Tag Archives: Nostalgia

Return to a LEGO Galaxy Far, Far Away

The age of the gaming console has pretty much faded in our house.  We have had a Wii for more than eight years now, but it has been mostly collecting dust for the last few years.  The last thing I did with it was bring up Pokemon Ranch to get back all the Pokemon I had stored in it last summer during my Pokemon binge.  I am pretty sure I could pack the unit, the controllers, and all the games up in a box and store them away without anybody in the house protesting.

Our PlayStation 3, now four years in the house, gets more attention.  Hooked up to our TV, it gets used to play BluRay movies or stream content from Netflix and Amazon Prime.

Video games though?  Not so much.  Little Big Planet, once my daughter’s favorite thing ever, the game that got her to leave the Wii behind, hasn’t been played in ages.  The last games that got played on the unit were the short bout with the poor PS3 port of Dragon Age: Inquisition and a bit of Diablo III, picked up with a GameStop gift card my daughter got for Christmas.  Those were both very brief encounters.

The mojo had clearly gone from our console gaming.

As I waxed nostalgic around Christmas about the days back when my daughter would wake me up early on Saturday mornings so we could jump in the Love Sac and play Mario Party 8 or Mario Kart Double Dash or LEGO Star Wars on the Wii, my wife decided that we might be due for a replacement.  Our late cat Trixie kept peeing on the Love Sac, so we had to get rid of it, and with it went what seemed to be an essential part of our console gaming mix; the ability to lounge comfortably on something close to the TV.

My wife decided to fix this, so got me a six foot Cozy Sack for my birthday back in March.  A discount competitor to Love Sac, it cost about a third as much as a Love Sac of comparable size and delivers about 80-90% of the experience.

With that, I decided to see if I could tempt my daughter back into playing video games with me on Saturday morning.  Not early Saturday morning… neither of us are keen to get up early these days… but at the more reasonable, post-breakfast hour.  But what game to choose?

Looking through our small-ish collection of PlayStation 3 titles… at least relative to our Wii collection… I decided to go with a classic.  Back when we bought the PS3, I decided to get a couple titles that we already had on the Wii so I could compare the game play.  One of those was LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga.

PlayStation version

PlayStation version

While we had to played the first LEGO Star Wars and LEGO Star Wars: The Original Trilogy, (Game Cube versions for both) when the LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga came out we had to have it on launch day and we played the hell out of it.

So I loaded it up, jumped into the Cozy Sack and called my daughter to come play with me.

It didn’t really work.  She came over and watched me play for a bit, but then went back to whatever she was doing.  My wife watched for much longer, but was not inclined to pick up a controller and join me.  But I was comfy and enjoying myself, so I persisted.  I have done a few levels every weekend and have been enjoying myself quite a bit.

The game has held up for me very well.  Part of that is its simplicity.

Traveller’s Tales has put out quite a list of LEGO games at this point.  We have LEGO Batman, both LEGO Indiana Jones titles, both LEGO Harry Potter titles, LEGO Pirates of the Caribbean, LEGO Star Wars IIILEGO Lord of the Rings, and The LEGO Movie game.

As the years have gone by and new titles have been released, Traveller’s Tales has worked to keep the series fresh by adding in new features and new mechanics.  Viewed from that angle, LEGO Star Wars: The Complete Saga feels more than a bit clunky.  Everything is jump or shoot or light sabre or use the force with a special mode events appearing very infrequently.

On the flip side though, this is still the culmination of Traveller’s Tales “getting” what makes their LEGO game series great.  After two tries, where the original LEGO Star Wars was too much of a hard core video game and The Original Trilogy still showed some tuning was needed, it felt like they finally got the basic model for their LEGO games down with this one.

So, going back to that early model of the LEGO game idea was refreshing.  A lot of what I said about the game in the past still holds true, including it being perfectly fine on a PS3 controller versus using the Wii Remote.  And, while only running at 720p, it looks much better than the 480p Wii version, not to mention not being rendered in a way that makes the universe far, far away look like it was just buffed to a high gloss finish.

I am at the 40% mark according to the game, with only two episodes left undone.  When I wrap those up I’ll have to decide if I want to go back and find all the mini kits and get the True Jedi achievement on each level, not to mention unlocking all the characters that you have to buy.

