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TechnoGoth

Challenge != Fun?

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I've noticed that of the years that while I want more challenging games with less repetition and more complexity the games themselves have remained relatively the same. So I began to wonder about the nature of challenging game play in games and found and how it seem that games have grown simpler over the years and so I wonder is a more challenging game less fun? Or is it case that games themselves have become so simplistic that only ways to increase the challenge in a game is by making the levels larger, more enemies, stronger enemies, and greater advantages to the enemies. If that’s the case then it’s no wonder people see challenging games as less fun since the designers have replaced challenge with repetition. Now I know I have said challenge a lot in the last paragraph but what is challenge? And what makes a game challenging? I’ve composed a short list of different ways challenges that could be added in a game but feel free to add or comment on the list. 1) Performing a task with less resources 2) Performing a task in a larger domain 3) Performing a task against a stronger opponent 4) Performing a task against more opponents 5) Performing a task against an opponent with more resources 6) Performing new tasks 7) Performing a task by combing separate tasks. 8) Increased changes to game state by AI. 9) Increased domain. 10) AI keeping pace with the player. 11) Lower margin for error. Now admittedly those are all pretty abstract but none the less they are what I believe are some methods of making a game more challenging. The game I’m currently working on is a strategy game like no other. I don’t mean to make it sound better or worse they other strategy game just simply that I don’t know of any strategy games that it’s similar to. Essentially you’re a ruthless executive in bio weapons division of a Multi National Corporation, who uses, commando teams, agents, R&D, genetically engineered monsters, and finical might, to improve your own standing within the company, gain wealth, and you can even purse dreams world domination. The game is played from the point of view with you controlling from the shadows and commanding things from your computer. In regards to my list of ways of adding challenge to games with my current game I want to get a sense whether people feel it would make the game more or less fun, from the following examples. 1) Raiding an enemy facility without gathering intel in advance - This means that you won’t know what to expect in the facility and you may lack equipment crucial to then missions success, which could lead to the raid failing and the loss of members of your commando team. 2) As time goes on new facility countermeasures are developed which you and other organizations may or may not have access to and you must learn to cope with them. 3) The more technology a rival organization has access to the better equipped their security forces will be and they may even have access to biomutants, and facility fail safes. 4) The more publicity surrounding your actives is generated the more potentially organizations will take an interest in your organization. 5) As your powerbase expands you must deal with organizations with larger powerbases to continue to expand. 6) At the start your options are limited by as your territory increases and you gain more assets you can start building new facilities and then have deal with the difficulties of managing multiple facilities and have to deal with possible betrayals by your underlings. 7) Many tasks are interconnected and require you to perform several different tasks to complete a single objective. Such as you want access to a substance developed another organization. You must use agents to locate either a quantity of the substance to steal, or the research data on the substance. Then if you decided to send commando to raid the facility containing the needed substance you should send in agents into the facility in advance to gather as much information on the facility as possible, before you can safely send in a commando team. 8) Computer controlled organizations are constantly pursuing their organizations goals, which leads to the development of new technologies which could render your most power weapon useless. 9) As the game progress and your powerbase expands you must learn to cope with events are much wider scale from a single facility to dealing with activities on a global scale. 10) The computer controlled organizations will continue to grow and be created at rate achievable by the player. If the player doesn’t keep up they could find themselves left behind. 11) This one I’m still unsure on. How many mistakes and irrelevant actions should the player be allowed? Should too many bad decisions mean that the player finds themselves falling behind the computer? Or should the game always be winable regardless of how badly the player plays? Bare in mind that this a strategy game, as such I want it to be as replayable as possible so if you find yourself in a no win situation you can always start again,. [Edited by - TechnoGoth on February 14, 2005 11:03:58 AM]

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I think many games fall foul of pitting the gamer against the designer. This is a dangerous route, as it makes the challenges inflexible. Different people enjoy different challenges, and hate others. Force the player to meet challenges that he dislikes and he'll quickly become annoyed.

