Experienced Points: Games that Time Forgot

By Shamus
on Mar 25, 2011
Filed under:
Column

Last week we talked about Serious Issues Affecting Our Industry. This week my column is a bit fluffy.

I wanted to dig up some older, more obscure games and show them off to the readers who began their videogame experiences in after 1995. One thing I realized is that I’m not sure what games they are likely to know about, and what games will be completely new to them. I imagine X-Com is legendary enough to spark recognition, but hopefully some of the other titles will be educational.

It is interesting to realize how much of the industry is driven by good and bad business decisions. What if Looking Glass hasn’t overextended themselves? What if iD Software had sold themselves to a publisher in the 90’s, as was common for companies their size? What if this small studio had been absorbed by EA instead of Microprose? We can picture an alternate history where System Shock continued pumping out sequels, were Quake III Arena never happened, where Starflight lived on the way Civilization has. Certainly some trends were inevitable – I think the cutscene / gameplay / cutscene / gameplay approach to game design in modern shooters is an obvious path of least resistance. I think it was unavoidable. But the success of individual franchises has always been a chaotic thing, governed by buyouts and re-organizations and the right (or wrong) people taking the right job at the right time.

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  1. poiumty says:

    Interesting thought. Would inventories become common place in FPS titles if the past had happened differently?

    Then again, Halo.

    • Shamus says:

      Halo is a great example. What if Bungie hadn’t been sold to Microsoft? Halo would have been a PC shooter, probably akin to Unreal. Same story, totally different gameplay. That one business decision created the console shooter, which is now one of the most dominant genres in the industry.

      • Topaz Wolf says:

        It is also possible that Halo would be a computer RTS… and the console shooter of today would be no more.

        And by the way, how would one such as I go about changing my profile picture.

      • Gravebound says:

        “That one business decision created the console shooter”

        I thought Goldeneye and Perfect Dark created the console shooter.

        • Khizan says:

          Got to agree with Gravebound here.

          Goldeneye is the father of console shooters, and that was a Rareware game.

        • Shamus says:

          It’s true that there were shooters before Halo, but I think Halo kind of perfected the formula. The limited weapons, recharging health, timing-based gunplay instead of aim-based. I only played Goldeneye for about 20 minutes at a friend’s house, and it struck me as being much closer to PC shooters. Although, it’s possible that Halo wasn’t a sensation because of its mechanics, but because of Xbox Live.

          Other people have argued that the console shooter should really be traced to Gears of War.

          I suppose I have some thinking to do.

          • Vegedus says:

            Gears of War? What?

            Gears of War certainly started the trend of cover based shooting, that Yahtzee harps on all the time, but not console shooting itself.

          • ccesarano says:

            The only thing that Halo managed to truly capitalize on that Goldeneye managed was “playing deathmatch with a bunch of friends in the same room”. What set Halo apart was that a lot of players were able to experience the LAN for the first time, hooking multiple systems and TV’s up in one room and having sixteen friends all kill each other at once.

            Oddly enough, when I look back on Halo’s multiplayer, I get the same feeling I get when looking back at Goldeneye. It was complete shit. I was sold on Halo’s co-op.

            Which is really interesting. I mean, you said “if Bungie weren’t bought by Microsoft…”, but in that scenario Bungie would not have been able to exist. They were out of money and couldn’t support themselves, and the only party that was interested was the big bad enemy of Apple, who they had primarily catered to.

            Without Halo, the Xbox would not have taken off. I remember working at GameStop during the launch of the Xbox and GameCube, and when you get right down to it Halo carried that system for a couple years. Yeah, Morrowind was the first time a lot of gamers got to experience that sort of game on a console and there were a few other stand-out titles, but it wasn’t until years later that games worth giving a damn about were releasing regularly. But if the Xbox hadn’t sold enough units on Halo alone, Valve and iD probably never would have thought to port Half-Life 2 or Doom 3 to console (which reminds me, Valve said they weren’t going to port Half-Life 2 to the 360. This “fact” is what got me to buy it on Xbox. Screw them for making me buy the same game twice!)

            Now, I know some people would laugh and joke that the gaming world would have been better without the Xbox or Halo, but without Halo there wouldn’t be such a huge focus on co-op again. After the SNES era where the Ninja Turtles and Double Dragon beat-em-up and Contra-esque shooter died out, co-op gameplay seemed to just vanish. It wasn’t until Halo that my brother and I could game like we had when we were kids, and all of a sudden the industry realized people like working together again!

            Further, Xbox Live redefined how online gaming is handled. The Dreamcast started it, but died out awfully fast. Sony included an ethernet port simply because the Dreamcast had one, but they weren’t interested in online gaming. Nintendo tried online gaming on consoles in the 90’s, but it was just too early. Nonetheless, they were certain online gaming wasn’t something people were interested in.

            Now with the Xbox 360 the Xbox Live System has been redefining how we interact and experience online gaming. The indie scene is exploding (or started to, until Xbox Live Marketplace was flooded and now Indie Games is as bad as any App Store) and Digital Distribution is seeing a boost that might have remained strictly PC. More than that, every platform now has Netflix Instant Streaming! And Xbox has ESPN while PS3 got NHL Center Ice.

            The console gaming scene, honestly, would have been a Hell of a lot different without Microsoft buying Halo. I know some people can find plenty of cons in that list (Xbox Live introduced the 12-year old douchebag screaming in our ears), but I think there’s a lot more positive. Of course, the only way you could know is if you could see an alternate timeline, and in that case, well, the grass is always greener.

            Now imagine a future where Half-Life never sold and Duke Nukem Forever actually released (within a few years of development).

            • Fnord says:

              Bungie had been collaborating with Take 2, and got at least an offer of sorts from Activision. They liked the offer from Microsoft best, obviously, but if someone else had made a better offer, or if Microsoft hadn’t made theirs…

              • ccesarano says:

                Huh. Way I’ve heard the story told it seemed like Bungie had no chance unless they aligned with Microsoft.

