I didn't forget about my entry on the pulls that keep gamers coming back for more. With my multi part look at Resonance of Fate I realized that while the game had excellent systems, it does not do a good job of motivating the player to keep playing (which I went into detail about in the final part). For today's entry I'm going to talk about the draws that keep the player going, some of these will be the same as my talk on replay-ability as they can be applied to both topics.
Story: An interesting story can sometimes be all that is needed to keep someone playing for hours on end. Finding out what is going on or what is in store for the characters involved. This is a major pull for RPGS in general and as more games offer the player choices it allows them to see their own personalized version of the quest play out (play Alpha Protocol for a good example of this).
New Mechanics: When it comes to game-play there are two sides to talk about. First is giving the player new mechanics to use, such as in Half-Life 2 with the discovery of the gravity gun, or unlocking the demon fusion ability in the Shin Megami Tensei games. New mechanics grow the game-play and keep things from getting repetitive. It is important not to introduce something that will only be used once as then it is not a mechanic but just a set piece. If the mechanic is deep and game changing enough that could be all you need to keep the player invested.
It is important to mention that the addition of new mechanics can work no matter how complex the base game is, whether you are playing a game as easy to learn as Super Mario or something as complex as Resonance of Fate.
In some cases you could have all the mechanics available from the start and allow the player to pick which ones they want to learn first, such as with Disegea that featured numerous mechanics and systems that the player could basically ignore and still make it through the game.
New challenges: Not to be confused with mechanics, this is creating new obstacles or enemies for the player to deal with. In most cases you don't even need to change the mechanics around as long as the challenge is different enough. For example in Ninja Gaiden Black, with each new chapter the game throws a new enemy at the player, such as Demon Ryu or rocket launcher enemies.
Boss fights are the easiest example of this; they are a new enemy that is different from the normal enemies and require different tactics to take down. Left 4 Dead 2 features "uncommon commons" which are campaign specific infected that have a unique ability or design requiring the player to change up their tactics.
One distinction that has to be made, just upping the stats of an enemy and calling it a day is not an example of this. There has to be a change requiring the player to adapt for this to work, if the only difference is that the enemy hits harder than the player is doing the same thing.
An infamous design in RPGs is to have post game content with enemies too challenging for the base game requiring more time spent leveling up and getting prepared to face them. Anyone who has played the Shin Megami Tensei games can remember the horror of fighting some of the insane optional boss fights.
New Equipment: This can also be used for re-playability. Using the same sword and shield for twenty hours gets boring. Action RPGs like Diablo always have the pull of some new shinier piece of equipment. Sometimes you can combine mechanics, challenges and equipment to pull the players in, such as in the Legend of Zelda series as each new piece of equipment offers new mechanics to learn and new challenges built around it.
In RPGS it can be customary to grind out battles for the necessary money or materials to get that new weapon. One detail that I see in a lot of RPGS is to have some kind of "ultimate weapon" that requires a combination of grinding and questing to achieve.
Should a game have everything mentioned on this list? Of course not and for some games their design prohibits some of these changes. For example in RTS titles you cannot radically change the mechanics of the game half way through a match as that would upset the game balance. If your game just has one of these ways of cultivating game-play that can be all you need to keep the player going.
With Resonance of Fate even though I'm 11 chapters in I don’t know if I’m going to finish it. I can't help but feel that I'm going through the motions at this point and have seen everything that needs to be seen. I'm noticing this in a lot of RPGS that I've been playing and I should really come up with a witty phrase to describe it. Like Tom Chick has with the "Chick Parabola."
Keeping the player invested in the game can be as hard as getting them to come back for more and is yet another detail for any good game designer to consider.