 

A Sad Day for Sims

Upon seeing the news about Maxis yesterday, I realized that I had probably not sat down and really played a game from Maxis this century.

I bought a copy of SimCity 2000 from GoG.com for some tiny price back when EA/Maxis was busy shooting itself in the foot with the latest SimCity.  That was the last game in the series I could recall having played.  And I put SimCity 4 on my Steam wishlist and a reader actually bought it for me. (Thank you again!)  But I never managed to sit down and focus on playing either for any real length of time.  The crude graphics and the awkward interfaces of both chased me away pretty quickly.  Minecraft seems more palatable to me these days than either of those.  And I certainly wasn’t going to give EA any money for their latest version.

And without SimCity, what is there when it comes to Maxis?

Well, I guess there is The Sims, the best selling game series ever and probably the one reason that there is still a Maxis left to shut down in 2015.  EA seem dumb, evil, and heartless… often on the same day… but they do love the sound of money.  It’s just a good thing they haven’t figured out how to make money via malware or we would… oh, wait, I forgot about Origin.  Never mind.

However, I never played The Sims, aside from a brief dalliance with the Facebook version, back when that was how all game companies were going to get rich like Zynga, and we saw how that turned out.

And your father smelt of elderberries...

My usual interaction options with Tobold… we flirt shamelessly

And if I understand the history correctly, EA had already brought The Sims into their Redwood Shores lair, placing it directly under their control before letting it return to the Maxis logo, creating a taint that explained to some why The Sims 4 seemed like a step back from The Sims 3 in many ways.  So that wasn’t going to keep Maxis viable any more.  EA could just snatch The Sims back any time they felt like it.

Fun Created Here!

Fun Created Here!

And without The Sims, that left Maxis with… um… SimCity 2013 and… Spore maybe?  Talk about a couple of titles that failed to live up to expectations.  I didn’t even know that Spore had a follow-on game, which was even more poorly received.

So I suppose the real question is why it took EA so long to finally shut Maxis down and close their no doubt pricey digs across the bay in Emeryville. (I had a job interview right around the corner from Maxis back in 2010, with another company that is no longer around.)

Still, I feel some lingering nostalgia for Maxis.  I remember back when the original SimCity came out, when it was something new and different and people were struggling with the idea of it being a game because there was no obvious win condition.  Some were insisting we call it a computer “toy” or some other ambiguous title.

SimCity back in the day

SimCity back in the day

Back then I played many, many hours of SimCity.  Likewise with SimCity 2000 (which like a lot of games of its era, was much better on Mac OS).  I would let my city run while I was in the other room or at work (with disasters turned off naturally) to build up a tax base and then spend the evening expanding my domain and fighting off fires and alien invasions, all while trying to keep my ungrateful population happy enough to not flee the city.  I’ll tax you little bastards back to the stone age!  I remember the music especially, the jolly, bouncing, honky tonk tones of a happy thriving city or, more commonly, that trudging, day-to-day, we’re just getting by melody.  Is the SimCity 2000 sound track available on iTunes?

I am pretty sure I also bought SimCity 3000, but can only recall a mild sense of disappointment.  Plus it came out in 1999 when EverQuest pretty much owned my play time.

A bunch of other “Sim” games came from Maxis over the years, none of which really appealed to me.  Looking at the list of Maxis games, there are a lot of titles there that I let pass on by.  I think Maxis might have been ahead of their time in some ways.  SimFarm, as an example, was never a hit back in the day, but Farming Simulator has sold millions of copies on Steam.  Gaff can’t get enough of that one.  The simulation craze came too late for Maxis.

The only other Maxis titles I can muster much nostalgia for are RoboSport and Marble Drop.

RoboSport was a simultaneous move, multiplayer combat game, something of a precursor to the Combat Mission series of games, where both sides give their units instructions during the orders phase, then both sides act on those order at the same time during the combat phase.  For a season, when we were not playing Full Metal Mac or Bolo or NetTrek, it was the after work game of choice.

Then there was Marble Drop, which was probably the last Maxis game I purchased.  It apparently got poor reviews, but I recall it as being a fun little puzzle game that I played all the way through… though time may have fuzzed the edges of those memories.

