Wednesday, 27 January 2010

Games without frontiers

I miss the old days, don’t you?

I miss the big, rainforest murdering boxes  and doorstop manuals. I miss the ridiculous hyperbole: almost photorealistic* graphics!!! Cutting edge AI – face terrifying foes that work together in teams and THROW GRENADES**!!! Utilise a mighty arsenal of Twenteen weapons***!!!  I miss developers that, driven insane by success,  blow all their money on glass and leather towers  of excess, hair gel and Ferraris while convincing everyone their next game is going to be amazing because it has a sword in it. I miss the days when everything had to aspire to be 3D, even when the idea was a mad, bad and covered in Voxels. I miss Interplay, white label and SCUMM. Chris Sawyer, Diablo and ID.

I miss the rock.  I miss the roll.

Oh games today might be more polished sure I’ll give you that. Yeah, it looks better too, point taken. Not to mention far more popular. Maybe that is part of my problem though. The games industry has become all grown up, lost the piercings and tattoos, sold the motorbike and got a job in accounting. The adventure factor seems to have dribbled out of games like spoonfuls of marmalade in your pocket, leaving slightly fluffly bits of orange rind to chew on and the resolution to buy it in jars from now on. Or something.

It all seems so stratified now. PC gaming for me back in those halcyon days was a bona fide adventure, you opened that cardboard treasure chest and you didn’t know exactly what lay past the awkward and often extensively frustrating installation.  I remember my first game of Planescape Torment  feeling epic and momentous but above all fresh.  I’d never played anything like it and it felt huge, like a wild frontier. Now role-playing games all share similar conventions, controls and even stories. You click that link in steam and you know what you are getting after your painless 2 hour download and seamless installation.

I know there is no going back and that it makes sense for publishers and developers to work in the areas that pay off most. I also know that some of what I miss is still about in the indie games  scene (gratuitous space battles for example) and I’m under no illusions that things were somehow better  back in the day.

I just miss those wild frontiers.

*cubist photos at a Lego convention

**at each other

***Eight and a few variations on “grenade”, at least one of which will never be used.


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