mm High Caliber (or 7.62 High Calibre), a Spiritual Successor to the Jagged Alliance games, uses this system for combat, though the gameplay can be slowed down too; each character has an action queue with actions' time to complete measured in the hundredths of a second, such as taking a shot (such as snap, aimed or scoped), or weapon transitions, readying a grenade for throwing, the actual throw, and so on. Unfortunately since the orders themselves are not displayed, this can lead to some awkward or time-consuming moments, especially when rearranging gear in one's vests, pouches, holsters, slings or backpacks during combat.
- There's also the extremely annoying tendency for certain actions that, once started, cannot be cancelled, like reloading a weapon (which can take a very long time if you don't have a spare clip).
- Most Sim City games have four speeds, including Pause. No control is lost in the paused state, allowing the mayor to change the entire city in the blink of an eye in their population's perspective. The only exception is during a disaster, wherein the player must resolve the crisis in realtime.
- The "Pause" button on Captain N's Controller is like this... for his allies. Kevin is fully mobile during the pause effect and can relocate objects... but can't give his friends new orders.
Examples of Simultaneous Turn-based:
- Vandal Hearts 2 uses the Dual-Turn Battles, which is this to a tee. Not only you need to move your characters, you need to anticipate which enemy character will move, to where, and what action will they do. This requires a lot of advanced thinking and good guess, even if the AI can be abused to allow unlimited turn treasure hunting.
- In the game, there even exists a spell called "Premonition" which tells you which enemy character will move. However, it will not tell you where it will move and what it will do. An experienced enough player can still make educated guesses based on the enemy's movement range, weapon range, skill and equipment list, etc.
- The Space Rangers series.
- During space battles, the game pauses at the beginning of each "day". You choose a direction to fly, as well as which weapons will fire at which target. Then unpause, and watch all spaceships in the battle duke it out simultaneously. Correctly anticipating where the enemies will end up at the beginning of the next day is crucial.
- Critical Mass has a similar system, though on a much smaller time scale.
- Naval combat in Puzzle Pirates is simultaneous turn-based. In fact, it has one "command phase", and four consecutive "action phases". During the command phase, the ship's Battle Navigator has to input four actions, anticipating where the enemy ship will be in each of the four stages. Firing or moving in the wrong stage can lead to loss of ammo and/or unwanted collisions!
- This gets even more complicated when the Battle Navigator is trying to rig the sails or load the cannons at the same time (both are furious action-oriented puzzles requiring a lot of skill and concentration!). Some captains are so good at this, they can sail a ship with half a crew on-board, filling in themselves during intense battles
- The board game Robo Rally
- Laser Squad Nemesis
- Roguelikes: The game is normally in Paused mode. Once the player inputs a command (only one) for his character, time will move forward exactly as long as required to perform the selected action. Then the game is paused again, waiting for the next command. If your character is heavily burdenned, this means you can be dogpiled while taking a single step, or visa-versa.
- Frozen Synapse
- Outside of combat in games like the Ultima or Exile series, the entire thing in others like Might and Magic or Cythera, where you can only control a single character at a time.
- BattleTech the board game does this -- the players move or fire one unit at a time alternating between them. In the case of weapons fire, all effects take place at the end of the phase.
- Global Conquest on the PC version of Kane's Wrath, until a battle occurs for which the game switches to RTS.
- While Civilization is more or less uniformly straight-up Turn-Based Strategy, multiplayer games can be played with simultaneous execution. This is useful when there is a large number of players in later stages of the game: Turns in single-player games can easily take as much as half an hour, particularly if the player's empire is large and at war. Imagine, then, that you have four or five human-controlled large empires, all at war. Yeah, you'd like simultaneous execution, too.
- The space strategy game Flotilla is basically exactly that. You usually only have 2 to 5 units and order every single one of them to move somewhere on the 3D grid, shoot at an enemy (or not) and turn, tilt and roll over during the execution phase. This precision is needed since they all have ridiculous armor on the front and the top and are very vulnerable at the back and the bottom.
- The ragdoll fighting game Toribash has a unique way of using this system. Two players face off in one on one matches controlling all the major joints of their respective ragdoll. At the beginning of each turn players have a limited amount of time to manipulate the joints of the ragdoll in order to get it to move. After which the ragdolls move as predicted a small amount and the process repeats. Through careful planning and manipulation, the ragdolls can be made to do virtually anything.
