Last post I talked about the importance of making navigation fun. I even talked about how to check whether it was fun. But I didn't talk about how to make it fun.
Here are my personal observations on the matter: I encourage people to post their own observations.
To me, it seems like making navigation fun boils down to three things: commitment, pacing, and juice.
In order to have fun running around the world, the player has to have to commit. As they romp around the world, their actions have to be nonreversible. Take a look: most games that are fun to navigate have strong elements of commitment.
In Skate, you're always committed: it's hard to turn around even when you're just skating, but jumps and grinds are even more one-way.
In Crackdown, a large part of the game is jumping from tall place to tall place. And, usually, it would be pretty hard to jump back even if you wanted to. Climbing is technically reversible, but pointlessly so, since if you wanted to go down you'd just jump it.
In Katamari Damacy, once you pick up a new object, it's not like you can just drop it again, unless you're the sort that enjoys slamming into large stationary objects. It's all nonreversible.
Contrast this to games with boring navigation: in Bioshock, you VERY rarely commit to a movement. The same is true in RPGs and nearly all FPS games.
Of course, when I say "commit", I don't mean "fire and forget". Most games these days let you change direction somewhat while in the middle of a jump, and for good reason. The point isn't to take agency away from the player, it's to make them choose to limit their options for a bit.
Nothin' But Net
The other half of the actual play of a good navigation is pacing. Some games with good commitment have poor pacing (in terms of navigation), and some games with no commitment have great pacing.
Pacing means variation, both on a local and global level. In Crackdown, it's not simply leaping from roof to roof. You have to spend time climbing from ledge to ledge, or running across open areas, or looking for a well-positioned ledge, or billy-goating up rock faces...
Similarly, in Skate it's not simply about grinding (or whatever you like best). You have to take the lay of the land into account, your speed, and even then you're allowed to tackle a grind from a hundred different angles and styles, with or without jumps... just in grinding, the choices are limitless. However, the game also has global pacing in that not everything is grinding: you've got manuals, jumps, half-pipes, etc.
This is where most platformers fall short. Although Megaman and classic Mario commit to the various jumps, they're basically all in the same pattern. Platformers like Sly Cooper get this right, and if you haven't played it (the first one), then you should.
Generally speaking, to get enough variation you need to have several "modes" of navigation and have a lot of control within the mode AND you need to have a lot of fun ways to go and limits on going from mode to mode.
For example, Skate: grind, jump, manual, coast. The tricks that you can do while in any of those modes are largely limited by how much time you have before you have to be in position to hit the next mode. IE, in a half pipe, whether you can pull a flip off depends on whether you go high enough to have that two seconds of air time.
More: Crackdown. Run, leap, cling, (fight?). Measured in distance rather than time, a big part of the navigation is setting it up so that you transfer from one to the next at the right place. IE, you can't make that long leap to the next roof, so you instead leap to grab a ledge, then claw your way up the building to run across it...
Now Katamari Damacy seems like an exception at first glance, but it isn't. Katamari uses continuous variation rather than discrete variation, altering the elements of dodge, hunt, gather, and follow (a line of debris) to different proportions depending on your size. In fact, a big part of Katamari is how well you can see what's ahead: when you're small, it's a very claustrophobic game, and as you get bigger, it gets more open, less dodging and hunting. So, yes, Katamari has modes, which is mixes like paint rather than switching like gears.
See if you can dissect Prince of Persia using this...
The last element is making the experience juicy enough. This is actually just a method of telling the player how "well" he is navigating in whatever way he is navigating.
For example, in Skate, depending on how "straight" you land a jump, you'll get various sounds: a nice roll, a thump, a squeal... and you can say, "oh, I didn't land that quite right".
Similarly, in Katamari, when you pick something up awkwardly, your roll becomes "lumpy" and you can say, "oh, that was a big one!"
In Crackdown, landing produces a louder thump and more cracks in the pavement the longer you fell, and your guy has a highly satisfying mid-air flail. And, of course, exact landing spot is more important (and therefore juicier) than in many other games, even Skate.
Compare this to games with boring navigation. There is no juice for walking from point A to point B in an RPG or most FPS games. You are simply in a new location. Some games, especially those intended for younger audiences, throw in things that seem juicy but aren't. For example, something that goes "SPROING!" whenever you touch it. That's not juicy. It becomes juicy if it goes "SPROING!" differently when you touch it well as opposed to poorly.
So, follow these three rules and I think you'll have fun navigation.
Commitment, pacing, and juice.
What do you think? What game do you want to design, and how would you make it fun to navigate?