Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Games That Time Forgot

Shamus Young | 25 Mar 2011 21:00
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I'm on the record as saying that videogame sequels can be a good thing. If I enjoy a game, then I'm probably going to jump at the chance to experience that gameplay again. The designers can take fan feedback and refine the game, making something that exceeds its predecessor. This usually makes a hash out of the story, but that's another column.

Sometimes fate can be a little strange about what games become franchises and what games dead-end. The dreary and unremarkable Kane & Lynch got a sequel. The gorgeous, innovative, but regrettably flawed Mirror's Edge did not. Sonic invented new and creative ways to ruin a solid gameplay mechanic, and yet the Sonic titles keep on coming. Beyond Good & Evil received glowing reviews and yet here we are eight years later, and we don't have a follow-up. (Although one is allegedly in development.)

The fate of Mirror's Edge and Beyond Good & Evil is far from unique. I thought I'd talk about some old franchises or one-hit wonders that have been lost to time. Here are a few games that could have gone further, but faded away and were mostly forgotten. As a result, their unique gameplay was discarded.

Starflight

Way back in 1986, Starflight gave us a game where you took command of your own starship and explored a vast sandbox-style galaxy. The game was so big that the game itself was also the save file. It filled an entire disk. In a move that would make today's DRM-obsessed publishers choke, the first step of starting a new game was making a complete copy of the original disk. Imagine if you had to make a copy of your Final Fantasy XIV Blu-ray disk, and then you played on the copy. Crazy stuff.

The immense (for the time) save file meant that the game could provide a huge, persistent playground for your adventure. If you landed on a planet and harvested some minerals, those minerals were gone for good. It remembered the location of all the minerals and all the artifacts on all the planets in all the star systems. I'm surprised they managed to fit the thing on those 360k floppies.

There was one sequel, and then the franchise died. Other titles (such as Protostar and Star Control 2) tried to recapture the glory of the original, although the unique universe of lore and vibrant aliens are gone. Electronic Arts owned the name in the 90s, and I assume they still have it today. I do not imagine they're interested in mucking about with this strange strategy / sandbox / role-playing hybrid.

X-Com

Yes, I know there is a supposed "remake" in the works. Do not speak to me of that ... thing. I knew X-Com personally, and you sir, are no X-Com.

The X-Com series did very well for itself, with a total of five titles and a few compilation / re-releases over the years. None of the sequels really attained the stature of the original, and that probably contributed to its demise.

But I think the real killer in this case was the changing landscape of gaming. X-Com was a complicated and unforgiving game of resource management tactical combat. Think "Space Marine Tycoon" with turn-based combat. While the number of videogame players has exploded in the last twenty years, the number of people who are fans of slow-paced, dense, punishing, turn-based games has not. It costs a lot of money to make a AAA game, and developers are no longer interested in aiming at a niche market like that one.

If you're interested, there's a freeware / open source game dedicated to recapturing the fun of the original: UFO Alien Invasion.

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