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It's All Fun in Games

A discussion on the impact of MMOG elements based on my definition of fun... (Note - take everything with a grain of salt, as we are only human. If you want more clarification, please read my "Defining" series, as everything is based off of that...)

Author: LackeyZero

Creating Community

Posted by LackeyZero Tuesday July 24 2007 at 11:14AM
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There's 3 things needed for a community to interact: Downtime, Reason to Interact, and Tools for Interaction...( By the way, every time I think about community interaction, my mind always go back to the many elements that attempts to promote player interaction in City of Heroes a.k.a. COH . So I’m going to be using examples from City of Heroes a lot.)

1) Downtime - Mainly due to the fact that the mainstream population type on keyboards to communicate, downtime allows players time to communicate.

Good Example: I’m going to use examples in Ragnarok Online and City of Heroes. During those times when the characters need to sit down and rest to replenish mana or hp, players talk to each other. In Ragnarok Online, when players are not already in parties or teams, that’s most of the time how a player finds one. When they’re sitting down resting, they have to wait, so they type and talk about the game world (such as graphics, lore, places, cool bosses, items, wants, whatever…). This helps build a connection between players and the community.

Bad Example: I’ll use Guild Wars, and Dungeons and Dragons Online (even though this happens in City of Heroes too). In these games, generally, there’s a lot of rushing. In Guild Wars, there’s really no need to stop and rest, so players just keep moving and killing mobs after mobs until they finish the instance that takes 1 or 2 hours (hardly any communication in this game). In DDO, the instance dungeons are static. Well, people do stop from mob to mob sometime to prepare or wait for the rest of the time. And there are designated rest shrines, where players can rest. However, because of the static dungeon, when there’re team members that have done the dungeon before, they just rush through it, and there’s hardly any communication between players when that happens.

I also want to talk about limitations, as it relates to downtime. Imagine being in a group, with everyone working together to try and find secret locations/objects/etc. Wouldn’t that be great? I think this is what City of Heroes tried to do with some things like with the finding the plaques. Finding the plaques can give players titles and some hp or endurance boost. However, players are freely able to do it at any time. So when they do it, because it’s more efficient to do it all at one time and because there’s a website that shows where they’re located. Players choose the efficient way, because a choice is forced upon them: what is in their mind is generally “Do it all at once and save time” or “Do a little at a time and I may regret wasting more time than I would otherwise”. Even though, most would enjoy it more doing only a little at a time so that it wouldn’t get repetitive and boring. So, basically, having the players think this, is putting a lose-lose situation on them. Therefore, this is where I think limitations need to come into play. Limit the amount that players can search for at any one time (for example, a mission that tells them to find only 1 or a few secret/hidden stuff…). This is only assuming it’s repetitive stuff; it’s a totally different story if they’re searching for hidden dungeons or something of that sort, because they’re not searching for hundreds of things all at once, but rather only a few and they do the dungeon once they find it. In the case of websites revealing the answers, assuming the task isn’t too difficult, and players only does a little of it at a time, then they are less inclined to look up the answers. Otherwise, there needs to be a random element, so that the answers on the websites wouldn’t be correct.

2) Reason to Interact – It can vary greatly: born out of necessity, social wants, or many other things. Solving puzzles, or interesting lore, npc character, boss, item, etc., all contributes to player communication and interaction.

Good Example: I’m going to use Dofus. This game has many puzzles that require more than 1 person to stand on tiles and solve it to open secret entrances. Once they reach the end, they are rewarded with an emoticon that they can use. It was great, random people just joined together to do the puzzles, and people would talk to each other, about either how to solve the puzzle or explain what it was for. This example is great, because even if a player has already done it, they still need to communicate with others to let them know, what they need to do also.

Bad Example: I’m just going to use DDO again with the same situation. A static dungeon, where everything spawns and acts exactly the same every time it is done, really causes problems. When someone does it a second time, they just rush through and there’s no communication, because they know how to do everything already and have no reason to communicate.

