Turns, rounds and time-keeping systems in games

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In video and other games, the passage of time must be handled in a way that players find fair and easy to understand. This is usually done in one of the two ways: real-time and turn-based.

Video game electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a video device such as a TV screen or computer monitor

A video game is an electronic game that involves interaction with a user interface to generate visual feedback on a two- or three-dimensional video display device such as a TV screen, virtual reality headset or computer monitor. Since the 1980s, video games have become an increasingly important part of the entertainment industry, and whether they are also a form of art is a matter of dispute.

Game entertainment, activity; structured playing, usually undertaken for enjoyment

A game is a structured form of play, usually undertaken for enjoyment and sometimes used as an educational tool. Games are distinct from work, which is usually carried out for remuneration, and from art, which is more often an expression of aesthetic or ideological elements. However, the distinction is not clear-cut, and many games are also considered to be work or art.

Time dimension in which events can be ordered from the past through the present into the future

Time is the indefinite continued progress of existence and events that occur in apparently irreversible succession from the past through the present to the future. Time is a component quantity of various measurements used to sequence events, to compare the duration of events or the intervals between them, and to quantify rates of change of quantities in material reality or in the conscious experience. Time is often referred to as a fourth dimension, along with three spatial dimensions.



In real-time games, game time progresses continuously according to the game clock. One example of such a game is the sandbox game Minecraft, where one day-night cycle is equal to 20 minutes in real time. Players perform actions simultaneously as opposed to in sequential units or turns. Players must perform actions with the consideration that their opponents are actively working against them in real time, and may act at any moment. This introduces time management considerations and additional challenges (such as physical coordination in the case of video games).

Minecraft is a sandbox video game created by Swedish game developer Markus Persson and released by Mojang in 2011. The game allows players to build with a variety of different blocks in a 3D procedurally generated world, requiring creativity from players. Other activities in the game include exploration, resource gathering, crafting, and combat.

Real-time gameplay is the dominant form of time-keeping found in simulation video games, and has to a large degree supplanted turn-based systems in other video game genres as well (for instance real-time strategy). Time is an important factor in most sports; and many, such as soccer or basketball, are almost entirely simultaneous in nature, retaining only a very limited notion of turns in specific instances, such as the free kick in soccer and the free throw and shot clock in basketball. In the card games Nertz and Ligretto , players must compete to discard their cards as quickly as possible and do not take turns.

A simulation video game describes a diverse super-category of video games, generally designed to closely simulate real world activities.

Real-time strategy (RTS) is a subgenre of strategy video games where the game does not progress incrementally in turns. This is distinguished from turn-based strategy (TBS), in which all players take turns when playing.

Basketball team sport played on a court with baskets on either end

Basketball is a team sport in which two teams, most commonly of five players each, opposing one another on a rectangular court, compete with the primary objective of shooting a basketball through the defender's hoop while preventing the opposing team from shooting through their own hoop. A field goal is worth two points, unless made from behind the three-point line, when it is worth three. After a foul, timed play stops and the player fouled or designated to shoot a technical foul is given one or more one-point free throws. The team with the most points at the end of the game wins, but if regulation play expires with the score tied, an additional period of play (overtime) is mandated.

While game time in video games is in fact subdivided into discrete units due to the sequential nature of computing, these intervals or units are typically so small as to be imperceptible.


Turn-based combat game. ROTBBattle.jpg
Turn-based combat game.

In turn-based games, game flow is partitioned into defined parts, called turns, moves, or plays. [1] [2] A player of a turn-based game is allowed a period of analysis (sometimes bounded, sometimes unbounded) before committing to a game action, ensuring a separation between the game flow and the thinking process, which in turn presumably leads to better choices. Once every player has taken his or her turn, that round of play is over, and any special shared processing is done. This is followed by the next round of play. In games where the game flow unit is time, turns may represent periods such as years, months, weeks or days.

Turn-based games come in two main forms depending on whether, play is simultaneous or sequential. The former games fall under the category of simultaneously executed games (also called phase-based or "We-Go"), with Diplomacy being a notable example. The latter games fall into player-alternated games (also called "I-Go-You-Go", or "IGOUGO" for short), and are further subdivided into (A) ranked, (B) round-robin start and (C) random—the difference being the order under which players start within a turn: (A) the first player being the same every time, (B) the first player selection policy is round-robin, and (C) the first player is randomly selected. Some games also base the order of play on an "initiative" score that may in part be based on players' attributes or positions within the game or other, outside factors as well as dice rolls. Wizard101 is an example of this style.

