Origins of Ghost Master, Part Two

Ghost Master 20 (3 of 3)
Today is the twentieth anniversary of the release of Ghost Master. Of all my hundreds of game projects, this is still the title where I am most proud of the game design, the project where I beam with pride when I think of the incredible team and the contributions everyone made to make such a memorable and unique experience. Destiny was stacked against the game, but it did not pass unnoticed, and to this day I am forever discovering new fans who played - and loved - this extraordinary haunting simulator that entered our world on the 23rd May 2003.

In Origins of Ghost Master, Part One, I went through all the haunters from Act I of the game, what influenced them and where they came from. In this second part I will do the same for Act III, and then on Halloween this year I'll complete the series with the haunters for the final Act. These articles are my thank you to all the fans who kept the faith with this game over the two decades since it was released. It means a great deal to me that this very special game has burned in your hearts, and has lingered on in the memories of its players with a spooky afterlife.

The Refugees

At the start of Act II, the player is gifted three new haunters. Why? It's not that the player is short of fiends and familiars at this point, it's that we cut certain hauntings from the game, and as a result we ended up with some orphans who had nowhere to go. Rather than cut from the game entirely (which would have been silly since they were already animated!) I suggested to Gregg Barnett, who was in charge of development, we could just give them to the player at an Act boundary. And so it was!


Part of my original plan for the game was to have certain mortals who would appear alive in one haunting, then die and appear as a ghost later. However, this presented technical problems since it meant a different model for the mortal and for the haunter, which wasn't good for our pipeline. As a result, this whole idea fell out, and with it a trilogy of hauntings sent in an old mansion - "The Uninvited", "Where There's a Will..." and "The Butler Didn't Do It".

BUCKCONCEPTThe key character of this was Old Man Carter, whose faithful bloodhound Buck was so loyal to him that he dies soon after Carter does. While I can put quite a bit of detail into how Carter comes about (and will do in the final part this Halloween), Buck himself was inspired by classic tales of the loyal dog who gives up the ghost (so to speak) to join their master in death. I think I might have been partly influenced by the US ghost story of the Blue Ghost Dog, about a blue tick hound belonging to Charles Thomas Sims. However, a large part of my motivation was to find another way of mounting the concept of a Horde (which attacks with a horde of specific creatures) and a flea-bitten dog really appealed to me for this.


Hypnos Another refugee from "The Uninvited", the name 'Hypnos' comes straight from H.P. Lovecraft (and "The Univited"" is also a play on Lovecraft's "The Unnameable"). That story features a sculptor who is afraid to fall asleep because of the horror he might find there, where the Greek god of sleep appears as a mercurial being in dreams.

Fuseli 1781 The NightmareA little influence from Gaiman's comic The Sandman was going on in my mind here, and Hypnos was going to be stuck in an hourglass (playing on the sand theme, as indeed Gaiman does in the comics). However, our concept designer Nick Martinelli was given a free hand on this and came up with a design inspired by a 1781 paintings by Henry Fuseli called "The Nightmare". Honestly, I would have renamed this ghost 'Nightmare' if I'd been on the ball - or perhaps 'Hipnos' (to play on the prefix 'hippo-' meaning 'equine'). But regardless, she stayed as Hypnos.


Quiver_renderAnother refugee from "The Uninvited", Quiver's appearance was partly inspired by Casper The Friendly Ghost's uncle Fatso. For me, however, he came out of the idea of a boy who is scared of everything who then becomes a ghost - that he is afraid of. If I had an inspiration for that idea, I don't know what it is, but I wouldn't be surprised if I came across this somewhere!