                Still, Xbox would have been a failure, and chances are Halo wouldn’t even have been noticed since it would have been just another shooter in the crowd rather than the only good original title on Xbox that also appealed to mainstream (there were a couple other games, but it wasn’t until you started to see titles like Fable and Splinter Cell and other exclusives hit Xbox that it really stood on its own two feet).

          • Nick Bell says:

            Just a clarification: the original Halo did absolutely nothing for Xbox Live, since it was not an online game. It was purely a LAN experience, which was itself a new feature for console gamers.

            It is Halo 2 that integrated Xbox Live, and which really pushed online gaming forward on consoles. It was still being played six years later when Microsoft finally pulled the plug.

            Yes, I know. Nerddddddddddd!

          • Ravens Cry says:

            Goldeneye and Perfect Dark were and remain some of my favourite console FPS. In fact, I rather disliked Halo multiplayer. All the maps felt either small and claustrophobic or bland and uninteresting. I am looking at you Blood Gulch.
            I hate to be a hater, but XCom was just infuriatingly annoying and difficult for me, it just wasn’t fun.

            • Blake says:

              “I rather disliked Halo multiplayer. All the maps felt either small and claustrophobic or bland and uninteresting. I am looking at you Blood Gulch.”

              This.

              Co-op through the story was good times though, but even that Perfect Dark did as well.

              Goldeneye was a great game due to level design.
              The different objectives based on difficulty, on the really opoen levels meant you weren’t on railroads. You got to explore the level, play them the way you wanted to often got rewarded for you interest in searching around.
              This is still something I don’t see in modern shooters.

              The option to replay any level at any time on a higher difficulty gave them a few good meta-game features.
              The ‘beat level X in under Y time on Z difficulty to unlock @!’ style of achievement based cheats meant you had more to do after just beating the game, you wanted to unlock these things so you were willing to work at them.
              Unlocking a bonus level for each difficulty you’d beaten every level on also gave you a reason to focus hard on getting through everything just once.

              Perfect Dark built upon all that with a heap of new multiplayer options including 30? challenges which could be played with 1 to 4 players (awarding you for each option you’d played it with), these challeneges set the weapons, levels, bots and rules you’d be playing with. The more of these you played the higher ranked your profile became which also tracked all kinds of stats and gave you medals for them.
              Playing all these then gave you extra options of challenges to play in the single player level hub and AAARGH so many things to do!

              When the team left and made the Timesplitters game they added even more multiplayer modes.

              Halo might’ve figured out the console shooter formula, but the Goldeneye team set the bar for the metagame.

      • duncan says:

        Dunno if you’ve seen it, but the 1999 presentation at MacWorld is online. Looks rather similar to what we got on Xbox, but they had co-op play in the works and I don’t think that happened until Halo 3.

        They were an awesome Mac game developer in the day. Marathon is a classic, Pathways into Darkness is amazing, and the Myth series was a big hit.

        • ccesarano says:

          I love the first Halo game, really like the second and am a fan of Reach. ODST is nice but Halo 3 was trash. However, honestly, I do think Halo became a curse for Bungie as much as it was a blessing. It shot the developer into super stardom and gave them weight as a studio.

          The problem is that the success of Halo put a lot of pressure on them to release their game in certain time frames and under certain guidelines. Without the competitive multiplayer as a focus I feel the single player campaigns of each Halo game would have been better. I mean, when you play the first Halo’s multiplayer it is clearly a little toss-in item to supplement the campaign. The game was always meant to be played for the story.

          Unfortunately, that’s not how people played it and thus there were new demands to meet.

          Now that Bungie is working on a brand new title, I can’t wait to see what they have up their sleeves. Chances are there are some expectations and a lot of their Halo fans will find something to bitch about, but I also feel that they can reach out to a new audience that wasn’t so sold on Halo with something new.

          I just wish Respawn Entertainment, formerly Infinity Ward, does something similar now that they’re off Call of Duty.

    • You know, Heretic tried to introduce inventories to Doom-style games. Was an interesting concept, using the same engine. But it did not take off.

  2. MechaCrash says:

    I’m not familiar enough with Starflight to make a really accurate call, but going by the description, X3: Terran Conflict may fit the bill on that one. It has no landing on planets, but it does let you do things like build your own factories, and go from one fighter to piloting colossal battleships supported by fleets of carriers, corvettes, fighters, and other craft.

    It’s twenty bucks on Steam. There’s various bundles involving it available, but my understanding is that X3:TC renders the other games rather pointless.

    • X2-Eliah says:

      Well, mostly pointless. X3:R has a different overall game pace and balancing, which you may prefer (X3:TC has been greatly sped up and you get to the ‘end-game’ states of piloting fleets much, much faster, while X3:R allows you to loiter for a long time in beginning and middle stages), and a different mission structure.

      X2 is a good insight into how the engine evolved, and for many, it still has that ‘unexplored’ feeling, whereas both X3s seem too familiar..

      That said, for the very first sight into the X games, the latest one will be the best.

      • Ian says:

        I also found X2 to be more engaging than X3. I remember just spending hours playing around with it and exploring the great, big universe and occasionally gunning down the unfortunately-named Kha’ak. Maybe one of these days I’ll continue on with the story. :p

        I just couldn’t get into X3 for some reason. Maybe it’s like you said, it just feels too familiar.

  3. Mr. Wizard says:

    Man, my space captain itch hasn’t been adequately scratched in ages. It’s like all the modern ones are just huge trade offs between large worlds and fun gameplay. Its either dynamic changing universe with slow plodding gameplay OR its tight mission based storyline with interesting gameplay. Dynamic changing universe and interesting gameplay rarely ever seem to meet.

    Slow Plodding game with open changing world:
    X Series – http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/X3:_Terran_Conflict

    Tight mission based with with neat dynamic gameplay:
    Gratuitous Space Battles : http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gratuitous_Space_Battles

    I may be aberration here but I hate that Space Game has come to mean 4X gameplay. A universe full of possibility and game designers just say “lol lets make a civ clone.”

    Anyway, great article Shamus, I hope some day some one will decide to mine the golden oldies for ideas, and we might get a few good games out of it. Maybe. Someday.

