Listen, More Games Should Use Seasons
The move from summer to autumn to winter is so powerful in our daily lives, yet rarely shows up in games.
Screenshot courtesy of Sony
This past week in New York has been a tour of the seasons. A crisp fall morning turns into stifling afternoon, and by the next evening we've wrapped around to brisk early winter. Honestly, it's sucked. It's impossible to dress for, it's an added layer of unpredictability in an already unpredictable week, and I'm pretty sure it's made me sick. (I know that it probably hasn't made me sick).
So you know I've spent a lot of time this week thinking about seasonal weather. And despite the hell week this one has been, I do love living in a place with a climate that has four, distinct seasons. New York transforms as a place, not only in terms of temperature and type of precipitation, but also in atmosphere and mood. New York in August is hell—sweltering, with all the joy of early summer replaced by brightly lit desperation. But by September, it's my favorite place in the world. As cooler weather descends, the city seemingly unlocks; trips that were once unthinkable become joyful excursions, you stop spending energy thinking about which side of the street to walk on, and random sidewalk encounters with friends no longer have a heat-imposed time limit.
All of that, in turn, has me thinking about how seasons are (or more often, unfortunately, aren't) used in games. Three examples jump to mind, and I wish instead that number were thirty.
The Last of Us memorably marks each season with a title card, and transitions the player to a new environment perfectly built to communicate the feeling of that new climate. Each new change also signals a shift in tone, both in general and especially with regard to the relationship between Joel and Ellie. It's a solid use, but not my favorite—largely because it's fully scripted, and in my experience, seasonal changes are always more like suggestions.
Endless Legend actually captures that unpredictability really well, even though it only has Summer and Winter. When snow falls, everything crawls to a halt, with exploration and economic progress ground to a halt. And as the game continues, it gets worse, with this mystical planet's winter arriving greater frequency and with stronger effects. It divides the stages of the game so well, and it's frankly just cool to see your slowly growing cities grow from winter to winter, covered in the white.
But my favorite—or at least my favorite in memory—use of seasons in games is Bully. Like The Last of Us, Bully moves from season to season as the game progresses, but because the whole game takes place in the fairly mundane Bullworth Academy and the nearby town, it communicates that same sense of change that real seasonal weather does. You see Bullworth swathed in autumnal leaves, draped in snow, and bustling with springtime activity. Shawn Lee's distinctive score helps, with each chapter bringing at least a couple of tracks that help communicate the switch in season.
But those are only three games, and I know I'm missing some. What's your favorite use of seasons in a game? Let me know over in the forums!