The Unusual Suspects

Obviously the name is taken from The Usual Suspects, which is a film I rather dislike but that was so popular I couldn't resist borrowing the title for our first police station haunting. Actually, that's not strictly true - I wanted this haunting to be called "Hell Street Blues" after the Steven Bochco show Hill Street Blues, as I was a fan, or perhaps I'm misremembering and that was to be a second haunting in this location. Either way, the name 'Hell Street' did stick, and appears in the game as the precinct name. You'll find a great deal of the police officers are named for that show e.g. the police chief Frank Travanti mashes up actor Daniel J. Traventi and his character Frank Furillo, and Norman Franz combines Dennis Franz with his role of Lieutenant Norman Buntz. There are also some random extras - I particular like Ursula Kudrow, named for Lisa Kudrow's hopeless waitress character Ursula from Mad About You, who is perhaps better known today from later appearing in Friends.


Electrospasm_renderIt will come as no surprise to anyone that this character was inspired in part by the Scoleri Brothers in Ghostbusters II. I don't think I'd seen Wes Craven's Shocker at this point (the only film of his I'd seen at this point was The Serpent and the Rainbow), so this is unlikely to be the inspiration - and if it had, the mortal who gives rise to Electrospasm would have been called either Mitch Pinker or Horace Pileggi. But there's a mystery here as I went with the name 'Harold Smears', which I cannot link to anything! It's possible that my right-hand-man on the design team, Neil Bundy, knows where this name came from, but I suspect this story is lost to time.



Blue Murder

BLUEMURDERI have a feeling there's a part of her story that I have forgotten, since her epitaph namechecks both Lethal Weapon and Die Hard, but all I can really say about her is that her name is a play on the phrase 'to scream blue murder' and that movie-wise this character was inspired in part by the 1990 Kathryn Bigelow movie Blue Steel, starring Jamie Lee Curtis.





Banzai (Secret)

BANZAIThis one is just a straight up pun between the Japanese word 'Bonsai', meaning miniature ornamental tree, and 'Banzai' meaning '10 thousand years of life!' (a battle cry a bit like 'God save the King!' in English). We needed more elementals, and so I came up with a punny-name. That's really all there is to this one!




No prizes for linking up this haunting with the 1990 Martin Scorsese mob flick GoodFellas, which was the first mafia movie I was taken with (I had not - and still have not! - seen any of the Godfather films for reasons I simply cannot fathom). Okay, but why does it take place on a boat...? Well, funny you should ask...


Fingers_render Fingers_concept_artOnce we knew we had a mobster story, it was all but inevitable that we'd end up with someone who got the ol' 'concrete boots'. Enter Fingers, the pianist who originally would have been at the bottom of the ocean. Indeed, that was the reason for having this haunting set on a boat - so we could have underwater ghosts. But this turned out to be a colossal nightmare in practice, not least of all because of the panning between the sea bottom and the boat, which were a fair distance apart. It had to be changed, so we tethered Fingers to his old Piano instead. (We also lost another ghost this way - Thorne, a pirate, and he didn't make it into the game, although the Ghost Master Complete team have rescued him with creative modding!).

Flash Jordan

Flash JordanThe name is an obvious pun on the early sci-fi superhero Flash Gordon, but the inspiration here was Jennifer Jason Leigh's fast-talking reporter Amy Archer in The Hudsucker Proxy. I think both for the Coen Brothers and for me, there may also be some influence from Rosalind Russel's brilliant performance as Hildy Johnson in His Girl Friday. If she looks completely anachronistic in the game it's precisely because all the influences are from movies from the mid-twentieth century. And who doesn't love a flashbulb!




WavemasterA bit disappointed for the name for this undine, to be honest... it's lacking. I definitely feel like I could have dug a little deeper on this Water Elemental, but never mind. What I do love is the epitaph: "The multitudious lifeforms that crawl and proliferate upon land are mere echoes of the legacy of Wavemaster's kind." There's an H.P. Lovecraft vibe here, the suggestion of a time before life on the land when the undines were the masters of this planet. If only the name synched up with this I'd have been satisfied.


