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Interview RPG Watch interviews Jeff Vogel

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Tags: Jeff Vogel; Spiderweb Software

<a href=http://www.rpgwatch.com>RPG Watch</a>'s Brian "Dhruin" Turner asked Jeff Vogel <a href=http://www.rpgwatch.com/show/article?articleid=53&ref=2&id=18>a few questions</a> about this and that:
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<blockquote><b>The last time we spoke to you Avernum 4 was selling well and Geneforge 4 was on the horizon. How are they both travelling?</b>
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We have had a very good run lately, sales-wise. Avernum 4 is still doing very well. Geneforge 4: Rebellion has had an extremely strong start and is easily the best selling of the Geneforge games.
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We put a ton of work into Geneforge 4: Rebellion, improving the interface, the graphics, and the storyline, and it paid off. It’s still a surprise, though. <u>I didn’t think a game with a really intricate plot could do that well</u>. I’m happy to be proven wrong.
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<b>What can you do to keep each title fresh? There are obviously engine, graphical and gameplay similarities with most of your titles and you’ve done a number of remakes – is there a danger some players will simply switch off?</b>.
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I don’t expect someone to play every one of my games. I only have one brain. Every game has a bunch of new things, but it also has some things that are the same. Player very frequently take a break from my games for a year or three and then come back.</blockquote>Looks like Jeff operates on a lot of false assumptions.
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Calis

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I liked his comment on filler-simulate-learning-by-boring-grinding content a lot. It touches nicely on the opinion of the Hive Mind, in that sandbox games where character advancement is done through trite quests or entirely unchallenging combat is just lame. Don't waste the player's time. Either have your story arc progression make the game interesting (choices and consequences) or allow for non-trivial approaches to combat, quests or character advancement. This seems to me like it is a nice generalization of "design worth a damn, dammit!". It's perfectly possible to design an RPG worth playing without allowing for choices with non-trivial in-game consequences, but the only excuse for a load of filler content is to help the player suspend his disbelief ("immurshun", character gets better at throwing his knife around by killing lots of rats, omg).
 

Naked Ninja

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The real question is how well a heavily plot driven RPG that isn't the latest in a successful series would do. G4 has the previous 3 to create interest for it. I'd be curious to compares sales between 1 and 4.

You can single out that comment for criticism if you want, but maybe he has sales figures which led him to that conclusion. In fact, the high sales for G4 might not indicate that games with strong plots sell (or don't), it might just indicate that games which have successfully built a following over a number of titles in a series do. Which is common knowledge anyway.
 

Elwro

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Jeff Vogel: I think that game developers need to be far, far more respectful of the time of the player. Leisure time is precious. We should not waste it. We shouldn’t burn time at the beginning making the player grind out levels before he or she can get into the plot. We shouldn’t burn time with faction grinding and trash clearing. We shouldn’t pad the game out with tons of B material.
and
The problem, of course, that companies don’t have unlimited budgets or resources. But I would still prefer, given the choice between tedious filler and a shorter game, that they chose the second one.
are what I can really subscribe to. With more and more work, free time becomes precious.
Thankfully my gf is a gamer too :D.
 

Ismaul

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Jasede said:
You wish?


I too liked his comments on filler content. I can't stand it. Sadly, it's something that we see alot, especially in RPGs. Heck, some RPGs contain nothing but filler. :diablo:

It seems to me that somehow, the whole genre is being equated to this filler content. Leveling systems and stats are playing against the genre, IMO. Because those artificial systems are deemed essential to RPGs, the games are designed around the idea that your character must go from 0 to near-god by doing a certain amount of things, hence the filler. Maybe the solution lies in reducing the importance of the leveling and xp systems or doing away with them entirely. That and good devs.
 

Ladonna

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Throw me a list of 'non-filler- RPG's please. I would like to see exactly what people think is filler and non filler.

A paragraph or two about the filler in each game, or lack of, would be helpful too.
 