For this reason, I personally prefer games where I compete against either other people - the challenge comes largely from beating their skills - or against myself. The nature of those challenges might be completely arbitrary, and not necessarily something programmed into the game, although it is possible to encourage it in the game design.

So, as examples of challenges that I might set myself in your game:

Reaching a certain tech level in a certain amount of time
Creating the most powerful/most amusing/most annoying biomutant possible
Seeing how many missions I can complete with only one man armed with a pistol
Kitting out/training up the best agent I can
Trying to completing missions with minimum/maximum enemy casualties/collateral damage
Completing missions in the shortest time possible

And so on. The important thing is not necessarily the nature of the challenge - it's the fact that I'm taking it on because I want to, rather than because I have to to complete the game. Self-set challenges are far more powerful than designer-set ones, because you can't cheat to succeed at them - doing so is a self admission of failure at the challenge.

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Challenges can be fun, but you also need to consider if the game itself is fun. For example, if you make the game too hard, then the player will just get bored of failing, if it is too easy, then they will get bored of succeding. Its a bit of a double edged sword.

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Good question, but I'm not certain what you mean by saying that games have become more and more simplistic with more and more repitition. I'm curious how you've come to this conclusion? Pong, Tetris, and other early games are nothing but repetition. How are these more complex than games like Civilization? Did I read you wrong?

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Quote:
Original post by Sandman
I think many games fall foul of pitting the gamer against the designer. This is a dangerous route, as it makes the challenges inflexible. Different people enjoy different challenges, and hate others. Force the player to meet challenges that he dislikes and he'll quickly become annoyed.

For this reason, I personally prefer games where I compete against either other people - the challenge comes largely from beating their skills - or against myself. The nature of those challenges might be completely arbitrary, and not necessarily something programmed into the game, although it is possible to encourage it in the game design.

So, as examples of challenges that I might set myself in your game:

Reaching a certain tech level in a certain amount of time
Creating the most powerful/most amusing/most annoying biomutant possible
Seeing how many missions I can complete with only one man armed with a pistol
Kitting out/training up the best agent I can
Trying to completing missions with minimum/maximum enemy casualties/collateral damage
Completing missions in the shortest time possible

And so on. The important thing is not necessarily the nature of the challenge - it's the fact that I'm taking it on because I want to, rather than because I have to to complete the game. Self-set challenges are far more powerful than designer-set ones, because you can't cheat to succeed at them - doing so is a self admission of failure at the challenge.


I agree that setting your own goals can be one of best ways to increase a game's replayabilty and longevity. But at the same time the game has to have enough flexibility allow you to do that. Out of curiosity do you have any ideas on how to reward the player for completing their self set goals? This would of course mean devising a system to recognize those goals, assuming that such a system could be designed would it be worth the effort?

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Unfortunately, most players tend to stop playing the game once they hit really challenging parts. Either they quit, or they stop playing the game and start playing the AI/flaws. You know what I'm talking about... constant reloads until they roll a critical, throwing a grenade around the corner without looking, getting enemies stuck behind an object... Fun for some, but.

The "best" games in this regard are as others said, multiplayer games where enemy intelligence adapts much better, or 'sandbox' games like sim city or rollercoaster tycoon.

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Read this book. Seriously. I know my review reads like it was written by Koster's mother on his birthday, but I stand by every word I said: that book _defines_ fun. And I, for one, believe his theory is the closest anyone has come to an accurate definition of "fun" yet. I've been working in the games industry since the 1980s and this book still felt like it was opening my eyes for the first time, it really _is_ that damned important.

If you haven't read it, do so now. It's not even expensive and it's a quick read too.

*

In a nutshell, his theory is that "fun" is directly connected to the process of discovery. (In retrospect, I think "discovery" is probably a slightly better term thatn "learning".)

Now, discovery isn't inherently fun. The final element is motivation: the player must be making discoveries he _wants_ to make. Discovering that driving your brand new car into a brick wall at speed hurts like hell isn't "fun", but discovering how thrilling it is to belt down a German autobahn at speed _is_ (allegedly) fun.

