An item of possible interest at Gamasutra is Daniel Cook’s long (7 pages) article on designing better games.

Essentially, he’s working on the “pleasure principle”: we play games for “fun”, the fun being mastery of in-game skills.

He gets quite detailed about that, though the piece is certainly not dull. I think he makes a fairly good case, too.

What I quarrel with, though, is his saying that story (or, as we say these days, actual “content”) is a red herring and mainly useless. I suppose, for some games like shooters, or “hack and haul” productions (Fate comes to mind), that may be true.

But when we get to something like an adventure game, or the more sophisticated CRPGS, then content means a lot. How many would play an adventure just for “leave treasures here”?

Yeah, we’d get some good feelings from solving the puzzles, but that certainly wouldn’t be enough now. The puzzles require a reason for existing, rather than just “being there”.

As for RPGs, well, we’ve talked enough about that in the past, and the fact that lack of good story takes the edge off the games.

While he calls this “game design chemistry”, somehow it sounds rather mechanical in some ways, and more like a design for a shooter or arcade product. Perhaps that’s why he feels “content” is a “red herring”.

Anyway, check out the article and see what you think.

Game Design Chemistry on Gamasutra