F-Zero GX analysis: Multiplayer game mechanics

f-zero mute city

F-zero GX was one of my personal favorites during the Gamecube generation. Its sense of speed, focus on skill and ability to (almost) always create thrilling races made me and my brother play it for years on end. It perhaps isn’t strange it was a major inspiration for the Wheelchair Racer project during my second year at university.

This article is a translation of an analysis written during my third year at university. As part of a “game theory and play mechanics” course, the analysis mostly covered the mechanics of the game. Also, it was written in Swedish. As such, I couldn’t use it as-was on this blog.

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Politics is Game Design

It’s all a matter of scale, really.

I’ve always had an interest in game design. I didn’t know that’s what it was called at first, I just found it fun to draw fictional maps on paper, imagining boss-battles play out in my head and – more often than not – imagine what game X would be like if I got to make a game like it. After playing World of Warcraft… no, that’s wrong.. after nudging Interface Elements within an Interface for more time than actually playing the game, just to throw the Interface away for a new one as soon as I finished… I realized what I was doing.

Meanwhile, in a completely different part of the head between my shoulders, some brain cells started having opinions. And a lot of them. And discussing the topic of politics back and forth.

And, suddenly, I was knee-deep into student union politics while studying games design. And felt like both parts benefited for the other. I believe I now know why.

Ask yourself, what is politics, really? Some likely say “a bunch of people who know and do nothing but talk”. Others may say “Game of Thrones, but less action (and sex scenes)”. I guess they’d both be right. But, really, isn’t politics about acting on a core belief and, together with like-minded people, draw or adapt the rules that governs society? I would say it is, and I’ll build the rest of this reasoning upon this premise.

Now ask yourself what game design is. This usually has as many answers as there are self-proclaimed designers. Some focus on the artistic and the creative, comparing the task to that of how a film director uses all channels of stimuli movies bring to send a message. Others focus on the technical side, saying it’s to mathematically construct the a logical rule-set that creates a system. I’m going for a premise somewhere in between these, saying game design is to mathematically construct a rule-set and use all channels of stimuli to create a system that send a message.

Do you see a similarity here? Maybe all I’ve done is imply it, so let’s make it more explicit.

Politics is about connecting with people – like-minded or of a completely different opinion – and either have one side convince the other or, more commonly, find an agreement both parties can accept. This to create rules, incentives and punishments to encourage a desired behaviour. Game Design is about connecting with people – engineers and artists, producers, business, marketing and other designers (one or more of these can be the same person) – and either have one side convince the other or find an agreement all parts can accept. This to create rules, incentives and punishments to encourage a desired behaviour.

In other words, politics is game design. And, very often, the game designer plays a game of politics (see? The “Politics is like Game of Thrones” had a point – although I’d say the latter was about the former than the other way around), navigating between the interests of artists, engineers, designers, producers, business and marketing.

Basically, they’re both about communication – convincing, debating, defining, change.

It’s just a matter of scale, really.

Thoughts About Death in Games

Reading Richard Clark’s opinion piece “Is Death In Games Cheap?”, I got thinking about death in games. Some of the comments gave more stuff for thought, and my imagination ran wild. How can games emulate death meaningfully, why do we care about death – and what is death, anyway?

Let’s start by defining death. When defining something, wikipedia is often helpful, so let’s ask them:

“Death is the termination of the biological functions that define a living organism.” From http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Death

Death, in English, is that a living being is gone.

So why would we care? Based on nothing but my own experiences, it seems like when we humans start to care about something, we’re crushed when its damaged or gone. Its clearly the case with other people. As we get to know people, we start to care. As we start to care, we will mourn the loss of him/her. And the longer you’ve known them, the closer they’ve been, the worse it gets. Compare a far-away relative with an old friend, for example. Interestingly, the same thing seems to account for non-living items. Remember that new CD, watch, phone, vase? Or perhaps an old gift? Surely, it’s frustrating when it gets its first scratch, its sad to see it become old and its absolutely crushing when it breaks or is gone. And the closer your ties has been to it, the worse it gets. The suddenness also seem to account. Something that in one second is brand-new and the next one gone (such as the newly-bought ice-cream you stood in line for a half hour a hot summer day, only to drop it on sand the second after you’ve paid for it – before you even got to taste it!) is more emotionally charged than something you could see coming (like, a computer that gets old and one day doesn’t work any more).