Now, I want to talk about COH again. I don’t remember which zone, but there’s one zone where random buildings get put on fire, and players can put it out (comparable to random spawn of boss monsters). The thing is, players in a group will work together to search for boss. But, in the case of the building on fire, it’s a one time thing. If the developers just wanted a subtle thing, where if the players see it they put it out otherwise they don’t seek it, then it works perfectly. However, if the developers want players to work together to search for it, then there obviously needs to be a greater reward. (The reason I bring this up, is because I was thinking about, “wouldn’t it be great,” if groups of players could be hunting around a zone, but also be searching for something at certain locations, which would make them think and decide strategically where they want to move towards or around while battling… So one situation may be like, “if I want boison berries, I’ll persuade my team to go this way, but if I want green crystals, I’ll ask them to go that way, all the while we can still kill giant zombies for other materials, or whatever…”)

3) Tools for Interaction - Anything that supports interaction: tools for group searching, animation, emotes, and anything that others can see or hear.

Good Example: The intuitive tool to search for groups in COH; display of dropped loot into a picture in Ragnarok Online; healing of strangers, who needs healing, etc…

Bad Example: (too obvious)

That’s it…

Creating Variety

Posted by LackeyZero Monday July 23 2007 at 11:48AM
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There is a lack of variety in many current games. The first generation of online games, like UO, EQ, and RO, etc., had some variety (from what I heard at the very least). The second generation of games, however, seems to have devolved into a much more linear and bland form of gameplay. And right now, we are still in the second generation of online games, no matter how much the developers are touting about their new innovative game mechanics (which are in actuality very little). While in reality, the game design hasn’t even been utilized very well at all yet.

            There are games that don’t really even require leveling to be engaging and fun, because it has variety. I will use Zelda: The Ocarina of Time for this example. Sure there were hearts and new weapons the player obtained over time that made them slightly stronger. However, when I played this game, the main thing that kept my interest and focus was never those things made me stronger. It was about the adventure, places I could go to, little amount of story that existed, mini-games, puzzles, bosses with different abilities, platforming, etc. Even to the lesser extent, it had variety like lava suits so the lava wouldn’t harm the character. That’s what variety is…

            A bad example I will use is Guild Wars. It lacks variety. There may be a bit of miasma here or there in their dungeons that does damage over time, but there is really hardly any variety. Most of the fights feel the same. The dungeons feel the same. There’s nothing to explore. It is very linear, going from one area to the next in an orderly fashion. The PvE really sucks. (By the way, I am using this game as an example, because the players max out their level in the beginning of the game, way before the story/PvE ends).

            Okay! Here is what I’m suggesting: creating variety from existing core game mechanics. Is that so hard? One of the most underutilized game design is platforming. If characters can run and jump in 3D, there should be some platforming. Other basic game mechanics that can be modified are stats, movement speed, and whatever else that exist (e.g. bland wall design make characters dumber, -10 intelligence; or mirror reflection reveals how stupid you really look, -5 charisma; or high ground lacks oxygen, -mana regeneration speed; etc.). Add triggers to some of it, so that players can do something to stop the effects (momentarily), or maybe they have to strategically choose what or even when they want to turn off, because they’re limited by a resource. (Basically, this is like adding a puzzle element). Maybe the characters require certain gears or items to be protected from the effects. With that said, we need more variety and better game design, not necessarily new game mechanics…

Defining Context

Posted by LackeyZero Saturday July 21 2007 at 7:56AM
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Context is the player’s perception/understanding of the game world. Context is the driving force for the player’s interests. Without any context the player will not know what to do or even what they can do for that matter. Context is essential for fun as it greatly determines what the player is interested in.
Generally, it is a good idea to expand context over the course of the player’s game experience. Thus, allowing the player more variables to think about. (For example, a player may know about a town and the basic insects around the town at start; then later on learns about a beast nearby that travels underground and makes indirect attacks). However, it is typically not a good idea to overwhelm a player with tons of information at the start, as everything will get muddled in memory, as well as being unnecessary for starters. It is best for players to experience and learn over time, allowing a better spread of content.
It is a bad idea to contract context, which is reducing the amount of variables that players believe exist. As a result, there is less variables to garner interest from players. Since context is the player’s interpretation of what exists, there are several ways to change the player’s perception and understanding. (For example, when a player explores and there are repetitious outcomes of no results, then the player with get an impression that there is nothing to find. Thus, reducing the amount of variables that they thought existed before, which means less things to think about that may hold their interest).

Importance of Immersion

Posted by LackeyZero Friday July 20 2007 at 12:49PM
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           I decided to post about this because of Plasuma's post and his description of how oblivion broke immersion due to its mini-games. And also, because of the massive talk on immersion. Well, this is my take on immersion...

