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Journal Journal: Origin Obituary

The Ultima series died at 7.0
It's virtue lied in a combination of a HUMONGOUS open-ended, non-linear world with SO DAMN MANY non-generic niches, It was probbably the most replayable game in the world. I played 6 and 7 maybe 3 times each, and I just kept discovering more and more stuff I didn't find the previous times.

Then things started to go down. 7 Part II was nicer than 7 graphicswise, was as complex and full of niches as 7, but it was LINEAR. So much for a huge world you could explore at your leisure. You were now guided by the nose through the game.

Then came 8. Oh, the pain, the PAIN. Not only was it linear, it was DUMBED DOWN into oblivion. The game-world was no longer one large map.. rather, it was a series of "screens" you go from one to the other. 90% of the niches in the game unrelated to the plot were gone. Much of the gameplay was replaced by jumping puzzles that looked like a birdseye 2D tombraider-wannabe. And here, they put the good old Ultima atmosphere (with the mandolin music that followed when you were in the forest on the way to cove) to rest with 3 0.44 magnum shots to the forehead. Let's skip 8.

Enter 9. Gariott is no longer around. Still, 9 was a good try. Really, it was. The goal was in the right direction, and they were actually going for it. First, they put in the heaviest block, a 3D engine. Second, they got the atmosphere back, and they made an almost-successful attempt at bringing back the humongous world that was U7. But they fell short. There were no niches with side-quests and goodies to discover. There was no replayability. It was still linear. And there was no future - EA pulled the plug.

Then came UO, and EA decided they did not want me to be their client no more. They shut down all of Origin except for UO.

The genre was not completely lost though.
Two titles by other companies prevailed in my consiousness:

Elder Scrolls3: Morrowind made a shot at a humongous world. They did manage to get that right. But they went astray. There was no Garriot. No Lord British. There was no atmosphere. It was just an endless [beautiful] world of immensely over-recycled content, unbalanced gameplay, flat-as-a-plank characters and utterly boring [and endless] fed-ex quests that required spending too much of the game time on travel. The company who made it just wasn't Origin, it lacked a guide. And the game was a flop.

The one light that did indeed shine bright in the genre was Gothic. I truly salute the guys who made it. While it posed a slightly different atmosphere than Ultima, It was immersingly wonderful. The world was huge. The story thick, unpredictable, brutal at times. Real-world trust-noone and fend-for-yourself style. Main storyline put aside, the game world was accessible in an unlinear fassion.
And in a streak of genious, they took all the effort put into making the first game world, added a similar amount of effort to create a second, and had a world twice as big for Gothic II. Kudos guys.

Ultima genre aside, we come to the lancers. The wing-commander/privateer teams were stashed (and bought by M$), making Starlancer and Freelancer, games made by great devs, having the ability to soar, and trampled to garbage by executives with the intellect of a retarded coccaroach. Freelancer could have been a "Privateer 3", and could have borne the title proudly. It had it all. Graphics, missions, weapons, secret niches.
All but a decision to force down the plot on you at square one, drive you faster than you'd like towards its end, forcing you to finish it, then having you stuck in a beautiful humongous and largely-unexplored galaxy, with NO quests or goals of any kind save for random encounters and randimized generic missions to "go discover it" and make money you no longer need. Woohoo.
I'd love to meet the moron who made that call.
Or the one saying you can't take more than one mission at a time. DAMN. What was THAT good for?

I take solace in the fact that the team is still together, and maybe the executive who made those calls will be run over by a semi-trailer, and the next game will have these "minor gameplay" problems fixed.
Lancer games were scarce lately, though with Freespace and Freelancer, they seem to have a healthy, albeit slow, pulse.

OSI's final death throe is like the last breath of a person with cancer.

I acknowledge Origin for the wealth they brought to gaming, Times of Lore, The Ultimas and Ultima Underworlds, Strike Commander, Wing Commanders and Privateers. Your contribution was huge and groundbreaking. It was on the day the worlds you created were killed off, one by one, that your spirit died. The Origin that existed since was a living corpse, and today it finds its last rest.

Ashes to ashes, dust to dust.


Journal Journal: My Private Computer Game Obituary

I'm a long-time hardcore gamer, and if anything, since gaming challenged hollywood and the multibillion dollar market, games took 2 steps ahead in terms of graphics and storrytelling (quite a few titles I can recall host hollywood-class voice actors).
The problem lies in the 3 steps back the games took in complexity, technicallity and everything else that requires the gamer to actually use his brain. For me at least that spells L-E-S-S-F-U-N.

What's happening today is a collective takeover by large corps over many successful indipendant game makers, game makers who didn't make mass money but made very good games, at least as I, not an arcade gamer, am concerned. Said corps couldn't care less about me, as I'm not where the big money lies. The big money lies in pointa-clicka-no-thinka couch-potato arcade games, aka console games.

While earlier the arcade market co-existed with the more sophisticated PC game market, the big producers are all for buying out every last successful PC brand and its developer, and riding that brand into yet-another-dumbed-down-arcade-title. And since they're wielding the heavy paychecks, there's no way to resist them (other than to cause the vast majority of consumers to stop buying consoles, which doesn't seem like it's going to happen anytime soon).

I was outraged by Might and Magic 9. A wonderful technical hack-and-slash game that successfully earned its bread for 15 years.
I was saddened by Heroes of Might and Magic 4, which looked like HOMM3 only without half the widgets.
I was frustrated at Ion Storm having sold out to a ... console "RPG" (where you're done leveling up on the second level of the game, because the whole XP and leveling up scheme was too much on console gamers. Sure, Warren Spector could go on all day with how they wanted to make the "open endedness" the main feature of the game. Right. Warren Spector knows as well as we do that Deus Ex 1 was designed to be a good game. Deus Ex 2 was designed to milk money).
Unreal 2 wasn't even a game. It was an engine demo. Again, someone who wants money trying to call his product a "game". Wolf in sheep's clothing.
And the list goes on. Black Isle went under, and with it all hopes for not only technical, but sophisticated, well-made RPG's like Torment or the first two Fallouts.
Freelancer could have been a wonderful technical game, but some design decisions to dumb it down (not being able to take more than 1 mission at a time, forcing the plot on you _before_ you could explore the world), killed the game.

Since Deus Ex 1, I really can't name more than 3 _good_ sophisticated games that hit the market (Gothic I/II and Hitman II would top that list). I can name a lot of glamorous-graphics ones like Max Payne II, but sophisticated? Zilch. Nada.

Recent game-related news lay my suspicions out clearly: people with my expectation of a game are a dying breed, and 'good' sophisticated games - From Star Control 2, to Ultima 7, to Privateer and to Deus Ex 1 - won't be around no more.

Ashes to Ashes, Dust to Dust.

Bell Labs Unix -- Reach out and grep someone.