Thursday, September 15, 2005

Other Worlds

I remember the first time I played Zork on my dad’s apple //c way back when I was a very young child, still living at my parents’ first house in Abilene. I didn’t even know what I was doing. I was lost and confused and had no idea that all I had to do was tell it what to do. It is one of the greatest games ever made. To this day I still yank out Beyond Zork and give it a quick play through every so often, when the mood strikes.

Before Zork, the only games I knew were Space Quarks, Q-Bert, and Galaga. It revolutionized the way I thought of gaming. Funny thing was, THIS was the game that came first. Things have sort of always gone kind of backwards for computer games, and a lot of it has to do with the way they’re perceived, with the people who spend the most money on them, and a general lack of understanding of their potential, which is only recently beginning to head in the direction of being realized again. Every medium struggles to maintain its art in the face of commercialism, not that commercialism isn’t art or doesn’t produce art, but when it does it is very rare. In that way though, all good things are rare, regardless of the breeding ground for them.

Indigo Prophecy is a stepping-stone, it’s closer than lots of other games have ever come to being a story that includes and unfolds around your character without feeling contrived. When you fail, it feels like an ending, and you replay that segment. It’s not the end of the game, just an ending that is not optimal. This is a really awesome idea, and it’s been done before, if not recently. It can be done better, but the idea that greater effort is given greater reward, but that you are not punished for not putting that effort into a product is the way to go. It makes everyone happy.

Other games have gone far in advancing video gaming as a medium for telling incredible stories that incorporate and evolve around the actions of the player. Knights of the Old Republic I & II, Planescape: Torment, Gothic 1 & 2, to a lesser extent Deus Ex and Deus Ex: Invisible War. There are others of course. The player is rewarded for playing in your own style by getting an experience different from someone who plays with another style or goal, and yet still unfolding as though the overall course of events to tell a very powerful story.

To see new games heading in this direction is moving, after years of stagnation, it helps put aside the worry that games aren’t going anywhere. When Half Life came out several years ago, it broke new ground in story telling that hadn’t been touched till Doom III came out, and even still, it is not quite on par. Half Life 2 came really close. In 6 years that’s a total of 2 games that followed suit after a groundbreaking new kind of story telling experience has been discovered. F.E.A.R. comes out very soon, and it looks like it may be a very similar game. That’s exciting. After six years, three games that use this new near unbroken experience show up at once.

Maybe one day soon, there will be more real advancement. Till then, what gamers have now is awesome, and re-playable. Viva la révolution! Viva Zork!

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