Shooting is story?
Deus Ex had light and air. Every level was simply thrilling and don't ask me why. The characters and the pacing and the constantly unfolding story kept you chasing the buzz. So many games just slap their shit down on the table and tell you to take it or leave it. Me... I'll leave it in a heartbeat. Deus Ex seduced me every step of the way. It was smart and sexy. It wanted me to want it.
I think a solid, intuitive interface will stand the test of time.
For the most part that makes classics such as Deus Ex and Thief quite palatable today. It also helps when the game still ensnares you with its moody tentacles, the same way it did back then.
On the other hand, a game like UFO Defense, which I think has a brutal interface, is very difficult to slide back into in the present day. I try to revisit it now and again, heck I think I bought it on Steam just in the past year or two, but the damn thing leaves me cold. Once I'm on the ground it's great, but the whole other game that is X-Com: the research and development, the base management, the exploration, the odds and sods ... it's just clunky.
I can always go back to unbecoming graphics, but it's an impenetrable interface which leaves me flustered.
If being wrong's a crime I'm serving forever
I'm with Kay - it is story. But not necessarily the story of the game; it can also be the story we make ourselves as we play. That's why X-COM still holds me, because I invented stories of my squad and the politics surrounding our effort to save the world. Games with great story, like Planescape Torment, require little effort from me to be entrancing. But some other games (like STALKER, which meant well story-wise but needed help), demand a bit more thought. Still, it is story, either self-made or pre-packaged, that makes a game stay with me.
Jakkar specifically said what makes a game age well, though. Story, definitely, is part of it. The emotional part. The rational part is foresight by the developers: doing what they can to future-proof. Be it interface or performance on CPUs way more powerful than were imagined when the game was developed, creators can do a lot to make their work age well. Perhaps something all developers should include in their process is earnest discussion of how they can make sure the game still plays well in a decade... two decades...
Life is the misery we endure between disappointments.
kay and Steerpike: Not for me. Story can do a lot for a game - it can even save a bad one from total failure, but it doesn't define why some games are still fun and others fall flat. I still love Duke Nukem and Blood, for example - and I'm not sure I can even define what they possessed as 'stories'. You could summarise them on the back of the case and still have room for screenshots.
On the other hand a fantastic plot in Planescape Torment makes a very simplistic game an absolute joy to play - and yet I have real difficulty returning to that one, perhaps in fact because of the story. Because I have so much to re-tread before I find anything new, without a varied experience in the meantime to support my enjoyment of the experience.
I'll swear; it ain't story that makes makes Deus Ex exceedingly entertaining even ten years since release. Deus Ex has a story and an ingame execution thereof that can sometimes make me cringe, they're so poorly assembled. A hodgepodge of old conspiracy stories and the best selection of awful accents I've ever seen in a Western game production are if anything wounds that slow the game down. If Hong Kong wasn't one of the best 'hub zones' of action RPG gameplay ever made, the depiction of the Chinese gangsters, police and civilians in terms of writing, visuals and audio in that area would have made me want to meet Warren Spector just to kick him brutally in the shins. Painful, old-fashioned cliches that render the local population apparently as brain-damaged as the Zyme addicts of Battery Park.
Scout: You have something. Light and airy is a vacuous phrase but think I may know what you mean. Somehow, however ugly the maps of Deus Ex could sometimes be, and however cramped and undersized, there was a sense of space, psychologically. A sense shared by the original Half-Life games but to a much lesser degree, and by the Thief games as well. In the modern day we go to Grand Theft Auto, Crysis, or Just Cause 2 for a similar feeling of 3d space. It's the quiet, subconscious awareness that that roof over there? I can pile up boxes and climb up there with a tranquiliser dart ready for when that guard comes back.
That vent hatch leads to three different modes of entry to the building, at least, or I could simply blow the door off with a LAM and take out the patrol bot at the same time. It's a sense of accessibility and freedom stolen from us by the corridor-skating FPS tradition where every edge, every ledge and side-tunnel is blocked either obviously or invisibly to prevent the player doing what they want, in favour of what the developer thinks is coolest.
