Monday, April 19, 2010

What If 16-bit Fantasy Games Were Designed by Bitter Divorcees?

The good folks over at SF Signal posted this amusing video featuring a more cynical view of what the solution to a side scrolling 16-bit fantasy adventure might be. In the video our intrepid hero rescues the princess, but then gets more than he bargained for as the material demands of the princess continually increase. One can imagine that this is a video game level that Oscar or Felix (of the play/movie/tv series The Odd Couple might design). Though the humor is cynical and staid, the video has its charms because one can actually imagine a game designer going to great lengths to create "meaningful" relationship tasks and goals within a video game experience. Such games may already exist.

I would be lying if I didn't say that the sequence where the video's protagonist goes to work for "the man" doing a task of physical labor, in order to pay for a wedding ring for his princess, didn't remind me of Peter Molyneaux's efforts at verisimilitude in Fable II. Molyneaux's game features complex systems for relationships (including financial support/gifts), real estate, and manual labor. In fact, I often joke that the amount of time I spent playing the "Blacksmithing" mini-game in order to earn money to purchase businesses/houses essentially transformed the game into a game of Blacksmith Hero. It was great fun to watch my labor equate to property ownership, which itself equated to revenue, though it wasn't fun of the combat/conflict variety. These tasks made my Fable II experience feel somehow more real. After all, even heroes have day jobs.


Even pen and paper roleplaying games sometimes offer their equivalents of the Blacksmith Hero experience. D&D 3.5's magic item construction system was a much needed rules set for the game, but the crafting rules could be utilized in a number of ways. One could merely have the players roll the skill checks and do the math, but one could also role play out the forging/crafting experience between the rolls. The 2nd Edition AD&D setting Birthright, one of my favorite settings, had sub-games devoted to govern the kingdoms and large scale battles. These sub-games were the setting's greatest strength and its greatest flaw. Superhero 2044 is essentially a pen and paper simulation of the "patrol" patterns of the superheroes being played by the characters. DC Heroes has gadget construction rules that can be roleplayed, and included recommendations for incorporating character's mundane -- but still meaningful -- sub-plots into the campaign. Marvel Superheroes rewarded characters for keeping up with their mundane lives while combating cosmic calamities.

What are your thoughts on the subject? Do mundane mini-games add realism to a fantasy video game? Do they detract from the experience?
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