Now you always say
That you want to be free
But you’ll come running
You’ll come running back to me
Some games change over time and evolve, for better or worse.
Some games never change and still remain true and enjoyable.
And some games try and fail, no matter how hard they struggle to succeed.
This is just about some of the changes that have happened in games over the years:
My god, aesthetics in games have changed. Graphics and appearance is more important to some games than anything else (Aion, I’m looking at you, you pretty-boy son of a bitch.) Looking good is great, but everyone and their grandmother, gamer or not, knows that appearances are only skin deep and what’s on the outside isn’t nearly as important as what is on the inside.
From the days of horribly smeared textures, low polygon count, clumsy models, and animations that looked nothing like what they were supposed to represent, in such games as Ultima, Dark Ages of Camelot, Everquest, and SWG (to name a few), to the current days of games such as Rift, Everquest 2, and Age of Conan. You can run newer games on new computers with full settings and have them look breathtaking and spectacular. Eating up every ounce of power from your video card and making you glad you have a top of the line machine. But those games are also (usually) friendly enough to play on lower systems too, just by tuning down the settings. Things have certainly changed.
Everquest, for example, incorporated an entirely new game engine with the third expansion The Shadows of Luclin. It improved the graphics and character models and animations dramatically. The expansion itself added a lot of features, but the most obvious and notable one was probably the new overall look of the game. It went from looking like it belonged in the 90′s, to looking like it belonged in the new millennium. It was an excellent idea. I personally love roguelike games, which use either ASCII or sprite tilesets, so I don’t really care what the graphics of a game are like in order to enjoy it or play it. However, I believe having games look new and pretty is good to attract new players. With the modernization that Luclin brought to EQ it opened up the game to a lot of people who might not have had interest in it before or have even heard of it, and that is always a good thing.
It did come at a price though. A lot of original players, and older players of Everquest felt that Luclin was the beginning of the end for the game as a whole. That it lost its charm with that expansion, and that Ruins of Kunark and Scars of Velious were the best expansions (and they were according to popular opinion, no expansions have had the kind of reception from the playerbase since). SoL was also the first expansion released after Sony had acquired Verant Interactive, so players were skeptical. All in all I think it turned out well and started a great change for Everquest as a whole to become more modern and open to new people.
Gameplay / Content:
Most mmo’s have relatively similar game mechanics. You target something, hit a button to auto attack, and you mash some keys to cast spells or use abilities. Then you harvest a corpse for loot or supplies, craft some stuff or sell it, and repeat. That’s the bare bone basics at least, not including quests.
Again I’ll reference Everquest, since that is the oldest game I have the most experience with myself. In the old days, questing in EQ was simple. You kill something, loot something, hand in something. Period. The game didn’t have tasks, or a way to track quests you were on, or what step you were on etc. You had to keep notes yourself, and everyone had a pad of paper or a notebook by their desk absolutely full of scribbles of what piece of what gems they needed for the crafted armor quests in South Karana, or the myriad of class quests in the Temple of Solusek Ro. The quests were all the same, though: hand in items you buy or loot. And that didn’t change much over the years with Everquest until Planes of Power introduced the flag mechanic, so your character has a permanent mark to indicate an accomplishment you’ve done, and you can keep track of what you still need to unlock certain things. Then Lost Dungeons of Norrath was released and the adventure window came around, and there were leaderboards, then expeditions and tasks and it kind of got out of hand.
My original point, though, is that the way questing and doing the every-day tasks of menial grinding and chores in the game got much more varied and different over the years. It’s a staple in games now to start off with a brand new character and have your very first quests, in any game you play, be “kill x amount of y”. Just remember, EQ never had any quests like that in its humble beginnings.
And as for content? There is so many different things to do in games now that there wasn’t before. There was always crafting and tradeskills, but not always harvesting skills. The closest Everquest has to harvesting anything is a basic fishing system that works much like Warcraft but a lot more boring, and a foraging skill that just gives you a random chance at a few different bits of whatever is on that specific zone forage list. No mining, no harvesting lumber or any kind of node for anything. Just slaughter everything and loot tradeskill bits to combine.
Flying mounts are becoming a staple in games too. Everquest 2 incorporated personal flying mounts in their latest expansion Destiny of Velious. Warcraft and Vanguard have had them for quite a while. Everquest, while it doesn’t really have the capability to put flying mounts in the game, did make a very cute attempt. There are a few mounts you can get in Everquest currently that have a levitate effect on them, so you are supposed to be flying while riding them. It’s mostly just cosmetic though, as levitate doesn’t really do much in Everquest anymore.
Appearance armor and weapons have also started to become mainstream and expected now. Everquest originally had plate armor you could have crafted and then dyed a few specific colours. Then with Legacy of Ykesha they released the armor-dye system and it kicked ass. Everyone loved it then and still plays around with it now to make their character look a little more customized in a game that doesn’t allow for appearance slots. It was a good compromise though. EQ2 and Rift, Vanguard, Aion, Lord of the Rings Online – tons of games now have appearance gear specifically for roleplaying, or just looking stylish. I do wish Warcraft would implement it, though. I think their armor and weapons are the most unique looking of any game I’ve ever seen, and it’s a shame there isn’t a practical way to show off any of it.
And last but not least; player housing. This is also slowly becoming a staple in games, and I am very glad. Vanguard, Free Realms, EQ2 and EQ have player housing currently (that I can think of off the top of my head). More games need it. It’s always fun to have a place to call home and decorate it as you want. EQ2 is probably the greatest example of how to do it right. There are some absolutely amazing houses that people have made, with some really creative and wild designs. It may seem dumb to some, but to me it adds a lot of depth to what you can do in the game. When you’re sick of grinding monsters or questing, what else are you going to do? Even the manliest man can easily lose a few hours by just decorating.
This article is getting long enough, so I won’t touch on achievements other than to say that they are also becoming a common, mainstream aspect of gaming that never used to exist. For better or worse, they are here and they aren’t going away any time soon.