As I move slowly through the 4th decade of my life it’s interesting to look back and see the path that I have trod and the things that have happened along the way. I was born way back in the seventies and have therefore seen the rise of the micro-processor and the wonders of the home computer. Having witnessed first hand the changes that have swept through industry during the previous twenty years or so I was enjoying comparing how things used to be when I was at school growing up to how I view things now.
One common theme is that there always seems to be a few stand-out studios that really seem to just own the video game space. While I am sure that there are many that people could list, from my own personal viewpoint I may see things differently. While names like Infinity Ward and their Call of Duty series now own the FPS space I remember back to the nineties when if something didn’t come out of id Software you pretty much knew it was going to suck. The Doom series and then Quake really pushed forwards the FPS market and there were a lot of FPS games around at those times. While there are some nowadays I feel the choice is a lot more restrictive than it used to be, but more than likely it is just that I am not playing those types of games that much anymore.
However, from my dim and distant gaming past there is one name that stands out as a shining beacon of yesteryear a studio that was absolutely brilliant in what it did, a studio that produced games that I actually went and finished in some cases, but I remember my shelves filled with their titles. Let us bask in the glory of…
I spent many an hour trying to figure out exactly what you were supposed to do in Populous. But if you look beyond that first title we see some of what I consider the greatest games of their time. While development and the power of PCs moves ever onward I think we lose out nowadays as many of the game types and the innovation of the last decade of the 20th century are consigned to history. I remember titles like Dungeon Keeper, Magic Carpet and Syndicate blowing me away. Bullfrog were one of the seminal studios of the era, producing new and interesting games that you weren’t seeing anywhere else. Ocean were producing flight-sim after flight-sim, id were the masters of the FPS, Lucasarts were consistently producing good games in-house (Tie Fighter, Dark Forces/Jedi Knight, Sam & Max, Monkey Island) and we, the gaming public were awash with a whole heap of games that you wanted to play. Whether I am just less involved with the gaming market due to my advancing age, or whether things really have changed I just don’t see things the same way these days. There appears to be a lot less innovation in games, less of the little gems that you weren’t expecting and turned out to be really excellent.
We seem to have moved from some genre-blurring games to very specific titles, we still have FPS, RTS, RPG and the now ubiquitous MMO, but we lose a lot of the adventure titles and space simulators that I loved. I do think the MMO market has something to do with this reduction in variety as we were very much stuck in the single player and maybe LAN multiplayer as I was growing up.
While Bullfrog stole the show (for me) during my formative teenage years there is a studio today that I have to say excels in nearly all it does. You may also be surprised that I am not picking Blizzard for this accolade, sure they did Diablo, Starcraft and unleashed the world’s most successful MMO from their Warcraft franchise. No, I have another company in mind, and while they specialise in one arena only, they do it with aplomb.
There we have it, for me these guys are probably the premier development house in gaming at the moment. Their vast repertoire consists of the most accomplished (literally and critically) RPGs over the past fifteen or so years. From their beginnings with Neverwinter Nights through the massive selling Knights of the Old Republic through to the current best-sellers Dragon Age and Mass Effect. Bioware have breathed life into a genre that provides alternatives to the current domination of MMOs. While The Old Republic will see them also trying to take a slice of this cake I look forward to their trademark attention to detail.
I am currently enjoying Mass Effect 2, carrying on from the character I used during my first completion of the first game. What amazes me are all the little touches, the vast quantity of information available, not only when visiting an uncharted planet but the wealth of material in the Codex. This was also in Dragon Age, you felt a part of that world, it sucks you in and immerses you. I truly feel that these are like visual novels, they suck you into the story and you are unwilling to put it down, constantly playing just to see the next “chapter” play out. Very few games for me will pull me in like this, sure there is the grinding of levelling in MMOs that I can get into and beat out a rhythm but to actually want to keep playing to see the story pan out, that is a rare treat I feel.
While I still lament the demise of Bullfrog and their innovation I appreciate the supreme skill that Bioware bring to their games, this excites me about the possibilities for The Old Republic, I love Star Wars and having a Bioware tag on it already makes it stand out, Galaxies was a good games before the NGE destroyed it and I know I am not the only one to feel that way. A Star Wars MMO is certainly something I look forward to diving into again. Bioware for me are the current top of the pile for games developement, while we seem to have moved to a place where the studios only develop one specific kind of game now that doesn’t mean we don’t see the bar being raised and I look forward to seeing what the future brings.