Knuckles_PosterNo, nothing to do with a certain echidna I assure you! Rather this is 'Knuckles Malone' in reference to Alan Parker's 1976 debut movie, Bugsy Malone, which really was the first place I ever saw a tommy gun. I think this all might have been Neil's idea, but regardless of where it comes from Knuckles is the name of the enforcer in that movie (so called because he cracks his knuckles). It's the tommy gun that I love here - such an iconic weapon!



Facepacks & Broomsticks

Bringing back the sorority witches from Haunting 101 we needed a name... where else do we have witches, I thought? Why not the 1971 adaptation of Mary Norton's charming tales of witchery, Bedknobs and Broomsticks, starring Angela Lansbury as a witch-in-training! Facepacks is pure sorority cliché, but throwing it in made for a great interstitial title page!


Tricia_Ghoul_RoomI loved the idea of a Fetch the moment I discovered it during the research for this game. Mirrors are wonderfully spooky plot devices in a number of movies, and I was delighted that we got two for the game. Tricia was the first. I think at one point she was going to be a cheerleader in Haunting 101 and would die, and then be a ghost in this haunting. However, as I noted above, this idea fell out of the game (as did the cheerleaders!) so this was a way to rescue that model. I'm not sure about the name (this may be one of Neil's...), but for some reason she brings to mind the 1995 Amy Heckerling movie Clueless, which I thought was a brilliant interpretation of Jane Auten's novel Emma.


Hogwash Hogwash_Concept_artOnce upon a time there were plans for a haunting set in a drive-in theatre, and I was planning to do something time-loopy in reference to the 1993 Harold Ramis movie, Groundhog Day, starring Bill Murray. This groundhog-themed ghost is the only survivor of that plan - and boy doesn't it look like Nick took inspiration from Pikachu in the concept art!



FiretailI love Firetail, the impish salamander who is annoyed with the witches for not dismissing him properly (pagans take note - always close down your rituals!). The visual inspiration is a newt, and I have an especial love of newts, while the name is just an obvious portmanteau, although one that I like. It would be wrong to say that Charmander was an influence here, rather both Pokémon and Ghost Master take influence from the fact 'salamander' was a word for a fire spirit before it was a name for a type of brightly coloured newt.



Hardly a surprise that this haunting is inspired by the 1982 movie Poltergeist. I loved this film, and also its sequel, and as I've said before I remain surprised that we don't have a ghostly preacher anywhere in Ghost Master!

Hard Boiled

Hard BoiledThe problem with the poltergeists was how to tell them apart. I mean, we used up every poltergeist cliché with Whirlweird, so what's left? Puns to the rescue! Once the haunting was nicknamed 'Poultrygeist' we just needed a chicken-themed haunter to go with it, and it amused us to take Kentucky Fried Chicken's Colonel Saunders and make him into the arch enemy of our vengeful hen gestalt. In the movie, it's an ancient Indian burial ground - in this haunting, it's a hen graveyard. Some small influence here from Sapphire and Steel Assignment Three. Hard Boiled' is, of course, simply a reference to eggs. I feel like we missed a pun here somewhere, but I'm not sure what it would have been!


Phantom of the Operating Room

If there was one thing I learned above all else from working with Terry Pratchett, it was never to back down from a terrible pun. We had a hospital, we needed a name... this one leapt out at me and grabbed me by the church organ.


Brigit_renderOriginally she was just 'Zombie Bride' - I'm pretty sure Gregg wanted us to have a ghost in the style of Miss Havisham from Great Expectations, forever caught in her wedding dress. She had a lot of names on the way, including 'Beryl' and just 'The Bride'. But in the end I'm pretty sure I picked the name 'Brigit' in reference to the Celtic Goddess with that name. However, I can find no good reason for this connection now, and I wonder if it is simply a lazy keeping of the first three letters the same from 'bride'! However, there is definitely not a connection to Helen Fielding's novel Bridget Jones' Diary, as some have suggested - if it had been, I would have taken that spelling. I suspect the help/interference of some pagan friends living in Knoxville, TN for this one...