Section8

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That's a better summation of his thoughts on "filler" content than his previous "don't make me do boring stuff in KOTOR, just give me lightsabres and awesomeness from the word go!" rant.

I think there are two issues here. First of all, forcing the player through filler content, and incentivising/rewarding player interaction with that filler content. I could quite happily live without both, even if that meant considerably shorter games.
 

AnalogKid

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Section8 said:
I think there are two issues here. First of all, forcing the player through filler content, and incentivising/rewarding player interaction with that filler content. I could quite happily live without both, even if that meant considerably shorter games.
I'll play the devil's advocate, just for teh drama!

What if filler is required to enjoy the "good stuff", by way of providing contrast? Life is not a highlight real. If you watch sportscenter and see homerun after homerun after homerun, it doesn't really mean anything. If you've sat though 9 innings of "filler", and then someone hits a walk-off homer to win the game for your team, that homer has meaning. So all the filler had indrect value by making the homer meaningful in comparison.

Another common example is dramatic tension, which needs "filler" time in which nothing really happens just so the audience can start to get antsy and feel the pressure. Also think about movies, if shit just keeps happening bang-bang-bang people dying everywhere, it's an action movie and pretty boring. If the whole movie goes by and then someone suddenly dies in a gruesome way, that death has a lot more impact. Again, the filler has contributed to the impact of the non-filler content.

Filler can be done well or badly, but I'd argue that at least in the baseball example, the filler is HORRIBLY BORING, not even mlidly interesting, and yet baseball has a massive audience just because of the drama and tension that all that boring crap can help build, and the significance of non-filler events in the context of all that boring crap filler.

The extreme of having no filler in games (especially cRPGs) is to have no meaningful progression. You start out uber or else go up a "level" anytime you do anything. That steals the joy from improving your character. I suppose a static cRPG is possible, and I know a few folks here strongly advocate it, but I think that for most players, feeling like they've accomplished something when their character improves is a big part of their enjoyment of cRPGs.
 

Saxon1974

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AnalogKid said:
Section8 said:
I think there are two issues here. First of all, forcing the player through filler content, and incentivising/rewarding player interaction with that filler content. I could quite happily live without both, even if that meant considerably shorter games.
I'll play the devil's advocate, just for teh drama!

What if filler is required to enjoy the "good stuff", by way of providing contrast? Life is not a highlight real. If you watch sportscenter and see homerun after homerun after homerun, it doesn't really mean anything. If you've sat though 9 innings of "filler", and then someone hits a walk-off homer to win the game for your team, that homer has meaning. So all the filler had indrect value by making the homer meaningful in comparison.

Another common example is dramatic tension, which needs "filler" time in which nothing really happens just so the audience can start to get antsy and feel the pressure. Also think about movies, if shit just keeps happening bang-bang-bang people dying everywhere, it's an action movie and pretty boring. If the whole movie goes by and then someone suddenly dies in a gruesome way, that death has a lot more impact. Again, the filler has contributed to the impact of the non-filler content.

Filler can be done well or badly, but I'd argue that at least in the baseball example, the filler is HORRIBLY BORING, not even mlidly interesting, and yet baseball has a massive audience just because of the drama and tension that all that boring crap can help build, and the significance of non-filler events in the context of all that boring crap filler.

The extreme of having no filler in games (especially cRPGs) is to have no meaningful progression. You start out uber or else go up a "level" anytime you do anything. That steals the joy from improving your character. I suppose a static cRPG is possible, and I know a few folks here strongly advocate it, but I think that for most players, feeling like they've accomplished something when their character improves is a big part of their enjoyment of cRPGs.

Very interesting points you bring up. I do think some character building stuff needs to happen. I think the key is the right amount of filler moments. When I play and an entire 2 or 3 hours is just filler level grinding i get bored, but for a little while I think its appropriate and sets the excitement for things to come.

