Psychochild's Blog

A developer's musings on game development and writing.

30 September, 2009

Peaks and Troughs
Filed under: — Psychochild @ 5:37 PM

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?


  1. I too miss the trains. I also miss exp loss on death. I miss corpse runs. I miss my decisions actually mattering, affecting either my game, other people’s game, or both. I’ve played nearly every MMO since EQ1, and they all tried to capture and refine what it had, but in refining it they lost the raw elements that were actually the most exciting and interesting parts. What we have now are the suburbs, what we had was the wild west. I don’t want unrestricted PvP where everything is chaos and screaming, but the current games of designed fun on rails is just so… bland.

    It is, in a way, like parents who try to protect their children from the dangerous things they themselves did as children, forgetting that they are the people they are often because of those experiences not in spite of them.

    Comment by Jason — 30 September, 2009 @ 6:23 PM

  2. Trains also represented a social issue which is what made them enjoyable in a way. A train wasn’t the problem of a single player or single group, it was a zone wide issue that had to be dealt with. It didn’t matter if you were in Uber Guild A, a solo player, or in a group of you and your 10 friends. The train never discriminated and would kill all alike. That meant the problem was also for all to deal with. Sitting on the far side of a zone waiting for the chaos to subdue or reseting up after successfully wiping a train was a great way to meet people you normally wouldn’t.

    Comment by Logo — 30 September, 2009 @ 6:42 PM

  3. I miss the social interaction that came from a diverse group of people playing Meridian59 because it was the only game in town. You had the hardcore PvPers, the role-players, the crafters (really just menders), the theives, the complete noobs, and everything in between. PC has referred to M59 many times as PVP game, but the high point of the game for me is when you had that mixture of all play styles present. The server would divide into the murderous PKers and the noble hunters, who protected the innocent from the PKers. The crafters would form unions and establish server-wide prices for casting various repair or enchantments. “Scab” menders or enchanters were shunned and sometimes killed for violating the union rules. Thieves would pretend to repair or enchant your sword but end up taking your weapon and logging off. The noobs provided endless comic relief. When cutting corners, players would often appear to “jump” onto the roof of buildings, prompting newbies to ask “how do you jump?”. The answer would always be “Alt +F4″ which resulted in the newbie closing the game and often dying to a mob (followed immediately with broadcasts of LOL). You just as easily made friends as you did enemies, and the enemy was not so much the person at the keyboard, but his character. I remember having great chats with players that had killed me or stolen from me – it was a game and we recognized that. I remember one player that role-played his character as a complete mute. He would never talk, but would use sign language via emote macros to express himself.

    The games today have sliced and diced these aspects of the game into their own little realm. Newbies have their own special starting zones. PvPs have their own zones. Crafters have crafting stations or are so complex that you focus on gathering materials rather than running business. Cheating other players is removed from the game. You have no in-game reason to make enemies, and the only enemies you have now are due to political arguments you had in a chat channel. The server sizes are so large that role-playing loses its meaning, as you’re individual actions are drowned in the ocean of players.

    Sometimes out of the pure anarchy of mixing pvpers, rpers, crafters, and newbies something awesome emerges. I miss the beautiful chaos of M59.

    Comment by Marthos — 30 September, 2009 @ 10:20 PM

  4. This was a huge argument between players in FFXI. We had trains so bad no one could defeat them, not even multiple capped players, so everyone had to bug out of the zone for twenty minutes till they walked back to normal spawn patrols. They removed them by making enemies despawn, and we had intense arguments over it on forums.

    I didn’t really miss it, because it really was a lot of death and chaos, leading to wasted nights of your party dying because some idiot kept running mobs past you to zone, and you couldn’t bug out before it got back and ate your healer. But a lot of people did, and its tough.

    Too much risk, and you make very conservative players. Too little and its a dull game. I guess you need to assess the risk comfort of your potential audience and go from there.

    Comment by Dblade — 30 September, 2009 @ 10:53 PM

  5. A lot of these negative experiences are fun in small doses. It’s when they get repetitive that they completely destroy the game experience.

    For example, if you only encountered a train maybe once a week, it would be exciting. If there was a train every time you entered the zone, you’d quit in disgust. Similarly with World PvP. You have a single PvP encounter and it’s very intense and fun. But getting corpse-camped is just terrible.

    It’s very hard to allow a negative behavior for only a small fraction of the time. It’s much easier to prevent that behavior entirely. So faced with the choice of “spice overdose” or “no spice”, most people choose “no spice”, which is an entirely rational choice.

    Comment by Rohan — 30 September, 2009 @ 11:08 PM

  6. I remember the griffins in the gnome starting zone of EQ1, the near absolute darkness of the Erudite starting zone, and the stress of attempting to cross through Kithicor forest(?) at night.

    I appreciated the challenge posed by these areas. The inherent danger kept me from becoming complacent or bored even though they often frustrated me at the same time. I absolutely do not miss corpse runs or xp loss, for me death was punishment enough but everyone has different tolerances for risk.

    I also enjoyed exploration in EQ1 and in AC1. Both had large worlds that were not quickly traversed where the unfamiliar wanderer could easily stumble into places they shouldn’t be. Today’s theme park designs usher players from ride to ride between velvet ropes which leave little, if anything, beyond their confines to be discovered.

    I think games today have largely gone too far to coddle players and ensure that nothing bad happens particularly when they are first starting out. By making everything safe, easy and predictable they have also eliminated the thrill and feeling of accomplishment or discovery one could take from rising to meet the unexpected challenge.