Harriet_RenderNothing at all to do with Lola Bunny from 1996's Space Jam I'm afraid, this one is a straight up clash of influences working its way out in an unexpected way. I learned about the pookah from the unbelievably brilliant 1950 movie Harvey, starting James Stewart as a man who best friend is a spirit of this kind who appears to him as a six-foot tall invisible rabbit named Harvey. There's your first three letters in the name right there. However, Gregg was a huge fan of the 1988 Robert Zemeckis film Who Framed Roger Rabbit?, and if we were having a rabbit he wanted to take inspiration from Jessica Rabbit. Who, as you may be aware, is not a rabbit. Nonetheless, between these two films, Harriet came to life.


DaydreamerRENDEROur second and final Sandman, Daydreamer was bounced around between hauntings and ended up here as we had nowhere else for him to go. Unlike Hypnos, he has the look I had imagined for these disturbances in the first place - a spirit made of sand. Once I knew he was going to end up in the hospital, the backstory of him being an anaesthesiologist fell into place. This is another name that feels wrong to me in retrospect, but then he's completely messed up however you think about it. I mean look at him - he's clearly dressed in a uniform from the American Civil War! I have a feeling this is tied to the scenario he was originally intended for "The Abysmal", which took place on a shipwreck, but it's hard to be sure.




The Blair Wisp Project

No prizes for guessing the reference here. It's not that I liked the movie, which I felt was rather weak for all that it had a great high concept. It's rather that I felt obligated to chew up and spit out every pop culture ghost movie I could lay my hands on. This is also the haunting I'm least happy with, as it uses the weather powers extensively and the game never trains the player in how they work. A real shame, as that game system is really interesting, but it's rather cruel to expect players to work it all out with nothing to go on.


Sparkle_Render1Sparkle, another Fire Elemental, who is not as charming as Firetail, alas, and has more plain name. But still, flaming newt - what's not to like!








Blair Wisp

BLAIRWISPRENDER...and lastly for Act II of the game we have the title ghost for this haunting. The will-o'-the-wisp is such an iconic ghostly entity that I wanted to work it into the game somewhere, and the pun with The Blair Witch Project gave an opening. Honestly, I'm not happy with the Wisps, which are the most fussy and awkward of the haunters (except perhaps the Headless Horsemen, which at least have the benefit of looking cool!). But I like the design of a disembodied skull and the upper part of a spine at least!


After Two Decades...

That's everyone in Act II of the game! This Halloween I'll complete the origin stories for all our ghosts with the final part, which includes some of the most visually striking members of our rogue's gallery. It just remains to thank every fan of Ghost Master for keeping the game alive in their hearts for twenty years. Of all the many games I've worked on, there is none that is quite as dear to me as this spectral simulator that reminds us all just how much fun it is to scare the pants off someone!

Happy anniversary to every Ghost Master fan, wherever you may be fettered!


Ten Player Motives #5

5a - Thrill-seekingWhen we first started conducting surveys into how and why people play games, we discovered that one aspect of the play experience was almost universally loved by our respondents: excitement. The example of Bejeweled shows that this was somewhat misleading, however: yes, everyone enjoys feeling excited, but one person's rollercoaster is another person's vomit-inducing nightmare. Time-constraints do make games more exciting, but they also exclude certain players who do not want to feel that stressed when they are playing games. For the most part, however, the thrill-seeking motive is something that everyone enjoys, provided the game doesn't take it too far.

The self-adjusting speed of early puzzle games like mega-hit Tetris worked extremely well to ensure wide appeal. A game like Super-Hexagon divides players and turns off a great many who can't get to grips with the level of challenge, but Tetris adapts beautifully to the skills of the player. Lower difficulties give even unskilled players time to work out how to put the tetrominoes together, whereas a skilled player can jump ahead down the speed curve to find the place that's exciting for them. A huge range of brilliant puzzle game designs in the 90s and 2000s delivered thrill-seeking play that was fundamentally not about winning. The player of an endless mode never wins: defeat is inevitable. Yet players still have fun doing it.

