The return of golden age for CRPGs? Or not?

R1 – Matt Barton, The History of Computer Role-Playing, http://www.gamasutra.com/features/20070223a/barton_01.shtml

R2 – http://www.gamasutra.com/view/feature/1571/the_history_of_computer_.php

The years are passing unseen in a way…we are already in 2009. I play more and more games from different periods, I have also read the professional CRPGs historians (see R1 and R2) analyses and I arrive to a terrible conclusion: at the end of the day what existed as CRPG in 80s and before does not really matter. All those games are completely dead, frozen, and rigid, in limbo, they do not exist anymore in the cultural memory, and there is no more life in them because there was nothing to keep them alive.

No one plays first Final Fantasy and Ultimas. It is masochism to play Ultima IV which is so acclaimed for its ethical values, but which is as alien to me as Egyptian hieroglyphs. When I tried some more recent games, like Wasteland I was looking so hard to find some exquisite value in this game that is a granddad of Fallout after all … but I have found nothing, nothing at all. I tried many of those old acclaimed CRPGs, passed through Eye of Beholder, Wizard’s Crown, and so on… Old CRPG games would say that I am a spoiled kid that has grown up on Baldur’s Gate and Fallout and cannot see the actual beauty of all those early games, but yes, I do not see it at all!

I tried to think if new CRPG players would think the same thing about my beloved CRPGs. In some cases it seems to be true, for example in respect to Final Fantasy 7 (some claim that lowpoly characters in those games kill their gaming experience) but there seems to be a revolutionary difference between older CRPGs and those from the end of 90s: basically the emotional and artistic aspect seems to be almost absent from early CRPGs and that is what makes them dead. Baldur’s Gate with its handcrafted area backgrounds, thousands of dialogues will not become dead so fast, especially as it features wave artistic quality music. FF7 has also hand drawn area backgrounds and Uematsu’s excellent soundtrack (it sounds good even in original PS1 midi).

In terms of innovation the best equivalent would be comparing the first movies made after inventing the cinema to Charlie Chaplin creations – those are old but still can be watched, while some of the first movies have not much interest. They just mastered some technologies used later in general cinematography.

Recent CRPGs

I have some difficulties to formulate my opinion about recent CRPGs: while after 2002 we had a lot of deceptions, such as half-baked clones of Baldur’s Gate, Neverwinter Nights, Oblivion or recent Final Fantasy games, there were some promising antiexamples like KOTOR in 2003 which seems to represent well the CRPGs of the new wave, though weirdly it represents isolated case for its time. KOTOR 2 is from 2005 and it is so less good that its predecessor. FF12 is all about form and not much about the intellectual content. Then we had year 2007 which gave us quite a lot of good CRPGs or similar games: STALKER, Mass Effect, Witcher and Bioshock seem to be the most important ones. 2008 seem to be already poorer, with only Fallout 3 to mark some (limited) quality level and follow on of STALKER (much of which is actually a copy of first STALKER). Some games seem to be overhyped, like Fable 2. If things are clear in 2009 we will have some good CRPGs (Dragon Age, FF13 …). There are some other ones in longer perspective : Afterfall, two continuations of Mass Effect trilogy, FF13 Versus, maybe Deus Ex 3, continuation of Bioshock and some discoveries maybe as well…

The same cycle of innovation in 90s was somehow more aligned in time. Then lets hope it will last some time before exhaustion again (which seems to always arrive unfortunately), maybe up to 2012.