Simultaneous game class of game where each player chooses their action without knowledge of the actions chosen by other players

In game theory, a simultaneous game is a game where each player chooses his action without knowledge of the actions chosen by other players. Simultaneous games contrast with sequential games, which are played by the players taking turns. Normal form representations are usually used for simultaneous games.

Sequential game class of turn-based game in which one player chooses their action before the others choose theirs

In game theory, a sequential game is a game where one player chooses their action before the others choose theirs. Importantly, the later players must have some information of the first's choice, otherwise the difference in time would have no strategic effect. Sequential games hence are governed by the time axis, and represented in the form of decision trees.

<i>Diplomacy</i> (game) strategic board game

Diplomacy is a strategic board game created by Allan B. Calhamer in 1954 and released commercially in 1959. Its main distinctions from most board wargames are its negotiation phases and the absence of dice and other game elements that produce random effects. Set in Europe in the years leading to the Great War, Diplomacy is played by two to seven players, each controlling the armed forces of a major European power. Each player aims to move his or her few starting units and defeat those of others to win possession of a majority of strategic cities and provinces marked as "supply centers" on the map; these supply centers allow players who control them to produce more units. Following each round of player negotiations, each player can issue attack orders and take control of a neighboring province when the number of provinces adjacent to the attacking province that are given orders to support the attacking province exceeds the number of provinces adjacent to the province under attack that are given orders to support the province under attack.

The term turn-based gaming is also used in play-by-mail games and use browser-based gaming sites that allow for gameplay to extend beyond a single session, over long periods of time, often requiring months to complete games such as Go, chess, and infinite chess.

Play-by-mail games, or play-by-post games, are games, of any type, played through postal mail or email.

Browser game game that is played using a browser

A browser game is a video game that is played over the Internet using a web browser. Browser games can be run using standard web technologies or browser plug-ins. The creation of such games usually involves use of standard web technologies as a frontend and other technologies to provide a backend. Browser games include all video game genres and can be single-player or multiplayer. Browser games are also portable and can be played on multiple different devices, web browsers, and operating systems.

Chess Strategy board game

Chess is a two-player strategy board game played on a chessboard, a checkered gameboard with 64 squares arranged in an 8×8 grid. The game is played by millions of people worldwide. Chess is believed to be derived from the Indian game chaturanga some time before the 7th century. Chaturanga is also the likely ancestor of the Eastern strategy games xiangqi, janggi, and shogi. Chess reached Europe by the 9th century, due to the Umayyad conquest of Hispania. The pieces assumed their current powers in Spain in the late 15th century with the introduction of "Mad Queen Chess"; the modern rules were standardized in the 19th century.


Various adaptations of the real-time and turn-based systems have been implemented to address common or perceived shortcomings of these systems (though they often introduce new issues that did not exist before). [3] These include:

Timed turns and time compression

Timed turns are designed to resolve issues of fairness where one player uses a greater amount of time to complete his or her turn than another player. In chess, for instance, a pair of stop clocks may be used in order to place an upper limit on the game length.

In exchange chess, four players on two teams play on two boards with each team taking one white and one black side. Any taken piece is given to a teammate, and can be placed on his board as a standard move (in any position that does not put his opponent in check). A common strategy is to gain a temporary material advantage, pass it on to a teammate, and then stop playing on one's own board—thereby allowing the teammate to use the advantage for many future moves on his board. To avoid this, players are often limited to ten seconds per move—with their opponent being allowed to remove one of the player's pawns from the board for each additional ten seconds consumed.

The turn-based strategy game Utopia (1982) featured an early example of timed turns. [4] The early Ultima role-playing video games were strictly turn-based, but starting with Ultima III: Exodus (1983), if the player waited too long to issue a command, the game would issue a "pass" command automatically, thereby allowing enemies to take their turns while the player character did nothing. Further, many browser-based games allocate a number of turns that can be played within a certain period of time, called a tick (see next section).

Time compression is a feature commonly found in real-time games such as flight simulators. It allows the player to speed up the game time by some (usually adjustable) factor. This permits the player to shorten the subjective duration of long and relatively uneventful periods of gameplay.

Ticks and rounds

A tick-based game is a game that is played using ticks, or units of time. Not to be confused with a game round, a tick can be any measurement of real time, from seconds to days or even months, and is the basic unit upon which all important game actions take place. Players in tick-based games are allocated a certain number of turns per tick, which are subsequently refreshed at the beginning of each new tick. Predominantly found in browser-based MMORPGs, tick-based games differ from other turn-based games in that ticks always occur after the same amount of time has expired. Conversely, in a typical turn-based game, a turn would end only once every player has made all of his or her moves. In real-time games players are not limited, time-wise, in the number of actions they can take.