But this sorrow seems to not be permanent. Humans have an amazing ability to adapt to current circumstances. Just as the emotional value of something brand new or novel discharges with time (say, a new, or newly cleaned, house or apartment) it also seems to discharge when something bad has happened. As it’s usually called, you get used to it. This seems to be the case with the loss of people or items: Although paralysed with grief initially, it wears off and becomes nostalgia. But the more emotional value invested in the thing lost, the longer this process seem to take. Compare that ice-cream you stood in line for to someone, perhaps you, who’ve lost a close friend or relative. The ice-cream will be an incident of the past within the hour, but the lost friend or relative will take weeks, if not months, to get over.

So why am I throwing people together with items? Am I so cold-hearted and emotionless to not distinguish the two? Well, perhaps, but there’s a really good reason for it. Game characters are a bit of both. They’re people in a fictional way, as people we can (sometimes) relate two. They’re also items in a mechanical way, if they fill a function. So it’s very convenient that the same rules apply to both. And this could be the key to be playing with life-and-death in a meaningful way.

Games are slowly getting to the point where characters are believable enough the invest some emotions in. I’ve written a lot about Bioware’s games on this blog, and the fact that you can have some kind of interaction with and explore the characters are an important way to make that connection. Another example is Heavy Rain, which instead relies on the characters relationships and interactions with another to make that believability. One of my favourite examples is still Knights of the Old Republic II, where the characters of your crew not only interact with you, but pretend to interact with one another when you’re not there. In other words, you have emotional investment in each of them, but they pretend to have so with one another, as well. Another incentive for emotional investment is the game’s “influence”-system, where you by doing and saying things the characters like start to influence them more, progressing their character arcs. Although it shuts you out from people you do wrong things with (unless it’s a cut-scene or important story moment, which is some flaw), they’re so much more rewarding when you get to know them, because you really have to know them to get forward.

Games has also started to explore the importance of death as of late. How do you create a game where the player must be able to succeed and still make death permanent and emotional? Some games, such as Passage, simply doesn’t throw any challenges at you which doesn’t mean any risk of replaying, thus re-living death. Not that there’s much of characters in the game – it’s a pixelated boy and girl growing older – but just because you invest the whole game together the death is strangely meaningful. Mass Effect 2 tries it out with building your connections with each character through the whole game and all that time foreshadow that people can die in the last mission. Which works, if you’re strong enough to accept that the character died and play on instead of reloading and see if you can fix it. Then you’ll have to live with these characters being gone for any post-story play you do (if you do any). Far Cry 2 deals with it in a good way, I’ve heard, but I haven’t had the pleasure to play it. Heavy Rain deals with it the best way I’ve seen so far, however. It follows multiple characters, each could die at any time and the story would go on without them. But you can’t load any auto-saves, because it only has one save-file which saves after every plot-directing decision or action you’ve made. Which means what’s done is done. And if someone dies half-way through, you’ll have to live with it.

I believe that last path is the best way to go. Auto-save often, only allow the player to load the latest save or rewrite their one save file and let characters die half-way through. Allow players to fail, and to live with their failures. This might work well in an 8-hour “linear” experience such as Heavy Rain, but would it work in a more classic game?

Enter: A single-player epic with permanent deaths. Imagine a long game like Half Life 2 or Mass Effect (the first one). You’re on an epic journey to yadda yadda and gather a team of allies. They interact with each other, form relationships with you and with one another, the KotOR2 influence-system and all. You bring a few allies in your fire-team. And any mission could be that character’s last one. Clearly, you can’t have a proper “protagonist” Mass Effect-style, but would have to rely on all these characters being playable Heavy Rain-style or KotOR-style. And if that’s character’s gone, the crew will react. Group dynamics in your crew will change. And you can’t reverse it.

