30 September, 2009
When you do something for fun, do you always have fun? Seems like a silly question until you look at it from a game design point of view. Few people truly have fun 100% of the time, even when they intend to have fun. A good friend of mine loved The Lord of the Rings, but he still skipped the "boring parts" despite his absolute enthusiasm for the book.
So, let's take a look at what is "fun" and how much of it you can pack into an experience.
I thought about the issue of fun while reading Gordon's latest post at We Fly Spitfires entitled I Miss The Trains. Gordon discusses how he misses old-school type trains in EQ1, where a monster would pursue you to the ends of the zone if you tried to run. You could aggro others along the way, causing a conga line of doom trailing behind you. In EQ1, innocent bystanders would sometimes get splattered if someone dragged a train through an area with other people.
This bit of masochistic nostalgia is interesting, because a lot of people hated trains. One problem was that people could use trains maliciously, dragging enemies into a group to get them to wipe in order to take over a prime hunting spot. Or, it could be used as an "unfair" PvP tactic as in the case of Fansy the Bard. Even if the train wasn't malicious, it was a serious disruption to the game.
But, I suspect this is one of the reasons why Gordon remembers trains fondly: because they were a disruption. As some of the comments on my previous post indicate, some people want a little spice to the encounter. Going in and simply doing the memorized pattern gets boring. Trains were definitely an unpredictable element, since they were based on other players' behaviors.
Trains illustrate one of the problems with game design. Despite the frustration, there are some positives. As Gordon wrote, trains gave people a chance to be brave and encouraged social interaction. The thrill of running from a train of enemies or the excitement of breaking up a train and conquering can be a good thing. But, this would be less meaningful if there weren't the possibility of getting creamed by an unnoticed train coming your way. The good comes with the bad.
To put it in more basic game design terms, we're looking at risk as an enhancement to fun. Risk means that there's a chance for something good or something bad to happen. If you manage to overcome the obstacle and get the good result, it can feel great! But, the bad result can give you a bad memory of the event that could overpower all the good times you've had. The problem is that by eliminating the bad results, a game designer dulls the feeling of victory that comes from overcoming the obstacle. The peak doesn't seem so high once you fill in the surrounding troughs.
So, do you miss any other parts of older games that have been removed due to being a bit too painful for most people?