- Non-video-game example: the classic Napoleonic naval battle war game Wooden Ships & Iron Men.
- Another classic non-video-game example is Diplomacy (from the same company as the above game, Avalon Hill). This combines--or perhaps conspires--with the totally deterministic battle system and various other features to make the game an excellent exercise in the Gambit Pileup.
Examples of Simultaneous Turn Resolution With Pause
- The Dark Eye: Drakensang
Examples of Menu Time Lockout:
- Star Wars: Empire At War has a tiny, hard-to-reach pause button with no hot-key associated with it. It clearly was not intended (or at least badly designed) to pause the game often enough in mid-combat for it to be useful. There are third-party mods that add a hotkey, making it a viable feature. Considering the quick pace of battles in this game, it is not surprising that such mods were developed. Some players consider this cheating, however.
- The first Homeworld game has a pause feature which actually makes the game more difficult to play because its behavior is very unpredictable. It may have been designed to allow examining the battlefield, but not to issue commands. Still, some players do manage to use it that way, making the zero-g RTS significantly easier.
- This is very common in fast-action and arcade games across all platforms, if the pause feature allows the player to examine dangerous situations while they are frozen. Naturally, it only applies if examination of the danger confers a significant advantage to the player once the game is un-paused. Many players consider this cheating. Others simply say it's a way to play the game if you lack the twitch-reflexes normally required. Naturally, this does not apply in multi-player mode where pausing is almost always disabled anyway.
- One type of game that's especially prone to this are Tetris and its clones, which now usually cover up the board when pausing. A variation peculiar to them is “infinite spin,” in which a player spins a piece simply to stop it falling.
- Hidden Object Games are often timed - whether counting down (as a deadline) or counting up (for scoring purposes). Given the vast number of such games made in the past decade, you're absolutely bound to come across a timed game where the designers hadn't really considered this exploit. So when the game is paused, the scene remains quite visible (sometimes simply a little darkened) and you can actually keep looking for clues without wasting any precious time. This has recently been changed a little, due to many Hidden Object Games abandoning the time factor altogether.
- But it does persist in other casual games like the "connect 3" variety, especially since there are so many of them being made.
Examples of other designs:
- Fallout 3 has V.A.T.S mode, where the game is paused mid-battle, and the player can target an enemy's bodyparts. This is unique in that once unpaused, the game goes into a slow-motion replay of the shooting sequence that was queued in V.A.T.S, temporarily taking away the player's control of his character. The game then proceeds right back into full realtime mode.
- The Clue and The Sting. These games use a Simultaneous Turn Resolution design, except there's only one "turn" in each mission. You can spend up to an hour giving a long sequence of commands to your team members, and then watch the heist being performed in real time with no opportunity to intervene until it's done.
- Similarly, but more extreme, the Dominions series. You can only input general commands to units when you organize them, and must have faith in those orders working when combat occurs, whether because you initiated an assault or were attacked.
- Matrix: Path of Neo. The pause screen gives 'Neo' the 'see everything as vertical lines of numbers' ability. Including seeing enemies hiding behind nearby walls.
- Several adaptations of the board game Space Hulk use a restricted version of Real Time with Pause called "Freeze Time." During normal gameplay, you can control troopers directly or give them orders on a map screen. If you activate Freeze Time, the ame will pause and go to the map screen, where you can continue to input orders that will be carried out once you go back to normal gameplay. The big difference is that the amount of time you can spend in Freeze Time is strictly limited, with a meter that ticks away and dumps you back into normal gameplay when it runs out, and only very slowly refills during normal gameplay. The overall effect was a use of Real Time with Pause that actually made the game more intense.
- James Bond: James Bond 007: Everything or Nothing has the "Bond Sense" mode, which allows the player to replicate Bonds expert markmanship by both giving them more time to examine the situation and select targets, and also highlights enemies and destroyable scenery. While it doesn't fully pause the game, it does slow the action to a crawl to give you more, but not unlimited time.
- The Inazuma Eleven series straddles the line between plain Real Time with Pause and Simultaneous Turn Resolution. They're primarily plain Real Time with Pause, with the caveat that the manual pause has a 10-second cooldown after resuming before it can be used again. However, some events will trigger an automatic pause (not subject to the 10-second cooldown); if the event in question requires the player to choose one of several actions (for example, an opportunity to steal the ball: regular tackle or sliding tackle?), it gets Simultaneous Turn Resolution.