However, the most important question still needs to be answered. Why? Death seldom brings anything but sadness, and we want games to be all about fun, right? Right? No. Games should perhaps be enjoyable to play, but that doesn’t mean all games must be Mario Kart all the time and must never explore the different parts of being human in an interactive environment. Besides, humans have an amazing ability to adapt. You’d get used to it. And the fun would die.

What makes a “smart” AI?

For a few weeks now I’ve been studying about AI in computer games, wishing to know what makes it so difficult and perhaps learn what makes a “good” AI opponent/side-kick. Turns out the course was all about the programming of it (which I should’ve known, as it was a programmer course called “AI programming for computer games”), but after some scratch-the-surface research (ask people and ask google) I found no course (at least in Sweden) about the subject. So I started googling if there was anything released on the topic, and did find a few worthwhile sites to read. I’ll try to not make it another Link-Tips, even though it’s very tempting (and way easier and faster).

The first impression of this quick research is that computer games AI is a fairly programmer-dominated area. Most of the links appearing gives the impression of code-related tasks, such as techniques here and there and stuff. But just a few links away and I started to discover some really interesting things. First off a page I read a long time ago and been trying to find again ever since – a very design-oriented piece giving 7 ways to make the AI opponent smarter. Although it only scratches the surface, it gave a good overview. Use some scripting for entries and exits, make sure the player is aware of what the AI is doing, don’t make them shoot (if they shoot) really inaccurately, make it robust, design the levels to utilize the strengths of the AI and, lastly, if you have a good AI, increasing their health will make them seem smarter as they’re alive longer to show their smarts off.

Just a bit of searching later, I stumble over an old GDC session about the AI of Halo. It seems like they learned some of the things the former link mentioned, but they seemed to have a very methodical approach – design the characters so they map between visible character and AI in an obvious way (“if it’s not too obvious, it too subtle”), increasing toughness will give the illusion of smarter AI and play test, play test, play test to make sure the intention of the AI’s design gets across.

Another article that gives a good, although theoretical, picture of how it’s done is at bittech.net. Although not giving practical game design-lessons on AI, it says a lot about how the programmer-design of the AI affects the final outcome. And sheds good light about why AI can become so very complicated. Take this quote, for instance:

Chris Jurney, a senior programmer for Relic, offered the example of the state machines in its RTS, Dawn of War 2, to illustrate this. “The AI for Dawn of War 2 has roughly three main layers: the computer player, the squad and the entity,” says Jurney. “The squad and the entities are both hierarchal finite state machines, and we have roughly 20 states at the squad level and 20 at the entity level. The states at the squad level pretty much map directly to orders that can be issued by the user.”

The article then goes on to explain how much of what we percieve as AI is in the proper animations at the right place and how dynamic terrain makes it even more complex.

Then, when I’d started to think it’s all about animations, some links turns up which ties it in to game-play, as well. In their pre-panel discussion about AI and designers, Soren Johnson et al mentions that the strenghs of the AI should be taken into consideration when designing mechanics that would give players an unfair advantage (which they’ll already have by being humans, anyway). And on ai-blog.net, where the authur Paul Tozour argues for navigational meshes as replacement for waypoint graphs, the question appears why no FPS:es are mentioned in said article, with the following reply:

The problems are still there in many first-person shooters, but they’re harder to spot due to the nature of the gameplay.

– Most AIs don’t live long enough to let you spot the flaws in their pathfinding.
– AIs will usually stop and shoot the moment they have line-of-sight to you, so their paths are a lot shorter.
– In many single-player FPS games, AIs don’t move very much, and will attempt to snipe you from a relatively fixed position.
– A lot of modern FPS games provide AI sidekicks who will kill the enemy AIs so quickly they don’t have time to move very far.