It's no good throwing down the gauntlet and challenging the player unless you're absolutely certain he wants to accept that challenge. If he's not motivated to take it on, he won't have any fun if you force him to do so.

The reason why so many RTS games eventually get put back on the shelf is because the fun comes at the start: you're learning new things about the game world, about the various resources, structures you have to build and so on. But after a while, you've learned everything the game has to teach you and that means you have to move on. With FPS titles, the discovery is mainly about tactics and strategy, as well as finding out new ways of using the landscape, the props and NPCs. But even so, the game will be mastered after a while and nothing really new will leap out at you. Boredom will rear its lazy head and start to kick you in the teeth.

Ultimately, every martial arts student will either reach Black Belt Umpteenth Dan (or whatever), or drop out. There comes a point when their sensei simply hasn't got anything more to teach them. Their mentor's pool of wisdom has been used up and it's time for them to move on. This is a fact of life.

Koster actually makes the point that all games reach this point eventually and he's right: there's no point trying to design an "endless" game, because computers are finite and there's only so much content you can create within a sensible development cycle. (This theory also goes a long way towards supporting the "games are toys" theory often espoused by Gary Penn.)

Another issue is that you need to maintain the player's motivation to discover more about the game. This gets harder and harder if all they seem to be discovering is variations on an obvious theme. RPGs often fall foul of this, with clichéd quests often built using an increasingly visible cookie-cutter formula. But the same criticism also applies to the many "me-too" FPS titles that rely on gimmicky cosmetic effects to differentiate their weapons, but otherwise lack any real quality 'wisdom' for the player to learn.

One really important point about Koster's theory is that it lends the lie to the commercial reliance on recycling old game ideas. It's pretty much axiomatic in the industry that the way to pitch a new game design is to define it in terms of existing games: "My new game, X is just like last year's Game Y, but with dragons!"

Now, that might work up to a point, but the fallacy kicks in when the only 'new' discovery to be made is less than compelling: "My new game W is just like Game X, but with _blue_ dragons!" Players won't really feel much motivation to play a game like this.

This is easily the best excuse a publisher needs to can any "me-too" clones it has in development and save itself some money. Unless "Game W" actually offers genuinely new, compelling discoveries for the player to make, there's really no point in making it at all. Remember, the only people likely to buy "Game W" will be the same people who already played "Game X" last year. That instantly reduces the 'new compelling discoveries' factor, since "Game W" _is_ "Game X", but (in this, admittedly contrived, example), with some minor cosmetic changes.

The line where that compelling discovery factor becomes substantial enough to justify investment in development is obviously not going to be very clear cut, but it is still a useful metric by which new projects can be measured for risk.

And I think I'll stop now as my brain just switched itself off.

Good night.

--
Sean Timarco Baggaley

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Direct Response: (rating from 1 to 5, where 1 means you ruined it, 5 means you enhanced it. The ratings are based on personal perferences.)
Quote:
1) Raiding an enemy facility without gathering intel in advance - This means that you won’t know what to expect in the facility and you may lack equipment crucial to then missions success, which could lead to the raid failing and the loss of members of your commando team.
1. Among the last things to do for a strategy game is to turn it non-strategy. It is not fun if the only thing you can do is to guess. It is not fun to overstock.

2) As time goes on new facility countermeasures are developed which you and other organizations may or may not have access to and you must learn to cope with them.
3. In the long run, these 'new facilities' are no more different from those you have to learn since day 1. The newness of these discoveries also decreases for each addition.

3) The more technology a rival organization has access to, the better equipped their security forces will be and they may even have access to biomutants, and facility fail safes.
3. This seems to be just a normal growth pattern of strategy game.

4) The more publicity surrounding your activities is generated, the more potential organizations will take an interest in your organization.
3. This also seem to be at par to any other strategy game.

5) As your powerbase expands you must deal with organizations with larger powerbases to continue to expand.
3. This property is also common in strategy games.