A level in Marble Drop

A level in Marble Drop

And that is about it for the history of Maxis as viewed through the prism of my experience.  They mostly made games which I did not play.  Then they were acquired by EA which kept them around a lot longer than some other studios they have purchased.  But now Maxis has joined the list of the departed, along with Mythic, Origin, Kesmai, Westwood, Pandemic, and Bullfrog.

You can argue over whether Electronic Arts buys studios that were destined to die anyway or, if by buying them, EA destroys them on its own.  Either way, there does seem to be a pretty strong correlation between being bought by EA and being shut down by EA.

But the world of video games is volatile and it isn’t like the only studios that shut down are the ones owned by EA.  So we say farewell to Maxis and wish good luck to those who are now out there looking for a job.

I feel like I have been writing a lot of these nostalgic/memory/milestone/obituary posts lately.  What is up with 2015?

On Departures from Our Corner of the Web

MMOs are a strange sub-genre of video games.  As noted this month… and just about every month… it is tough to even define what an MMO is.  People claim some things are MMOs that meet almost none of what I would consider the baseline requirements, while Smed was trying to tell us that H1Z1 wasn’t an MMO despite the fact that it seems to meet nearly all the criteria I would use to make that determination.

And how many video game sub-genres get this much focus?

If you want to find video game news sites, they are plentiful, as are sites that narrow that down to games on a specific platform.

Or, if you want to find a site that focuses on a specific title or series of games, that seems pretty doable.

But when you start talking about video-game subgenres… action RPGs or text adventures or turn-based strategy or simulations… the sites start to get a little niche.

MMOs though… MMOs are a little different.  We have had sites and magazines and columns in major publications dedicated to just our own favorite genre.

Michael Zenke's old column at 1Up.com

Michael Zenke’s old column at 1Up.com

I started this site at the height of what I would call the golden age of MMO blogging.  It was the VirginWorlds podcast era, a show that brought a lot of people together and was, in a way, emblematic of the time.  Brent could climb into the converted sauna that served as his recording studio and bang out about an hour of content once a week that would really cover all the important news we wanted to hear.

MMOs were all about success back then, they made lots of money, and the few oddball titles that got closed were clearly going down because of bad design or bad execution.  World of Warcraft, while already wildly distorting the measure of success in the genre, seemed to herald continued growth and endless possibilities.  People wanted to talk about them, argue over them, and most of all, hear about the next great thing that was sure to come.

And I think that all of this came about because MMOs are such a social video game genre.

A lot more people played FarmVille than any MMO, and a lot more probably play Candy Crush Saga.  But if you meet somebody else who plays one of those games, there generally isn’t a ton of excitement over it.

But if I meet somebody who plays an MMO that I play, it has to become “what server, what class, what level, do you know so-and-so, how about the next update/expansion they are talking about” and so on.  (And if I meet somebody who plays EVE Online, just go away for an hour or two, because we have to figure out how we are linked… and we always are in some odd way… in New Eden.)

And the social nature of our hobby has led us to have almost an over abundance of site covering MMOs.  We have MMORPG.com, Ten Ton Hammer, MMO Champion and Massively all trying to cover all aspects of the genre as well as a host of sites that drill down and concentrate of smaller aspects.  There is such an array of choices that I cut back the MMO news site feeds to what I considered the bare essentials.  The MMO news sites in my reader today are:

  • Massively – Nearly all things MMO
  • MMO Fallout – Filled in the corners for NCsoft and Jagex and a few other topics
  • WoW Insider – Everything I needed to know about WoW
  • EQ2 Wire – Everything anybody sane needs to know about EverQuest II
  • The Mittani and EVE News 24 – All EVE Online, with comedic juxtaposition

However, as we learned today, that list is getting the chopped by two very soon.

Rumors had already been floating around about how AOL was going to shut down Joystiq and all sites under the Joystiq domain, a domain that includes both Massively and WoW Insider.  (WoW Insider was WoW.com for a brief moment in time before AOL thought the domain was better off hosting a half-assed Groupon clone… which they later closed.)

MassivelyWoWInsiderLogosAnd so it goes.  Massively came on the scene towards the end of 2007 and was staffed by a lot of names familiar to me, like Michael Zenke and Mike Schramm… and other people not named “Mike.”