Conclusion

So, what’s the conclusion of all this? Well, pretty much that a “smart” AI isn’t supposed to be smart, but rather the dumb guy showing off all the smart things he does and makes a big scene of being defeated when you triumph him, so you felt you out-smarted someone smart. To create the illusion of smartness, the following can/should be done:

  • Consider the AI’s ability when designing mechanics. What is the AI’s strength? How can the mechanic play at those? Will this mechanic make the AI seem dumb?
  • Make everything the AI does give visual or audible feedback so that the player knows what the AI is doing and why it is doing that.
    • If the AI reacts to something, make an animation and/or make it shout something to say what its doing (“grenade!”, “suppressive fire!”, “cover me!”).
    • If there are different kinds of AI opponents, make it obvious which one is what. “If it’s not too obvious, it’s too subtle”.
    • What the game chooses to portray can affect how much is demanded to make the AI believable. We expect less of animals then of humans, and you can get away with more of aliens or robots or something then with humans.
  • Adapt the level-design to play at the AI’s strengths, just like how you did with the mechanics.
  • The longer an agent lives, the more visible its strenghs and weaknesses will become. If the AI isn’t that smart, it probably should be killed off pretty quickly by either the player or a side-kick (which then must feel smart). If the AI is smart as it is, making it live longer is more likely to give the player the impression of the AI being smarter.

Last, but not least, actually the most important of all: The AI isn’t there to be smart. It’s there to make the game more fun.

Thinking: What about a FPRPG?

Reading this gamasutra article, a thought suddenly struck me: Often the lack of immerssion, as I see it, is because the setting of the first person games are very unimmersive or, shall we say, doesn’t really suspend my disbelief. After all, how much sense does it make to be a super duper soldier running through a war and shooting people all over the place without getting a scratch (“game over”s not included)? How much does it help that there’s barely any physical “self” on your screen? I’d answer “Not much” on both of them.

Which makes me wonder “what could be a better situation to actually try what the first person perspective is capable of?” and about a few milliseconds after the first thought struck, the next one did: A non-combat oriented RPG! I don’t know what such a game might look like, apart from being a game where you run around, solve people’s troubles and the core isn’t about killing stuff. Sure, combat may be there (it does give a bit of reason to why the quest givers can’t do their own quests and adds some danger/tention when needed), but it wouldn’t be the verb everything else is build around, but instead is a verb building upon something else (say “infiltration”, “persuation”, “exploration” or something).

Another thought said article inspired was “can the barrier of entry to first person be lowered somehow?” and I believe it can, because FPS-controls are really strange and unintuitive. Let’s do a comparison: How do humans move around? Forward at different speeds and turning. Facing something, we tend to walk towards it, away from it or around it. How do a character in a first person move around? Forward and Backward at equal speeds, strafing left and right at the same speed. Being able to turn very quickly. Facing something, it’s the same thing. And, because of the quick shooting and demanding targeting, this demands really quick reflexes and sharp hand-eye coordination, something teenagers and young adults manage but gets worse with age. So, to make it more intuitive, let’s do a thought-experiment about controls:

Not facing anything

(tap) W: Jump

(hold) W: Forward.

(tap) S: Toggle through crouch, crawl, walk

(hold) S: Slowly walk backwards.

(tap) A/D: sidestep left/right

(hold) A/D: turn left/right

Shift: Run forward

Mouse: Look around

Left Click: Use item

Right Click: Inventory

Facing something nonthreatening (determined by a large circular checkbox far larger then the unit’s hitbox):

(hold) W: Close in

(hold) A/D: Circle left/right

(hold) S: Get distance

Shift: Charge into

Left Click: Default interaction

Right Click: More options

Facing something threatening (again determined by a large circular checkbox far larger then the unit’s hitbox):

Like nonthreatening, but with the following in addition:

(tap) W: Quick duck

(tap) A/D: Quickjump left/right

(tap) S: Toggle through crouch, crawl, walk

In all cases, the mouse behaves as usual, as it’s a natural way to control your head. A modifyer-button such as control or middle mouse-button plus let left/right movement with the mouse could tilt your head, though, as it’s more often used then one easily realizes.

