This post and this post are actually related topics, as much as they don't seem to be.
In the second of those links, I say that a player playing a single-player game can be said to be having a conversation with the game. The player decides how to approach something, and the game responds, and the player says another thing... the player is in a conversation, trying to figure out what the game has to say. The game engine is their language of discourse, and what kinds of things they can talk about depends on the game engine.
In the first link, I say that the player can't remember details if he quits for a while. This makes a lot of sense, because most people don't simply pick up a complex conversation where they left off. If you talk to someone about something deeply complicated then break for lunch, you don't come back and instantly pick up again. There are a few missing beats, you have to reorient yourselves. And if you don't talk to them for days, the nuances of your conversation are all but gone.
So here's an interesting idea. Instead of treating a game like a linear path, how about treating a game like someone you have conversations with?
If you have someone you talk to a lot, you don't simply have one conversation that has breaks in it. You have a new conversation every time you talk to them, but usually the conversation builds off the previous ones.
In a complex game like Civilization or Starcraft, your conversation with the game gets very nuanced: there are a lot of little details you keep track of and occasionally return to. This city needs to produce culture, that soldier needs to board this ship... lots of little details.
Earlier, I said that loading a game like this is always a pain in the butt, because I can't remember those details. I lose a lot of the sense of connection that I had. Other games fade as well, although not as quickly because they generally have fewer nuances.
I suggested that it should be possible for a game to have a kind of re-introduction for all the nuances you're likely to forget.
This is sort of like if you have a complicated talk on, say, Russian politics with a friend. Then you go back to your friend and he pulls out a notepad with a dozen details written down on it - threads of conversation you have forgotten and he wants to pursue.
But people don't do this, because both sides forget. So when you go back to your friend and want to talk Russian politics again, you pursue a somewhat different focus and drop all the loose threads that don't matter. You've had time to think about the subject and you want to talk about some specific thing.
If your friend didn't forget those loose ends, you'd get irritated really quick. Most of them don't really have anything to do with this new conversation.
Now, if a game can be treated the same way, that would mean that every time you come back to a game, it's a new conversation with a memory of the old. The game doesn't forget what happened in the old game any more than your friend forgets Russian politics, but it doesn't bring up the details that don't apply any more.
For example, if you loaded up a Civ game after a week away, the game would decide which nuances you've forgotten, and will decide on a primary thrust or two for the game to "talk" about. Maybe you're having a budget crisis, or there's a war on the eastern front, or you're colonizing a new continent.
The game would see that these are the things you're likely to remember, likely to want to "talk" about. You probably don't really care that you had a dude building a farm somewhere, or that one of your cities is unhappy. These are forgotten nuances that simply don't matter and if the game floods you with them, you'll get irritated.
So the Civ game temporarily simplifies to allow you to focus on what really matters. This could be done by time dilation (turns here are only one year, whereas back on the mainland they are ten years) or by giving the AI control over the details until you choose to reclaim them.
In an RPG like Oblivion, you can take this up a notch and actually let the player choose the new "topic of conversation". Last time he played Franzibald the Wizard. This time, he might choose to continue to play Franzibald, but many of the nuances (old, forgotten missions) will be cleared. If it's been a long enough time, it can clear even things like major missions and exactly how much gold you have and simply say "We find Franzibald in this new location, having completed his quest..."
Alternately, the player might choose a completely new topic rather than trying to continue the old topic. Maybe he wants to play a barbarian, or a princess, or a villain... and the game can allow him to either make a character or take over an NPC to explore this new topic.
The idea here is that each "conversation" builds a bit more world. Instead of reintroducing all the useless bits, you can just leave them in the background until your conversation turns in their direction again. You build a very rich world that the player knows very well, but you don't swamp him with details.
This would also please people like me, who like to replay the first five hours of Oblivion eighty times but can't stand the other forty hours.
What do you think?