What Makes A Game Fun

Why can a person go to the gym and do a mind-numbing, moderately painful workout on a regular basis?  Sure a few people just enjoy it, but at the root of it all is progress.  They can do it because they are working towards a goal, an achievement, and every time they go they are a step closer to that goal.  That person can even get addicted to it, going every day and training feverishly, spurred on by the satisfaction of their own progress, and their hunger for more.

This is basically how a good game works.  There are two sides to gameplay, action and achievement.  Action is the combat system, running about and shooting stuff.  In some games its fun, in other games its tedious.  Achievement is your progress through the game.  Now in the old days this was nothing more than numbered levels and a hi-score table. Nowadays it can be anything from advancements in story, to getting rich and buying that huge spaceship you always wanted, or to getting strong and slaughtering an army of those damn orcs that kept killing you with a single blow when you were only level 1.

A game needs a good balance of both, and there are gamers who prefer one side or the other.   Some games are nothing but action, mindless shooting of randomly spawned enemies who you kill just for being there.  Personally I can’t play these games for more than a minute, but some people like them. Console gamers mostly.

But you also get games that go too far the other way, like stupid World of Warcraft.   The action side of WOW is almost non-existant, you click on an enemy and watch a repeated attack animation, and hope that the enemy hitpoint guage goes down faster.  But its one of the most popular games of history, people stay up all night playing it, they cannot stop!  Why is this?  Achievement – levelling up characters, saving up money, finding rare items, raising skills, (and the online element multiplies it too because it becomes a matter of social standing) these are the things that really get a player hooked and make the difference between a game you play for an hour at a time and a game you don’t stop playing until you collapse from hunger.


So now to the point of all this, how far can I take this element with Kenshi?

First we have money.  Its all about the money, in the game you will find you always feverishly need or want more money. One of your men needs surgery, you broke your sword in the last battle, you really need better armour or you’re going to die next time.  Your home village keeps getting pillaged by bandits and need defences built.  Not to mention all the cool looking weapons and equipment you want.  And how much do I need to start up my own home base?  And then on top of that, a lot of the stuff you need money for is making more money, like kitting yourself out for a new career, or starting your own shop, or building a mine, or an outpost.

Now to back this up, there has to be many many different fun and interesting ways of making money.  Trading, smuggling, stealing, raiding, looting, assassinations, mercenary work, bodyguard work, mining, manufacturing, businesses, medical work, and the list goes on.  As you get richer and more skilled, so too will your careers increase in scale.

Now on top of this is the need for survival.  You need to get stronger, fast, you need more men, more skill, more equipment, special training, defensible bases, and yes, these all cost money in some way or another.

Note that I say survival, you don’t just get stronger for the sake of it, you will be living in a harsh world and at first everybody will be stronger and more numerous than you, this isn’t one of those games that babies you when you’re level 1 or lets you win if you’re not doing well.  Now this may sound strange to you at first, but in the early stages of the game if you want to survive you have to stay out of trouble, work for others, pay the bandits and the gangsters, run away from things, take insults and apologise to avoid getting into fights. Not only that but you will have to stand by helpless while old ladies get mugged and your beloved hometown gets pillaged.  And there we have a unique addition to the achievement side of game design.  The desire and drive to get strong enough that you don’t have to get pushed around, robbed and bullied anymore, knowing that this bandit leader is a consistent character and that his camp is in the north valley and one day, you are going to stride into that camp and say “Remember me!?!?” and cut him into little bloody pieces!!!

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