Game Reviews,  The Lazy Designer

A Sense of Wonder

I do not like massively multi-player games.
But one of my favorite games of all times was Ultima Online.
If you are scratching your head and wondering at this contradiction, bear with me and prepare yourself for a ramble.

New Experiences

I grew up in the 80-90s and witnessed the birth and development of the videogame industry. I went from playing simple, yet fun, games on my Adam (and learning to code my own games) to playing less simple but still fun games on a couple different Tandy computers.

And what did I play? Everything I could get my hands on. Every game was a experience, offering a new style of gameplay and new methods of user interaction. I still remember my shock hearing music and voice in The Dagger of Amon Ra! I actually thought there was something wrong with my ears when I heard the monks in that game chanting for the first time.

And then playing the Wing Commander games and the later Sierra titles, feeling like I was being involved in interactive cartoons. To today’s generation of gamers the production values of these games would probably be laughable but I felt I was watching miracle after miracle unfold.

Multi-player, not so much

The few games I played that had multi-player components were initially exciting but never really thrilled me the way the single player games did. The one exception I can still recall would be Trade Wars, which we played on a local BBS. There were only a handful of players and the game quickly went out of balance but I still remember having fun building an empire that others could interact with.

For me the novelty of the experience was the most exciting part as the games I played continued to surprise me.

Ultima Online

I was a big fan of the Ultima series and when Ultima Online was announced I was ecstatic. I joined the beta test (still have the pin and cd from that!) and was mesmerized by the game.

So, why does Ultima Online resonate with me and newer games do not? Probably because it was the first experience I had with engaging in real-time (and chatting) with people from other parts of the world. But more importantly it was the ability to change the world. I could buy a building and place it and when I logged off for the night that building would STILL BE THERE for other players to see. That was mind boggling to me. Sure there was combat and experience and progression but actually building and selling things and creating a tangible presence in a virtual world was fascinating. I could talk for hours about the millions of little experiences I had in Ultima Online (but I won’t).

And World of Warcraft? I was given a copy of it to play while I was with BioWare. It is a great game, a well crafted game. But it is a game I had played already. There was nothing new to it for me. And lots had been taken away, specifically being able to create buildings.

What I did like about WOW was exploring the world and I think I would have been more hooked if I hadn’t been able to do that exploration as a ghost. One of the first things I did after dying for the second or third time was travel the entire world as a spirit and check out all the environments. After that there was little exploration remaining for me.

But not being able to change the world prevented me from really engaging with World of Warcraft (and the other games like it).

Where to now?

Are there still surprises left to be had? What is it about the more popular games that attracts so much attention? Clearly multi-player is important for many — World of Warcraft is really a social experience.

Or is novelty/new experiences even needed or important or possible now?

Former lead designer at BioWare (Dragon Age: Origins, Neverwinter Nights). Creator of Raiders of the Serpent Sea.