Experienced Points

Experienced Points
Games That Time Forgot

Shamus Young | 25 Mar 2011 17:00
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In Descent you piloted a little ship through a three-dimensional maze and blew up robots to a pulsing electronic soundtrack. It was a first person shooter where the "person" was a futuristic fighter plane and you usually couldn't tell which direction was up.

The franchise lost its way as it aged. It began as a dark, cyberpunk-styled story where you worked as a mercenary for an amoral corporation. In Descent 3, the art direction took a right turn at bland and moved away from Blade Runner and towards Star Trek. It lost the dark humor that began the series and became a more clear-cut battle of good vs. evil.

I think I was the only person that objected to this shift in tone. Descent 3 was well-reviewed, and the game managed to do something that few other franchises have managed: It ended cleanly, tying up all the loose ends and bringing the story to a close. I'm glad the series finished well, but it finished.

Magic Carpet

After two decades of unconventional ideas, radical experiments, and enthusiastic hype, Peter Molyneux seems to have finally settled down with the Fable series. But in 1994 he was still playing the mad scientist of game design with Magic Carpet, a game where you played as an Arabian-styled wizard, battling other wizards on your magic carpet. While it looks quaint today this gameplay was mind-blowing in 1994. It had real 3D terrain that morphed and changed in response to your actions. This is a feature so novel, game designers were still making a big deal about it in 2008.

If the game was still around today we might characterize it as a first-person shooter with air combat and RPG elements. The flying mechanic offers gameplay possibilities not available to the ground-based FPS titles we see today. It's an interesting idea, largely forgotten by the industry.

I'm sad these games didn't make the cut in the long run. It's sad to see their names fall out of favor, but even more saddening to see their ideas go unused. Why has nobody else has stepped up to bring fans the free-flying indoor tunnel combat that was popularized by Descent? Why doesn't one of the many shooters out there crib a few ideas from Magic Carpet? Did the "starship captain sim" genre need to die in the 90s?

Game developers looking for new gimmicks to set their games apart might want to look to the past. Aside from the benefit of cashing in on nostalgia franchises, there were a few great ideas that have been lost in the shuffle.

Shamus Young is the guy behind Twenty Sided, DM of the Rings, Stolen Pixels, Drawn To Knowledge, and Spoiler Warning.

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