problems of Viva Pinata, and some of the problems of SimLife.
Care to elaborate?
My most recent developer journal entry was a comparison between Viva Pinata and Plant Tycoon, describing the features and problems of both. Here's what I said about the problems of Plant Tycoon:
- VP has an XP/leveling/achievement system which is such a big feature of the game that it occasionally overwhelms the player's breeding and sim activities. The way in which the leveling system seems overwhelming is that leveling up is the only way to earn shovel improvements, land expansions, and the ability to encounter new types of pinatas. Also, leveling up often causes a cinematic sequence to play, interrupting whatever the player was doing.
- A large percentage of VP's play is about creating and maintaining an environment to attract pinatas and enable them to become activated to breedablility. This can be quite laborious; to be activated, shown by a pink heart over their head, often requires each pinata to eat another pinata lower down the food chain. This activation must be done for both prospective parents, and it gets used up by breeding and must then be done again for each offspring. In some cases the pinatas will decide on their own to attack and possibly eat another pinata, which the player cannot effectively separate from each other (at least for flying ones), so part of the player's perpetual task of managing the habitat involves keeping an eye on these fights - breeding replacements and deciding whether to kill off or heal injured pinatas. The fact that VP's pinatas can take aggressive actions without the player's consent, along with the much greater complexity of the environment in VP (plants tend to die due to lack of water), is responsible for the major difference in feeling between the two games: in PT the player is in control, in VP they can't maintain control, they can only hang on and recover when things go pear-shaped.
So basically, Viva Pinata is stressful and frustrating because it screws with your stuff in a permanent way without your permission and usually too quickly for you to prevent or repair. The Sims series does this too, and it's the first mod the community makes every time a new Sims base game comes out - a mod to turn off aging and give the player a way to cancel or undo accidental deaths because the players don't like them.
SimLife, it's been over a decade since I played that so I don't remember in detail how it worked (or failed to work). I do remember feeling that the game failed to understand how I intended a species to work in the environment/food web, and failed to give me feedback on why a species wasn't working. The graphics were pretty much crap so it didn't give you any feeling for your animals as real live animals, much less individuals (I don't think SimLife had individual AI, but the Creatures series had individual AI and the creatures still failed to feel like individuals.)
So, to avoid all these problems: Individual animals should look and act individual, should not age beyond adulthood, and should be unable to die without the player's permission; instead they should go comatose or something. The player should be able to pick up and move individual animals, and to directly edit the factors that make that animal individual, though this should cost some kind of in-game currency or resource. The environment, if the player can mess with it to any significant degree, should be mostly self-maintaining and not be too entropic and tending toward dysfunction. If the environment needs the player's attention, it should "emote" what it needs with plenty of time for the player to respond. Same for individual animals. If you are supposed to be a god, there shouldn't be such a thing as the world being mysterious to you, too fast-paced for you to cope with, disobedient to you, or dysfunctional in a way you can't fix, seeing as how you presumably created it and could re-create it better. Similarly if there is a tech-tree or requirements for various things to happen, they should not be hidden from you in a way you can't even spend effort to research.