Tobold's Blog
Tuesday, October 25, 2005
Sugar was sweeter

"In my days, sugar was sweeter and the sun did shine brighter.", is an old sentiment jokingly ascribed to old people. Well, I actually did know an old lady claiming the part about the sugar was true. But looking at it realistically it is more likely that here taste buds had deteriorated with age, and modern sugar tasted less sweet to her now. It was her who had changed, not the sugar.

Reading around for information and comments on games beyond WoW, I am astonished how many "sugar was sweeter" people there are around among gamers. They claim that the old games were the best, new games are void of innovation and creativity, and that the whole gaming industry is going to hell in a hand-basket, due to their hit-based business model. But in reality it is their minds playing tricks on them, it is well known that the brain modifies memories, making you able to "remember" things that never happened, or editing out the less pleasant bits. The fun you remember having had with a game 20 years ago is impossible to compare with the fun you have with a game now, because you changed so much in those 20 years.

Retro gaming, people playing very old games on original machines or emulators, exists, but it is just a small niche of the gaming world. If you find the old floppy disks of your favorite game from long ago back, and actually manage to get them working somehow on a modern PC, you will quickly be turned off by the bad graphics and technical shortcomings of the old games. In most cases you are better off with the modern remake of the old classic games, playing Civilization IV instead of I. "Innovation" is not really a value that games should be judged by, because it depends on what games the reviewer played before. If World of Warcraft is your first MMORPG ever, and subscription numbers suggest that this is the case for several million players, it is innovative *for you*. That somebody else considers it an Everquest-clone doesn't change that, and having been there first doesn't make EQ a better game than WoW, as much as it deserves credit for kick-starting the genre.

The new games aren't so bad as old gamers give them credit for. There is a lot of innovation still going on. It is just sometimes hard to find among the 20 different first-person-shooters or real-time-strategy games on the retailers shelf. Someone has a good idea, then maybe somebody else takes that idea and improves it, but given the huge size of the video game market nowadays, there are always also a number of clones with just minor variations. Which isn't necessarily a bad thing, because it might be just one of those variations which makes the clone more attractive to you than the original. Even sequels which don't change much from the original can be a good thing. If you liked a game, but played all of it already three times, the sequel with identical gameplay and a few minor improvements at least offers you more content of the same type that you liked. Obviously some companies overdo it, especially EA is often trying to sell you the same trash several times, but just because a game has a sequel number in its title, it isn't automatically bad.

Another 20 years on, some people will write about the great old games of the first decade of this millenium as a shining example, compared to the garbage games of 2025. That is just part of human nature's response to all sort of evolution. But I'm more optimistic than that, games will continue to improve technically, and innovate in gameplay. And if one day I'm not having fun with games any more, I'll have a good hard look at myself, and maybe I just got old, and it isn't the new games' fault.
Games need to continue to evolve. Some manufactures are stuck in a rut of churning out the same old games in different clothing.

Innovation isn't hard to find though. Look at Half Life 2, yes its a FPS and therefore not much different that HL1 or anything since, but its characters/voice acting and exposition is way beyond many of its contemparies. The more beleivable the characters and your surroundings, the more immersive and engaging the game feels (See this months UK Edge magazine for an interview with some TV script writers about this very issue).

Nintendo seems to be one company trying to change gaming habits. Its DS, with its touch screen and microphone, offers a far different experiance than the graphically superior Sony PSP. I have the privelage of owning both consoles, and whilst the slickness of the PSP is alluring, it's still just a handheld PS2. The DS feels far more than just an upgraded Gameboy.

Nintendo are also making waves with the announcement of the control pad for their next gen consoles (code name "Revolution"). This is unlike anything you've ever seen before. Its a wand like device, with one D-pad and 4 action buttons...and motion sensitive. You can control games by pointing, tilting and moving it in true 3d-space (including depth). Early reports from the demo's (again in Edge this month) are very postive, stating that once you've gotten over the novelty, the controller becomes a part of you rather than something you fight with. All this is designed to make gaming more innovative, more natural and less scarey. I mean I think even my mother would sit down and play a game using Nintendos new controller, where as she'd struggle with a Dual Shock or Xbox pad.

All in all, its going to be an exciting few years in gaming. Maybe we'll see a gaming Revolution after all and put our past gaming demons to bed :)
Yes, Nintendo is at the forefront of innovation. But for fairness sake I'd like to mention the Eyetoy and Singstar games from Sony as well. Well, I bought only the Eyetoy, me singing at home would turn my neighbors into a lynch mob. :)

It is new control modes for games which have the best chance to get "non-gamers" to play video games.
Oh indeed, though both the Eyetoy and Singstar are devices not designed for the uncomfortable amoung us.

Also, I do not doubt that Microsoft and Sony boffins aren't already beavering away to come up with something similar to Nintendo's new input device.
Innovation is different weighted within the MMORPG genre i think. When i left EQ, i was not looking for something innovative, i wanted the same old stuff, just little more polished, and i wanted those first EQ days back. But you can not bring back virginity. That is why most "sweet" sayers exist. Those millions of people whom WoW is their first MMO experience will say the same, when they leave WoW for another MMO. That is why Abalieno is right, MMO sequels are dumb. When you play a game for years, you see beyond the surface for every other game of the same kind. That is why the sweet sayers rant about WoW since beta.

The WoW-EQ thing is interesting cause you will never ever find the circumstances EQ started with. When WoW shiped pretty much 90% of its content was readable about on sites like Thott and the like. There was zero exploration and thats why the sugar in EQ was indeed sweeter. It
was not more delicious just sweeter.

Gaming innovations in general have changed. The focus shifted from game design to presentation. Graphics development is so fast paced and expensive these days, that you have to focus on that and take ressources from game design. This was different 10 or 15 years ago. Where your graphics were important, but you could not sell millions of copies with just pretty graphics or popular IPs. Today almost everyone does and not just once, that is why we see Heavy_IP_Game part 6. When i mainly played non-mmo games, the highest sequel number i got was three. What do we got these days? 5? 6? While things like DS´ touchscreen, dancing games and eye toy are remarkable innovations, we still see decade old genres still selling best. And that´s not gonna change soon.
Highest sequel number I can think of is 12, for the next Final Fantasy game announced. Or you could argue the highest sequel number is 2006, which will be the number behind many a sports sequel.

Of course the really important question is how much difference there is between one sequel and the previous one. With sports games it might just be new player names and league tables, while with Final Fantasy the game system was different in every sequel.

I don't think MMO sequels are dumb, they can get around legacy problems. However much you "improve" the graphics and UI of EQ1, you'll never get to the same level as EQ2. And I'd rather have UO2 than play the original UO with a pseudo-3D interface modification. And graphics are not the only problems, you can also use the sequel to rectify game design mistakes which you did in the original, and which are too embedded to be fixed by a patch.
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