Pictures on Radio

So, I was sitting there Saturday morning catching up on game blogs and what not while patching Everquest which has now gone free to play.  Part of me felt excited as if it were the next highly anticipated new release and the snarky part of me thought “how exciting, a new ‘release’ of a thirteen year old game”.  I can only imagine how disappointed the uninitiated might be when they finally log in and see how much the old girl lacks by way of modern conveniences and shiny graphics.

That, coupled with reading through Wilhelm’s long but delicious dive through the nostalgia of Air Warrior, got me thinking about why those games held/hold such sway.  In the mindset of the time, it was certainly the excitement of the possible embodied in a new medium.  The fact that you could do anything on through 1200 baud modem was exciting enough.

Immediately the old quote that “the pictures are better on radio” came to mind.  Limitations of the available medium meant that developers of yore were limited in what they could put into the game.  Indeed, in the earliest computer games, barely anything more than the core elements of the game could be represented, let alone a fully rendered three dimensional world.  Sometimes all you got were a few pixels and a line of text.

Of course that left the rest of the game space to be depicted in the mind of the player or at least to use your imagination to fill in the blanks.  Not that this is any shocking discovery or revelation.  Checkers and Chess are just abstracted turn-based military strategy games after all.  D&D begat MUDS which begat 3D RPGS which begat MMORPGs as we know them today (and all the myriad branches of that tree along the way).  With each step of evolution, a bit more of the player’s imagination was no longer required as the world was more fully rendered.

But having revisted some of the early games this last year (TorilMUD, EQ, etc.), I found myself having quite a bit of fun with them and not simply because of the nostalgia factor.  Indeed, living vicariously through Tobold’s and Tipa’s recent pen and paper adventures even has me considering rediscovering D&D.

So I’m left with the question of how much (developer created) environment is needed or desirable to make a game enjoyable?  How much immersion do you gain or lose by rendering more and more of the game environment for the player?  At what point does more become less?  If you make the player do too much work, they’ll disengage, but if you do everything for them, they’ll have no “ownership” of the game environment and they’ll just change channels.

How much is too much?

2 thoughts on “Pictures on Radio”

  1. I say, build everything as indepth as you want (or as the system allows) but don’t -force- people to know more than the basic levels. Here’s a good example: Have you played any of the Elder Scroll series? Skyrim for example. There are hundreds of books, filled to the brim with content. Do you know how many I read fully?

    Two, and that was only because I was stuck in quests and figured the hints would be in those books. For all I know there was an instruction manual there how to create a mechanical dragon that I missed, but since it wasn’t necessary I’m ok with it.

    Now if they suddenly dropped me in a dungeon and a magic door asked me “What is the second word on the fifth line on page three in the book titled the Wolf Queen V5”. Yeah, I would have been pissed.

    Details should always be treated as “bonus material” but if people want to go look for them, they should be able to.

    Same thing graphics wise. If every tree in battlefield looked the same, and we were fighting in a forest – screaming out “He’s behind that tree” is not really going to help my team mates. “He’s behind the tree with the radiation sign stuck to it” would be more useful. Ofcourse that’s only because in that instance I wanted the details. My buddies riding around in a tank wouldn’t care as a tank shot would just obliterate everything in that area anyway so they’d not be as concerned if one tree looked different from the next.

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