Monday, June 8, 2020

While You Were Sleeping: MTAP

Steam tells me I've already clocked up nineteen hours in My Time At Portia. That does include a few afks with the game resting at the Options menu. I have a tendency to leave games idling, often for for hours, usually while I'm blogging or web browsing, maybe downstairs making a coffee or even out of the house altogether. I haven't done much of that in Portia's case but when I do I switch the game to Options for good reason.

MTAP has one of the most annoying save game processes I've seen for a while. There's no auto-saving as you play. You can't choose to save manually whenever you feel like it. The game saves every time you sleep and only when you sleep.

You can't just drop off anywhere. If you want to sleep you have to go to your house and get into your bed. Every time you do that a day passes. According to the extremely detailed wiki, one minute of game time takes slightly less than a second of your actual life.

I hadn't noticed it was less. I thought it was exact. A second for a minute. Whatever, it's too fast. I learned this morning, while researching this post, that you can adjust that pace. I'll be slowing mine down next time I play.

Never trust a pink cat.
If you forget to go to bed because you're all wrapped up in some highly important task, the game gives you a warning at around two in the morning. If you take no notice, an hour later you black out and wake up in bed at seven the next morning.

Three o' clock Portia time is when the game forces a save but you don't have to wait until then. If you want to log out at some other hour and not lose all your progress for the day, all you have to do is go to bed then wake up and log out immediately, before you accidentally do something and start the whole cycle over again.

There's no afk feature so if you want to pause progress but not lose it you have to stop time by opening a menu. Options, inventory or a store all work. No time passes when you're ferreting, fiddling or shopping.

Sleeping works two ways. It saves your progress but also accelarates it. Quite a lot of things in MTAP take a long time, relatively speaking. Say you've taken on a commission that requires you to make a dozen iron bars. Smelting those is going to take you more than a game day.

Bad things happen to good people. Maybe I should learn a martial art, too.

You can go and do other things while the iron's cooking or you can just go to bed in the middle of the day and wake up to a job done. Either way, time is passing. Some of your commissions have deadlines. Stores and civic facilities close around teatime and don't open again until after breakfast. Public holidays and events roll around on their appointed days. The Mayor's inappropriately-named Fireside Chats happen in the town square at seven p.m. on the dot.

Although the game cares passionately about you getting your basic minimum four hours shut-eye every night, if you want to sleep the clock around no-one's going to stop you. You can tuck in at three in the afternoon instead of three in the morning if you want. You'll wake up at seven the next day just the same. The world carries on whether you're awake to see it or not. If you sleep your life away to get stuff done faster you'll miss out on everything else.

I'd just about come to terms with all of this when I died for the first time. I had no idea you could die. And maybe you can't. One minute I was there, the next it was Game Over. Literally.

To say I wasn't expecting it is putting it mildly. I can't remember the last time I saw an actual Game Over screen. We just don't have them in online gaming, do we? Don't we just respawn? It's like going back to the dark ages of the 1990s.

Three bad rats. See how they die. Them. Not me. I want to stress that. Rats do not kill me. I kill rats.

In case anyone might be considering playing My Time At Portia, something I'd recommend because it's a lot of fun (mostly), I won't go into the details of how I died. Suffice it to say there's combat, there's a storyline, there are set piece battles and you can lose.

I lost because first I was in a cut scene and then I was in a fight. There was no transition. I had my hands empty. I was trying to find my knuckledusters, when I found myself stun-locked and punched to the ground.

"Game Over".

Which turned out to be overly melodramatic. I was momentarily outraged. I thought I'd have to start again from scratch. Several days, more than a dozen hours at that point, down the drain. Fortunately not.

I emerge victorious, to the amazement of the so-called authorities. If they did their job, none of this would be necessary.

"Game Over" actually means "Today didn't happen". The game closes but you didn't sleep so nothing got saved. Your failure never happened and neither did anything else you did that day, which in my case happened to be quite a lot. Annoying, sure, but compared to having to begin again from character creation, a considerable relief.

It must be obvious that I'm finding My Time At Portia fascinating. Not so much for the plot, although that's quite intriguing. More for the mechanics and also the peculiar tone. I'll probably go into this in more detail when I've thought more about it, but I'm very surprised by how uncomfortable this supposedly comforting world is beginning to feel.

In a curiously anodyne way it feels quite dark. Some bad things have happened to my character already and we're only just getting started. Not everyone is friendly. Not everyone is kind. There's a distinct whiff of the playground bully here and there.

I do all the work and to be fair the Mayor gives me the credit... but do I get a cut of the profits?

It's grit that makes a pearl, they say. The sleep-save function is inconvenient, irritating and unrealistic but it's also effective at re-inforcing the worldliness of Portia. If I'd known what was going to happen in that fight I could have saved before I took the conversation option that started it but to do that I'd have had to go back to my houser and then it would have been tomorrow. There's no saying the fight would even have happened next day. Every time you sleep you save but the world moves on.

There may be ways around this. I'm keeping my googling to a minimum so far. Not everything in game is clear but figuring out how it works is some of the fun. Even if there is a way I don't know I'd take it.

I do know I'm going to be a lot more cautious about getting into fights in the future, though. It's several game days later and I've studiously avoided re-starting the quest that triggered the confrontation that got me killed. Maybe I'll be able to avoid it entirely.

Let's call it a premonition. It probably came to me in a dream. The benefit of a good night's sleep, I guess.


  1. I saw that one screenshot and I exclaimed "I know EXACTLY where you're at!" And yeah, I'm not surprised you died. I very nearly did too, and I think I survived with only about 10-15 health. I have died on wild things in some of the wasteland areas, because I didn't realize that you can wander into areas much higher powered than you by accident. (Too much modern MMO design in my games, I suppose.)

    I had no idea you could slow down the day, because that was driving me absolutely nuts.

    1. If I'd happened to have had my weapons selected when the cut scene started I'd have won, I think. There was absolutely no clue it was going to happen, though. The way the game handles these things is strange. I haven't examined the object that starts that sequence since and it's as if the problem doesn't exist. I'm curious to see if the game ever forces the storyline to continue or if it just hangs there indefinitely so long as I don't click on that one object.

      Setting the speed to 50%, the lowest you can go, completely transforms things. Suddenly I have plenty of time to do everything but it doesn't feel in any way slow. I think the 50% pace ought to be the default, leaving you to speed the game up as you become more confident and knowledgeable.


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