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Bill Murphy: The Problem with Old Games

Columns By William Murphy on April 14, 2011

The Problem with Old Games

For every person I see on our forums saying something along the lines of, “Man I wish someone would make a Dark Age of Camelot 2” I see another person scoffing with the reply, “Why don’t you just go play the original?  You do know it’s still around, right?”  But there’s a problem with that statement.  It’s not that we fans of older games don’t know our former loves are still up and running.  It’s not that we don’t want to put our money where our mouths are and play them.  It’s that we already squeezed just about every ounce of fun and novelty from these older titles and instead are longing for something similar with a fresh coat of paint.  I don’t want to go back to DAoC now.  For as fun as it may have been in its prime, the game is aging.  Its visuals, UI, and general feel are dated when compared to more modern offerings.  I may have plenty of choice memories of time spent in Hybernia, but there’s no going back now.  It’s like a romantic relationship that had plenty of good times, but ended for a genuine and undeniable reason.  You just can’t recapture that former magic. 

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That’s the problem with our old games.  At least those we’ve spent a significant amount of time with.  Once you’ve spent several hundred hours in a title, you end up seeing everything there is to offer, no matter how many expansions come out the game’s been well tread and you can’t go back to that sense of exploration and wonder you once had when the game was fresh and new.  Everything’s been explored.  You’ve seen every trick the game has up its sleeve.  I liken it to the routine of real life.  You know that feeling you get when you drive home from work, but when you pull in your garage you don’t remember anything about the trip?  That’s what playing a game you’ve spent so much time in is like, even if you’re coming back to it a year or more after the last time you played it.

At a certain point, no matter how much we once loved our old games, they’re just not fun anymore. 

The only time I can see this not being the case is with sandbox titles.  While the mechanics might not change much, in games from Ultima Online to Xsyon, I imagine the landscape and world will change greatly.  But then again, in the case of Ultima Online even that glorious nostalgic look and feel begins to feel dated.  It’s a weird predicament MMOs are in.  They’re meant to be played for years and years, but they often become stale after just a few, unless you’re the diehard-est kind of fan.  Especially lately, each new release brings with it new systems that try to improve the old way of doing things.  Sometimes they succeed, and then we’re left with older games which now feel out of touch.  Only the most agile and bold sort of development studio can keep up with the trends and adapt their games to them.  And even then, you risk alienating your hardcore fans if you’re always changing the game to be like “the new hotness”.  I mean not to open a can of worms or anything but SWG anyone?

So while it’s easy to tell those of us with fond memories of older titles to just go back and play them, it’s not really all that easy.  And it’s not that we want a direct copy of our old flame either.  Who here played DAoC?  How many of you were hoping Warhammer Online would be DAoC2?  But that’s not what we got.  When you see someone begging for an updated Dark Age of Camelot, it’s not that we want a direct copy of the old game.  We want a title which takes everything learned from DAoC about tri-faction warfare, RvR, and real Battlegrounds and updates the lore, UI, and mechanics into a more modern format.  The same way a game like Mass Effect 2 improved upon its prequel (which is debatable I know), we would like to see a true successor to our MMO haven.  And then there’s the problem with MMO sequels in general.  Everquest and Everquest 2 can coexist, so long as you take them as two completely different games.  But people bought EQ2 expecting a prettier EQ and that’s not what they got.  It took years to polish EQ2 into the gem it is now.  Part of me wonders if we’d ever really be satisfied with a sequel to any MMO, especially one so revered like DAoC.  It didn’t work out so well for Asheron’s Call 2, and for similar reasons. 

I feel like I’m rambling a bit.  I do that in these columns, so please bear with me.  The old games were great, folks.  I have fond memories of Ultima Online, Dark Age of Camelot, Asheron’s Call (1 and 2), and even Meridian 59.  And while I applaud those who are playing Everquest all over again and loving it, I just can’t do it.  I’ve seen the way in which our games’ systems have improved in the past 10 years.  I know how modern story-telling, combat, UI, and polish can make these games something truly extraordinary.  So while my heart goes out to the titles that started it all, I think I’ll keep my memories in a shoebox beneath my bed and not drag them out every time I’m feeling nostalgic or homesick.

William Murphy / Bill is the Managing Editor of MMORPG.com, and lover of all things gaming. He''s been playing and writing about MMOs and geekery since 2002. Be sure to follow him on Twitter for all of his pointless rambling.