In some real-time games, a notion of rounds exists, whereby game actions are timed according to a common interval that is longer than 'real time'. For instance, units might only begin or cease to act at the beginning or end of a round. In video games such as the Baldur's Gate (1998–2001) and Neverwinter Nights (2002–2008) series, the notion of rounds is carried over in part from the pen-and-paper rule systems they are based upon; and a similar (but unrelated) example is when a game unit's ability to act is limited by the length of its combat animation, in which case the unit may become unresponsive until the animation has completed.

Online turn-based gaming uses the term rounds differently: in these games a round refers to when a new game begins following the completion of a previous one (i.e. after someone or some group of people has "won").

Active Time Battle

The "Active Time Battle" (ATB) system was introduced by Hiroyuki Ito in Final Fantasy IV (1991). [5] The system discarded the discrete turn-based battles of the first three entries in favour of a continuous flow of actions and variable wait times. [6] The fact that enemies can attack or be attacked at any time is credited with injecting urgency and excitement into the combat system. [7] The ATB system was fully developed in Final Fantasy V (1992), which improved it by introducing a time gauge to indicate to the player which character's turn is next. [8] The ATB system has since been used in Final Fantasy VI (1994), Final Fantasy VII (1997), Final Fantasy VIII (1999), Final Fantasy IX (2000), and Final Fantasy X-2 (2003). Both Final Fantasy XII (2006) and Final Fantasy XIII (2009) used heavily modified versions of the system. The ATB system was also used in Chrono Trigger (1995).

Simultaneously executed and clock-based turns

In simultaneously executed games (also called "phase-based" or "We-Go"), turns are separated into two distinct phases: decision and execution. During the decision phase each player plans and determines his units' actions. The decision phase occurs at the same time for everyone, so there is little wait for anyone to finish. In the execution phase, all players' decisions are put into action, and these actions are performed more or less automatically and at the same time. The execution phase is non-interactive, and there is no waiting for other players to complete their turns. One early example is the 1959 board game Diplomacy . Video game examples include Laser Squad Nemesis (2003), the Combat Mission series (2000–) and Master of Orion (1993–2003) series.

Clock-based games tie all unit actions directly to the game clock. Turns begin and end depending on the duration specified for each action, resulting in a sequence of turns that is highly variable and has no set order. This system is frequently cited for its realism when compared to other turn-based systems. It is also possible in this system for different players' actions to occur at the same time with respect to the game clock, as in real-time or simultaneously executed games. Examples of video games that use this type of system include Typhoon of Steel (1988) and MechForce (1991), both originally for the Amiga.

Unit initiative and acting outside one's turn

In some games the sequence of turns depends on the initiative statistic of each unit no matter which side the unit belongs to. Games of this type are still technically sequential (e.g. "I-Go-You-Go"), as only one unit can perform an action at a time, and the duration of actions is not tied to the game clock. Examples include the video games The Temple of Elemental Evil (2003) and Final Fantasy Tactics (1997).

Some games—notably, the X-COM series (1993–1998) of video games and the board wargame, Advanced Squad Leader (1985)—allow players to act outside of their normal turn by providing a means of interrupting an opponent's turn and executing additional actions. Typically, the number and type of actions a player may take during an interrupt sequence is limited by the number of points remaining in the player's action point pool (or something similar) carried over from the previous turn.

The Silent Storm (2003–2004) video game series includes an "Interrupt" statistic for each character to determine the likelihood of out-of-turn action. In the video game M.A.X. (1996), defensive units may be set to fire out of turn at the expense of being able to fire in their own turn. In the board game Tide of Iron , the player may play a card that allows him to interrupt an opponent's turn and perform an action. In the Mario & Luigi series , the player often has the opportunity to "counterattack" on the enemy's turn, causing damage and often halting the attack.

Special turns and phases

In some turn-based games, not all turns are alike. The board game Imperium Romanum II (1985), for instance, features a "Taxation and Mobilization" phase in every third turn (month), which does not occur in the other turns. In the board game Napoleon (1974), every third player turn is "night turn" where combat is not allowed.

Other turn-based games feature several phases dedicated to different types of activities within each turn. In the Battle Isle (1991–2001) series of video games players issue movement orders for all units in one phase, and attack orders in a later phase. In the board game Agricola (2007) turns are divided into three phases: "Upkeep", "Replenishing" and "Work". A fourth phase, "Harvest", occurs every few turns.