    :D

    • Zukhramm says:

      I love Gratuitous Space Battles becasue it take what I like about strategy games: Planning, building stuff, trying out dumb tactics that won’t work, and watching stuff blow up. But it removes the the clicking about and moving units all over the place, which I’m just bad at, especially if it’s in real time.

    • Ben says:

      Another recent (relatively speaking) space game is Freelancer. A bit combat heavy but it sells its open world better then almost any other open world game since. It has its own problems to be sure but for everything there is involved in making a good open world game (proper use of negative space, etc.) its amazing.

      Also in the XCOM mold, Silent Storm. Again it has its own problems (about halfway through the game kinda goes crazy and dies) but the appeal of small squad turn-based combat is all there.

      • Kanodin says:

        Beat me to it. Freelancer is actually one of my personal favorites even if the story is kinda hokey.

        • Too bad they cut all sorts of things out of the code to make it fit on a single disk. The betas had more scenarios/missions/plot and all sorts of display and other options that did not remain in the code for the final game.

          Enough for a sequel there, alas, that never was.

          • Aldowyn says:

            Ah, Freelancer. It’s about 2 feet from me, at the moment :D
            It would have been a lot more interesting if they’d been able to put everything they wanted in it. I know they wanted a dynamic trading system, among other things.

            The prequel, Starlancer, was incredibly cheesy, but it was okay. Then there’s Freespace, which is sitting about an inch below Freelancer…

            I want Jumpgate Evolution… I actually LIKE the combat sims :P
            Besides, who wouldn’t like 50v50v50?

            Oh, and I have Descent 3 in that collection too. That doesn’t mean I’ve played it much.

            • Rosseloh says:

              I loved Freelancer. Just felt like throwing that out there.
              Even the wonky story. And I thought the voice acting was great back when I first played it.

              What I really want though, is a space-flight “rpg” like Freelancer should have been, but where you can also fly capital ships and command fleets in battle. But instead of a bird’s-eye view, you actually stand on the bridge and have tactical readouts in front of you for the normal “space combat sim” type screens. And also a huge open galaxy, and navigable planets/atmospheres, and walking around spaceports, and…..fine, fine I’ll stop now.

            • Lame Brain says:

              I like Freelancer a lot. My only real complaint is that Trent, the protagonist, is very very irritating to me.

              I recently discoverd “Evochron: Mercenary” I am still learning it, but there seems to be a lot of depth and fun stuff here!

      • Felblood says:

        Freelancer was all right, but you had to mod the crap out of it to get any replay value out of the thing.

        Now, if you want to scratch your X-COM itch, I still haven’t found anything better than UFO:Afterlight. Just patch it before you start, since the patch that makes the game beatable breaks save compatibility. Oh, and pray that SecuROM will allow it to run on your fancy-pants, space computer.

        Once the technical stuff is out of the way, just remember that grunts are not expendable (like in X-COM) and bugging out is often preferable to sacrificing a man for the mission.

        • ehlijen says:

          I much preferred UFO Aftershock to Afterlight. The saturday morning anime graphics style really didn’t sell it to me :(

          Plus the I think Aftershock had one of the coolest ‘wait, that’s what the big bad is trying to do?!?!’ revelations in a game I’ve ever seen :D

          Freelancer lost my interest when I met the space german battleships Goethe and Schiller :(

          • Bubble181 says:

            What’s wrong with Goethe and Schiller? All of the Space German ships are named after great philosophers and artist – IIRC, there’s a Wagner and a Hegel around, too.
            Sure, it’s like naming a battlecruiser Jesus Christ Superdestroyer, but why not? Naming your ships after philosophers/artists makes as much sense as namingthem after statesmen.

    • Irridium says:

      Well there’s Freespace. But thats more space combat than space exploration. Some very damn fine space-combat at that.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      If you like turn based games,and space rpg games,try space rangers.Its a bit old,but its a good game.
      http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Space_Rangers_(video_game)

    • ehlijen says:

      Another turn based tactics game, though not as good or deep as XCOM, is Chaos Gate. Written for windows 95 I’ve just learned it actually runs fine under Windows 7 (you couln’t play the campaign under XP, it’d crash as soon as you hit a mission script trigger).

      Edit: just remembered another space trading game (though combat heavy like Freelancer): Tachyon: the Fringe

      I wasn’t a big fan, but if you’re looking for more in that genre, it could be worth a look.

      • Bubble181 says:

        The problem – for me – with Tachyon was the controls. They were perfectly fine, really ,but going back to that type of keyboard control after the keyboard + mouse from Freelancer (and Darkstar One) was really, really crappy.

        Tachyon was kinda nice in that you were able to actually choose different sides with a big impact in where you could go and all that. About 1/4 or so of the game were systems you simply couldn’t get to if you were from the other side.

  4. Primgoenitor says:

    Its curious how I read this after playing Darksiders and then Streets of Rage (yes, that megadrive/genesis Streets of Rage). Surprisingly, they are pretty much the same basic game. Yes, Darksiders has lots of extra bits (third-person shooter, RPG, puzzle, rail shooter) but the core is the same.

  5. Caffiene says:

    The comment in the 1st paragraph about Mirror’s Edge not getting a sequel may be a bit premature, Shamus. Theres no sequel ‘yet’, but EA has said it considers it an important franchise and there has been talk about on-again off-again production on it.

    See: http://www.escapistmagazine.com/news/view/107834-Mirrors-Edge-Sequel-May-Still-Be-Running

    Unless you know some news I havent seen, of course.

    • Shamus says:

      I’d heard the rumor about the sequel. Still, the sequel could be out right *now*, if the game had been a success.

      I really hope it gets another chance. The first one was a great idea with a flawed execution. (I only played the demo, I’m going by what I’ve read.)

      • eric says:

        “Flawed execution” is right. The game was beautiful, but did little but tread water. Great concept, great setting, great potential, but the occasionally frustrating level design, short length and lack of interesting story (not to mention the “so what?” ending) made me glad I only paid five dollars for it.

