My mind's been stuck with the idea of little pieces of unique, touching content. I've been stuck on this ever since the failure of Spore, an unaccountable failure, a depressing failure, an idiotic failure.
One of the things that is most touching in games is when you discover something new and interesting (I call them "tidbits"). There's a lot to be said for games with deep and interesting gameplay, but there's also a lot to be said for the moment you first see a flying city or meet a particularly weird and entertaining fellow.
Well, I'm fairly confident of the basics of gameplay, but I have always had a harder time with the basics of tidbits. I like to think I'm relatively good at them, except that all my tidbits tend to be big impressive things rather than small, personal things. But unlike rules and dynamics... well, I can tell someone how well their rules are going to perform, what kinds of dynamics will result, and what they might want to think about changing. But I can't tell them how their tidbits are going to act, and suggesting new tidbits for them is hard to do without diluting their vision (assuming they have one).
I always find it fascinating when a game comes along that seems like it will let me see tidbits from other people, to learn more about how this sort of thing works. But these games always fall through. After so many games failed, I took a step back and decided to figure out why I didn't see anything I considered a tidbit in them. Why didn't I consider, say, an interesting SecondLife vehicle a tidbit? Why don't I consider a funny-looking creature in Spore a tidbit? But a six-by-six pixel blob with one line of text in a retro adventure game can feel like a tidbit!
I think it's in the framing.
I've been thinking about this. I think that if you slow way, way down, everything becomes tidbits. Because tidbits are interesting in comparison. An interesting NPC is interesting because he's weird-looking and he's got funny dialog. If there's fifty weird-looking, funny-dialog NPCs in this region, there's nothing tidbitty about any one of them. (Although the square full of weird people could be tidbitty in itself!)
I think if Spore gave up its content a hundred times slower, I think people might feel a little of a sense of wonder at the creatures and civilizations they find. At least for the first hundred or so. But because they are common as dirt, none of them are interesting except for the ones that are programmed by the game designers to stand out (the center-of-the-galaxy guys, for example). Everyone else just blends in.
Similarly, in SecondLife, if you take it very slowly and consider each thing you find, then every other thing suddenly takes on life as a tidbit. If you look closely and slowly, everything that has been hand-crafted has some little tingle of tidbittiness.
I don't think that these are ideal tidbits in either case. I'm simply saying that you can have player content result in the same kind of emotional response you can get from developer-scripted content. It just requires a radical reworking of the game's pacing.
And the game doesn't even have to be slow. It just has to reveal different kinds of things at different times. You can be jumping across platforms, shooting at aliens, and all that... when you encounter some new NPC. The NPC will be interesting because NPCs have been made very rare.
There's all sorts of theories I have as to how to punch up the tidbitty nature of things - how to make them more interesting to the player. But I haven't tested any of them yet, so they're just smoke.
However, the speed of reveal has been tested and can easily be tested. Just play a game with large amounts of player content, such as Spore or Secondlife. Then play to restrict yourself. Don't play to win: play to see the world, but only one new object every minute.
It makes the games even more boring than they already are, but you can feel the little twinge that you get from seeing something new and interesting.
Do you know what I'm talking about? Do you have any opinions?