Good post.
 

galsiah

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AnalogKid said:
...That steals the joy from improving your character. I suppose a static cRPG is possible, and I know a few folks here strongly advocate it, but I think that for most players, feeling like they've accomplished something when their character improves is a big part of their enjoyment of cRPGs.
Personally, I'm not against improvement per se. I'm against meaningless, dull improvement included for the sake of it.

Are stat increases the most meaningful or interesting way to improve a character? Are they the most interesting way to change a character's options? Are they the most effective way to tie such changes to the game world (to give them intrinsic meaning beyond consequence)? Are they an effective means to express what is uniquely interesting about your setting/world/scenario/game?
No.

They're a cheap, quick+dirty, well-understood, dull, means-to-an-end tool. That's no argument against using them, but it's a significant argument against making them any kind of gameplay centrepiece. If the player is going to be aiming for / thinking about PC improvement for much of the game, then both the process and the goal need to be interesting. Anyone who can't conceive of a more interesting/involving/expressive form of improvement than watching a 46 turn into a 47, needs to get out more.

As soon as improvement becomes a goal in its own right (rather than a means to an end), it needs to be interesting and entertaining in its own right. A stat-increase treadmill usually isn't.


As far as filler + dramatic tension goes, all you need for tension is variety. You don't need 90% of the game to be dull in order for the other 10% to be exciting. You need the other 90% of the game to entertain in different ways to make that 10% particularly significant. For many people, baseball simply sucks as a game - for them the 90% could, and should, be made more interesting. For committed baseball fans, baseball doesn't suck because the other 90% isn't dull for them - they're interested in the tactics used by each team, and the techniques and performance of individual players.
Baseball isn't a great example in any case. Viewers have the choice of perhaps four major team sports. Given the almost non-existent competition, it's quite possible for baseball to be horribly flawed as a game, yet still get a large audience.
 

Kraszu

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What if game would offer challenge it would make you feel like you had accomplish something, and progression would be more story based (like in guild you got access to better weapon/teacher). Any system that offer much xp for quest, have no simple fed-ex quest would do the same.

It works diferent in sandbox game like space ranger when world is progressing and getting better is goal but is has to be planned becouse of progressive world and situation can change so they are not that repetitive. It is more interesting then game that force you to do some random fighting before boss or something like that.
 

elander_

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If this guy is worried about making stories too intricate then maybe evolving the gameplay in his games would help supporting this.
 

The_Pope

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Progression is great and just about every genre except RPG does it right. You give the player some basic abilities at the start of the game (a pistol in an FPS, grunts and light tanks in an RTS, for example) then as they progress give them new toys. This allows the game to get more complex as the player learns it. Merely giving the player more hit points and a new particle effect on their functionally identical sword is pointless.
 

sabishii

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Filler content doesn't directly mean dramatic tension. For there to be dramatic tension... well, there needs to be tension. Where's the tension if you're running around killing things to try to level up? Baseball has dramatic tension not because it's boring all the time, but because while most of the time nothing happens, a big home run could happen at any time. So you're sitting there hoping that the next play will be the big play. If there was filler content you know you have to drudge through to get to the good part of a story, there's no tension there, because you know this part is boring and you know the next part will be good.

Now, on the other hand, if you were preparing for an enemy invasion that could come at any time, and you had a lot of stuff to do...
 

AnalogKid

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galsiah said:
Personally, I'm not against improvement per se. I'm against meaningless, dull improvement included for the sake of it... As soon as improvement becomes a goal in its own right (rather than a means to an end), it needs to be interesting and entertaining in its own right. A stat-increase treadmill usually isn't.
Some day I'll find the time and desire to shout and insult you about progression, but this is a much more mellow statement than you usually make on the topic, and I agree with it... This time.

