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?