January 03, 2006

Game observations, contd.: DAOC

Observation #2) To my mind, the best massively multiplayer game created to date remains Dark Age of Camelot, by Mythic Games, which just celebrated its fourth anniversary, and has been rereleased on shelves as the "Epic" edition.

I think the DAOC online community team has set an amazing record of keeping the customers happy the past few years. The graphics, while always below the level of some others, have been repeatedly upgraded, and remain pleasant to view today. The game play, particularly for fighter-types, has always been remarkably complex. And as game population has dwindled from the peak of 250,000 or so down below 150,000, Mythic Games has done an absolutely commendable job of clustering newbie areas within realms and now servers to keep population levels tolerable. The Realm vs. Realm concept, I think, worked as well as could be expected. I've heard a lot of criticisms over the years, but they largely boil down to the complainer's observation that the game is not perfect for *them*, as in their own style of play... this is a significantly lesser level of aggro than competitor titles I could mention that seemed at times to be deliberately encouraging sociopathy among the customer base.

But I think two things DAOC did right, right from the start, that are generally underrated in evaluations of its success were, first, the decision to clothe the female models modestly, and second, to base the gameplay firmly in actual historical folklore and mythology.

Unlike the T&A show of Everquest or now World of Warcraft, DAOC characters are all fully clothed, sans exception... the raciest female models are probably the Highland girls, but that's only because you can see some calf... the models are attractive without being exploitative. Right there I think the game bought itself some immunity from some of the most egregious activities of other titles. By setting itself up as a game for grownups, as opposed to randy teenage boys, and carrying that plan right through, Mythic scores high in my books.

The other grownup aspect is the use of mythology. Now, I wouldn't recommend relying on DAOC for teaching the Norse, Old English or Celtic mythos, but you can't help, if you spend any time in the realms at all, being a little more interested in the differences between how Celts and Vikings defined elves, for instance, or the real-life differences beween bards and druids, or minstrels and skalds. The game builders decided in the Hibernian realm, to take an example, early on to more or less equate the elvish race with the Tuatha de Danaan (the Celtic pantheon, in a way), on an island shared with firbolgs and Fomorians... an early quest for characters in this realm is a discussion of what has gone before with Dian Cecht, the Celtic Asclepius. Unlike other long back stories from more artificial mythiverses (*cough* George Lucas *cough*), there actually seems to be intrinsic value in reading through this sort of stuff for its enlightenment value.

And it's infinitely better than the Tolkien retreads of Everquest/WoW/Shadowbane, who can't even be bothered to come up with their own back stories, but just lift the hoary old D&D world of elves/dwarves/halflings/men commingled. Rather than a story at ten steps removed from the three founding pre-Christian mythos of Britain, DAOC is only two or three... makes the whole thing seem more authentic, somehow.

As I said, it's getting kind of empty in there now, but it's still the best yet.

Posted by BruceR at 07:41 PM

Back to the basics

About the one thing I'm not contractually forbidden in some way to comment about in 2006 turns out to be the thing the precursors to this site were originally entirely about: computer games and the computer game industry.

So to start off the New Year, a couple observations, as I find time to put them down.

1) To my mind, Computer Games magazine (full disclosure: I once wrote for them) is still the best read out there of the three major North American magazines on the subject. I still read and enjoy PC Gamer and CGW, but editor Steve Bauman has done an excellent job of keeping the quality of his product up with those larger-circ mags. Unlike the others, it doesn't come with a CD any more (honorable mention to CGW, though, for keeping the CD while foregoing the plastic magazine wrapper, and I thought the inclusion of console games coverage would break it, but no, it's still excellent. Kelly Wand's most recent column on guilds and interpersonal interactions in computer games was reminiscent of the kind of stuff you used to read in Lum's.

The best thing about the Bauman CG is the absolutely excellent use of screenshot illustrations. The other two consistently either run screenshots of real games on real computers entirely too small to figure out WTF is going on, or they commit the even greater sin of publishing artists' renderings in place of actual in-game content. CG illustrations on the other hand, are almost always exactly what you'd see on a real screen, and are large enough that that gives you a useful point of evaluation.

The tragedy is it's exceptionally difficult in Toronto to find a copy of CG anymore. I do wish magazine retailers would find more space on the shelves for it.

Posted by BruceR at 07:14 PM