Letter From The Editor - Issue 58 - August 2017

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Writing Fantasy

  
Digits & Dragons
  by Greg Allen
May 2006

2006: The Year of Sequels (And Why This Isn't a Bad Thing!)

Perhaps you have noticed a trend as you've been checking out games this year. Just about every major game on the market right now is a successor to a previous game. Now, many would say this is a bad thing. They believe that the essential feature in a game is an entirely new story, a new concept, or a new world. I disagree.

I certainly agree that a game's story and the world in which it takes place are critical to its appeal and success, and that without originality, a game, and the market, would fall apart. New ideas and fresh new games come with a cost, however, for both developers and players.

From the game producer's point of view, the reasons are pretty simple. Sequels will draw not only new fans but will pull back a large number of the fans of the original, provided the first game was decent. Why waste money on an entirely new concept and audience group when you have a fan base already established?

While this has led to some tragic consequences (do we really need a Madden 20XX?), for the most part it works out well for the consumer as well. Take the Ultima series, for example. Ultima has been around for ages--if you include the Ultima Online expansions there have been over fifteen visits and interpretations of Ultima's Brittania.

Yet, at least until Richard Garriott left, the series continued to be fun. The cities and characters didn't feel old, they felt familiar, and this led to the possibilities of new adventures with this established base.

For players, playing a sequel is like coming home. Fun games leave us with fond memories and feelings which are sparked by music, places, and characters. When we enter a well-made sequel, these memories are stirred and the new experiences of the game are mixed in to create a delicious broth. Of course there has to be a lot of new material, but belaboring this point is pointless; developers understand this, and as we are seeing this year, they are delivering.

Simply put, 2006 is simply an amazing year for sequels. Here are some of the sequels I'm most excited for this year and one game that is so unique, it may blow all the others away!

For the Role Player

Oblivion

Last month I looked at Oblivion after playing for about a week and I was in love. Well, after >50 hours into the game I still haven't put it down. If you are a fan of first-person role-playing games, there isn't much more to be said: get it.

Neverwinter Nights 2

Neverwinter Nights, in my opinion, was the best PC game product to date that used the Dungeons and Dragons ruleset. While games such as Baldur's Gate were a lot of fun, nothing else touched the multiplayer possiblities of NwN. Now, with a sequel coming out in September, Neverwinter fans have a lot to be excited about.

Bioware is keeping pretty quiet on details, but from what they have released, it doesn't look like Neverwinter will lose any followers. All of the features fans have loved from the first adventure--such as co-op campaigns, extensive dungeon master support, and tons of items--are included in the sequel, as well as new races, classes and cities. Out of all the sequels I've looked at this month, NwN2 sticks the closest to its predecessor, but that's just fine by me!

For the Fantasy Strategist

Rise of Legends

For large-scale warfare, my favorite strategy game is definitely Big Huge Games' Rise of Nations. While games like Starcraft may be superior in terms of unit balance and uniqueness, nobody can top Rise of Nations' huge historical scope (stick-throwers all the way to artificial intelligence) or unique border management system. No strategy game I have played rewards research and technology more than RoN, which makes for a very mentally intensive and fun experience.

With Rise of Nations' spiritual successor, Rise of Legends, things have taken a definite turn from history to fantasy. Instead of playing as the Russians, Americans, or other modern world powers, there are now three very distinct races who use a mix of magic and technology.


City planning choices have taken a second place to city aesthetics.
Heavy on the technology side are the Vinci, a steampunk race partly based on some of Leonardo Da Vinci's more elaborate mechanical designs. Their powerful technologies and massive mechanical creatures make them an intimidating foe.

The Alin, however, lean far more to the magic side. With origins in the desert, the Alin use their crystal and fire magic to make quick and lethal attacks. Both the Alin and the Vinci were included in the demo released last month, and while both were very different and fun to play with, I certainly favored the Vinci for their dominating size and firepower. As for the third race, the Cuotl, not as much has been released--but with Big Huge Games' track record, I'm sure they will give me yet another reason to buy this game.

AOE 3

When I don't want the brain-frying intensity of a Rise of Nations game, I can always look to the Age of Empire series. Age of Empires 3 was just released and is centered on the early exploratory age in the Americas. This time period is a favorite of mine, so with this historical background and a number of cool new features, AoE3 has been a great successor to the series.

The most noticeable new feature in AoE3 is the home city, your European mother who is there to give you support when you are feeling down. As you conquer lands and find treasure you earn experience, which can bring you rewards from home. The rewards you gain can be added to and customized between games, which adds the progressive feel of an RPG or long-term strategy game.

While customizing a home city may be interesting, the best part of the game can be summed up in one word: cannons. Age of Empires 3 is the first strategy game I've played to implement the Havok engine, and the results of cannon fire are awesome. When cannon balls strike buildings, chunks explode and fall off, leaving a visible mark of the damage you have done - and as cool as broken buildings are, try pointing the cannon at your enemy's infantry. Nothing is as satisfying as blasting your enemy's riflemen through the air with a hundred pounds of iron.


Cannons are great - as long as you aren't on the receiving end of them!
Age of Empires 3 is certainly a fun game, but as I've played it I have been reminded again of how boring real-time strategy games are if you aren't playing with other humans. Even with the cool fantasy themes of Rise of Legends or the historical sweetness of Age of Empires 3, without real people to play with, the victories are shallow. I would recommend both of these strategy games, but only if you have people to work with… or destroy. If not, stick with Oblivion or one of the many other story-based games.

Heroes of Might and Magic V

It would be hard to find a series with more sequels than the Might and Magic adventures. Not only are there nearly ten of the original Might and Magic games, but that series spawned off the Heroes series, which itself is going on five games. Now that is a successful set!

As fun as the Might and Magic games were, they just didn't really take me anywhere new. For the most part, they seemed just like every other fantasy role-playing game. Heroes of Might and Magic, however, was a unique and addicting strategy/fantasy game.


Somehow evil always gets the better artwork.
The hot-seat multiplayer system that Heroes multiplayer is known for can be a little sluggish but when you are limited on machines or need a slow game for a lot of people, it simply can't be beat. If you are a fan of the Heroes series then 2006 should be a good year for you; Heroes V is expected out in May and promises a faster multiplayer and a couple of new factions.

If you are looking for something new…

Spore

Trying to define the game Spore in a concise way is a little hard. Imagine Civilization, only instead of going from stone age to space age you are taking a society from the microbe age to the Star Trek age. And not only do you have the static and distant civilization view, but you also are involved right down to the creature level, kind of like Black and White 2.


Darwin probably wouldn't agree with what is going on at this planet!
Now, imagine all this happens fluidly and that you have control of every evolutionary aspect. Starts to get pretty cool, huh? At the Game Developers Conference in 2005, the lead designer, Will Wright, compared the various stages of the game to Pac-Man, Diablo, SimCity, and Risk (among others).

This sounds like a lot to do right but the developer, Maxis, certainly has a lot of experience in simulation games. If they can get Spore working as designed it will be a truly awesome biological sandbox.

Your hard earned gaming dollars are valuable and the last thing you want is to blow it all on some crappy game you thought had cool box art. A solid sequel from a good original can take away this risk. It will be a great year for games in 2006-- not despite the number of sequels, but because of it.


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