        • Raygereio says:

          Yeah; solid idea but flawed execution describes Mirror’s Edge pretty well.
          Poor Rhianna Pratchet; the woman was brought in the write the game’s story after it was almost done.
          Also; whoever worked on Mirror’s Edge at thought it was a great idea to have levels where it was practically impossible to determine where to go and then have people shoot at you if you stopped and looked around in confusion should go out back and do the honourable thing.

          The concept of a first person platformer was pretty solid though.

          • Aldowyn says:

            First person platformer. Why does that sound like something that might become a genre in its own right at some point? It really should… Mirror’s Edge looks cool, and I hope they do make a sequel at some point.

          • Adam P says:

            I hated those portions of Mirror’s Edge. Okay, so I’m stuck. But instead of letting me look around and figure out how the hell I’m supposed to move forward, DICE decides that this would be the perfect place to have squads of guys come out and start shooting. GREAT DESIGN, THERE. So then I end up having to find a way to break the AI, steal one of their guns, and start shooting everyone.

            I never finished the game. I did watch a speed run of it, and those sections are clearly built with one thing in mind: either shoot everyone and then move through, or know the route ahead of time and just clear it in 7 seconds. The only alternative is to run through it with trial and error, except that the checkpoints make you just stand there so you have to start running (instead of preserving your momentum), and AFTER the helicopters or whatever are already en route to drop guys off. So you fail once, and then you’re already set up to fail again.

            I think Mirror’s Edge 2 is better off canned if DICE was going to make the same mistakes again.

        • Simon Buchan says:

          I got a lot of satisfaction out of the time trials, running the same level means you arn’t getting lost and you always have that ‘flow’ feeling. Getting 2 stars is very hard, and 3 stars is *ridiculously* hard meaning you always have a goal, as well. Of course, this means you have to be type of gamer that can enjoy a game that requires constantly repeating a section, in perhaps a light maso-core (eg. Super Meat Boy) vien.

          Though it’s completely stock other than the family angle, I felt the story was actually better than most games, if they didn’t hype it up I feel the story would have been better received.

      • Ian says:

        My biggest issue with Mirror’s Edge is that it was far too linear. Really, your choices typically boiled down to going above the enemies or engaging the enemies. Not much of a “choice,” really.

        It’s kind of a tall order, I know, but I was hoping at least for different ways to traverse the city and get from point A to point B. Instead, the game practically railroads the player from point A to point B. Deviating from this path, except to get the occasionally package (“shiny trinket,” if you will), generally results in death.

  6. burningdragoon says:

    I’ve always been on the console side of the gaming world so really those games you mentioned were all news to me, beside X-Com and Starflight but I heard of those for the first from you as well, just not now.

    Anyway, sometimes I will wish some series would have gotten more franchises out of them. But then sometimes I am just glad I have’t seen those hypothetical franchises turn to shit (to me anyway, opinions and all that) like so many others.

  7. James Schend says:

    If you really want to address the forgotten in gaming, look into early Mac games. Many of them went on to define genres (Myst, Uninvited), were technically leaps and bounds above competitors (Marathon, the stunning Prince of Persia port), or were just plain fun as hell.

    I was playing Warcraft II over TCP/IP with 8 players and text-to-speech support for in-game chat in 1996. Marathon actually had integrated VOIP in 1994, if you had an AppleTalk network. How long was it until the next game with built-in VOIP came along? 2003?

    I feel like that world is almost completely forgotten, unless someone wants to trot out Marathon while discussing the origins of Halo. (I’m sure Amiga uses feel similarly, but I never had an Amiga myself.)

    • Peter H. Coffin says:

      Bolo was probably the first LAN game that was really in a form that modern players would recognize. And it’s got a REALLY devoted, REALLY tiny fan-base still, even though the game is from the late 1980’s.

      Of course, that may be cheating because Macs were pretty much the only way to get a personal computer on a network easily. IBM-compatible stuff was expensive to network, tedious, and often limited to just emulating dumb terminals.

    • Bubble181 says:

      Warcraft II wasn’t a Mac game, though. Blizzard developed for both IBM PC and Mac simultaneously :-P

  8. James Schend says:

    BTW your link to the article has a malware warning from Chrome… ouch.

    • Hmm, running chrome here, not a problem. Might want to run a check on your computer just to make sure there isn’t something on it.

    • Jirin says:

      I’m also on Chrome, and I didn’t get one. Maybe there was an ad that set it off?

    • Irridium says:

      Chrome here as well, all fine on my end.

      • Fnord says:

        It’s the ads. Occasionally the advertising on the escapist kicks off a malware warning from Chrome or Avast! (and perhaps other things, to, but that’s what I have).

        • Ian says:

          Java randomly started loading something when I went to the Escapist, so I think they might have a naughty advertiser on their network (or one that’s firmly stuck in the mid-90s). No UAC prompt, so it wasn’t anything that needed administrative access.

          Doesn’t look like it dropped anything in my user profile, either. Then again, I was pretty quick to kill Java when I saw it pop up.

          Definitely something to watch out for. I haven’t seen advertisers legitimately use Java in years.

  9. Max says:

    What would life be like if Final Fantasy failed to sell well and there were no sequels? Squeenix probably wouldn’t even exist. A major developer and publisher that basically exists because of the success of one game.

    • Dan says:

      Well as the story goes, Final Fantasy is called that because it was the last ditch effort of a failing Square company. If Final Fantasy didn’t sell well, Squenix definitely wouldn’t exist because Square would have gone out of business right then and there.

      The face of J-RPGs would be hugely changed. I wonder, would WoW or other MMORPGs exist without the Final Fantasy series? I can’t remember any other RPGs of the style of Final Fantasy at that time. Yet now we have thousands of J-RPG turn-based games out there.

      Imagine a world where MMORPGs don’t exist…how much productivity would be regained…we might have regular commerce with Mars by now.

