Recently I purchased the 50th anniversary edition of Forbidden Planet. It's held up so well! Every geek should have already seen it. If not, do it now!
I'm one of these guys who really loves the classics. I really enjoy watching old movies, reading classic sci-fi... anything "retro" is directed straight at me. Space pirates are a real weakness.
I got to thinking about games. I've been mining Gametap's RPG selection recently, with games like Baldur's Gate and Phantasy Star IV.
We certainly have "classic" games - games we feel nostalgic for. Games that fuel our retro movements. And, like classic movies, these games don't have the right pacing for new audiences. Anyone who watches Charlie Chaplin today will immediately notice that the pacing is old-fashioned. It's not just that it's in black and white, or that there's no voices, or even the classic topics: the speed of the progression, the nature of the camera work, and the level of repetition are all old-fashioned.
Old games have the same thing, of course: playing Baldur's Gate is often infuriating to me because, in the beginning, characters will die in a single hit. Similarly, the way the leveling system works, the kind of repetition, and the progression of the scenes are all noticeably "old fashioned".
Some modern games still have this "old-fashioned feel", like KotOR and whatever is coming out of Japan next week. Many have gone a different path, such as all of the FPS-RPGs.
I also feel something similar about classic tabletop games such as Battletech, Shadowrun and D&D. The new rulesets often change a few facets to try to make it more applicable to a modern audience without losing the oldschool feel.
But if you compare the original D&D to AD&D whatever.5, you'll find that there have been a lot of changes. Similarly, if you compare KotOR to Might and Magic, even though they attempt to have the same fundamental genre, KotOR has pulled in a new direction. And I'm not talking graphics.
One of the defining features of a classic game is the way it handles progression: instead of having a smooth progression, classic games have a mudflated progression. When you get something new in a classic game, it makes whatever you had before pretty useless. You get a sword+2, that old sword+1 is destined for the rubbish heap.
Modern games, on the other hand, progress more fluidly. Let me give an example.
In oldschool D&D, your mage gains spells. Each new level of spells contains spells that are fundamentally just plain cooler than the old spells, so the only reason to use the old spells is to conserve juice.
In KotOR, which is fundamentally D&D-based, your "spells" are Force powers. Instead of leaving you with scads of obsolete force powers, you upgrade a particular power to be more effective. So you never have more than one "Force heal" power, even though it's now level 3 or whatever.
Similarly, instead of replacing your sword+1 with a sword+2, in KotOR you replace a piece of your lightsaber or blaster with a new piece. There is no sword+1 left when you upgrade to a sword+2. Instead, there's a sword+2 and an oo'ooti'oo crystal.
Now, KotOR has an oldschool feel, and it does feature an awful lot of buying new stuff and selling the old. But even it has realized that abandoning old content is less efficient than upgrading old content.
This can even be seen in the characters. Modern RPGs have a few NPCs with full personalities that stay with you for the full game. Classic games have scads of NPCs with barely any personality that tend to die or be replaced on a whim.
To me, the big "classic" feel for an RPG has nothing to do with camera angle or turn-based combat. It has everything to do with scads of content that we burn through however we like.
And I like that.
I'm actually irritated by the kinds of things I see these days. You can upgrade your Jedi Push to Jedi Push II? But that doesn't do what I want it to! I want to be able to pick content that is more to my liking - pick from half a dozen available "Jedi Push II" variants that I happen to stumble across in dungeons and shops. And I want to keep Jedi Push I as a cheap alternative...
So I got to thinking: what if I take this thing that I like, and I polish it up to a mirror shine and design a... "deeply retro" game. A "post-retro" game, to be excruciatingly pompous.
The whole design is fundamentally about content: upgrading, replacing, finding. But instead of walking along a plot path and stumbling across combat content, let's make everything adaptable content.
Your plot is adaptable content. Your personality and history are adaptable content. You stumble across an "heir to the throne" fragment, pop it into a character, and suddenly they were always high-born. You find a "specializes in delicious pastries" fragment, and you can plug it into a village or part of a city and, bam, there have always been delicious pastry shops.
This can even be horrifyingly meta. The underlying plot is that the wizard captured the princess. You can plug new plot fragments in to change why, when, how, who... or add twists such as the princess and the wizard being in cahoots. You can even push it so far as to un-kidnap the princess such that she was never kidnapped in the first place.
It can also be very flat: you do find a sword upgrade, better armor, a new spell. It's not simply high-falutin' concepts.
This is not a game where you build your own plot/setting, not exactly. Because you only have access to the fragments you uncover as you journey. By controlling what kinds and levels of fragments are available in various places, you can dramatically influence the way the game develops.
For example, those ancient, menacing woods said to be inhabited by the undead? Instead of giving out generic combat rewards, they might give out primarily plot fragments. So if the plot is too difficult, too insurmountable or not fun enough, you spend some time killing ghouls and picking up new options.
Now, one further option is that we can make the NPCs - at least the major ones - also able to do this. This could lead to very interesting situations if handled correctly, where you and the evil wizard are vying for who has never been able to cast any magic...
What do you think? Would you enjoy such a game?