Partially or optionally turn-based and real-time

Many other games that are not generally turn-based retain the notion of turn-based play during specific sequences. For example, the role-playing video games Fallout (1997) and Silent Storm (2003) [9] are turn-based during the combat phase, and real-time throughout the remainder of the game. This speeds up portions of the game (such as exploration) where the careful timing of actions is not crucial to player success. Some turn-based games have been criticized for omitting this feature. [10] [11]

Other video games, such as the Total War series (2000–2011), X-COM (1993) and Jagged Alliance 2 (1999), combine a turn-based strategic layer with real-time tactical combat or vice versa. [12] [13]

Lastly, the video games X-COM: Apocalypse (1997), Fallout Tactics (2001) and Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura (2001) offered players the option to play in either turn-based or real-time mode via a configuration setting. The latter also offered a "fast turn-based" mode, though all three of the game's modes were criticized for being poorly balanced and oversimplified. [14] [15]

Pausable real-time

In real-time games with an active pause system (also called "pausable real-time" or "real-time with pause"), players are able to pause the game and issue orders such that once a game is un-paused, orders are automatically put into effect. This type of system can offer additional tactical options, [16] [12] and can resolve issues that arise in other real-time games where orders must be given to multiple units at the same time (normally an impossibility in real-time games). It can also help players who desire extra time for analysis before issuing actions.

There are several variations of pausable real-time combat. Among mouse-driven party-based computer role-playing games, the pausable real-time system was popularized by the Baldur's Gate series (1998–2001), [17] though the same mechanic was also present in earlier role-playing games such as in Knights of Xentar (1991), [18] [19] Darklands (1992), [16] Tales of Phantasia (1995), [20] and as well in the real-time strategy game Total Annihilation (1997). In Baldur's Gate, players also have the option to allow the artificial intelligence to take control during combat, though they can press the spacebar at any time to regain control of their characters. [16] Further, in Baldur's Gate, players are able to configure the game to automatically pause when certain conditions are met, such as at the end of a round or upon the death of a non-player character. A variation of active pause, called "Smart Pause Mode" or SPM, is an advertised feature of Apeiron's Brigade E5: New Jagged Union (2006) and 7.62: High Calibre (2007). [21] [22]

Among strategy video games, it is used exclusively in the slow-paced grand strategy games developed by Paradox Interactive, [12] and was the originally intended mode of the Civilization series (1991-) before the developers decided to switch to turn-based. [12] Among construction and management simulations, it has been present in the SimCity series since SimCity (1989).

In the single-character console RPGs, Parasite Eve (1998) and Vagrant Story (2000), the player can pause the game to take aim with a weapon. [23] In Vagrant Story's case, this allows players to target specific body parts while the game is paused—a similar mechanic was later used in the real-time role-playing game Last Rebellion (2010). [24] Jagged Alliance 2 (1999)) and Fallout (1997) allow players to target individual body parts during turn-based combat, the latter led to the creation of the VATS system in the real-time RPG Fallout 3 , where you could pause the game to target individual body parts.[ citation needed ] Final Fantasy XII (2006) expanded on active pause combat with its "gambits" system, which allows players to collect and apply preferences to the artificial intelligence routines of partner characters, who will then perform certain actions in response to certain conditions. A similar "tactics" system later appeared in Dragon Age: Origins (2009) [25] and Dragon Age II (2011). [26] Knights of Xentar (1991) [19] and Secret of Mana (1993) [27] also allow an adjustable artificial intelligence to take control during combat. [19] [27]

Real-time vs. turn-based gameplay

A debate has emerged between fans of real-time and turn-based video games (usually some type of strategy or role-playing game) based on the merits of each system. [28] [29] [30] [31] [32]

Various arguments are made by proponents. Arguments made in favor of turn-based systems include:

Arguments made in favor of real-time systems include:

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Civilization</i> (video game) 1991 strategy video game

Sid Meier's Civilization is a turn-based strategy 4X video game created by Sid Meier and Bruce Shelley for MicroProse in 1991. The game's objective is to "Build an empire to stand the test of time": it begins in 4000 BC and the players attempt to expand and develop their empires through the ages from the ancient era until modern and near-future times.

A turn-based strategy (TBS) game is a strategy game where players take turns when playing. This is distinguished from real-time strategy (RTS), in which all players play simultaneously.

A role-playing video game is a video game genre where the player controls the actions of a character immersed in some well-defined world. Many role-playing video games have origins in tabletop role-playing games and use much of the same terminology, settings and game mechanics. Other major similarities with pen-and-paper games include developed story-telling and narrative elements, player character development, complexity, as well as replayability and immersion. The electronic medium removes the necessity for a gamemaster and increases combat resolution speed. RPGs have evolved from simple text-based console-window games into visually rich 3D experiences.