I guess this would be *very* unconventional and perhaps a bit controversial, but the regular controls are made for quickly shooting at targets and presumes your only tools are weapons. This is made for moving a human being and presumes you may want to check your inventory and interact with things. And, yes, “default interaction” and “use item” for a weapon means “shoot”. If you wanted to know.

I see a few games have acted as subconscious inspiration here, as they’re in about the same domain, and as such they should get credit: Deus-Ex, (the hype version of) Heavy Rain and Chronicles of Riddick: Escape from Butcher Bay.

Travelling in MMOs

The 1st of Mars last year, I wrote a post about MMOs and time-waste, where I – among other points – wrote: “For instance, you get a quest to kill some bears right outside town. Now, this town is on the top of a mountain, and the bears are down in the alley[sic], so you’ve got to get down that mountain to kill bears and then back up. Sure, this sounds like a small thing, and it is. It is when traveling includes flying all over the world back and forth taking several minutes for nothing that it, in my opinion, gets bigger. Or when I have to run down that same mountain the tenth time. Why can’t I just teleport around, moving to the target instantly? It’s not like I won’t have to know where I’m heading to make a precise estimation of where I’m about to teleport.”

Sometimes, the world behaves in mysterious ways. Yesterday, Rock Paper Shotgun (RPS) posted an article asking why you can’t teleport in MMOs. Knowing I’ve asked the same, and during this year of education might have found a few answers, I feel I could make a post going a bit further into the subject. Some of the link’s comments made a lot of sense, as well, so I might bring a few quotes from there.

The perception of speed

The first reason springing to my mind is how the perception of speed is relative to itself. For a real-life example: Imagine a distance you bike or take the car in very often. You start to get a sense of how long this distance is. Imagine this vehicle would break down, and you’d have to walk. This would feel like taking incredibly much time. Now imagine you’d use to walk said distance, and instead one day take the car. The distance would be over in no time at all!

Now, of course, this is not only the perception of speed, but the speed itself. But when you’re used to a certain speed, be it the car, the bike or the walk, it becomes the norm, and you compare the new speed with the one you’re used to. Being able to teleport in a game, any game, would quickly make teleporting the norm to which any non-teleport transportation would feel like a snail slowly crawling forward. In short, being able to travel instantly would be more frustrating then travling slow to start with.

The tension

Anyone who has been ambushed or “ganked” in an MMO knows what I’m talking about already, but let’s explain it and elaborate why this is a good thing.

MMOs with a free PvP element usually attract people who take every chance they get to kill other players, the easier prey the better. The prey is usually “ganked” after this has happened, if tends to be a bit frustrated as they hadn’t counted on being ambushed. After awhile, this creates a tension for said player, close to paranoia. You are always prepared to be ambushed, never let your guard down and never let a potential enemy get a good opportunity to kill you. This is a part of the social aspect of the game, and although it frustrates some, it’s an important part of the game.

The best defence against being ambushed like this tends to be to either move a lot faster then the ambusher, or be out of range so they can’t hit you. WoW’s flying mounts did this, and consequentially killed the tension while you were on your mount (there’s no such thing as a Anti-Air turret in WoW), although it just increased it to a level of powerlessness while you hadn’t. As you may already have guessed, being able to travel instantly would multiply this indefinitely. No tension for the teleporter, a feeling of powerlessness for the other.

Meet new people

The upper side of the “social game”-coin is that you run into strange new people and might get new friends. This is partly up to the players themselves, but also to the game-mechanics. If everyone is too focused on reaching their goals, they won’t bother talking to others except if it furthers their goal, and then they’re business-partners rather then friends. Also, if they don’t have any reasons to meet, they won’t. This is one reason to why there’s things such as instances, group quests and public quests in these games, and it is one of the points I got criticised for in my post on “time-waste”.