      • Max says:

        Another JRPG at the time of the original Final Fantasy was Dragon Quest. You seem to know the story of Final fantasy being their last ditch effort to keep from going out of business. The reason for this is that Squaresoft had a habit of making inferior copies of other people’s games, which didn’t sell very well. Final Fantasy was special because it was a dragon quest copy that was actually an improvement on the original.

        If Final fantasy had failed maybe Enix would have risen to prominence with Dragon Quest and eventually buy out Square, and rename the company Enix-Square.

      • Ben says:

        I’m not sure how I see the relationship between Final Fantasy and WoW. WoW is a pretty direct step from EQ which in turn comes from UO and the other early MMOs (Meridian 59) which come from MUDs.

        You can trace WoW’s influences without ever coming near the final fantasy series.

      • False Prophet says:

        [sigh] Poor Phantasy Star never gets any love. Wasn’t it the first console RPG to start fusing epic fantasy and space opera, Star Wars-style? Where would JRPGs be without that?

  10. Exasperation says:

    Personally, I’m awaiting the release of Northstar. I’ve seen it compared to both X-Com and Starflight in different aspects (also Fallout).

    It’s being developed by the people who made Sword of the Stars (to a large extent the same people who made the first Homeworld game).

    Sadly, it’s not slated for release until sometime after SotS 2 (although that’s coming out later this year and is also on my ‘do want’ list).

  11. swimon says:

    One of the biggest “what if?” for me is: What if Microsoft hadn’t bought Rare?

    Would we still be seeing timeless classics out of them or was their demise inevitable? (technically they’re not dead yet, only brain dead) According to hearsay grabbed by the ghoulies was legitimately terrible and I know starfox adventuress wasn’t all that great but also according to hearsay viva piñata and banjo kazooie nuts and bolts were fun games that failed to find an audience on the 360.

    If they were still as good and popular as they were in the old days would 3d platforming be popular again or would they refocus to fps games? This is a sort of chicken/egg question: did platformers become unpopular because there were no good platformers to play or were there no good platformers because no one would play them. If it’s the former then I think Rare could have helped a lot.

    Lastly would there be more comedy in games? The lack of humour in games and the even bigger lack of good humour in games is a very strange phenomenon to me. Maybe it’s because a lot of comedy comes from writing that games are not all that good at? Whatever the reason Rare was really good at comedy IMO and maybe if they were still the influence that they were comedy would be more common.

    • Sagretti says:

      This could be completely wrong since I don’t remember the details well, but one of the prevailing theories for why Nintendo let Rare get away is that Nintendo saw their newest work and realized the studio’s future output had some serious issues. It’s quite possible that Rare was creatively tapped, and staying with Nintendo or going third party wouldn’t have changed much.

      • swimon says:

        Hadn’t heard that actually. Seeems kinda iffy though I mean Rare pretty much carried Nintendo through the n64 era. I mean I get that you’re only as good as your last game but you’d think that creating DKC banjo kazooie and goldeneye would buy you one or two bad ones. Then again star fox adventures must have been incredibly expensive to create I mean parts of the graphics still holds up (the backgrounds are simplistic but the character models would not be terribly out of place in a modern game) considering it was a GC launch title that had to cost.

    • Khizan says:

      I think platformers killed themselves much in the same way that “adventure games” killed themselves, which is because they were based less on fun gameplay than on frustrating puzzles.

      Also, they’ve both got terrible multiplayer, which is a major thing for games nowadays, it seems.

      • Aldowyn says:

        heh. Terrible multiplayer. Go tell that to the guys that made SMB Wii. And I’m sure there could be an amazing DK co-op mode, better than the one in DK Country Returns – though I heard that was fairly good.

    • Viktor says:

      Nuts&Bolts was fun. Quirky, odd gameplay, and not as much challenge as most people expect from modern games, but fun trumps that. I can see why it wasn’t a success, but I enjoyed it far more than most racing games.

    • Max says:

      Sounds like you’d enjoy Ratchet and Clank Series. Great 3d platforming. Great Comedy. Of course they’re only on PS2/3 so maybe you won’t be able to play them, but if you have either of those consoles, and you haven’t already played Ratchet and Clank, you should do so.

      Pretty much agree with you about the lack of comedy in games, but Ratchet and Clank is a rare gem, that puts comedy and fun above all else.

      • swimon says:

        I actually played one for PS3 (quest for booty) psyched as hell since I’d heard great things about the series but it didn’t work for me :/

        It wasn’t my kind of comedy I guess and the platforming felt a bit loose, the fighting even more so. I mean I liked Jet force gemini and R&aC has similar combat. But the levels kinda stops whenever there is a fight, which means that you have enemies coming from behind or the sides a lot which feels awkward since turning and a loss of peripheral vision is a problem for this kind of game.

        It also didn’t help that quest for booty is the second instalment in the second R&C series which I didn’t know at the time. I kinda lost track of the story.

        All that combined with that I didn’t like the visual or sound design meant that I actually never got far beyond the first few levels which is a shame since I can see why others like it and it’s a type of game that I have been missing a lot (when was the last time a good 3d platformer that wasn’t a Mario title come out anyway? Psychonauts?).

        • Max says:

          Quest for Booty was a nice bridge between Tools of Destruction and Crack in time, but I really don’t consider it a “real” ratchet and clank game. It was clearly just filler to keep the fans busy until Crack in Time came out. But then again maybe the game is just not to your liking and even a “real” ratchet and clank won’t change that.

          If you have a PS3 with PS2 backwards compatibility, I would encourage you to play the original Ratchet and Clank before making a final judgment but that game is probably hard to find now.

          Alternatively if you find a cheap copy of tools of destruction, the beginning of the story arc in Quest for Booty, you might check that out, if the price is right. If only I could think of another awesome 3d platformer for you to try!

  12. Jarenth says:

    Ah, ‘what if’. The question that can lead to hours of fruitlessly entertaining debate.

    Here’s one for the pile: What if Gears of War hadn’t become as popular as it did? That game is often credited with single-handedly spawning the genre of cover-based shooters, which nowadays encompasses like 90% of all games.

