How to make good countdowns

My new two-part articles & tutorial-series is out! It’s about making good countdowns.

Here is part 1:

The Metal Gear Solid series does this wonderful trick where they say “you only have 500 seconds left!” and then display a number that reads as “5:00”.

When I played it for the first time, my mind auto-completed this to read as “5 minutes”, but it was tricked. “500 seconds” is an uncommon yet correct format for time, and people in general are not trained to correctly pick up on this.

The effect is that players will think they only have 5 minutes, while in actuality it is 8 minutes and 20 seconds.

And here is part 2:

This also works better if time units are not mentioned and the player is just given a rough idea of “until this happens”.

If you have a series of panels that light up to show timer progress, you do not need to activate them at the same rate. In fact, it will become more intense if the first few light up quickly, and the latter ones have more time between them. In the heat of action-packed gameplay, the player will not realize this and will have a much more intense experience.

This should not be employed with actual time units, as players might feel cheated and lied to. Do not break the player’s trust in your system.

This can be seen in one level of Starfox 64, where the player has to defend a position against an approaching giant ship.

Go check them out!

Part 1 | Part 2

-Matthias

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