EDIT:
galsiah said:
Anyone who can't conceive of a more interesting/involving/expressive form of improvement than watching a 46 turn into a 47, needs to get out more.
Interesting, you've just made a very strong argument in favor a an actual D&D type level system rather than usage/skill buy system... I hadn't thought about it like that before, but saving up and then delivering the reward in bigger lumps can be better than a constant stream of individually meaningless rewards. Hmmmm.
/EDIT

galsiah said:
As far as filler + dramatic tension goes, all you need for tension is variety. You don't need 90% of the game to be dull in order for the other 10% to be exciting. You need the other 90% of the game to entertain in different ways to make that 10% particularly significant.
I thought about "different, not boring" filler, but most RPG fans hate it when things get "different". Look at the backlash against mini-games. If 90% of the game is one kind of play experience, and then 10% is totally different, won't that just piss off people that liked the 90%? If they're in it for the 10%, then they'll think the 90% is boring, so we're back where we started. Another example besides minigames is interactive movies that people despise. In that case, actually playing the game is the filler, and the cutscenes are the coolstuff (tm). Because they're different experiences, the filler has almost no value, and people often want to see only the cutscenes.
sabishii said:
Filler content doesn't directly mean dramatic tension. For there to be dramatic tension... well, there needs to be tension. Where's the tension if you're running around killing things to try to level up? ... If there was filler content you know you have to drudge through to get to the good part of a story, there's no tension there, because you know this part is boring and you know the next part will be good.
Yeah, I agree about the dramatic tension thing, not the best example. I was trying to highlight the "down time" concept though, which is normally present in that scenario. You're right that if the amount of down time is precisely known, or if there's a huge transition from filler to coolstuff, then it looses some of its value in terms of tension. But does it still lose value in terms of contrast for the coolstuff?

I think we're treading pretty close to what ladonna asked about defining "filler". Is the key to make the filler less fun (so the coolstuff stands out), but not totally without fun?
 

galsiah

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AnalogKid said:
Interesting, you've just made a very strong argument in favor a an actual D&D type level system rather than usage/skill buy system... I hadn't thought about it like that before, but saving up and then delivering the reward in bigger lumps can be better than a constant stream of individually meaningless rewards. Hmmmm.
That's true, only on the basis that the system has become the focus. Once it has become a/the focus, you need to make it interesting/entertaining - so e.g. NWN is far superior to Morrowind (even though I'm no fan of creating D&D cRPGs). However, you can see where I stand on abstract systems by looking at my changes to Morrowind's system: I didn't choose to make it interesting - I chose to remove the focus from it.
That said, I do think there's a place for all the more interesting feats/bonuses/spells... you get in a D&D type system - I just don't think the best place is within an abstract levelling system. Tie them in to the world and make them unique and personal to that world. Don't provide a needlessly generic abstract overlay to your world - that's a missed opportunity.

I thought about "different, not boring" filler, but most RPG fans hate it when things get "different".
Sure - if things get wildly different. I don't think it's a choice between monotony and including Burnout levels. There is middle ground that most RPG players will accept and enjoy.

Look at the backlash against mini-games.
Largely that backlash is against their incoherence - not against the change in gameplay style. Oblivion's persuasion is objectionable because it's utter nonsense (just as a Tetris minigame would be - even for Tetris fans). Oblivion's lockpicking minigame is objectionable because it's horribly balanced and makes character skill almost irrelevant (and therefore the game world incoherent - since characters who aren't good thieves can still open the hardest locks).

If 90% of the game is one kind of play experience, and then 10% is totally different, won't that just piss off people that liked the 90%?
It can have quite different content without being totally alien to their style. For instance, take boss battles in platformers - they're not wildly different, but they're different enough to provide variety, a different challenge, and without the rest of the levels becoming filler. Alternatively, take the run-like-hell-from-a-werewolf section of Bloodlines - it fit reasonably, but sucked because the gameplay was too different.
Of course you need to be careful when selecting different gameplay forms/styles to combine into one game, but it's not a choice between monotony and huge contrast.

