Having recently played a very nice text-based RPG made in Twine of all things, and tested a new (to me) authoring system in addition to resuming work on a text adventure, I was once more prompted to think about the similarities between different genres of text-based games. For example, nowadays we associate parser-based interfaces with brainy puzzlefests, or else sophisticated story games, but Adventure and Zork had RPG elements and a strong exploration component. And while works like Hunter, in Darkness or Kerkerkruip are generally seen as experimental, Eamon has always explicitly been an RPG engine, and proudly so (yes, I know people who still swear by it), despite looking for all the world like an interactive fiction authoring system. After all, is there really that much of a difference, mechanically speaking? It’s still a world model based on a graph of discrete locations, with objects that can be manipulated in the same basic ways: examine / take / drop. And the parser itself, as a mode of interaction, has inherent appeal to at least some players, orthogonally to the content. We shouldn’t mix up genre and medium here, like we do with videogames at large, where Heretic and Doom are seen as largely interchangeable simply because they’re based on the same engine and core verbs.
(I’d give newer examples, but I’m not aware of any fantasy first-person shooters this side of Hexen; all the famous titles appear to be sci-fi. Did the Daikatana debacle scare off everyone, or have games like the Elder Scrolls and Might&Magic series been covering the demand for first-person fantasy fans? Oh wait, there was Hellgate: London, another commercial flop. Fair enough, there’s a pattern.) (continue reading…)
You know strategy games, right? You start with a few units; they harvest resources with which they build buildings; those in turn make more advanced units that can engage the opposition and hopefully win. All while gathering even more resources, upgrading your settlement and so on.
If you thought Starcraft or Settlers of Catan when reading the above, you’re on the right track.
But strategy games didn’t begin with those. They didn’t even begin with Dune 2. One of the earliest such games — the first great hit — was called Hamurabi and could be played with a teletype. Yes, it was a text game, much like the original Adventure and Rogue, and almost as addictive as them. Other famous strategy games were born during that era, such as Star Trek and Trade Wars.
You’d think all of them belong in history books, but during this century a new crop of browser-based multiplayer games have been eschewing graphics again in favor of an interface some people have derisively called “playable Excel documents”. In all honesty, it’s hard to fault them when you look at OGame; at least its competitor Travian still bothers to have a map.
But the joke’s on them, because these games are enormously popular.
I must be getting used to this. Despite the fact that I was really busy over the weekend (the good kind of busy, mind), a good bunch of links accumulated here. It’s going to be a very visual issue, so let’s get to the point.
You know I’m a big fan of Lords of Midnight, possibly the most unique strategy game ever. More than once, I decried the fact that ever since the original ZX Spectrum release nobody quite managed another title like it — even the official sequel wasn’t as beloved. At least there’s the modern edition keeping it alive.
Well, IndieGames.com alerts us of a brand new game based on the same concept, with an Arabian Nights theme and all the goodies one would expect from a game made in 2014. See for yourselves:
Never mind playing it… wish I would have made Legions of Ashworld myself. Good work there, folks.
Hot on the heels of Spectral Dungeons, here comes my second roguelike for the ZX Spectrum. Developed in half the time (due to the reuse of more than half the code, not to mention the added experience), Escape from Cnossus improves on the formula with a less generic theme, more complex and pretty levels and interesting decisions to make.
After my last rant, several friends expressed interest in helping me create a browser-based MMORPG. In retrospect, I shouldn’t have been surprised. As I pointed out repeatedly on this blog, any gamer naturally dreams of creating their own MMO some day. Now, if you’re going to make one of these, a browser-based game is the easiest option by far. Especially if you’re an experienced Web developer, and we are.
The question is, what game to make? The possibilities are endless… but so is the array of competing titles. To navigate the chaos, let’s look at some of the existing options. What do they have in common? What works? What doesn’t? What do they lack?
These are my answers. Yours will likely be different.
What is it with people waking up in 2011 to declare they know what CRPGs (computer role-playing games for the acronym challenged) are, better than anyone else? It’s doubly annoying, as the genre is rich and diverse on the one hand, and solidly anchored in a tradition of pen&paper games on the other hand.
The latest to try and squeeze countless games into a narrow definition (and complain about it) is this write-up from an online magazine I hadn’t heard about before. If you don’t feel like reading the whole thing, that’s okay, because the tl;dr version is right there at the beginning.
None of these games (ed: DA, Fable, Final Fantasy) are role-playing games. They are, in fact, nothing more than story-driven strategy games.
At that point, I almost stopped reading, because the author is criticizing a bunch of very different CRPG franchises for… capturing the essence of Dungeons and Dragons itself.
Back when videogames were still new, there was no such thing as game genres; the very concept of a videogame was still taking shape. But we humans love putting labels on things, and once certain types of game mechanics proved popular, it wasn’t long before the market settled on a few easily identifiable genres which it exploited. Sure, new kinds of games continued to appear all along the 1980es and 1990es, but they were all promptly milked to death by an increasingly risk-averse gaming industry.
Luckily, nowadays the situation has been reversed again. Not only are indie game developers churning out an impressive array of innovative titles, but even established genres are going right back into the blender. RPGs are borrowing from shooters (Fallout 3, Mass Efect). Shooters are borrowing from strategy games (Team Fortress 2, Tremulous). And strategy games have had RPG elements since at least Heroes of Might and Magic 3 (for a modern example, see Battle for Wesnoth).
But even in the intervening years there were games that dared to break the mold and combine two existing kinds of gameplay into a coherent whole, or even do something entirely unique.
A long time ago, on a blog far, far away, I was pointing out that playing games a lot and playing a lot of games are different things. Turns out, this isn’t such an original idea; while preparing to revisit that topic, I ran across this Massively interview with Cory Doctorow, in which he makes the point that games are so ubiquitous nowadays, that many people have played lots of games without ever considering themselves gamers. That puts an even heavier burden on (would-be) game developers, who are supposed to know more about what’s out there than the average gamer, especially in their niche of choice. Well, I consider myself a developer (amateur, mind you), so it occurred to me to check a very simple thing: how many games do I keep around?