To game or not to game

22 May 2011

You know, I'm beginning to think I'm not actually that much into games.

That may sound strange coming from someone who makes games (even as a "mere" hobby). But the more I think of it, the more it seems that I care little about the very things that make games special. I'm not a competitive person; challenge for the sake of challenge disgusts me. I do like to play, to explore and to socialize, but technically you don't need games for any of that. It's just that games happen to be excellent enablers for all three, ideally at once.

That probably explains my preferences. But most importantly, it might be able to show me where to go next.

The first game genre that attracted my attention (as opposed to just playing whatever I could get my hands on) was interactive fiction. I liked it for the same reason as static fiction: its ability to bring imaginary worlds to life. Come to think of it, that was also why I got into writing (which didn't work so well for me) and into programming (which worked quite a bit better). Authoring interactive fiction isn't nearly as easy as it appears, though, and I have too many hobbies to focus on it properly.

I was a little more successful at roleplaying, first on forums, later in text-based virtual worlds. The latter, incidentally, are a natural extension of text adventures, except any player can add to them; and you can get away with adding a little at a time, receiving feedback and improving as you go. If that sounds familiar, think agile programming. Which just happens to be my preferred methodology. But I digress.

Problem is, stories tend to end (or at least fizzle out), and so do places to explore. At some point, I thought roguelikes might be a solution to both issues. But what they offer is whacking bigger and bigger monsters with bigger and bigger sticks, in bigger and bigger mazes. They do offer a pretty big gaming component, but not enough to keep me interested. Which may seem strange, as I generally enjoy turn-based strategy. But see above. It's just not my thing.

Another genre I was putting my hopes in is space trading games, which offer largely the same things as roguelikes, plus something to do besides fighting. Not that I mind some first person pew-pew action now and then, but that grows stale fast. Unfortunately so do the trading and exploring components -- they're just too repetitive.

At least I didn't waste any time trying to make one of these.

Incidentally, there is one game that is working for me right now, and that is Echo Bazaar. Which just happens to have a little in common with a cousin of space trading games, namely Dope Wars — something I didn't realize when I initially reviewed it. It succeeds at providing almost everything I look for in games, minus the social aspect; but that can be easily corrected, should I decide to follow in their path. The basic recipe is obviously sound.

The only obstacle is, of course, that Echo Bazaar got that way thanks to years of efforts by several very good writers and artists. Can I make something remotely as fun with hobbyist resources? And most importantly, is that what I really want to do?

Time for some experiments, it would seem.