11 Mar 2010

Evolution or Revolution?

I’ve been thinking recently about something that Tobold mentioned on his blog about Blizzard’s continued game development cycles. In it, he rightly describes that Starcraft 2 has a similar look, feel and playstyle to the original game. He also mentions that the Diablo 3 gameplay footage has a similar look and style to the original game, and that he expects it to play in a similar way. My question is “is this such a bad thing?”

Look at it this way. Starcraft is often held up as an example of fine game balance in a complex system. You have three different races, each with their own units and playstyles, yet they remain on roughly equal standing with eachother. In making a sequel, would you radically change things and risk destroying this balance, or would you try and evolve the concept instead by adding new mechanics and possibilities?

From another angle, I remember when Diablo 3 was originally announced. Fans were concerned that the game world didn’t look “Diablo enough”, that it was too bright and colourful. Samwise ran with the theme, creating the artwork for this T-shirt. It’s a really tough act – on the one hand you want to be creative and fresh, but on the other hand you want to keep the tone and feel of the game world that you’ve created. Mechanics and user interaction make up a lot of that look and feel – mix things up too much and things “just don’t feel Starcraft” any more.

Mind you, after ten years of working on the same franchises I’m expecting that Blizzard’s designers and developers are yearning to try their hand at something new. They’ve announced that they’re working on a next-generation MMO, but have little else to share. Currently circling the planet Rumour, it remains a black hole of speculation.

I’m hoping that what they’re working on is a brand new IP. A new game world that we’ll get to dive in and explore, with new stories to tell and new armies to battle. I’m hoping that they’ll innovate on existing ideas, making a game with deep and rich mechanics that aren’t completely alien to players, but still provide plenty of surprises and unique aspects. After all, in the time since Warcraft was launched we’ve seen an increase in computing power, graphics capability and broadband speed.

It also makes little sense for the new MMO to be Warcraft in Space, as players will just migrate from one to the other. What they need is a game that’s sufficiently different that players will want to try out and regularly play both instead of having to pick one or the other. It’s why Blizzard have spent so much time perfecting Battle.net, and why cross-game communication is on the cards. Playing the new MMO, but your old guild need a hand with the latest raid dungeon? No problem, it’ll all be in-game.

So while I share Tobold’s assesment of Starcraft 2 and Diablo 3, I’m not sure I agree with the feelings it evokes. My own experience from playing the Starcraft 2 beta is that it hits every single nostalgia button perfectly. I was able to play Terran quickly and comfortably, while I (still) suck at playing Zerg. But that’s what I want – a refreshed and evolved experience instead of a radically re-imagined departure.

Where I do hope we get something completely different is with this new MMO. After all, it makes sense for everyone to have two different games to play instead of just migrating from one to the other. And while I hope that some concepts remain, I really hope that it’ll be revolution rather than evolution that we’ll be experiencing.

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