We’ve discussed before, in various ways, how many modern games aren’t as much fun as the “golden oldies”. But just what do we mean by “fun factor” anyway?

Probably, I could ask ten people that question and get twelve answers ;) Seriously, though, it’s more than just remembering “the good old days” through a haze of rose-colored nostalgia.

After all, in Things I Don’t Miss, we covered a number of “design features” in those old games that annoyed us or drove us up the walls. Yet we recall these same CRPGs with a great measure of delight regardless.

They obviously had something – or several somethings – that evoked such a response in us. Yet it’s very hard to pinpoint exactly what that was, although I did explore one aspect in Nostalgia: the personal touch that is missing in today’s products.

Of course, there has to be more than that at work. Consider Fate. I found this to be fun game. It’s a very simple, slightly tricked-up Diablo clone. A dungeon crawl with some extras, but no story at all. Yet I had a good time with it.

This got me wondering if story gets in the way of fun. Since we’ve agreed before that story is important in a game, that sounds rather like heresy. But let’s take a look (those of you who only play through a game once don’t have to ;).

Suppose it has just one path through, so whether you play good or evil (if it allows for “evil”), you go through the same actions and reach the same conclusion.

Should you play it again, you already know the plot. Of course, you might consider that alone as a reason for a second run. Mostly, though, the typical gamer does it to try a different character/party and/or different tactics. The story rather fades into the background.

Games that offer more than one path provide a bit stronger incentive for replaying. Wizardry 8, for example, had several routes: ally with the Umpani, the T’rang, both, or just one long enough to get the item you needed for the finale.

That’s in addition to trying out different party configurations. Yet even here, in time, the story becomes just a means of advancing the characters, and tends to lose central importance.

So I wonder: is story just a bit of gloss to keep things interesting for awhile, to give a patina to what is really, at heart, a dungeon crawl, however sophisticated? After we’ve been through a game once, does the story matter anymore, or are we just there for the game mechanics and the challenge? Are these the things that really create the “fun factor”? And if not, then what does?miniscorp