There are other ways of tapping into the thrill-seeking motive that aren't just time constraints and gently-ramping pressure. Among the most iconic are the high speed racers that were extremely popular in the late 90s and throughout the 2000s. The Need for Speed franchise is the commercial the poster child, although Criterion's Burnout series is arguably an even better example. These games were so perfect at pushing player's high speed buttons, that EA bought Criterion and gave them the Need for Speed franchise to develop.

In the 2010s, another way of leveraging the thrill-seeking motive was added to the game design lexicon: the battle royale. Pioneered by PlayerUnknown's Battlegrounds but then cloned and tweaked by Epic's Fortnite as a supplement (or replacement) for its underwhelming Save the World mode, the battle royale throws a hundred competitors into a simultaneous knock out tournament. These games are fundamentally about the victory motive - everybody likes to win, after all - but the excitement of being fielded against ninety nine other players in a sudden death, winner-takes-all format was palpable. So much so that even if the victory motive is why people say they play, the excitement is the reason that they stay. After all, only one player wins in each round... if victory were all it was about, these games would not have the thriving player communities that they do.

In a marvellous act of circularity, the success of the battle royale format led to game developers adding this to other existing game mechanics, leading to the return of the puzzle game in a surprising new format. Tetris, for so long the epitome of thrill-seeking purity, has come back as Tetris 99, combining the excitement of the original with the seat-of-the-pants glory seeking of the battle royale format. It is a striking reminder that while ideas come and go in videogames, there is always room to combine something old with something new to take players somewhere very familiar in a new and interesting way.

Next: Horror

Ten Player Motives will return this Summer on


Ten Player Motives #4

4a - LuckEverybody likes to win, but not everyone is willing to suffer to get there. Fortunately, there's a way of making games anyone can win - pure, blind luck. The reason that kids love games with a low degree of skill and a high degree of luck (Snakes and Ladders or Candyland for instance) is that anyone can win - they have just as much chance of beating their parents at these games as vice versa, and that makes games of pure chance very appealing to younger players, who are certainly not going to beat Dad at Chess or Splendor - at least until they get a little older!

The same lowering of the level of challenge was key to the success of Popcap, whose game Bejeweled (modelled on the brilliant Panel de Pon), which was the origin of the term 'casual game'. Bejeweled was built on the breakthrough realisation that having a timer in puzzle games was inherently stressful, and not everyone enjoyed this stress. The addition of an untimed mode was key to the success of this pivotal casual game, which in untimed basically became an opportunity to switch things around at random until the player eventually won. (As a postscript, I note that when EA bought Popcap, they immediately destroyed this clever design by making Bejeweled Blitz...) Along with kids boardgames, this demonstrates how the luck motive can substitute for the victory motive. However, most examples in commercial videogames will substitute luck for the acquisition motive - or combine the two.

By far the most commercially successful example is not even a videogame, however: it's Magic: The Gathering, which took the design principles of trading cards and built a howling goldmine with it. The luck motive is put into play in two ways in the design of this game, one of which has millennia of precedence, the other being less than a century old. Firstly, by shuffling a deck of cards as a source of randomness, games of Magic: The Gathering and any of its descendants such as Hearthstone or Marvel Snap, play differently every time. It's something that adds enormous values to boardgames and all videogames that have boardgame-like system. Secondly, and perhaps most importantly, there's the incredible power of the booster pack.

In a trading card game like Magic: The Gathering, booster pack contain random cards of varying rarity. In the original release, a pack would contain one rare, three uncommons, and eleven commons. Over the years, Wizards of the Coast (and later Hasbro, who bought them) varied these designs and came up with different configurations but the core concept was the same. Every booster would have one card you definitely wanted, either for your own set or for its trade value - the rare. It would have three cards that would be of high utility in deck building - the uncommons. And it would have a bunch of commons that were exciting when you first opened booster packs, but would just become chaff after a while.

