What makes a game fun? It's a tough question to answer, but from the hard-earned experience gleaned from playing games in the arcade as I was growing up, I have a few suggestions to offer.
Games should be easy to pick up and start banging away at. You should be able to immediately dive into playing a game, and have a decently enjoyable experience (though, of course, not an entirely successful one).
This is where we find the difference between complexity and depth. Many game authors -- mistakenly, in my opinion -- attempt to make their games interesting by making them complex rather than deep.
An analogy is appropriate. A complex piece of literature would be a scientific paper, laden with scientific terms, dry explanations, and droning on to no end. Lots of information, but not very compelling for the average person.
A deep piece of literature would be something such as the Iliad, which is quite an easily readable, enjoyable tale to read the first time through. However, if you look deeper into the story, you'll find that it is riddled with metaphor, imagery, sub-plots, and the like.
With the former, most people would have a tough time struggling through once. The latter continues to give you more as you reread it and become acquainted with its nuances.
Good games should be like the Iliad. You should be able to pick them up and start playing them immediately, and enjoy yourself. However they should have more to offer in terms of skill, subtlety, and strategy that is revealed as you become more intimately involved with the game.
It's extremely satisfying to be able to develop a skill while playing a game, beyond simply memorizing the appropriate keystrokes to press. Thinking, learning, and overcoming obstacles are all important to a game, but more important is that the player is rewarded with a sense of accomplishment that goes beyond "find the yellow key and put it in the yellow door."
Just as it is stunning to see someone excel at a particular sport, it's also equally stunning to see someone excel at playing a video game. It's unfortunate that many games these days depend on complexity to make them appear interesting. Hopefully, we'll help to change that, at least in our corner of the world.
Ambrosia Software, Inc.
Ed Note - When not crushing helpless souls in Bolo, Andrew enjoys the great outdoors. He has recently purchased a 12,000lb wench. When asked what we was going to do with it, he said, "I'll attach a Hummer to it and scale tall buildings." Downtown Rochester will never be the same.