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(Unwelcome) Realism in Games

Tycho (linked page contains harsh language) expands on something I’ve been unhappy about for years – my emphasis in bold:

I was interested to read an interview with the man who designed Lara Croft, where he makes it clear that their Tomb Raidin’ gameplay – which is to say, the enclosed subterranean holes we associate most directly with the series – was largely a function of technology limitations. I found this fascinating. As hardware increased in power, what it actually enabled them to do was create spaces that felt less and less authentic to Tomb Raider fans!  The limitations themselves helped to create what we think of as “classic” gameplay, here and elsewhere.

That’s a sentiment I’ll wistfully echo. See, there was this game, once. And I got really, really fond of it. But then… it changed.

Now, I’m not actually unhappy about Tomb Raider per se – sure, I was an original Tomb Raider fam that thought the rest sucked, put bluntly – but I’m still unhappy about Descent 3.

More Better Fasterer Opener!

It sounded so good on paper: Detailed and varied environments that weren’t built purely from concave cubes! For the first time, fly outside the mines across actual landscapes! New weapons!

But the mines were the heart of Descent. Sure, the robots had character (and in many cases were a manifestation of evil intelligence so pure that Doom would be hard-pressed to better it), and the mines were blocky, but it all contributed to the air of claustrophobia and machine domination.

Santa Claustrophobia?

The tantalizing glimpse of a planet surface as your Pyro spacecraft exited a mine, the mine exploding around you was akin to the sensation of breathing for the first time after being submerged for far too long.

Same thing: when rapidly traversing a particularly labyrinthine section of octopoidal tunnel and bursting into a cavernous area, thinking for a couple of seconds that you were safe, and then… the walls opened, or the robots quietly slipped out from behind a really-difficult-to-make-out-in-the-dark pillar, or from shallow recesses just behind the door’s line-of-sight. Shudder.

In multiplayer, the whole cat-and-mouse-only-with-a-very-narrow-area-in-which-to-shoot thing was just a joy to experience.

What did we get in Descent 3? Varied environments. Yawn. Large open spaces between building/mine/structure/tube station sections. Broke the tension up nicely, but perhaps too soon and too regularly – there was no “wow, I just escaped from hell and all I got was this lousy broken Hyperdrive” T-shirt feeling afterwards. I didn’t finish it. Might have to try again sometime. But I’d rather get D2X and play The King.

If there were ever a Descent 4, I’d want the claustrophobia back more than any other aspect. I’d love to see a Doom 3 style retelling of the first couple of Descentia, the readme once again proclaiming proudly “You’ll need a good joystick”. Until I played it with a Good Joystick, I had no idea what they meant. (Actually, I played it with a Wingman Extreme for about 3 months until the trigger broke, then with the replacement for 3 months until the trigger broke, and then I gave up on that brand and went Sidewinder, never looked back). Update: Looks like someone else had the same idea with Into Cerberon, only they actually Did Something About It… Must go reinstall Doom 3 now…

I’m Not Alone

Stepto suggested someone try a Descent for Xbox Live Arcade recently (along with some other classics like Speedball and Thunderstrike), and while I’d dearly welcome any new/rebadged Descent game, I’d also want a controller that supported the whole 6 degrees of freedom thing, like my trusty Thrustmaster (compatible) Sidewinder at the time.

So come on Outrage, or Volition, or whomever is still around and awake enough to re-invent the classic – build us a Descent 2.5 we can be proud of! (I’ll pay you for at least one copy, maybe two).