Anyway, instant travel comes into the picture pretty easily. If  you have places to meet up, there’s also space between these, and sometimes people get a chance to run into each other during said travels. Making them instantaneous erases all such chances.

The Hardware

I’ll simply quote RPS-commentator Theoban on this: “If you walk around in an MMO, even run, even fly, the game data is loaded into your RAM and the area behind you is unloaded. This leads to MMOs being very RAM intensive, more than any other genre of game out there.

If you port however, it has to remove all that data and reload all the other data of the next region. It’s almost like logging out then logging back in again for the amount of information that has to pass not only from your RAM but through your network adapter.

I thnk the lack of porting in MMOs is frankly because the average user’s internet connection isn’t up to it yet, and neither is their RAM (meaning they’ll have to wait ages for the loading/unloading of data). Remember, we’re only just getting to the area where 2gb of RAM is considered normal.

Give it a few years and I can see this happening. Just not yet.”

Conclusion

There’s several reasons why instant travel, how tempting it may sound on paper, in practice wouldn’t be the best of features. On the contrary, making travel slow but interesting (I believe it’s the lack of interesting things that makes it boring, not the travel itself) is in the best interest of these games. But, if so, I would almost demand decent directions so I don’t run to the wrong place. That’s just… bad.

Thinking: Tutorials

Tutorials are what make you initially learn how to play a certain game. Often they’re quite boring, and sometimes you don’t learn too much from them, either.

My guess on these questions are: Tutorials are no fun because they present no challange or goal. Think that you’ve got the typical RTS-basics of selecting and moving. Normally, you’re just expected to select a peasant and move him to the flag, beacon or whatever. What if this peasant is attacked by a bear, and the peasant is terrified. You have ro select him before he gets slaughtered and flee to the village. You do the same thing, it’s just a bit more fun then before. Note that if you fail, there’s always another peasant.

Another guess: You don’t learn from the tutorials because (apart from not being fun), they’re not very pedagogic. You’re not expected to know the multiplications tables by solving each pair only once, you have to repeat it a few times. Grind? Yes, but just a short one to make the knowledge stick.

When you’re done with the basic tutorials it’s time to play. But what if you could return to more advanced tutorials, that teaches you a few tricks of the game? This would be stuff like Snaking in F-zero or kiting in Starcraft. More difficult stuff you need some practice on that’s not compulory knowledge to play the game, but that gives you an advantage to know. This way you can return at any time to the tutorials to learn new things. Perhaps you could also make a Tutorial Editor to let people share turorials, and who knows what happens?

Thinking: MMOs and time-waste

Yes, another MMO-post. I’ve been playing some World of Warcraft again this holiday, and I quickly got back to what I saw as the big downsides of the genre – the grinding, which I’ve already covered, and the amount of time you plough down in stuff like transportation or finding groups.

For instance, you get a quest to kill some bears right outside town. Now, this town is on the top of a mountain, and the bears are down in the alley, so you’ve got to get down that mountain to kill bears and then back up. Sure, this sounds like a small thing, and it is. It is when traveling includes flying all over the world back and forth taking several minutes for nothing that it, in my opinion, gets bigger. Or when I have to run down that same mountain the tenth time. Why can’t I just teleport around, moving to the target instantly? It’s not like I won’t have to know where I’m heading to make a precise estimation of where I’m about to teleport.

The second thing is when you level up and have to get back to town to get to some trainer to buy some spells from a menu to then run back again to keep going. Why am I running all over the place? Why can’t I just open the menu right where I am, buy those freak’n spells and get on with it? Sure, it might not fit a fantasy-setting that doesn’t have Internet, but they’ve got magic! And this counts for more then just the spells, even though that’s the most obvious use (and the only one I feel like giving away to the Internet).