If you go back to the first snapshot of the site over at the Internet Archieve, it is fun to see what they opened up with; Tabula Rasa, Echoes of Faydwer for EQ2, EVE Online, whether or not there was going to be a Knights of the Old Republic based MMO, and, of course, Second Life!  I remember people complaining about there being too damn much Second Life coverage on Massively for the first year or so.  And, of course, the Welcome to Massively post, which laid out the intentions for the site.  The first paragraph:

This is it. The design is in place, our bloggers are trained and at the ready, and the password has been lifted from the site. Our brand new blog, Massively, is now live and ready for your perusal, your comments, your tips, and your eyeballs. Here, you’ll find breaking news about MMO games both upcoming and established, insightful and wisecracking commentary about your favorite worlds, tips on how to get all your characters in all those universes the best they can be, and the high level of quality you’ve come to expect from WoW Insider, Second Life Insider, Joystiq and the Fanboy network. This is Massively, and welcome to it.

That was still in the heyday of MMO blogs and for a couple of GDCs up in San Francisco, meeting up with Brent and a couple people from Massively and other members of our blogging circle would be something of a tradition. (pictures from 2008, 2009, 2010)

So it is a sad moment as we bid farewell to both Massively and WoW Insider.  But that is the nature of life and the web and blogging.  People show up for a season, we interact, and maybe they stay longer or maybe they move on… but we all move on eventually.  And so we remember two sites about to depart.  They will both go away on February 3rd… Tuesday… Patch day.

  • WoW Insider – November 2005 to February 2015
  • Massively – November 2007 to February 2015

Others in our little corner… and outside of it as well… are also writing about Massively and WoW Insider.

Now who is going to fix all my links to both sites so they hit the Internet Archive instead of whatever doubtless horrible site will end up in their place?

And who should be in my feed now?

And, finally, the only thing I am sure AOL will be remembered for.

Addendum: The farewell posts for Massively and WoW Insider are up.

Progression, Nostalgia, and Special Servers

One of the questions that comes up all the time in the EverQuest forums is when will SOE launch the next progression server?  It may be the most popular question on the Progression Server sub-forum.

Second place goes to people asking for a Classic server, though those questions are somewhat undermined by both the fact that they are off-topic in that sub-forum and that there is nothing like an agreed upon definition of what a Classic server would actually include.  It ranges from just launch content out to the Planes of Power expansion, though there are a couple of voices that would stretch thing to just shy of Gates of Discord.

So the two most popular topics seem to be about getting a new special EverQuest server from SOE.

And why not?  SOE has something of a history with special servers for EverQuest, going all the way back to the initial PvP server to the first progression servers, The Combine and The Sleeper, which rolled out in June of 2006, to the Mayong 51/50 server back in 2009, to the current Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr servers, with their time locked rule sets, which went live in February 2011.

Foggy, foggy Fippy

Foggy, foggy Fippy

So the assumption is that of course SOE is going to roll another one, it is just a question of when.  When will SOE roll out the next progression server?

My gut response to that is “never.”

There are lots of arguments for such a server.  It brings people back to the game.  It rewards long term fans.  It is popular, illustrated by the fact that both times they have done a progression server they have had to roll a second server to accommodate demand.  And in a time when the game is free to play, a luxury item like a special nostalgia server seems like a reasonable way to boost revenue.

On the flip side of all of that there is the problem with nostalgia.  That driving sense of nostalgia often doesn’t last long beyond the point when you return to the time/place/song you were nostalgic for.  I have read a couple of articles about how the internet is going to kill nostalgia as a sensation before too long.  When you have access to what amounts to a historically unprecedented amount of information in the comfort of your own home, the moment you feel nostalgic for something, you can track it down on the internet and watch/listen/read all there is available about, to the point that the sensation is sated.  Having access to the thing for which you are nostalgic replaces nostalgia with reality.  And, often times, the reality includes the downside, the reason the world moved on or the series got cancelled or that you never bought that band’s second or third album.

After "Vacation" there wasn't much point...

After “Vacation” there wasn’t much point…

So while the progression servers… or any special servers… tend to start off strong.  Things taper off over time.  Fippy Darkpaw was packed when it opened and remained popular for the first few expansions.