    • Raygereio says:

      Nah; the cover based shooter is pretty much just an extention of the shooter games that used cover that were already out there. If Gears of War hand’t done it, then chances are someone else would have tried to streamline the use of cover in shooters.

      Maybe it did popularize the regenerating health system and the chest high walls. I’m having trouble comming up with an older game that had that.

      • Aldowyn says:

        I’m a little confused, here. It may just be me, but somehow CoD, Battlefield, etc, seem ENTIRELY different from Gears. Most of those don’t even have proper cover mechanics, and the game plays out completely differently. I suppose they’re still cover-based, but… not the same way Gears is. And those predate Gears.

        Why oh why are there so many different kinds of shooters? Halo, CoD, Gears.. shucks, Bulletstorm is just as different. (Sorry Yahtzee, but how the HECK is that a cover-based shooter?) Seems like there’s a lot of different ways to make guys shoot things.

        I feel that I’m misinterpreting some things, here. I’m not the biggest shooter player.

        • Daemian Lucifer says:

          “(Sorry Yahtzee, but how the HECK is that a cover-based shooter?)”

          Um,the tips specifically tell you to go find cover when screen flashes red(so real!)to recover.Compare that with painkiller and serious sam,which definitely are not cover based shooters.

          • Aldowyn says:

            I guess I take “cover-based” to mean you’re always in cover – which you definitely aren’t in Bulletstorm. Most of the time you don’t need cover, unless you screw up.

            It’s definitely different from most shooters, too. Taking Bulletstorm and deriding it as derivative of everything else on the market… *shrug*

            • Daemian Lucifer says:

              Well Yahtzee does a lot of hyperbole,that is his shtick.But he does have a point.Bulletstorm is different from other shooters,but its not different enough.It still is playing it safe when it should not.

              For some comparison,take a look at prototype.The game revolves around you being a superhuman badass,so it allows you to charge tanks with your bare hands.You dont have to cover behind walls because you are a monster with amazing abilities.Its gameplay fully revolves around its core concept.

              The core concept of bulletstorm are the imaginative kills.But how can you have those when you have to run behind cover whenever more than 2 enemies are on the screen?And how can you execute all these brutal things when there just arent enough enemies available(and there arent enough enemies available because more than 2 enemies already forces you to seek cover).

              I know Ive said lots of times that killing mooks is not fun,but this is the game that revolves exactly around that:Killing mooks in imaginative ways.The most fun Ive had in the game is when Ive entered an arena where the two factions of enemies were fighting each other and I had my arms untied about how Id dispose of them because they werent focused on me.Yet immediately after that arena was a section where I was just pitted against enemies focused only on me,and it diminished the fun greatly.Plus it killed me a few times.

              This is a game that actually makes killing mooks fun,yet it doesnt give you enough mooks to kill.The one game where theyve toned down waves of mooks is the one game where waves of mooks shouldve been in.It derives lots from other games on the market,and its mostly bad things,running to cover to suck your thumb being the prime example of this.The things that make it special are the ones that are unique to it,like the whip and points for kills.

              • Aldowyn says:

                Heh. Interesting. My first thought when I saw the word “Prototype”? “That’s a shooter?”

                I’m missing something about Bulletstorm, though. I’m watching an LP, and Toby rarely, rarely uses cover. There can be like half a dozen guys and he’s still not using cover that much… I think it’s on normal.

                I see your point, though. Take out the skill shots, and it’s just a shooter with … how to put this… interesting weapons.

      • Irridium says:

        I think Halo 2 was one of the first to do it. Although its like the only one that makes some sense(its a shield instead of health).

        Also, Halo 2 popularized the whole DLC thing. Something everybody is doing nowadays. Although everybody likes to leave out the “make it free after a few months” thing that Halo 2 did. The jerks…

        • Viktor says:

          Halo 1 was the first to do regenerating health. It just didn’t break away from the health bar completely until Halo 2.

          GoW was one of the first to include an actual “get behind cover, you idiot” button.

          • Adam P says:

            Halo 1 had regenerating shields, while health was restored by finding health packs. Halo 2 did away with the health bar and switched to regenerating health.

            Arguably, the shields are just an extension of health that regenerates, but the shields are more vulnerable to plasma weapons than bullets.

          • False Prophet says:

            If you want to split hairs, I think the arcade rail shooter series Time Crisis had a cover button (or more accurately, a “get out of cover” pedal) since the mid-90s. But clearly it didn’t have an impact on home gaming since it took a decade for consoles to follow suit.

  13. Mina says:

    I’m very happy to see that Magic Carpet got some love. I consider that to be one of the best video games ever made, the terrain morphing IS a big deal, and aside from the awesome aerial combat, the game also could have expanded into a sandbox direction. A sequel to it with today’s technology/art standards could be fantastic.

    • Mina says:

      Forgot to mention that there was a sequel to Magic Carpet, but I didn’t play it because at the time it came out I couldn’t get it to run on my computer, heh.

      • Ian says:

        I think I still have a CD for Magic Carpet 2 lying around here somewhere.

        I’m also glad that it got a shout-out. I used to play that game all the time. :D

      • Alden says:

        I got the Magic Carpet sequel and played it altogether too much. It had more of an RPG aspect than the first one, and new stuff such as night and subterranean levels (done by having a “ceiling” which was created in the same way as the ground) and an experience/leveling system for the spells.

        I suspect it probably would not work on my computer now.

    • eric says:

      You know, a couple of years ago I would have said that no publisher would okay a “gay” title based upon flying magic carpets around, but given the growth of casual and social gaming, a game based around such ideas could probably be successful in this day and age. Sure, the jaded triple-A Halo crowd wouldn’t give a shit, but what about your girlfriend/mom/grandfather/etc., or that random guy you know that’s addicted to Angry Birds?

    • TheDefenestrator says:

      SCHAWISSSH!

      By which I mean yes, that would be really cool.

    • zob says:

      Magic Carpet and its futuristic brother Terminal Velocity were designed to work with a 3D helmet with motion sensors. I thought they were tech demos.