Is the key to make the filler less fun (so the coolstuff stands out), but not totally without fun?
No. It's to make it different - so the unusual stuff stands out -, without including Burnout/Tekken levels. The extra entertainment of the more unusual stuff is going to derive from a combination of novelty, and context - i.e. its significance in the game as a whole. So long as the player cares about the world/story/characters..., a pivotal moment in the game will be more entertaining/tense... through its implications. There's no need to have the rest of the game filled with dull gameplay to contrast the cool gameplay - you already have the rest of the game filled with [stuff with relatively few implications] to contrast the [stuff with major implications].
There shouldn't be any need to emphasize pivotal moments by making them into a minigame and shining a spotlight on them. Their inherent significance should provide the necessary tension - so long as the player gives a damn.
 

Section8

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AnalogKid said:
Section8 said:
I think there are two issues here. First of all, forcing the player through filler content, and incentivising/rewarding player interaction with that filler content. I could quite happily live without both, even if that meant considerably shorter games.
I'll play the devil's advocate, just for teh drama!

What if filler is required to enjoy the "good stuff", by way of providing contrast? Life is not a highlight real. If you watch sportscenter and see homerun after homerun after homerun, it doesn't really mean anything. If you've sat though 9 innings of "filler", and then someone hits a walk-off homer to win the game for your team, that homer has meaning. So all the filler had indrect value by making the homer meaningful in comparison.

If that's the case, you're not looking for "filler" per se. Ideally you should be shooting for something that is entertaining, though not necessarily directly significant to the narrative. In this case, you're building tension with a very close contest before an ultimately decisive act as a climax. But, you'd hope a baseball fan would enjoy the nuances of a game without home-runs rather than bemoan their absence.

And that's where I disagree with the gist of your comment. You're implying that you need boring bits to make something else exciting. While that's true, I don't agree that the boring bits ought to be part of the experience. After all, isn't escapism/recreation about enjoying something outside of the daily grind?

Another common example is dramatic tension, which needs "filler" time in which nothing really happens just so the audience can start to get antsy and feel the pressure. Also think about movies, if shit just keeps happening bang-bang-bang people dying everywhere, it's an action movie and pretty boring. If the whole movie goes by and then someone suddenly dies in a gruesome way, that death has a lot more impact. Again, the filler has contributed to the impact of the non-filler content.

Again, if the whole movie prior to that gruesome death isn't entertaining in itself, then you're not really building tension within the narrative, you're frustrating the viewer into thinking "something had better happen soon!" And your example is flawed, because "shit just keeps happening bang-bang-bang people dying everywhere" is actually pretty good summary of filler content in its most common form - steady combat without challenge.

To provide an example of slow paced segments of gameplay that I don't class as filler - Half-Life and Half-Life 2's opening segments; the Doom 3 level that is completely empty until you trigger something or other; Metroid Fusion before you start opening security hatches and giving the SA-X more freedom of movement; Morrowind's/Ultima's/etc free roaming exploration.

Filler can be done well or badly, but I'd argue that at least in the baseball example, the filler is HORRIBLY BORING, not even mlidly interesting, and yet baseball has a massive audience just because of the drama and tension that all that boring crap can help build, and the significance of non-filler events in the context of all that boring crap filler.

I don't really know a whole lot about baseball, aside from it being boring to me personally, but there are some significant differences between a baseball game and a computer game (duh). Firstly, it's a social activity, and generally I find feelings of suspense or even laughter are enhanced by "sharing" that experience - even with strangers. Secondly, spectating is a passive activity. If it's boring you, you can do other things while spectating.

For instance, in Australia, our equivalent to baseball is test cricket - 5 days of slow sporting attrition that usually ends up being a draw. It's not the most gripping activity for a spectator to watch, but it's a great thing to have in the background while you sink piss and hang out with your mates.

Gaming filler still requires interaction and response from the player, and if it doesn't - then it's hardly gaming.

The extreme of having no filler in games (especially cRPGs) is to have no meaningful progression. You start out uber or else go up a "level" anytime you do anything. That steals the joy from improving your character. I suppose a static cRPG is possible, and I know a few folks here strongly advocate it, but I think that for most players, feeling like they've accomplished something when their character improves is a big part of their enjoyment of cRPGs.

