Fun Factor

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A post from rec.games.roguelike.misc

Zen Clark wrote:
> I have been playing Roguelikes for a little while and have found them
> pretty fun. I have even started a collection of the games, but I just
> cant really say what makes them fun, and to win a agrument with my room
> mate (he thinks they are pointless and wasting my time) I was wondering
> what makes them fun to all you out there. So, can any one help me there?
> 

I can respond to this question with some authority.  Aside from being
an avid gamer, I'm a professional programmer, I have a strong
background in game design, and I've even done quite a bit of game
coding (game modifications for Microsoft's Dungeon Siege game engine -
reference my work at http://www.planetcopperhead.com if you're
curious).
 
There's two primary "layers" of fun - immediate fun, and long-term fun.
There are other intangible elements that constitute what makes people
like games, but I believe that the two factors I just mentioned are the
major contributors to what make people like games.

What your roommate deems as "fun" is immediate fun - this is what most
commercial games these days peddle.  Flashy graphics, great audio, neat
gimmicks, (massively) multiplayer interactivity, etc.  There's
absolutely no doubt that such features are appealing - the entire
backbone of the commercial game industry is filled with nothing but one
example after another of games trying to edge each other out, trying to
be the coolest, hippest, most talked-about kids on the block in any/all
of these categories.  Industry conventions such as E3 buzz with nothing
BUT tales of just how amazing <insert game here> will be next year.

However, there's a second element of fun: long-term appeal, often
referred to as replayability, or the ability to play a game many times
without becoming bored.  Many gaming purists, both inside and outside
the game industry (myself included), feel that this element has become
severely neglected in recent years.  Very few commercial games these
days are produced with any sort of longevity in mind, and of the ones
that try, few succeed at this task.  There are a lot of methods by
which this can be added to games; higher difficulty settings, expansive
content, random content, multiplayer input, etc.  But underlying all of
these gimmicks, the core behind replayability is *good game design*.
Games must be easy to play, well-balanced, and offer an acceptable but
not insurmountable challenge to the player, or all the cool tricks in
the world will not make them replayable.

Taking your roommate's example: Halo

Halo is a slightly atypical first-person shooter(FPS) game series.

"Flash-bangs":  Halo has excellent graphics, pretty good audio effects
and a decent soundtrack.
Story: Halo features a slowly unfolding, fairly well-written and
implemented storyline, with believable gameplay elements wrapped around
it.  Not as well executed as, say, Half-Life 2, but not bad.  Not
strong enough to encourage replay, however, as it is a completely
linear storyline.
Game play: Halo features a small spectrum of weapons (mostly pretty
vanilla as far as FPS games go).  Nothing incredibly neat.  Slight
innovation with the slowly regenerating shields, some new game play
twists with the swarming attacks of the Flood.  Very strong
implementation of 2-player cooperative play.
Overall:  I found Halo and Halo 2 to both be rather lackluster FPS
games, with little to recommend them aside from the great co-operative
and online play modes and some interesting but soon-tired-of graphics.

Now let's look at the typical roguelike:

"Flash-bangs": None.  Roguelike games use the bare essential displays
necessary to convey information about the game world, using text icons
(or in some cases, graphical tile replacements for the former).
Story: None.  Dive into a dungeon, retrieve item X, get out alive.
Pretty simple.
Game play: Ah, the heart and soul of roguelikes.  Not only is there a
nearly endless variety of roguelike games, with a flavor for every
taste, but each offers a completely different gameplay experience every
time you play.  The dungeon elements are random, the enemies are
random, the items you find are random, and yet, because of the human
inclination to find patterns in chaos, we often refer to games as
having specific "themes".  For those with the eyes to see, roguelikes
are a different game every time you play them; the essence of
replayability.
Overall: By modern gaming standards, roguelike games have only one
element that makes them appealing to gamers - their infinite variety of
game styles.  That is why most gamers don't understand the appeal of
roguelikes, because they can't comprehend how having ONLY good gameplay
and replayability could make a game good.

For such gamers, the brainwashing is mostly complete - they pick up a
new game, go "wow" at the graphics/audio/gimmicks, and then move on to
the next shiny object that comes along.  By extension, gamers like your
roommate have been convinced that this is "good" and "normal", and
never realize that after the first few hours, almost every game they've
played is *exactly the same* as its predecessers, minus a few bells and
whistles.

But for those of us who have broken free from this, and realize that
good gameplay and replayability are what we really value in games, the
allure of modern games stops becoming such a beckoning factor, and we
can see them for what they really are: marketing machines that have
corrupted the core of what makes for good gameplay in their pursuit of
profits.

Oh, and a quick aside for anyone who is a Calvin and Hobbes fan out
there: Roguelikes are the computerized equivalent of Calvinball.  :)

Jim
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