The last thing is finding groups. This can take a long, long, time if you’re unlucky, and then when you’re set someone has to run off. Apart from making more people being able to fill the essential “tank” or “heal” roles, there’s not much you can do with a class-based system. I won’t say more – again, I don’t wanna give the Internet too much.

Thinking: MMOs and grinding

It’s time to write this! I still don’t know what my suggestions will be, and I bet I’ll have a wild discussion about it, but I can’t let the blog fall because I hold this post too long.

Before I start, I should mention that my MMO-experience is limited to 2 or so years of World of Warcraft, 12 or so hours with Guild Wars and 10 minutes or so with Tibia (then I got bored, killed and quit). But I’ve gotten the impression that WoW is very similar in the grind-aspect to many other MMOs, so I think I have experience enough to talk.

So, Grinding. To repeatedly doing one task over, and over, and over and over. Like killing a monster. Or doing a dungeon. Over and over and over. I really wonder if anyone considers this to be “fun”. Many of us probably don’t think about that it’s just the same thing over and over – just one more level, just one more quest, just this one item – but you tend to think about it when you have no close-by goal.

It’s the later of these I don’t like. At all. To grind without a close-by, clear, goal. Because it gets very dull, and fast. It makes, at least me, bored. And it, in the long term, makes me quit. I really can’t imagine I’m alone at that, and that makes the “unmotivated grind” something to think about for developers. Sure, WoW has millions of players and a grinding-aspect, but do they play because their friends play or because they enjoy the grinding? I think they play despite the grinding, and not because of it.

And this is where it gets difficult for me. What do I think one can do to “solve” this? Firstly, there should be short goals that feels motivated. For example, one lumber jack wants you to cut 10 trees, because he needs to get those sold to get himself food, but he can’t because a bear bit him. Another lumber jack just asks you to cut 100 trees. Which one would be more likely you want to do? Much of the unmotivated grinding today is that second lumber jack.

Another thing is to not repeat the same thing over and over too much in a short time. Take repeatable quests. Yes, these puts up a short clear goal (cut 10 more trees), but then you just move the grinding from the monster to the quest. So why not make variations on this repeatable. One option can be “cut 10 trees south of here” and another “cut 5 oaks south of here” and a third “cut 15 trees north of here” etc. With many variations of the same topic, it could feel more motivated.

Yet another thing, this one concerning dungeons, is to actually set a static goal to get an item instead of the “maybe, maybe not” that is raiding. I know, no-one would do the dungeon after they’ve reached that goal – so make it harder! Increase the difficulty the longer the group comes to their goal, set new phases on bosses or actions to take care of. Say a group of 20 needs 10 badges each to reach their goal. That’s a total of 200 badges. If the group has less then 50 together, the dungeon is quite easy and teaches the fundamentals of the monsters and bosses. When the total reaches 50, it becomes a bit harder, and so again on 100 and 150 and again at 200 – now the same dungeon is very difficult with a lot of things to take care of. It’s still a grind, yes, but at least it’s refreshing. Oh, and stuff bought with those badges still count to the total.

And then there’s the obvious, and incredibly effective, idea of leveling. I think I’ve had a say against leveling earlier, or I’m going to, but it is a really good motivator (if your close to leveling). If the levels are short, you could often feel “not that far to the next level”. Not to long, to give that feeling, but not too short to make a level feel trivial, either.

On in-game money-grinding, I have another suggestion that could be quite controversial: As players spend a lot of time on their game, they have a lot of time to use and perhaps not a time-consuming job to take care to. And those who have a time-consuming job to take care to perhaps has money but scarce time. And, as time is money, let the latter group buy in-game money and design the game around this being allowed. After all, why force those with scarce time to spend it getting gold? Why force those with scare money to spend it on getting gold?

Seems like I had a few suggestions, after all. A few of them got to my head just as I wrote this, but perhaps I’ve been having them but not just think about it.