6) At the start your options are limited, but as your territory increases and you gain more assets you can start building new facilities and then have deal with the difficulties of managing multiple facilities and have to deal with possible betrayals by your underlings.
2. The expansion part is at par as other strategy games. The betrayal part is redundant, or at most a nuisance in my opinion. In a nutshell it is just extra attention to keep the facilities healthy. If you put it back in the context of a medieval strategy game, it is the same kind of thing if the buildings you buildings rot once you finished it, or your farms can catch on fire by themselves. This is from a strategy game point of view, not a simulation point of view (i.e. I am not playing a sims game).

7) Many tasks are interconnected and require you to perform several different tasks to complete a single objective. Such as you want access to a substance developed another organization. You must use agents to locate either a quantity of the substance to steal, or the research data on the substance. Then if you decided to send commando to raid the facility containing the needed substance you should send in agents into the facility in advance to gather as much information on the facility as possible, before you can safely send in a commando team.
3. This is at par to other strategy games. Not much different from securing resources and raiding enemy expansions.

8) Computer controlled organizations are constantly pursuing their organizations goals, which leads to the development of new technologies which could render your most power weapon useless.
2. The AI part is at par to other games, but the 'rendering your most powerful weapon useless' part is damaging. In the way you presented this, the enemy's counter is unforseeable. In most strategy games, at least the player will have a sense when there 'Ace weapons' will expire. There is a sense of a window of opportunity (i.e. I understand that my strategy is only good until you can build flyings, therefore I must destroy you before you are able to build those). What you have described have the same effect as a random thunderstorm strikes down your barracks. There is not much value in strategy because there is too much chance involved in that. And the common counter measure against chance is redundancy (i.e. making the players to more than they need to for the sake of robustness.) Realistic but not elegant.

9) As the game progress and your powerbase expands you must learn to cope with events are much wider scale from a single facility to dealing with activities on a global scale.
3. This seems to be at par to other strategy games. Strategy games have different 'stages' and this is not different from those.

10) The computer controlled organizations will continue to grow and be created at rate achievable by the player. If the player doesn’t keep up they could find themselves left behind.
3. This is at par to other AI designs for strategy games.

11) This one I’m still unsure on. How many mistakes and irrelevant actions should the player be allowed? Should too many bad decisions mean that the player finds themselves falling behind the computer? Or should the game always be winable regardless of how badly the player plays?
Not rated. You can answer this by thinking what happens if you make 'mistakes' in a war strategy games. In general the player should be able to lose if he plays too badly. The effect you would want to avoid is, "wow, i won. I hardly did anything. This game is too easy/long/boring. There are probably something more efficient I could have done but I am glad that it is over." If a player is so 'bad', kill him fast, so that he will know that they aren't thinking right. (I am not speaking for the tutorial parts of your game.)


There were many things that I considered to exist in normal strategy games. That leads to the questions: What strategies and strategic elements exist in the current version? What is your game about if there are none of the above additions?

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Just a short reply as I have little time to post at the moment, but after having read Sandman's post, I wonder if it would be feasible to allow the player to impose a more formal goal upon themselves. Perhaps the game could be created with it in mind, and allow them to set their own goal that they can't cheat at because they make it a part of the game.

Perhaps you could even go to the extent of allowing a player to script out a victory condition in a tailor made scripting language, and allow players to swap challenge scripts.... actually this could be a really interesting and new idea (don't think I've heard of anything similar before!).

Steve

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Quote:
Original post by Mephs
Perhaps you could even go to the extent of allowing a player to script out a victory condition in a tailor made scripting language, and allow players to swap challenge scripts.... actually this could be a really interesting and new idea (don't think I've heard of anything similar before!).

I doubt the general player would take the time to first learn a scripting language, then sit down and write a victory condition every time before s/he begins playing. Oth though, if the developer were to supply a whole set of "awards" where the game would inform the player that he just reached some non-vital goal such as fishing a hard level below a certain time constraint, or genociding a whole race in a rpg etc. Then that could serve like some sort of motivation.

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