Apparently, PC Gaming Circa 1998 Returns; Bring it On

In 1998, PC gamers got Starsiege: Tribes, Might & Magic VI, Grim Fandango, Half-Life, Unreal, StarCraft, Fallout 2, Tom Clancy's Rainbow Six, Need for Speed III: Hot Pursuit, and a Duke Nukem Forever teaser.

As we approach 2008, we're getting a web-based multiplayer action game from the guys who made Tribes, a web-based Heroes of Might & Magic game, a game with Grim Fandango-like hot rods by the guy who made Grim Fandango, the conclusion of a Half-Life episode trilogy, Unreal Tournament III, StarCraft II, Fallout 3, fourteen million Tom Clancy games, some Need for Speed game, and a Duke Nukem Forever teaser.

A couple of these have already arrived, but most are waiting until the ten-year anniversary of glorious 1998, a year that in addition to the games listed above also yielded Thief: The Dark Project, Sanitarium, Baldur's Gate, Falcon 4.0, SiN, and more.

Sadly, the scene still doesn't seem quite as vibrant as it did back then--for one thing, look at how many of 1998's greats were original titles. That's a slightly unfair comparison, as we have seen some notable and ambitious original PC titles over the past year, but all things considered the platform does seem to have lost at least some of its steam.

This is one reason I'm interested in the burgeoning trend exhibited by GarageGames' untitled-but-Tribesy multiplayer game and Ubisoft's next take on Heroes of Might & Magic--both are browser based, which has some interesting implications to me. There's also Quake Zero, a version of Quake 3 Arena that is launched by a browser but is not actually run through it; it's different, but interesting for the same reasons.

We know how accessible, potentially powerful (both as profitable products and time sinks), and ubiquitous browser-based gaming is. Everybody has played Bejeweled. But we also know it generally doesn't go much farther than Bejeweled. Bridging the gap between traditional web-based casual games and traditional hardcore gamers' games on the PC seems like it could not only bring in new gamers who might not otherwise even think to try a multiplayer shooter or fantasy-infused strategy game, but could also possibly suck lapsed PC gamers back in through easy-access gaming.

I personally have numerous friends who played lots of PC games back in the late 90s but have migrated exclusively to consoles at this point, entirely due to convenience and cost. They don't have current gaming rigs, nor plans to get any. But if basic PC hardware is getting to the point that it can support clean, smooth browser-based gameplay that feels to them like the kind of thing they used to play, it might just reinvigorate interest in the platform.

Then of course there are the people who currently play PopCap's offerings exclusively, enough so that they start wondering about other kinds of more involved gameplay; they aren't going to go replace their integrated video solution with a new card right off the bat, but they might check out some browser-based "hardcore" gaming (or semi-hardcore, depending on the game), especially if there is a fairly rich assortment of gameplay.

On another note: regarding the topic of GarageGames' upcoming game, in development by the company's new GG Studios game division, I would like to point you to an excellent post by Shacker zehh, warning against the dangers of sticking too much to what worked before when developing a new multiplayer game.

Already predicting the outcry against GG Studios' game for not being enough like Tribes (and, really, it isn't even a Tribes games to begin with, but even if it were the point would hold), zehh points to the success of Team Fortress 2 among PC gamers. Though TF purists rail against its various changes, there is no question the game would be less successful if it did not differentiate itself enough. See also: Unreal Tournament 3.

The moral of the story: Don't complain about stupid crap.

The other moral of the story: I, uh, hope browser-based gaming is awesome.

The last moral of the story: It takes concentration to fly those scouts.

I suck at writing morals.