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

Crowd on the Kunark Dock

After a while though, the feeling begins fade.  Potshot and I joined in on the fun and were quite invested for a while, visiting many old locations in the game.  And while the great PSN/SOE hacking episode of April 2011 knocked us off the path, that episode might have done us a favor.  We ran around a little bit more after that, but for me at least, content after Kunark is still flagged as “that new stuff” in my brain, so our progress was arrested before we made ourselves sick on nostalgia.

But nostalgia does wear off.  And so it is that the question “When will Fippy Darkpaw and Vulak’Aerr be merged?” might be the third most common question on the progression server sub-forum.  In hindsight, SOE probably should have just bit the bullet and stuck with a single server, especially based on the history they had with The Combine and The Sleeper, which had to be merged less than a year into their lives, because now things are very quiet on both servers.

Unless you are in one of the raiding guilds.  They still play, racing to unlock each expansion and then hanging around, farming gear, until the next expansion.  But they are playing their own game and the rest of the server could be empty and it would not bother them.

So nostalgia wears out or the server advances to the point where the current expansion is no longer nostalgia and you end up with something more akin to a special raiding preserve as opposed to a home for old school players.

Thus I think that, given the cost of maintaining such a server and the limited pool of personnel that SOE has to devote to such tasks (as opposed to working on EverQuest Next) I think we may have seen the last special EverQuest server out of SOE.  Smed isn’t going to overtly point you to Project 1999, but SOE hasn’t shown much interest in stamping out such private servers of late either.

And what other game would be prime for such a nostalgia server?  EverQuest is somewhat unique in that not only were there a lot of expansions, but that expansions tended to leave old zones alone.  Blackburrow today looks pretty much like it did back in 1999.

Certainly World of Warcraft would spring to mind for many, but Blizzard effectively shut down that idea when Cataclysm reworked the original game.  There are parts of the old world that were no doubt better for the change, but you cannot go home again.  There is nostalgia for original vanilla WoW in part because you can’t go there any more, and Blizzard isn’t going to support two clients just so you can go back in time.

And what other games would be prime for nostalgia.  RuneScape has an old school server up now, and Dark Age of Camelot did one in the past.  But most other MMOs are too young or have changed so much that the work to create anything like a nostalgia server would make the whole thing a non-starter.  Lord of the Rings Online still delivers about the same experience for the first 40 levels, so who needs a different sort of server.  A few people pine for the early days of EverQuest II, but how would you even roll back to that?

Then there are games like EVE Online, where there is only the one server.

I asked in a post just about two years back if SOE was going to be the sole vendor of a nostalgic MMO experience.  Now I wonder if even they will keep that up.

But then there will be nostalgia.

Maybe, at some point, way down the road, nostalgia will become a viable business decision for some MMOs.

What sort of special server would you want to see?  What game should have a nostalgia server some day?

Stellar Emperor Remake

I have written a bit in the past about the Kesmai game MegaWars III, which ran on CompuServe, and its twin on GEnie, Stellar Emperor.

It always raise somebody’s ire when I call them twins.  They were, in fact, as close as twins when I was playing Stellar Emperor back in 1986, back when I was actually winning in online games.  (It has been all down hill for me since then.)

Once they called ME emperor!

However, Stellar Emperor began to diverge from MegaWars III not too long after that, and by around 1990 they were as different as chalk and some sort of dairy product.

MegaWars III basically sat still in time and remained pretty much the same through to the end of its run… and the end of CompuServe’s run… in 1999, thus spanning about 15 years online.  So when, a couple of years back, Crimson Leaf Games decided to recreate MegaWars III, it was pretty recognizable to those who played the original.

I'm in space! Can you even tell?

I’m in space! Can you even tell?

Meanwhile Stellar Emperor changed.  GEnie seemed much more interested in getting graphic front ends into their online game offerings.  Things like Air Warrior were the direction they wanted to go, and Kesmai seemed keen to oblige them, bringing Stellar Emperor along for the ride.  By about 1990 Stellar Emperor would have been practically unrecognizable to a MegaWars III player.  Game mechanics were changed, ships were slimmed down to a series of pre-set sizes, not unlike what Kesmai did in Stellar Warrior (which is the game some MegaWars III players think I am referring to at times when I write about Stellar Emperor), commands were changed or simplified.