            We all know it's bad to break immersion right? The main thing is that immersion is imagination. When someone is immersed, they are imagining and dreaming. This, sort of, ties in with my blog about "Good and Bad Marketing". When they are immersed and something like a mini-game breaks it, then that's obviously not good. When immersion is broken, the context is changed. It means that the player is drawn into the something that broke it and is now focusing on that. As a result, they have temporary blocked off any thoughts dealing with immersion. So, it was a trade-off, losing one thing for another to think about (even though there's probably more things to think about that are related to immersion). However, the more often a person blocks off something, the less likely they are to think about it again, because each time they get the impression that they can’t or shouldn’t be doing that—imagining; in addition, the less often they do it, the less inclined they are to remember or think of doing it again. As a result, it's killing off the amount of things that players think about (i.e. contracting context). Therefore, less fun...

            Immersion adds an additional level and variable for thinking and… 

            The other point of this post is to show that it is bad to create opposing interests, which results in the removal of a form of thinking...

Good and Bad Advertising

Posted by LackeyZero Friday July 20 2007 at 11:57AM
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I'd like to talk about good and bad marketing/advertising. Have you ever seen those cinematic trailers for games that are completely different from how the game actually is? It may initially draw in a bigger crowd, but result in less customers. It draws in the ones, who would be interested even without the "non-existent" features, and those, who otherwise wouldn't be interested without those "non-existent" features. When they figure out those features don't exist, obviously, the latter ones would leave. However, it is likely to cause the ones that would be interested without the "non-existent" features as well to leave, if it catches their interest. Because people can only consciously focus on one thing, and if the "non-existent" feature catches the person's interest, then that will be focusing on what they're interested in the most. It's like having a person interested in object A and then telling them about this amazingly cool object B and then letting them know that B doesn't exist. Now,  A isn't as interesting or appealing to the person as it used to be, because they've been exposed to B, which was apparently more appealing to them. (I think it can be compared to eating something really sweet and good tasting, then try something less sweet). So now, being less interested in what they were originally interested in, they are less inclined to think about it now and all the while they've blocked off thinking about the "non-existent" features, because the context* has changed, because it doesn't exists. This is the effect of bad marketing.

How about good marketing? I'll give an example for this. In those same cinematic trailers, the fighting is always alot more astonishing and intense, isn't it? Well, in this case, most of the time it's okay. In fact, it's beneficial, because it raises the audience's imagination. While in the game, the characters may just hit in auto-attack, but with that advertising, some players may imagine their characters doing all those cool moves and see the auto-attack as only a simulation of what's going on. Therefore, they enjoy the game more due to their additional imagination and thinking. But, really why is it okay to mislead here? Well, the reason is that combat is the most learned about thing before entering a game. Combat is usually the main focus of any game. Therefore, in in-game trailers, on websites, in screenshots, etc. the players already know exactly what the combat is truly like from the vast amount of sources available about that. Therefore, the context* is unlikely to change once the person plays the game and the player doesn't get disoriented unlike in the above paragraph...

The difference between good and bad advertising can be viewed as this: bad marketing results in the separation of reality and imagination, and blocking of imagination; good marketing results in the combination of reality and imagination, thus allowing more variation of thoughts.

context* = player's understanding of the game world or environment/surroundings

Defining Boredom

Posted by LackeyZero Friday July 20 2007 at 11:43AM
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Boredom is not thinking. Or atleast that is how I define it. I looked up the definition as well. "Otto Fenichel assimilated boredom with a type of depersonalization in which the subject feels that he must do something but does not know what" ( The thing is that sure, when in that state, people think "What should I do?" But that only takes like a fraction of a second. And the time before and after that thought, are a whole lot of nothing, when the conscious is not thinking. Anyways, that is my experience with it.

Boredom is the person's decision (consciously or subconsciously) to not think about a given subject. People do this when they believe they know everything there is to know about the particular subject or decide that it's not important to think about it at the current time. So they choose to block it off and not think about it.

