I spent a lot of time and effort on listing how classic-WoW questing and DX:HR missions keep your mind busy. I also added that journeys need to fulfill three requirements to make a good game
(a) The goal needs to be worth the journey.
(b) The journey must not be frustrating*.
(c) The journey must keep the player's mind busy.
For Syl and the subjectivity debate: I believe this to be an objective truth. I might iterate it in the future, but I believe this to be true for all ('normal') human beings. However, it is still a subjective statement, because whether something is worth something, whether something is frustrating and what exactly keeps a player's mind busy varies from person to person (from subject to subject).
And while it does vary, it does not vary erratically. There are reasons behind our differences and they can be understood; at least most of them. By understanding them and by understanding how they effect subjective 'fun', we can make games that more people like more. You could call that objectively better games, if you want.
Fast forward to what keeps the player's mind busy while traveling
- anticipates arriving
- explores the landscape
- executes the travel by directing his character
hard thinking .. yeah .. I think that's about it. The problem is rather obvious: Travel is boring. Now, that's not exactly a revelation. We knew that travel is boring before. What we didn't know was how to change it. The only thing we could come up with was: "you are attacked by monsters". But that's a really thin line there, before traveling becomes frustrating.
Fighting monsters is ok, if we set out to fight monsters. But fighting monsters becomes really frustrating, if we set out to get from A to B. A different goal means that we need a different journey, obviously.
Fortunately, we got a list of basic things that keep the mind busy from the last post:
- learning/exploring/searching/listening/watching/reading/information gathering
- understanding / comprehending / setting into context
- educated guesses
- planning (=imagining the consequences of different decisions)
- optimization/management under constrains
- fear/hope/anticipation of learning/gaining/losing.
- Execution: pressing buttons/moving the mouse
- interacting with other humans (that's a category in its own right)
And we can go through that list from top to bottom and ask ourselves:
1) Is there something that we can add to travel that makes you learn/decide/guess/.. ?
2) Can we make it non-frustrating? A strong root in the simulation really helps here. Arbitrary, abstract games are wonderful at keeping the mind busy, but the player would really think that he shouldn't have to play these games, because all he wants, is to get from A to B.
3) Would the goal (arriving in B) still be worth the journey?
And by doing so, we have some tools that help us to make travel less boring.
Of course, we could also scrap travel completely and decide to make a MMORPG without travel. But that's like making a MMORPG about cows milking each other: I bet this could be a facebook hit! if the abstract gameplay kept your mind busy etc, but I just don't want to play this kind of game. And, more importantly, I want to play a MMORPG with travel that is not-boring.
*An activity is frustrating if the player thinks that he shouldn't have to do that.