And then there was the front end software.

If I recall right, you could still play the game from the terminal interface like the original… at least you could the last time I tried, which would have been in the 1990/1991 time frame.  But the front end client could be used and was there to make the game both more visually interesting and accessible.  And given the state of gaming as viewed from the command line interface these days… what do we have, MUDs, some Roguelikes, and maybe a few other retro experiences hiding in various corners… it was the way to go.  Friendlier graphical user interfaces were the way to go.

And that is about where my personal timeline with GEnie and CompuServe ends.  Oddly, that is about the time where I started dealing with them professionally, but that is another tale altogether and does not involve any online games.

So my memories are of a time when these games were as about as sophisticated as minimal vt52 terminal emulation would allow.  I think of the blinking cursor and arcane commands like “imp 200,100” and text scrolling off the top of the screen, never to be seen again.  And it seemed quite natural, from a nostalgia perspective, to recreate such games from that era with a command line interface, though with the web you can always put in buttons for those of us who cannot remember all of those old commands.

Buttons!  I need something to help with scouting though

Crimson Leaf Games added buttons

And who wants to create a new GUI client for this sort of thing which must have a pretty small audience?

Well, somebody does.  I managed to wrest a message from the horrible new Yahoo web mail interface sent to me to announce that there is a remake of Stellar Emperor under way.  And it is not an attempt to redo the original, 1986 vintage command line version either.  This will be a shot at the GUI client version of the game that ran through the 1990s until the game was shut down by Electronic Arts in 2000. (Electronic Arts motto: We buy game studios and kill them.)

Cosmic Ray Games, LLC is the name of the group working on this project.  They have a site up, the game is in beta, there is a client you can download, and a reasonable amount of detail is available.  Their FAQ describes Stellar Emperor as:

Stellar Emperor is an online 4X (explore, expand, exploit, and exterminate) MMORTS strategy game. It maintains a periodically (usually 4 weeks) persistent universe in which a player colonizes planets and forms teams to compete against others real players. You Explore the galaxy to find planets to manage and build your resources, form teams or alliances to help further your survival, gather intelligence on your enemies, and use your resources to defend yourself or to weaken or eliminate your enemies.

There are several elements that make Stellar Emperor a fun and unique gaming experience, which include:

  • You only play against other real people, no NPCs to waste time on grinding.
  • A periodically persistent universe.
  • All events occur in real-time, whether you are online or not, no waiting for turns.
  • The world has a strict time limit in which you have to earn your way to winning any of the various titles.
  • All players start each war on an even basis. The game can only become uneven for the duration of an individual war, not eternally.
  • You command several planets to do your bidding.
  • You can build for growth and score, or you can build for war to take from others.
  • Build ships or supplies to defend yourself, attack others, or gain an advantage in combat.

You can win a specific title in a war:

  • Emperor – Leader of the winning team.
  • President – Player with the highest planetary score.
  • Warlord – The player with the best overall adjusted combat score.
  • Ravager – The player most successful and attacking other player’s planets.

Combined, these elements create an environment where players must work together to achieve their goals and overcome adversities presented by the other players vying for the same goals, winning the game! You will see expansive battles, strategy execution, conflict, and teamwork as all players battle their way for the top spots.

Given the speed of the game, I might not describe Stellar Emperor using the “RTS” acronym.  It may literally be true, but when you think of an RTS game, you are more likely to imagine StarCraft, which takes minutes to hours to play as opposed to a game that runs out over a four week time frame.  But then it isn’t like an ongoing, persistent universe MMO like EVE Online either, since it does reset every four weeks.

The update I received reported that the game was at about 95% functionality.   There are some screen shots, which I stole, and guides to playing the game on the media page of their site.

While I am interested in general about this sort of nostalgic revival of older games, I am probably not going to jump on this one quite yet.  As noted above, this is really a poke at something that was after my time with the game.  And EVE Online seems to be filling my need for internet spaceships at the moment.  But I will keep an eye on this and will be interested to hear if anybody else gives it a try.

Quote of the Day – Commandments of Online Worlds

Thou shalt not mistake online worlds for games, for they encompass far more; nor shalt thou forget that play is noble, and game is no epithet.

