Wednesday, December 12, 2012

The Old Is New Again

I’ve been really enjoying the videos of FFXIV: ARR’s alpha testing. I enjoy the old school feel to the game. It’s pretty like only a Final Fantasy game can be, it’s also enormous and I can’t wait to explore the world that SquareEnix is building. All they need to do is tap into the joy I had playing FFXI and they'd be golden, as least for me. I loved the old Everquest vibe FFXI and FFXIV had. More than anything what I'd really want is a slightly, very slightly modernized take on FFXI. Eleven did so many things well; I hope they stick to their guns on how they wish to make a game. So many times I see games with mashups of the "best" feature of other games, but in trying to collect the best of the best, the game lost its soul; I don't want FFXIV to do that.

Part of what made FFXI great was the challenge and that there were no simple tasks. Solo play was nigh impossible past level 15 or so. Party play was required to get the most gains/time. You had to party because it was embedded deep into every facet of the game. The world was difficult to travel; even at endgame a lot of places were hazardous to your health. Every achievement was a struggle; every gain was magnified by the difficulty in achieving it.

But that was the stick to the carrot, every level felt important, every equipment drop was weighty; it was more than the sum of its parts. All the pieces fit together and the whole made sense, but take them apart and try to combine the best parts of other games and it would have failed miserably. Would we have slogged through those huge dangerous areas, if not for the calm and tranquility of the enormous cities; spaced out just far enough to make each one feel meaningful and relevant rather than a simple waypoint to get to the next one?

As I look forward to FFXIV, I wonder if I’ll miss the story quests of The Old Republic, or the world-building of The Secret World, will I miss the ease of play with regards to Guild Wars 2 or Tera’s combat? Often times I hear people talking about old games. They will often complain that games are too easy now, or about questing, grinding, lack of world pvp, three factions, etc.; in my mind it misses the point entirely, if we want to blame someone for the disappearing old days we need only look to ourselves.

The soul of the game has changed. We wanted faster travel, we wanted mounts, and we wanted easier leveling. We wanted rested experience, we wanted faster updates, more gear choices, more appearance choices, and better graphics. We wanted too many things, and when we got what we wanted we couldn’t stand the old ways. 

Quests became the standard otherwise a game became too much of an “Asian grindfest”. PVP worlds became too much of a “gankfest” because it interrupted our leveling efficiency.  We stopped trying to solve puzzles or find hidden treasures; instead we looked everything up on the internet and then cried out about the loss of the magic and charm of the yesteryears.

We threw away the old values because we felt they were redundant and old fashioned without realizing that they served a purpose, without replacing them or covering for them with new ideas, we lost more than we gained in the end. We have become like the mythical Tantalus, made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree, with the fruit just out of our grasp, and the water always receding before we can take a drink. No game satisfies our hunger, no world is big enough and no combat is good enough, no picture is pretty enough; our hunger for the new is never ending. 

Now the old is new again. We have come full circle, FFXIV looks to bring back much of what we have forgotten. In all likelihood, this game will not be spectacularly popular. Gamers have changed and the industry has changed with them. Change happens for a reason; often times it is necessary for survival. Change often happens because the underlying turmoil has been ignored. Instead of a few hundred thousands, millions upon millions play MMO’s; and there is even more untapped potential sitting on the sidelines. In six months or so, the game will launch people will be happy about the impressive graphics, just as they won’t be impressed by the refusal to totally modernize. They’ll talk about a plethora of features from other games and how FFXIV doesn’t have them and so has been passed by. And they may even be right for a majority of gamers. Not every gamer wants the fight to be difficult and the battle to be hard won. I for one will be looking at the soul of the game and hoping to see an old friend. Perhaps a rebirth of the old is just the kind of change the industry needs.

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