Tuesday, December 9, 2014

The Value of Emergent Fun

I had a fun little experience today with Lone Spelunker that I thought I would share.

A while back, I read about the "Talcum Passage".  It's a passage in Carlsbad Caverns' lower caves where the floor is covered in gypsum powder.  It's typically mentioned only in passing – I can't even seem to find a photo of it on the internet (and the internet has photos of everything!).  But the thought of kicking up powder as you walk through a passage was too good to pass up, so I added the ability for the cave generator to sprinkle gypsum powder on the floor of a passage every once in a while.  When you walk on it, it kicks up little clouds of dust that float around in the air for a bit and then settle.

Fast forward to today.  I'm playing the game, testing it by generating lots of caves and just running through them.  I'm immensely pleased that it's still quite fun even though I've been working on this a long time, but as I'm the one coding the game, I have a pretty good idea of how everything works.

But in one cave today, it created a very long, sloping passage and covered it in gypsum powder.  I rappelled down into it from a chamber above, and realized what I was standing in.  Almost immediately, I began hurtling down the sloping passage, kicking up white powder as I went.  It was like skiing!

This was not a fun element I had considered when I had put in the gypsum powder (nor the sloping corridor, for that matter), but the emergent nature of the exploration in this game really made this a fun moment.

It's one thing for your game to delight your players, but it's another to be able to delight yourself.  Procedural games have that ability - the game designer can be just as surprised by what the game spits out as the players are.  It makes procedural worlds very fun to develop, because even for the developer, it can engender a sense of unexpected wonder and fun.

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