Real-time operation means that a minute of game time takes a minute of real time. Everything in AE is done in real time with no options to pause, slow, or speed up the game.
How It WorksEdit
Instead of little green bars that slowly move and create a unit, it actually gives you a time. For example, if you want to add to your maximum population for the first time, it takes about 5 minutes. But later, at Level 20, it would take maybe 6 or 7 hours, depending on how much production capacity you have.
Real-time is also a concept that implies that time spent building is a realistic amount of time, and continues on without the need of a user interacting with it, though activities will complete and no additional activity will happen without frequent orders early on and more occasional orders later as it requires more and more time for the structures to finish.
Because of the Real-time operation it is possible to schedule construction of structures and production of ships to complete at specific time. Indeed you can order ship production based on hours or minutes rather than quantity. If you enter 4h (four hours) for the quantity of ships the game will automatically convert that into a number of ships, say 15 fighters or 1 frigate.
Additionally construction can be queued, and the game will automatically begin the next structure when it completes the first.
The Beat Goes OnEdit
With a Real-time game people move about, build their structures, create their ships and launch their attacks whether you are on line or not. You might log on first thing in the morning to find that someone has attacked and destroyed your fleets, occupied your bases, and completely upset any plans you had for today's operations while you slept. Of course you can do the same to them, IF you can determine when they sleep!
As a world-wide game players represent almost every time zone on earth and there are always people on line. This makes it difficult sometimes when trying to schedule an activity, or plan a coordinated attack.
Game time, or Server Time, is shown on all screens. In addition you have the option to display your local zone time. There is a slight difference in the time displays probably due to the server performing additional operations before the local time calculation. Time of completion of constructions and productions is done as a count down to 00:00. Arrival of fleets is likewise a countdown.
Because it is likely that anyone you message is in another time zone it is only reasonable to reference everything using Server Time (ST).