Magic: The Gathering's booster pack design was incredibly powerful. For acquisition motive players such as myself, it means spending a huge amount of money on boosters to collect (and trade for) a complete set. But even for players who weren't interesting in 100% collections, the luck motive made each booster an adventure in itself. This in turn led to videogames inventing loot boxes, which were digital versions of the booster pack, with the same monetisation policy.

Loot boxes divide players. Many consider loot boxes manipulative... and they certainly can be, even when what is contained is purely cosmetic. You only have to look at the Steam marketplace for gun skins on Counter-Strike: Global Offensive to see how players can be motivated to look for ultra-rare, ultra-valuable skins like the karambit knife skin. But the possibility for exploitation isn't a certainty. The design and monetisation of Supercell's Clash Royale has many defenders, for instance.

But you don't have to monetise random chance to make the luck motive work for your design. There is a long and honourable history of games using the luck motive without monetising it. Most of these designs descend from TSR's (and later Hasbro, who bought them) venerable Dungeons & Dragons design, which used random tables to determine treasure drops. Nearly every computer role-playing game that followed over the decades made use of random chance drops to add variety of experience - and, when done well, to capture some of that excitement from 'opening the booster pack'.

Next week: Thrill-seeking


Ten Player Motives #3

3a - AcquisitionIf the victory motive asks us to endure frustration to get to the win, and the problem-solving motive asks us to endure confusion to solve the puzzle, is there something else we can endure for our future pleasure? There is: boredom. You may have noticed that a lot of videogame players complain about grinding, and yet games still contain an enormous amount of grinding. Why is that? If grinding is inherently negative (and it is, that's why we call it 'the grind') why would we want it...? The answer is that the boredom associated with grinding is also something you can endure to reach a sense of enormous satisfaction. It's the pleasure that comes with hitting 100% completion, with doing everything, with collecting everything. It's the quiet joy of acquisition.

Believe it or not, just like everybody likes to win, everybody likes to get stuff - at least at first. I mean, not everybody is a hoarder or likes to keep things, but who doesn't like to win a prize, to receive a gift, or even to get paid? 'Getting' is fundamental to the experience of being a living being. Even amoebas like eating food. The same neurobiology that underpins the enjoyment of foraging is tied up with the acquisition-motive - the reason why getting stuff is enjoyable. And yes, searching a field for all the nuts and berries can be tedious... but the question is, are you the kind of mammal that enjoys the satisfaction from knowing you've searched the whole field, or aren't you...?

Paradoxically, videogames have become more dependent upon acquisition than upon winning. In the arcade, where a coin-drop was only supposed to sustain between two and thirty minutes of play (and the quicker the better up to a certain point), there wasn't much motive to acquire. Sure, you collected points, but you collected them in order to set a high score - the motive was victory. But at home, from the tabletop role-playing games instituted by Dungeons & Dragons to their immediate digital descendants, there was a simple and compelling pleasure to acquiring that was to infuse a huge variety of game styles.

Whether it's gold, experience points, or interesting treasures actually doesn't matter that much as long as it keeps your interest. And for the most acquisition-focussed players, they're going to do everything the game says can be checked off the list. Achievements were only a logical extension of this compulsion, moving the stamp collections and to-do lists of the acquisition-focussed games into the meta-level of the platform itself, and with the same goal: the quiet addiction of pointless busy work that comes with a gold star at the end. Well done, you did it!

The sheer beauty of the acquisition motive is that you don't even have to be good or clever to get at it. If you're striving for victory you had better 'git gud', as the illiterate expression goes. If you want to overcome the problem, you need to have the intellectual chops to solve puzzles. But if you want to acquire, well, now all you need is patience. And that's much less demanding than the alternatives. Ever wondered why the so-called 'social' games were so heavy on the grinding? Because they let their designs by dictated by the metrics of retention, and nothing is better at retention that giving people stuff and telling them to get more stuff. Frankly, the moment you were born into a world with money, you were primed to play in this way.