Raph Koster, The Commandments of Online Worlds

A little over seven years ago Raph wrote his commandments post.  It, and the resulting discussion in comments, feels like it is from another era.  Of course, it is from before Zynga and gamification and free to play as the default revenue model, back when the idea of a virtual world had meaning to a lot more people.

I was reminded of this post because I was listening to VirginWorlds postcast #17 this morning.  The show itself is a nice time capsule, having gone live back in July 2006.  Brent talks about DarkFall, EA buying Mythic and what that could portend, The Burning Crusade expansion that was set to come out six months later, along with a discussion of subscription numbers and what they mean.  Or meant.

Five Games I Want to See Revamped

The announcement that Hidden Path is doing a revamp of Age of Empires II, along with such refreshes as Baldur’s Gate Enhanced Edition, naturally made me think about what other games ought to get cleaned up and brought forward into the current age.

Here are the five that I want to see.

1 – Civilization II

Civilization II remains my favorite version of Civilization.  I have continued playing this through all the follow up versions.  There is a simplicity to it that gets lost in the later games that I find quite endearing.  And by reports I am not alone in continuing to play.  One of the most popular posts on the blog is about how to get Civ II to run on Windows 7 64-bit.

Which, of course, brings up the question of why it even needs an update if it runs already.  It doesn’t even look horrible and thanks to the Microsoft programming doctrines of the time, it runs in a window that resizes to whatever screen resolution you need.

A simpler time...

A simpler time…

Well, it runs, but not without difficulty at times.  You have to get the right version of the game and use somebody’s home grown patch to get it to run on 64-bit.  And you still need the CD in the drive to play, and I’ll admit right now that I managed to lose mine… again.  And there are a number of long standing AI issues that could be cleared up along the way.

Basically, I would like to buy a fresh copy that works on my machine.  I don’t care if it comes from Steam or GOG.com, I will make that purchase.

Why It Won’t Happen

The game was published back when Sid Meier was doing games for the now defunct MicroProse, so I am not even sure who owns the rights to the code itself, though Sid did manage to wrest the Civ name from them.  Sort of.  There were issues.  And even if Sid and Firaxis owned the rights free and clear, they would much rather you buy Civilization V and some of their DLC than some code that is going on 20 years old here.

2 – Diablo

Again, back to a simpler time.  My first thought was Diablo II, but that actually runs on my system okay and doesn’t look that bad.  So no work to be done there.  But the first game in the series?

I can almost get the original Diablo running on my machine.  There are a couple of tricks to getting the palettes to load correctly.  The game loads, you can play for a bit, but it is about as happy as a summoned demon about the whole thing.  The palettes are muddy, the lighting clearly has another agenda, and things lock up at inopportune moments.  And the whole thing is presented in a very chunky 640×480 on my big monitor.

A simpler time... in HELL

A simpler time… in HELL

But it is nearly there.  You can just get a taste.  You can hear the sound effects.  You get a sense for a moment how dark and moody the caverns under Tristam were.  I think a rework of this would do well.  And, of course, Blizzard owns it all and could roll a fresh version is the desired.  I would subscribe to another year of WoW to get it.

Why It Won’t Happen

I see a vision of Mike Morhaime explaining how Diablo III is really the superior product while dismissing the idea of a rework of the original.  Blizzard never moves backwards.  Old products get some support, but once a new version is out, the old one is pretty much dead to them.  This is why there will never be an official version of the WoW Emerald Dream server.  Blizzard just doesn’t do that.

Plus, I am not sure I would trust Blizzard with this.  They didn’t even make the original.  That was the long-gone team at Blizzard North.

3 – Bolo

At this point I suspect that most of you are going, “Huh?  What is Bolo?”

Bolo was a fun little networked tank game on the Mac back when adding network capabilities to your typical DOS box took an expensive package from Novell.  Created by brilliant networking programmer Stuart Cheshire, we used to play this for hours on Friday nights at the office.  There was an interface that allowed people to create AIs to drive players, and we would set up a series of AI boxes in the lab and have horrible, bloody, never ending battles.  Great stuff.

