"Generally, escort missions are used to change up gameplay," says John Feil, the level designer at LucasArts responsible for the escort missions in Star Wars: Episode One - Battle for Naboo. "There really aren't a lot of types of missions out there. If you don't want your game to be 100 percent full of 'find the foozle and kill it/deliver something/save it from certain doom' [missions], then you start considering escort missions."
Or, as Dansky says: "You decide you need an escort mission when you look down at the checklist of all mission objectives and see 'eliminate all enemies,' 'eliminate all enemies,' 'eliminate all enemies' and 'eliminate all enemies.'"
"The first problem an escort mission solves, is 'Where do I go?'" says Feil. "In most escort missions, the thing you are escorting knows the way out. Using a mission like this, you can be sure that the player is unlikely to get lost."
Feil says escort missions also prevent players from wandering too far and exploring undeveloped areas, eliminate the need for players to seek out enemies to kill and allow the designers to make it possible to tell a story to a player who's no longer running all over the map exploring and searching for opponents. Escort missions create a single focus point from which the player dares not stray, to which enemies will flock and through whom the story can be channeled "without having to be a 'floating head' contacting him through remote means," Feil says. "I still don't like them, though."
"I still think the best balm for repetitive/limited quest options is a brilliant story," says Leanne Taylor, scriptwriter for Pandemic. "If you're gathering something, it's usually for a puzzle or for someone who'll then turn around and use what you collected to kill a bunch of other things while you're escorting him. It's sad, but no one seems to be able to come up with anything better."
And yet, they keep trying. But not purely out of a need to solve problems. Some designers genuinely want you to care about the characters they create, and putting you in a situation where their lives are in your hands is often seen as a shortcut to emotional investment.
Putting your life on the line to save someone else "is really cool in war movies," says McGann, "but never translates well into videogames. Escorts attempt, and fail, to touch at the heart of sacrifice, protection and even love, in putting someone else's wellbeing in front of your own, but with saves and loads what really is the emotional investment there, beyond frustration when they die and you fail over and over again?"
Escort missions are an attempt to solve a problem with tools wholly incapable of doing the job. Neither the technology nor the craft are to a point where it's even remotely possible to create an escort mission that doesn't flat out piss you off. It's like trying to build a house with only a pair of pliers and some duct tape. You can do it, but it won't be pretty, and you wouldn't want to live in the resulting structure.