This motive rounds out the three 'hot' motives - victory, problem-solving, acquisition - all of which require players to suffer through something in order to get to a hit of dopamine. Through frustration to reach the big hit of victory, through confusion to the quietly satisfying hit of solutions, and through boredom to the calm satisfaction of 100%. But there are seven other commercially important motives that don't require anything like this kind of endurance. Understanding these other ways to play provides game designers crucial ways to make these core player goals even more compelling, and to reach players who otherwise might never even consider playing in the first place.

Next week: Luck


Ten Player Motives #2

2a - Problem-solvingIf the victory motive is about enduring frustration in order to persevere and triumph, its worth understanding than this isn't the only thing players will put up with if it gets them to the win. Victory is the motive of what we used to call 'jocks', the sporting types. But problem-solving is the motive of excellence for what we used to call 'nerds' - and I am frankly disappointed that these days this term is taken solely as an insult, because if 80s movies taught us anything it's that nerds beat jocks and they do it with their mental faculties. Nerds are the smart kids. And they have their own unique motive for playing games.

The problem-solving motive is after the same thing as the victory-motive: but it goes about it in a completely different way. Suppose you have a fighting game. The challenge-focussed player who gets beaten is going to keep trying to win through their own skills and prowess. The problem-focussed player who gets beaten is going to look at it as a puzzle to solve. Did I lose because of differences in reaction times or something else I can't change...? Not interested. But if I lost because of a tactical or strategic error, now that's intriguing, because it means I could play differently, modify my approach, and perhaps get to victory through brains instead of brawn...

The ubiquity of puzzle-solving play in videogames isn't an accident. Programmers and game designers are brilliant nerds, and as such they are drawn to problem-solving. So they make games with conundrums to be worked out, riddles to be decoded, and mysteries to invite that lightbulb moment. In some respects, the pursuit of problem-solving isn't even about the winning - although as I said before, everybody likes to win. It's about that moment of insight, the 'a-ha' moment, when you see the problem from a different angle.

Like the victory motive, this one piggy-backs on the limbic system, but it's a much younger piece of our brains that's involved. There's a direct link up between a region that makes calculative decisions (the orbito-frontal cortex) and the parts of the limbic system that make winning feel so good. This is what makes mathematics so enjoyable - if you're good at it: solving an equation is satisfying. Sure, it doesn't feel as hot and majestic as winning the World Cup, but unlike the world cup everyone with the requisite capacities can solve every equation. This is a huge factor in the appeal of the problem-solving motive: if you're good at solving problems, every problem can be solved. That's just not true of winning in competitive play.

Yet what epitomises the problem-solving motive most of all isn't working out the solutions to puzzles, enjoyable though that may be, but challenging your intellect against systems where ambiguities mean that the solutions aren't as certain as mathematics. This is the immense draw of strategy games for the problem-focussed player: these are designed systems that create an infinite diversity of problems to solve - tactical problems, strategic problems, logistical problems. Their inherent incompleteness means that, unlike a strict puzzle or an equation that typically has a single correct solution, there are innumerable possible solutions, and so mastery entails skills and practice. It's the same reward - the solution to the problem - but once it becomes this intricate and involved, it becomes a source of pride, a seductive process that continually rewards.

But just as not everyone is going to put up with being frustrated in order to attain victory, not everyone is going to persevere with solving puzzles, let alone learn mastering complex systems. It takes a certain kind of person to endure the confusion inherent to incomplete information... and it's the same kind of person that can learn to be skilled at scientific investigation. I still like to call us nerds, but even if you don't, you know what I'm talking about. How can you not! If you read this far, you know precisely why the problem-solving motive is so alluring to those of us with the mental faculty to discover solutions.

Next week: Acquisition