WinBolo

WinBolo

Why It Won’t Happen

Nobody could make any money from it.  Mr. Cheshire said he was done with it ages ago, but I don’t think that means he’ll let other people take it over.  And, honestly, as a game, it had some issues with coming to a final resolution.  It was hard to win.  Basically, one team generally grew tired first and gave up.  And if it was AIs versus humans, well, the AIs never got tired.

4 – Auto Duel

Autoduel was the great mid-80s computer game manifestation of Car Wars from Steve Jackson Games.  It took the vehicular combat game and forced it into the computer RPG mold quite successfully.  There was an unfolding story and goals and side tasks and character development and buying new crap to bolt onto your car all wrapped into one game.

Autoduel

Autoduel

I spent hours sitting in front of my Apple II playing this game.  It was great.  What could possibly go wrong.

Why It Won’t Happen

Well, to start with, it was an Apple ][ game. (Along with other such now defunct 80s computer platforms.)  You cannot, would not, should not literally translate it to a version that runs on today’s machines.  Which means that you would need to re-imagine it in the way that the Wasteland 2 group is trying to redo Wasteland.  But I have my doubts on that.  It might be that this (and Wasteland) were only great in the context of the limited computer hardware we had at the time.  And… you know… Auto Assault.

Plus, if that weren’t enough, Steve Jackson Games owns the rights and doesn’t seem to have any interest in such a venture, seeming content to work on their own board game nostalgia instead.

5 – EverQuest

This one is probably the least realistic as well as being the one to which people are most likely to take offense.

Here we are, the day before EverQuest’s 14th birthday.  The game has a huge amount of content added in over 19 different expansions.  It has grown, expanded, and adapted over time, first setting trends and later following them.  It has gone free to play, so money isn’t even a barrier to playing the game.

SOE has worked to remove many barriers to getting people to play one of the great MMORPGs of the 20th century.  But one huge barrier still remains.

The client.

I don’t mind the bad linoleum textures, the primitive animations, the intermittent sounds, the decrepit character models, or some of the crazy, grindy game play.

Never an immersion breaking name in EQ!

Textures gone wild

But every time I go back to play the game, wrestling with the damn client is a royal pain.  They have tried to bring it up to date or to adhere to conventions that came into fashion for MMOs after it shipped.  Things like WASD movement keys as a default.

And they have managed it quite well.  But the client feels like it has too many features stuffed into it, while still showing some of the flaws it had back in 1999.  For example, how frickin’ big does the contact area around my character need to be.  I am constantly trying to click on something off to one side of him and ending up with him as the selection.

So I dream of an all new client, designed and built from scratch that delivers a smooth and modern user experience.  And it pains me to say that, as the cardinal sin of every young, and many old, programmers is the heartfelt need to reject anybody elses code, opting to rewrite things from scratch.  But I cannot get to my desired state by continuing to pile on to the old code base.  A fresh start is needed.

In my mind, I see what is essentially EQ running with WoW’s client.

But I would accept the EverQuest II client frankly.

Why It Won’t Happen

There is no money in it.  Having gone free to play, if it doesn’t come from the cash shop, it doesn’t bring in any money.  The only exceptions are subscriptions and expansions.  The client is free to download.

And, of course, even if there were money in it, it would be a huge operation and many a company has gone under rewriting code rather than pushing forward with new features on top of old spaghetti.  See Netscape.   The costs would be huge, and the benefits likely marginal at best.  And I may want a better EQ client, but I suspect I am in a slim minority.  Plus, how well did such revamps serve other games in the past?

Other Games

Of course, there were other games that came to mind.  I was tempted to list any version of SimCity besides the current one, just becauseGetFudgedPopulation FTW!  But we already have SimCity 4 on Steam.

I was also wondering about Ultima III and the original Wizardry.  But I suspect that neither would make good games today.  Or they might make fine iOS/Android games, but not something that would compare favorably to what we have available now on our desktops.  Basically, almost anything from the pre-Macintosh or pre-Windows era is likely mired in the time before GUI and has to be re-imagined to be brought forward.  Only dedicated hobbyists are likely to show any interest in games from that time.

Still, that does leave a good gap in time, and a whole pile of games that do adhere to at least some of the standards to which we have become accustomed and which could be reworked, polished up, and re-released.

What else should be on the list?  What would you like to see reworked and brought up to date?