  14. Jonathan says:

    Ahhh, the days of Descent2 on Kali. Great game… D2 took the excellent gameplay of D1 and refined it for multiplayer.

    Descent 3 was not as good… too resource-intensive, and the environment got a lot bigger and more complex. Too hard to follow what was going on, too much space made things slower in some ways.

    Descent Freespace & Freespace 2 were not Descent, but were very good in their own right (space-based shooter with actual story, albeit stolen from B5).

    Oh, and I hate the Thiefbot.

  15. Jon Ericson says:

    I owned and loved 3 of the 4. Decent had a story? Who knew? Looks like I need to figure out how to play Magic Carpet.

    How did we find good games back then? Surely the shovelware ratio was comparable to today, right? It’s not like I was reading game magazines or getting recommendations from friends. And yet there are maybe 5% bad games in my ’90s PC game collection. Most of the rest are solid to complete gems. A mystery.

  16. eric says:

    Voxels, god dammit, voxels!

    These days, sequels are about exploitation (in the words of the publishers, not mine). Games require so much effort, time and money to produce that it simply isn’t economically feasible to create a mainstream title that can experiment; once you’ve got a good idea, it’s only good business sense to milk it until it runs dry; by the time it runs out, the next Big Thing will have likely come out anyway.

    I’m a big fan of exploring existing game worlds, but I’ve found myself increasingly disinterested with games. I love them, but save for the occasional RPG (quotes optional depending on the game), there’s very little to hold my interest. We’ve already perfected the art of shooting dudes in the face, racing games are getting so realistic that it nearly makes me long for the tension of arcade gameplay, and there hasn’t been a hack-and-slash action title to hold my interest since ten years ago. Action-adventure games are seeing some life in the form of Uncharted and God of War, but since I don’t have a PlayStation 3, I have yet to try them. Even the rare hybrids find themselves reduced to the same old thing a few hours in. Indie games sound like they should be our salvation, but the quality is so mixed, and more are happy with retro pandering and being artsy in the most vague and non-challenging ways possible.

    Now that I’m getting into development (or trying to), creating experiences has captured much of my attention. I’m less interested with what new games can offer me and much more with what sorts of new ideas we can produce for people. The game itself is less interesting than the methodology and manipulation behind the scenes, and the process of creation is time-consuming, but extremely rewarding. Maybe I’m just changing and growing as a person, but I can’t help but feel that on some level the games industry is to blame for its own stagnation.

    The ultimate irony is that games are generally better than ever from a mechanical perspective. Pacing is no longer an issue for games, visuals are generally as good as they need to be, game mechanics have been more or less nailed in all the major genres, writing is on average much, much better than it was a decade ago, and save for minor gripes and the slow death of RPGs, we have very little beyond quirky experiments left to go that isn’t solely contingent upon better storytelling. We’ve figured out how to take advantage of the interactivity games provide. Now let’s do something interesting with it.

  17. What if Microsoft had not bought Ensemble, or if they had not killed Ensemble to avoid R&D expense? Would we have had more age titles? What else would Ensemble have released? The FRPG title they were working on? The nintendo games they had in development? More than the last Halo RTS?

  18. Andy_Panthro says:

    Interesting that you wrote an article about this, since I also read today on RPS about EA’s opinion of some of their back catalogue.

    http://www.rockpapershotgun.com/2011/03/25/ea-dares-to-question-holiness-of-old-games/

    It’s quite interesting to see people’s contrasting opinions about older games and if they stand the test of time.

    I think EA would be onto a winner if they just remade some of their back catalogue. Update the graphics, audio and most importantly the interface, and you’d have a lot of potential…

    • Irridium says:

      I wonder how many people would buy a re-made System Shock 2.

      EA owns the System Shock license, right? Or is one of the people that owns it? I remember hearing that its basically split between different people/companies.

      • somebodys_kid says:

        You mean like a System Shock 2 HD? I’d buy a copy day 1 since I haven’t played the original version.

        • Matt K says:

          I’ve played it but I’d buy it as well, especially if they could get it to work better on new system (no more set processor affinity after launching it).

          That said, if they could actually finish the last few levels that would work great too. Plus a bonus for those who’ve already played it (also include a “play original”)

          • Trithne says:

            There’s actually been a lot of modding work done to make System Shock 2 as good as the Dark Engine will let it be. SHTUP, SHEMP, Rebirth; which improve the Texture quality, music quality, and the in-game models respectively; ADaOB, which corrects many bugs and errors in the game, numerous mods for high-poly weapons models, and even entire fan missions to provide a new experience. And the SS2Tool, which fixes things like the affinity issue, and the outdated codec used for cutscenes. Systemshock.org is a great place.

          • Irridium says:

            Hell, they don’t even need to remake it. Just give System Shock 2 to GoG, let them optimize it, and put it up. I’d buy it in a heartbeat.

    • Gravebound says:

      I’ve always wanted them to update the Mutant League games (especially Mutant League Football with Madden-like control).

  19. Trithne says:

    Regarding X-COM, there’s a small studio working on a game called Xenonauts that they hope to get out this year. It’s basically X-COM, but during the Cold War. I’d suggest checking it out: http://www.xenonauts.com

    As someone mentioned above, Kerberos Productions is working on Northstar, which is kinda like a Traveller clone.

  20. Greg says:

    There actually has been a fairly recent game that echoes Descent: the Endoscopy mode in Trauma Team. Instead of underground technological mazes, you’re exploring the inside of someone’s bronchi.

  21. krellen says:

    I miss the old Infocom-style text adventures. That’s what I’d like to see more of. I want to frotz the lamp and XYZZY, dammit.

  22. Scott (Duneyrr) says:

    I just want a new X-Wing vs TIE Fighter game. I would be so happy with that! Also, Magic Carpet was fantastic and Descent was freakin’ scary.

    A lot of my early PC gaming days were spent playing ‘Corncob’

  23. Jim O says:

    Oh man, Starflight is one of my favorite games. As I recall in addition to copying the game to a new disk to play, there were also some fairly convoluted steps when it came to saving. And if you did any of it wrong you corrupted your disk and were screwed and had to make a new copy and start again.

