What distracts us from our distractions? (Part 2)
Now let's talk about frustration. This is a tricky subject because games should offer a challenge. What some designers seem to forget is that being challenged does not necessarily mean make us want to punch a baby seal in the snout. Yes, sometimes a level or mission can be excessively difficult to beat, a player might rage quit then walk around the block a few times before another go at the game. What isn't fun are missions that have built in frustration. Escort missions for instance take the player's fate out of his hands and puts it into the whimsy of dumb AI. Even if the player performs perfectly, there is still the chance the AI will get stuck on a wall or pebble preventing the mission from completing. Or the AI might just walk out in front of a truck and get splattered across the grill. These events aren't fun or challenging, they are just the equivalent of a jackass DM dropping a dragon onto level 1 characters.
Designers don't have to remove the escort mission as game play element, but don't make success dependent upon the NPC being escorted. Make them invulnerable and don't make the speed at which they move dictate the players ability to progress. This might sound like the opposite of an escort mission but the spirit of the mission stays the same just the limitations and frustration is gone. Other examples of frustrating features include but not limited to: shoddy and inaccurate vehicle controls in a game that is not vehicle oriented. No ability to save or sparse check points during long missions. And jumping puzzles in a non platformer.
Finally let's tackle boredom. Now some games aren't fun or entertaining, those are bad games, you wouldn't finish those anyway. But the majority of games are good. But something in the game is boring. This may be the fault of designers or it may be intentional feature meant to draw the game out before it can be finished. The most notable example of this is the travel timesink. It's a major buzzkill to get a quest that requires you to travel to one side of the map, then back again to turn it in, then back to the other side of the map to do the second part of the quest. The problem is all that traveling becomes monotonous and the game environments just whiz by as the player navigates through it as fast as he can. Instead of a Ping Pong quest system, give the player ways to turn in quests remotely as fits the story and setting. Give the player access to fast instant travel systems, that don't require the player to walk just as far to reach them as it would be to just walk to the quest.
Now it is reasonable to expect some traveling in games, especially an RPG, but make the traveling based on exploring, not questing. It might seem like splitting hairs, but when the player is exploring he's not trying to reach a specific goal, he's taking in the sights and the world. When he is on a quest, he is on a quest and wants to reach his destination as fast as possible.
I want to finish my games, not only for the satisfaction but to experience all that the designers and developers created. I believe much like a DM who spends all week crafting an epic campaign, game designers want us to complete their game too. So instead of throwing up roadblocks to draw your game out, make the game more accessible and remove the arbitrary timesinks and frustrations. Keep us motivated from start to finish.