What's "action"? Some of the feedback I've had for The Real Texas has been that there isn't enough of it.
Let's rewind a bit. Most of us developers (and I hope, players) feel that games fit into the broad category "art"; they sit somewhere alongside plays, movies, songs, stories, poetry.
A broad definition of art could get murky so let's narrow it down, just for the sake of the game I'm making now. Texas fits into storytelling art. This sort of game is a story told in the second person: "You do this", "You feel this" rather than the third person "He went here" or "He was upset" or the first person "I needed to get some alchohol, but fast!"
I'm aware of only one novel that does this. It's by Italo Calvino, but I can't remember what it's called and I haven't read it. I'd like to. For games, though, the second person narrative quite a natural fit. What gives it this power?
Storytelling in the second person works for games because we're able to create an environment that mimics reality, and give the player enough freedom inside of this that they feel they are the one experiencing the story. That is, the story that we the game designer is actually telling. It's a wonderful and unique virtue of game design but maybe we aren't conscious enough of it.
I recently read a book that suggested that some of the most popular english nouns are time, person, way, water, and thing. This is really evocative for me and suggests what might be the most important concepts to have in a game to create a believable reality.
Beyond these concepts though, we all have an intuitive grasp of physics. If we don't have a believable physical system in place, to some degree, the game will lack reality. This doesn't mean you need a solid body simulator to make a good game; but it does mean that if there are walls, you oughtn't be able to walk through them. It also means that to hit something, and have it smash, will help create immersion.
If you look at certain games, it becomes obvious that a great deal that is going on is kinetic, based on the motion of physical objects. Platformers are based on our intuition about gravity; such a game world can seem very convincing because of this simple physical fact and the way we can experiment with it as we play.
Part of our physical intuition also has to do with things breaking, or us being hurt by things. I'd imagine we have it buried deeply in our subconscious that heavy things thrown at us are dangerous, sticks or swords swung at our head should be ducked, and so on.
I think this goes a long way to explain why so many games are based around combat. It's a good way to help build the sense of reality around the player on an intuitive level.
Along the same lines, I think physical intuition is also why so many lines of code have been written to simulate water in some form or another. Game designers that don't have "water" as a tool in their belt might find it hard to construct a believable world.
Well, I'll leave it at that, for now.