    While I had the PC version first, I spent years searching for (and did finally get) a copy of the Genesis port. It clearly didn’t have the “play the copy” issue the PC version did, and it also had a bunch of additional features that would show up in Star Control 2.

    That said I am a heretic as I prefer Star Control 2 to Starflight. I loved the combat system of the original Star Control, and then adding a Starflight-style game on top of that was just too much for me to resist.

  24. Vegedus says:

    I remember descent. Fun stuff.

    I have a vague feeling I’ve played the magic carpet one. Video almost makes me dizzy, though.

    And X-com. Oh, X-Com. It really is sad no one has (successfully) done something like it since. It’s clear how the shift to more action-oriented gameplay and the death of turn based already at the time of the games itself, what with all the hybrid real time modes the latter games got. Also, I can’t but note that I’m a fan of everything but the punishing part of the game, that Shamus highlights. It has RPG elements, in that you can level up your team and such, but that’s undercut by how likely they are to die, all the time. I’ve always hated that.

  25. Mistwraithe says:

    Never played Starflight but Star Control 2 was an instant classic in its own right. Amazing combination of features which rarely comes together so well.

  26. Daemian Lucifer says:

    What if ascendancy got received better?It was such a good game.Shame it had crappy ai.

  27. Jansolo says:

    What is your opinion about DEUS EX?

    It’s one of the greatest game ever, with a questionable sequel (but with good graphics, although I’ve never played it)

    The franchise was in the oblivion, until now, when Square Enix is going to release the third part.

    I presume that it’s due to ownership of SE the existence of DE3.

  28. GiantRaven says:

    I know it’s a more recent game that most mentioned here but gosh darn it, I would love a sequel to Arcanum.

  29. Deadpool says:

    There’s one notion you make mention of that always interested me. There are plenty of unsuccessful games (some of them down right shitty) that have implemented one or two interesting feature that no one’s ever copied.

    Example, there was this pretty bad SNES 2-D fighter, clearly cashing in on the then new Street Fighter 2’s popularity, called Tuff E Nuff. It was awful for many different reasons (4 playable character, 2 of which are copies of each other not even being the big one) but it had an interesting feature: As the game progresses, your characters’ super moves were visually upgraded. So while in the first fight, your dragon punch analogue would have a bit of energy surrounding your fist, against the last boss the same move would have an energy dragon surrounding your whole body.

    This alone couldn’t save the game from obscurity (clunky controls and animation are hard to beat) but it’s a nice cool-factor kind of feature that no other 2-D fighter ever did. One must wonder if developers play shitty games…

  30. Ben Munson says:

    I would love to see some of these old games covered in lets play.

  31. Patrick The Ill-tempered says:

    Halo? FPS shooters? Funk that. Nethack is fo’ real gangstas! Fo reals playa!

  32. Blanko2 says:

    as far as descent style games, theres one in the makes now, called minewars. i guess its more a space shooter/sim, but you also end up fighting inside asteroids and such, making tunnels as you go.
    might be interesting when it comes out

  33. Corsair says:

    I’d love to see a sequel to Arcanum, or Bloodlines, or dozens of other games too, but who the hell would make them? Bethesda really doesn’t do good story, Obsidian is about as reliable as a pinto. Sure, you get good storytelling and occasionally interesting characters, but you compensate with more bugs than the Enterprise’s holodeck. BioWare might not be bad, but they’re going to have their hands full with the no doubt continuing Dragon Age saga, The Old Republic, and any possible continuations of Mass Effect after 3. Plus I’m still waiting for Jade Empire 2, ya lazy bastards.

    • GiantRaven says:

      ‘Obsidian is about as reliable as a pinto.’

      To be fair, Troika hardly set the bar high for bug-free games, especially with Bloodlines. There hasn’t been an Obsidian game where I’ve had to explicitly cheat/hack the game in order to continue past a certain point. I can’t say the same for Bloodlines, where there were two separate occasions where I had to do just that.

      • Zekiel says:

        Hey we could have a sequel to Temple of Elemental Evil! The game that had the most fantastic realisation of D&D rules ever, coupled with no real story and a plethora of bugs. Wonderful.

  34. ngthagg says:

    This is off-topic, but I was wondering if the post counter comment “2^7 comments. Suck it, base ten!” was intentionally ironic.

  35. Sucal says:

    Since we are going off topic, does anyone know how the prizes for the Mayhem thing are being decided * Coming second in the standings and thus is curious*

  36. What if Origin had not bailed out producing the last Wing Commander Game and had finished it instead (they dropped filming and producing into the game about half the plot). Would it have sold more than 700k copies?

    What if they did the next one as well? What a way for a franchise to kind of slowly grind to a halt.

    The same with releasing a completely different game as “Privateer 2.”

  37. Wolfwood says:

    Homeworld

    This game needs to be resurrected. We need more variety in the RTS genre. Then again i would say RTS has the largest variety of any genre already XD

  38. Patrick the Nostalgic says:

    Would I be the only one who is still looking for a copy of E.T the extra terestrial for the 2600? Anyone? Anyone?

  39. RCN says:

    It’s a Shame that Ubisoft has no interest in continuing the Might and Magic franchise, only working with the Heroes of Might and Magic spin-off.

    On the bright side, the Heroes series is unapologetically a PC game, with PC gameplay, that won’t be cross-platform. It’s nice to see that at least, for all its faults (DRM!!!) Ubi at least acknowledges niche markets.

    • Daemian Lucifer says:

      “It’s nice to see that at least, for all its faults (DRM!!!) Ubi at least acknowledges niche markets.”

      I wouldnt be so sure,seeing how they are dumbing it down,while still focusing on shiny graphics instead of good art with the 6th installment.

  40. Daemian Lucifer says:

    Shamus,you really ought to advertise old but gold games somewhere.Especially the ones that werent all that popular like psychonauts.Maybe putting it bellow the banner or something,like “My top oldie of the week”.People frequently go and buy these when you refer to them in your posts,and it would be great if those could reach wider audiences.

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