    Comment by Max — 1 October, 2009 @ 6:49 AM

  7. I’d like to thank you for that link to Fansy the Bard. Those brain cells are now forever going to be useless to me, I don’t think I’ll ever again be able to put them to any useful purpose.

    This post, comments, and my experience last night has inspired me, as you so often do.

    Comment by Toldain — 1 October, 2009 @ 10:23 AM

  8. Ah Fansy the bard, that was the guy I was thinking about earlier!

    And yep, it’s all about risk vs reward and finding that balance. I think some people take it too far and assume that for a game to capture the old feelings of risk, they have to be incredibly frustrating and grinding. I don’t believe that’s necessary and I’m convinced good MMOs can be made that provide a challenge and risk but don’t require silly grinds or time sinks or huge investments of time to play.

    Some of things I didn’t like in EQ were the corpse losses and the time sinks like camping but I really miss some of the other elements that encourage social interaction like trains and fully open dungeons.

    Comment by We Fly Spitfires — 1 October, 2009 @ 3:07 PM

  9. The effect for me is that I’m tending to find the games more enjoyable but the people less enjoyable as things dumb down.

    I miss most of the old school pacing mechanics because I think we’ve lost a lot of the social side of MMOs with the improved gameplay.

    Comment by Stabs — 1 October, 2009 @ 4:50 PM

  10. When I see similar discussions posted, it reminds of me the “edition wars” of Dungeons and Dragons.

    Deadly Game vs Protect the PCs
    Player Skill vs Character Skill
    Sandbox vs Railroad
    PCs Make The Story vs DM Makes The Story


    I can only imagine the trend has followed consumer tastes. Less grognards from the 70s, 80s, and 90s that want games with perma-death, sandbox areas, and no segregation of players due to play style. More of an audience that wants an experience crafted and tailored for them.

    I’ve never seen any resolution between AD&D players and 4th Edition players, nor do I see it in the current gaming market.

    Comment by Black Molly — 1 October, 2009 @ 7:25 PM

  11. I talk about the importance of peaks and valleys all the time. To a large extent, game’s peaks (stuff that is fun because it is good) can only be as high as your valleys (stuff that is bad) are low.


    Pre-raiding, death is basically a teleport. The repair costs are trivial. The time disruption is minimal. The time loss is minimal.

    Result: A narrow victory where you win with 1% health is basically “that’s nice.” You saved yourself 2 minutes. That’s it. In an old school MMO, that narrow victory could be HOURS saved. It meant something. You felt it.

    Similarly, when someone swooped in and saved your bacon when you were about to die, you were really, genuinely grateful. In a WoW-like game, you might actually be pissed that the guy stole your xp.

    Valleys are important. Even if gamers insist they hate something, you must examine WHY they hate it. If the thing they hate does not happen often, and if it heightens the excitement level of the game, it might be for their own good that you leave it in.

    Comment by Muckbeast — 6 October, 2009 @ 10:51 PM

  12. As you have already read Muckbeast, Tesh, Wolfshead, Gordon etc., the core of the problem is this:

    1. if people die/fail, they cry. A lot. Getting killed on a PvP server repeatedly made Zubon at KTR write an article “canceled and coasting”. Who would not feel pissed in this case, still the reaction is to cancel the account. Now there is a reason why there are PvE servers and why devs take care that nobody feels pissed by making things less harmful. You don’t even lose honor points in WoW if you die, unlike to Aion. You also do not pay repair costs. The only thing that remains annoying is that someone stops us from questing where we want and when we want.

    2. the problem that arises out of this safety and protection is that without loss, there is also no victory. Or the victory is rather shallow, as you already pointed out in one of your later blog entries.

    All this is not necessarily restricted to PvP, we have contradictions in our wishes for PvE, too. We in general want to have large, if not even gigantic game worlds, but if travel takes a very long, we are discontent. We love flight in WoW, but it basically destroys open world pvp if everyone can fly away quickly and travel elsewhere in no time.

    I think the dev has to treat the wishes of his customers like that of kids: Too much candy is bad for the teeth, some hard/edged spices are needed. Almost as if a little bit of pain makes the player feel more alive! :)

    Comment by Longasc — 12 October, 2009 @ 3:16 AM

  13. Is a death penalty appropriate?

    [...] I will say that I think there is something to his core argument, since I’ve said that risk is a necessary component in our games. But, is a death penalty really an appropriate way to add [...]

    Pingback by Psychochild's Blog — 29 June, 2010 @ 2:48 PM

Leave a comment

I value your comment and think the discussions are the best part of this blog. However, there's this scourge called comment spam, so I choose to moderate comments rather than giving filthy spammers any advantage.

If this is your first comment, it will be held for moderation and therefore will not show up immediately. I will approve your comment when I can, usually within a day. Comments should eventually be approved if not spam. If your comment doesn't show up and it wasn't spam, send me an email as the spam catchers might have caught it by accident.

Line and paragraph breaks automatic, HTML allowed: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>

Email Subscription

Get posts by email:

Recent Comments


Search the Blog


July 2020
« Aug    



Standard Disclaimer

I speak only for myself, not for any company.

My Book


Around the Internet

Game and Online Developers

Game News Sites

Game Ranters and Discussion

Help for Businesses

Other Fun Stuff

Quiet (aka Dead) Sites

Posts Copyright Brian Green, aka Psychochild. Comments belong to their authors.

Support me and my work on