Games, progress and grognards



This Friday, Gamasutra resurfaces an old reprint of an even older editorial by Chris Crawford, the game industry's tragic philosopher. And well, in some ways it's spot-on about the state of game development in 1997. The tech rat race never stopped, for one thing. But in other ways, it also suffers from his usual failure to look under the surface:

Yet Command & Conquer is little more than a remixing of design concepts that we've seen hundreds of times in previous games. Doom is just a souped-up version of Wolfenstein 3D, which in turn was based on an Apple II game called Castle Wolfenstein. Myst is an utterly conventional adventure game, in design terms no different from the original Adventure computer game, only souped up with '90s graphics.

Bwahahaha! Really?! C&C famously developed the concepts in Dune II, which in turn built on its predecessors; Doom massively improved upon Wolfenstein 3D, which wasn't Id Software first shooter of the sort, either. (By the way, the original Apple II game was 2D and stealth-oriented.) As for Myst being no improvement upon Adventure, which by the way hadn't been the state of the art in adventure games for fifteen years at that time... yeah.

Each of those games refined and grew the concepts introduced by its predecessors. Sometimes clumsily. In fits and starts. But that's how art moves forward. Engineering, too, not that anyone ever seemed to know in a culture that glorifies inventors and "original" thought to the detriment of those who toil for decades to turn the rough gem of an invention into a product everyone can use safely.

And speaking of decades: At the time, games like Nethack and Angband had already been around for ten years, give or take, continually built upon and improved along the way. So what Chris Crawford claimed he wanted to see already existed. By now both have been around for over thirty, having spawned impressive family trees too.

Maybe look outside "the industry" now and then. And lower your gaze. You can see a lot better without your nose getting in the way.


Tags: game design, history, philosophy