<i>Age of Wonders</i> video game

Age of Wonders is a turn-based strategy video game often likened to Master of Magic. Originally titled World of Wonders, the game incorporated several role-playing video game elements that were dropped when simultaneous turns were implemented. The game was co-developed by Triumph Studios and Epic MegaGames, Dutch and American game developers respectively, and published by Gathering of Developers in 1999; it was re-released in 2010 on GOG.com and Steam.

<i>Herzog Zwei</i> 1989 video game

Herzog Zwei is a real-time strategy video game developed by Technosoft and published by Sega for the Sega Genesis. An early real-time strategy game, it predates the genre-popularizing Dune II, being released first in Japan in 1989 and worldwide the following year. It is the sequel to Herzog, which was available on the Japanese MSX and PC-8801 personal computers.

Micromanagement in gaming is the handling of detailed gameplay elements by the player. It appears in a wide range of games and genres, including strategy video games, construction and management simulations, and pet-raising simulations. Micromanagement has been perceived in different ways by game designers and players for many years: some perceive it as a useful addition to games that adds options and technique to the gameplay, something that is necessary if the game is to support top-level competitions; some enjoy opportunities to use tactical skill in strategic games; others regard it as an unwelcome distraction from higher levels of strategic thinking and dislike having to do a lot of detailed work. Some developers attempt to minimize micromanagement in a game's interface for this reason.

Tactical role-playing games are a genre of video game which incorporates elements of traditional role-playing video games with that of tactical games, emphasizing tactics rather than high-level strategy. The format of a tactical RPG video game is much like a traditional tabletop role-playing game in its appearance, pacing and rule structure. Likewise, early tabletop role-playing games are descended from skirmish wargames like Chainmail, which were primarily concerned with combat.

Action role-playing video games are a subgenre of role-playing video games. The games emphasize real-time combat where the player has direct control over the characters as opposed to turn or menu-based combat. These games often use action game combat systems similar to hack and slash or shooter games. Action role-playing games may also incorporate action-adventure games, which include a mission system and RPG mechanics, or massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) with real-time combat systems.

A turn-based MMORPG is a type of massively multiplayer online role-playing game that utilizes turn-based game flow, meaning that game actions are partitioned into well-defined and visible parts, called turns. A player of a turn-based game is allowed a period of analysis before committing to a game action, ensuring a separation between the game flow and the thinking process. Many turn-based MMORPGs are text-based, but there are a few games which depict their environments with fully animated graphics, such as Atlantica Online.

<i>UFO: Aftermath</i> video game

UFO: Aftermath is a 2003 turn-based strategy game created by ALTAR Interactive. Originally, it was an abortive project by Mythos Games. In 2002, the project was bought by ALTAR and development restarted. It is a homage to the X-COM game series. ALTAR Interactive has released two sequels: UFO: Aftershock (2005) and UFO: Afterlight (2007).

Turn-based tactics (TBT), or tactical turn-based (TTB), is a computer and video game genre of strategy video games that through stop-action simulates the considerations and circumstances of operational warfare and military tactics in generally small-scale confrontations as opposed to more strategic considerations of turn-based strategy (TBS) games.

Real-time tactics or RTT is a subgenre of tactical wargames played in real-time simulating the considerations and circumstances of operational warfare and military tactics. It is differentiated from real-time strategy gameplay by the lack of classic resource micromanagement and base or unit building, as well as the greater importance of individual units and a focus on complex battlefield tactics.

Twilight Imperium

Twilight Imperium is a strategy board game produced by Fantasy Flight Games. It was designed by Christian T. Petersen and was first released in 1997. The game is in its fourth edition (2017), which has large changes over previous editions. It is known for the length of its gameplay, and its in-depth strategy.

StarCraft: The Board Game, published by Fantasy Flight Games, is a game inspired by the 1998 computer game StarCraft. Players take control of the three distinctive races featured in the video games, the Terrans, the Protoss, or the Zerg, to engage in battle across multiple worlds in order to achieve victory. Each of the three races features a fairly different playing style. A prototype of the game was shown in BlizzCon 2007, with pre-release copies were sold at Gen Con 2007 and Penny Arcade Expo 2007. It was publicly released in October 2007.

A strategy video game is a video game that focuses on skillful thinking and planning to achieve victory. It emphasizes strategic, tactical, and sometimes logistical challenges. Many games also offer economic challenges and exploration. They are generally categorized into four sub-types, depending on whether the game is turn-based or real-time, and whether the game focuses on strategy or tactics.

Eastern role-playing video games (RPGs) are RPGs developed in East Asia. Most Eastern RPGs are Japanese role-playing video games (JRPGs), developed in Japan. RPGs are also developed in South Korea and in China.


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