Screen shots from about ten different iPhone games, all partially on top of each other.

What Are Time-Independent iOS Games & Why Do You Want Them?

Most “standard” computer and phone-based games get harder because they get faster, relying on the player’s reflexes and coordination keeping up. For example, in Tetris the blocks appear and drop faster and faster as your level increases:

Tetris, like most single player games, devolves into twitch gameplay as the levels increase.
Tetris, like most single player games, devolves into twitch gameplay as the levels increase.

Untimed games or time-independent games are those where you aren’t penalised if you play a game very slowly, have bad reflexes, or don’t posses the hand-eye coordination to time your movements accurately. Games like this are “turn-based games” where any game actions only occur in response to the player’s actions, and additionally they are free of timers or time-related limitations.

One of my favourite time-independent games, Drop7, is another block-dropping game but each block only “falls” once you tell the game where to put it. Drop7 increases the difficulty by changing the mix of blocks which are dropped and by adding a layer of hidden (grey) blocks at the bottom of the screen after a number of moves:

Drop7 increases the game's difficulty level by changing the pieces available
Drop7 increases the game’s difficulty level by changing the pieces available

Time independent games share all of these things:

  • Game pieces aren’t animated in a way that changes where you need to hit them, so taking extra time to initiate a move doesn’t cause your target to shift.
  • There is no timer limiting the amount of time you can take to play each move or the time taken for the overall game.
  • Being fast or slow doesn’t change the number of points awarded for each move or for an overall game.
  • The app doesn’t “reset”, losing your position in the game, if the device is turned off or the game is paused.

If you aren’t sure if a game fits all these requirements, a good way to check yourself is to open the game and choose exactly where you’ll tap the screen to make a move … then turn the device off and put it down for 5 minutes before coming back, unlocking (and un-pausing the game if necessary) and then tapping the screen exactly where you had previously decided. If there’s no disadvantage to your 5-minute pause that’s time-independent. If you could do the same pausing routine at any point during the game then the whole game is time-independent.

Why would you want to know if a game is time-dependent or not? There are a large number of disabilities that affect timing, most of which come under these general categories:

  • Conditions that affect perception (eg vision impairment, conditions affecting how the brain interprets perceptions, sensitivity to animated movement) which may slow down how fast you understand what the game’s state is.
  • Conditions that affect thinking or memory (eg brain injury, intellectual impairment, memory impairment) which may slow down your decision about which move to make.
  • Conditions that affect movement or reactions in the limbs used to control the iPad (eg cerebral palsy, quadriplegia) which may slow down your ability to make the move you’ve decided to make.

An extra effect of time-independent games is that collaborative gameplay becomes possible. This could be a parent playing with a child, two friends playing together, a therapist playing with a client, or a partner-assisted play scenario where the player indicates their desires by their own methods and the partner physically touches the game devices for them.

Computer implementations of board games are almost always untimed, so they're excellent for collaborative or partner-assisted gameplay.
Computer implementations of board games are almost always untimed, so they’re excellent for collaborative or partner-assisted gameplay.

A surprisingly small number of games actually fit these requirements for being fully time-independent, so for this list I’m broadening the definition a little. If the game does have some time-dependent elements but these can be adjusted by the player or aren’t essential to regular play then I’ll make a note of this in the list:

These others are games that people have suggested may be time-independent, but which I haven’t tested myself:

What’s your favourite time-independent game?

– Ricky Buchanan

Tetris image sourced from WikiMedia Commons: Tetris for Emacs, by Markus Knittigand licensed under GPL.

4 thoughts on “What Are Time-Independent iOS Games & Why Do You Want Them?”

  1. Absolutely. See here: http://gameaccessibilityguidelines.com/do-not-make-precise-timing-essential-to-gameplay-offer-alternatives-actions-that-can-be-carried-out-while-paused-or-a-skip-mechanism. There are many many more examples of timer free iOS games. Search for ‘turn based strategy’, ‘hex strategy’ or ‘point and click adventure’ and you’ll find lots.

    • Ian: Thanks for the great search suggestions Ian – It’s a good strategy and I hadn’t thought of the hex ones at all! There are definitely many others available, these are just the ones I’m aware of.

      On the other hand, it’s also true that many games that you’d think MIGHT be time-independant are not. For example many of the match-3 type games have occasional levels that have timed play, and that’s not always obvious from the description or even from playing the first few levels. I actually accidentally put one in the graphic at the top of this article that has some timed levels (it’s called Jelly Glutton) because so much of it is untimed that I had forgotten the timed levels until right before I published the article! So I think for people who are specifically looking for untimed games, a list can still be handy.

      • Absolutely agree, it’s an endless source of frustration to see how many games needlessly exclude gamers because of a misguided need to ‘mix things up a bit’. If developers are going to do that, they could at least provide an option to bypass, like this: http://gameaccessibilityguidelines.com/deadly-scramble-no-timer-mode

        • Those guidelines are excellent! I’m basically just a puzzle player myself as you can no doubt tell from this list so I’m not really familiar with the examples but having accessibility best-practice guidelines is fantastic :)

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