I think you're a bit wayward here. I can get a stronger feeling of accomplishment if a game tests more than just my patience.
 

AnalogKid

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@galsiah: good stuff, not ignoring just don't have much to say specifically...

Section8 said:
And that's where I disagree with the gist of your comment. You're implying that you need boring bits to make something else exciting. While that's true, I don't agree that the boring bits ought to be part of the experience. After all, isn't escapism/recreation about enjoying something outside of the daily grind?

Yeah, that's exactly the position I was taking. An RL example:
  • There's a mountain in California called Mt. Whitney. It's the highest peak in the continental U.S. In the last 2 weeks, I sumitted 2 different ways, and they were rewarding to me for very different reasons:

    1) I rock-climbed the east face. It took 3 days, and it was awesome because the entire experience was fun. I view this as a game with "less fun", but still somewhat fun filler. Without summitting, it would still have been an OK experience.

    2) I raced up the main trail that most people take, trying to set a personal time record. It took me months of training ahead of time, and the actual event too 7 hours, 25 minutes of leg-burning, exhausting crap filler. I didn't even enjoy the views because I was in a shroud of misery the whole way up and down. However, when I finished in over 12 hours less time than my previous best, I was rewarded with a tremendous feeling of accomplishment. All of a sudden, all the crap filler was worth it. In fact, all of the crap filler was necessary, because wading through it was _precisely_ the challenge! If it was easy to summit Whitney, it wouldn't have been worth doing.
So my position was that yes, for one kind of reward, the filler has to exist. I suppose the best case is if the filler is hard but enjoyable (as galsiah is advocating). I don't think you can make a game with "just the good stuff", because human perception is fundamentally differential. Give us the "good stuff" over and over and over, and it becomes the "boring stuff". Yes, even pr0n loses its appeal in time! (well, _some_ of its appeal, anyway)
 

Section8

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So my position was that yes, for one kind of reward, the filler has to exist. I suppose the best case is if the filler is hard but enjoyable (as galsiah is advocating). I don't think you can make a game with "just the good stuff", because human perception is fundamentally differential. Give us the "good stuff" over and over and over, and it becomes the "boring stuff". Yes, even pr0n loses its appeal in time! (well, _some_ of its appeal, anyway)

Ah but, your examples are a little flawed here again. Number one is a demonstration of an enjoyable activity. Number two is a demonstration of a difficult activity with a sense of accomplishment.

The thing is, when I talk "filler", from the original context of the article, we're talking about a "tedious" activity. So let me throw out example 3:

3) You walked in silence for 7 hours on a treadmill looking at a blank wall without breaking a sweat.

Sure, you may consider that some kind of accomplishment (I've never walked for so long in one place!) but it's only a test to your patience. I don't see how that is a worthwhile challenge, contrasted against example two, and I don't see how it shows any respect to your spare time.

You do have a point by saying that repetition will eventually make something that was once enjoyable boring, but surely that's preferable to something that's boring to begin with and never likely to change. :?
 

AnalogKid

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Section8 said:
3) You walked in silence for 7 hours on a treadmill looking at a blank wall without breaking a sweat.

Sure, you may consider that some kind of accomplishment (I've never walked for so long in one place!) but it's only a test to your patience. I don't see how that is a worthwhile challenge, contrasted against example two, and I don't see how it shows any respect to your spare time.
I don't see this as opposed to my example, I see it as reinforcing my point. If all the walking ended in nothing, it would be useless (that's why it's "filler" and not coolstuff). But if there is some coolstuff (summiting) that depends on the completion of the filler (walking), then the filler gains value because it is the trial by which you prove your worthiness and attain the coolstuff. The same summit without the filler as a "guardian trial" would have much less worth. So the filler has created value by making the summit (or whatever accomplishment) meaningful.
 

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