One of the main causes is repetitiveness, when a person keeps experiencing the same thing over and over. Eventually, they decide it's not necessary to think about it anymore, because they expect it to be the same thing. When they block it and there's nothing else that catches their interest, then they become effectively bored. In MMOGs, this can be anything: the repetitiveness of fighting monsters after monsters that look all the same, or fight all the same (e.g. monsters that only hit in melee). It can be even caused by the same genre or theme from something else they've experienced previously (e.g. experiencing multiple games with similar mechanics in the medieval genre, which results in expectations of the same mechanics in a future game of the same genre. Hence, innovation sometimes is better, as people are less inclined to have expectations on things they haven’t experienced). As a result of repetitiveness from the person's experience, they create preconceived notions, which blocks off interest and thinking. Boredom...

Defining Fun

Posted by LackeyZero Thursday July 19 2007 at 12:22PM
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Many people seem to think that they know what fun is. However, they can only describe it. Everything they expound upon is based on the subjective feelings. They have no idea what the core reason is, which raises the question "How can you create entertainment without knowing what fun is?" Well, I believe it is absolutely necessary to know what fun is in order to create something truly amusing. Because every element within a media that is entertaining must connect to the core beliefs of fun.

Fun in its simplest form can be objectively defined as thinking. To think is to have fun. A person may wonder why when they are bored, they are thinking about something else. Sure, they are thinking, but they are not thinking about the subject matter at hand; therefore, the subject infront of them appears boring. Once they have nothing interesting to think about, they effectively become bored. If they had, they'd be daydreaming and enjoying it for the moment. "Why exactly is thinking, fun?" they might ask. Well, one way is to compare it to experiencing it; they experience it mentally rather than phsically, but since every thing people experience is based on perception, it's really all mental in any case. (Note - Really, thinking is just enjoyable by itself, think about it...) Even when people start to experience what they desire, it rarely turns out exactly as they have dreamt. Each changing event gives new information, no matter how miniscule, which pushes them to think in order to adapt to the current situation; this is exactly why they still enjoy it while experiencing what they desire--they are continually thinking. So, that only goes to show that: If their head isn’t in the game, then it’s not fun!

This core idea exists in any form of entertainment media. Movies are not entertaining if it doesn't grab interest from the viewers, which nudges the observers into caring and wondering; Comedians aren't funny if they can't get the audience to guess what's coming up next and at the same time have something that the audience can't ever think of (example: funny particular voices that people can't think up to be exactly as the result.); Games are not fun if players are not thinking about the game; etc. Any entertainment media needs to promote and invoke thinking in order to be enjoyable as well as direct the audience's attention toward itself (i.e. keep the audience engaged)...

Edit: My Big3 for fun is 1)Problem-Solving (any challenge, customization, whatever that challenges the player to think and do something) , 2) Emotion, and 3) Sensation. Emotion and Sensation put together makes an experience. That's what music, movies, etc. provides. And games are the most interactive and powerful media of them all. (Example: Shadow of the Colosus or Mario provides much more of an experience than challenge.)

Why Quests are Detrimental to Fun

Posted by LackeyZero Thursday July 19 2007 at 11:46AM
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Today's quests are detrimental to fun, because it demotes thinking. Thinking is the basis for fun. The quests bring the players to every single important location. The players only need to play a few hours or so, before they, themselves, get that impression. As a result, the player doesn't think anymore (e.g. Why should I even bother wondering or checking that brilliant light coming from that cavern over there, when a quest is going to bring me there eventually anyways?). The thought process ends here, because why worry when the person is going to be led there anyways... There's no, "I wonder what that place is all about?" or "Is there some secret puzzle associated with that place?" or "I wonder what kind of scary monsters I will be meeting there?" or etc. This is exactly why I enjoyed World of Warcraft for 3 days, until it dawned on me that my explorations were pointless. Quests brought me absolutely everywhere. Every single point of interest… In fact, there was nothing to be found without actually having the quest for it. I explored for a few hours and it led me nowhere, except only further from where I should be. There's no need to think or talk to any particular npc to find information. All I need to do is click an NPC with an exclamation mark on its head and press "OK". Then the quest log will tell me absolutely everything I need to know in order to do the quest in bullets. No need to read the story...

My suggestion is that quests, if used, should act mainly as a form of guidance. This way, players, who have absolutely no idea where to go, can be nudged in a good direction. Most of the time the quests should not bring players to the point of interest, but rather only near enough for the players to be awed by it. The quests act as a guide that gives little bits of information, which gives players a context to base their thinking around. It points the players to a place of interest that is much like a hook in a story, which makes the viewer wonder what happens next and feels the need to continue in order to find out more...