And you're right about the progression of plot - Deus Ex does not have a clever story, but it has an incredibly well-assembled one. Any individual segment of plot is simplistic, but the way it all draws together like a stitch pulled tight as you near the end, the sheer amount of written correspondence between characters and the number of different people accessing your infolink to share their personal agendas or threaten you with consequences... That's a major strength, and something I don't think has been surpassed by any game in the ten years since. No plot has been quite so tightly woven into a coherent whole.
It makes me crave a remake that enriches the gameworld's many simplicities and flaws, to expand battery park, hong kong and hell's kitchen into much more varied, detailed and realistic zones rather than tiny arenas-of-quests. And to give it the art design team it deserved.
xtal: Interface. Interesting notion. I'm not sure the comparison is fair though - a post-2000 interface on the Unreal Engine only ten years old versus a 320 pixel resolution strategy game from almost *twenty* years ago, on an entirely different era of hardware is sorely imbalanced. I'm in the same boat, having difficulty playing X-Com in the modern day while loving Deus Ex - but this has more to do with the tech-era's limitations than with specific decign qualities/traits of either game.
Incidentally, the reason I can't play X-Com I find easy to define; it's so agonisingly slow. Unreasonably slow. Spending two hours very, very slowly moving my fragile little troops through a mission almost certainly doomed to failure three times for every mission that makes any kind of progress is unbearable. Though oddly, I find the 'world map' interface far cleverer than the battle map. I love 3d globe interfaces - yes, I've been playing Populous since my Xbox 360 died a few days ago ._.
Deus Ex has an interface I can take or leave. It's not so bad it turns me away but it is very awkward to use when you have a full inventory and want to drop items to pick up a one-use item like an Aug Upgrade. The movement systems are inferior to the Dark Engine games (Thief/System Shock) due to the lack of forward leaning, mantling and a proper '3d body' that can impact with the environment.. As are the audio systems and to some small degree the physics. Overall, it definitely isn't interface for me either.
Steerpike: 'The story we make as we play' is very close to the mark, I think. It's not the written plot, it's the investment we make through weighty, meaningful choices and the way they define future consequences within the game engine. I can't say I've played any game that offers such a rich variety of consequences for your successes, failures and choices. Not even Fallout was half as reactive as Deus Ex. Or perhaps it only succeeds in fooling me with an illusion of choice - but that is no less of an achievement.
Ultimately, - when someone makes casual mention of something I did six hours ago suspecting the game didn't even notice, - for just a fraction of a second it can make you forget your real self and the gap between you and the fiction is bridged completely for one moment of absolute immersion. It breaks almost immediately, you return to that half-awareness that you're just a career-geek sitting at your computer, but when you come back to yourself you realise something; you're smiling.
Regarding 'aging' though, this really is all I meant. Why is it still fun, essentially, when others aren't. What keeps a game fresh. I'm still not sure, but I'm grateful to you all for helping me brainstorm it, and I have an answer that will satisfy me for now.
It's two things.
Freedom, and consequences, of choice.
I think it's a mix of story and mechanics. Also it may have something to do simply with the time of our lives in which we play a game. For instance, Ultima 4/5 still are the best 2 computer games I ever played, but whether they aged well is questionable. Also the Crusader games were so engrossing that I specifically remember going shopping with my wife and wanting to roll around corners.
But I've thought about replayability a lot lately as Ben's demanded that I replay so many games. The two things they have in common are story and mechanics--and this includes Limbo. However, it will be impossible for me ever to remember any of those games again without also remembering the warm, marvelous feeling of Ben sitting on my lap while we play.
I'm with Kay and Steerpike (and I just put something on the opening page to this effect) - a good story will engage your imagination, and transform the game beyond its mere pixels and their arrangements. A good story provides context and depth.
A man goes to knowledge as he goes to war, wide awake, with fear, with respect, and with absolute assurance. – The Teachings of Don Juan
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